Why I Spoke Out About Bullying and How Your Support Charged Me

By Sarah McVanel, Chief Recognition Officer, Greatness Magnified

image of a young Sarah McVanel sitting on a swingI just had the most wonderful DM in response to an article I released recently,” I Was Bullied: How This Fueled Our Mission to Spread the Exponential Power of Recognition”:

“I thought it was very brave of you to share your story. I’m thinking, “You bullied? Yeah right. What a together individual. How’s that possible?” Kids can be so cruel. My eyes were opened.”

I am so grateful for this message! This is EXACTLY why I wanted to go public about this. In fact, I think there is a part two to this message.

Bullying is a secret no one wants to talk about. 

How many of us have lived a bullying-free life? (Did I hear you shout “exactly no one”!) How many of us never had a classmate, teacher, coach, coworker, boss, neighbour, friend, romantic partner, or general public bully us? From small through to traumatic degrees, from one-offs to years of suffering others’ bad behaviour, I would hedge a guess every one of us has had a bully in our life. I’m willing to bet (since we’re putting all our chips on the table) that it was more than one.

No one is immune to bullying. CEOs. Therapists. Moms and dads. And yes, motivational speakers. We seem like it’s all systems high functioning on the outside, and sometimes that little trigger, the little scar, the manipulative jab brings back that younger self’s pain.

Sorry to be all “pop psychology” and Dr. Phil Show on you, but am I wrong?

image of Sarah McVanel training and one of her speaking on stageIt seems ironic that we might be in roles where so many depend on us – staff, clients, patients, coworkers, kids – yet we have this history that follows us around that no one really knows about. How are we able to stop patterns repeating themselves without acknowledging those scars of the past and deciding, “Not again on my watch.

I suspect some of the bullies I’ve faced in my professional life were likely the targets at one time. I remember getting dressed down at every senior team meeting – aggressively or passive-aggressively – by one individual that I knew on an intuitive level (we trained therapists have emotional spidey senses like that) was the target of bullying as a kid. I’d bet the farm (I’ll have to buy one if I need to pay up) that he built up professional armour so that he would be so untouchable; at one point – consciously or unconsciously- he decided to become so unapproachable and intimidating that he would never be the target again. If people avoided or ran from him, they wouldn’t taunt him.

Too bad it made some of us not want to know him or trust or respect him. The very things he likely was craving.

Here’s the thing. I was caught in that web of worry about not poking the bear when I worked with him. His behaviour influenced mine. After all, I didn’t want to be the target of his bullying, as I had seen how he treated others. And the cycle continued. Years later, I see it so clearly. Ten years later.

So why did I go public if childhood and more recent incidents happened so long ago? And why release yet another article? (Thanks to Brian Smith on LinkedIn for asking that question in response to the first article.)

The answer is very simple. It has to do with our secret company mission.

The Surprising Truth About Our Mission

I didn’t realize how bad my past experiences of bullying were until I started dealing with more recent toxic behaviours, such as leaving nasty bosses, distancing myself from disrespectful people, and deciding what clients I refused to work with. (Ironic given the therapy training, 20 years in I/O psychology and author of 5 books that touched on this.)

I had to think about WHY I was relieved to work for myself, WHY I had such unwavering standards of behaviour with even my subcontractors, and WHY I would leave money on the table due to a client’s behaviour (to me or a member of my team or even to a member of their own team!) It is because I am DONE with bullying, sexual harassment and incivility.

“It’s not possible she could have gone through that.” I have. I have a duty of service – to every audience member and our team who supports me to get up in front of thousands a year – to do our part to leverage recognition to reduce incivility tolerance.

My recent article shares examples that are the tip of the bullying iceberg, but you know what? It’s why I have an unwavering commitment to my field of expertise – recognition – and the lifeblood of what we do here at Greatness Magnified.

You can read about Our STORY at Greatness Magnified. The story is our mission.

By sharing our expertise and creating recognition ripple effects for our clients, we happen to be able to make people more satisfied at work, retain great folks, and reveal workplace trends as a way to infiltrate the work with a call for kindness and respect. We are quietly on a mission to wrestle toxicity to the ground, giving it a one-two punch it didn’t see coming through lessons of gratitude, appreciation, and respect.

