Coach’s Corner . . .

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,
I’m about to throw in the towel on a job I really enjoy and where I feel I have a tremendous contribution to make. It has nothing to do with my performance and my passion for the role remains intense.

The reason is that I leave at the end of work on most days feeling that I’m close to a personal breakdown. This is because I’m the victim of bullying and harassment that’s insidious, continuous and demoralizing. What can I possibly do?

Response:
It’s remarkable that such behaviours still persist in our society in the face of the many and strenuous efforts to educate and legislate them out of existence. We have multiple and high profile laws and campaigns which are applied throughout the educational system, as well as within both business and general society, all geared to ensuring equality, respect and dignity among diverse groups.

Discriminatory behaviours persist!

What the legislation may have done is to focus attention on some of the ‘higher’ profile circumstances while leaving a multitude of other applications unattended. It’s clearly inappropriate to discriminate against others on the grounds of gender, racial origin, physical/emotional disadvantage, beliefs and lifestyle preferences but relatively little or nothing is said or done where the difference is based on age, education, specialization, socio-economic status, temperament, physical appearance or even seniority.

In fact the accepted infrastructure of our business organizations would seem to condone segregated treatment of others; we have executive privilege, managerial status and even supervisors are granted general powers well beyond those needed to perform an oversight function. Many will argue that some level of segregation is a natural social phenomenon and that ‘pecking orders’ are a way of life – accepted and even appreciated by most.

Notwithstanding the ethical considerations, which are surely paramount, there’s a solid business case for eliminating such behaviours. It is very difficult to allow that behaviours like gossiping, isolating, demeaning, ridiculing, accusing, politicking, pressuring, exposing and insinuating, are productive and add value to the organization’s purpose. At best they are neutral and at worst they detract from strategic intent.

So what can be done to remove such behaviours from our daily experience?

The short answer is to confront them. We’ve all known from our earliest experiences that ignoring or running away from bullying behaviours is ineffectual; such tactics only intensify or shift the bully’s efforts. Bullies are not receptive to submissive or placatory responses in the longer term either, for such only serve to justify their actions.

It’s very likely that bullies use these assaults on others to compensate for lowered self esteem/regard within themselves so it’s an emotional issue for them and they will not likely bow to reasoned approaches. What they do not welcome are confident responses which highlight the ineffectiveness of their strategies.

As with any other crucial confrontation the initial step is to ensure that you are dealing with the right issue, and in many cases the issue is one of a pattern of unproductive and unpleasant behaviours and/or, worse, a damaged relationship. It’s important too to recognize the stories that we might be telling ourselves (that feed the fires of our indignation and enhance our sensitivities) and to bring them under control.

Then we choose a private venue and, with consent, we address the issue in terms of ‘expectations and experiences’. "John, as we work together we have certain expectations about ensuring mutual respect and tolerance of the differences in our ideas and approach. I’m aware that I’m less exposed to the issues than you but I believe I have a contribution to make. In recent meetings I’ve sensed that you are discounting my suggestions in ways that could be considered as ridicule. An example would be . . . Is there an alternative way for us to mesh our ideas that would benefit the organization?”

It’s important to be properly prepared with concise examples and to keep the focus on seeking a constructive way forward. Do not make judgmental statements about the inappropriateness of the bully’s behaviours even if these are warranted and defensible. You are looking for reconciliation not vindication.

Should there be no change in attitude and the bullying behaviors continue then document your situation using the same ‘expectation versus experience’ format and present it in the form of a business case to a higher authority. Where the behaviours are apparently condoned or have been accepted over time, make reference to the corporate strategic intentions and expressed values to boost your business case.

Stress the attempts you have made to find a constructive solution and your preparedness to continue in the search for solutions which reflect respect, dignity and mutual tolerance. Also, be sure to alert the bully to your escalated action so that you cannot be accused of subversion yourself.

Bullying, or the condoning thereof, is probably an organizational culture issue and it may take time and patience to fully resolve but sound business practices generally will prevail, so stick to your guns!

If you’d like to think more on this issue, visit the helpful website at http://www.workplacebullying.org/.

I hope this helps.