Reducing Conflict 63 Don’t Bully

Do squirrels bully each other? As I was having breakfast today, I was watching some squirrels chase each other around the backyard. I started thinking of various animal species. In every group of animals, a certain amount of bullying behavior goes on. It is a “survival of the fittest” world in the animal kingdom. Maybe that is why we humans exhibit some form of bullying behavior in order to get our way.

Bullying is everywhere

The practice of bullying has become a key concept in our society. We see forms of it in every area from the schoolyard to Congress. It shows up from the boardroom to the barroom. This behavior in school kids is unacceptable, but we often see it practiced unchallenged as adults.

We know the incredibly destructive nature of bullying because we all have been bullied at some point. It does not feel good. The practice leads to suicide in rare cases, especially in children. They cannot cope with the powerless feeling of being bullied and would simply rather die.

We all bully

It is also true that each one of us has been guilty of bullying another person at some point. If you wish to deny that, you need to think harder. Some of us have played the role of the bully more than others. Many managers have it down to a fine art. Unfortunately, people in power positions have a greater temptation to use bullying. It is a way to obtain compliance.  The problem is that, in organizations, mere compliance is not adequate for long-term survival.

How managers bully

Organizational bullying is not confined to verbal abuse or strong body language.  We see it when headstrong managers become fixated on their own agenda. It renders them effectively deaf to the ideas or concerns of others. They become like a steamroller and push their agenda with little regard for what others think. 

Humans have an advantage

While we are mammals, we have a more developed brain and greater power to reason than lesser species. We should realize that bullying behavior usually leads to the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.  It may seem like a convenient expedient, but it does not work well in the long run.

Contrast with animals

If you are an elk, you only think of the current situation. You are reacting to a threat to your power or position or where you will get your next meal. The focus is not about relationships and possible future alliances.  There is no considering how your behaviors might inspire other elk to perform at their best. The aptitude to plan and care is what separates man from the animal world.

Bullying in organizations

Applying this logic in an organization is pretty simple. Managers who bully their way to get people to do their bidding are actually building up resentment and hostility.  While this may produce short-term compliance, it works against objectives long term. Take a kinder approach. You can achieve more results over the long haul and obtain full cooperation from people rather than simple compliance.

Ten tips to reduce the tendency to bully other people:

  1. Ask if you would want to be treated this way – Simply apply the Golden Rule.
  2. Observe the reaction and body language in other people – If they cower or retreat when you bark out commands, you are coming on too strong.
  3. Be sensitive to feedback – It takes courage to listen when someone tells you that you are being a bully. Ask for that feedback, and listen when it is given.
  4. Speak more softly and slowly – Yelling at people makes them feel bullied even if that is not your intention. When you get excited, lower rather than raise your voice.
  5. Ask for opinions often – Other people have good ideas too.
  6. Think before speaking – Ask yourself if this is the way to gain real commitment or just temporary compliance. Is it good for the culture?
  7. Reduce the number of absolutes you use – Saying “You never do anything right” cannot possibly be true. Soften absolutes to allow for some reason.
  8. Listen more and talk less – When you are shouting at people you cannot possibly hear their rationale or their point of view. Hear people out; do not interrupt them.
  9. Don’t attack or abuse the weak – Knowing an individual is too insecure to fight back is no reason to run over him or her. It only reveals your own weakness.
  10. Write your epitaph – How would you like to be remembered after you are gone?

Animals have a hard time following the Golden Rule, and there is a bully in every group. Humans have the power to actually modify our behavior. We can think more strategically and do things that are right for the long term. Caring for people creates a culture of trust that is sustainable.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPTD, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.  Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. 

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