How to Stop Workplace Bullying: What Doesn’t Work


How to Stop Workplace Bullying: What Doesn’t Work

Just about every week I receive a call from an employer or an employment attorney asking for my recommendations regarding a workplace conflict or bullying situation. What I notice in just about every one of these calls is that certain actions have been taken but the behavior hasn’t changed.

Ineffective actions taken:

  1. Confront the aggressor and point out the behavior that has to stop
  2. Chastise the aggressor with demands that the behavior is unacceptable
  3. Threaten the aggressor with disciplinary action should the behavior continue
  4. Cajol the aggressor to be sympathetic to others so as to stop being aggressive
  5. Agree with the aggressor that his or her employees are annoying but request that the aggression stops
  6. Send demand letters to the aggressor to stop being aggressive
  7. Remove management and supervisory responsibilities from the aggressor until he or she improves
  8. Ignore the complaints about the aggressor but don’t give him a raise
  9. Ignore the complaints and reward the aggressor for his performance

And then I read this lovely article about workplace bullying issues wherein it is recommended that dismissal may be justified in certain situations. I quote: “In many cases, counselling or a warning may be sufficient to prevent the conduct continuing.” Really? I don’t think so. Bullying and abrasive behaviors are deep-seated problems. Many behaviors are unconscious. Most aggressors are unaware of what they are doing. Even those who seem to be deliberately choosing a target for bullying behavior may not realize how aggressive they are. Without a full intervention by a qualified conflict expert you should expect that the behavior will continue. So, what about dismissal?

My recommendation is that you should not dismiss someone for behaving in an aggressive or bullying manner until you have had an intervention that has some likelihood of success. Warning, ignoring, cajoling, etc. are not among them. You need a good investigation and evaluation of the situation. You need a model for evaluating the aggression that takes into consideration various factors including: the culture of the organization, character disorders, poor management styles, biases and prejudices of the aggressor, and awareness of how the behavior is described by the aggressor. Without this information you can expect to have a problem that will fester until someone is fired, quits, hurts him or herself, or someone files a lawsuit.

Don’t make the mistake the aggressor makes and think that telling someone to change their behavior is sufficient to realize change.

I’m Kathleen Bartle, a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts. You can contact me here.

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  • I couldn’t agree more, Kathleen. The aggression that makes up someone’s bullying behavior is ALWAYS deep seated and “counseling” them doesn’t work. I have done hundreds of interventions (with a 100% success rate) and that’s the best way to go. However, you always have to have a consequence if they don’t agree to attend some kind of treatment. Pointing out the behavior is useless without it. When confronted without consequence, all it accomplishes is to make the aggressor more aggressive.


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