Little Tyrants in the Workplace

Bullies don’t always look like bullies.  One workplace bully I knew looked like the sweetest little lady.  She was tiny. She dressed conservatively and based on appearance alone, was entirely non-threatening.  In her case, appearance was most decidedly deceiving.  When she opened her mouth, the image of sweet lady disappeared entirely.  Her tone of voice and language were strident, threatening, demeaning and intimidating … and just got worse when she was under stress, which seemed to be most of the time.

The people who worked with this little tyrant soon learned to avoid her whenever possible. There were some people that refused to deal with her and sent stronger, more assertive people in their place when they needed something.

You might be wondering what this little tyrant’s boss did to address the behaviour.  He did nothing, nothing at all.  Instead he joined the rest of this team in tip toeing up to and around this little lady.  He allowed the bullying and intimidation to continue.  According to the 2010 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, his response is fairly typical. The survey found that 62% of employers ignore the problem.

Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away and workplace bullying is a big problem.  Workplace bullying is a sure-fire way to bring down moral, create tension and reduce efficiency in the workplace.  As a leader, it’s important to address that negative behaviour and put a stop to it.  Below are some ways to do that:

  1. Be sure you are setting a good example.
  2. If you don’t have an anti-bullying statement, create one and be sure everyone on your team is aware of the statement, as well as the consequences of bullying.
  3. Address the issue immediately.  If an employee reports bullying behaviour by a co-worker, look into it immediately.  If you witness bullying behaviour, step in.
  4. Be respectful to all parties, including the bully.  There is very often an underlying reason for bullying behaviour.  Lack of confidence, feelings of being overwhelmed, etc.  Is there something you can do to help the bully overcome some of those issues?  If there is, try to help.
  5. Talk to your team members about how to communicate assertively.  Some people may not be aware of how “mean” they sound.  They may very well be modelling behaviour they learned from others.  Others need help standing up for themselves.

What about you?  Have you ever had to deal with a workplace bully?  What worked for you?

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