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Bullying on Board

When you hear the word ‘bully’ what do you see? It may transport you back to the playground, stir up memories of having your lunch money stolen or perhaps of being barged into in a school corridor. Bullying may have connotations of childhood and the playground, but the truth is that bullying exists long after our school days are over, and perhaps is present in any environment that relies on hierarchy.

In short, bullying is a form of harassment that includes hostile or vindictive behaviour, which can cause the recipient to feel threatened or intimidated. Unfortunately, bullying is quite prevalent within our industry.

As adults, it may be harder to detect, or indeed, admit, when we are being bullied. Admitting that we are being bullied can bring up feelings of shame, we may never have considered ourselves the ‘type’ of person who is susceptible to being bullied. It is important to be aware that bullying can take the form of overt and covert behaviours. Overt behaviours are more observable forms of bullying such as verbal insults or inappropriate physical actions. Examples of overt bullying that clients have shared include shaming crew on the radio, not including certain crew members on social outings, throwing personal belongings down the toilet.

Covert forms of bullying can be harder to pick up by the victim and others who may be part of the social dynamic which includes the bully and the victim. If the victim reaches for help it may fall on deaf ears which can contribute to an added layer of distress. Examples of covert bullying can include gossiping, unwelcoming looks, whispering, turning your back on a person, dictating who a person can talk or socialise with. Bear in mind its common for the bully to deny their bullish behaviour by dismissing it as they were joking or having fun.

How can bullying negatively impact us?

Bullying can cause us to shut down emotionally, become afraid of speaking our minds and withdraw from social engagement altogether. If the issue persists, it can be seriously detrimental to a person’s mental health. I have worked with one male client in his early twenties who was bullied at school and as a result tried to commit suicide and was fortunately unsuccessful.

What are the early warning signs that indicate that you are potentially being bullied?

If you feel you may be being targeted in a negative way by a member of your team, it is important to become vigilant and monitor this person’s behaviour. Notice how they treat you compared to other crew members, this will help you to understand whether or not you are being singled out. I would also suggest keeping a diary noting the dates and times of when the bullying behaviour occurred.

Gain an understanding

This is when applying the skills of compassion and empathy can put you at an advantage when trying to mitigate against inflicted psychological damage. A crew member shared that she had been a victim of bullying where she was publicly humiliated. In addition she was given what felt like impossible tasks at work and generally went out of their way to pick her apart. What helped her manage the impact of the bullying was not to turn their criticism of her inward. Once she was able not to personalise the bully behaviour she found it much easier to understand the reasons behind the bully’s behaviour. For instance, she thought perhaps they were insecure in their position at work, maybe they saw her as a threat to them or they were simply unhappy in their private life. She said that whilst she may never know the true reasons for their behaviour, it helped to approach this person with curiosity, to see them almost as a teacher.

But, how do we deal with a bully when we are unable to step back from the environment we are in? For example during a charter or in the middle of a busy season?…

Notice their triggers

Understanding what triggers this person could be helpful, and noticing their patterns of behaviour may enable you to avoid being in the line of fire. Whilst it shouldn’t be up to you to change your own behaviour for the sake of the bully, it can help if you adapt to the situation in order to avoid being further targeted.

Don’t take it personally

Remember not to take their treatment of you personally, it is likely that unless there is a specific reason for them attacking you, the bully may move onto another target soon enough. This also means that you may have to do some investigation as to what their issue with you may be, perhaps ask them for feedback if they are picking apart the way that you work. If they are chastising you in a more personal way, wait until you are feeling calm and collected and ask to speak to them privately to express the way they are making you feel. Is it possible that they are oblivious to hurting your feelings?

Reach out for help
If you can, seek support in other members of your team. It is possible that they too have felt victimised by the bully in the past and may understand what you are experiencing. However, if you are finding that your mental health is being impacted for example if you are experiencing anxiety, depression or low self-esteem then reach out for professional help. The Crew Coach offers a counselling service specifically for Crew. For more info head to or send an email to

Remember if the bully is your head of department, it may be worth contacting DPA or a representative from the management company where you may be able to file an anonymous complaint.

Keep your support network close and remember your own strength
As hard as it can be, try not to let the bully’s idea of you to affect how you feel about yourself. Remember instead that there are people that love and respect you for the person that you are. Reach out to your loved ones for support, and remember that there is a world outside of the one you are currently experiencing, one in which people admire, appreciate and respect you.

If you would like to access my free checklist on bullying and harassment then download here: