How is Nutrition Mindful?

By Health Coach Frank Alvarez, Lt. Col. United States Air Force (retired)

Our stomach acts like a “second brain.” As a result, the “brain-gut connection” is powerful. Bad food is addictive, just like gambling, drugs, or anything else. Be mindful, pay attention.

Nutritional 9-1-1
• Don’t skip breakfast!
• Add one nutrient dense food each day for 30 days. This is as opposed to trying to change your diet too much at one time. Add one “banana,” then one “apple,” etc. Before you know it you are eating a much healthier diet.
• Make each meal “right” – in other words, the proper amount of protein, carbs, (low) fat, etc.
• Move it or lose it – the need for daily exercise.

Each of these points are expounded upon in the following sections.

Don’t Skip Breakfast
• You are literally “breaking the fast” you incur from a full night’s sleep.
• Breakfast is the most important meal of the deal, but it’s not the meal, it’s the food you eat. Good breakfast foods include wholegrain cereals, whole fruit, and eggs.

Add One Whole Food Each Day
• Each day add a whole food to your diet and/ or meal.
• Don’t replace, add to it.
• It is not cumulative.
• What will begin to happen is that you will find you like, and your body needs, these foods.
• You will crowd out the bad stuff (non-nutrient dense).

Make Each Meal “Right”
• Protein, carbohydrates, fats at each meal.
• Essential or not?
• The good, the bad, the ugly.

• Move it or lose it!
• Bad conditioning can even lead to loss of memory, depression, and discontent.

Socrates had this to say about mindfulness: “You should learn all you can from those who know. Everyone should watch himself throughout his life, and notice what sort of meat and drink and what form of exercise suit his constitution, and he should regulate them in order to enjoy good health. For by such attention to yourselves you can discover better than any doctor what suits your constitution.”

Source:Employee Assistance Report Brown Bagger, Volume 19, No. 8, August 2016

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Mindfulness: Transforming Yourself

By Elaine M. Schachelmayer, MA, NCC, CCTP, LPC

In today’s go-go-go, 24/7, constantly checking-our smartphones society, it seems we’re rarely alone with our thoughts. While mindfulness is not “new” – it has Buddhist origins dating back 2,500 years or more – it is the realization of today’s continual “busy-ness” that is no doubt helping fuel the growing mindfulness movement. What is mindfulness? As opposed to our minds being too FULL of activity, worries, and concerns, mindfulness is the state of being conscious, aware of, or “mindFUL” of one’s surroundings. Additional definitions of mindfulness include:

• The practice of maintaining a nonjudgmental state of heightened or complete awareness of one’s thoughts, emotions, and feelings;
• The process of calmly accepting, acknowledging the present moment and the feelings, thoughts, and bodily perceptions and sensations that exist; and
• Mindfulness is the gentle effort to be continuously present, according to scientist, writer, and mindfulness guru Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD.

The purpose of mindfulness is an awareness of being “in the moment” and the directions we give our mind to stay fully present in our experiences.

What Meditation & Mindfulness is NOT
The concepts of “meditation” and “mindfulness” are confusing to some people, and so here is some clarification. Meditation and mindfulness is not:

• Going into a trance or self-hypnosis;
• Attempting to empty your mind;
• Just for spiritual leaders, monks, priests, nuns;
• A technique for relaxation;
• Another form of positive thinking; and
• A reason not to work with mental health or medical professionals (mindfulness can complement traditional Western medicine).

Why Mindfulness is Needed
• Fear and anxiety are worthy of our attention.
• Upsetting feelings are not a punishment or a sign of weakness.
• Opening a door to the unknown makes possible a corridor to curiosity.
• We can pay attention to unpleasant sensations and thoughts and still be okay.
• Changing mental states through attentive mind-body experiences can transform destructive reactions into peaceful insight and acceptance.

Anxiety is Rampant in Today’s 24/7 Society
Chronic anxiety is especially troublesome. It can be identified as:
• A higher intensity that has become alarming;
• There is no real reason or evidence why anxiety should be present;
• It lasts for weeks, and even months at a time … well beyond typical bouts of anxiety;
• Detrimental signs result in painful and damaging living; and
• Frequently masked by withdrawal, alcohol or other drugs, abuse of food, lost work performance, and somatic symptoms.

What Mindfulness Can Do
In today’s busy society, we need to be able to find our bearings, to step back. Mindfulness is a great gift for our own lives and in the workplace. Mindfulness offers a viable tool for EAP practitioners in the treatment of fear, anxiety, addiction, stress, trauma, panic, and other conditions that limit individuals in their function and relationships with themselves and with others.

