LIFE

Are You An Accidental Workplace Bully?

You don't need to be Miranda Priestly to have crossed the line.

02/11/2017 7:47 AM AEDT | Updated 02/11/2017 7:57 AM AEDT
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In a fast-paced workplace, it's easy to let frustration build.

Everyone has been bullied at some point in life. Whether it be on the playground or in the office, we all know the feeling of what it's like to be put down or made to feel like we're unworthy.

Some kinds of bullying are deliberate and therefore inexcusable. But there can also be instances, particularly in a fast-paced, high stress work environment, where someone didn't even realise their behaviour was disrespectful or intimidating.

If you're in a position of authority, you may want to ask yourself: is that person you?

"I often meet what I describe as the 'unconscious bully', who is someone, more often than not in leadership position, who suddenly has had a bullying claim filed against them and is genuinely taken back and horrified," leadership and people management specialist Karen Gately told HuffPost Australia.

"This can come down to a difference in communication styles and seniority. So for instance a more senior person, who is used to having really robust debates, for example, may demonstrate a lack of awareness in the moment and come across as quite aggressive and forceful to someone who is in a more junior position.

"Understandably that junior person could be left feeling attacked or unreasonably challenged, even though it genuinely was never your intention."

In order to prevent this type of situation from occurring, Gately said it's vital those in managerial positions are "mindful of their position of power and authority relative to the power of the person you are in communication with".

"And when you are talking to anybody, junior or not, you have to keep in mind the way in which you communicate your frustrations or needs or wants or demands."

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While instances of perceived bullying are never ideal, Gately said they can occur as a product of high stress levels, mounting frustration and yes, at times the poor performance of other staff.

"Frustration does build, particularly if you are already a highly emotive person, so you really need to check yourself that you aren't speaking in moments that are inappropriate," Gately said.

"This includes raising issues in front of other colleagues unfairly or putting them in a position where they are embarrassed.

"If you need to give constructive feedback, it needs to be in a setting that is private and they are not going to be humiliated by everyone else hearing what you say. It also needs to be delivered with sensitivity, regardless of the content."

It is not possible to say 'I'm a successful manager and my team is failing'. Part of your role is to coach others more junior than yourself.

Gately also said it's important to avoid frustration building up over time, even though it could be another person's inadequacies that are the source of that frustration.

"By not dealing with the issues soon enough, by not having coaching conversations, by not managing your own stress levels, you can get to a place where you are so fed up you end up losing it," she said.

"Everything all comes out in a barrage and the person [on the receiving end] feels intimidated. But that's not their fault, it's yours."

In fact, Gately said remembering your own role in the state of affairs is key to navigating tricky circumstances of employment.

"You have to share ownership of the situation. If you hire the wrong person, own it. You were part of the hiring process. You can't just leave that person to fail and let their poor performance affect your team," she said.

So often with the unconscious bully I find the core of their frustration are entirely reasonable, but it's learning how to deal with it is the problem

"It is not possible to say, 'I'm a successful manager and my team is failing'. Part of your role is to coach others more junior than yourself.

"Of course there are times when a reasonable manager will have done everything they can and you get to a point where you say, 'There's only so much I can do to help this person'. And at that point you need to have the tough love conversation.

"But once again, it's important to have that conversation in the correct way. Something along the lines of, 'If we don't make the process that we need to, the consequences are we might need to go our separate ways'.

"So often with the unconscious bully I find the core of their frustration are entirely reasonable, but it's learning how to deal with it is the problem."

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