Workplace Bullies are Made Not Born: The Savvy Boss Intervenes
I just read a lovely article which speculates on what turned people into the bullies of Downton-Abbey. After all, as the author of this article, Cindy Waitt, writes, “Bullies do have back stories, they don’t just shoot out of the womb as jerks.”
So, if you think you manifest bullying behaviors, or you’ve been labeled a bully or you think you were a bully in your past, what makes you tick? What causes you to lose it and yell at other people, blame them for your mistakes, etc. etc. Why do you think it’s okay to be aggressive with other people?
Recently I heard a story about someone who has come to be identified as a bully. Here’s what happened (names changed, of course).
Nathan Justifies his Bullying
Nathan was mad. He’s been mad at Joe for years. He thought Joe was ruining his career because Joe was always chronically late with his work. Nathan was dependent upon Joe to do his work. Nathan looked bad because he couldn’t get his work done. Joe was overworked and that’s why his work was behind. It was not intentional, but Nathan thought it was intentional.
And that’s why he would lose it—almost every day. Because of this, Joe was so abused by Nathan that he didn’t show up for the meetings. He stayed at his desk giving Nathan more fuel for his anger.
Workplace Bullying: The Boss Intervenes
Along came a new boss who wanted the abuse to stop. The boss called a meeting with Nathan. Before the meeting Nathan attacked Joe, screaming at him, and complaining about the new boss. Nathan shouted that he wasn’t going to attend that meeting with the new boss. True to his word, he didn’t attend.
But, the new boss was smart. She called Nathan and said, “I think you must be in the wrong conference room. I’ll wait for you.” When Nathan showed up, the boss let Nathan rant and rant and rant. Nathan felt justified in his aggression because Jerry wasn’t helping Nathan. Joe’s delays made Nathan look bad. Nathan believed that eventually yelling would get Joe to meet deadlines.
The boss said, “Okay, I hear you. That was then, this is now.” Nathan was on notice that he couldn’t keep bullying Joe and get away with it.
The boss wanted the abuse to end. The boss is doing it by putting the aggressor on notice and protecting the target. In addition the boss is bringing in help so that Jerry doesn’t miss deadlines thus cutting into Nathan’s opportunities to bully.
Moral of the story: Each had their reasons for anger, delays, and withdrawal; a good boss can make everyone behave.
How Can you Help End Workplace Bullying?
Don’t let your lack of information block you for taking the right steps to help targets and bullies alike.
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I’ve been 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.
I’m Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant.