Confronting my workplace bully
August 14, 2012
In my early 20s, I had a summer job sorting mail in a corporate basement. One of my coworkers, who was around my age, was assigned to “show me the ropes” if I had any questions. But when I asked questions, he rolled his eyes and barked out answers.
He and another young male coworker made extreme comments about women in front of me, but I ignored them, not wanting to show how much it disturbed me.
Finally I told my supervisor about the attitude to my questions – without mentioning the “offensive comments” – but she didn’t seem too concerned. She just shrugged and said “Invite him for coffee break and tell him how you feel.”
Coffee with my bully
So I invited him to coffee – and felt so uncomfortable and intimidated that I had tears in my eyes. He stared at me, also looking very uncomfortable, as I stammered: “I was just wondering if I’ve done something to make you mad.”
After a silence, as I wiped my eyes and sipped my coffee, he said not to take it personally.
“There’s a few things that really piss me off,” he said. “One is when the Canucks lose. It wrecks the whole next day. And I have really bad back pain because one of my toes got chopped off when I was a kid.”
We finished our coffee and went back to the mailroom. Nothing changed. He continued his behaviour, and I thought to myself: “Ah. Canucks lost…”
I felt good that I confronted him – and was able to take his behaviour less personally – but I wasn’t there much longer before I quit and went to journalism school, as planned. I’m lucky my brush with a bully was short-lived and I feel sorry to think of people who put up with it for months and years.
People in BC are asked to share their comments about a discussion paper and draft OHS policy on bullying and harassment in the workplace – which I wrote about in my recent post Defining workplace bullying and harassment.