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Managing your workplace beasts

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Are you dealing with big cats, elephants and snakes in the office? John Bittleston, chairman of Terrific Mentors International, delves into the jungle of workplace bullying. 

Everyone is familiar with the concept of playground bullies, but no one necessarily expects this behaviour to carry on into the workplace.

Unfortunately it happens, and when it does it reduces productivity, damages staff morale and wrecks the corporate culture. Whether you’re an HR manager wanting to create an ideal work environment, or unfortunate victim of workplace bullying, you can help keep bullies in check.

First, identify what sort of a bully you are dealing with. I like the analogy of wild animals, and have placed work bullies into three types – The Big Cat, the Elephant and the Snake.

The Big Cat

Most workplace bullies are Big Cats – nervous, cunning, patient and hungry. As when dealing with the animal, the best way to deal with the Big Cat is full face, showing no fear. The cat will probably back away, so remember to leave them a way out. Corner them and they will strike.

When facing Big Cat, politely but firmly answer back. Do not get heated, especially not if they do. Simply refusing to accept the bullying and saying something like “don’t bully me” works wonders. Or perhaps, “you wouldn’t accept that if someone asked you to do it, would you? Nor will I.”

Make the comment light, not heavy and pompous and try to smile as you say it. This provides the Big Cat a way out.

If this doesn’t not work when an employee does it, then you need to step in and ask for a private chat. Set out your thoughts and feelings calmly and rationally. Ask questions, such as:

  • Why did you ask them to do that when you know it is not their job?
  • Why did you say that when you know it will hurt them or make them lose face?
  • Are you trying to get rid of them?

The answers will reveal a lot about the bully and you need all the information you can get. Take note of their answers and let them see you are doing so. If they ask why you are writing, inform them that what they say is important  and you want to remember it properly.

When confronted, most Big Cats back down. If this happens, make a note of it, thank them and leave. Do not prolong the meeting.

The Elephant

Within the workplace, the Elephant is the big boss. Mostly big bosses are decent people and their success makes it unnecessary for them to bully others. Unfortunately, this is not the case for all.

Some Elephants know they are bullies and keep people close to them, whom they pay highly, to take their bullying. If you are an employee in this situation and refuse to accept it, quit.

To deal with an Elephant, first try the Big Cat tactics mentioned above. If that doesn’t work, you can liberally apply the flatteery technique – but don’t go over the top. Most Elephants react well to flattery because they love it and believe it. While it might not be the way you want to approach this particular bully, it can get them off someone’s back.

If these tactics don’t work, get a lawyer and settle for the best exit package that you can. Remember it is the Elephant’s loss and the firm’s – not yours.

The Snake

This type of bully is so cunning, you may not even be aware that they are bullying people until it’s too late, and the workplace has been poisoned by their venom or trapped in their coils.

Snakes rely on lying for their results. Lies are difficult to deal with because you can’t always spot them and even if you can, it can often be hard to prove someone is lying. So, how do you deal with the Snake in the office?

In the jungle there is one effective way; clear the bush so it has no cover. In the office this means exposing each lie, whether they are verbal stories that get back to you via employees or emails that undermine your position. Where possible, this should be done in a good-humoured way – like the Big Cat – so the Snake has a way out and does not benefit from the lies.

The best way to expose lies is to ask questions – to those who report the lies to you, as well as to the Snakes on why they are behaving in this way. Ask the Snake how you can help to improve their situation. This often disarms them, as it is unexpected.

Arm yourself with as much information as you can in case it gets to the point where you need to fight to the death – dismissing the bully.

Hopefully this drastic outcome isn’t necessary, and by ensuring the right work environment is cultivated, you can prevent a work bully from becoming a problem.

Remember: “A bully is an insecure person struggling to overcome his weakness. These who help him do so transform two lives – his and their own.”


Image: Shutterstock

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