Successful Supervisor 28 – Dealing with Bullies

May 28, 2017

In any group of people (or even animals) there is usually one or more bullies. For this series I will give tips for people, but if you spend much time watching animals you will see ample evidence of bully behavior.

For any supervisor, the bullies take up an inordinate amount of time and energy to keep in check. Reason: these people have found out that they can usually get their way by being the most formidable people in the group.

They learned that the technique works years ago on the school-yard playground.

In order to have peace in the valley, other people eventually learn to not challenge the bully, so it falls on the shoulders of the supervisor to maintain order. Sometimes it is the supervisor herself that exhibits the tendencies of a bully.

Bullying has become a key concept in our society. We see forms of it in every area from the school yard to Congress, from the boardroom to the barroom, and from the Waffle House to the White House. We universally abhor the behavior in school kids, but yet we often see it practiced every day as adults.

We know the incredible destructive nature of bullying because all of us have been bullied at some point in our lives, and we know it does not feel good. We know it leads to suicide in rare cases, especially in children, because they do not know how to cope with the powerless feeling of being bullied. They would simply rather die.

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.

Some supervisors have bullying down to a fine art. Unfortunately, people in power positions have a greater temptation to use bullying because it is a way to obtain compliance. The problem is that, in organizations, mere compliance is not going to get the job done.

Organizational bullying is not confined to verbal abuse or strong body language. It also occurs when headstrong managers or supervisors become so fixated on their own agenda that 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. In this area, there is a fine line between being a passionate, driving leader who really believes and advocates for the goal versus one who is willing to hear and consider alternate points of view.

While we are mammals, we have a more developed brain and greater power to reason than lesser species. If we use that power, we should realize that bullying behavior usually leads to the opposite of what we are trying to achieve.

Bullying may seem like a convenient expedient, but it does not work well in the long run.

If you are an elk, I suspect you are only thinking of the situation at hand and reacting to a threat to your power or position. You are not thinking longer term about relationships and possible future alliances, nor do you care 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.
Applying this logic in an organization is pretty simple.

Supervisors who bully their way to get people to do their bidding are actually building up resentment and hostility. While this practice may produce short term compliance, it works against objectives long term.

By taking a kinder approach, supervisors can achieve more consistent results over the long haul and obtain full cooperation from people rather than simple compliance.

Here are 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. Keep in mind that the definition of what constitutes being yelled at is in the head of the “Yellee” rather than the “Yeller.” (My apologies to “Old Yeller”).

5. Ask for opinions often – Managers who seek knowledge, as opposed to impressing their brilliance or agenda on others, have less tendency to be bullies.

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 & Don’t be a “Steamroller” – Just because you know 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 – Regarding your relationships with people close to you, how would you like to be remembered after you are gone, or even tomorrow?

Supervisors must recognize that when they are bossing people around, they are really working at cross purposes to the culture they would like to have in their area. It takes effort to retrain yourself to avoid bully-like behavior if you have been practicing it since you were a child. Following the tips above is a good place to start changing.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Successful Supervision.” The entire series can be viewed on or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 500 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at, or 585.392.7763

Pooper Scooper at Work

July 16, 2016

My wife saw a truck the other day with an advertisement on the side for an organization called “Doody Master.” For a fee, they will come to your yard and scoop up all the little doggie muffins they can find. I suppose there are worse jobs, but really that is about the bottom (sorry, no pun intended there).

She suggested that many organizations need someone to scoop up all the human doody that people leave around the office for each other. How quaint!

Human beings working in close proximity have a remarkable capacity for driving each other crazy. It happens in organizations of all sizes and types; there are few exceptions.

When we do find an organization where people do not leave nasty little messes for their co-workers to step in, we will see a culture of trust and respect at the core.

The more I thought about it, I realized there are actually categories of doody, and maybe we could be more effective if we eliminated the sources of the mess.

What a novel idea: prevent the doody in the first place, and it eliminates the requirement to clean it up. Here are some prevention ideas:

Assume best intent

When something does not seem right, people have a tendency to assume something evil has prompted it. For example, if you get an e-mail from a coworker asking where you were yesterday, you might assume she was trying to scold you for missing an important meeting.

You might drop some doody with a sarcastic note back stating, “I intentionally missed that meeting – I figured it was totally useless.” After reading your reply, she calls to tell you that her inquiry was because she came to your office yesterday to deliver a late birthday gift, but you weren’t there.

Assuming the best intent until all the facts are in would prevent many nasty messes from ever happening.

Forgive and forget

Grudges can linger on for years in some circumstances. People who are angry with each other go out of their way to make life miserable for the other person. They undermine the positive things and set the rival up for failure whenever possible.

