If you’ve been bullied at work, it’s likely you’ll feel super-sensitive to the possibility of being abused again, especially online. The two most frequent complaints I hear from my clients and social media friends is that workplace bullying leaves them feeling:
1) Isolated and
2) Full of self-doubt
Exacerbating this fear is the sheer volume of cyberbullying online and also the fear of the workplace bully stalking you and retaliating if you put a foot wrong. No wonder the world’s largest social media platform has been dubbed: “Fakebook.”
However, done properly, connecting online can be every bit as supportive, fulfilling and meaningful as connecting in real life. But how? In this article I’m going to give you five tips for connecting online that will help keep you safe but also connect you with interesting, warm-hearted people who’ll help restore your faith in humanity.
1. Choose Your Purpose
It’s super important you have a clear purpose for being on any social media platform, preferably one that isn’t about being too “personal.” For example, some reasons for connecting online might be to share ideas, to meet like-minded people, to promote your business, to network for your career, etc…
Using social media for what it was designed for – which is to share your personal life with friends and family is possibly the worst way to connect online – because it sets you up to be exploited by advertisers and leaves you vulnerable to stalkers finding out more about you than is healthy for them to know.
Everything you post online is forever, even if you take down a post, screenshots can still be taken and even the most innocent-seeming information can be used against you.
The kinds of posts that cause subscribers grief are ones that involve photos of their children, naming the companies they work for, revealing their personal contact details, holiday itineraries and other information that can be leveraged to damage important aspects of their lives.
Decide to only share information you’d be comfortable sharing on the front page of a national newspaper – like ideas you want to promote or things that boost your image. For example, you might want to send a message of world peace, endorse an organic skin care product or showcase what a terrific person you are in lovely, smiling photos of you. Sharing your favourite colour with the world or the fact that you’re a dog person are pretty innocuous facts, unlikely to cause offence but equally likely to present you as highly relatable and likeable.
2. Choose The Community Based On Your Needs
There are many excellent online resources for targets of workplace bullying. If you require information such as where to go for legal advice, emotional coping strategies or job search information, larger communities can provide good value. For example, the Facebook groups Stop Workplace Bullying (3,161 members) and Workplace Bullying in Higher Education (925 members) are great places to connect with a larger group.
However, there are downsides to connecting with a larger group – one of which is that you won’t get too much personalised support (or if you do, it will be short-lived). Also, with open groups, your confidentiality isn’t assured. Anyone can find a group by searching on, say, “workplace bullying” in the search bar of Facebook and find out if you’re a member.
In some groups, any other member can add you (not only the administrators – depending on the group settings). Therefore, anything you post in there (or comment on) is like advertising on the front page of a newspaper. Anyone stalking you can read your posts, which they can then screenshot to use against you with management or HR.
Another potential downside is that coaches closely monitor these groups when they’re looking for their “ideal” target customers. Beware. The internet is like the wild west: there are a lot of poorly qualified coaches out there with a bit of marketing savvy who know how to take advantage of your vulnerability to turn a profit.
They know how to “groom” you into becoming a client through sheer dint of their charisma, saying all the things you want to hear, including making outrageous promises that leave you feeling disappointed and substantially out of pocket (I’ve been burnt too, that’s how I know!) If you’re approached by one of these coaches, make sure to do your due diligence before hiring them to work with you. Specifically, check out their: qualifications, experience, integrity, generosity, knowledge and other credentials important to you.
DON’T rely on testimonials – anecdotal evidence is not the same as evidence collected in a research study and testimonials are often given during the time the client is at the peak of enthusiasm for the “guru” and not after buyer’s remorse sets in. How do you know those glowing testimonials aren’t from someone who now regrets being “conned?” (I have plenty of good colleagues online who’ve had this experience.)
The type of community where you’ll get the best support is a small, intimate group with no more than 50 members and clearly defined ground rules for the group. Make sure the administrator of the group gives you lots of personalised support rather than leaving you to flail about on your own. The group should be a secret, closed group with the administrator able to add members, by invitation only. The price of entry will be well worth the support, connection and safety you receive.
3. Make Sure There’s Eye Contact
The best way to connect with your community is to make sure you have regular eye contact – in fact, my distinguished colleague, Bob Sutton, emphasised the importance of eye contact in maintaining civility and empathy, citing important research in his new book: “The Asshole Survival Guide: How To Deal With People Who Treat You Like Dirt” (page 53).
Eye contact creates empathy, connection and a deeper understanding between people. The best online communities include weekly coaching calls with an app such as Zoom, where all participants can appear on the call so you get to interact with them face-to-face in real time. My own experience in participating in, as well as running such groups is that tremendously warm friendships develop that transcend geography.
