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UCCS professor presents revealing workshop on workplace bullying among women

By Deborah Méndez-Wilson

Workplace bullies operate in different ways, and it's not always with tactics that are aggressive and confrontational, according to research by a University of Colorado at Colorado Springs associate professor who is shedding light on what she calls "the culture of snark."

Snark, created by combining the words "snide" and "remark," is a sort of social sport that is expressed in style of speech, writing and social discourse that is belittling. It can be aimed at alienating other women in hopes of undermining their professional and personal success, according to Julaine E. Field, Ph.D., an associate professor of counseling and human services in the UCCS College of Education.

Field presented elements of her research on female bullying in the workplace during last week's annual CU Women Succeeding Symposium. A packed room of women listened as she described workplace bullying, many nodding their heads in recognition.

Field said bullying and the "culture of snark" occurs at virtually every level of society, from elementary school through college, and in professional work environments including academia. Bullies and their victims can be boys, girls, men and women, but Field's presentation focused mostly on the consequences of bullying behavior between women and girls in schools and in the workplace. During her presentation, she offered several examples from popular media portraying bullying behavior between women, including reality TV shows that exploit female relationships both in and outside the work force, and consumer advertising trends that pit woman against woman.

Field is a contributing author to the book "Understanding Girl Bullying and What To Do About It: Strategies That Heal the Divide," which is being used by school districts around the country to help school administrators, teachers, parents and other adults cope with bullying between girls.

At the symposium, she walked workshop participants through the signs of workplace bullying and offered tips for coping and addressing such behavior.

According to Field, the issue is divided into "relational aggression" and "social aggression," and both can occur in virtually any work environment, including academia. Relational aggression is aimed at threatening or intending to harm a person's friendship or feelings of belonging in a particular peer group, and often entails strict social alliances, Field said.

Workplaces bullies who operate this way may try to isolate and ostracize another by being slow to respond to e-mail and timelines; assigning meaningless tasks; giving confusing or contradictory instructions; undermining another's work performance; withholding information; hiding documents; or setting impossible deadlines as barriers to success, she said.

Workplace bullies also engage in the spreading of rumors and gossip, and threaten to withdraw support for their co-worker's projects.

According to Field's research, socially aggressive behavior can involve the same issues, but extends them into a larger group of people, involving others in the commission of aggression. Ultimately, the goal is to diminish a co-worker's professional or personal status.

During her workshop, Field challenged participants to review a list of 18 behaviors associated with workplace bullying and to identify any behaviors they had engaged in previously. Many offered frank anecdotes of their workplace experiences, and a few brave people admitted they were guilty of some of the examples of relational and social aggression behaviors.

Field offered recommendations that included naming the behavior; confronting aggressors; documenting incidents through a formal or informal process; requesting reporting procedures from managers; finding a mentor and other forms of support; working on assertiveness skills; seeking legal counsel when necessary; and, finally, she advised women to take care of themselves.

To learn more about workplace bullying, go to http://bullyinworkplace.wordpress.com

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