Tackling the wider effects of bullying
That's men:My column on the subject of workplace bullying (January 15th) struck a chord with many readers including one who asked me to consider the impact of bullying on the family and friends of the targeted person; and another who took me to task for apparently dismissing the role of mediators in helping to deal with this distressing behaviour.
But first this from a reader who believes allegations of bullying are too quickly believed when the alleged target is a woman and the alleged aggressor is a man: "My personal experience is that managers all too frequently believe the alleged bullied. Females seemed to be believed far more so than not. When the 'bullied' turn bully it is extremely difficult for the accused to be heard and equally believed. Male managers seem defenceless when female tears start to fall.
"Certainly things are said in the cut and thrust of office life but please spare us the misery of 'victimhood'. Females are well able to give as good as they get if not more so. Pass me the 'smelling salts'."
My own belief is that women are represented both among bullies and the bullied. Nursing, a predominantly female profession, is no stranger to bullying and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation was probably the first occupational group to draw attention to this issue.
Decade of undermining
The reader who asked me to "look at the bigger picture, the effects on the spouses, children and others connected to the victims of bullying", has a female relative who underwent a decade of bullying and undermining at work.
Her efforts to have the bullying stopped, through mediation and in other ways, were unsuccessful because the bullying was almost always done in private. As happens in quite a lot of these situations, she eventually suffered sleeplessness, stress and anxiety and needed medical support.
As also happens quite a lot, the bully remained in place, even though other staff left because of her behaviour.
Ultimately the relative left her job for the sake of her health and wellbeing.
It is easy to imagine the effect on family of seeing a loved member treated like this.
The bullying can become a preoccupation in conversation; the targeted person may feel too upset to take part in normal social activities; and household members can themselves feel angry, dismayed and resentful at what is happening. If the target is out sick for long periods of time or gives up the job, the family income suffers.
A little mediation
In my earlier column I stated in passing that all too often employers hope a little mediation will result in the withdrawal of a complaint of bullying. While I have come across cases in which this was so it is only fair to say that mediation also works in many other cases.
In an email defending her fellow registered mediators in the Mediators' Institute of Ireland, Treasa Kenny writes: "The agreed outcome to mediation in situations where complaints of bullying and harassment have been made, in my long experience, is not a dropping of a complaint. The options explored will include whether the issue has been addressed to the complainant's satisfaction and whether that allows, with the agreement of the complainant, for the organisation to 'close the file'; whether a longer review period is needed to see sustained behaviour change before the file is closed; or that the issue has not been addressed to the complainant's satisfaction and they now have the right to proceed to formal investigation of their complaint."
I agree that this is what happens where managers have a genuine interest in facing up to and dealing with bullying and other kinds of interpersonal conflict.
I have had experience of such situations and I am glad to clarify that in these circumstances mediation can be an excellent answer to a complex and difficult problem. I am a fan of mediation in all sorts of settings including family disputes, commercial disputes and bullying. The condition is that all parties engage in good faith.
Padraig O'Morain (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy