Four Strategies to Curb Workplace Bullying


If you are a leader who lacks humility, thinks you can do no wrong and has the inability for self-reflection STOP HERE!

Don’t go any further… Today’s article will only piss you off and cause you to become defensive. I don’t want to put you through that.

Every day we go to work with great intentions.

As leaders, we never think, ‘Today, I’m going to make our work environment hell.’ In fact, if you were to respond to a survey, you probably would say that you have a wonderful and open relationship with your employees. You would probably give yourself high marks in creating the best work environment for your team.

Statistically, though, there are three people responsible for your work environment. If you are a manager or a leader in your organization, you can pull out your cell phone, open up your camera as if to take a selfie, look at yourself and recognize that the three people who set the tone for your organization are, ‘Me, Myself and I.”

Bullying By the Numbers

Don’t getNo matter how angry one gets, we still need to treat each other with courtesy me wrong, you are probably a very nice person. But according to a 2021 WBI U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 65% of bullies are bosses… If you are in the majority, that could be you.

Here’s another test. Have you ever said:

  • “It doesn’t happen here.”
  • “Bullying has no serious impact here.”
  • “Being tough does not make me a bully.”
  • “People have to know when I’m not happy with them.”
  • “Sometimes you have to whip ‘them’ into shape.”

Unfortunately, the five most common reactions to any complaints of mistreatment or bullying is:

  • Deny it
  • Discount it
  • Encourage it
  • Defend it
  • Rationalize it

 Other key findings are:

  • 60% of respondents say that American employers still react negatively when bullying is reported.
  • The most frequently chosen “positive” employer reaction to workplace bullying was “zero-tolerance.”

Despite these statistics, I still believe that inside each leader’s heart is an aspiration to make a turnaround towards good behaviour. I’m a firm believer of Stephen Covey’s ideals on humility and wisdom in leadership. “It takes humility to seek feedback. It takes wisdom to understand it, analyze it and appropriately act on it.” 

We Have The Power

As leaders, we are in a place of power and influence. As Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  But it is we, as leaders, who tend to cross the threshold (which sets the tone for our culture), into the realm of incivility and unkindness,

There was a quote somewhere about the best test of character is what a person does when no one is around. I believe the true test of character is how we react when we are in crisis–when the good old lizard brain takes over. 

Offending someoneSometimes, we carelessly blurt out unkind comments or words. We might instantly regret the words. You think to yourself, “Rats, I shouldn’t have said that.” But we move on to deal with the crisis at hand. We forget about it. It’s over. But the benefactor of those unkind words NEVER forgets. 

To this day, 42 years after it happened, I still remember what it felt like when Steve chastised me with raised voice and expletives in front of the whole team… and customers. It’s easy to justify that really it is he who looked bad and unprofessional. But being at the brunt of his tirade made me feel devalued, stupid and embarrassed. I was powerless and felt robbed of my dignity.

The Backroom Bully

But, there is a more insidious, more indirect form of bullying that I have seen time and again. The backroom bully.

Unbeknownst to you, your influence can create bullies out of your own people. Through your influence, they will ‘echo bully’ in your stead.

Think of a backroom conversation you had with managers and supervisors. Maybe you were frustrated with a situation with an employee. Maybe you used derogatory remarks, statements and judgements about the person. To you, you were venting, getting something off your chest. To your supervisor, you were creating a mission. 

Not only do they adopt the same habit of backroom venting (and gossiping), when they deal face-to-face with the source of your angst, they take on the role as the aggressor. Let’s face it, if you said in your backroom, closed-door tirade that Donna was a “useless piece of sh*t,” how will the supervisors now treat Donna? 

The cycle of destructive, demeaning behaviour is perpetuated as the victims try to regain a sense of power in their lives by bullying other vulnerable co-workers. Making your business a very unhappy place to work.

The bullying spectrum reveals a cycle of manipulators and dominators hurting victims. The consequence is poor performance by the victim (and witnesses), lower customer satisfaction, higher labour turnover and ultimately lower profits.

