When my son was a little boy, he had a friend who was scared of clowns. Whenever his friend slept over, we had to look under the bed, open the closets and check assorted spaces to make sure there were no clowns in hiding.
Some may think this is silly. After all, adults know that clowns are people dressed up in puffy clothes. But to my son’s friend, these clowns were very real. And if they were real to him, it was important to let him know we believed him and that they were real to us too.
What clowns do you know? Are they hiding in your office cubicles or do they just unabashedly torment you out in the open? Are you the only one who sees them or are they real to others too?
The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) found that nearly 54 million Americans have reported being bullied at work and that it is more common than sexual harassment or racial discrimination. Yet despite the prevalence, it is often non-physical and hard to prove. It is also not illegal, but can cause significant emotional harm.
Sometimes we might feel badly about something that happened but not recognize it could be a form of bullying. Are you frequently excluded from important meetings? Has a superior ever screamed at you in front of co-workers? Like in middle school, do people get up and move when you sit at their office lunch table? Experts say there is a lack of awareness as to what bullying encompasses.
Research suggests approximately 45 percent of individuals bullied at work suffer stress-related health problems that include cardiovascular issues, impaired immune systems and debilitating anxiety. At work, that translates to employee turnover, missed workdays and lack of productivity.
Like the clowns lurking in my son’s friend’s closet, many bullies are hard to spot unlike high-profile cases that make the headlines.
Consider Jonathan Martin, the Miami Dolphins football player traded after allegedly being bullied by a teammate. Or the 14-year-old Missouri teenager whose suicide was attributed to cyber bullying. It can happen to anyone.
And from my viewpoint as a communicator, feeling excluded can mess with our ability to express ourselves effectively at work.
Recently, a client confided she had some great new ideas to solve a pressing issue at work yet was afraid she’d be shot down by those naysayers as she had been in the past.
I suggested when she had an opportunity to present them, she present with attitude. Instead of speaking softly and using tentative words like ‘I think’ or ‘maybe’ that made her sound unsure of herself, she should use her voice to come across as more commanding and use more assertive words like ‘ I’m confident’ or ‘I believe’ to project more confidence so her listener has confidence in her.
Attitude changes perceptions. Just ask actor Nicholas Cage. In a television news interview, he talked about being bullied at school. He said one day he decided not to take it any more so he dressed up like a tough guy. The kids recognized it was still him, but when they started to taunt him, he took on a new leave-me-alone attitude or I’m going to kick your butt, just like he now does as an actor. He says from that point on, the kids left him alone.
I’m not suggesting turning into a toughie at work, but there are some things you can do to project a more confident commanding attitude:
Speak up as if the people at the back of the room can’t hear you. It may sound uncomfortable to you, but speaking loudly and clearly will help you appear more self-assured.
It’s important to own your space. Stand up straight and lean in instead of back which can signal boredom and lack of interest. Use your hands to gesture as you would in an animated conversation as opposed to clasping them in front or behind your back. Be careful not to fidget or shuffle your feet.
Look your listener directly in the eye to convey confidence and certainty especially when you are making an important point. Looking away can signal that you’re not sure of yourself.
You don’t have to use big words to sound smart. But you do have to use strong words to convey authority and presence. Words like ‘I think’, ‘you know’, and ‘I hope it’s a good idea’ are passive and that’s the way you’ll come across. Try saying ‘I am confident in this’ or ‘this is a good idea because’ to speak with conviction. Also look for opportunities to surround yourself with people who do believe in you to help you continue to believe in yourself.
My son’s friend is now 23. He’s still afraid of clowns but like him, the clowns have matured. They take the form of back-stabbers, incompetent managers, naysayers and professionals who pretend to be something they’re not. They’re everywhere; in our communities, on our school boards and in our governments.
Like the clowns of his youth, they are still very real, but with some attitude and a few techniques to shut them down, he no longer checks the closet or looks under the bed. Now he can see the clowns out in the open and simply walk away.