Chris Markiewicz's Blog
Every Monday – thoughts, observations and ideas that hold up a mirror to who & how we are

Workplace bullying. Is it really a problem?

A few weeks ago we had an addition to our household in the form of Murphy, a collie/labrador cross puppy. Like most puppies, he is full of life and, frankly at times quite a handful but, of course we all love him big time.

 Yet, there have been occasions where he has “misbehaved” and I have treated this young creature in an overly heavy handed, unfair way. Has it been because I am a cruel person? Might it be because I think I know best and need to firmly discipline him?

 Quite the opposite on both counts.

 It’s precisely because I don’t have all the answers as to how I should deal with a young dog that I get frustrated, angry and over compensate by lashing out,  laying down the law and “putting him firmly  in his place”.

 Is this right? Is this fair? Of course not, however I suggest this is so much part of the human condition and is how people often come to be “bullies”.

 Bullying is seen as being a major problem in today’s workplace. Yet, I question the idea that it is a problem at all. I put forward that it is actually a symptom.

 How many managers are thrust into their roles with little or no guidance on how to deal with people? Such managers are likely to feel insecure, nervous and even terrified when confronted with the prospect of motivating, controlling, developing and, at times disciplining their team members. They need to achieve results (often, incredibly stretching ones) through their people and the pressure can be immense.

 Herein lies the real, underlying problem.

 With such pressures, along with little training or guidance they may default to the strong arm tactics of hierarchical authority in order to get things done. This can also be a crude, though ultimately futile way of trying to raise their own self esteem.

 The effective and well rounded manager will have received comprehensive training, coaching and/or mentoring, along with all the resources and support required. All this involves significant investment, and I stress the word investment, as the cost of not doing this can be huge.

 Additionally and, perhaps most importantly, the effective manager will have taken on the role because they wanted to do it, rather than because it carries an attractive title and benefits package or because it was expected of them to “progress” into that position.

 I need to stress that none of this is about “hugging a bully”. However, in order to deal with, what are unacceptable and damaging behaviours, we need to better understand the conditions which spawn and nurture them. Unless we do so, we are  simply  “papering over cracks” through merely taking punitive action against the  symptom.

 I am nervous and afraid at times when dealing with Murphy, just as I was on occasion when I was a manager – its an uncannily similar experience for me, despite the apparent crassness of the comparison. I have much yet to learn about dogs and how to handle them.

Equally, far too many managers – and not just new ones – have much yet to learn about other human beings. However, as confidence and ability grows through a wiser and more considered approach to the recruitment and development of managers,  the need to bully will simply start to  disappear.

 Problem dealt with. Symptom sorted.           


4 Responses to “Workplace bullying. Is it really a problem?”

  1. Good one Chris! I would agree re the symptom idea.
    A number of the leaders I coach feel that they should have all the answers and be very directive. Often they come to coaching with the feedback that they take that too far.
    Once they explore and build confidence in their own unique leadership style, the need for an over dominating style fades…

  2. I think you make some excellent points Chris about bullying, and the need to address the symptoms, difficult though that may be.

    Bullying in any walk of life is unacceptable behaviour. I would however also add that in my experience of handling bullying & harrassment cases, it is sometimes confused with poor management behaviour. I have frequently observed individuals latching on to bullying & harrassment simply because they were being taken to taks for performance related issues. Now the style and manner in which under performance is tackled is often the issue here, it may not be what you would condone, but that doesn’t necessarily bean that it is bullying.

    So, to add to your observations that people who lead people need help, I also think that people in general should understand exactly what bullying is and what it isn’t. Because bullying has been rife in the workplace (and still is), it is important that people understand the difference between bullying,inappropriate management behaviour and poor leadership.

  3. As ever to the point.

    Yes Chris, I agree that too many managers are set up to fail as a direct result of insufficient coaching in their roles.

    At Equality Edge, we view most of this behaviour as abrasive management and have learnt to recognise the trigger points when they are most likely to occur. AT these times the manager needs extra guidance and support to see them over the hurdles they face.

    It’s amazing how many good and supportive managers can become abrasive in their style at difficult times.

  4. […] We have an attitude of almost epidemic proportions that confuses symptoms for problems. Very few of us take the time or trouble to genuinely seek out the deeper reasons behind the surface issue. I wrote about this a while back in the context of bullying – here is the link. […]

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