It becomes like a food fight of childish behaviors. Some Twitter exchanges come to mind when thinking about a food fight.

The antidote here is to remember that we are adults and try to act that way most of the time. Cut the other person some slack. There is no need to toss those mashed potatoes.

Don’t be a Chicken Little

We all probably know someone at work who goes around spreading gloom every single day. It is as if there is not enough pain and worry in the world, and this person is self appointed to correct the problem.

Imagine the impact on your organization if you could wave a magic wand and have the most negative person in your group turn into someone who always looks on the bright side of life: sort a reincarnation of Mary Poppins.

It really can happen, if the negative person is handled properly by leaders. I have written on how to accomplish this feat in my books. The technique is to “adopt” the negative person, find out what makes him or her tick, and begin to enroll this person as a positive force rather than a negative anchor.

With time and commitment, most negative individuals can be turned into positive forces within the organization. It is not possible to save every negative person, but each one that can be turned around creates major improvements in the overall culture.

Turn “gotchas” into “thank yous”

By creating a culture of respect and trust, we can reduce the human tendency to catch others doing wrong things and to rub their noses in it like when trying to train a puppy not to make a mess on the carpet.

When people look out for the good in others, they learn to find the best parts, and things go a lot more smoothly after that. The Pygmalion Effect is more pervasive and stronger than we realize.

When we seek to find the good in others, it is there in abundance.

Unfortunately, if we are looking for dodo, we are sure to find plenty of that to step in as well. It is a matter of mindset.

Use Your Emotional Intelligence

Whenever someone says or does something that really pushes your buttons, try to take a step back and consider the implications of your reaction to the stimulus. By refusing to take the “bait” that was dangled by the other person, you are taking the high road, and you come out the winner.

Try to take greater pleasure in avoiding a nasty confrontation than you would by putting the other person in his or her place. The trick is to build in some dwell time and not flash a response when the bait is thrown your way. It takes great restraint and some practice, but the rewards are delicious.

The most powerful way to prevent interpersonal messes is to remember we are not Golden Retrievers. Instead, seek to use the Golden Rule every day, and see a greatly reduced need to clean up ugly messes at work.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, 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. For more information, or to bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at, or 585.392.7763

Reducing Conflict at Work

September 26, 2015

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe that people in a work setting have a remarkable ability to drive each other crazy. The same is true for our personal lives, but I want to focus on the work environment in this article.

Here are 12 simple ideas that can reduce the conflict between people and provide a more pleasant work environment:

1. Reverse Roles – When people take opposing sides in an argument, they become blind to the alternate way of thinking. This polarization causes people to become intransigent, and the rancor escalates.

A simple fix is to get each party to verbalize the points being made by the other person. To accomplish this, each person must truly understand the other person’s perspective, which is why the technique is effective.

2. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – Most of the things that drive you crazy about a co-worker are things that you won’t remember by the end of the day or certainly not later in the week.

Recognize that the things annoying you about another person are really insignificant when considering the bigger picture and the numerous things both of you have in common.

3. Live and Let Live – The other person’s personal habits are just the way he or she is built. Don’t fixate on trying to change the person to conform to what you think should happen. Focus your attention on the things you like to do.

4. Take a Vacation – When pressure builds up, just take a brief vacation in your mind. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and visualize a happier place and time.

For example, you can take a vicarious trip to the beach anytime you wish. One trick with this technique is to get as many senses involved as possible;

  • feel the warm air on your cheek,
  • taste the salt water on your lips,
  • hear the gentle lapping of the waves,
  • smell the seaweed by your feet,
  • touch the warm sand on which you are sitting,
  • see the beautiful sunset over the water.

5. Be Nice – Kindness begets kindness. Share a treat, say something soothing, compliment the other person, do something helpful. These things make it more difficult for the ill feelings to spread.

6. Extend Trust – Ernest Hemingway said, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” We’ll forgive the flawed grammar, since Ernest is already in the grave, and also since his meaning is powerfully true.

Trust is bilateral, and you can usually increase trust by extending more of it to others. In my work, I call this “The First Law of Trust.”

7. Don’t Talk Behind their Back – When you spread gossip about people, a little of it eventually leaks back to them, and it will destroy the relationship. If there is an issue, handle it directly, just as you would have that person do with you.

8. Don’t Regress to Childish Behavior – It is easy for adults in the work setting to act like children. You can witness it every day. Get off the playground, and remember to act like an adult.

Work is not a place to have tantrums, sulk, pout, have a food fight, undermine, or any number of common tactics used by people who are short on coping mechanisms because of their immaturity.

