Don’t Become A Victim

To paraphrase Benedict Cumberbatch playing Alan Turing in the movie The Imitators when he is being bullied at school, ‘the punishment only continues when you provide your tormentor with the outcome they desire’.

In our workplaces we are surrounded by people seeking to satisfy their own desires through the way they behave towards others. Some research has shown as many as 35% of people in the workplace have been victims of workplace behaviour. It is possible the number is even higher in some places.

If you are on the receiving end of workplace behaviour that serves to diminish your self esteem, your initial reaction will be dismay, to take a victim approach, to ask why me, what have I done to deserve this?

It is likely you have done nothing to deserve this treatment, even if you have behaved in a particularly negative manner, it is rarely sufficient to justify others sending you to coventry or diminishing your value. Even the most postive people can from time to time experience a victim complex. The difference is in how people deal with their feelings. There are those that take responsibility for their own behaviour and those that blame everyone else for their behaviour. Erica Jong is credited with saying that when you take your life into your own hands something terrible happens; there is no one left to blame!

Being on the receiving end presents you with a dilemma. How do you create a different future? The answer lies in how you change the way you behave. It is important to understand that in allowing yourself to be continually bullied means you are refusing to take responsibility for making decisions for yourself.

Our natural reaction is to lay responsibility for change upon the tormentor. In fact that person has no reason to change – at least not while their desire is being met. In the movie, Turing stopped protesting and trying to escape and played possum. In changing his behaviour he took away the pleasure sought by the bullies.

If you wait for your tormentor to do something different you will go mad – literally! You need to turn the table, not by reacting with anger or with similar behaviour but by taking away the pleasure of your tormentor. When he or she fails to obtain the outcome, a sense of your discomfort, they have no reason to continue the behaviour.

This is not to say that winning the battle will win you the war. Bullies keep coming back for more and you may need to take a proactive approach on more than one occasion. Eventually you will gain the upper hand.

If you are not getting the level of satisfaction you desire in your relationship with a manager, you have two choices. Change how you behave or quit. To do nothing is not an option.

Most would see quitting as a last resort option, so it is likely your focus will be upon changing how you behave. Take time to analyse how you behave towards your manager. You need to change whatever, almost everything, you are currently doing. Develop an understanding of your manager, the type of person, how he or she likes to communicate and make decisions. Does your behaviour enable those processes or act as a barrier? Ask yourself how you normally act in different situations, then write down how you intend to behave in future. Determine what outcome you are seeking in your relationship. Following each future interaction, take time to reflect. Ask yourself what took place and whether the outcome met your expectations. If it did keep applying your new behaviours. If it didn’t work, change your behaviour again.

Do you want to know the real benefit of this process? You will feel better every day. You will have regained control. You will no longer be tormented. You will become empowered.

If you can’t make this change, get a different boss.

John Coxon has worked with nonprofit managers since 2002, helping them to be the best they want to be. When you are ready to invite John to work with you email

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