As professionals in mental wellness, mindfulness provides an encouraging opportunity for self-care. Mindfulness also offers:

• A gateway to transformational living with endless compassion and unconditional acceptance of self;
• A conduit to health and healing; and
• An opportunity for kindness and openheartedness; friendly, “allowing,” non-judging.

Mindfulness is an Important Ally
• Balancing distortions, moving from hyperarousal and chronic stress to calm and relaxed attention – an opportunity to “let go;”
• Reducing fight-or-flight responses, activated stress hormones, immune deficiencies, worsening depression, memory impairment, and possible breakdown of disease-fighting repair;
• Checking chronic stress that becomes a debilitating barrier frequently associated with depression, panic and anxiety disorders, and mood regulation;
• Lessening the dependence on alcohol and drugs that interfere with life (the need for self-medication); and
• Restoring balance, needed especially for combat veterans and others suffering from PTSD, traumatic grief, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and individuals with social anxiety.

Mindfulness Offers the Potential for Healing
• Research cannot explain fully how the practice of mindfulness works, but evidence from Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience shows a marked decline in the amygdala stress response.
• Mindfulness can help individuals better cope with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder
• (PTSD), aggression, social fears, depression, fear-related learning, and many physical, painful, and chronic conditions.
• Using mindfulness together with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), narrative therapy, psychotherapy, and journaling can help “layer” effective mental health treatment.
• Mindfulness can assist the aging elderly population, individuals with brain injury, people who have a history of cognitive disorganization, hospice patients, and professional caregivers coping with compassion fatigue.

Mindfulness Enhances Compassion
Of all the wonderful gifts that mindfulness has to offer, among the greatest is our heart qualities such as loving kindness. Cultivating a heart filled with love for others and self is to embrace all of life. We appreciate life even in the pains of suffering through it. Compassion is seen in our vulnerability as we age and die … as we find our way in life. We learn to love more softly, with greater tenderness, and at our own pace. When we see what mindfulness can do for ourselves, we see what it can do for others. But it does not happen easily, it has to be practiced daily.

Jon Kabatt-Zinn’s 7 Stepping Stones about Mindfulness
1. Non-judging (Not having preconceived notions about others or our surroundings);
2. Patience (This has always been a virtue, but in a “gotta-have-it” now or “have-to-know-it” society, this seems to be especially true today);
3. Beginner’s Mind (This is the idea of looking at things for the first time, not unlike a child);
4. Trust (Confidence, faith, hope, and assurance … as opposed to disbelief, doubt, uncertainty and mistrust);
5. Non-striving (“This is not supposed to be work,” says Kabatt-Zinn. “If you think it is just one more thing to do, don’t do it. Mindfulness involves being, not doing.”
6. Acceptance; and
7. Letting go.

Mind-Body Thinking
• “I am not my thoughts.”
• “I am more than my thoughts.”
• “My thinking does not define me.”
• “Stay in the moment, utilize all five senses.” (What do you see? What do you feel?)

Stop striving and you will start thriving. Remember that everything happens in the present moment.

Elaine M. Schachelmayer, MA, NCC, CCTP, LPC, is a clinical psychotherapist, community advocate, and Herzing University educator.
Source: Employee Assistance Report Brown Bagger, Volume 19, No. 8, August 2016

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Positive Employees Pay Off

Positivity is one of those soft skills that is hard to measure. Have you or do you know anyone who has put, “I’m a positive employee,” on their resume? Well, maybe it is not a bad idea.

Sigal Barsade, a Wharton management professor who studies the influence of emotions in the workplace reported that, “emotions travel from person to person like a virus” and suggests that emotions determine what happens in an organization, specifically related to job performance.1

Just as positivity can be contagious, negativity can be just as contagious, but with bigger losses.

Studies have shown that positive employees are actually more productive. Why? Because positive employees:
• Don’t engage in gossip or negative talk of co-workers or the organization;
• Encourage creativity and are open to ideas;
• Know how to collaborate well with others;
• Process information more effectively;
• Communicate well even in stressful or difficult situations;
• Support other colleagues; and
• Maintain a better work/life balance.

Essentially, positive employees put their energy into their job, not negativity.