9. Care About the Person – It is hard to be upset with someone you really care about. Recognize that the load other people carry is equal or heavier than your own.

Show empathy and try to help them in every way possible. This mindset is the route to real gratitude.

10. Listen More Than You Speak – When you are talking or otherwise expounding, it is impossible to be sensitive to the feelings of the other person. Take the time to listen to the other person.

Practice reflective listening and keep the ratio of talking to listening well below 50%.

11. Create Your Development Plan – Most individuals have a long list of what other people need to do to shape up but a rather short list of the things they need to improve upon. Make sure you identify the things in your own behavior that need to change, and you will take the focus off the shortcomings of others.

12. Follow the Golden Rule – The famous Golden Rule will cure most strife in any organization. We tend to forget to apply it to our everyday battles at work.

If we would all follow these 12 simple rules, there would be a lot less conflict in the work place. It takes some effort, but it is really worth it because we spend so much time working with other people.

Following these rules also means leading by example. If just a few people in an organization model these ideas, other people will see the impact and start to abide by them as well. That initiative can form a trend that will change an entire culture in a short period of time.

The above ideas are part of a set of videos for improving human interactions. The program is entitled “Surviving the Corporate Jungle.” You can view three demo videos for free by clicking on this link. Each segment is just 3 minutes in duration. If you are interested in purchasing the entire 30 video set, use promo code JUNGLE to obtain a 70% discount.

I’m OK – You’re not OK

January 10, 2015

two doctors discussingThis is a reissue of a popular article I wrote five years ago with some edits.

I have made an observation after listening to people vent about problem individuals at work or at home.

It seems most people have a rather long list of things that other individuals must do to improve but a rather short list of things they need to change in their own behavior.

I guess it is human nature to excuse or rationalize one’s own shortcomings while focusing on the obvious improvement needs of others. Since nearly everyone practices this little deception, the world must be rife with almost perfect people who wish the other people around them would shape up. Hmmm – something is wrong with this picture?

Here are a dozen tips that can change the pattern for you. Print them out and post them at work. Feel free to add more concepts of your own.

Tip #1 – Reverse the Roles.

The other day a student was venting about a particular individual who was a major challenge at work. The student described in gory detail several behavioral things the other person constantly did that drove him up the wall.

I asked him to write an analysis about himself from the perspective of that other person. In other words, what would the other person tell me about him if he had the chance. That brought the student up short, and he admitted it would be a rather humbling exercise to do.

Tip #2 – Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.

It is a well known fact that most married couples fight over the little things that become habitual annoyances on a daily basis. The position of the toilet seat is a great example. How come I can never get my wife to leave the toilet seat up? (smile)

It is not the 401K account that most couples argue about daily, it is who gets the remote control, or why the toothpaste tube is always topless.

So, if we can just remember that the small stuff is really just that, then maybe we can relax a bit.

Tip #3 – Live and Let Live.

If a cubicle mate hums when she is happy, it is no reason to have a coronary over it. This is her outlet and way to be cheerful. Even though it curdles your skin when it goes on and on, why burst her balloon by pointing out her “problem”?

If it is an unconscious habit, she will never be able to control it anyway. Simply buy a pair of noise canceling head phones and play the kind of music you like.

Let a happy person be happy or a miserable person be miserable. Focus your energy on creating your own sphere of cheerfulness rather than trying to change the rest of the world.

Tip #4 – Distract Yourself from Your Frustration

Find some way to get away from the petty squabbles before they bring you to the snapping point. If you cannot actually leave without penalty, it does not stop you from mentally checking out. Just go for a little vacation in your mind.

Actually imagine smelling the giant pines if you love to hike. Feel the frost on your cheeks if you like to ski. Taste the chocolate chip cookie if you like to eat, or how about a relaxing hot tub while sitting at your desk?

Imagining happier places has kept many POWs alive for years; the same technique can keep you sane until 5 o’clock.

Tip #5 – Share a Treat

Just because someone drives you nuts by clipping his nails in the morning is no reason to hate him all day long. Find some symbolic olive branch and waive it around.

Go get two chocolate bars and give him one. Bring him in a bag of his favorite flavor of coffee. By extending kindness, we get kindness in return. Usually people know what they do that drives us crazy.

If we change our body language rather than keep festering about “their problem” and learn to accentuate the positive, then the other person will likely respond in kind.

Tip #6 – Extend Trust

The reciprocal nature of trust says that you can improve another person’s trust in you by extending more trust to him or her.

When we build up a higher account balance of trust, the petty issues seem to melt away because we are focused on what is good about the other person rather than idiosyncrasies that drive us bonkers.

