Stand Up Against Bullying

Why Don't We Believe Targets?

Targets Leadership
Big caucasian man looking down at little caucasian man
Original Post Published on August 4, 2015; Edited and Republished December 2, 2019

Organizations that are plagued with workplace bullying have a multitude of problems and for leaders, it is often difficult to parse out what is really happening. This inability to determine what is going on results in organizations and leaders not believing targets. In fact, targets are frequently identified as being the problem in the workplace. This is problematic when a target makes a complaint about the bully and leads to targets not being believed. But how does this happen?

Targets are typically very good workers, who take their jobs seriously. Bullies, on the other hand, do not always have the best work ethic and are always in the business of sabotaging the target’s reputation. This means that when targets are off doing their job, aggressors are manipulating and building false narratives about targets. This is done in order to strengthen the bully’s relationships with those in power. It also serves to encourage other potential aggressors to attack the target and for witnesses to support the bully's narrative. The aggressor strategically lays the foundation of lies and untruths about the target so the aggressor is viewed by leadership as the eyes and ears of the office. They are the ones telling the boss what is going on. Thus, building a relationship that that leadership will rely on later.

The bully provides a narrative to leadership that the target is the one with the problem and the bully is the hero of the workplace. Aggressors, therefore, become trusted members for the supervisors, whereas targets are not. So, when a target reports workplace bullying, they are not believed because the seeds of falsehoods have been planted by the bully. Leaders take the word of the bully rather than viewing the bully’s behavior as a red flag and part of a more destructive problem in the workplace. This means that targets are not only battling the bully, but are also fighting the leadership and the organizational structure. They are struggling with a system which is already skewed in the favor of the aggressor and away from the target,. The seeds were planted long before the target decides it is time to make a complaint about the bully. The bully’s foundation of deception believed by organizational leadership is one of the main reasons why targets are not believed.

Another reasons why targets are not believed is due in part to their own reactions to the workplace bully. Being a target of workplace aggression is an extremely emotional and upsetting. As a result, targets are regularly put into positions where they are put on the defensive. Targets have to defend their work because the bully’s narrative about them is taking hold in the workplace. Targets are always being attacked and this puts them in a position to repeatedly respond in seemingly confrontational ways. Patterns of behavior like defensiveness are viewed by others as problematic, disruptive, and certainly not behavior displayed by someone who is a reliable source of information. Targets are viewed as the problem of the workplace dysfunction and this means they are not believed when they report workplace bullying. We must remember that this is the goal of the bully and when targets are not believed, the bully gains additional power in the workplace solidifying the bullying culture.

It is important that targets become hyper vigilante in the workplace with controlling their emotions and reactions. Remaining as calm as possible is vital and targets should try not to defend their actions or behaviors under any circumstance. This aids the target’s credibility and helps the target maintain control of the work environment. Targets need to develop the skills to adequately combat workplace bullying in order to protect themselves and to increase the likelihood they will be believed if they decide to report workplace bullying.