“Once a Bully, Always a Bully?” Clarifying a Workplace Bullying Policy


“Once a Bully, Always a Bully”? Clarifying a Workplace Bullying Policy

Recently one county government agency Hennepin County (Minneapolis, Minnesota) decided to develop a policy defining and prohibiting workplace bullying.

After much deliberation they settled on the narrow definition as follows:

“Workplace bullying is persistent behavior by a person or group that is threatening, humiliating and/or intimidating.”

I like this definition. It’s short, to the point and points investigators to the essential bullying behaviors of threats, humiliation and intimidation. It helps separates the “tough but fair boss” from the bullying behavior and it focuses on exactly the behaviors we need to be protected from. And, I like it because it is in keeping with my 5 Point Conflict Model, which helps avoid the “bucket” problem of putting all abrasive and hurtful behavior into one bullying label.


“Once a Bully, Always a Bully”

The “Once a Bully, Always a Bully” approach to workplace conflicts isn’t helpful. It isn’t focused on solutions but rather demonizing people. And it doesn’t allow us to get at the specific behaviors we want to eradicate.

In fact I try to avoid the label altogether because it demonizes the person who is aggressive and it reduces our options to negotiate and manage solutions.

Good for for Hennepin County for trying to remove the ambiguous and unclear behaviors from a bully policy. Perhaps next they will create a Civility Policy to help improve everyone’s behavior.

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.