Whether doing someone a favor or offering advice, by instinct, friends and family want to help the people closest to them. However, if you’re not an expert in a subject, it’s difficult to give effective advice. That goes for everything from grammar to calculus to playing sports and even responding to bullying. Victims of workplace bullying receive a lot of advice from friends, family and colleagues on how to react to a toxic situation, however it’s not very useful, according to a new study.
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A paper published in the Journal of Applied Communication Research written by Iowa State University assistant professor Stacy Tye-Williams and University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Kathleen Krone brings to light the issues of bad advice and dealing with workplace bullying. Interviewing nearly 50 employees who have been bullied, the researchers learned about the most common advice these victims received, how they responded to the situations and what advice they would offer others in the same position.
Even with someone’s best interests in mind, friends, family and colleagues didn’t seem to offer the best advice to their bullied loved ones. Over a quarter of victims said they were simply told to “quit or get out of the situation.” However, that’s easier said than done. For many, quitting a job is not financially feasible, and if someone enjoys their work, it’s hard to give that up. Many respondents said they would rather suffer silently, even if it rarely improved the situation.
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Besides quitting or running from the situation, other advice that victims frequently received was to “ignore it or blow it off” (23 percent), “fight or stand up to the bully” (17 percent), “stay calm” (10 percent) or “report the bullying” (10 percent). A small number of victims were even told to “punch the bully” or “quit making things up.”
Most victims admitted to not taking any of the advice they’d received and instead, out of fear of retaliation or further humiliation, did nothing about the situation.
So what’s the solution? While you’d assume asking advice from former victims of bullying would be helpful to those experiencing similar situations, that turns out to be false. In fact, a surprising majority of victims say they'd offer the same bad advice that they received to others. While shocking at first, the researchers soon realized these victims lacked insight on successful strategies to combating workplace bullying because they had never found a solution themselves.
“Targets really felt stuck and didn’t know what to do about the bullying," Tye-Williams said. "They repeated the same advice even though they felt it would not have worked for them, or if they did follow the advice it made the situation worse."
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Workplace bullying is a complex situation. If you tell a victim to calm down, they typically shut down and suffer in silence. If you go to a manager to report the situation, managers typically expect the employees to resolve the situation on their own.
“Understanding that common pieces of advice to combat workplace bullying often don’t work may help managers, co-workers, family members and friends move beyond ‘canned advice,’" Tye-Williams said, "and develop more appropriate alternatives to addressing bullying."