The best way to increase trust is to reinforce people who are candid with us about our own shortcomings. That takes emotional intelligence to do, but it works wonders at improving relationships.

Tip #7 – Don’t Complain About Others Behind their Back

Speak well of other people as much as possible. The old adage “if you cannot say something nice about someone don’t say anything” is really good advice.

When we gripe about others when they are not present, a little of the venom always leaks out to the other person, either directly or indirectly. Never make a joke about another person at his or her expense. A wise old pastor taught me that rule 40 years ago, and it is a great rule.

If a person is doing something that really bothers you, simply tell him or her in as kind a way as possible why you find the action irritating.

Tip #8 – Stop Acting Like a Child

The lengths people go to in order to strike back at others for annoying them often takes on the air of a food fight in grade school.

Escalating e-mail notes is a great example of this phenomenon. I call them e-grenade battles. It is easy to avoid these squabbles if we simply do not take the bait.

When you find yourself going back and forth with another person more than three times, it is time to change the mode of communication. Pick up the phone or walk down the hall for a chat.

Tip #9 – Care About the Other Person

If we really do care enough to not get bent out of shape over little things, then we can tolerate inconveniences a lot better. What we get back from others is really a reflection of the vibes we put out ourselves.

If we are feeling prickly and negative reactions from others, we need to check our attitude toward them. While it is convenient to blame them, often we are the cause of the negativity: they are simply a mirror.

Tip #10 – Picture the other person as the most important person in your life

If all else fails, try to remember that life is short and to expend energy bickering and griping about others really wastes your most precious resource – your time.

How much better it is to go through life laughing and loving than griping and hating. We do have a choice when it comes to the attitudes we show other people. Make sure your choice enriches others as well as yourself.

Tip#11 – Have your Own Personal Development Plan

Start out each day with a few minutes of meditation on how you want to present yourself better to your co-workers. Have a list of areas you are trying to improve on.

This mindset crowds out some of the rotten attitudes that can lead you to undermine other’s actions all day. Create a list of your personal improvement areas and work on them daily.

Tip #12 – Follow the Golden Rule

Finally, the famous Golden Rule is the most positive way to prevent petty issues from becoming relationship destroyers.

By simply taking the time to figure out how you would like to be treated if the roles were reversed, you will usually make the right choice for building and preserving great relationships.

You Can’t Do the Best You Can

May 24, 2014

Lou HoltzLou Holtz, the famous football coach, did a video program in the 1980’s entitled “Do Right.” It is one of the most watched inspirational videos of all time.

In it, Lou suggested three little rules he had for every team he ever coached and also for his family.

1) Do Right,

2) Do the best you can, and

3) Treat others the way you would like to be treated.

Each one of these rules sounds logical, but each one can cause problems if applied literally.

I have challenged #3, the “Golden Rule,” in other articles by pointing out that not everyone would want to be treated the way I want to be treated. That problem has led some people to consider the “Platinum Rule,” which is “treat others the way they would like to be treated.”

The Platinum Rule is more flawed than the Golden Rule, because if we treat others the way they want to be treated, we would go broke giving them things that are not particularly good for them.

Rule 3 really boils down to treating each individual the right way. That also implies not treating everyone the same way, because each person has individual needs.

The #1 rule, “Do right,” seems straight forward until we try to make it operational. There are always conflicting forces in any decision, and it becomes a conundrum to know what the right thing really is.

Often we find that the “right” thing to do in the morning is not the best choice for the afternoon. Doing what is right is always situational, and each person’s analysis of that situation will determine the rightness of any particular action.

Therefore there is no absolute right thing to do in any circumstance.

We have to use our judgment.

The #2 rule, “Do the best you can,” sounds bulletproof until we stop and think about it. I have never done anything to the absolute best of my ability because when I think back, there is always something I could have done to improve my actions.

There is no way for me to be as smart as I am capable of, or as clever, or as sensitive. In any of my actions there is always room for improvement: sometimes quite a bit of room.

Striving to do the best we can is a formula for analysis-paralysis. With only a little more thought, we can always come up with something better to handle any situation. Therefore, if we follow Lou Holtz’s second rule to the maximum, we will spend all of our time planning and no time doing.

I am reminded of Edward Deming’s famous formula “Plan, Do, Check, Act.” By repeating this cycle over and over, organizations can learn from their mistakes and provide continuous improvement that moves in the direction of perfection without actually ever reaching it.

The irony is that many groups have found a way to modify Deming’s formula such that it looks like this: “Plan, Plan, Plan, Do, Hope.”

In order to make the most progress toward the goal of perfection, we actually need to jettison the ideal of reaching perfection and take up the cause of progress. That is how we can optimize our performance over time.

