Being a target of persistent workplace aggression is very painful and has long lasting effects.  It is difficult to comprehend why you are being terrorized in your own place of employment, let alone trying to heal from your wounds.  However, it is vital that targets begin the process of mending, even if they are still being bullied. 

Having been a target of persistent workplace aggression, I am here to tell you that healing is much easier said than done.  One of the first steps in healing for a target is developing a clear understanding that you are not responsible for what is happening to you.  Persistent workplace aggression is not logical or rational.  It is not something we can make sense of and you did not cause this to happen.  Anyone can be a target.  Part of healing is letting go of the desire to have an explanation for what is going on.  Unfortunately, most of the time, there just is not one.  It is just a series of unfortunate events.

Self-talk is a great tool to use to skill to develop as a target of persistent workplace aggression.  Develop one or two statements, such as “I am a survivor and not responsible for the aggressor’s bad behavior” or “I do not deserve to be treated this way and did not bring this on myself.”  I developed my own self-talk phrases and I forced myself to repeat them when I was being targeted.   At times, I would even write them down during meetings when I was being attacked.  It did not stop the aggression but what it did do was provide me with a new viewpoint.  By clearly understanding, and even more importantly, believing that I was not responsible, I was able to relinquish my feelings of guilt.  This allowed me to take back some of the control I thought I had lost and healing began to happen. 

Another step in the healing process is having someone believe that you are being targeted at work and that you are in fact being tormented.  This is imperative because aggressors are so skilled at making targets seem unreliable and unbelievable.  I know for a fact that when I talked about the persistent workplace aggression that was happening to me at work I was often dismissed and was seen as exaggerating what was happening.  This only added to my injuries and my own self-doubt.   Having someone believe you will help you start to believe in yourself once again.  Healing begins with targets mending the damage that the bully has done.  Building self-confidence back up to where it was helps targets gain back some of their power that has been taken.  Regaining back power facilitates healing and recovery so that a new plan of action can be developed to manage being bullied.

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In the workplace, we believe that promotions, compensation, benefits, and rewards are given to those who earn and deserve them.  However, in an environment where persistent workplace aggression is happening, this does not always hold to be true.  In fact, many times it appears that the aggressor(s) in the workplace are the ones receiving the most benefits.  Why does this happen?

Workplace aggressors are highly skilled at what they do.  They are extremely manipulative people and are “smooth operators.”  They have an almost innate ability to lie and to spin any situation in their favor.  Workplace aggressors are experienced and proficient in making their own work and behaviors look good.  They seem to always have the organization’s best interest at heart when in fact; they are the ones wreaking havoc and costing the organization.

Another skill that a workplace aggressor has is that of creating fear.  A culture of fear benefits the aggressor because almost everyone in the organization, including the supervisor, does not want to be victimized and therefore, the workplace caters to the aggressor.  If the aggressor is happy, that should in fact make everyone happy.   As such, aggressors are often given promotions and rewards in an effort to keep their aggression under control.

A colleague and I recently had a discussion about this very topic.  My colleague asserts that supervisors and bosses frequently accommodate the aggressor because the acknowledgment that persistent workplace aggression is happening under their watch may equate their own failings as a leader.  So for the supervisor, it is easier to promote and reward the aggressor than it is to admit that they have allowed, supported, and even promoted persistent workplace aggression.

No matter what the reason, it is never in an organization’s best interest to reward aggression.  Organizations who want to end persistent workplace aggression must start by admitting that their workplace culture is distressed.

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