Ignore nasty behaviour at your own peril.
Bully behavior robs a place of creativity and sucks morale dry. Productivity dives, people take stress leaves, and people leave. In spite of many victims and body bags at reception, all too often nasty behavior at work is ignored or not dealt with until the situation has caused serious collateral damage. By ignoring bully behaviour, corporations risk lawsuits and other legal maladies. Yet, I never cease to be amazed at how reticent senior leaders seemingly are towards dealing directly with nasty behavior.
Why is it ignored?
Simply put, difficult people are difficult to deal with. Often the last thing anybody wants to do, including supervisors, is deal head-on with toxic behaviour. It isn’t fun. Sometimes it’s just easier to engage in magical thinking, convincing yourself that it will all work itself out. Denial is another strategy often employed. It is so much easier to minimize the harmful impact than deal with it. In other cases, I’ve seen otherwise talented but overloaded leaders struggle to implement even band-aid solutions. Unfortunately, dealing with a workplace bully can take a huge amount of time and considerable effort. But deal with it you must. The costs are simply too great to your employees and your organization.
Here’s what to do:
1. Stop excusing the behaviour. Deal with it. Yes, it is time.
2. Develop a plan and begin documenting the situation.
3. Give feedback to the person. They need to know that their behavior is unacceptable.
4. If no change happens, start a progressive discipline procedure and document, document, document. Yes, it can be a lot of work. But your team and the bottom line will be much better for it in the end.
5. If the bully is the CEO or Executive Director, the Board of Directors needs to take action. People in these senior most leadership positions can do irrepairable damage to teams and individuals. For the BOD not to take action is to condone the bad behaviour and further compromise the organization.
6. Get the person Executive Coaching. With the exception of the most brutish people, many ‘difficult’ folks can be helped to mend their ways. Set clear behavioral goals at the outset and monitor progress regularly. Sometimes people can be unaware of their harmful impact on others and can learn to play much nicer with others. Sometimes the person can simply be in a poor job match. The coaching process can help uncover and resolve such issues.
7. If the behaviour does not change, do not give up. Assess whether or not this person is truly an asset. As this person’s supervisor, know that what you see or hear about is likely the tip of the iceberg. At this point, it is likely that the person needs to be exited from your organization.
I’m curious to know about your experiences. Have you ever had to deal with a bully at work? Have you ever been in a situation where little was done to deal with the situation? How did this feel and how did it impact the office climate?