How a workplace bullying target responds to the abuse can often make the difference between successfully fending off the attacks or giving the bully (or bullies) more ammunition. We will get into more positive responses later but for now let us imagine that the target of workplace bullying has done, as so many do—fallen into the trap set by the bully. They respond in a way that can be used against them.
So often, the stress, anxiety, insomnia, humiliation, depression, etc., etc. has been building up. The target has been doing everything they can to manage and find ways to cope. But they are overwhelmed by the incessant onslaught. Just when they think things might be getting better they are faced with a new threat, another outrageous accusation, a fresh degradation or insult.
They respond to the bully or management in a way that the bully can present to everyone as evidence that the target is deserving of the abuse and contempt heaped upon them. The cry will go out for something to be done. It is at this point that we reach the fourth stage of Prof. Westhues' outline of a target's decent into hell. The workplace bullying target faces retaliation.
Aftermath of the incident: hearings, appeals, mediation.
The victim is made out to be the perpetrator. The type of incident that provokes this response can be as varied as the creativity of bullies and management. Perhaps it was an angry outburst. Perhaps the target broke down into tears. Perhaps they complained too loudly to the wrong co-worker or went over an unresponsive bosses' head to a more senior manager. Whatever it was is almost irrelevant. The bullies have what they need and they are going to run with it.
If management has been unwilling to do anything about the bullying up to this point now they will suddenly take an interest in handling it. Even if the abuse has been going on for a very long time and has been brought to management's attention now will be when they finally decide to take action—against the target.
It is much easier in many cases to punish and silence a target than to have the courage to stand up to a loud, aggressive, dominant bully. Often managers are too weak and incompetent to be able to handle a bully. In other cases the bully has been sly and cunning. They present to management as great employees, perhaps with leadership qualities, that are simply bringing this matter to the attention of managers out of concern for the target so they can get the help they obviously need.
The bully may appear reasonable and rational compared to the emotional wreck of the target. They bully claims to "like" the target and cannot understand why they are being accused of "bullying." After all they will say, it is they who are really being bullied by the target's emotional outbursts and wild "paranoid" accusations.
Management will then likely bring sanctions against the target. If they became emotional or complained about the many petty bullying incidents they will be regarded as unstable and paranoid. Often they will be forced to meet with EAP (Employee Assistance Program) counselors or be made to attend anger management programs. The response will usually be backed up by threats of disciplinary measures or termination for failing to subject themselves to the further humiliation of complying with these demands.
Of course, things can even be taken further. Company policies about "harassment" may now finally be brought to bear on the target. They may face a hearing and be found guilty by the "kangaroo court" and file appeals in a desperate search for justice in an unjust system. Often targets will be marched down to Human Resources for a meeting to discuss their inappropriate behavior and outline the reprisals they will face if they continue to make a fuss about being abused.
When management does not understand the dynamics of workplace bullying and mobbing they mistake it for a "personality conflict" and may decide the best way to deal with it is to force the target into a meeting with the bully so they can work it out. After all "there are two sides to every story" and "it takes two to tango." The target and the bully are seen in this case to be equally responsible.
These managers don't understand how outrageous, humiliating and injurious it is to put a victim of this kind of abuse in the same room with their attacker and to be made to "clear the air" or worse—to apologize to the bully. They don't understand that this is akin to making a victim of rape face their rapist, accept equal responsibility for the rape and apologize for reacting badly to being raped.