Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Beating Workplace Bullies

Every week I would work with around six clients regarding workplace bullying issues. I have personally experienced workplace bullying and certainly understand the degree of despair, sense of hopelessness and helplessness generated by the bad behaviour of a co-worker. I can remember arriving at work and becoming so distressed as I stood at the entrance way to the office block in which I was working, that I was unable to enter the building. I cried uncontrollably, I was confused and bewildered by this outpouring of emotions. As a male I believed I could handle what was happening to me and that I could fight back and defeat the bully. I believed that those in a community service organisation would understand what was happening to me and would support me. I have never been so wrong.

I have used the past ten years trying to understand the impact Workplace Bullying has on people and finding ways to combat the bully. What I am about to explain to you is a process which I have used with many clients over the past year with outstanding success. When I have the opportunity to discuss this with targets of bullies they will often report how empowered they feel and they note a significant decrease in their anxiety. The steps are simple in a way and it surprises me that others haven't thought of using this technique.

1. Power

Ask yourself why does the bully have the power to influence how you feel about yourself, life in general and to affect your mental wellbeing?

Most people give this power to others. People in and off themselves do not have power over us, the power they have comes from what we believe about them. If we believe they can interfere with what we think and feel about ourself then they will have enormous power over us. But this power is power we attribute to them not power they have. We believe they may be able to sack us, prevent us from promotion or prohibit us from taking holidays or receiving professional development. We believe that when they gossip about us that they are able to influence others opinions of us.

Write what POWER you believe the bully has over your life.

Consider if that power is justified. Is it helpful for you hold these beliefs?

Now ask how important do you want this person to be in your life?

Would you invite this person to your birthday party?

Most people would say that if they could they would choose not to have this person in their life at all. That they are not important to them and if they could would prefer not to have anything to do with them.

Once we accept that it is what we believe about the power this person has we are then able to change our belief system and view the bully as powerless and lacking influence on our preferred view of who we are and how we want to interact with our world.

Bullies often are feeling powerless, humiliated, lonely, isolated, rejected, fearful, and believe that they will feel better if they can make you feel similar emotions.

It is your choice as to whether you wish to play their game. What is to follow is the game changer and a way by which you can change the rules.

2. Non-justification

Most of us believe that we need to justify what we do because it will help others to understand our motives and give them a clearer view of who we are. We do this by habit because we also believe it is a polite thing to do. We use an enormous amount of energy justifying our behaviour to people who don't give a damn. SO STOP IT NOW.

The most powerful word in assertion is the word "NO" without justification. Learn to just so "NO". Don't waste your time and energy on people who don't care about you and who are not going to change their view of you no matter how much time you spend explaining yourself.

This change in behaviour will change the rules and leave the bully confused because they will not know how to respond to you. Be aware though that they may became angry and confused, but this is their problem not yours.

3. Questions

This is the most exciting aspect of the three pronged response to bullies.

Remember you are now not justifying anything to them. But now you are going to just ask them open ended questions.

The questions are generic questions which can be used under all circumstances. The reason for asking questions is that the energy the bully is using by attacking you is often absorbed by you and integrated into you by your belief system of the power the bully has. This is now your opportunity to change the flow of energy back to the bully. It is important to make them think about what they are doing rather than attacking you.

I will give you some questions you can ask. These are so simple and have to integrated into your normal response when you are feeling attacked.


I am curious as to what you meant by what you just said?

I am wondering if you could clarify what you just said?

When you say ......... I am wondering if you know how that makes me feel?

The goal here is to have them justify what they say or do.

Write a list of questions which would best fit with the bully in your life and commit them to memory. Test the questions on people you know. Remember, there is nothing offensive or disrespectful by asking questions.

Above all have fun with this. Watch how the bully responds. They will become defensive when they realise you are changing the rules. They may even step up the bullying but as they do they well expose themselves as a bully. The best place to ask questions if you have the courage is in meetings so that others can observe the bullies response. Never enter into a debate with the bully if they begin to attack you. Maintain the focus on the questions. If they fail to answer a question just ask the questions again.

This strategy often results in the bully leaving you alone. One they realise that they no longer have the power to control you they will move onto someone else, unfortunately.

If this works for you become the educator of these techniques with you co-workers. Together you will change the workplace and the bully will either change their behaviour or they will leave.

Once you have tried this drop me a line and let me know how you have gone. If you want further help contact me through this blog or call me on the number below.

