In Expert Interviews

Pamela Garber Discusses Workplace Bullying

workplace bullying

Pamela Garber earned her Master’s degree from Nova Southeastern University in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and her undergraduate degree from the University of Texas.  She has a strong background in helping clients to successfully work through Family of Origin issues, Depression, Anxiety, Stress, Addictive Behaviours, Eating Disorders and Career Counselling. My clients often benefit from using a notebook during sessions as a means of tracking how they are applying work done in therapy to challenging situations. Pamela talks to NoBullying.com’s Founder, Ciaran Connolly, about Workplace Bullying and the Stress of being bullied. 

The interview on Workplace Bullying can also be found here and here.

Below is a transcript of her Video Interview on Workplace Bullying: 

Pamela Garber:

My name is Pamela Garber and I’m in private practice. I have a Psychotherapy practice in mid-town Manhattan. I’m pretty eclectic in my practice seeing people mostly in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s feeling depression and anxiety and actually dealing with a lot of work issues and stress also combined with lack of social support.

Ciaran Connolly:

Wow. Excellent and of course our focus is on anti-bullying and bullying. Do you mind if I ask you: do you think bullying is a big issue today as it was in the past or has it improved that our thing is changing?

Pamela Garber:

You know on the one hand, it’s hard to say because as far as the volume because things are so much more talked about now. It’s possible that it existed along the same line in the same levels in the past but things just communicated much more rapidly and thoroughly now so it’s just on the forefront in that level. I do think though that the intensity of it has definitely increased, whether the volume of it has or not independent of that, the level of bullying and the stakes are much higher and the level much more intense.

Cyber Bullying

Ciaran Connolly:

Excellent and do you see a difference in how it happens today? Of course, now we have social media and smart phones and so much technology?

Pamela Garber:

Definitely. The other thing is, with all of that I see that it happens in venues where you wouldn’t expect it. It would be one thing for bullying to take place on a social level outside of work but now it’s become the norm for office politics and it has taken place with people at the level where it’s not age appropriate. They are behaving like reality TV character in places where you wouldn’t expect this to be the norm from government to corporations.

Workplace Bullying

Ciaran Connolly:

It’s the first time I have heard it described like that. So, it’s actually really becoming a problem for adults as well in corporations?

Pamela Garber:

A lot behaving like adolescents and this becoming the norm with…you identify the good corporate with social media. So, the adults in corporate America or incorporation’s nation worldwide either are behaving like adolescents and it has become somehow socially acceptable. It’s become a norm so there’s no stigma with acting that way.

The Impact

Ciaran Connolly:

Excellent. I would definitely agree with you what you’re saying because when I look at Twitter or Facebook or any of these social sites and I see what people are posting specially towards others, sometimes I do actually wonder what they are thinking when they type that out and press the send button, if they are really thinking with a clear head and realize that the whole world can see what they are saying and to realize that there could be consequences to what they are saying and doing. So, it is very interesting to hear that described and obviously you work with depression and anxiety in your practice. Do you see what’s happening in these offices and the adults’ behaviour, is that impacting and causing depression and anxiety?

Pamela Garber:

Well, yes. In a way it is. Just to jump back to something you said, you know, what they are thinking when they do this? And the thing is when I work with my clients to look at, it is exactly that. What are they then thinking about the circumstances? Because people are not operating on the level of thought any more. That’s the other thing. People are operating on the level of feelings and some people who meet with me are initially taken back when I’m shifting the focus to their thoughts as opposed to their feelings. At first, flashback in scene for validating but the first step is to get a sense of what am I saying to myself about this event? What am I saying to myself about what’s just took place? So, if the event is the bullying and however the bullying was, however that manifested, however that took place whether it’s an email, a memo, something on the social media, something somebody said, that’s the activating event which I draw a lot from the theories of Dr. Albert Ellis and his theory of Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy  but I look at what did the person say to themselves? What are they thinking? And that’s the first step in identifying the problem is that; identifying their thoughts.

Ciaran Connolly:

Wow. Very interesting. So, would it be more often from a manager sending out a memo or an email that maybe is very tough and employee takes it very personally? Is that something that might happen?

