Workplace bullies too damaging to ignore (Guest commentary)

Leaders who don't deal with bullies send a message that the behariour is acceptable
By Jackey Backman
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/09/2007

Ever wonder what happens to schoolyard bullies? The grow up and go to work. And, unfortunately, odds are some of them are toiling away in your organization.

All too often I see first hand the dysfunction that bullies cause in the corporate world and it leaves me shaking my head in disbelief that companies allow their “best resource” to behave in a manner that is so unproductive.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are highly effective ways to deal with bullies at the office. To borrow a phrase from the

Six Million Dollar Man

, “We have the technology.”

Bullying can take many forms, from the steamroller or tyrant who rants, yells and screams at everything in his path to the time bomb, who ticks away with a smile until, one day he explodes, destroying everything in his path.

Then there are a whole range of “bad apples” like those who gossip, backstab and micromanage, which is also extremely detrimental to the morale and well-being of individuals and ultimately costs companies money.

Supervisors, managers, leaders — whatever title you choose — need to be aware that, in all likelihood, this type of behaviour is going on in their departments and, although it may not be their fault it started, it’s absolutely their responsibility to make it stop.

If the leaders aren’t willing to step up to the plate and put an end to these behaviours, how can they honestly expect anyone else to?

Leaders may allow this behaviour to continue (and sometimes actually partake in it) because they simply don’t know how to stop it.

After all, when a person becomes a boss, she doesn’t automatically get a manual telling her how to be a leader or how to deal with bad behaviour. And that means many bosses end up just “winging it,” hoping everything will work out in the end. Unfortunately, hoping doesn’t help them deal with difficult people or bad apples, and most certainly not with bullies.

By choosing not to deal with them, leaders send a very clear message that the behaviours are acceptable and the dysfunctional corporate environment will continue. Most people don’t want to work in this type of environment. But they’re afraid of losing their jobs for standing up to a bad apple or bully, including bosses who micromanage.

There are ways to teach leaders to go beyond managing and truly lead workers.

If the organization wants to move away from the path of dysfunction and onto the highway of possibilities and higher profitability, try the following steps:

•Keep a log of specific observable behaviour. Saying someone is “difficult” says nothing about what they’ve done. Are they argumentative? Do they refuse to help?

•Approach them privately and, in a dignified manner, tell them you are uncomfortable with specific past behaviours. They may ask for details. This is where the log comes in handy.

•Explain to them what you would like to see happen in the future.

•If they continue with the behaviour, and if it escalates, get the supervisor or manager involved immediately. Arrange a three-way meeting and request that the supervisor or manager act as a liaison to ensure resolution.

Some organizations may choose to get a senior person involved right from the start. This is fine. But it’s often best to resolve the issue directly without intervention from senior management. It offers the other person an opportunity to “save face” and may avoid him getting his back up.

After all, bullies often back down easily, as they like to pick on people they know will let them.

Jackey Backman is CEO and co-founder of One Spirit Inc. in Rockwood, Ont. She can be reached at (888) 220-1282, jackey@onespiritinc.com or www.onespiritinc.com.

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