Have fun and be safe.

Tony Tonkin
Accredited Mental Health Social Worker
International Counselling Service
Ph 0414 883 153

Monday, November 12, 2012

Male Violence is not Maleness

There is nothing which churns the stomach more than hearing men talk about the way they have been able to dominate or control another person. Recently in an anger program I was facilitating a young man told me that he felt empowered by knowing that others are fearful of him. What concerned me most is that he was not concerned about how others felt towards him but he believed he was getting what he needed out of the relationship because those around him were compliant to his wishes. I told him that it saddened me that he didn’t care about the impact of his behaviour on others. Another client told me that he will not tolerate people holding a view of him which he didn’t believe was true. He would beat them to a pulp, this was a veiled threat towards me if I challenged any of his views about maleness or any view that may be different to his.

Over the past twenty years I have worked with some of the most violent men our society produces. I am interested by the notion that being tough is a true indicator of character and somehow makes one happier and provides a sense of safety for those we love the most. For some men that is not important. For some the safety comes in their sense of power and the exertion of control over others. These men fortunately are not the majority but it is scary when one considers how often I meet them, far too often.

The true sense of “maleness” is determined by our humanity and particularly our love for our partner/s and children. Anything else is a myth. It takes more courage to build a respectful and equal relationship than it does one which is violent and abusive. It takes true conviction to walk away from a fight than it does to stand face to face abusing the other and resolving nothing but creating further pain and mistrust. How dumb are men that they think this form of conflict is helpful. There are very few men who will agree with the men mentioned above that violent behaviour builds a better relationship. What it does breed is discontent and unhappiness.

We may not like the idea, but inside of us often sits a little boy who at some point has been treated badly. This little boy is desperately looking for love, connection, tenderness, respect. Unfortunately, because men are who we are, he hasn’t been shown how to gather together all of these wonderful qualities. Yet there is something inside that innately tells him that these are important and good qualities and certainly different from what he experienced as a child. There is the desire to experience what these qualities offer. Of course he is unable to articulate what he wants, he doesn’t talk about his feelings, so is unable to describe them in any meaningful way. So instead he demands that they be provided by others. Sex should be on demand. He should always be respected and when he feels disrespected he becomes violent. Sex is the only time that he feels connected and loved.

As men become further separated from the very goal they desire they become increasingly violent and abusive. They often don’t understand that their behaviour is prohibiting them from attaining what they need. Failure to take responsibility for behaviour is another distancing practice. It is unfortunate that all of the strategies men employ to get what they want are reinforced by the version of “maleness” we have presented to us while we are growing up. By the time we reach adulthood we have been sold on the idea that we are entitled to have all those things we desire and that we can have them regardless of our behaviour because we are simply, “entitled”.

Yes, we are entitled to be loved and cared for and feel close to others, but what we want is not a “given”. It is something we have to work towards. Most importantly we have to understand our own emotions and feel safe – independent of others. Where ever violence abounds there is insecurity, fear, betrayal, a lack of trust.

As long as we continue to act in violent ways we will never have what we so desperately want.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Enjoying the voice of Andrea Bocelli

This is a little different from the normal posts. For years I have been fond of Andrea Bocelli. There is something about the quality of his voice which reaches my soul like nothing else. I am sitting at my desk with a collection of his songs playing over YouTube.

A few years ago my wife asked what I would like for my birthday. I knew that Bocelli was coming to Australia but was disappointed that he wasn’t coming to Adelaide. My wife suggested that we could travel to Perth to the concert as my birthday gift. It was one of the most emotional birthdays I have ever had. The venue was the very crappy Perth Entertainment Centre but it didn’t really matter. Just to hear that voice live was remarkable. I can’t say that I am a lover of opera because I am not, I wouldn’t know one opera from another nor one singer from another. However I do know that I love this mans voice like no other.

I find it difficult to listen to him sing and not feel an emotional connection. When we were walking through the car park on the way to the car after the performance Dee asked me what I thought and I burst into tears. I wasn’t thinking much at all I was just emotional. I couldn’t describe it as happy or sad emotions just raw emotions. It was like something inside of me was being cleansed and I didn’t need to know what it was all I needed to know was that I was better for the experience.

