Tagged: power

Understand your personal power and act to end workplace bullying

Woman yelling into a bullhorn on an urban street

We’ve encountered many people in this journey who don’t realize their personal power. We can spot them quickly because they see a problem or opportunity and instead of just doing, they say things like:

  • “You should….”
  • “This needs to be done….”
  • “I don’t have time….”
  • “I’m busy….”

We’re ALL busy, we all have the same amount of time in the day (it’s a matter of priority), and if we see an opportunity, it’s not someone else’s job to do it. It’s yours.

With these ideas in mind, here are tips to follow so we can all move forward together — with respect and dignity (since that’s what we ultimately aim to promote):

  • Use the term “we,” not “you.” People like to use the term “you” when they don’t feel ownership. But changing the culture is everyone’s responsibility. We’re a team. Use the term “we” instead of “you” to show you want to move forward together and that you understand ending workplace bullying is as much your responsibility as anyone else’s.
  • Pitch in. I’ve spent years blogging, posting, sign-holding, making connections, organizing meetings, building and updating a website, creating petitions, getting videos created, talking with reporters…. Yet some people ask me to do more. I always ask “can you do it?” This movement can’t progress without everyone who’s healed pitching in. If you see a need, don’t ask for permission. Do what you think needs to be done (enlisting help if you need it, of course). It’s no one else’s job but yours (and no one owns this movement).
  • If you don’t have a skill, go find it. We all have ideas we don’t have the skills to execute. But this movement is built on planting seeds and building our base. Have an idea? Go out and find someone who has the skills to execute it. Get them on our team.
  • Educate yourself. Don’t know what we’re already doing but have an idea? It’s your responsibility to find out. Ask questions. Do your homework on our website and Facebook page. Understand what’s already happening and why before offering suggestions. It’s your responsibility. Never dictate with “you should.” A campaign to uphold dignity and respect gets built on dignity and respect.
  • Make time. A lot of us have full-time jobs (including looking for a job, which is a full-time job), families, friends, groups we’re involved with, and plans. We are ALL stretched thin. Never use being busy as an excuse. What you’re really saying is “I have the same amount of time as you in the day, but it’s not a priority for me.” It’s not a fair approach. Granted some have more time than others, but most people have some time to do something (if you don’t, devote time to taking care of yourself or your other priorities instead of getting involved). Always offer what you’re doing rather than what others can do out of respect for them.
  • Let go of the fear. Fear is likely at the root of holding you back. Some of it’s perfectly valid (like being in a job with a bully and not wanting to get retaliated against for working on this bill). But most fear is rooted in thinking you can’t do. We’re here to tell you you can. Your bully boss lied to you about what you’re capable of because he or she was intimidated by your competence. Don’t tolerate it, but take it as a compliment that you’re more than capable. Don’t believe the lies. Need proof? Start doing. Start taking action on this bill. You’ll see how fast your confidence comes back.

Let’s move forward together and build momentum that’s already rapidly increasing — with respect and dignity. You have that power.

Is workplace bullying a women’s issue?

Sad businesswoman

Let’s look at the facts: 80 percent of workplace bullying targets are women (Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI)). Compare those numbers to other issues we generally see as women’s issues:

So what’s the answer?
The simply answer is no. Men can be targets of workplace bullying just as they can be targets of sexual harassment and domestic violence.

But the facts are too hard to ignore: women take the overwhelming majority of the brunt of these abuses. While we don’t have research to support why women are more than twice as likely to bear the brunt of workplace bullying, we can make some educated guesses as to why it’s the case:

  • We value masculine over feminine. Competition over cooperation. Capitalism breeds competition, a trait we associate with masculinity. Yet studies repeatedly show that it’s cooperation, not competition in the workplace, that increases a bottom line. Even if a female boss is the perpetrator of abuse, she’s abusing under a masculine, competitive culture.
  • Men hold the power in the workplace. If anyone has power to abuse, it’s men. “Women are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs,” reported the Center for American Progress in 2014. It’s men who are most often creating the workplace culture from the top down.
  • Men may feel more entitled to power and may not be aware of how they exhibit this entitlement. Perhaps because men more commonly have power positions, men feel more entitled to power. Anecdotally, I’ve been taken aback by male colleagues who claim to support healthy workplaces yet also grab power by saying “we’ve let you…” or “don’t do this…” instead of “what do you think of…?” In other words, they don’t see our roles of equal value, they feel entitled to dictate, and they don’t work collaboratively.

How we change the gender dynamics
History shows that it’s often not until the privileged speak up that norms change. Take civil rights or same sex marriage. First, the violated group speaks up through grassroots efforts. Eventually, the subjects become household topics.

