When you are bullied at work by people who use ignoring and excluding as their weapons, you can end up questioning your very sanity, as people who use these techniques rarely admit to their actions. Nevertheless, the situation must be addressed. People who are bullied at work may suffer emotional fallout that leads to absenteeism and decreased productivity, and the increased stress can lead to depression and other health issues.
Since workplace bullies often realize they cannot overtly threaten or intimidate other workers, they often display passive-aggressive behavior. When someone behaves in a passive-aggressive manner, she acts aggressively in a way that is difficult for others to detect or prove. The "silent treatment," gossiping and sulking are all classic signs of passive-aggressive behavior, according to licensed social worker Signe Whitson. For example, a colleague who is behaving in this way might “forget” to invite you to enjoy a birthday celebration with the other workers or might say "good morning" to everyone in the office but you.
Being ignored is not only hard on your emotions, but hard on your career. For example, you might speak up during a meeting, yet find that bullying colleagues don’t acknowledge your contributions, even though your voice was audible. Co-workers might stop talking when you enter the room, or carry on as if you were not present. Phone calls might go unreturned. Whitson advises "pointing out the elephant in the room" by confronting these behaviors without showing emotion. Exposing the behavior can often help to resolve the problem.
Being chosen last for a team or not being invited to a birthday party are memories that almost everyone has experienced during childhood. Experiencing these behaviors as an adult is no less hurtful. Spiteful colleagues often exclude others from decisions, conversations and work-related social events. As with ignoring, confront the behavior while keep your cool. Expect excuses and denial. Regardless, bullies often become quite uncomfortable when their behavior is exposed.
If you’re experiencing a passive-aggressive form of bullying at work, it can be difficult to prove. It’s not impossible, however. Document occasions when you are excluded or ignored by colleagues, especially in matters directly related to being able to perform your work. It is difficult to prove bullying based on a single incident. Rather, the "bullying process" must be taken into account, according to Cory Cooper, author of "Bullying and Emotional Abuse in the Workplace." When you have established that a pattern is taking place, bring the matter – and the documentation – to your supervisor’s attention.
- Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace; Cary Cooper
- Psychology Today: 4 Strategies to Effectively Confront Passive Aggressive Behavior in a Relationship
- PBS: Adult Bullying
Elise Wile has been a writer since 2003. Holding a master's degree in curriculum and Instruction, she has written training materials for three school districts. Her expertise includes mentoring, serving at-risk students and corporate training.