Leadership Barometer 52 Leading Without Bullying

May 28, 2020

As I was having breakfast today, I was gazing out the window watching some squirrels chase each other around the back yard.

I started thinking of the various animal species and the fact that 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 often exhibit some form of bullying behavior in order to get our way.

Bullying has become a key concept in our society. We see forms of it in every area from the school yard to top levels of the government, from the boardroom to the barroom.

We universally abhor the behavior in school kids, but yet we often see it practiced unchallenged 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 managers have it 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. We need engagement and excellence, which are far different concepts than compliance.

Organizational bullying is not confined to verbal abuse or strong body language. It also occurs when headstrong managers 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. It may seem like a convenient expedient, but it does not work well in the long run.

If you are an elk, 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. Managers who bully their way to get people to do their bidding are actually building up resentment and hostility.

While bullying may produce short term compliance, it works against objectives long term. By taking a kinder approach, managers can achieve more consistent results over the long haul and obtain full engagement of 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.

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 – 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 and insecurity.

10. Write your epitaph – Regarding your relationships with people close to you, how would you like to be remembered after you are gone?

My breakfast observation for today was that animals have a hard time following the Golden Rule, and there is a bully in every group.

We humans have the power to actually modify our behavior to think more strategically and do things that are not only right for now, but right for the long term. Caring for people creates a culture of trust that is sustainable.

Bob Whipple is CEO of Leadergrow, Inc. an organization dedicated to growing leaders. He is author of the following books: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind, and Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change.


Body Language 57 Time Out

December 6, 2019

The time out signal is a common hand gesture that is rarely misinterpreted, yet there are some subtle differences in meaning to discuss.

Let’s focus in on the different meanings first and then cover a highly useful application of the gesture in an organization setting.

Please stop talking

If another person is babbling on in a private setting or in a group meeting, you can signal it is time to stop talking and start listening by using the time out signal. This is a helpful use when you are having a hard time getting your points out.

The caveat here is that you would use the gesture sparingly. If you made the motion two or three times, it would most certainly annoy the person who is speaking. It would seem like you are cutting off the person.

Also, this use would be ill-advised if you used it to shut up a superior. If the boss wants to talk, it is usually a good idea to allow it.

I need time to think

When a lot of information is being shared in a steady stream, people sometimes need a break for their brains to catch up with the content. The time out gesture would let the presenter know it is time to at least slow down so all people can understand and absorb the content.

This topic is dangerous

You might warn a fellow worker that to pursue a certain line of reasoning is going to backfire. Rather than interrupt the person verbally, the time out signal will call the question and let the speaker know it would be wise to change the subject. You could accompany the hand signal with facial cues that indicate caution, just be sure to verify the right message was received and was not misinterpreted.

Time for a counterpoint

If one person is landing multiple points in support of a one-sided viewpoint and you want to allow some balance, the time out signal will provide that opportunity without saying any words.

Need a break

If, during a long presentation, you or others need to take a bio break, the time out signal can let the facilitator know it is time to take care of the bodily functions. Also, maybe the group just needs to stretch and take in some oxygen.

Call for a vote

If several arguments have been given on a hotly divided topic and you want to call for a vote, the time out signal can get that message out, even while the conversation is continuing.

Need to caucus

During negotiations, it is often necessary to separate teams to discuss strategy. The time out signal is useful for letting the parties know they need to separate for a while.

We are wasting time

Perhaps the most helpful use of the time out sign is in a meeting situation where one person in the room feels the group is spinning wheels going over the same content or dwelling on trivial content when there are more important things to discuss.

This technique is an excellent way to prevent wasting time, but everyone in the group needs to agree ahead of time that nobody will be punished for showing the time out sign. The idea is to establish a group norm that allows the signal to be given by any individual with no negative repercussions.

It is then up to the leader of the group to acknowledge that at least one person has an issue. The first order of business is to thank the individual for expressing a concern, and then find out what the specific concern is.

It may be that the individual wants the group to take a break, or maybe the person feels the current content is not proper or redundant. Get an accurate description of why the person gave the time out signal. This is done by asking open-ended questions.

The leader would then check if others have the same feeling, and if so, make the change. If the person giving the hand signal is the only person interested in changing direction, then he or she needs to be treated with respect for the input but recognize there are other opinions among the group members.

The time out hand signal is a wonderful tool if used correctly, as described above. If used with a heavy hand or followed by ridicule then significant damage to trust is being done. It is up to leaders to set the tone for the correct usage so the method will be a way to enhance trust and transparency over time.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language” by Bob Whipple “The Trust Ambassador.”


Reboot Every Day

June 17, 2012

Surprise! This article has nothing at all to do with computers or technology. Rather, it is about the human condition and spirit.

Every day, there is a special moment for each of us. It is that first instant when we become conscious after sleeping. We may have been dreaming or not; that does not matter. That very first blink of consciousness is something marvelous. Here is what I experience, and I am sure it is the same for you.

Blink. “Oh, I am here. Where is here? Who am I? What is my role here? Am I happy or sad? Do I hurt? What’s on my agenda today?”

Crossing that demarcation line between the unconscious and the conscious world is a kind of “rebooting” activity where we spend just a second or two getting our bearings.

In that instant of first awareness, we each have a wonderful opportunity. We have the power to choose. Whatever external or internal conditions are facing us, we each have the opportunity to decide how to respond to them. I believe that is what separates humans from other species: the power to choose our attitude.

I believe that the freedom to choose my own quality of life is amazingly liberating. I may be waking up as a prisoner of war or a person with a terminal disease or a hangover. In that first blink, I may realize that I have been out of work for six months, or perhaps yesterday I won the Nobel Peace Prize or an Olympic Gold Medal.

Regardless of the miserable or delightful circumstances, I remember my conditions as my brain reboots each morning. I still have the opportunity to choose how I wish to respond to those conditions. Unfortunately, most of us quickly jump to a fatalistic view that we are powerless to modify the quality of life, which is where the opportunity lies.

If we can push the “pause” button in our thinking long enough to suspend the pain or the negative things that are lurking in a corner of our brain to ruin our day, then we might consider the options. For example, this morning, I awoke at 2:30 a.m. with a stabbing pain in my right little toe. The pain actually woke me up. There was no reason why there should have been a pain in my toe today. I did not stub it or drop something on it, but there it was, big as life.

I recall lying there trying to figure out what the pain was. Since I had no clue, my brain continued with the rebooting exercise as I began to think about the good and not-so-good things that awaited me today. When a computer reboots, it does not have options for changing attitudes. It just goes through the programs and determines the health of the system with no ability to change its response to certain failures or bugs.

I decided to let my human side take over and process today in a positive light. After all, I did wake up, so I began to marvel over the choices I had today and the multitude of things I could get done. For example, I could create this article, and though I am not revealing any rocket science here, perhaps my thoughts translated through this medium may be helpful to a few people. As a result, I would be using my energy as a positive force in the universe. What better way to start out a day?

Try to make your first moments of every day a special conversation with yourself. Think about the opportunities you have rather than the difficulties you face. I think there is some powerful magic we all share as part of the human condition. Of course, you can wallow in self pity or depression. It is your life to live. I hope you will use this reminder to make a positive contribution to your mental process right now, and especially tomorrow morning.