The New York Times author Irin Carmon addresses this issue along gender lines specifically. In her article “What Women Really Think of Men,” a piece about not letting men off the hook for not recognizing women’s equal humanity, she uses the phrase “the soft bigotry of low expectations” to describe “just dealing” with the status quo. “Men taking responsibility, even retrospectively, is what it’s going to take for us to believe another world is possible,” she says.

How the film “Sully” brings attention to workplace bullying


Photo from “Sully” movie trailer

We all know Sully as the pilot who safely landed all 155 U.S. Airways passengers on the Hudson River after a bird strike knocked out both engines. What most of us didn’t know is that while we celebrated Sully as a hero, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) grilled Sully and First Officer Jeff Skiles about why they didn’t fly the plane back to LaGuardia or to a nearby airport in New Jersey and instead destroyed the aircraft.

Sounds like bullying? It is. Here are two ways the NTSB bullied Sully as seen in the film:

  1. Excessively harsh criticism. It’s one thing to conduct an investigation. It’s another thing to expect superhuman outcomes. It’s pathetic that Sully was put in a position to point out that both flight simulations landing safely at the two airports removed the 35 second human element of making quick analyses and decisions under extreme stress.
  2. Discounting achievements. Sully also pointed out that pilots aren’t trained for the specific circumstances they encountered that day. When the NTSB added 35 second buffers back into the simulations, both planes crashed. So not only did Sully and Skiles make a smart decision, but they also successfully executed a water landing with no serious injuries or fatalities. And had to defend themselves at a hearing at which the NTSB initialy argued otherwise.

How the film shows the common theme in workplace bullying

The film perfectly and simply illustrates the greedy, often selfish powers vs. the ethical and competent worker who is held to superhuman standards theme generally played out in workplace bullying cases. “We can see the insanity of reducing a human being to a computer construct in order to assign blame for the monetary loss. Targets are lied to about who they are,” said Rhode Island Healthy Workplace Bill coordinator Jessica Stensrud. “It’s all too typical of the corporate-controlled, money-focused digital world we live in. People blame others for being human instead of rewarding them. Computer tracking makes it easy to go after workers for doing their jobs and often doing them well.”

How Sully is different from other workplace bullying targets

Sully had a chance to exonerate himself by pointing out the 35 second human error discrepancy. But most workplace bullying targets don’t have that chance. They carry anger, rage, and undeserved shame with them to the detriment of their health, lifestyles, careers, and families.


We give kudos to director and producer Clint Eastwood for bringing attention to the idea that workers are more than a means to money. We’re human beings who should be celebrated for caring about other people instead of only valued for what we bring to boss’ wallets.

Make bully-free workplaces the norm


Change begins with you. Change comes from you seeing a need and figuring out what you can do to improve the situation rather than waiting for someone else to do it, dictating to someone else to do it, or waiting for direction.

Our philosophy in this grassroots effort is simple: you’re in or you’ve come out of a place of disempowerment, and healing will help you take back the power. Healing can come from action, from knowing and proving what you’re capable of, from using your skills to make your ideas happen, from getting back to that competent and ethical employee you still are and deserve to be and not allowing an insecure bully to define you.

And great leadership to help make those ideas happen is about inspiring, not controlling. It’s about asking, not feeling entitled to dictate like a bully boss. It’s about empowering, not belittling or diminishing from insecurity. It’s about doing, not just telling or thinking. It’s about walking the walk with the philosophy that we need less masculine ways of working together, filled with petty competition for power and catering to egos that often slow or block progress, and more feminine ways of working together, through empowerment, collaboration, and nurturing that move the needle and change the culture.

With the goal in mind of steering the ship, we presented at our grassroots get-together what we’ve done, what strategy might work, and what we can do to get us there:

What we’ve done

We began this journey knowing that legislation generally takes years to pass. In Massachusetts, we’ve come a long way since 2010, when our group first introduced the anti-workplace bullying Healthy Workplace Bill in the State House (it’d been introduced before, but not with a group backing):

Screen Shot 2016-07-30 at 10.46.57 AM

  • We’ve gone from 13 sponsors in our first full two-year session to 39 in the second to 58 in the third. That’s nearly 1/3 of the entire State Legislature.
  • We’ve built a base of 6,000 contacts (through Facebook, Twitter, our online petition, and our email alert system) we can reach out to at key points in the legislative process.
  • We have 20 organizations on board, including the Massachusetts Teachers Association.
  • We gained media attention and opposition, telling us that we have an audience.

We’re being heard. And we know what’s gotten us there. In addition to plain old hard work, we’re lucky enough here in Massachusetts to have our state capital in the most populated city to give advocates easy access to our legislators. We also have three bill co-coordinators who cover the bases: the model bill author David Yamada here in Massachusetts (even in Boston right near the State House), NAGE local 282 president Greg Sorozan contributing insight and persuasion from inside the State House through his lobbyists, and marketer Deb Falzoi providing strategy and skills.