Negative people can make a significant impact on the workplace as well. They tend to:
• Increase the overall stress in the workplace;
• Complicate decision-making;
• Criticize and blame others;
• Impact the success of teams;
• Are problem-oriented rather than solutions-oriented;
• Cause co-workers to shut down or disengage;
• Deliver poor customer service;
• And even worse – cause good people to leave.

Negativity that spreads can lead to big losses for an organization, including:
• A decreasing bottom line due to declining productivity;
• Less satisfied customers or loss of customers;
• Increase in turnover causing increased costs of hiring and retraining;
• Decrease in morale due to employee dissatisfaction; and
• A culture where people do not want to work.

Organizations need to always be assessing their culture, their leaders, and their employees. A few ways to try to promote positive employees and culture, include:
• Identifying who or what is causing negativity;
• Offering trainings that help employees better manage stress, focus on positive attitudes, build emotional intelligence, get along with co-workers, and become more effective supervisors;
• When hiring employees, posing questions to candidates and their references regarding how an individual responds to negative situations and how they present a positive attitude and contribute to a positive culture;
• Rewarding individuals for their positivity;
• Not accepting or overlooking negative attitudes, even if these employees are producing. Not only does avoidance send a bad message to positive employees, but you are failing to consider the overall financial impact of the negativity; and
• Asking for regular feedback from employees.

It is important not to underestimate the value of positive employees and the harm negative ones can do to your organization. Ultimately, positive employees pay off and make a difference to your bottom line.

1 Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania (April 18, 2007). Managing Emotions in the Workplace: Do Positive and Negative Attitudes Drive Performance? Retrieved from

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Putting an Ethical Culture into Practice

Parents understand that values are caught more than they’re taught, and companies really aren’t all that different. Management can’t conduct business dishonestly and then turn around and expect their employees to be honest and demonstrate good character.

If Americans have learned anything from all the corporate meltdowns, it’s that real ethics must be more than a written code. Enron had a written code, and integrity was a stated value, but integrity wasn’t infused in the everyday practices of the company. Certainly, creating a true culture of character isn’t easy.

Start with a Code of Ethics
While a code of ethics isn’t enough, it’s still necessary. The code should start with a statement of values that’s clear, and inspiring. There should be input and support from everyone in the organization. Consider areas such as: “What is a conflict of interest in this organization” and “How will we treat our customers?”

As well as an overall code, there also needs to be concrete examples that are part of everyday tasks and responsibilities. For instance: How are sales contracts written? What will happen if manufacturing specifications are not met?

Develop a Culture that Puts the Code into Practice
While a code is necessary, the corporate culture needs to enforce the code. To make a code of ethics work, a company must have leaders of character who create a culture of character. When we say someone has character, we are usually referring to a person who:
• Works hard and gets results;
• Is responsible;
• Has a solid base of integrity; and
• Treats people with respect and dignity.

Companies with character are similar. These firms promote character instead of rewarding those who get results without integrity or respect.

Integrity as the Foundation
A culture of character, like leadership character, must be grounded in integrity. Honesty must be the norm for the company and modeled by every leader in the workplace.

Many business leaders think they’re doing the workforce a favor by “protecting” them from difficult news or circumstances. Nothing could be further from the truth. In today’s workforce, which is filled with highly educated people with access to tons of information, this kind of behavior only breeds cynicism and distrust.

At an ethics summit, Frank Chamberlain, a turn-around specialist, commented that he frequently discovers integrity problems when he visits troubled companies. He said that, in many cases, employees haven’t been told the truth by management, and because they have seen ethical lapses, they don’t trust their leaders.

“In most cases,” Chamberlain says, “simply telling the truth did more to revitalize workers’ commitment than anything I could do. Invite employees’ ideas, but don’t spin anything. They’re just too smart. If you tell the truth, it will inspire belief, which will inspire trust, which leads to loyalty, then to commitment, and finally to results.”

Loyalty = Profits
Let’s briefly examine one aspect of Chamberlain’s statement – loyalty. The long-term success of any company depends heavily upon the quality and loyalty of its workers. Few executives would disagree with this concept in theory. The problem is that many executives don’t realize that loyalty is a two-way street – you can’t ask employees to be loyal to you if you’re never loyal to them.

The truth is, when the going gets tough, managers usually focus on “hard” numbers, such as the cost of labor. The reality is that most organizations that downsize fail to realize any long-term cost savings or efficiencies! In fact, such cutbacks often lead to even more restructurings and layoffs! For instance, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that spending 10% of a company’s revenue on (physical) capital improvements increased productivity by nearly 4%. However, investing that same amount in developing employee capital (such as worker trainings) enhanced productivity by almost 9% – or more than double!

