Workplace bullying in meetings is expensive, not least because it degrades the quality of the work performed in meetings. If allowed to persist, those who are targeted tend to shut down, depriving the meeting of their contributions. Moreover, once the bully has established dominance, solving the problem becomes more difficult. That's why bullying must be dealt with immediately.
Let's begin by defining workplace bullying. Definitions vary — here's mine:
Workplace bullying is any aggressive behavior, associated with work, and primarily intended to cause physical or psychological harm to others.
Although workplace bullying is usually cloaked in business purposes, the bully's primary intention is inflicting physical or psychological harm to consolidate power.
In all cases, the chair is responsible for ending the bullying. Let's consider the least complex case first: neither the bully nor the target is the chair. In this case, the chair can demand a change in behavior.
Here are six suggestions for chairs who observe bullying taking place. They follow a simple pattern: Prepare, Intervene, and finally, Escalate.
- Publish behavioral norms
- Publish behavioral norms — ten or a dozen at most — before taking any other action. Examples: Be respectful, don't raise your voice, don't interrupt, wait for recognition by the chair, and so on. Incorporate in this list any relevant items from the company code of conduct.
- Document what's been happening
- Prepare documentation that specifies for each bullying incident the date and time, the target's name, the bully's name, the behavior itself, and what you did about it. The audience for this document is the bully's supervisor, your supervisor, and possibly a Human Resources representative.
- Seize the floor
- As chair, when you notice bullying behavior, seize the floor. Typically, some behavioral norm has been violated. Caution the offender. For example, "George, let's be more respectful. You may continue if you agree to be more respectful. Otherwise I'll give the floor to someone else."
- Speak to the bully privately
- Speaking to the bully privately deprives the bully of an audience. Explain that you regard the bully's behavior as bullying, that it must stop immediately, and that you'll take further action if it continues, but don't specify what action you'll take.
- Speak to the bully's supervisor
- If the bullying persists, speak to the bully's supervisor. Ask the supervisor to let you know when corrective action has been taken.
- Speak to your own supervisor privately
- If the Speaking to the bully
privately deprives the
bully of an audiencebully's supervisor doesn't act promptly and effectively, seek advice from your own supervisor. Perhaps your supervisor and the bully's supervisor can resolve the issue together.
If these actions fail, the problem belongs to HR, since neither you, nor the bully's supervisor, nor your own supervisor has acted effectively to end the bullying. Present your documentation to a Human Resources representative, and ask for advice about what further action might be required of you.
Is a workplace bully targeting you? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just . Order Now!
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More articles on Workplace Bullying:
- Intimidation Tactics: Touching
- Workplace touching can be friendly, or it can be dangerous and intimidating. When touching is used to
intimidate, it often works, because intimidators know how to select their targets. If you're targeted,
what can you do?
- How Targets of Bullies Can Use OODA: I
- Most targets of bullies just want the bullying to stop, but most bullies don't stop unless they fear
for their own welfare if they continue the bullying. To end the bullying, targets must turn the tables.
- When the Chair Is a Bully: III
- When the chair of the meeting is so dominant that attendees withhold comments or slant contributions
to please the chair, meeting output is at risk of corruption. Because chairs usually can retaliate against
attendees who aren't "cooperative," this problem is difficult to address. Here's Part III
of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
- Dealing with Rapid-Fire Attacks
- When a questioner repeatedly attacks someone within seconds of their starting to reply, complaining
to management about a pattern of abuse can work — if management understands abuse, and if management
wants deal with it. What if management is no help?
- So You Want the Bullying to End: II
- If you're the target of a workplace bully, ending the bullying can be an elusive goal. Here are some
guidelines for tactics to bring it to a close.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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