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Verbal Abuse in the Workplace

How do we know when to end a relationship that is unhealthy? Workplaces and personal relationships are fertile grounds for verbal abuse. Knowing what it is, sounds like or feels like is an important start in dealing with it.
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Three Bite Rule to Ending Verbal Abuse at Work

Taking 3 bites to make relationships work, and then another 3 bites the next time we have a chance to try it again, gives us a frame of mind that we need to keep on extending the olive branch when relations are rocky; but what about knowing when to end a relationship that is unhealthy? Workplaces and personal relationships are fertile grounds for verbal abuse.  

Knowing what it is, sounds like or feels like is an important start for dealing with it.  Here are some general characteristics of verbal abuse referenced from The Verbally Abusive Relationship, by Patricia Evans

  1. Verbal abuse is hurtful (especially when it’s denied by the victim because it’s discounted or not validated by the abuser, part of the hurt is confusion) 
  2. Verbal abuse attacks one’s nature and abilities (the victim believes that there is something wrong with their abilities or feelings) 
  3. Verbal abuse may be overt (blaming and accusatory) or covert (brainwashing, hidden aggression) which is an attempt at controlling the victim 
  4. Verbal abuse disparagement may be voiced in a sincere way (leading the victim to believe that there is good intention behind the malice) 
  5. Verbal abuse is manipulating and controlling (the victim may not realize that they’re being controlled but find themselves living a life different from her plan and less happy) 
  6. Verbal abuse is insidious (disrespects the victim to diminish esteem and confidence) 
  7. Verbal abuse is unpredictable (the victim doesn’t expect it or understands why it occurs and how to prevent it) 
  8. Verbal abuse is the issue in the relationship (because the problem is the abuse, there’s not a real conflict to resolve or find closure with) 
  9. Verbal abuse expresses a double message (the abusers’ words and feelings are incongruent.  Ie. They say they’re peaceful but their behaviour seems angry or irritable) 
  10. Verbal abuse usually escalates, increasing in intensity, frequency and variety (what seems like jokes in the beginning are put-downs that turn to any or all characteristics of verbal abuse, which escalates to physical abuse in many cases)  

This is a heavy topic, but it’s worth understanding some of the characteristics of an unhealthy relationship where verbal abuse is involved.  Now, here are a few things you can do about it:  

  1. Start setting limits (Get clear on what your limits are, what you won’t accept and speak them … “I will not accept <fill in characteristic here> ie.… being put down with your jokes) 
  2. Stay in the present, not the past or future (be aware in each moment of angry or disparaging remarks directed at you and speak up to “Stop it” immediately.) 
  3. Be aware that you can leave any abusive situation (you are a free citizen, and you never have to stay where you feel uncomfortable) 
  4. Ask for changes that you want (Be solution based in your request to ask for your needs to be met.  Ie. I want to feel comfortable around the lunch table. / I want to be treated with respect.  / We need to jointly manage our production) 
  5. Get professional support for yourself.  Report abuse that doesn’t stop when you’ve asked it to stop to a supervisor, manager or Human Resources – someone you feel safe and comfortable with. 
  6. (Personal relationships) Ask them to go to a counselor with you. (let them know that your intention is a happier more satisfying relationship.  If they say no, get or keep your own counseling going) 

Taking 3 more bites isn’t necessarily going to help all relationships get to collaboration and respect, so know your cues, characteristics and cures for staying healthy through relationships challenges.  Sometimes the taste of too bitter will never get sweet, and we can’t change others, only how they affect us.  Choose sweet and savour 3 bites of your best choices.  Abuse is hurtful to the spirit, but with knowledge, awareness and support, we can leverage the emotional workout and loss of something that’s not functional, to reach a new level of freedom. 

Taking 3 bites to make relationships work is not 30 bites.  Know your own healthy limits, speak up and reach out for help.  You’ll like this video about The 3 Bite Rule, and make sure you watch it all the way to the end for some humour on ending verbally abusive relationships. 



About the Author: Penny Tremblay

Serving Northern Ontario, professional development, training, coaching and keynote speaking engagements.
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