cd ~



This post documents a situation that has occurred and how I dealt with it. The victim and the bully will both be referenced using neutral pronouns.

A cry for help

I was going about my day as usual. Emails, programming, meetings, troubleshooting, managing – a normal day. A person who I’ve only spoken to a handful of times (maybe three?) fired me a message asking how my day was going. After a typical exchange of greetings, this person asked me if I had time to talk. Even though I didn’t know this individual well, I always make time for those around me, and so I happily obliged.


Shortly after engaging in conversation, I noticed that this person was anxious and bothered. I proceeded to ask this person if there was something they wanted to share with me. They responded that there was something on their mind, but they were not sure if they could trust me. I assured them that I would not betray their trust, and keep whatever is shared confidential. They then proceeded to share with me what happened.


The person started speaking, then shut off their webcam. They didn’t want me to see them in an extremely vulnerable position, crying, while revealing how their leader had continuously mistreated them. They began recounting an instance when their leader had bullied them. I quietly listened to this person recount the interaction, until it became too difficult for them to continue. Even with the camera off, I knew tears were flowing. They wanted to tell me more but the words couldn’t come. I gently informed them that they didn’t need to share anything further, and that I had heard enough to understand what had transpired.


I asked this person if they knew their leader had bullied them, which they didn’t realize they had been. They had gone to other leaders in the past, even human resources, to discuss the situation and were told that their leader’s behaviour was the individual’s fault, and no responsibility or accountability lay with their leader. The individual was told that they had to deal with this bullying behaviour on their own. Because of this, they actually thought that their leader’s behaviour was acceptable and justifiable, because they were not a good enough employee, or worse, a good enough person. I explained to them that any form of bullying was unacceptable and that they were a victim. Their leader had verbally and mentally abused them in front of their peers. Their leader had embarrassed them. Their leader had damaged them. The previous leaders to whom the behaviour was reported in the past were wrong. Bullying is unacceptable. Abuse is unacceptable.


This person had been bullied enough times that this had gone beyond hurt feelings and had manifested as trauma. It had affected their self-worth in such a way that they couldn’t even recount a full instance of when they had been victimized. In addition to reiterating many times that what their leader had done to them was unacceptable, I told them that this was not their fault, that they did not deserve this, that they were brave, that they were a good person, that they were important, and that I (and the Company) did not want to lose them. I apologized that this had happened to them. I assured them that work should be a safe place and that they should be able to be their true self without fear of judgment from anyone. A place of work should not spark feelings of dread, despair, and unhappiness.


I suggested this person should recount what they had shared with me with our Managing Director so that their story could be properly documented and an investigation could be opened for their leader. I ensured them that I would support them and be present to support them if they needed me. This person asked me not to report this situation because they had felt that they owed their leader for the position they hold today. Before they were hired to their current position, they had been out of work for two years and their leader hired them despite a lack of experience. The leader had assured this individual that they would receive all the training and support required. The individual believed that reporting the bullying incidents would be a betrayal to their leader. I reiterated that reporting the behaviour would not be a betrayal, that they were in fact betrayed by their leader by being verbally abused. Still, this person insisted they did not want to report this situation.


Honouring this persons wishes, and perhaps going against what would typically be the “right” thing to do, I promised this person that I would do as they asked. I reiterated that they are in full control of the situation, and they could trust me to keep this between us. However, I did recommend they take a few days to reconsider their next course of action. I explained that without formal documentation, this behaviour was likely to be repeated or could escalate with worse consequences. If such instances were to occur again, a lack of formal documentation may make such situations more difficult to investigate or resolve.


In an attempt to show this person they were not alone, I shared that I had also been a victim of abuse. I recounted how abuse and trauma affected me in ways I could never fully understand. I reiterated to this person that they had suffered a trauma. The individual was receptive to this information and accepted that this was indeed trauma. Sharing my experience was crucial for this person to understand their current state of mental health.


After agreeing that there was a mental health component to this situation, I shared the company resources for counselling. I also shared what had worked for me, with the caveat that it may or may not work for them. I shared that the path towards healing my own wounds was forgiveness. I had to accept the abuse I suffered was real and forgive my abusers. I was clear, however, that I am not a professional and that this may not be the best solution for them. It may be better suited for them to find the best path forward by seeking counselling. I mentioned how important it had been for me to start and finish my healing process, and that my trauma would have healed much more quickly, had I not waited 30 years to speak with a professional. The individual was very grateful for my advice and decided to move forward with counselling.


The final words I shared with this person were that I would continue to support them in whatever way they needed. I promised I would follow up in one to two weeks to see how they were doing. I assured them that I would not probe them for any information and that they could share whatever they wanted with me, even if they didn’t want to share anything. I reiterated to them that they were a good person and that they were important to me (and the Company).

Final thoughts

I still don’t feel right about this person not reporting their leader’s behaviour. If this situation had been even more serious, involving things like threats or physical abuse, I would have been forced to report the situation, even though it may have been against the individual’s wishes. I believe the right thing to do is to report the situation, and I will continue to gently coach this individual to reconsider and report the situation. In the meantime, I’m focused on this person’s mental health and healing. I will support this person and continue to be an ally wherever and however possible. I will not betray their trust.

Bullying in the workplace is unacceptable. Verbal and mental abuse is unacceptable. Ignoring a victim of bullying, mental, and/or verbal abuse is unacceptable. The leadership group who chose to ignore this person will need to be heavily coached to improve their response to such situations. The leader’s abusive behaviour needs to be addressed once this situation’s details are ready to be shared.

I’m honoured that this person, this victim, felt safe enough with me to be vulnerable. There are few things a person can do in this world braver than openly being vulnerable with someone else, let alone with someone who is essentially a stranger.