We’ve reported before on suicides from workplace bullying. We’ve learned of another one:
Graham Gentles was driven to suicide after a walk of shame in California
Graham Gentles was a 22-year-old in Pasadena who committed suicide on July 18, 2014 after Target store management allegedly accused him of stealing, handcuffed him, and paraded him through the store in front of both customers and coworkers. Gentles jumped to his death from the top of a hotel just three days later.
During the abusive humiliation and shame tactic, it is alleged that “police forcefully grabbed him, emptied his pockets, and pulled his hat off,” explains ABC7. Meanwhile, a shocked and confused Gentles had no idea why police were arresting him. Police took Gentles into custody, released him the same day, and never charged him. Gentles told his mother he never stole anything.
Allegedly, an argument between Gentles and a coworker at a bar outside of work hours may have prompted the incident. The coworker made the allegations of theft after the argument.
If you live outside of Massachusetts, visit HealthyWorkplaceBill.org for information on how to make workplace bullying illegal in your state.
This fall, we’re strategically calling people most likely to be bullied in the most liberal towns in Massachusetts where we don’t already have co-sponsors. Our goal is to put the bill on legislators’ radars, put urgency behind the bill, and gain more support.
We need your help. We have instructions, people to call, and scripts in an easy-to-use Google Doc. If you can help make calls at your leisure:
Email your interest to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll share the Google Doc with you »
We’re also making calls together. We’ve scheduled various phonebanking sessions across the state to walk through the process and make calls together. It’s empowering to call people — and simple, too. (If you don’t see a session in your area, plan one. It’s easy — we’ll walk you through it, and you get to meet other people who’ve been bullied at work.)
Join our Facebook page and sign up »
If you have other ideas about how to build awareness of workplace bullying and the bill, let us know. We’d love to have you join the team to make workplace bullying illegal in Massachusetts by next summer.
A study published in 2017 shows differences in personalities of workplace bullies and workplace targets based on five factors: neuroticism, extroversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Here were the findings:
|Factor||Bully (Compared to Control)||Target (Compared to Control)|
|Openness||No effect||No effect|
Researchers explain their findings in these ways:
Those who score high on neuroticism are more likely to be moody and to experience such emotions as anxiety, anger, frustration, jealousy, guilt, depression, and loneliness. Researchers’ theories include:
- These emotions bother colleagues (perhaps vulnerability is a threat).
- Targets become more anxiety-prone over time due to bullying.
- Bullies tend to morally justify their bullying due to victims’ traits.
Scholars say that “assertiveness and power display as central aspects of extroversion.” Also, introverts and ambiverts receive less social support than extroverts.
“The largest differences between our experimental conditions were found for the Agreeableness dimension,” say researchers in this study. “Low scores on Agreeableness involve preoccupation with one’s own goals and interests and a lack of sympathy for others suffering (Costa and McCrae, 1997). People scoring low on Agreeableness are typically less motivated than those with high scores to maintain positive interpersonal relationships, which also may explain why people low on Agreeableness are more inclined to act aggressively toward others (Gleason et al., 2004).”
“Findings are in line with research showing that individuals with antisocial personality score relatively low on Conscientiousness (Miller and Lynam, 2001),” explain the researchers.
What these findings mean
Researchers propose that:
- If workplace bullying targets are generally neurotic and introverted, perhaps colleagues are inclined to avoid targets (Buss, 1991). (It’s important to note that the target qualities weren’t determined in this study as causes or effects, and not all targets exhibit these qualities.)
- If bullies are generally less agreeable and conscientious, bullies may induce fear in coworkers and force them to act certain ways (Georgakopoulos et al., 2011). “Still, they will overall, and in line with the results from the present study, typically not be regarded as good cooperators and reciprocators or as someone who will work industriously and dependably (Buss, 1991),” say researchers. “This can be assumed to lower the trust in the organization. The findings indicating that observers more or less accurately will tend to see bullies as being low on conscientiousness may influence how others, e.g., managers, will handle a given case of bullying and the involved employees, not trusting the bully to behave responsibly in the future, again lower the trust in the involved parties.”
What’s important here is that it’s the power plays and self-importance from bullies that causes the problems for both victims and organizations.
In the high-profile texting case, Michelle Carter was found guilty of manslaughter in the suicide of Conrad Roy III. This case wasn’t only unusual in how it happened. It was unusual in that it found that “a person’s words can directly cause someone else’s suicide,” said Kathleen Bonczyk, Esq..
“It’s an excellent sign the courts are beginning to see things in a different way. There must be accountability civilly and criminally if a defendant’s actions are physical in discharging a gun or driving a car into an innocent person or verbal as in bullying,” said Bonczyk. “Actions and words can and do hurt others. If one behaves in a reckless immoral and illegal matter, one should be held accountable in a criminal court.”
The Michelle Carter case wasn’t the first case in the last year where a defendant was charged with involuntary manslaughter for their words. Bonczyk outlines the significance of the charging of a Dairy Queen manager for felony involuntary manslaughter following bullying leading to the December 21, 2016 suicide of Kenneth Suttner of Missouri »
Online trolls fish for attention. They often make outlandish, sometimes controversial comments because they want to position themselves as in-the-know while dismissing and demeaning others. It’s a desperate attempt to feel important, and it stems from insecurity. When we look at online trolls, we see their behavior as ridiculous.