Pamela Garber:

It might be tough. It also might be unjustified, it might be strategic and it maybe manipulative you know because there is another component nowadays also and that echoes the whole social media situation. Our influence and that is that now it no longer matters so much what something is, it matters what is seems like, it matters helping seem. So, one thing my clients struggle with is the lack of clarity; that there could be a memo making it seem that they are not doing their job correctly or they made a mistake or something you know they failed at a task and the frustrating thing is, because a lot of my clients especially the people who are self-motivated for therapy often times welcome taking personal responsibility, they can deal with that; they can deal with “Hey! This is the mistake I made. I am going to own it and learn from it” but when it is twisted and there is an agenda behind it that is not transparent and there is a game quality to it. That’s what often times the tough part for them to navigate is. Not just a memo or the specific thing but the intent behind it which is often manipulation.

Ciaran Connolly:

Very good and as you described that, I actually have some examples that I have personally seen jumping into my head so I never realized or stood back and followed it in that way. Companies are, again this is the age of I guess the best company to work for and companies are trying to focus on the work place environment and making sure that the employees are comfortable and safe and productive and creative, is that a norm? Do companies still have a long way to go in general to improve the relationships? Or has social media and workplace bullying given companies something new that they have to fix?

Pamela Garber:

Ah, interesting. You know, I think it could be sometimes something that has the potential to be a great tool, could be a weapon also and it just depends on how it is structured within the company. It’s how you deal with it.

The Solution

Ciaran Connolly:

Exactly, of course you are right with all these tools, there is a good side and a bad side to everything. If an adult was bullied at work, what action should he take? What should be the first steps trying resolve a situation if they feel they are being bullied?

Pamela Garber:

Ok, well, first thing is to identify the situation as clearly as possible on paper to get a sense before they get to what am I saying to myself? What am I saying to myself about these circumstances? Clearly, not about the specifics of the circumstances and for some people that can sound stray and a little silly, redundant but even in situations where there has been a traumatic event, the trauma survivors are initially asked during the debriefing to describe the circumstances. What took place? So, I believe that applies in situations in the corporate setting, what took place? What exactly transpired? Put that out on paper and that’s the first step.

Writing Your Emotions Down

Ciaran Connolly:

Very good and in workplace of course it’s when something happens to us that we feel offended or sort of feelings, it is very hard to keep the emotions out of any response or any action that we take. Is that something that you work with with your clients? Is separating the emotions from actually what’s happened and what is the as you say putting it down on paper?

Pamela Garber:

Yes, exactly. So, not reinventing the wheel, I completely yield to the theory of Dr. Albert Ellis and his story. Well, first his theory of Rational Emotive Behavioral therapy is always to y=tease out and separate what am I thinking, what am I saying to myself and seeing the feelings as a by-product of one is saying to themselves as opposed to a by-product, an automatic by-product of the circumstances. The feelings are not an automatic by-product of the circumstances. The feelings are a reaction to what the individual says to themselves about the circumstances and ironically, Dr. Albert Ellis had the opportunity to put into practice his theory because his situation was the epiphany of bullying. His staff turned on him, he wrote about it, the famous case where his life was terminated from the institute and it was clear bullying. Eventually, he had to fight it anyway in the legal system  but yes. So, just to shift back to where we were; it’s absolutely separating the thoughts from the feelings and that is work, it is absolutely work. Hard work.

Ciaran Connolly:

Very good and very interesting. So, actually my perception was always maybe the manager or any manager potentially abusing their position and bullying downwards but of course it can happen anywhere, staff can bully a manager or staff can bully each other as well?

Pamela Garber:

Sure and interestingly enough that I call it pillaging; it’s my term. They’ll create a decoy and they’ll make the decoy topic is how the specific meeting was handled or how this product was being launched. They will use the work as a vehicle for punching the other person verbally usually.

Ciaran Connolly:

So bring up, discuss something that happened but then start innuendos and comments about the performance of the individuals involved in the project, is that what happens?

Pamela Garber:

Exactly like children trying to vote on who is the better person and use soccer as the venue for it or who has the better doll or who has the better, as people get older, who has the better car. It’s all nonsense. It becomes just an excuse to spar with somebody else and it is not really about the work, it’s about jacking for a position.