In retrospect, I think that Lou Holtz’s three rules would be more operational if they were stated,

1) Do good work,

2) Do the best you can with the resources available, and

3) Treat all people the right way.

These rules are pragmatic and allow us to be flexible as we seek to make each day better than the one before.

Golden Rule or Platinum Rule?

April 5, 2014

Black pot full of gold coinsThe most important rule in business is the one your parents taught you. The famous “Golden Rule” applies to nearly every situation and will normally provide the right answer to any quandary about what to do.

If more leaders would simply treat other people as they would like to be treated, we would have a major improvement in culture in organizations. There is one significant challenge to the Golden Rule that is a special case.

Let’s say that I am a leader in an organization, and I am most happy when stacked up with so much work that it seems impossible to get it all done. I just love to be overloaded.

If I would treat everyone around me by piling more work on them than they can handle, that is not going to produce happy or productive workers.

So, in the special case, where a leader wants things that other people would not appreciate, the Golden Rule breaks down. I claim that does not happen very often, but we do need to allow for the possibility before blindly applying the Golden Rule.

Knowing this conundrum, people got clever and invented the “Platinum Rule,” which states, “Treat other people the way they want to be treated.”

The Platinum Rule was posited by Karl Popper in World War II in The Open Society and its Enemies. That rule seems to avoid the problems with the Golden Rule, but when you stop and think about it, the Platinum Rule has even more flaws than the Golden Rule.

Reason: all people would like more money, less work, more freedom, less responsibility, more cake, etc.

If a leader of an organization would follow the Platinum Rule, it would be a disaster, because the business would quickly go bankrupt. Giving people everything they want would not be good for them or the business.

So, if you cannot always treat people the way you want to be treated, or treat them the way they want to be treated, how do you treat them?

The answer is disarmingly simple. You need to treat people the right way. What does this mean?

Treating people the right way means understanding a lot of things at once. Here are some considerations you must think about before deciding how to treat people.

1. What are their needs? Each person in the world is unique. We cannot assume that what is a good policy toward one person will work for others.

When you treat everyone the same way, you are actually discriminating because you inadvertently favor one over the other.

John Wooden, the famous basketball coach from UCLA, once said, “The most sure way to play favorites is to treat every player the same way.” That quote sounds backward until you stop and think about it.

2. What is in their best interest? Many people lust after things that would cause them harm. Just step inside a jail, and you will see that the overwhelming majority of people are there because they tried to beat the system or break rules.

But here we also need to use judgment, because what may not be in the best interest to one person may be perfectly okay for someone else.

For example, throwing an ice cream social for employees might be a positive event, but if some of the employees have diabetes, the party may be ill advised.

When leaders try to determine what is in the best interest of an individual, it is a little like playing God. A leader cannot fully comprehend what an individual is experiencing in life, so trying to guess what is in the person’s best interest is never a perfect science.

3. What is right for the organization? It is often the case that people cannot have everything they want in order for the organization to survive.

We can invent a set of rules for a utopian existence for employees, but ultimately they will not be employed very long because the organization will die quickly.

Leaders need to consider a complex blend of individual and organizational needs before making up rules.

4. What is right for the planet? We are increasingly aware that our fragile spaceship is hurting. Life is already becoming intolerable with brutal swings in weather patterns.

It is not hard to imagine the suffering that mankind will be forced to endure if we are unable to reverse the trends we already see.

We do not want it to be too hot or too cold or too dry or too wet. We don’t want 30 foot waves crashing through our front windows. We would prefer that tornados become a thing of the past and earthquakes stop their rumbling.

When you stop and think about the very narrow set of conditions in which we are comfortable and all the possible ways things can go wrong, it is a miracle we have managed to survive as a species so long.

5. What treatment shows people that we care? That is a complex question, because we care about a lot of things simultaneously.

We need to balance all these things and make judgments in how we treat people. Given the infinite variety of people and conditions, that means some people are not always going to feel well served.

While we need to keep all these questions in play, my thesis is that the good-old “Golden Rule” is a pretty good first approximation for how to treat others.

It takes into account all of the variables above, and it works in most cases. If you are a person who would want what others do not want, you need to make the appropriate adjustment to the rule, but for the rest of us, we should seek to treat others the way we would like to be treated if the roles and situations were reversed.

The Meaning of Trust

October 26, 2013

SSE-Cover-10-2013thumbYou may be interested in an article that was published in the October edition of Sales and Service Excellence Magazine. I reveal my top five ways to build trust within an organization.

Meaning of Trust October Sales and Service Excellence, October 2013

The following video is referenced in the article: