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Dealing with being bullied or harassed

It is sadly the case that bullying and harassment are far more prevalent than we would like them to be. If you find that you are one of the many people who are on the receiving end of such unfair treatment, there are certain steps you can take to attempt to rectify the situation. However, before doing anything else, the first thing that you need to do is to recognise that the situation is not your fault. Bullying and harassment are inappropriate behaviours in any circumstances. It is therefore clearly the person doing the bullying or harassing who is at fault. The next thing to do is to seek support. Are there other people in the organisation that you can rely on to help you? Are there others who are being bullied or harassed that you could form an alliance with? Do you have a trade union or a professional association that can help you? Bullying and harassment involve the abuse of power. It is therefore important that you avoid putting yourself in a position where the bully or harasser can use their power against you even more if you make a complaint. Once you have support in place, you are then in a much stronger and safe position to raise the issue with the person concerned. This can be done informally at first, because often these problems arise without the perpetrator realising what he or she is doing. That is, it is not simply a matter of deliberate persecution of an individual, but rather a failure to appreciate the consequences of their inappropriate behaviour. For example, some bullies are genuinely shocked when they discover that a complaint has been made against them, because they were not aware that they were doing harm. Some people commonly mistake bullying and harassment for ‘strong leadership’. If raising the matter informally does not have the desired effect, then you will need to consider what formal steps you can take. Once again, it is vitally important that you have as much support as possible. Does your employing organisation have a policy on bullying and harassment or ‘Dignity at Work’? If there is no specific policy, are these issues covered elsewhere, for example, in a Staff Care Policy or Equality and Diversity Policy? If you are to make a formal complaint, it is best to know the precise policy basis on which such a complaint is being made. Whether you raise the issue informally or make a formal complaint about the matter, it is important that you have evidence to support your view of the situation. If the perpetrator is unaware of the consequences of his or her actions, then you may encounter resistance in their acceptance of your version of events. The more evidence you have to back up what you are saying, the better. Similarly, if you make a formal complaint, it will be necessary for you to have evidence to support the case that you are making, rather than it simply be a matter of your word against his or hers. It is therefore essential that you keep a record including times and dates of issues and events that you feel are relevant. For further information, see the Resources Section.

Dr Neil Thompson                        

Neil’s website and blog are at

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