On a + note

The Community bully. #23: 2011

Posted in on a + note by Admin on July 18, 2011


The last few months I have received several emails asking to update a blog I wrote about bullying; how to recognize it and how to deal with it, without losing your job!  It is not a comfortable subject but, one we all struggle to understand and deal with in library land.   

There are many kinds of community volunteers that serve on board’s commissions and councils: the classic community leader, the socialite, the fund raiser, the do-gooder, the opportunist, the environmentalist and the one-issue-wonder.   However, I have a new variety to add to the list: the community bully. Luckily, they are a rare breed, but they are out there and they can do a lot of damage.

 Bullying is abusive, repetitive behaviour that involves unwanted actions or words. It usually involves an imbalance of power and a significant lack of trust. Bullying in an organization is rankism – defined as abuse of the power inherent in rank or position.  It usually involves coercion or harassment, control of the flow of information and manipulation of people and/or issues. Bullying takes on many forms and this is what makes it often difficult to recognize. For example;

  • Verbal bullying includes repeated derogatory comments, harassment, slander, lies or initiating false rumours and gossip.  
  • Physical bullying…perhaps the easiest to recognize, includes pushing, shoving, and intimidation. It occurs on school playgrounds approximately every ten minutes and once every 30 minutes in the Canadian classroom.
  • Cyber or electronic bullying is when social networking tools like the Internet are used to send or post information intended to hurt or embarrass an individual. Electronic bullies can remain virtually anonymous using technology to mask their identity. In a recent Canadian study:
    • 23% of middle-schoolers surveyed had been bullied by e-mail
    • 35% had been bullied in chat rooms
    • 41% by text messages on their cell phones
    • 41% did not know the identity of the perpetrators (that shocked me!!)

    Bullies are driven by their desire for control, so they are micro-managers; in. Their hot buttons revolve around power and keeping it. 
    Examples of community bullying include a volunteer who repeatedly:

  • embarrasses an employee or other volunteer in public or at meetings
  • uses social networking tools  to attack or embarrass the organization, volunteers or employees
  • monopolizes meetings and will not yield to another point of view
  • will not accept a decision and revisits a decision again and again

How do you deal with a community bully?

  1. Learn how to identify and handle a bully. Community organizations, including libraries need to be very clear and enforce ethical rules of conduct.
  2. Volunteers must support other volunteers who try to rein in the community bully.
  3. Do not quit just because a bully makes going to meetings uncomfortable; that is how they gain power.
  4. Strong leadership from the Board Chair and CEO are the best protection against the bully. Bullies thrive when there is a weak leader and there are no checks and balances to create a fair and ethical playing field. 
  5. Organizations need to invest time orienting and education volunteers.  A strong, well informed board and staff is the best protection against the bully.

Luckily, the community bully is an uncommon beast and we in library land are getting better at identifying and dealing with them.

Kitty Pope                                                                                                  #23 July, 2011


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