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  • Simon Rickman

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can certainly harm you....if you let them....


I’m sure, like me, you found ITV’s ‘Sticks and Stones’ quite uncomfortable but thought provoking viewing. You may have experienced something like that yourself, or you’ve seen it happen to a colleague, or you’ve heard about it from someone who has suffered at the hands of workplace ‘bullies’.


During the screening, there were times when I turned to my wife, and said, “This is getting silly now! It’s too far-fetched and unrealistic.” But was it? OK, there is the usual ‘poetic licence’ that makes for a good drama; but was it really going too far to become unbelievable? Maybe....

During the three episodes, I found myself thinking about what it must be like to be ‘bullied’ at work. Whether it’s being ostracised for being ‘different, or marginalised for ‘standing out’, or being put-down for being seen as a ‘threat’. During my 35 year career in HR, I have had a few instances of being ‘bullied’ myself in this way; and unfortunately, I’ve had to help others to manage this situation on quite a few occasions. It’s not pleasant, and can start to damage your self-belief and self-esteem. Like being challenged ‘aggressively’ in front of the boss, whilst ‘mediocre’ people seem to ‘get away with it’. Like being excluded at breaks. Noticing those little glances, the ‘in-jokes’, and the raised eyebrows during a meeting. Not responding to emails, or being missed off an important memo. All of these are examples of ‘bullying’, whether psychologically or cyberlogically.

As a coach, I support others through times of such ‘distress’. It’s not always easy to identify what has been going on. As ‘Sticks and Stones’ demonstrated, it’s often hidden in sly comments, innuendos, and little phrases that could be interpreted one way or another, but just enough to get you to doubt yourself. What is their motive? What have you done wrong? What should you do next? Who would believe you? Isn’t the Corporate world like this? So, you have to be ‘tough’ and ‘stand up for yourself’.

‘Sticks and Stones’ gave us the satisfaction of Thomas getting his ‘revenge’. He was lucky. But that doesn’t always happen in real life. Some people continue to suffer in silence. So, allow me to share some suggestion that I have used in the past, and have proved to be helpful to me and to others

  1. Be a victor and not a victim. Take take full responsibility for everything that happens to you. Be proactive, by choosing to walk away from the ‘poison’. Decide not to reply (either verbally or in writing) when it’s far easier to do so. I often find that taking no action is sweeter than trying to take the bully on, because that's what they want. As someone once said to me, “You can’t argue with a drunk or a fool.”

  2. Begin with the end in mind, so that you can retain your self-respect. Say to yourself over and over again, “No matter what you say or do to me, I am still a worthwhile person.” Follow the ‘Law of Substitution’, and replace negative feelings with positive ones. It’s not easy, but the more positive self-reinforcement you can generate, the less harm the other person can do to you.

  3. “It’s not what happens to us, but the meaning it holds that determines its effect.” This is the central thesis of Cognitive Behavioural Theory (CBT). There are lots of good videos on the internet to look at. Ghandi said, “They cannot take away our self-respect if we do not give it to them.” So don’t give it to them!

  4. Speak to other people, let them know how you are feeling, and what is happening to you. You might be imagining it, but probably not. First, try talking to the person concerned, as they may not realise the impact it is having on you. If that doesn’t work, then talk to your boss (assuming that they are not part of the problem); or raise the issue with HR. Gather evidence, and write it down. Think about when and how to record potentially sensitive conversations on your phone. It might not be admissible if you don’t get their approval (which is highly unlikely), but it eventually helped Thomas in ‘Sticks and Stones’ as the ‘bully’ crossed the line.

  5. Be mindful of ‘mindfulness’. Learn to relax by breathing properly. Breathing out more than you breathe in helps get rid of stress/anxiety. Not everything is a battle to be won. Let them ‘win’ their little victories. Your goal is to take back control. So, surround yourself with people who reflect the great person you really are.

  6. Persevere, persist and be patient. Life in the business world isn’t always easy. In fact, at times, it can be “nasty, brutish and short”. So, learn to be more resilient and assertive. There are plenty of tools and techniques on the internet to look at. And if you’re afraid, remember that FEAR is merely Fantasised Experiences Appearing Real. Whatever you do, keep believing in yourself.

  7. There is no such thing as failure.... there is just a delay in results. So, play the long-game and let karma do its work. The best thing about ‘karma’ is doing nothing and letting things take their course. You don’t know how and when or what will happen. But it will. The ‘Law of Attraction’ means that when these ‘bullies’ put ‘bad’ things out in the world, it will come back to them. Your goal is to put ‘good’ things in to the universe, for this will come back to you in spades.


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