Workplace Bullies: Changing Behaviors & Attitudes
In my work with those identified as workplace bullies (really those people who express bullying behaviors), I am always asked this question:
Are we changing behavior or will we see a change in attitudes and understanding about the behavior?
And that, my friends is the $64,000 question. How much change can I expect from my specialized coaching? And the answer is: it depends. Do the alleged workplace bullies simply have a lack of understanding about alternate methods of leading and handling conflict? Or are they fully aware of their behavior, and insisting that is the only way to be effective? (There are other options – character disorder comes to mind, as does those who enjoy hurting others, but this blog is about abrasive and manipulative behaviors.)
Abrasive & Clueless: Those who Don’t Understand Their Behavior and It’s Impact
Certainly I have had marvelous successes in transforming both behavior and attitudes about bullying. These clients are people who have some feeling or idea that their aggressive behavior isn’t working. So, when they are confronted with a complaint, they are open to alternatives. They may be defensive at first and skeptical but they are seeking other ways to handle conflict and leadership.
Some of my clients quickly see how powerful it is to use other methods to lead besides bullying/threatening/intimidating. It was clear that they never learned other behaviors and were unaware of the negative impact their bullying had on others and on their bottom-line. Some of these folks have remained my clients for years as we dig deep and uncover their cover values, strengths, and life objectives. Many have moved up the ladder of success using new skills. One of my clients has become a great teacher and mentor to others who needed to learn how to handle their aggression while getting the job done.
Manipulative: Those who are Rigid, Dogmatic and Fearful and Believe that Aggression is Consistent with Good Leadership
And then there are those who really believe that their style of leading others is appropriate and effective. They lack empathy for others and always fight the coaching claiming that their way is true, right and perhaps the ONLY way to succeed. I hear example after example of why and when and where their bullying succeeded and how it is inconceivable that another method might be better. In these cases I have to use my analyses of their options (that is how much trouble they are in for their behavior and how important it is to consider changing their behavior under certain circumstances even if they don’t amend their attitudes).
My first goal is to open the conversation enough so that we can discuss behaviors that will work with those who don’t like the bullying. So, for instance, if I have a highly successful deal-maker who uses bullying tactics to get the absolute best price for his company, I have to make it clear that we’re not going to change that behavior. His deal-making tactics remain. But, when we’re talking about his teammates, his subordinates and his colleagues (all those who are complaining about the bullying), then he has to add new behaviors to his tool box or else he’s not going to be successful. The company has made it clear that the behavior has to change. I’m not going after his attitudes or empathy quotient. This is a bottom-line approach—what has to improve for him to stay with the company. Of course, I am totally open to deeper learning and change so that he can see that he can have his empathy and still win the day. But, I’m clear, that’s not the first goal.
So, if you’ve been called a bully, do you think you might be an Abrasive person or a Manipulative boss? The answer determines what you need to do to improve your reputation and success.
And if you have a bully boss, is he or she abrasive or manipulating you? The answer determines what you can do, what you should do, and what you can expect from your actions.
If you are the HR manager in charge of an intervention after a complaint of workplace bullying, then, if you want a successful outcome, it is critical that you know what type of bullying you’re dealing with. To review the Bartle Model of Bullying Behaviors, here’s the link.
Are you a target of bullying? You are not alone. Learn what to do, what to say, and how to handle yourself when confronted by aggressive behavior. Join my teleclass, “From Victim to Victorious.” As part of a trial offer, starting Friday February 28, 9AM pacific, noon eastern, I will be giving everyone a chance to evaluate the class for free for the first 3 weeks. For more information, click here.
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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.
I’m Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant and author of Stop Arguing and Start Working: 6 Steps to Being Confident, Calm, and Capable During Difficult Conversations at Work.