Personally, it’s a mission of flipping the script from being the underdog to an advocate.

Are you ready to be the advocate – for yourself, your team, your clients, your kids, your community? Share your story, stand up to someone, report uncivil behaviour, read up on it. What have you done, and what will you continue to do? Share below, and together, let’s stand up to bullying on a global scale, calling out one toxic behaviour at a time.

image that says Together, we can make healathcare a better placeP.S. – My friends in healthcare, did you know there is an expert in anti-bullying in healthcare? You may want to access Renee Thompson of the Healthy Workforce Institute’s program. We cannot afford to lose one more healthcare professional in our workforce crisis, and frankly, we have a responsibility to them regardless.

We at Greatness Magnified take bullying and incivility very seriously and have several other posts with more ideas to help you combat both:

“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”

– Mother Teresa

Deb Rakonjac

Organizational Development, Purolator Inc.

"Sarah nailed it!  She worked with the planning group to learn about the organization, the audience, the desired key messages and integrated it seamlessly into her keynote. Her energy was contagious! We received rave reviews of this portion of our event and Sarah was able to speak to all members of our organization in a way that motivated them to recognize others everyday. Our executives were extraordinarily pleased and integrated FROGging into their recent board meeting. Purolator is grateful to Sarah for dropping the pebble and we continue to see the ripples from this session across the organization. Working with Tami was phenomenal and the supports were easy to integrate to ensure the session went well. Thanks to you both!!"
Douglas D Swift

President & CEO, Swiftco Inc.

"I have had the Sarah experience in numerous settings: As a keynote, around a table with several other business owners, one on one over coffee, chatting with others at a conference reception, dining with a small group of colleagues. No matter the setting you always get the same Sarah: engaging, attentive, interested, inspiring, motivational, genuine. And always with an infectious smile. Do yourself, your company, your association a favour. Get the Greatness Magnified (Sarah) experience. The payback is priceless."
Judy Kucharuk

Director, Marketing and Special Events, Encana Events Centre

"Funny, full of energy and incredibly motivating – all words to use when describing Sarah and her passionate stage presence. We were fortunate to have Sarah join us as a speaker for Spark Women’s Leadership Conferences and her presentations about leveraging greatness hit the core of our objective at SPARK: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. I would not hesitate to recommend Sarah to other organizations that are searching for a well-prepared, well-organized, thoughtful and passionate storyteller."
Shelley VanVeen

Learning & Development Manager, Libro Credit Union

"Sarah brought so much energy and enthusiasm to our International Women’s Day event at Libro! Her message was uplifting, thought-provoking and truly appreciated by our team. Dealing with Sarah was wonderful – she was open, professional and willing to work with us to customize her message to incorporate our culture and connect to our topic and participants. During the session, she was a pro with a powerful message and a fantastic delivery. We had wonderful feedback from all that attended and can’t wait to have Sarah back for another session in the future!"
Sylvia D’Intino

Executive Director, Community Living Hamilton

"THANK YOU so very much for leading the engagement activities today! You’re a constant professional, with an amazing attitude and always seeing the great in everyone. I am grateful for how you have helped us this year to transform our in-person staff recognition events into virtual and on-location events. Our staff feel more inspired, appreciated and motivated after they hear you speak, and I know our amazing in-house team here looks forward to designing engaging appreciation events with your support."
Melissa Chaulk

Manager of Professional Development

Canadian Dental Hygienists Association

"We work hard at CDHA to give our members a wonderful conference experience, so we were thrilled to have received resoundingly positive feedback on Sarah's opening plenary keynote. It was the highest attended of the entire conference for both dates!"
Jamie Campbell

Director, The Center for People in Organizational Development, Sheridan College

"Smart, challenging, innovative, committed, dependable, and reliable, I highly recommend her for all your recognition needs. I have brought Sarah into my last two organizations to help build a culture of recognition and celebration. The focus on appreciation is more important now than ever."

Some of the Great Organizations We Serve