Workplace Bullying - How To Confront It.

Following on from my recent post on concept creep, it's time to focus on the elephant in the room at work, bullying. What is it, is it actually a thing, and what can you do about it if it is real?

We have come a long way since the 1970’s and 80’s when it was common for our boss to tell us that we were “useless”, “needed to lift our game”, to “get on board or leave”, or worse still that if we didn't perform to his or her expectations we would be fired.

Was that generational thing? Possibly so. In those times there were around four recognised leadership styles, one of which was autocratic. Autocratic was identified as being the wrong leadership style if you wanted to get people to follow you however there was never any strong active move to eliminate that kind of bullying behaviour.

I was told recently that today there is over 1200 leadership styles. While autocratic is still in there somewhere, it is now openly suggested that this style is inappropriate, demeaning, dangerous, and that you need to change if you use that style. Rightfully so. 

Workplace bullying comes in many forms, the most common being a supervisor 'motivating' a direct report to perform to a higher standard. Overbearing direction, close monitoring, in-depth scrutiny, and often blatantly rude interactions.

There is a right way and a wrong way to correct poor performance, bullying isn't on the list the last time that I looked. So what should you do if you believe you are being bullied? I work on the rule that everyone should be given at least one chance, possibly two. Our behaviour for the most part is ingrained therefore difficult to change. Hence, two chances I think is fair.

If your supervisor does or says something to you that you believe is bullying, and for each of us bullying is different, then do not confront them at the time it occurred. Wait until the next day. This gives you time to reflect on what took place and to put some context and structure around it. 

The following day, speak with that supervisor. Go over what they did or said and tell the supervisor that you were unhappy with being treated the way you were. What you do next depends on their response.

If they agree what they said or did was wrong, ask the supervisor what you should do the next time this occurs - "Next time this happens would you like me to bring it to your attention immediately or should I wait for the next day like I have done so this time". This serves as a warning, a shot across their bow. 

If the supervisor disagrees with your comments, put them on notice that if it happens a second time then you will take it to the next level. Next, if (when) the behaviour happens again, speak with a colleague to gain a better understanding. Is this unacceptable behaviour limited to you, is it a pattern, or is it wider than just you?

If a pattern is emerging, either towards you or towards many, then it must be taken to a higher level - either to the union or to that supervisor’s supervisor. If you go straight away to this level, it is harder to prove that it is a pattern. A single event doesn't indicate a pattern and is easy to defend. 

Remember, when confronting bullying behaviour it is important to do so respectfully. After all, you don't want to be labelled a bully!