About ten years ago, relational communications trainer Linda Valade decided to include a section on “silent bullying” in her corporate workshops. She believes that by recognizing and naming this insidious form of bullying, we can create high-performance, open and inclusive workplaces where everyone feels free to express themselves. Interview.
Isarta Infos: How do you define silent bullying?
Linda Valade: Silent bullying takes the form of attitudes of superiority, impatient gestures, audible breaths, malevolent or skyward gazes, even disturbing or accusatory ones.
It’s particularly insidious because it’s hard to name. If an employee approaches HR to say that a colleague is making him or her uncomfortable during a meeting, HR will first ask what the person said or did. If the colleague hasn’t said or done anything, HR won’t intervene.
How did you come up with the idea of emphasizing this type of bullying in your training courses?
L. V. : Ten years ago, when I started giving relational communication workshops in companies, I noticed, on the one hand, that people who were very effective on an individual basis spoke very little in a group context. And, secondly, that people were intimidating people in these meetings under the guise of mood or non-verbal behavior.
But there was no word to describe this dynamic. That’s why I decided to call it “silent bullying”. And to propose a four-step approach that involves naming, identifying, recognizing and acting against this form of bullying.
Isn’t it sometimes normal to show impatience or annoyance through your non-verbal language, without it being called “silent bullying”?
L. V. : Of course! A person can experience emotions and have physical reactions. That’s perfectly normal. If I hear something I find inappropriate, I may roll my eyes. It’s consistent with the way I feel. Where it becomes silent bullying is when non-verbal language is used to establish dominance over another person. When you try to intimidate another person without being punished. That’s where I’d make the distinction.
What can organizations do to counter silent bullying?
L. V.: I propose an approach where, within a team, we decide to name non-verbal bullying behaviors when we see them. If someone rolls their eyes, we simply say so. It gives space to those who didn’t dare express themselves. And that’s extraordinary for organizations.
On a more individual level, there are also things we can do. You can take a look at yourself. If I’m often targeted, I can ask myself whether I’m not sending out the message of someone who lets themselves be intimidated. If I gain self-confidence, I’ll release something else.
I see silent bullying as a shared responsibility. On the one hand, bullies need to become aware of their behavior and rectify it. On the other, the bullied must learn to name the behavior when it occurs.
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