Over the years I have had the privilege of working with many people who have been faced with workplace conflict. I remember when I had the same experience some years ago and my experience was the same as all these other people and I don’t seem to understand what is happening and need someone to explain it to me. This week I had a women come to see me who was confronted with a workplace which was somewhat toxic and when complained about it was immediately silenced. She was told that she was not to talk about what had happened to her with anyone in the workplace.
This meant that she now had no one in her life that she could talk to about what was happening. It took a great deal of courage for her to raise the issue with HR but now she was silenced. Life at home wasn’t very supportive so it was unlikely that she could talk about work and feel supported. What does it mean when we are given instructions by HR to not say anything. What are they going to do if you do talk to your best friend who happens to work in the same office? Are they going to sack you and continue the abuse? Is talking to someone who already understands what has been happening to you, likely to change anything?
There is always your work EAP but that is limited and you can’t use them on a daily basis if you want to debrief. Silencing an individual prevents any immediate debriefing process from taking place. You can’t say to the person next to you, “He said it to me again” for fear of losing your job or damaging your case. What the silencing does is prevent you from gathering up all those other poor workers who have been bullied by this person. Silencing prevents you from highlighting the inadequate management practices which have allowed the bullying to persist.
Perhaps we need to say “NO” to demands about how we are to behave when we are the victim of bullying.