How we get over bully bosses
Does the description of online trolls sound familiar? Dismissive, demeaning, self-important, insecure. Sounds like your bully boss, doesn’t it?
So how do we use this comparison to get over bully bosses? While the answer is simple, the action is complex. Bully bosses use gaslighting to convince us we’re the problem — we’re sensitive or overreacting. But they’re only brainwashing us so they don’t have to take responsibility for their behavior. Once we slowly see the brainwashing as lies and the bully behavior as childish, we start to dig ourselves out of the misery. We slowly see we’re not the problem. It’s liberating. (This process also goes for gaslighting experienced in childhood by a parent or sibling that workplace bullying might trigger.)
In fact, Inc. Magazine reports that it’s humility that we should look for in managers and leaders. “When prolific consultant, author, and lecturer Jim Collins wrote about top leaders in his seminal book Good to Great, he said that they have mastered the paradoxical balance of personal humility and fierce resolve. Collins determined from his extensive research that these respected leaders direct their ego away from themselves to the larger goal of leading their company to greatness,” said Marcel Schwantes in “Want Your Employees to Respect You? Give Them the 1 Thing Most Bosses Never Do.”
You are above any nonsense. The more you see immature behavior as beneath you, just like online trolling, the easier it will be to heal.
A great leader creates a positive work culture with empathy, humility, teamwork, and the idea that empowering employees not only shows them respect but also encourages productivity. It’s building people versus power-tripping people, looking out for the organization and the team versus one’s ego.
When a manager isn’t a leader, the entitled power-tripping can play out in such ways as:
- Pulling rank
- Ignoring issues that matter to employees
- Positioning themselves above grunt work
- Denying employees opportunities without explanation
When the boss isn’t the power-tripper
When the power-tripper is a co-worker, often he or she will just take the power. I call this move the “power grab,” and I’ve witnessed it so many times both on the job and in my volunteer work. Someone on your level (or in the case of volunteer work, any level) simply starts acting like he or she can boss you around. It’s a gross move that sets up a hierarchy and often sets the stage for bullying. When you stand up to it, your self-respect is often met with gaslighting, as the power-tripper tries to excuse the behavior by acting like you’re crazy.
So how do we deal with it? First, remember that you aren’t the problem. Second, you can set boundaries by sending back a clear message that you’re neither intimidated nor confused, according to UK Psychologist Aryanne Oade. This process involves:
- Recognizing the bullying behavior.
- Being clear that it’s bullying by feeling confused and asking the right questions.
- Protecting your boundaries in response to the aggression and intimidation.
- Remaining assertive against the grooming instead of remaining silent or submissive.
Here are the steps to set boundaries with a bully:
- Be confused. If you’re confused in the moment, you’re being groomed.
- Choose to speak up. Don’t miss the moment. “The very fact of articulating a clear and relaxed response will change the dynamic evolving between the target and the bully and send a message to the bully that the target knows what they are doing and knows how to protect themselves,” says Oade.
- Ask for clarification or directly disagree with the bully. It’s not enough to simply say something. What you say is also important. You want to give the bully consequences to deal with in the moment instead of staying confused and anxious.
If the bully is indirect, ask him what he means. Let him explain himself.
If the bully is direct, directly disagree with him to show you have your own mind.
I’ve seen choosing power and control versus teamwork all too often, even among those who support healthy workplaces. It’s important we remind bullies of any kind how we are to be treated to reinforce what healthy relationships look like.
We have a goal of making 40,000 phone calls by the end of 2017 — with a big goal of passing workplace anti-bullying legislation by the summer of 2018, when this two-year legislative session ends.
The purpose of these calls is to let these people know what workplace bullying is and that we need them to call their state legislators to make it illegal. It’s really that simple.
We’ll call voters in the yellow towns on the above map. The goal: to get those state legislators for those yellow towns to support the workplace anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill to get enough of a backing in the State House to pass the bill. The gray towns are where we currently have co-sponsors, so our goal is to turn those yellow towns gray.
How we came up with this plan
Because we have limited time and people, we want to be strategic. Campaign managers say time and time again that using voter data to reach out face-to-face or on the phone is the most effective way to get people to act.
If we look at demographics, we know that:
- Women ages 30-54 are most likely to get bullied at work.
- Democrats and voters in state elections are most likely to take political action (since they’ve taken political action before by voting).
- Cities and towns where sick leave pay most overwhelmingly passed in 2014 are the most progressive, so their state legislators will be the most likely to push for workplace anti-bullying legislation.
So we obtained voter data of Democratic women ages 30-54 who took action by voting in the last state election in the most progressive towns of the state where we do not already have official legislative support. Those are the yellow towns on the map above, and the number of phone numbers we have is roughly 40,000.
They’re the group most likely to have experienced workplace bullying and most likely to take action.
We need your help
All you need is an email address, and we’ll share a Google doc with you that outlines instructions, names and numbers, and scripts. It’s incredibly easy, and you can make as many calls in your spare time as you’d like before 9pm. (If you’re not in Massachusetts, you can still help. If one state passes the bill, it will be that much easier for other states to pass it.)
No more trainings. No more Google Hangouts. Nothing’s required except a phone, a computer, and your awareness that you can make a difference in helping to pass this bill and make history.