I used to think of workplace bullying as being directed downwards from those in power, yet recently I have noticed several cases where the bullying is the other way – a manager is being bullied by a team member. This ‘upward bullying’ is not as rare as we might think. A 2005 report from the Chartered Management Institute in the UK says of 512 executives surveyed, 39% have been bullied at some stage in their careers. The research showed that middle managers are the most bullied and women managers are more likely to be bullied than men.
In the examples I have come across, the staff member doing the bullying has usually been getting away with bullying other managers and has often been doing it for a long time. If you are the manager in the situation, think about the possibility that you have inherited the problem. This means that when you confront the behaviour you are dealing not only with poor behaviour from the bully, but also inadequacy from at least some of the hierarchy. Rather than risk a PG, upper level managers will expect you to somehow work around the problem. Give yourself a pat on the back for confronting an historic problem – its effects are toxic on the workplace as well as on you.
Let’s start with handling behaviour that feels rather like that bullying but you are not sure if it is. Admitting to being bullied is very embarrassing and it can be easy for the bully to convince you that this type of problemr is somehow caused by your own inadequacy.
- Start by keeping careful track of the negative behaviour – when, where, what was said or done etc. This gets your mind clear for step 2, but also may be necessary information further down the formal track.
- Address each problem incident promptly with the person involved. Work on your feedback skills so that you are giving clear, specific feedback to the person involved. Keep your emotions in check and make sure you ask questions so that you create the opportunity for the other side to be heard. Whilst using your listening skills, make sure you listen to your own needs for co-operative behaviour from the staff member concerned.
Le’ts say the first stage hasn’t worked, what next?
- Is this bullying? Bullying is on-going unreasonable behaviour that is often aimed at undermining or humiliating the recipient. Bullying is bullying regardless of its direction. Check out your perceptions with a trusted experienced person.
- Check out the workplace bullying policy in your organisation. Consult with your Human Resources section to get some support and expectations in place. Often the HR people have heard rumblings about this person for some time and will be keen to get the problem sorted.
- Now make your own plan of approach that creates a set of deadlines for communicating with the person involved, expectation for changes in behaviour and so on. It is a lot easier to deal with the whole difficult process if you know where you are in your process and know the next steps if you have to up the ante.
- Get yourself some background professional support in the form of EAP, or outside counseling. Dealing with bullying is very emotionally debilitating so don’t expect yourself just to battle on single-handedly.
- Now embark on your plan of action. The feedback discussions will now be much more formal. Workplace bullies do not like their behaviour being exposed. In very difficult cases, you may need to consider having someone else present.
The fight will be difficult, but you can get through it.