Great Leadership: The Dynamics Of Workplace Bullying

BullyingBullying or alleged bullying is always stressful

I don’t think I have ever been in a work situation where there has not been at least some discussion about whether behaviours can be construed as bullying.  I have been in some where bullying has occurred and people have experienced being bullied and it’s not pleasant.

In the CIPD Employee Outlook Survey 2010, 16% of people surveyed said they thought bullying by their line manager had increased due to the economic downturn and frankly I’m not surprised.   In the last Civil Service People Survey in 2011, 9% of employees said they had experienced bullying, although of those, only 28% said the bullying behaviour had been from their line manager.  It seems the allegation of bullying is not exclusively a line manager phenomenon.

In my own experience I have experienced “bullying behaviour” from line managers, customers and colleagues.   I have witnessed many allegations of bullying; some warranted and some not so.   Personally I’ve never been accused of bullying, it’s easy to perceive assertive behaviour as bullying when employees aren’t used to it, and I bet some of my actions could well have been construed as such with certain people, and in certain circumstances.

Bullying has a particular dynamic and it’s often not clear cut, which is why so much of the behaviour isn’t tackled adequately in the workplace.  Some of the dynamics of bullying I have witnessed are:

Bullying or being bullied is

  • An abuse of and giving up of power

Bullying behaviour is an assertion of power over someone else.  Mostly such behaviour is saying “I am more important than you and I know better” It’s a superiority trap, and it is borne of a fear of lack of inner power.

Being bullied is a giving up of power.  No-one can bully anyone without their permission.  If you believe in yourself and know your own worth, nothing anyone can say will shake your foundation.  When anyone accepts bullying behaviour, even though it can be difficult situation to grasp; they are giving up their power.

  • Rarely a conscious intention and can sometimes come as a surprise to both people involved.

Countless times I have witnessed people who have carried out bullying behaviour become extremely upset and appalled when they realise the effect they are having.  When you encounter such a reaction you know the behaviour will stop.

Sometimes I have witnessed a denial and astonishment that their behaviour could be construed as bullying.  These people have work to do, but awareness of their effect on others is often the starting point to change the behaviour forever.

People who are on the receiving end of bullying behaviour are often shocked at how vulnerable they are and how upsetting the behaviour is to them personally.  They are often ferocious in their condemnation of the “bully” and aghast at how awful any human being could act towards another.

  • A dynamic which springs from fear of not being good enough on both sides

Someone displaying bullying behaviour is using the dynamic of force onto someone else.  Anyone who has to use force on another is fearful of their ability to negotiate, influence or gain the co-operation, understanding, approval or help from another.

Someone who feels bullied by someone else feels dis empowered to deal with the behaviour in order to achieve a positive outcome, and/or has an unconscious fear they are not good enough and that the bully might have a point.

  • A denial of the possibility of caring for each other

Caring about each other is our natural state.  Whenever we are not caring about other people we are in disassociation or denial about who we really are at our core.  The dynamic of bullying and being bullied is a blatant opposite dynamic of our natural inner urge to care about each other.

Often a bullying dynamic occurs because both” perpetrator and victim” don’t believe in the possibility of another caring enough about them to hear the other.

  • A dynamic of blame

When bullying behaviour surfaces; it is as a result of an inability to have the courage to take  personal responsibility on both sides.    The perpetrator is either consciously or unconsciously trying to change or intimidate the “victim” because they are “wrong”.  The person on the receiving end inevitably feels no choice but  to see the behaviour as an attack on them rather than see the fear or lack of awareness in the person displaying the behaviour.

While I have observed those behaviours, I also have to say that whenever either real or alleged bullying behaviour occurs it is always unacceptable, and always ugly to watch because there is always an impact.  Quite often assertive behaviour can be seen as bullying and often assertive people can be subjected to behaviour which can be designed to get them to submit to another.   Even in those situations, getting into the “who is right and who is wrong” debate is futile.

Bullying in the workplace must never be ignored, and there should always be a zero tolerance approach to such behaviour.  Tackling bullying should be implicit in all leadership and management learning programmes.

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About Christina Lattimer

Christina has managed people for twenty seven years and led hugely successful teams. She has worked with people at all levels in various organisations to help them achieve their potential, and she has been actively involved in the learning and development field in a number of different roles. In latter years she worked as an HR Strategist. She has a range of management qualifications, is a learning professional with a BA Hons in Education, and is a Chartered Fellow of Chartered Institute of Personnel Development. She is passionate about people and believes everyone counts to make a great team.
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4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Great Leadership: The Dynamics Of Workplace Bullying - Christinapeoplediscovery - Member Blogs - HR Blogs - HR Space from Personnel Today and Xpert HR

  2. Pingback: Great Leadership: The Dynamics Of Workplace Bullying |

  3. Christina hi, Clara here again. I love your website and your philosophy and many of your articles. Are you a sole operator, or do you have others working with you/ for you? You sound absolutely passionate about what you do. Are you located in UK? Where? I am in Perth, Western Australia. We seem to have a similar style, though you appear much more proactive than I am. We might benefit from sharing discussion?

    • Hi Clara, thank you! I am in the throes of building up People Discovery and have a number of associates, and am hoping to start building my permanent team in the next month or so. I am passionate, and thanks for that, it’s good to know it shines through, and yes I’m based in the UK. I think it would be great to share discussion, and since you posted we are now connected on Linkedin. I love the power of the internet and social media, it helps me get in touch with like minded people like you! – thanks for connecting, and I look forward to finding out more – best Christina

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