#3: Freedom to be Believed
Adults expect that when they speak, others will accept their version of reality as truth. This is especially true of guileless people who do not scam or scheme others. They speak about what they honestly see, felt or think.
Bullied targets are prone to wait a long time before confronting their bully (and thus being completely ineffective). Then, when the tale is finally told, it is spewed out like verbal salad — confusing, emotional, disjointed, out of sequence and very vivid. The form of the presentation makes it easy to dismiss. Raw hurt emotions scare listeners. They tune out. The facts about extreme incidents of abuse strain credulity.
Of course, unchecked bullying does escalate and becomes more dehumanizing. It is hard to believe that “Bob” is capable of abuse that the target reports. It all seems less credible when the incidents happened behind closed doors. Bob says he never did it (no duh).
The result — bullied targets are not believed. They are branded paranoid, conspiratorial, delusion or mentally ill. This further frustrates targets. They waited a long time to report their misery only to be discounted or laughed at. They thought the employer would be diligent and want to stop the abuse.
Behind the circling of the wagons around Bob is that Bob enjoys protection from his “executive sponsor.” The entire organization now turns against the reporting target. She or he is branded a troublemaker for daring to say negative things about someone or the way things are unfairly done. People who appear non-compliant with the dominant norm are branded “uncivil.” That ability of targets to speak truth to power is eventually worn down. Sadly, after weeks or months of exclusion from the workteam, targets become more compliant. They give in. Sadly, they accept the alienation, isolation and rejection characterizing their world of work.
Disbelief of targets also is fueled by the hierarchy in organizations. The majority (72%) of bullies are bosses. Over half of targets are non-supervisory workers. It’s simple (and incorrect) logic. Bosses are believed without question; workers are doubted. Thus, bullies’ version of reality are accepted as fact. Targets’ tales, which sound eccentric and emotional, are discounted. In other words, regardless of the people involved — a pathological liar bully and moral principled target — bosses are believed while complainants are not.
It doesn’t matter to targets that the process may be impersonal. Being called a liar when they know they are telling the truth is taken very personally. Why doesn’t HR and management believe them? Targets underestimate that the majority of workers stay in their role and follow orders, as a manager expected to support other managers, as a HR staffer expected to support management. It always seems to surprise targets how unsupportive their employers are.
The only hope to change this cycle of not believing people who complain about bullying is to stop relying on internal staff to handle complaint-investigation-correction processes. External professionals trained in the dynamics of workplace bullying need to get involved. The biases and allegiance to role preclude HR or managers from honest fact-finding. Internal groups are invested in the outcomes of an investigation.
To HR and managers, it seems natural that they would handle complaints. The well established record of failing to conduct fair investigations and the collateral damage to veteran workers’ careers caused by the complaining combine to suggest changes.
Principled moral people like bullied targets deserve to be believed when they are telling the truth.
Liars — bullies or targets — do not deserve protection from their organizations.
– #2: Freedom to enjoy Dignity at Work
– #1: Freedom to Affiliate with Friends at Work
– #4: Freedom to be Innocent & Not Exploited
– #5: Freedom from Fear
– Archives: Workplace Bullying
– Freedom From Workplace Bullies Week Video.