The fact of the matter is this: Employees are only as loyal to a company as they believe it’s being loyal to them. Building an organization of committed, loyal employees comes down to demonstrating that the company deserves their loyalty.

More Impact on the Bottom Line
Leaders with integrity do more than talk the talk – they walk the walk. The following is still more evidence on the positive effect that integrity and loyalty has on the bottom line:
• A survey of Holiday Inn hotels reported by Harvard Business Review found that the more employees positively answered questions such as, “My manager delivers on promises,” and, “My manager practices what he preaches,” the more profitable the hotel.
• According to Business Ethics magazine, the financial performance in companies that were considered ethical was significantly better than firms that received a lower rating.

Distrust May Lead to Theft
As stated, creating a corporate culture of character is a two-way street, and that includes the employee as well as the employer. The well known CEO might be a dishonest person seen on CNN, but the employee that steals is cheating his company as well. Consider:
• Employee embezzlement costs companies about $4 billion annually.
• As many as 25% of all businesses that fail do so as a result of employee theft.

Mike Barnes, an expert in employee theft, also estimates that:
• Only 25% of employees are 100% honest;
• 25% of employees will steal any chance they get; and
• The remaining 50% are only as honest as they want to be.

Barnes has some ideas why employees steal. “Many times people will think, ‘They (the employer) don’t pay me enough,’ or, ‘They’re rich. They won’t miss it.’ The thing is, if the worker gets away with it, he’ll get the idea that the business doesn’t care about them or the fact that they’re stealing.”

If some workers steal because they don’t think management is interested in their concerns, it stands to reason that part of the cure is for the employer to demonstrate otherwise. “Employers really need to know their people, and the biggest thing they can do is care,” Barnes stresses. In fact, he views employee theft as a management problem and not a disciplinary issue. “To me,” Barnes says, “internal theft is like a cancer. If it isn’t properly addressed by management, it will spread.”

Responsibility: Being Accountable and Courageous
One of the reasons that leaders who hold themselves accountable get results is that they spend little time on blame. They take 100% responsibility for success, but when they see a problem they set out to solve it.

However, this level of responsibility requires another important quality – courage. It’s easy to tell the truth when it’s pleasant – it’s quite another matter when the truth is uncomfortable! But courageous leaders tell the truth anyway, and they encourage others to do the same. Organizations with courage:
• Admit mistakes;
• Make reparations quickly; and they
• Take risks.

Keeping Ethics in the Forefront
There are many ways to make character and ethics a part of everyday practice in the workplace. Solicit ideas from employees about practices you might adopt. The EAP may be able to assist. The following are several possible suggestions on how managers can work together with employees to get started:

• Have an “ethics officer” in meetings to alert the group to possible ethical concerns. Rotate the position or select the person randomly each time. Celebrate honesty and accountability. Make honest leaders corporate heroes.
• Be as honest as possible about business plans. Regardless if the news is good or not, share numbers, forecasts, and invite questions. When fear is running rampant, it’s difficult for any employee to have a good attitude and be focused on job responsibilities. Morale suffers, and the rumor mill runs wild. Conversely, honest, but not sugarcoated communication can boost morale and keep gossip from spreading.
• Find ways to give managers and supervisors regular feedback. One company uses a “stool exercise,” in which each business leader takes turns sitting on a stool while others offer suggestions for improvement. The idea isn’t to nitpick but to get constructive criticism out in the open.
• Administer regular employee surveys with results that are widely distributed. For instance, tough questions should be addressed such as: “Does the company provide the necessary tools and training for employees to perform their jobs well?” and “Is a commitment to serve customers rewarded and encouraged by the organization?” Like the previous point, if the workplace is to truly exhibit a culture of character, shortcomings can’t be swept under the rug.

To build a truly ethical organization, ethics can’t be separate from everyday business. Just as every business decision is made in light of financial implications, each decision must also take ethical issues into account. Creating a corporate culture of character takes time and effort – but it leads to ethical considerations, which eventually become second nature.

Source: Employee Assistance Report July 2016 Brown Bagger. Additional sources: Robert and Lyn Turknett, authors of Decent People, Decent Company: How to Lead with Character at Work and in Life; employee assistance professionals John C. Pompe and RaeAnn Thomas; and Timothy Keiningham and Lerzan Aksoy, co-authors of Why Loyalty Matters.

