I was chatting to a friend yesterday about a disturbing work situation. After much consultation with HR, my friend, instead of placing a badly underperforming staff member on a performance management program, she decided to sit with the employee and have an honest conversation.

Within a few hours, the employee had put in a claim against my friend for bullying. Within a day, her manager and HR were distancing themselves from her and had lost their capacity to lead because of an unexpected “ticking time bomb” in their workplace.

We talked at length about the situation, and she realized that her attempt to be compassionate and gentle had now put her in a compromising position. She realized she had an intuitive knowing as to the action she should take, second guessed herself and decided on a “soft” approach.

I know that whenever I fail to follow my own intuition, I end up in a compromising position, or some predictable disaster occurs.  

But what fascinates me most here is how much power an employee gains by alleging that they have been bullied. It feels we have tipped the scales way too far and again, common sense plays no part in what happens.

Back in the bad old days, when bullying was rife, a lack of common sense among onlookers allowed it the activities to prevail. Any balanced human being should look at bullying, see that it is wrong and take action to bring it to an end. An even wiser human would go further and help those involved to do what they need to do to make sure they do not find themselves back in that same position, both bully and target of the bullying.

People would often say they did not act because they feared what might happen.

Now we have slipped to the other end of the scale, and everyone is fearful of the person who alleges they have been bullied.

But it goes further. As soon as someone states they are offended by something, everyone loses their compass and struggles to know what to do. Being offended has become a powerful place to sit. Alleging bullying also delivers one to the power seat.

What has happened to our society? Are we merely on the seesaw, going up and down, working to find balance, a harmonious place? Or are we completely lost?

The only thing that I have control over in this world is my own level of personal responsibility. Many have personal responsibility confused with blame. They are not the same. Not even close!

If somebody says something to me in public that is potentially deeply hurtful, I have a choice. I can decide how I will respond. I can try to defend myself. I can fall in a heap and sob. I can attack back with anger and rage. Or I can just view it as words coming out of a mouth that cannot harm me and wonder what happened for that person that they felt the need to do such a thing.

Whatever response I go to has nothing to do with my attacker. It is all mine.

Now if someone comes at me with an axe, there is a chance I could die or be injured. So, I better get out of there, take evasive action or defend myself. Words, however, are just words.

When I was a kid, we used to say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. It was a resilience mantra.

As a society, we have lost our resilience. We succumb to even mildly unkind statements and finish up on anti-depressants. Has the world gone completely mad?

Now let me be clear about something. I am all for stopping bullying, incivility and nasty speak. None of those are welcome in our society. But, like the virus – they are there, and we cannot completely eradicate them.

In any situation, when a conflict or other negative interaction occurs between people, all should be supported to take ownership of their actions and their responses. Everyone needs to be supported to own their end of it so all can move on. These moments are an opportunity to learn and grow. They are an opportunity to become more resilient, compassionate, and understanding.

But we have dropped the ball. What is now clear to me is that in many circumstances, the statement “I am offended” is actually a counterattack on another person. The same goes for “I am being bullied”.

Treating any person as a victim does them no service. Treating them as a student who needs support to learn some life skills is empowering.

I spoke with a person recently who shared numerous stories of the out-of-control bullying in her workplace. I put it to her that she is complicit by not speaking up and bringing the issue under a very bright light so that all parties can be helped. She ran from that. Her preferred method of operation is to console the victims, treat them as a victim, and allow the situation to continue to avoid disturbing her highly paid job. I understand he decision, but I cannot endorse it.

Modern workplaces can be a cauldron of pressure. Many things corrupt human attitudes and behaviors. These can include Power; competition between teammates; approval seeking; concealed mistakes; fear of failure and potential humiliation; beliefs about security; personal financial integrity; inappropriate interactions; prejudices; envy, and insecurity. I am sure there are more items we could add to this list.

We can look at all of these as things that should be controlled or completely eradicated from the workplace. Or we can see them as a pathway to human learning and evolvement. They are marvelous catalysts for spiritual growth and development.

What would happen if a workplace had more people who were more highly trained in understanding human behavior and were able to offer more support to help people evolve through their challenges and become better human beings?

What would happen if every workplace saw every situation as an opportunity to learn and grow, and offered each person the support they needed to be able to learn and grow?

What would happen if organisations genuinely embraced mindfulness as a practice of learning to observe one’s own mind and to step away from it’s reactivity and develop the capacity to create wiser, more reasoned responses?

I have a sense that all organisations will fare better if they embrace a new level of learning that seeks to understand human behavior and installs practices that support all people to continue to grow, learn and evolve.

After all, we know that the costs associated with a mental health claim associated with someone feeling bullied, or being offended by another worker, when we take into account legal fees, lost time, disruption, distraction, payouts and fines, could easily pay for an extraordinary amount of relevant and useful education.

Before I complete, I want to give you a little tip that will help reduce the amount of bullying and offensive behavior in your organisation, and the level of over sensitivity to the actions of others.

Sit down and consider how your business benefits the world, the people in it and their children. Get clear on how your organisation benefits the society you operate in. When you get clear on that, help all your people to connect their daily work with the ultimate benefit the business delivers. Then, start a campaign to raise the levels of kindness, selfless service, acknowledgement, encouragement, and care within your organisation. Inspire your people to be good to each other. Teach your managers to motivate their people with inspiration, not threat. Strive for higher ideals.

You can take it further by educating your workforce about the relationship between the breaking down and inflammation of the intestinal membranes and the onset of depressive symptoms via the gut brain connection, and how commonly used agricultural chemicals have contributed injuring the human gut. You can further provide the education as to how this can be rectified and repaired, to eliminate hidden influences on mood and mindset.

If you need a hand, I am right here.