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When does banter become bullying?

Added by Apprenticeships Norfolk on 04/04/2016 3:30pm

I was asked this thought-provoking question in one of my Apprenticeship reviews and I found it quite difficult to answer. I managed to ask my team during a jovial chat when people were comparing banana sizes.

Most people answered: “When the person on the receiving end doesn’t take it as banter anymore”. However, always being one for playing devil’s advocate, I stated “Ah, but what if someone nearby or walking past takes offence? Does that then make it bullying, even if the ‘victim’ says it is simply banter?”

This stirred up a discussion. I decided to ask some of my team this question individually and see what the response was.

Paul: “Depends on each individual’s interpretation.”

Chris: “When it crosses a certain line… but I don’t know what that line is.”

Louise: “When the person on the receiving end takes offence.”

Lisa: “If somebody feels isolated.”

Marion: “Bullying is unwanted, hurtful behaviour that involves a real or perceived threat to a person’s wellbeing and peace of mind and to those who witness that behaviour.”

Jess: “I think banter becomes bullying when those who are involved in banter are no longer okay with what is being said or displayed. It’s difficult to pin down at times and often can be used as an excuse for bullying to be accepted.”

Mel: “If we are not careful, bantering can become the acceptable face of bullying. Even if everyone were okay with say some normally inoffensive banter, it’s still offensive in a wider context. Good judgement, as always, will be what is called for. However, the best litmus test I find is the presence (or absence) of malice. The presence of malice and intended offence is what immediately changes a ‘bit of banter’ to bullying.”

There have been cases where a person is reported for bullying, not by the ‘victim’ but another person who has perceived it as bullying. What would you do as a manager in that situation? If both the perpetrator and the victim are saying it’s harmless banter whereas an onlooker says it’s bullying?

I personally believe that it’s most important that the victim feels it is bullying, also that bullying is sustained. We may have all experienced when a joke has been taken too far, however this is hopefully not on a regular basis.

I’m lucky to work in a supportive team who are all helping me through my apprenticeship. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for everyone. Often bullies hide behind ‘banter,’ perhaps as a shield of denial.

I believe that if you are experiencing banter that you are uncomfortable with, if you are able to, let them know. Sometimes situations can be solved from directly speaking to the person, they may not even realise they are upsetting you as people differ. What I find offensive, my colleague Chris may not! In a way it is all down to perception, which is one of the hardest things to regulate.

Bullying should never be acceptable. If you do feel that you are being bullied, it’s important you know the right person to turn to, tell your manager, gather evidence and don’t suffer in silence. Bullies are the weak ones, not the victims.

Have you ever experienced bullying as a victim, onlooker or manager and there hasn’t been a clear solution? Tweet us @AppsNorfolk to have your say.

Katie Lomonossoff - Youth Worker Apprentice