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A Different Approach to Failure

By Sandra L. Bennett, LCSW, Solutions EAP
We all know what it’s like to make New Year’s resolutions and we all know how it feels to fail. What follows is usually a period (sometimes a long one) of self-criticism and hopelessness (“I’ll never lose that weight!” or “I’ll never be able to run a marathon!”).

However, self-criticism never helps keep resolutions; it just makes you feel unhappy and annoyed, mostly at yourself.  And so you either give up and go get Baskin Robbins or you throw away your running shoes.

There is a third option: Relax and work on accepting yourself. There are good reasons to relax about your lack of resolve.  As you may have heard in the past few years, it has been discovered that our brains can be re-molded. Repeated self-criticism can literally shape brain pathways into patterns that sustain negativity while self-acceptance can reinforce more positive ways of thinking.

In addition, anytime we fight an issue in our lives the thing we’re fighting has a way of fighting back, i.e. what we resist, persists. It brings up another fact that has been true for many, many years: All the resolving in the universe can’t conquer our emotions.

Therefore, the bottom line is that taking a forgiving approach to any failure puts us precisely in the place of kindness and acceptance where positive changes are the easiest. It doesn’t mean that this process will be easy, which is why it’s called “re-solution” rather than “solution.” Know that you’ll have to re-do, resolving the same problem over and over. But each time you go through the process you get more strength, more practice, and more wisdom about what works for you.  If you don’t succeed, the failure will help you find the upside so that you can re-solve the issue better next time.

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May is Mental Health Month

We often hear the clinical terms used by doctors and other professionals to identify the symptoms of mental illnesses, but if someone hasn’t gone through it, would they know how to recognize it?

So often, clinical terms don’t do justice to what life with a mental illness feels like. We know that two people with the same diagnosis can experience the same symptom and describe it in very different ways. Understanding the signs of a mental illness and identifying how it can feel can be confusing—and sometimes can contribute to ongoing silence or hesitation to get help.

It’s important for people to talk about how it feels to live with a mental illness. We know that mental illnesses are common and treatable, and help is available. But not everyone knows what to look for when they are going through those early stages, and many simply experience symptoms differently. We all need to speak up early—Before Stage 4—and in real, relatable terms so that people do not feel isolated and alone.

This May is Mental Health Month and raising awareness of the importance of speaking up about mental health, and asking individuals to share what life with a mental illness feels like by tagging social media posts with #mentalillnessfeelslike. Posting with our hashtag is a way to speak up, to share your point of view with people who may be struggling to explain what they are going through—and to help others figure out if they too are showing signs of a mental illness.

Life with a Mental Illness is meant to help remove the shame and stigma of speaking out, so that more people can be comfortable coming out of the shadows and seeking the help they need. Whether you are in Stage 1 and just learning about those early symptoms, or are dealing with what it means to be in Stage 4, sharing how it feels can be part of your recovery.

Mental illnesses are real and recovery is always the goal, and that the best prospects for recovery come when we act Before Stage 4 (B4Stage4).

Addressing mental illnesses B4Stage4 means more than burying feelings and refusing to talk about them, and waiting for symptoms to clear up on their own. B4Stage4 means more than wishing that mental health problems aren’t real, and hoping that they will never get worse. B4Stage4 means more than thinking that someone on the edge of a crisis will always pull himself or herself back without our help, and praying that someone else will intervene before a crisis occurs.

B4Stage4 means, in part, talking about what mental illnesses feel like, and then acting on that information. It means giving voice to feelings and fears, and to hopes and dreams. It means empowering people as agents of their own recovery. And it means changing the trajectories of our own lives for the better, and helping those we love change theirs. So let’s talk about what life with a mental illness feels like, to voice what we are feeling, and so others can know they are not alone.


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May is Mental Health Month – Take it Day by Day Calendar

Believe you can and you’re half way there – Theodore Roosevelt.

May is Mental Health Month. Use this calendar to focus on a healthy strategy each day to improve your overall well-being.

Mental Health  Month 2016 Poster-Calendar

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Anger – Are You Acting Out Your Child or Adult Self

Everyone has times when they are angry. You know the feeling: thoughts are crowding out any rational response to events taking place, feelings of being ready to explode, hot all over, and possibly a need to run or take a swipe at something or someone!

All of these are symptoms of when we are experiencing anger, however not the crux of the anger. Think about a time you experienced anger. Were you by yourself or with others? Were you thinking about something that was happening at the moment or in the past? Was your anger expression at a person general in nature?

Most of us express anger when an event is happening, and it is when there is something going on that challenges one of our core values or beliefs about our self or someone we care about. Typically anger isn’t about a “thing,” but rather about our connection to that “thing.” We personalize our response and then it becomes about us. Let’s look at an example of how this plays out.

John and Mary purchased a new home in the fall and this spring work for hours on their yard, pulling weeds, mulching and planting shrubs and flowers. They are exhausted, yet very proud of their hard labor to add their personalities to their new house. Later that evening Mary’s older sister comes over for a cook out, and states, “Let me know when are you going to work on your yard, I have some starts of perennial flowers for you.”

Now, there are a couple choices here:

  1. Become indignant and reply with, “What do you mean? We have worked for two days, and you haven’t even noticed!!!!”
  2. Remain calm and say, “Oh that is so kind of you. Yes, we are very interested in adding color to our yard, come look at what we have done so far.”

The first response is driven from the reaction of feeling personally attacked, and de-valued. Your big sister has just dismissed all of the work you have done, and treated you like you don’t have a responsible thought or action, just like she always did when you were growing up. Jumping to this conclusion is steeped in old “FOO stuff,” translated, Family of Origin Stuff. It originated in early days, and you still carry the feeling and thoughts of being ten. You have jumped to a conclusion that you are being criticized, rather than clarifying what your heard. You dismiss the fact that she has noticed you were working on the yard because she offers some plants. What she doesn’t say is, “When you work in your yard again…”, or “Wow, nice yard!” Without clarifying you are immediately in your default zone of age 10.

The second choice for a response has no emotion embedded. You express appreciation of her offer, and then direct her to see what you have accomplished.

What happened here, you ask? Lots! The first response is one built from the de-valued younger child, and then comes out of the adult’s mouth. How often we do this, depends on how many hot buttons we have from earlier life experiences. We blame the other person instead of paying attention with an open mind and not running old material through our reactions first. Sometimes we need to go through several reactions until we find one that isn’t a “default.”

Next time you notice you are reacting to something someone says, your goal will be to stop and check your “FOO stuff.” You just might find you are reacting out of your ten year old self, and not your adult self.

To discuss this or other topics that get in the way of being who you want to be, call SOLUTIONS – Your EAP.

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Tools to End Workplace Bullying

Before we explore workplace bullying and how to deal with it, it is important to clear up any misunderstandings you or others might have about it. In the case of workplace bullying, knowledge is power.

Myths about Workplace Bullying Debunked

There is no such thing as workplace bullying. When we think about “workplace bullying,” most of us think about the schoolyard and not about the workplace. However, workplace bullying is very real, and its destructive effects are also very real. Should anyone try to tell you that you are not being bullied because, in their mind, that’s not something that happens to adults at work, tell them that 20+ years of research on workplace bullying says otherwise. Research has indicated that 50% of the population is being bullied, and in some cases even as much as 75%. The Workplace Bullying Institute has found that bullying is four times more prevalent than illegal forms of discrimination. Bullying is NOT illegal by the way. All of these numbers point to one thing: bullying at work is real and it’s widespread.

Bullying is no big deal. Research has associated bullying with many psychological problems, including feeling helpless, decreased self-esteem, poor morale, feelings of inadequacy, depression, and conflict with co-workers and family as a result of what’s happening at work. Bullying can also lead to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and even suicide. This points to one thing: bullying is a big deal, and it hurts.

Bullying is just a personality conflict between two people. A personality conflict occurs when two people disagree on something. It affects primarily – and sometimes exclusively – those two individuals. Bullying, on the other hand, affects the employees, co-workers, the workplace, and its leaders. Unfortunately most of the time managers do nothing to help – or they are the ones bullying employees – hence targets and bystanders lose respect for them, which drives down the quality of work. To create a healthy work environment, managers need the direction and support of the organization’s top leaders.

This points to one thing: ignoring bullying creates an atmosphere in which it thrives. “Hey, if this guy did it and got away with it why shouldn’t I?”

Targets have a performance issue and are accusing their boss of being too tough. Unfortunately, this is the belief of many human resource managers who refuse to see what’s really happening, or don’t understand the nature of workplace bullying. It would be a lie to say that targets of workplace bullying are never poor performers, but there is an appropriate way of confronting poor performance (including contacting the EAP), and there is an unacceptable, and bullying way of dealing with poor performance. This points to one thing: Bullying bosses yell and get frustrated when someone isn’t working up to their standards. This is ineffective and not beneficial to anyone, including the company.