I may not always feel the same degree of emotional pain but I do feel a sense of peace and connection when I am quietly listening to him sing. If I ever have a spiritual experience this is it. Perhaps amongst the chaos which is my work there is a place for the soothing nature of his tone and range that breaks through the harsh fibers of the stories I hear and disseminates them into perfect tone and pitch. The awfulness of life seems to be transformed into this other place for a moment. It is a refreshing and calming place to be for me, no wonder it is full of emotion.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Social Work standards and Child Protection

I guess I have written about issues concerning social work standards within Child Protection, in fact many of my blogs seem to be about this. I work in a range of areas and the work I do in the child protection area is a very small part of my business and is the area of my business for which I don't get paid. I am amused by the energy it consumes and the incredibly poor practices I experience by other social workers or those purporting to be social workers. I see child protection as a kind of frenzied inactivity. The morally inept attempting to display their moral fibre based on found-less or misconstrued allegations, which fail to past the most elementary test of common sense or reasonableness. It appears that all that is wrong with social work has found this one place to reside amongst the noblest and arguably the most sacred of causes, "Child Protection". It is here, in this sacred place, that some social workers can hide from being scrutinised and being accountable. It is within the walls of "Child Protection" that they are shielded by the power of the organisation (the government) and the law.

They make decisions that will determine the future of not just the child but also the parents, grandparents, siblings etc. There is no opportunity to confront poor decision making because they will not under any circumstances admit that they may have made a mistake or could have made different more informed decisions. They are not open to the idea that people change and therefore parents change. They are unable to comprehend that children are sometimes better off with parents who are willing to be taught to parent differently rather than being placed in alternate care which often is more damaging.

I have learnt so much by being an advocate for parents whose kids have been removed by child protection services. I have learnt that there are many versions of Social Work and not very many are the same as mine. I have learnt that there are many social workers who don't believe in change and that they parent blame and that they are judgemental. I have felt the injustice parents feel when confronted with a system which doesn't listen to them, and fails to understand the distress associated with losing a child. I have felt anger like I have never felt it before as I know I am being lied to and that the worker is not able to deliver anything that we are asking but they don't have the guts to tell us. Recently I was talking to two social workers from Kadina office, Paul and Keiron, and I now know that they were never going to deliver on anything they said. I wanted to believe in them so much, I wanted to believe that they were going to make a difference and that they were going to believe in my client. Unfortunately they were never going to return the child to her parents. What was really disappointing was that they didn't have the guts to make a stand against their manager Patrick who for some bizarre reason banned me from having a meeting with them in the first place. From that point on I guess I should have realised that it wasn't going to go anywhere.

I have decided to no longer advocate for this parent, not because I don't believe in her but because FSA have now made it so difficult to have a relationship with them that it has made my work redundant. Patrick the manager has told me in no uncertain terms that I am only permitted to have conversations with him and not the two workers. Is this man a control freak or what? So much for the notion of building partnerships. How little respect he must have for Paul and Keiron. I would be pretty upset if I was those two workers but there again perhaps they are so engrained in the culture that they think this behaviour is normal.

So, I will no longer have any meetings with FSA workers and particularly Patrick or any of the workers from his office or where he manages. This doesn't mean that I am going to stop fighting for change. What I have to do is find more creative ways to bring about change. What people like Patrick and others have failed to realise that if they were to work with me we could have brought about significant change that would have enhanced many peoples lives. But because they somehow saw me differently, buggered if I know how they saw me, they decided to do what most bullies do and that is demonise and ostracise the opponent. This is what Patrick has attempted to do. David Waterford on the other hand believed that by having conversations with me would be enough to placate me. This is done under the misguided belief that he has the power and that I would become compliant to his authority. When this didn't work he virtually did what Patrick is now doing.

At every level this has always been about the rights of the child. In the case which involves these people I have worked to have the child returned because I believe passionately that this is in the best interest of the child. That others in the same profession are unable to see this and want the child to remain in an environment which is damaging to her is a concept I am unable to understand. I can not believe that the social workers I mentioned above can demonstrate such blatant disregard to a child's well being when they are there to protect the child. I don't want to believe that this is about my involvement in the case but I do believe that if I wasn't involved the child would not be returned and the parents would be in a worse emotional condition. My involvement though has focussed on the ineptitude of workers and a process which is more about risk aversion than about the well being of children. I therefore become the problem, well that is what they would like others to believe.

The greatest lie I have heard, and it came from Patrick, is that they are acting in the best interest of the child. That is not true, it never has been true.

Tony Tonkin
Accredited Mental Health Social Worker
International Counselling Service
Ph 0414 883 153