In Rhode Island, coordinator Jessica Stensrud hit the ground running with getting a sponsor and bill number in her first session as coordinator. She’s making strong connections with progressive organizations in Rhode Island and building the masses in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island to further anti-workplace bullying efforts.

What strategy might work

In Massachusetts, the process to pass a bill into law goes like this: bills go through a committee, then move to the House, then Senate, then can go back to House or the Governor’s desk for signing (or get stopped at any point in the process – and most do). The anti-workplace bullying Healthy Workplace Bill goes through the Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, and we had about a year left in the last session when the bill received a favorable reading from the committee. That’s the most time we’ve ever had left in the session at that point. We had more hope than ever that the bill would pass. Then the bill moved into the House for the major step, the Third Reading, a floor vote. The bill never made it to the floor vote, but we made the most progress we’ve ever made.

So we looked at how school bullying got passed. Like the anti-workplace bullying Healthy Workplace Bill, the bill sat on legislators’ desks for years until a student suicide put urgency behind the issue. We’re looking for suicide from workplace bullying stories in Massachusetts to help legislators understand that workers are dying over this issue, and legislators have the power to take a stand against it. With stories, we can also help the media understand the urgency behind this topic. If you’re aware of a suicide from workplace bullying story in Massachusetts, email info@mahealthyworkplace.com.

What we can do to get us there

While we believe that suicide stories may help put the urgency behind this bill we all deserve, we know that building awareness of workplace bullying and the bill will help us reach more people who may be aware of these stories. Building our contact lists will help us stay connected with supporters, who can then reach out to others, creating a ripple effect.

Here’s what advocates have done so far to build our base:

  • Created online tools. Built a websiteFacebook page, Twitter account, YouTube channel, blogonline petition, and email alert system to help advocates share content and capture data.
  • Created videos and shared those videos with public access channels as Public Service Announcements (PSAs).
  • Showed support at State House hearings by testifying and attending.
  • Flyered at commuter rail lots, outside T stations, outside hospitals, and in parking lots of companies that allow workplace bullying.
  • Produced an art display called “Massachusetts: Face Workplace Bullying” to educate and inspire (developed by advocate Torii Bottomley) and displayed at the State House and Worcester’s Union Station.
  • Tabled at local events.
  • Courageously shared their stories, both in writing for the website and on film.
  • Reached out to organizations including unions, college and university student groups, and social justice groups for their official endorsement and possible lobbying.
  • Submitted letters to the editor and commented on online articles.
  • Talked at Democratic Town Committee meetings and reached out to both Democratic and Republican Town Committees.
  • Hosted workshops.
  • Ran in 5k races wearing “end workplace bullying” t-shirts.
  • Held protests outside the state executive offices at One Ashburton Place, in Harvard Square, and in Davis Square.
  • Created an easy tool to write to legislators in an incredibly simple way thanks to the separate suggestions of two advocates.
  • Accessed the ability to blog on the Huffington Post.
  • Connected with the IBEW union, who runs the digital billboard on I-93, about posting a message about the bill.
  • Started Facebook live videos featuring video blogger Ty Weeks.

Building off these ideas, advocates brainstormed last night ways they could further contribute to the conversation and elevate the attention to workplace bullying in Massachusetts and Rhode Island:

  • Hold a major event about workplace bullying, including a skit to show what workplace bullying is.
  • Investigate citizen action groups in Massachusetts and Rhode Island to get their support or create one.
  • Survey workers about their experiences.
  • Contact radio stations about giving attention to workplace bullying.
  • Find designers, photographers, and videographers to help create viral social media campaigns and/or art displays.
  • Create viral videos using your own smartphone, and get people to create their own in the same style.
  • Reach out to event planners about planning workplace bullying-related events.
  • Fundraise for other organizations that can provide services for workplace bullying targets.
  • Contact organizations about what they can do to help, including official endorsement.
  • Blog to create more shareable content, more likes, and more people to reach to write their legislators.
  • Create a parade float.
  • Work with a college dance troupe to have a flash mob at a high-profile location in Boston.
  • Pick a location, date, and time for a protest and ask our group to publicize it for additional volunteers.
  • Contact suicide organizations for workplace bullying-related suicide stories.
  • Get a group of people to run in a road race wearing “end workplace bullying” t-shirts.
  • Make contacts for speaking at meetings and/or hosting workshops.
  • Identify celebrities who could serve as spokespeople.
  • Get a group of teachers, nurses, or other workers to go to the State House to speak with legislators as a group.

We’re creating an online tool for you to submit your own simple events to make empowering yourself even easier: protests, educational gatherings, brainstorming and planning meetings, running groups at road races, and groups to go to the State House, for example. Stay tuned.

