Standing up: Tips for dealing with workplace bullying of seniors

Mar 5, 2012, 6 a.m.

In January 2011, Miriam O'Reilly, then 53 years old, won a 14 month-long ageism battle against BBC News. Her original sex discrimination case had failed to achieve victory, so the newscaster changed the approach so that it challenged one of the many age-related methods of bullying in the workplace. "The idea that wrinkles or grey hair can sound the death knell for the careers of female TV presenters is beyond appalling," said Age UK charity director Michelle Mitchell in the aftermath of the battle, "especially in a country where over a third of the population is aged 50 and over."

Promotion and position-related age discrimination is only one aspect of bullying in the workplace. Difficult people come in all sizes, work environments and job positions, but sometimes it's not easy to tell the difference between criticism and harassment. Educate yourself on how to deal with these workplace situations.

Bullying Information

Survival in a hostile environment begins by learning how to define and explain the nature of a bully. Here are three tips on how to deal with bullies, which include the disposition types of these well known workplace tormentors:

1) The Hostile Aggressive: This workplace bully is opinionated, verbally abusive, arrogant and deliberately intimidating.

Word choice is the best method for standing up against the hostile aggressive workplace bully:

  1. Learn to speak calmly but with authority
  2. Call them by name
  3. Make your opinion clear but without including any aggressive motions
  4. Never provoke to the point of physical contact
  5. Buffer the verbal confrontation by doing something unexpected, such as dropping a book or opening and shutting a drawer a bit harder than normal
  6. Always maintain eye contact

2) The Unresponsive Personality: Bullying in the workplace does not always involve aggressive behavior. By limiting risks and refusing to respond to circumstances, the unresponsive bully practices a non-committal form of calculated aggression.

Use open-ended questions to motivate the unresponsive bully:

  1. Ask, then wait
  2. Be patient
  3. Put on a friendly smile
  4. Let silence move them to action
  5. In the face of a failed effort, make certain that they know the issue is not settled

3) The Expert: Every report that describes any form of bullying information includes the "know-it-all" bully. Insecurity drives this frustrating personality. They talk with confidence, demand acknowledgement of their competence, and use a barrage of logic and arguments to confront any contenders. They enjoy making co-workers feel like idiots.

Confronting the "Expert" bully requires dedication to details and well-defined alternative views:

  1. Avoid direct challenges
  2. Load up on accurate and complete information
  3. Never interrupt
  4. Listen attentively and express respect for their knowledge
  5. Refrain from bringing personal credentials into the discussion
  6. Paraphrase their arguments
  7. Seek true understanding of this person's insecurities

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