Sunday, April 3, 2011


I was doing a little research tonight on how to handle a difficult situation, wondering if my perception of the problem was based in reality or just in my being oversensitive.

Turns out I was right on the money, and I learned some interesting things, and a new term (hence the title - frenemies.)  A frenemy is an enemy that says he or she is your friend.  Yet he or she finds ways to belittle you at every opportunity.  Frenemies can be in one's family, social circle, church, or work.

I ran across the term while I was reading an amazing article by Susan McClelland about workplace bullying in Canadian Living magazine; if you want to check it out please click here. I highly recommend it!! 

Bullying is most frequently associated with the schoolyard.  But schoolyard bullies grow older (I was going to say grow up) and become bullies as adults.  

One of the things I learned from the article was that a bully's target is not the weakest person in the group but in most cases, it is the strongest, or the most intelligent, or the most hard-working person - one who is non-confrontational by nature.  It is this last quality - wanting to avoid confrontation, on which the bully capitalizes.  The reason the workplace bully (and over 80% of workplace bullies are bosses) chooses the one who's doing a good job is that he or she sees the hard worker as a threat.  Behaviors like intimidation, manipulation, threats, and sarcasm are only a few of the things that workplace bullies use to exercise power over their victims.

One of the tenets of my new lifestyle is Acceptance.  I was struggling with how acceptance fits into how - or whether - to confront a bully.  And then I read something just today by Melody Beattie in her daily reading book, "The Language of Letting Go."  She wrote, 

"Acceptance does not mean we accept abuse or mistreatment; it does not mean we forgo boundaries, our hopes, dreams, desires, wants, or ourselves. 
It means we accept what is, so we know what to do to take care of ourselves and what boundaries we need to set."

So it comes down to this.  Nobody has to accept being the target of a workplace (or any other place) bully. If I am outraged when bullying happens to another person, I have the right to be just as outraged when it happens to me.  I am not doing anyone any favors by suffering in silence; I am only causing the bully to think that he or she can get away with it on someone else.  There is no way that anyone should have to dread going to work - use up their sick leave from being so stressed about the situation that they actually get physically sick (migraines, stomach difficulties, etc.) - just because there is someone at the job site who has decided to eliminate a perceived threat.  

Solidarity is the best defense against a workplace bully (we learned this on the playground with school bullies) because confronting one alone is professional suicide. Any confrontation needs to be done with witnesses. So, it's best to be smart about it. For example, I need to be calm and rational when confronting or exposing this kind of behavior, and setting boundaries; I can't just go into it willy-nilly without a clear picture in my mind of what happened, why it's wrong, and what specific things I want changed.  My being too emotionally distraught puts the bully at an advantage and paints me in an unprofessional light with my superiors.  

I need to confine myself to talking about the behavior, and not about the motivation behind it.  I need to refrain from mounting a "counter-attack" because this will escalate into a one-upmanship war.  A simple recital of the facts and how they have affected me, will suffice.  If the bully has involved another person in his or her vendetta, that person may need to be brought into the discussion - possibly even with a union representative or conflict resolution specialist - to put the issue to rest.

And if all else fails - there's always the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which takes a very dim view of this phenomenon.

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