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How to deal with workplace bullies as a leader


Workplace bullying, of one form or another, can be a very damaging problem in any organisation. It can be personally painful, destroy an organisational culture, and contribute to falling productivity and greater turnover of its workforce.


The Workplace Bullying Institute’s 2014 National Survey found that 27 per cent of those surveyed in the United States had current or past direct experience with some form of workplace bullying. Led by Dr. Gary Namie, the research also found that 72 per cent of those surveyed were aware of workplace bullying, while 72 per cent of employers were found to deny, discount, encourage, rationalise or defend its existence.


As a leader or manager, such problems are often within your hands – both in the problem’s ability to thrive through inaction, and your own capacity to take steps to eradicate it.


1. Don’t condone the act by failing to take action


A great deal of workplace bullying can occur because a manager fails to take action – for example, where a colleague continually undermines others in a meeting, or where a manager allows workplace conflict to fester. As a manager, you are in a position to set the tone for your reports – whether this is by being clear on expected conduct at meetings, or being proactive in identifying where workplace conflict exists, and then moving quickly to deal with its fallout.


2. Be forthright


Workplace bullying may need to be handled sensitively and delicately, and the conversations it might necessitate could well be uncomfortable as much for the manager, as for the report. This does not, however, mean that a manager should avoid confronting the situation and allow things to continue for fear of making a bad situation worse.


3. Encourage communication


A common managerial response to bullying is to function as something of a go-between, trying to hear both sides of a narrative in an effort to be fair to both parties. This is a useful and potentially very necessary first step. However, it is important that you also enable direct communication between the affected parties. This allows people to more directly air issues and work towards solutions, while being in a situation that a manager themselves can control more readily.


4. Deal with the causes of the bullying


Part of the solution to workplace bullying should involve sitting down with the (alleged) bully to attempt to establish the reason behind their behaviour. It is often true that the bully themselves has areas of concern in their role, and they are simply trying to rectify these in an inappropriate and destructive manner. Close coaching through such issues – perhaps a sense of being threatened by new talent, or a fear of being overlooked for promotion – can help to both resolve the bullying issue and re-engaged the person in question.
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