Ciaran Connolly:

Exactly and of course I understand why companies would be very interested in having your help in dealing with any problems like this because if forms like this happened, then it’s destroying the work environment. Just like going to school, children going to school, they won’t want to go to school. They will start to be sick and peer activity will suffer. So, I’m actually amazed because I guess we always think of bullying with children but it seems like the exact same behavior is happening with adults in later life and work environment.

Pamela Garber:

Exactly

Bullying and Society

Ciaran Connolly:

And do you think we have a problem then in society? Do you think that if its children and they are learning from the adults who are trying to instil and promote I guess no bullying in their schools and in life and want them to be good citizens, but if adults themselves aren’t practising what they preach, then we can’t expect children to do the same. So, we are in a cycle almost that we need to somehow break?

Pamela Garber:

I hear what you are saying. My lens is pretty much turned into people on an individual level. So, I conceptualize it along the lines of what of the specific person who is sitting across from me battling? What issues affect what they say to themselves about the situation? What issues affect their take on a situation? And then we will get it individual by individual by individual but collectively, definitely there are things to look at.

Long Term Effects of Workplace Bullying

Ciaran Connolly:

And when you are dealing with your patients, do you see or have you ever seen long term effects on people who have been bullied?

Pamela Garber:

Usually what I see is something that the person brings to the table. Initially, something gets stirred up there in history typically or stress that they are dealing with. They are vulnerable already. You know, if you think of people vulnerable for flu, if your immune system is down people are, and this gets back to where we were with society, people are taxed now. We are literally taxed but also emotionally taxed and so the reserves are low, lower than normal and because of that, with the families needing a dual income to survive and all of that. So, the reserves are lower and therefore they are more susceptible to scars and attacks from that level as far it is getting with the person definitely. I mean trauma is trauma and it could escalate of course to violence in the work place and even not to minimize emotional assaults. Absolutely! It could stay with the person.

Ciaran Connolly:

Very good and I guess as adults, and again I’m thinking if myself, if I was feeling something was happening in my work place, I will start to question myself and think was it me? Am I the problem? As opposed to thinking there is a problem being caused for me and maybe I would knock off the confidence to seek help or to talk to someone or feel ashamed thinking that again I was the problem. Would they be normal feelings? And what we can say to people to encourage them to talk out and maybe seek help for example even talking to someone like yourself? What can we say to anyone listening to this about the situation?

Pamela Garber:

Sure, the first thing and even getting back to what you have just said, getting back to you have just said a moment ago along the lines of the long term effects of this, it all does down to if after the first step of assessing the circumstances, fully assessing the situation, it’s what am I saying to myself? And I think that is something that there would be a way to market that concept and make thinking more popular. Somehow make thinking I guess thinking needs to be marketed better and that would help along the lines of society because if we were more thinking individuals, we will look at circumstances and say “Ok, well. These are the tasks I was hired to do. This is what I did. So, someone might not like my approach or might not like me but how does that make me a horrible person? How does that make me capable or not capable? I have had however many years of working or you know or if I’m not capable yet in that specific task or this specific industry, how does that make me a horrible person?”. So, it all comes down to the thinking. So, to answer the question how to connect with someone like me and motivate somebody, I do think that there is much less of a stigma for therapy nowadays so that’s positive but I think thinking needs to be marketed.

Ciaran Connolly:

Very good and you mentioned earlier in our chat about reality TV, of course something that has exploded in the last few years and often we see it’s not the good nice person or the good person that wins the show. We always like to see a villain and they all seem to do well in the reality TV shows. Do you think that by chances having impact on our society and our perception of who we should be to reach our full potential?

Pamela Garber:

Definitely. I think that notoriety has become a new currency, fame has become currency and so it’s all about attention seeking and how things look.

Ciaran Connolly:

Excellent. Well, it’s been very interesting getting an insight into workplace bullying and thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with us. If anyone wanted to find out more about yourself or the services that you offer and more about workplace bullying, is there somewhere we can send them?

Pamela Garber:

Sure, absolutely. I will give you my phone number and email. E-mail is the best way to reach me and I will also give you my website. My email is pamelagarber@gmail.com and my website is http://www.grandcentralcounselinggroup.com/ and my telephone is 646 745 6709.

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