Tools to End Bullying

This section describes some practical strategies that a target should find useful when dealing with his or her nemesis.

Acknowledge and name the problem. The first step in dealing with aggressive and damaging behavior in the workplace is to acknowledge that there is a problem and give it a name. Some people feel that “bullying” is a childish name and are reluctant to use it in describing adult behaviors. The bottom line is, however, that it is important to give the behaviors a name; and since we are dealing with actions that are intended to humiliate, belittle, manipulate, or intimidate others, “bullying” is the perfect (and widely accepted) term to describe them collectively. Finding the language to describe your situation is important because language allows you to understand what is really going on. This is an important first step in the process of overcoming bullying at work.

Confront the individual. A word of caution: Confronting an aggressive person can backfire. The bully may see this as an attack and increase the abusive behavior. If you confront this person in front of others it may be seen as disrespectful, but if you do it one-on-one you do not have any witnesses. So confront, do so assertively, but avoid blaming or finger-pointing. Stay calm; be professional. If the other person responds with aggression, say, “Jim, I’m not here to argue. I just want you to stop _____ (insert unwanted behavior here). I treat you with respect, and I expect the same from you. Jim, starting today, please refrain from ___________”

Notice several things here: We’ve used the individual’s name several times. Using a person’s first name is a form of assertiveness. It puts a person on the spot and usually gets the individual to take notice and actually listen. (Think about the old trick parents use when they catch their children doing something wrong: They call them by their first, middle, and last name because it gets their attention and implies dominance. The same thing applies here).

Avoid name-calling. Even though it is important to recognize what’s going on – you are being bullied at work – it is also vital to understand that you are facing a human being who is not a bully but rather a person adopting bullying behaviors. Saying, “he is a bully” actually gives the individual more power over you because in your mind you are accepting that you are facing a person whose every interaction with you will be negative. “He is bullying me” is a subtle but powerful shift in your situation. Now you have made the claim that this person is demonstrating an undesired behavior, and you can perhaps change it. You might think, “Who cares how I say it! He makes me feel bad, I’m stressed and scared!” But these language nuances are part of the first steps in taking control of how you are treated at work.

Focus on yourself and your actions, not on the bullying. We tend to focus a lot on bullies when we are being harassed by them, almost obsessively in some cases. This is allowing the bully to win because instead of focusing on how to overcome bullying, you are spending too much time on how bad this individual makes you feel. Try to focus on yourself, your work, your own behavior, and how well you’re doing. Make a conscious choice to push the bullying out of your mind. It’s easy to say that our thoughts and emotions are not a choice, but that isn’t true. You have control over what you think about; what you think about does not have control over you. Understanding that will help take control of how you feel, and you’ll be able to face your bullying co-worker.

Take control of your response to the bullying behavior. Remain professional, do a great job all of the time, and disregard attempts to bring you down. You deserve respect in your workplace, but you are responsible for garnering that respect and for projecting a confident and “don’t screw with me” image to everyone around you. That means you should command respect for your work and professionalism while at the same time treating everyone the same way, including the person bullying you. Consider the story of a man whose airplane was shot down during a deployment. For three days he floated in the ocean, and he had two options; succumb to his circumstances and think about dying, or focus his thoughts on survival. He chose to think about living, and he was eventually rescued. He claims he is a much better person as a result of this experience. He is more positive, a better leader, and more appreciative of his life. Had he thought about dying, the outcome would’ve been different. He likely could have talked himself into giving up and may have died before he was rescued. Rather than being more positive, he would’ve been negative and unhappy, and possibly even suffered from PTSD. Remember, you can’t always control other people or the situation you’re in, but you do have control over your thoughts and your reactions.

Use “you” language. Assertiveness experts usually say that you’re supposed to use “I” language such as, “I don’t like it when you use that tone of voice with me.” But that doesn’t tend to work with bullies. Their attitude is, “I don’t care if you don’t like my tone!” Or they’ll launch a more aggressive attack to get you to back off with something like, “Stop being so dramatic!” So instead of, “I don’t like the way you treat me” as you might normally say, try, “You need to work on treating others more professionally.” This makes the person accountable for his/her own actions. One word of warning: Avoid passing judgment. Saying something like, “You are crazy” does not hold a bully accountable; it only fuels the fire.

