Stamping out verbal bullying

When I was growing up I can remember a rhyme my mother used to say to me, which was “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. When I was growing up most people were so concerned about physical bullying that verbal bullying was a mute point. Looking back, my mother didn’t have a clue or if she did she was looking through rose tinted glasses. There were some instances of physical bullying in my school however the occurrences were very rare, unless you actually went looking for a fight that was. Verbal bullying on the other hand was widespread and it was something that many people experienced several times each and every day. In fact, I would say that every single child at my school was the subject of verbal bullying at some time or another.

Verbal bullying can be defined as the use of language or words to gain power over another person, put down another person, make fun of another person, be nasty and spiteful to another person or to tease another person.  Verbal bullying is often more difficult to detect than physical bullying because the effects cannot be seen and the bully will only say the nasty things when no one else is in earshot.

Verbal bullying is worse than physical bullying by far. The human body is a wonderful machine and it will heal. If a bully bruises us we heal, if a bully gives us a bloody nose we will heal, if a bully breaks one of our bones we will heal. Verbal bullying is different though. Verbal bullying creates no physical damage but the effects can have a severe psychological effect that will impact victims for their entire lives. Verbal bullying can lead to unhappiness, depression and low self esteem amongst many other things. 

Verbal bullying is something that follows us throughout our whole life and it is something we will experience from childhood through to adulthood. Many people would never physically assault someone, and would never consider themselves a bully but the same people wouldn’t think twice about engaging in malicious gossip or conversations about other people that may hurt them. Many people do engage in malicious gossip and are well aware of the fact, however some people are genuinely unaware they are being verbal bullies. These people see their comments as nothing more than harmless banter, but the people directly affected often think otherwise.

Verbal bullying is rife in the work place and action must be taken to stop this. Employers are aware that a happy workforce is a productive workforce. Employers are also aware of the effects of verbal bullying and realise that verbal bullying results in unhappiness which has adverse affects on the business. All companies are anti bullying and many companies have a bullying policy in the company handbook. The bullying policy will clearly state the company’s stance on bullying, what employees should do if they become aware of bullying and what bullies can expect to happen to them if they are found to be bullying any of the company’s personnel. Some companies have Human Resources departments who are responsible for ensuring there is an anti bullying culture in the company amongst other things.

Even with stringent anti bullying procedures in place workplace bullying is still very common, and in this day and age it is simply not acceptable. The question is how do we going to eradicate verbal bullying in the workplace? How do we eradicate physical bullying in the workplace? The answer to these questions is not easy and a real problem.

Direct verbal bullying, racist comments, ageist comments, sexist comments, nasty comments, and malicious gossip needs to be stamped out quick smart. If you experience any of this behaviour in your company, either directly or indirectly, you need to report it to the Human Resources manager or your boss in the first instance. 

The more subtle verbal bullying is going to be more difficult to stamp out. Because different people have different attitudes to what constitutes harassment and bullying, what one person considers bullying another person will consider to be harmless banter. When engaging in conversation with our work colleagues we need to tread carefully to ensure we do not accidentally become a workplace bully.

In the workplace we must ensure we do not participate in malicious gossip. In the workplace we have to ensure we think of others feelings before we open our mouths to crack a joke. Before engaging in we consider as harmless banter we must get to know our work colleagues in the first instance. We have to find out the likes and dislikes of our work colleagues, we have to find out the attitudes and values of our work colleagues, we have to find out what offends our fellow work colleagues and we have to adapt our behaviour accordingly. As soon as you get to know your work colleagues you will soon find out what you can and, more importantly, what you can’t get away with when engaging with them.