A client of mine got bullied by somebody on his team. They made a remark about his body that was unkind.
My client didn't know how to react. He thought he was being too sensitive, he was ashamed of having hurt feelings in reaction to this “banter”, and he didn’t want to kill the vibe of the team.
But the more he explained the situation to me, especially the greater context of how this team talks to each other and so on, the more it sounded to me like a toxic workplace, where under the guise of banter they were actually cruel to each other.
It's what I call bullying banter.
I used to experience this often when working in the trades. What appears on the surface as “mates having a laugh” can sometimes be sadistic cruelty that’s nearly impossible to call out because doing so makes you look weak.
Bullies and sociopaths love using humour as a vehicle to deliver their poison. They can inflict suffering in plain sight of witnesses without worrying about being caught.
You see, if it's really banter you'll feel good about it and it'll make you laugh! If you don't feel good about it and it hurts your feelings, and you feel unsafe to bring it up, then this isn't banter. This isn't friendliness. This is something else.
Even normally decent people can get into social silos in their workplaces where they think their behaviour is appropriate, and they think that they're all just having a good time, when actually they’ve slowly been deteriorating into toxicity.
You have to trust your gut feelings. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. You need to be bold enough to call it out even at the risk of being seen as a party pooper, or otherwise it will just get worse.
This might sound dramatic, but the atrocities committed by the Nazis actually followed this pattern. They started as small negative comments that eventually escalated to genocide. You’d be amazed at where “banter” can lead.
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