Mediation in abrasive/bullying situations

Dear Readers:

As a member of the Boss Whispering Institute and one who uses Boss Whispering methods, I am posting a LinkedIn comment to why using Mediation in abrasive/bullying situations is less than ideal.

For more information on Boss Whispering, you can contact me directly at

Laura Crawshaw, the founder of the Boss Whispering method, posted this notice:

“In listening to mediators, I have developed a concept of how mediation is enacted in situations where an employee alleges bullying. The steps seem to be as follows:

1. The employee (usually a subordinate) brings a complaint of being treated unacceptably.
2. The organization then calls for a mediation between boss and employee
3. It is the expectation that boss and employee should find a way to interact that is mutually agreeable so that no further complaints of unacceptable treatment occur.

If this is the case, I consider the employer (higher management) to be grossly negligent in abdicating their responsibility to provide a psychologically safe working environment. Let us momentarily propose that the boss is in fact engaging in bullying behavior. Why should the employee be expected to “resolve” this situation, engaging in the very threatening process of confronting their superior and struggling to “negotiate” an acceptable mode of interpersonal conduct with their boss? Where is management or HR in all of this? Is it not THEIR responsibility to investigate the complaint and make THEIR determination, and if bullying is discovered, set limits and consequences for the superior’s unacceptable workplace conduct (and hopefully offer Boss Whispering) to the abrasive individual? I work with organizations that do this all the time. They consider it their responsibility to maintain a respectful work environment, and when they hire someone who they later discover behaves abrasively, or promote someone who manifests abrasive behavior in their new role as a manager, they look into it immediately. This consists of interviewing the individual’s coworkers at all levels (including the complainant) to see if they have observed destructive interpersonal interactions. If this proves to be the case, management informs the individual that they will not tolerate such behavior, and that unless the individual remediates their management style, they will not be tolerated. They also offer Boss Whispering to help, as most abrasive managers are blind to the impact of their conduct and don’t know how to manage in a more positive manner.

I flinch at the recommendation that targets of bullying should be provided pre-mediation coaching so that they can, essentially, enter the David and Goliath arena of attempting to mediate with an abrasive boss. Perhaps they should also be given lessons in psychology to deal with the characteristic defensiveness of abrasive bosses, as well as stress management sessions to endure the ordeal. Perhaps there should also be an option for outlplacemet counseling if the boss’s defensiveness transates into future aggression.

Finally, I have found that a boss who engages in bullying behaviors will only fully acknowledge the results of his or her bullying and move to change IF the organization sets limits and consequences. These are the only kinds of referrals that Boss Whisperers will accept, for we learned long ago of the futility of a coach (or coworker) trying to convince an abrasive boss to change. Forgive my overheated ramblings – I write about this more coherently in my book, Taming the Abrasive Manager: How to End Unnecessary Roughness in the Workplace (2007, Jossey-Bass.)


Laura Crawshaw, Ph.D
The Boss Whisperer”