We’ll pass this bill through the power of action. You have our support to run with an idea and even get our help. Do not wait for our permission, blessing, or someone else to take action. You have that power.

All we ask is that you share your action with us so you can help us inspire others and we can thank you for helping make history.

The difference between a toxic boss and staying in a job that makes you sick

Bullying concept in workplace with angry and afraid eggs charact

A key to understanding workplace bullying is understanding a toxic boss’ narcissism. While narcissistic personality disorder is rare, and we all have some degree of selfishness, most if not all workplace bullies fall on a spectrum of narcissism closer to narcissistic personality disorder than the average person.

What narcissism is

According to the Mayo Clinic:

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration, and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultraconfidence lies a fragile self-esteem that’s vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

If you have narcissistic personality disorder, you may:

  • Come across as conceited, boastful, or pretentious.
  • Often monopolize conversations.
  • Belittle or look down on people you perceive as inferior.
  • Feel a sense of entitlement.
  • Become impatient or angry when you don’t receive special treatment.
  • Insist on having “the best” of everything — for instance, the best car, athletic club, or medical care.

At the same time, you have trouble handling anything that may be perceived as criticism. You may have secret feelings of insecurity, shame, vulnerability, and humiliation. To feel better, you may react with rage or contempt and try to belittle the other person to make yourself appear superior. Or you may feel depressed and moody because you fall short of perfection.

The American Psychiatric Association further defines narcissistic personality disorder as:

  • Having an exaggerated sense of self-importance
  • Expecting to be recognized as superior even without achievements that warrant it
  • Exaggerating your achievements and talents
  • Being preoccupied with fantasies about success, power, brilliance, beauty, or the perfect mate
  • Believing that you are superior and can only be understood by or associate with equally special people
  • Requiring constant admiration
  • Having a sense of entitlement
  • Expecting special favors and unquestioning compliance with your expectations
  • Taking advantage of others to get what you want
  • Having an inability or unwillingness to recognize the needs and feelings of others
  • Being envious of others and believing others envy you
  • Behaving in an arrogant or haughty manner

In a nutshell, you put yourself on a pedestal and value yourself more than you value others.

How narcissism starts

While the causes of narcissistic personality disorder are unconfirmed and complex, researchers link the disorder to:

  • Biologically vulnerable children
  • Parenting styles that overemphasize the child’s specialness and criticize fears and failures

The child may hide low self-esteem by developing a superficial sense of perfection and behavior that shows a need for constant admiration.

What this news means – and how it can help you

The three major conclusions are then that:

  1. A narcissist’s issues have absolutely nothing to do with you (even if he or she tries to make you think otherwise)
  2. Knowing the causes of narcissism can help overcome anger about the situation (for more on overcoming anger, including how to address your own triggers, check out The Cow in the Parking Lot)
  3. You’re worth more than being the target of someone else’s insecurities

That last point is key. On Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday, one soul searcher asks “what’s the difference between the people who hurt you and what you’re doing to yourself (by staying in a toxic situation)?” (Nothing – they both hurt you.) You’ll know you’re in a healthy situation when you:

  • Don’t have to compromise who you are
  • Aren’t betraying yourself
  • Aren’t emotionally drained
  • Aren’t having your power compromised
  • Aren’t losing yourself

You are worth protecting. Make sure you protect yourself against a narcissist’s baggage by removing yourself from a toxic situation and following your truth.

Why are we so afraid to have more feminine workplaces?


When you think of power, you might think of competition, masculinity, success, aggressiveness, or capitalism.

Now think about compassion. You might think of nurturing, cooperation, femininity, and empathy.

When you’re working as a team and looking to empower all team members, which words would you rather associate yourself with? If you’ve been on a team in which know-it-alls value their own voices over others’ – and no one speaks up about it – you’ve been on a team that values power over cooperation. So long as the group doesn’t stop the abuse of power, the group values masculinity over femininity just like our culture in general.

So workplace bullying – aggression rooted in the idea that we must break the backs of co-workers to get ahead – stems from our cultural emphasis on masculinity. If we want to be happier, we as a society, and as individuals working in teams, have to also value femininity. We have to more often trade in promoting those who are aggressive and competitive and who dictate for promoting those who show cooperation, collaboration, and compassion and who raise questions. As a result, we’ll trade in loneliness and isolation for connectedness, community, and well-being. We’ll live in a culture whose members values human needs over profit instead of the other way around.

As women gain stronger voices in the workplace, we as a culture demand more cooperative workplaces. But why are we so afraid to get there? Why are we as a society so afraid to trade in the hypermasculine – competitive, aggressive, and powerful – for a more feminine – cooperative, compassionate, and nurturing – culture?