The mother of Josh, one of my former co-workers, used to always tell the story of how, during his high school years, Josh confronted a bully that was tormenting one of his younger brothers. Josh cornered the bully in the locker room and pinned him against a locker while he set him straight on what would happen if the bully ever messed with Josh’s younger brother again. Josh’s moment of valor worked, as the bully never bothered the younger brother again.
I love this story. It’s an empowering example of what could happen if you take a stand for someone or something. In some ways, it’s something that any Christian, myself included, would want their Heavenly Father to do when they’re tormented by others. Unfortunately, not all situations that involve bullying end the same way that Josh’s encounter did.
My encounter with it definitely did not.
My daughter, Annie, has been battling a serious stomach condition called Gastroparesis for almost two years now. Between filtering in and out of hospitals and fearing many times that I may actually lose my daughter, I still pressed on with my work remotely, but the situation severely limited my ability to travel for my job. Most of my co-workers at the time were understanding and worked with me, but there were some that just couldn’t understand my situation. There was one co-worker who was overseeing one of the projects I was a part of who gave me a very hard time. She couldn’t grasp the severity of Annie’s condition and viewed my physical absence at work as a sign of apathy. She made it very clear that she thought I wasn’t “putting in the effort” that everyone else was. The truth was that my commitment to my job never wavered, and I labored to continue to bring value to my team despite being away from the office. Despite my efforts to convince her otherwise, my co-worker continued to pressure me to “be there” and made it a point to broadcast to myself and others at our office when I was not.
In that situation, I felt attacked, angry, and an overwhelming sense of guilt at the thought that maybe I wasn’t pushing hard enough, that I should be doing even more. I prayed every day. I prayed to God and asked Him to somehow touch my co-worker and help her finally understand what was going on. I wanted God to be like Josh and swoop in to set my co-worker straight.
God didn’t intervene. My co-worker never changed, never let up.
This story is not an example of me setting a bully straight and seeing my co-worker changed into a “better” person.
Instead, this is a story of what God did in my own heart. When I pleaded with Him to help me and my situation, I began to feel a growing sense of peace and resolve:
This is where God wants me. I’m contributing value to the company and my job. It doesn’t matter that my co-worker is complaining about me. She and my co-workers are not my audience. My audience consists of exactly One who I am called to serve with my whole heart.
I discarded my pride, my hurt feelings, and my sense of injustice. I continued to work hard and trust that God was happy with what I was doing. Looking back, I know the only way I kept my head above water was by trusting God to hold onto me and not let me slip under.
Are you dealing with a “work bully?” If you are, here is your first step in rectifying the situation. Repeat this to yourself: “I am God’s, and I am working to serve Him.”
After you solidify that truth in your mind, here are additional truths that can move you forward.
It’s not personal, even if it feels that way. Someone pushing you around at work might feel like a personal attack. In most cases, however, workplace bullying isn’t personal at all. The “office bully” that is pushing you around and being loud and abrasive might be treating you that way because that’s how they’ve learned to communicate with their co-workers. Of course it’s uncalled-for behavior, but the behavior does not reflect on who you are.
By seeing bullying behavior in this light, it will be easier for you to pull all personal feelings out of the equation and start coming up with a communications strategy for interacting with this person.
“Bullying” is also usually the result of misunderstanding. My coworker really did not understand Annie’s illness, and if she had understood, she might not have given me such a hard time. At the time, I didn’t consider this as a possible motive for her actions, but I realize now that I could have done more to help her understand my situation and see exactly what I was contributing to my team.
Retreat at just the right time. Most people will tell you that the best way to deal with a bully is to confront them head on. There are times, though, when the wise reaction to bullying is to disengage and take a step back. Most workplace bullies are not acting out for fun. They want or need something, so they are making their presence known. Create some space for yourself to figure out what the underlying problem is before you respond. Once you think you better understand the situation, go directly to the “bully” with a thought-out response and calm demeanor. In the time that you took to step away, the other person will also have likely had the time to calm down too.
Keep your focus. Bullying can distract you from presenting yourself and Christ well in the workplace. Being bullied can also keep you from staying focused on the task at hand: your job. Don’t let it! Bullying never feels good, and, if you let it, will eat you up inside. Battered feelings, wounded pride, and a desire to have the situation “taken care of” can cast a shadow over your heart and muddy your thought process.
To keep your focus, always remember what Jesus calls the “foremost” command: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29-30).
Pray for God to be at work in the situation. Pray that He changes the situation as well as the heart of your bully. In the end, there is nothing more important than loving and serving your God, even if this means sacrificing your comfort, job, or the respect of your co-workers.
Harassment should not be ignored. The bullying I’ve been mentioning to this point is no way harmless, but it is not equivalent to real harassment. I can’t definitively say where the line is between bullying and harassment, as it’s different for everyone. There are certain indicators, such as if personal animus is involved, if you are unable to continue carrying out your responsibilities in the workplace, or if your “bully” seems to be acting outside of their own interests to hurt or embarrass you. If any of these warning signs pertain to your situation, consider taking further measures. Keep a detailed record of everything that occurs, including the date, time, what was said or done, and who witnessed it. Print out pertinent emails, save any phone messages you receive, and any other precaution you feel will support your case. It might feel like a dramatic reaction, but what you do now may be critical later. Before reporting your situation to your boss or to your HR department, make a conscious effort to go directly to the person to attempt to resolve the situation on your own. Do this as privately and respectfully as possible. If that effort doesn’t remedy anything, then it’s time to file a formal complaint or look for a new job (or both).
Does “giving in” like that mean you’ve let the bully “win?” Perhaps.
But do not forget that whatever your bully is “winning” at, it’s not a competition that you are a part of. You will always have bullies of some kind in your working life. While you can’t change them, you’re not helpless. Through Christ, you have the right to make the correct choices for you and your family, regardless of what those choices may be. The firmer you are in your identity in Christ, the less sway a bully (or anyone else) can have over you.
* A version of this post originally appeared here at Today’s Christian Woman.