As a guest lecturer for the current Foreign Correspondence class at Bond University, it was inevitable that I would face some confronting questions about what it was like to be a reporter in a commercial newsroom.
The class sign-in sheet laundry-listed 20 of the sharpest ‘Gen-Y’ minds about to wage an all out assault on the job market. I nicknamed this group of students ‘the G-20’, as they were only a slightly less intimidating version of world leaders and in typical Gen-Y style, they were quick off the mark.
“Can you have a relationship if you’re a foreign correspondent?”
“Are you married?”
“Do you want a baby?”
“Can you even have a baby and be a reporter?”
“How old are you?”
Wow! Welcome to Gen-Y, where no subject apparently, is off limits!
Just as I was recovering from the ambush of personal questions, Celene came at me from the left hand side of the room, “Seriously. What’s it like?”
I explained, honestly, that it’s the best job you can ever imagine. As I outlined the adrenalin that comes with broadcasting news to half a million viewers, they nodded in sync, briefly captivated by the sound of bright lights. Next, came the question I’d been waiting for.
“What do we do about being bullied? Does it really happen?”
I felt guilty for ruining the moment of future frivolity but I was honest.
“Yes, it sure does happen. So far, to every gorgeous, talented woman I know, both in and out of newsrooms. Every friend of mine has their own horror story, and I’ll spare you the appalling details of mine but let me say that being bullied is like getting a flat tyre when you least expect it – it’s just a matter of time,” I reluctantly admitted.
And just like we can take steps to mitigate disaster should a flat tyre eventuate, I told this class bursting with ambition, that there are ways to equip themselves to ensure a flat tyre doesn’t derail them. This is what I told them.
Bullying is an incredibly serious problem. At best it can be emotionally crippling and at worst it can leave you feeling systematically victimized, unnecessarily discarded and without hope about your career (which you so far have sacrificed every weekend, Christmas and Easter holiday for).
It takes a serious toll on all of us; even on women who consider themselves to be resilient. I’ve done some pretty gutsy stuff in my life, so I think it’s really saying something when I admit I had more anxiety about going into a building in Melbourne than I did flying into Iraq. No kidding. I was more at ease with car-bombs going off than I was surrounded by colleagues who repeatedly undermined my ability to perform. Like a few others in the same room (at the same time) I was left genuinely stunned and wondering what is really going on here? Why isn’t this working? Why doesn’t anyone care?
I’m so relieved that those ‘few of us’ connected on this issue and to say we’re happier now would be a significant understatement. Please allow me to save you hours of counselling and a touch of post traumatic stress by making three suggestions.
- Find your core confidence and work on it everyday
Whatever it is that makes you feel great by 8am, do it. If that’s hitting the treadmill, chatting with your barista, getting your hair blow-dried or listening to a TED talk – then do it. If you’re not feeling great about yourself, you won’t deliver and you may start believing those who don’t believe in you. Feeling great does translate so do things that make you feel great.
- Get comfortable with confrontation
This was undoubtedly the most significant mistake I have made in my career. By failing to confront colleagues who are causing you grief, you will be the one who will face isolation, and in my case, a silent offer from the HR department to leave quietly. Getting comfortable with confrontation involves learning to communicate with authority. That requires understanding how to manage situations before they get out of control, understanding how your body language and micro-messages are received and knowing how to subtly turn things around. For example, if you repeatedly fail to make direct eye with your boss, he or she won’t trust you and that may lead to a breakdown in your relationship.
- Communicate with authenticity
Communicating with authenticity means being honest about who you are and letting that translate into the way you deal with people and it’s critical in any workplace. Being authentic means being honest about the behaviour of others and how it impacts you. If you’ve made a mistake, volunteer it before someone else does. Be kind instead of being right, and if you’re in a job that’s not right for you, then resign.
I continued my short life-will-suck-if-you-get-bullied-lecture with an honest observation.
“I have been paid to communicate to the public for 15 years but only very recently, have I understood how to talk to people and handle situations so I can truly thrive in the workplace. That’s why I now run a training business that supports the development of female leadership.
If you learn how to communicate using your natural authority, you will thrive. It may even help you avoid the highway to bully-ville. I’ve been there and let me assure you, there are no selfies you’d want to share from that place.”
The G-20 appeared impressed that I knew what a selfie was. An email appeared in my inbox shortly after, it read “Thank you so much for the most beneficial course I have yet to attend at university, bio-medical science degree included.”