The Harassment is Real
Whether intentional or not, harassment is as perceived by the recipient.
So if you are, or think you are, being harrassed, how do you feel?
Nervous? Scared? Frustrated? Depressed? Angry? Stressed? Despondent? All of the above, in any given day?
And if you are the “harasser”, how do you feel?
Frustrated? Nervous? Overwhelmed? Stressed? Anxious?
So how do either of you, the Harasser or the Harassee, perform when you're experiencing any of these emotions?
As the Clerk of the Privy Council of Canada states, “it has to stop.” Whether you’re in the public or private sector the same systemic issue exists and the same message is true: Harassment has to stop. That is, of course, if you are interested in delivering any kind of meaningful results; if your own wellness and that of your employees is important to you.
So if harassment (a.k.a. violence) is entrenched in our organizational cultures (and it is), where does it start, and how do we stop it?
Where does it start?
Some people assume that it starts from the top, the ones who are leading our organizations. So who’s at the top?
You may quickly look to your boss, or your boss’ boss, or 4 levels up, or in government, to the Prime Minister. Truth is, we are driving the agenda. Jo Public! And every single one of us, no matter where we work, are tax paying, deserving citizens with needs and priorities.
What if we all took a small amount of ownership for the way that we make demands, the amount of patience we have when we’re in line to renew our passport, or order our coffee and breakfast sandwich, or phone in to report a pothole on our road?
Prime Minister Trudeau is not sitting at home dreaming up priorities which get passed on to his Ministers, which get passed to their Deputy Ministers, to their Assistant Deputy Ministers, to...you. Justin Trudeau didn’t have this “neat idea” in his early days of politics, to legalize the use of cannabis and see what the public thought. It’s public opinion/pressure that, at some point, create a collective voice and drive the agenda. From equal rights, to drug abuse issues, to environment, to international trade, to responsible use of resources, to education and employment… We, you and me, are the ones speaking up for the change we want to happen.
That said, we are NOT the ones responsible for HOW it happens… back over to you, JT!
When someone as motivated and inspiring as our Prime Minister writes mandate letters to each of his Ministers, clearly articulating a plethora of (publicly driven) seriously progressive priorities, and then ends each letter with “we will work tirelessly to honour the trust Canadians have given us”, then something’s gotta give. Because humans get tired.
I have seen, day in and day out, our public servants doing all they can to achieve these (publicly driven) mandates. I have seen the excitement, the passion, the commitment… the stress, the exhaustion, the fear, the hair-trigger reactions, the sadness, the burnout…
This is where the harassment lives. This is what the Clerk sees, hears about, and reports to the Prime Minister on. And I applaud him for it. I am grateful for a political system that has mechanisms in place to speak truth to power. In fact we all have this right, we just don’t necessarily have the means.
Our mission is to help you with the means...
5 Ways for YOU to End Harassment
(yes this if for you Jo Public, Mom, Dad, Teacher, Senior Manager, Founder, CEO, Prime Minister, employee #201,047…)
1. Nip it in the bud: Oftentimes, in any of our relationships, we let things slide even though we have a reaction to them. Whether that’s a racial joke, an unrealistic demand or a sideways look. IF YOU FEEL IT, IT’S REAL! The challenge of course, is that none of us had the course at any level of school on “how to communicate effectively to change things when we experience these emotions”. Strange, right? This is the “truth to power” opportunity.
Action: Train yourself to pause and reflect on what you’re feeling, and commit to a conversation that will start to create the change you want to see. See #3 for more.
2. See something - say something: An old adage - with a twist. I see value in the whistleblower policies that have been established, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Nor am I suggesting you try to be the hero, and go and “change” the person you perceive to be harassing others.
Action: If you see someone hurting, speak to them. Help them recognize and articulate clearly what it was that triggered them, which of their values are not being met, and help them practice articulating their concern or request.
NOTE: Listen without fuelling their conversation. Try to efficiently move beyond the inevitable pity-party/victim perspective.
3. Learn and share: Enraged wars, generations-old feuds and dysfunctional relationships of all types have been healed by conscious communication. Conscious Communication is an awareness of what’s going on internally for you and others and articulating that awareness in an effective, healthy and timely manner.
Action: Learn and practice this way of communicating to diminish hurtful thoughts, words and actions. Start a community of practice, support group or centre of excellence to learn and practice real conversations for change. NOTE: You are NOT the only one experiencing this! If more people have the vulnerability to speak up, we’ll all be more comfortable sharing. And hey, if you recognize you’re the one doing the harassing, start your own group of like-minded colleagues to have real and honest conversations. (#bulliesanonymous) See Step 4.
4. Take a look in the mirror: Actually, let people be your window into the impact your leadership has on others. Do people shrink away from, avoid or ‘quit you’ (a.k.a. find work somewhere else, go on stress leave, burn out, end run, fade away, file grievances)? Do they only have business conversations in a “get in-get out” manner? What does all this tell you? There’s a message!
Do staff and colleagues come to you with the truth about how they feel around you? Do they come to you with challenges they are having with their own leadership or work? Do they share personal challenges? Do they listen, question, even challenge your ideas and requests in healthy ways? Chances are these people feel safe around you. Chances are they work tirelessly with you.
Action: If you see something in the mirror (or window) that is concerning to you, don’t wait. It’s not them... Take ownership and responsibility, without shame, blame or guilt. We are who we are, in this moment, based on all of our past experiences. If we want for better, then take the initiative to speak with someone for support. Dale and/or I are happy to be that someone for a confidential conversation.
5. Be the change: When it comes to ending harassment, there’s so much that’s possible, but we first have to see it. We need to see what is possible to shift in ourselves and we need to be that change so others can see it! I was once asked, coyly, what the silver bullet is; what ‘being the change’ is. I laughed, and offered this:
Ingredients to ongoing growth
A. Self-awareness: You can’t change something if you don’t see it. Self-awareness is not a one-time achievement (like Olympic Gold) or a destination (like Enlightenment). It is a moment-to-moment commitment. You have different reactions to different stimuli all day long. Only when you choose to be conscious of those reactions as they occur, or shortly thereafter, are you being self-aware.
B. Courage: Change is only hard because it scares us. Unconsciously we think that we have to give up some part of ourselves that we’ve worked for decades to create, even though it’s not really working for us. When you have the courage/vulnerability to admit a mistake, a weakness, or when you feel any emotion that is disquieting to you (sadness, frustration, hurt, fear, overwhelm, confusion, etc.), you allow yourself and others the honesty, openness and support to repair and evolve. It is in this step of courage where you practice conscious communication.
C. Commitment: When attempting the previous two ingredients in the “silver bullet” (self-awareness and courage) you’re dealing with shifting beliefs, patterns of thought and automatic behaviours that are decades-old. Trust me when I say it’s not an overnight thing. I’ve been coached for years to become more competent in this. I coach clients and friends every day to support the shifts they desire, which is further practice for me.
Do I still have moments when I yell at my kids, have unhealthy conversations with my spouse, get frustrated in traffic, stressed about work and money? Yup!
Am I committed to diminishing the occurrence and harm that I do to myself and others? Indeed!
But I am human. I do have a reptilian brain, an inherited belief system, and decades of practice reacting to the triggers in my life. So I’m committed, and practicing patience.
6. [BONUS] Get Real: As you do all of the above you may find it hard for yourself or other people to change. If you think that you’ve tried everything, and you’re not seeing the results you want, then talk to us. This is our mission: helping people lead change and reduce harm.
So yes, harassment is real, but you have control over its impact on you. By applying these steps you will be better equipped to create positive change for yourself and those around you, no matter what side of the harassing you’re on!