The VP of Finance constantly interrupts and actively prevents others from speaking in meetings. He scoffs when they share ideas/make suggestions.
A Managing Director at a financial services firm publicly trashes another Director’s new strategy, tearing it apart without having the domain expertise to truly understand what she is saying.
The lead software engineer makes snide remarks about the product development process during team meetings. He publicly denounces the marketing team too.
What do these three have in common? They’re bullies.
Bullies are scary, shocking, embarrassing and far too often tolerated in the workplace. Why? Because we don’t want to have to deal with them, we don’t want the attack, the conflict, the discomfort. So we either pretend they aren’t wreaking havoc or we grit our teeth and tolerate them.
It’s time to stop.
How We Let Bullies Thrive
“Paul,” the COO of consumer packaged goods company manages the VP Finance bully I mentioned above. During coaching Paul realized how he tolerates, and even allows, this unacceptable behavior.
Here’s how Paul is enabling the bully:
We all avoid uncomfortable human relations issues sometimes… but what is the cost? Exorbitant–as we daily give our power away, compromise our integrity, and inadvertently teach our team that bullying is acceptable.
The Three-Step Bully Rehab Plan
There are three steps to stop bullying:
1. Identify how you are enabling it (see Paul’s situation above)
2. End the enabling system
The bully is generally playing the persecutor role, which creates the need for a rescuer to protect the victim. Then the train has left the proverbial station and we’re zooming ahead on a ride to a place we don’t want to go. See the left triangle:
The Surprising Truth About What Bullies Want
In a previous blog I talked about how we all crave safety, belonging and mattering. Often one of these is exactly what the bully wants, he/she is just trying to get it in an ineffective and inappropriate way. Take a guess at what each bully below wants:
The answers are mattering, safety, belonging. Once you uncover what a bully wants you can start to give it to them, to begin reducing what Seth Godin calls the tantrum cycle. We can also then help shift the bully from tension to empowerment. More on this below.
3. Set up a new system with healthy boundaries and behaviors (rich with safety, belonging, mattering and shifting from tension to empowerment.)
Note that if the bully is above you on the org chart you’ll need a mentor equal or greater in stature to the bully to do the following.
Our clients love our conflict resolution process below (bullies or not):
I’m thrilled to report that the Managing Director and software engineer now play well with colleagues, and the VP Finance is in the turnaround process with positive momentum.
Try the above and let me know how it goes!
Christine Comaford (@comaford) is a neuroscience-based leadership and culture coach. She has built and sold 5 companies with 700% ROI using her potent brain-based techniques. Her current New York Times Bestseller is SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together.