The Four-Step Strategy

Here’s a 4-Step Strategy to help you curb uncivil behaviours that only bring havoc to your team’s morale and culture. Let’s dive in to jumpstart your road to a healthy relationship with your teams. As the adage goes, “the way you do anything is the way you do everything.”  

1. Reflect            

It’s a critical step to pause and retrace your steps on why that happened and why you acted that way. Face the music by taking the time to reflect why you needed to say or do what you did. Look at your own behaviour. Why did I feel it necessary to dominate that person? 

I’ve seen leaders in the foodservice industry who reprimanded their staff in public. And when I asked them why they did it, they justified that everyone would know it’s wrong and won’t commit the same mistake themselves. But the problem is when you affect everybody, everyone suffers. Should there be any mistake, those concerned should not be shamed in public. They deserve to be heard and understood. And if after realizing that a correction is badly needed, it should be done in private and with kindness.

Check out Marc’s full episode.

2. Apologize

An apology is required not only to your victim but also to your team surrounding the victim.

In Christine Porath’s book, Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace, she talks about the spinoff effect of witnessed incivility. The whole performance of the team is affected when they witness incivility. The neurological impact of stress that a victim feels is just as much as those who saw it. Hence, it’s imperative that you take the time to apologize, not only to the victim but to your whole team as well.

3. Create an Environment of Accountability

Gettingtogether to discuss the problem is a sure-fire way to resolve the problemThe best way to approach regretful behaviour is to acknowledge the damage you’ve done. Then, start defining with your team how you want to behave. It’s okay to say, “Guys, I’m really sorry I behaved that way. I never want to treat you that badly.”

Create an environment of accountability. Remember as the leader, you are modeling the behaviour you want from everyone. 

One of my coaching clients and his team came up with the word ‘hippopotamus,’ whenever they felt like they wanted to swear. Bullying and swearing were avoided and the situation became lighthearted, fun, and open. When everybody hears the word ‘hippopotamus,’ that would be an indicator that the person needed help. And they would start mimicking it, saying “Hip hop, hip hop, hippopotamus.” This playful way of saying it somehow helps lighten someone’s load. And everyone showed how they wanted to extend any help.

My improv teacher had us use the word “pineapple” if we ever felt threatened (in any way) with how we were being treated. I suggest you come up with a “safe word,” that your team members can use…. Personally, I like “Papa Smurf.” It’s just fun to say.

Then, train your team as to the expected next steps. 

4. Get yourself a Coach or Peer Group

Self-reflection is fine, but not all the time. There will be occasions when you need to bounce off what’s troubling you personally and professionally. You’ll need a trusted and unbiased coach to listen to you, to reveal a more profound desire or need. Somebody to whom you can be accountable, take in your frustrations and provide that safety for you as a leader. But most of all, a coach can help you start thinking of productive ways to redirect those frustrations and regrets.

The key to unlocking the door to being helped is humility. When you’ve got the humility to acknowledge your weaknesses and ask for help you make yourself a better leader and you model the leadership you expect in others.

If your company has problems with bullying, please reach out to Canadian Safety Council’s website and the websites. 

 As the business owner, manager or leader, you are the one at the helm. You are piloting the ship. You have the power and you have the choice to lead with love and kindness first.

I look forward to your comments. Are there any other strategies you use?

About the Author:

Marc Haine is a Service Expert and a Master of Experience. He is a sought-after speaker and trainer working with businesses that need to attract and engage their best customers. Driven by his passion for creating experiences that rock, Marc has worked with retail, casinos, hotels, associations and municipalities to help them design jaw-dropping experiences that get them noticed.
Marc knows what it takes for businesses to exceed experience expectations–The first step, each day, as you open your doors to the public, have you and your staff yell, “IT’S SHOWTIME!”
Marc is one of the world’s foremost authorities on customer journey experience touchpoints and is the author of LIGHTS! CAMERA! ACTION! Business Operational Excellence through the Lens of Live Theatre (Check out the new way of looking at your business HERE).
Marc is offering a free 30-minute brainstorming session with you and your team. Click Here to book a time that works for you on his online calendar.
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