Deflect criticism. Criticism hurts, but while we can’t control over the person doing the criticizing, we do have control over how we react. We can learn how to avoid “taking it in” or allowing it to become a part of how you view yourself. When this person has gone on a criticizing rampage, chances are everyone has just stood there and taken it. You, on the other hand, can break this cycle by asking questions. Specifically, ask questions that seek more information about the issue and force the critical person to come up with a goal. A conversion might go something like this: Criticizer: “You keep doing that report wrong! How is it that you keep passing the employee evaluations year after year?! I can’t be the only one who thinks you’re an idiot.” You: “I assume the goal is to have the report done right. Calling me names is not going to help. Tell me exactly what I am doing wrong, mistake by mistake, and that way future reports will be up to your standards. I’m not asking you to do my job but to make it clear what you need me to do differently.”

By Catherine Mattice (published in the April 2016 EA Report Brown Bagger in the Employee Assistance Report)

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Building Good Co-worker Relationships

Like family, we can’t always choose our co-workers. But we can choose to work as harmoniously as possible by focusing on key behaviors that promote good relationships and foster a workplace that everyone can enjoy. Take an inventory on what you feel you do well, and what you want to work on.

Use effective communication
Communication is a key ingredient in any relationship, but professionally, your job depends on it.  It can be the difference between productivity, promotion, and maintaining positive morale. To build good communication patterns at work, consider these tips:

  • Be an active listener. The more you are talking, the less you are listening. Take a breath. Refrain from evaluating the other’s words until they have finished, observe non-verbal cues, reflect back what the person is saying, and ask questions to clarify and gather further meaning. Being interested and present shows the receiver that you are intently trying to listen and understand.
  • Be clear. If you are providing direction or feedback, make sure you deliver your message in a way that the person can receive it based on their communication style – both verbal and written. Also consider whether the person responds best or appreciates follow-up with email, phone, IM, face-to-face or combination of communication outlets.
  • Don’t assume. Ask the person if they understand, have questions, or need more clarification. There is nothing worse than walking away from a conversation with no more understanding than when you began.
  • In general, improve communication by not interrupting or cutting the person off, filling silences and not giving the other space to formulate thoughts, abruptly changing the subject without responding to what they have said, finishing their sentences, or summarizing what you think they are going to say.

Avoid negativity – this is just clutter
Negativity – whether you are griping about work, gossiping, over-sharing, being offensive (inappropriate jokes, name-calling, etc.), or being critical – is a morale buster. This negativity can affect your co-worker relationships by decreasing trust, motivation, and satisfaction in the workplace. Choose to have a positive attitude. If there are legitimate concerns, find the best and healthiest way to address them.

Respect other people’s time
Not everyone is on your time timetable. Be courteous of others during the workday by: not hovering outside one’s office/cubicle while they are on the phone or in a meeting, asking someone if they have time to talk rather than assuming it is a good time for them, respecting one’s breaks or lunchtime (this doesn’t indicate someone is free), and unless it is an emergency or part of the job, keeping communication to work hours (pinging someone with emails all night increases stress and does not promote work/life balance).

Don’t pass the buck
We are humans, which means, we will make mistakes. How we handle mistakes is what is important. Be fair: don’t try to hide mistakes or shift the blame to avoid responsibility. Keep to the facts, own your part, and let others explain themselves. No one wants to feel like they got thrown under the bus. Take the opportunity to acknowledge the mistake, problem-solve, and prevent future occurrences.

Be reliable
Everyone’s role in the organization is important, and many times interdependent. Doing your job well, meeting expectations, and heeding deadlines will help build a team environment and assure that everyone is fully committed to not only doing their job, but being thoughtful of what others need to do theirs.

Show respect
When both you and your co-workers feel respected, you are better able to handle differences, appreciate work habits, avoid negative discussions, and be willing to share knowledge and help each other accomplish tasks. Reinforcing to a co-worker that they are doing a great job or you appreciate their help goes a long way. Everyone likes a compliment. Feeling appreciated by your peers builds a sense of value and motivates employees to show up and continue good work.

Cope with conflict
Unfortunately conflict can occur anywhere, especially at work. Avoiding conflict or not effectively addressing conflict can be a burden to all involved. Work with those involved to identify the conflict, what contributes to the conflict, and possible resolutions. If you handle it well, you can build a new sense of resiliency among co-workers. Make sure to address issues when emotions have simmered and discuss in a setting that is appropriate.

To build better relationships with your co-workers, identify at least one item to start improving on, and build from there where needed.

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