This shared intimacy is sometimes even stronger than relationships with people in your immediate vicinity because of your shared experience. Coaching calls work best with less than 10 participants on a call, so that everyone gets an opportunity to share their personal concerns.
4. Get Advice You Can Implement
The most successful groups on social media are those that help their participants implement the advice, skills, strategies and techniques they’re sharing. Implementation can be encouraged in two main ways: accountability and inspiration. The administrator of the group will hold participants accountable to complete weekly homework tasks, relevant to the learning goals.
Sometimes it might mean pairing up with another participant, other times it could mean posting your homework in the group. Additionally, when you see your fellow members post about their completed homework tasks, you’ll be inspired to do the same because you won’t want to miss out on the benefits they’re getting by doing the work.
The more you engage in the group, the more feedback and positive reinforcement you’ll receive, which will encourage you even more to pursue the results you desire. Then, your confidence will improve as you gain a clearer perspective about what’s happening to you. You’ll feel less isolated and gain more courage to do what you need to deal with the workplace bullying.
The last community I ran had ten members and those who actively engaged in the process (i.e., posted more frequently, attended all the calls, completed the online modules) had a significant increase in their confidence and sense of connection whilst simultaneously decreasing their levels of anxiety, stress and depression. In contrast, those who didn’t participate obtained zero result (hardly surprising).
Here are some typical before-and-after results obtained by my small group of engaged participants in the “Walk Away From Work Stress” online program, as measured by the Depression, Anxiety and Stress Scale (DASS):
5. Make Sure Your Online Etiquette Is Impeccable
There’s a saying: “hurt people hurt people” and sadly this is often true for targets of workplace bullying who resort to ranting rather than sharing. In an effort to discharge all their stress, these poor people write (often incoherent) accounts of their experiences with poor grammar, spelling and in endless paragraphs, sometimes with revenge fantasies and illusions of fighting for justice that immediately leave others feeling totally disengaged.
Unfortunately such a strategy is only likely to prolong their sense of isolation rather than give them the healing connection they need.
To get your needs met, never lose sight of sharing with others; retain your empathy and humanity, express that good stuff in your posts and you’ll be amply rewarded by the love and support of others who genuinely want only the best for you.
Believe it or not, humans are hard-wired for empathy (unless you’re dealing with a psychopath) and nothing moves others more towards wanting to support you than when you share your authentic vulnerability. That might surprise you after being badly treated for so long, but that’s what creates the healing.
To get the very best out of your community, make sure your online etiquette is impeccable, which means your posts need to offer something of value to your reader. It could be sharing your authentic self, giving valuable resources to others (an article, a book recommendation, etc..), reaching out with empathy to another or sharing humour, insights and inspiration with others.
To find out how well you come across online, there’s a website that gives you a reputation score, which gives you a rough idea of what someone might find if they Google-search you. It’s useful because potential employers or clients will check out your online reputation before they decide to employ you.
In 2015 when I was targeted by a Facebook bully, she had already left her online mark by trolling other small businesses, giving them poor online reviews and making derogatory and even racist remarks. I put out a call for help to my Facebook community, whereupon they retrieved her nasty comments and posted them all in a single thread (which remains public on my FB timeline to this day). I was surprised to discover what they came up with! In one post, there was enough to damage her entire professional reputation; somewhat problematic given her status as a local finance professional trying to drum up new business!
Therefore, if you see something that you disagree with, that irritates or upsets you, block, ignore or delete the comment. NEVER say anything vile or judgemental about anyone online. Resist the urge to vent and if you have a temporary brain fart, go back and delete that comment. Never write negative reviews that would damage the reputation or business interests of another person. Make sure you show courtesy, kindness and empathy and run a spell / grammar check before you post!
In conclusion, these five tips are well worth heeding and if you do, you should be pretty safe online, no matter how paranoid you feel after your bruising encounters with workplace bullying. Remember: choose your purpose, choose the community based on your needs, make sure there’s eye contact with your new friends, get advice you can implement and make sure your online etiquette is impeccable. Even if there’s a dollar cost associated with the privilege of obtaining this kind of support, the value you’ll get will far exceed the cost and may even save you your career, reputation, income and sanity.
Join The Empaths At Work Facebook Group:
I’ve just started a brand new community Facebook Group called “Empaths At Work”. If you’d like to join the group, this is a great time to do so, since it will start off small and you’ll get more of my personalised attention – and best of all, it’s free! To join, make a request here.