What constitutes bullying?
Why is there so much confusion about bullying? – I was listening to ‘The Bottom Line' on Radio 4 last night in my car and the three guests had a range of views on what constitutes bullying. It seems that what one person considers as bullying another just considers as ‘passion' or ‘determination'. Therefore in this edition of Inspire I am drawing on my many years of experience working as a consultant, trainer and coach in organisations. I have sometimes been asked to coach people who have been bullied, and on other occasions worked with managers whose behaviour had been seen by others as bullying. I am going to focus in this edition on bullying in the workplace but it, of course, occurs in schools, within families, friendships and communities.
Are people bullies or is this about bullying behaviour? – In my experience I have met very few, outright bullies, who are out to make other people's lives a misery, who don't care for anyone but themselves. However, I have come across many instances where people's behaviour has been bullying at times. Sometimes these people can come across as caring, even sensitive individuals much of the time, but something happens and their behaviour becomes bullying.
I remembered a manager on a workshop a few years ago who was quite anti being ‘sent' on this workshop. I often find that those participants who are the most negative to start with, if handled well, can be the most positive at the end. In the afternoon when we were exploring Transactional Analysis (TA) in relation to managing people's performance he had a Eureka moment and very bravely said: ‘I've just realised something, I am a bully'. I explained that there are few people who are out and out bullies, but it is likely that his behaviour, at times, was bullying. I am going to explain further about how this can come about using the TA model (Click here to be emailed a handout on Transactional Analysis).
What can lead to bullying behaviour? – I use Transactional Analysis (TA) on many of my workshops and I think the model clearly outlines how people's behaviour can become bullying. In order to do this I am going to share an experience that I had when coaching a particular manager.
I had been asked to coach the head of a department who had a number of grievances taken out against them for bullying. The stories I had heard meant that I was not particularly looking forward to working with this person but it was part of a larger project so I could not avoid it! When I met them they seemed very nice and I wondered what was going on for them. We were discussing the Parent, Adult, Child modes from TA and then it became obvious as to what was happening. It was a Eureka moment for myself, as well as the manager, as I realised that so many of us can get caught in this cycle resulting in bullying behaviour which starts with …
Fearful Child slipping into Controlling, Critical Parent – In this case, my client's own manager would become angry at them about mistakes that their department had made. This hooked my client's Fearful Child mode. And what had happened (and what I now realise happens to so many of us) is that the client, instead of dealing with their fears, would go straight into Controlling and Critical Parent mode. They would go back to their own department, blast the people concerned and, of course, their behaviour was bullying. This created a climate of fear amongst the staff, with them not knowing when they were going to be on the receiving end of such behaviour.
When explaining this on workshops, I often remind participants of times when as teenagers they stayed out too late. Before we got home our parents were probably pacing the house fearful of what had happened to us (in Fearful Child mode). Instead of hugging us with relief when we got home safely, they would go straight into Controlling Parent mode and ground us!
How many times have your uncontrolled fears and anxieties led to Controlling or Critical Parent behaviour?
‘Strong feelings do not necessarily make a strong character. The strength of a man is to be measured by the power of the feelings he subdues not by the power of those which subdue him.' William Carleton
Turning Fearful Child into a more constructive Adult response – This morning, as I wrote this edition of Inspire, the above quote came through via email. It seems to sum up what is needed in order to avoid bullying behaviour. What we need is the ability to manage our reactions, feelings and responses to situations so that we can respond in a calm, logical Adult manner.
For my client, the first step was to learn how to manage their emotional response when their manager was critical of them and their department. Doing this enabled them to step out of the Fearful Child mode into the more rational, logical, assertive Adult mode. They were then able to go to people in their department and discuss in a rational, calm way what the issues were and what action could be taken. This also resulted in my client eliciting a more engaged Adult mode from their staff, rather than them being in Fearful Child mode.
What situations have you found yourself in where your responses have got the better of you? When have you been able to manage your initial response to be able to communicate in a calm and rational manner?
Is there an excuse or room for bullying at times? – We are obviously only human and under extreme duress we might find it very difficult to exert the kind of control that is necessary to avoid this kind of behaviour. If it happens once in a blue moon, it is more likely to cause concern from those witnessing or being at the receiving end of it, about the person displaying it. They might wonder what is behind the unusual outburst, rather than experiencing fear, anxiety, stress or feeling bullied. The behaviour might be signalling that the person is under extreme pressure and maybe even at breaking point.
However, if this kind of behaviour happens regularly, then it is about a lack of self control and even a lack of awareness of themselves and the impact of their behaviour on others. It is not about being passionate, strong willed or anything else. It is in fact a weakness, which unfortunately others end up bearing the brunt of.
People talk about stressful jobs resulting in people blowing their top, but there are plenty of people who are in these roles or situations who do not react like this. They have learned how to handle the pressure, how to manage their reactions and communicate in a rational adult way.
The quieter side of bullying – Not all bullying behaviour is overt and involving outbursts, it can be done in a much quieter way. Some individuals do it through constantly criticising or undermining someone else's performance; it might be quiet threats about the consequences of mistakes or even excluding them from meetings and activities that they should be involved in. Sometimes this kind of bullying behaviour is harder to pinpoint for those on the receiving end as others might not witness it; it is much more subtle.
Yes, but what if …? – On workshops when I discuss this kind of behaviour with managers there is usually someone who will say, ‘Yes, but Melanie, what about situations where someone has really made a mistake/isn't seeing how crucial something is/isn't pulling their weight or has not changed in response to previous feedback? Surely then you need to give them a right *********'. My response is always that if you want someone to sit up, listen to you and take responsibility for something, then you need to engage their rational, Adult mode. Getting angry and shouting is likely to hook their Fearful or even Rebellious Child mode and you are not going to get the best from them. If disciplinary procedures are required, do them in a calm, rational Adult manner.
Do you have any, ‘Yes but, what if ...' situations? How can you handle them in a calm and rational way?
Do you or your team experience problems in….
- Being assertive?
- Working effectively with others?
- Managing conflict?
- Managing performance?
For training and coaching call Melanie on 01865 377334 or email by clicking here to arrange a time to speak in confidence. For more information about Grovelands visit our website by clicking here.