Cats are known to often hunt purely for sport, a fact brought home to me one evening when I found my own cat crouched in our darkened basement, surrounded by several dead spiders. I soon realized this had not been a mass migration of spiders across the room, but rather a slow trickle of unsuspecting visitors. And, the cat had been there for hours welcoming each one into her game. I watched as her current victim made its way from under her paw to the nearest wall, and up as fast as it could go. The cat calmly watched until the poor spider must have thought it was safe. Then, the cat stretched to its full length up the wall and gently knocked the spider down to the floor again. When that spider curled up in exhaustion, the cat simply turned about, looking for a new victim. I was both impressed and repulsed. Then I realized I was observing a text book case of bullying. I was also having the text book reaction of someone who had no intention of stopping it.
But, what if this same sort of thing were played out between two people in a business environment; one tormentor and a revolving population of fellow employees? Unfortunately this happens more often than most realize. And it happens while the tormentor, the workplace bully, remains calm and collected slowly driving their prey into frenzied agitation.
Here are some basic tactics of a workplace bully;
- While their targeted individual remains unaware, the bully divides and conquers the workplace by telling derogatory stories about their target, thus pre-emptively destroying the target’s credibility and discouraging anyone from associating them.
- Using rumour and innuendo they shape the public view of their target. This is not limited to internal employees. It can also include external clients. They will not stop before the target is out of reach or gone. Do not underestimate this point. This bully is not competing for promotion or reputation. This bully hunts purely for sport. The serial bully has no empathy, so don’t expect any. They can imitate it, but they have none.
- Discussions with their target are always one on one, allowing for plausible deniability.
- They are great tale tellers, something sane people call lying, and when caught in a lie, they quickly change the story and claim it was what they said or meant earlier.
- They are expert at anticipating and quickly responding with what a critic wishes to hear, thus delivering their defense with plausible ease.
- They count on the fact that those in position to stop them are more often impressed rather than repulsed.
- If cornered they will attach. Their aggressive and assertive storytelling will be forthcoming with such force and definitive execution, few will want to challenge their assertions.
It is true that many employers misinterpret the bully’s harsh tactics as a money maker. Too often, the true situation does not come to a manger’s attention before the bully has successfully painted their target as insignificant and a complainer; unpopular traits in any company. And so, in almost all cases, owners and their managers support the bully and force the target to seek recompense elsewhere. But, the possible costs to the company are by no means insignificant.
Consider 3 possible scenarios.
- Most commonly, the tormented targets quits their position.
- The target files a grievance either with their union or an outside court. A successful grievance starts at $1,500. Add a zero for each time the grievance moves to a higher level of court
- Recently the courts awarded $362,000 to an individual who was bullied and the company did nothing to prevent it or stop it.
These statistics should strike fear in any Business Owner.
So how does a business owner protect themselves and their company? Can a business owner or manager quickly learn to recognise and end workplace bullying?
Educating yourself is first and foremost. The workplace bully typically follows 13 stages. Educate yourself and your company on what to look for. Offering regular webinars and training sessions to managers, supervisors, and employees on the tactics, cost and destruction of bullies in the workplace is a great preventative measure. Be proactive rather than reactive. Get the support you need to foster the environment of an engaged workplace aligned with policies and practices that support a healthy and productive work environment.
Spotting the effects of bullying in the workplace can be simple. But because bullying is calculated and insidious, proving it is not so simple. If you have identified bullying in your workplace, the best practice is to have an internal champion (H.R.) and an external coach to work through the psychological minefields. If you have someone to mentor or coach you through this, you and your company will come out on top.
What is your company doing to prevent bullying?
Can you say that your business is capable of defending its position of protecting its employees against bullying?
Derek Millar is a seasoned business coach with Rhapsody Strategies. He is part of a powerful team of coaches and trainers dedicated to transforming leaders and organizations.