Coach’s Challenge for 4/5/10

Good day team,

This week’s challenge is about bullying. I’ve been reading about a young Irish girl who this past year moved from Ireland to Massachusetts, where she began attending a local high school. Soon after she arrived, she started to date a popular senior who was also a star on the school’s football team. Not long after, some of her fellow students, particularly a clique of girls, began bullying and abusing her. I won’t go into the details about how extreme the hazing and physical abuse was, but I was shocked and saddened that no one stepped in to help this girl. The bullying reached such an extreme that she committed suicide.

This story is especially meaningful to me because I had a similar experience. In the middle of my freshman year, I was transferred to a high school in Canton, Ohio, where we had just moved. I was 14 and frightened to be in a new school filled with nothing but strangers.

Before long, one of the seniors, a popular, good-looking boy who was the star quarterback on the football team, started being very attentive to me. Many of the girls at the school began calling me names and leaving swear words on my locker. They would whisper about me as I walked by or wait for me to go into the bathroom and then push me up against the wall and make threatening comments. If I tried to sit with others at lunch in the cafeteria, whomever I sat with would get dirty looks from these girls and eventually move away from me.

I became more and more isolated and frightened as they ramped up their bullying. At one point, one of them invited me to join her in the side yard of the school, behind the custodial building, to look at some cool pictures she said she had of the Beatles. I desperately wanted a friend, and so I naively joined her and was quickly encircled by a group of angry girls. They shouted and yelled swear words at me as they menacingly passed a cigarette around, which they threatened to burn me with it if I didn’t leave the football star alone. They told me to go back where I’d come from, that I was trash and no one at the school or in the town wanted me and my family there.

Fortunately, another senior boy overheard the girls taunting me and ran over to save me from the angry mob. I cannot begin to explain the relief I felt as he put his arm around me and walked me away from the middle of the circle. I’ll never forget what he told them: “You think you can threaten her, but you have no idea how strong she is. I wouldn’t continue to provoke her if I were you. She’s much stronger physically than she looks, and she wouldn’t hesitate to knock one of you out if you push her too hard.”

The following week one of the girls followed me into the bathroom and tried again to push me up against the wall. I gave her a strong right hook to the chin, and she dropped to the floor. I was not bullied or harassed again.

The point of my story is not to challenge you to punch someone out if they bully you, although I do recognize that there are times in life when you have to stand up for yourself or become a victim to the destructiveness of others. But I think it’s of paramount importance to see who the bullies are in your school, your organization, your team, your company or your family and take a stand against this behavior.

In my case, the kind of bullying that took place was obvious. But often that which takes place in our team or our families is more insidious. It can take the form of continual negative comments about other team members or creating doubt about someone else’s competency. This may not be as obvious as shoving or shouting, but it can be just a destructive when we continue to gossip about others or be overtly disrespectful of them.

As I wrote in a previous challenge about setting healthy boundaries (http://www.pathfinderscoach.com/2006/10/14/coachs-challenge-for-october-15-2006/), workplace bullying is much more common than we think. It can come in the form of expressing undo negativity toward another, intentionally excluding others from team activities, or ganging up on someone. It can also come in the form of domination by withholding information or not actively engaging and contributing to the work. When people act inappropriately, it’s important to let them know such behavior won’t be tolerated. The emotional health and safety of an organization depends on direct and clear communication when someone has trespassed on a professional and/or personal boundary.

This week, be on the lookout for bullying and take a stand against it. Don’t be afraid to let others know that it’s unacceptable and won’t be tolerated. Sometimes it’s as easy as just reminding them of how gossip never has a good outcome and that no one feels good when they find out others are gossiping about them. Maybe you let someone know that certain actions are destructive and the results will only make the situation worse. Perhaps you have to counsel a colleague that continued bullying of a co-worker will result in your having to write her or him up for disciplinary action. Perhaps you can invite a sexual harassment trainer to your company to also address bullying, verbal harassment and emotional abuse.

If you are the victim of bullying, do not hesitate to seek help. Talk to your manager or human resource representative to alert them to the situation. In one case, a woman I worked with had to go through three levels of management in her company before someone finally took action against a bullying teammate. Because of her determination and courage, the company instigated more appropriate policies for bullying in the workplace and not only created a much healthier work environment but saved itself from a potential lawsuit.

Whatever the case, make sure you take action to create an environment that is free of bullying, one of the most frightening experiences a person can undergo—companies and teams that tolerate it are unsafe and non-productive.

Have a good week!

Kathleen

Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249

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On Apr 3, 2010, at 10:25 AM, Kathleen Doyle wrote:

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