Dealing with Bullies at Work

Recognizing Workplace Bullying

I want to touch on the topic of bullying in the workplace and how to show caring leadership while not only managing it, but recognizing it. Bullying doesn’t necessarily mean a face-to-face confrontation. Even negative or condescending emails can pass as bullying tendencies. Some additional examples include:

  • Targeted practical jokes
  • Being purposely misled about work duties, like incorrect deadlines or unclear directions
  • Continued denial of requests for time off without an appropriate or valid reason
  • Threats, humiliation, and other verbal abuse
  • Excessive performance monitoring
  • Overly harsh or unjust criticism

Seeing it Firsthand

Let me give you a personal example.

I remember a time when I was a manager and had an employee who had looped me in on an email chain. They were strong-arming another employee and not providing any flexibility with the situation, so I could see that the tension was rising. This caused a lot of negative discontent, and had I not been included in the email, I may have never known it was going on. So I called that individual into my office and told them that I was concerned about their behavior, and aside from the fact that it was inappropriate, I wanted to know why they were choosing to respond in that manner. This allowed me to exhibit my caring leadership by helping them think about it in a different way and give advice on how to handle it in the future, alongside mending the relationship with their co-worker. 

Now, this doesn’t mean they became best friends in the end. But it did mend their work relationship. Offering a different perspective, another way of looking at things will allow employees to understand that their negative behavior can greatly affect the drive and demeanor of whomever they’re taking it out on.

Witnessing Bullying | Speak Up!

Even if you’re not a manager or supervisor, it’s important to always speak up when you hear or see bullying in the workplace. Unfortunately, many people are too afraid to bring it to attention in fear they will get backlash themselves. 

If you witness bullying, you can help by:
  • Offering support. Support could involve acting as a witness if the person targeted wants to ask the bully to stop. You can also help by going to HR with your co-worker.
  • Listening. If your co-worker doesn’t feel safe going to HR, they may feel better having someone to talk to about the situation.
  • Reporting the incident. Your account of what happened could help your management team realize there’s a problem.
  • Staying close to your co-worker when possible. Having a supportive co-worker nearby could help reduce instances of bullying.

Finding the Positive in the Negative

The thing about being a caring leader is realizing that it’s not always cupcakes and rainbows. Everything won’t always be about the positives. It’s looking at what’s happening and being direct in addressing it. To be caring, we as leaders have to create safe spaces. Safe spaces can’t exist when there are bullies on the team. If bullies are minimizing the direction or path of a team or even an individual, such as using their position to stand in other people’s way and cause arguments, that will end in nothing but negativity. 

So how do you handle it? Deal with them directly. Don’t let it go. Try to be observant and aware of the communications between those within your organization. Caring leadership is showing concern and kindness towards those who look to you for guidance and or leadership. You can’t show either of those things unless you make the bully aware of their behavior. Bullies will continue to be bullies until someone brings it to their attention. And that’s where you come in!

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