October 23, 2017

Bullying in the workplace – often due to weak relationship skills?

The onlookers hold their breath…

Frank has worked in the organization for years. He’s just queried the young, new manager’s request to undertake a task in a particular way. Frank doesn’t think it’s the most effective approach. In fact, he doubts it’ll work at all. The rest of the team knows there’s going to be an explosion and every one of them is suddenly engrossed in something else entirely.

The manager practically screams at Frank, “Do what I say or I’ll have you fired!” Frank controls himself with difficulty and sets off to do as he is bid, telling himself that’s the last time he’ll try and keep the boss out of trouble. Who was right? Who knows?

We’ve probably all seen it – perhaps even been guilty of it ourselves – shouting at somebody to get something done when we can’t cope with their reactions to what we say.

We call this bullying, usually.

Interventions tend to focus on eliminating the behavior, but that’s generally not an effective approach. We need to displace the problem behavior with something that is wanted instead.

As Robert Dilts says in one of his books, it’s better to respond to the positive intention behind a behavior rather than the behavior itself. The positive intention of the “bully” is usually to achieve an outcome that is wanted by all or at least most, but they don’t have the ability to handle relationships in a resourceful enough way in extreme situations. Few set out for work planning who they’ll be unpleasant to today. The problem stems from a lack of skill in dealing with people.

So to eliminate bullying, work on relationship skills, would be my suggestion.

What about you? How do you deal with bullying behavior in your organization? How many perpetrators are just simply uncaring and how many “lose it” because they run out of skills to deal with challenges resourcefully?

(May you outwit the bully wherever he or she may be found.)