Why Do People Deny That Workplace Bullying Exists?

Gossiping, tattling, and tormenting are examples of bullying at work.
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Bullying occurs in some fashion in many workplaces, but people don't always know it's happening. Approximately 37 percent of Americans have experienced workplace bullying, reports the Healthy Workplace Campaign, which advocates against workplace bullying. The organization also reports that 80 percent of bullying behaviors are legal, making them difficult to report or even talk about. Most people in your office may not know how to spot a bully, and denying it can make the problem worse. Focus on strengthening your workplace immune system against the harmful effects of bullies.

They May Not See It

    You might not realize there is a bully in your workplace because you may never have felt the negative effects of being bullied. It can be hard to tell the difference between harmless play and tormenting harassment. Often, co-workers don't recognize bullies because they don't see or feel the damaging effects of the behaviors, according to a 2008 Forbes.com article. Because there is a low level of awareness about bullying and what it entails, co-workers might not know how to recognize it when they see it. Holding a program at your workplace that educates others on the signs and effects of bullying can help co-workers support each other and deter bullying behavior.

You May be Doing It

    If you can't spot a bully in your office, you may actually be the bully. Sometimes, the people who deny that any bullying is happening do so because they don't realize that they're tormenting, tattling, and pressuring others in an inappropriate way, warns Forbes.com. One common bullying behavior is constantly pointing out a colleague's mistakes. If you're doing it to win favors with a supervisor and make your co-worker look ill-equipped for the job, you're bullying her.

Saving Face

    One aspect of bullying's effects reinforces the silence surrounding the abuse. Bullying involves intimidation, fear and shame. Usually, the person being bullied retreats rather than stands up for herself. This draws the distinction between a one-time conflict and an ongoing situation of bullying. It's easy to see why co-workers might deny the problem. If it has gone on long enough, the victim may feel ashamed for having put up with the treatment, and may be intimidated by the results of speaking up. Keep an open line of communication between yourself and your colleagues. Your colleagues may deny that there is a bully in the workplace because they fear they can't prove it, or that the bully will retaliate. But if she feels supported by her co-workers, she's more likely to report it to the boss.


    Shame is one devastating reason for the lack of awareness about bullying. The behaviors that bullies exhibit generally cause the victim to feel shameful, insecure, and even depressed. David Yamada, a professor at Suffolk University Law School and president of the New Workplace Institute told Forbes.com that shame can cause a downward spiral of emotion that even discourages the victim from coming to work. Others might notice a colleague slacking off, coming in late, leaving early, or taking sick days but may not see that the problem is being caused by a bully in the office.

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