Clique Bullies & Talks Dirty

Question:

I work in a department that has a clique consisting of 3-4 people who band together and will bully the rest of us. I have spoken to the Supervisor about it, but she seems to favor the “Queen Bee” running the clique. The “Queen Bee” reminds me of the bullies I encountered in high school. She likes to swear, talk dirty, and push others around. I have confronted her on one occasion and she doesn’t like me. I find the “F” word highly offensive, and some of the other things she says strongly offensive also. Do I have the right to file sexual harassment charges when they use nasty language around me? I feel it is inappropriate to get a point across to use language like that. I am no prude, but I don’t want to be subjected to that. Her bullying and bossiness has also made other employees quit. Should I complain to Human Resources?

Signed,

Bullied


Answer:

Dear Bullied:

Can you stop bullying and language that offends? Should you complain to HR? Maybe. I’m sure a maybe answer is not the answer that you want to hear, but your questions have a no immediately clear answer. You say you complained to your supervisor, and you imply she did nothing. You say she did nothing because she favors the Queen Bee. You don’t specify exactly of what you complained; the instances of bullying, the words and actions used to bully, when and where they took place, and how you responded. Nor do you say what your supervisor said in response to your complaint. Apparently, whatever you complained continues, and you have not reported it again.

Get my point? To get action of a supervisor, you must be specific and must follow through when bullying occurs again. Should you go over your supervisor’s head and complain to H.R.? I think not. Not yet. Why? To bypass your supervisor makes her look bad. If you want a good working relationship with a supervisor, you want to make her look good, not bad. Soooo do you do bite your tongue and allow co-workers to bully? No.

Before bypassing her, you need to do your part. I suggest two ways to approach this. 1. Again speak to your supervisor or 2. Again confront the bully. If you choose to again speak to your supervisor, take with you a list of incidents that have occurred since the last time you spoke with her. Also in writing state what you don’t and do want spoken to you by the bullying co-worker(s); be specific about use of the f-word, dirty talk, bossing and/or yelling. Ask what the supervisor will do about this? Possibly, request a sit down session with the three of you; supervisor, the one you charge with bullying and yourself. In such a session, you need to hammer out an understanding among you of what is acceptable and not. Also you might ask your supervisor if it would be wise to invite in HR for such a session. Doing that would stress how serious you think is this problem. Or if you choose again to confront the bully yourself before going to your supervisor, you should think through how this might go. You say you confronted the Queen Bee once. That was not enough. To have bad action stop you need to be forceful and you probably will need to do so more than once. Resisting a bullying co-worker by saying, “Stop!” “Don’t yell. Don’t boss. Don’t swear at me.” You must be firm, controlled and specific about what you don’t want. If it does not stop and occurs a second time, you can state that you will take it above if it occurs a third time. Also you should be specific about what you do want. At the point of bullying or at an appropriate time, in a forceful way, you might say to whoever bullies, “We need to take time out to talk. Can we step aside and talk this over?” or “Would it be good to go the supervisor’s office to talk this over?” Motion where you want to talk, out of the way of others. Be prepared to say something, such as, “I want to do good work and it’s no secret that you and I do not get along. I want both my job and your job go well. If I do or don’t do something that makes your job difficult, please tell me and I will do my best to correct that. And if you do something that makes my job difficult, I will tell you. Does that make sense to you?”

After that individual responds, you might add, “We are being paid to make this place successful and if we can’t cooperate, that doesn’t happen.” You don’t have to use these exact words or say all you want to say in one long speech. You should expect the co-worker to speak her mind, possibly to swear and blow you off. But, coming to an understanding about what you don’t and do want will not be made clear unless and until you firmly talk that out. To prepare for such a talk, you should make a list of action and words (swearing, yelling, bossing) you don’t want and of what you do want (asking, offering to help, thank you, cheering one another on for good work, and a friendly attitude).

If neither option 1 or 2 stops the bullying, you then go higher. Even going higher, I think, should be something you might wisely first discuss with your supervisor and perhaps request that she go with you.

Let me add my thoughts about use of the f-word, dirty talk, and other sexual explicative language. Does they constitute harassment? They might. Such language is not needed to get work done. Such language does contribute to a bullying, tough talk, and hostile work environment. Such language shifts attention from doing assigned work to sexual thoughts and feelings. Admittedly, such language is common in some settings and can be joking and playful in a barbershop or locker room.

One does not have to be a prude to request that it not be used within the workplace. I am a strong believer in freedom of speech and I think taboo language really does not harm me to hear it. However, such language is used to bully, harass, and create a hostile work environment. And your supervisor should know that you are offended by such and consider it sexual harassment. Say so. Say, “I think that the frequent use of the f-word and dirty sexual talk contribute to bullying, sexual harassment and a hostile environment. Management is responsible for making reasonable efforts to prevent and correct sexual harassment and a hostile environment.” You can also say to your supervisor that HR might assist in correcting those things that contribute to sexual harassment and create a hostile work environment.

I have taken much time to answer your question because I assume you that your work situation is not a pleasant one. Work is hard enough without bullying. Work cannot be deeply satisfying for all of us. Some work is just work. Some is boring. Some is dangerous. Some does not challenge the best in us.

Rather than spend so much time on advising you how to stop bullying, I would prefer to focus your thoughts on what you might do, day in and day out, to make your job and your workplace one that makes a positive difference in the lives of your customers, community, and co-workers. There is so much that needs to be done to make our workplaces good places to work; places that are safe, provide health care, good pay for both those at the bottom and top, places that are green-conscious, and places that are profitable. Even at the workgroup level, these are the concerns that should surface in staff meetings, and they will not unless and until these concerns are on the minds of individual who work together.

We become what is on our minds. Working together with hands, heart, and head takes and makes big WEGOS. Will you let us know what you do and if you can help transform a hostile environmnent to one that knows the value of teamwork?

William Gorden