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The repetition issue in defining bullying behaviour

In Australia and in many other parts of the world a key part of the definition of bullying behaviour is that the behaviour is repeated. This creates the weird situation where it might be okay to use a behaviour once, but if you use it again it then becomes buying behaviour and is then unacceptable. Surely for justice is to be served, we would not want that behaviour to occur at all.
No matter wether it is the workplace or school many policies and laws require behaviour(s) to occur repeatedly before they fit the definition of bullying behaviour. For example if someone makes 'back stabbing' comments. This the majority would agree is not acceptable behaviour and is also the sort of behaviour used for bullying others. If a complaint is made when it first happens it would not be considered bullying behaviour as there is no repeat behaviour.

Is that fair or just? How does this definition help to ensure people treat each other with respect? Unless there is another category of inappropriate behaviour to use, there is no way we can hold people to account so that it is clear 'back stabbing' comments are not okay anytime. Requiring repeat behaviour makes early intervention difficult as there needs to be a standard to use to decide if the behaviour is okay or not. If the standard is the bullying behaviour definition, this creates the ridiculous situation of not doing anything until it is repeated. It is very difficult to manage boundaries of behaviour when in the first instance the behaviour is okay but in the second it is not.

Of course most workplaces and schools have other standards of behaviour by which peoples behaviour should comply with. A 'respect' clause in this behaviour standard for example, could be used so others do not use 'back stabbing' comments. This would also allow early intervention and still help meet the needs of getting rid of bullying behaviours as well. Which then begs the question, do we really need to have a specific "bullying" definition and laws that specifically requires repeat behaviours?

This is a complex issue and cannot be done justice in this short piece. However, we need to be mindful of the issues around defining bullying behaviour as requiring repeat behaviour. Would we like a law that convicted people of physical assault only if they hit them repeatedly? You can punch them once in the teeth and thats okay but any more than that and its against the law. That just does not make sense.

For an interesting discussion on this and OHS issues see:
Janet O Chan-Mok , Carlo Caponecchia & Chris Winder (2013): The Concept of Workplace Bullying: Implications from A
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