Why is this happening?
Our natural reaction is to assume that there is something wrong with the way the workplace is being managed or with one or more of the individuals involved. That is necessarily not the case! Bullying is often normal human communication gone wrong. It can happen in the very best organisations.
In all cases, however, bullying will cause damage if it is allowed to continue.
The damage will include the target of the bullying, the bully themselves, the co-workers and the workplace itself. The effects will extend to those involved, the organisation and those caught up in the collateral damage. Unresolved, bullying will damage psychological and physical health, productivity and reputation.
Workers compensation claims, bullying complaints to the Fair Work Commission or health and safety regulators are all time consuming and expensive. A much higher cost will usually be lost productivity and poorer workplace engagement.
Properly handled, however, the damage can be minimised and the organisation and the individuals involved can extract the learnings from the bullying and emerge from the experience stronger.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is fundamentally the misuse of personal or organisational power to damage another person. The motives can vary from jealousy to inappropriate management styles but the effect is to damage one or more individuals. More often than not, the bullying is misguided strategy rather than intentional bullying.
Bullying can be significant behaviour that has a large impact on those it affects. Alternatively, it can be a lot of very small incidents none of which by themselves would cause a problem. Research into the effects of the two different types of bullying has found that the repeated small incidents (or “death by a thousand cuts”) is as damaging if not more so than the prominent bullying incidents.
What do I do if I suspect (or someone has told me) that bullying has occurred?
Firstly, find out! Ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away might seem like it has worked but usually, the behaviour will continue and the damage will fester.
Sit down and talk to those who were involved and those who witnessed what happened.
Concentrate on the facts – what was said, what was done and the effects of those actions. In what can be a highly emotional situation, it is too easy to focus on personalities rather than events. It is impossible to resolve a problem based on the personalities of those involved!
Remember, your role is not to act as judge and determine guilt. Your role is to address the issue before it gets any worse! Some bullying can be very successfully resolved without ever proving who was in the right.
What do I do about it?
A few tips to remember
• Concentrate on fixing what has happened.
• Blaming and recriminations will only inflame the situation and delay the resolution.
• As a leader, you will set the standards of behaviour that are acceptable within your organisation whether you are trying to or not!
• Those involved (i.e. your staff) will be watching to see if you handle the situation fairly and professionally.
• Potential resolutions include face to face discussions, formal mediation, psychological counselling for the affected parties (including those accused of inappropriate behaviour) and formal disciplinary processes.
• In all cases, the focus should always be on fixing the problem in the best interests of all involved.
• As with any aspect of your business, it is better to plan and train your staff before any problem arises. Bullying is no different.
Some leaders are so focussed on results that they are insensitive and often abusive to their colleagues and subordinates. Task focussed individuals are often high achievers and companies can find themselves having to choose between their highest achievers and the remaining staff. Abrasive leader coaching is a highly effective technique designed to help those abrasive managers to behave well towards others while maintaining their results. The companies then no longer have to choose which group to look after.
How can bullying and conflict make my organisation stronger?
Properly handled, you and your organisation can emerge stronger from dealing with bullying. Where bullying and conflict result from a difference of ideas, the resolution process can enrich the intellectual property of the business as it will require those ideas to be examined. Where it comes from bad behaviour, it allows those behaving inappropriately to learn and work better together.
Anything that allows staff to concentrate on their jobs will be an improvement for staff members and your company.
About the Author
Nerio Baldini is an internationally recognised expert on bullying and a senior consultant at BBG Consulting and Advisory – a high-level team of expert consultants that provides mid-tier corporations ($20 – $200 million turnover) with strategic advice and implementation guidance on complex multi-disciplinary projects. See more at www.bgc-consultants.com