Can helping a workplace bully change be a team effort?

Workplace bullying can be viewed as a team problem. When you have a bully in your midst, it is going to impact on everyone in the team. Employees are unsafe as they may be on the receiving end of abuse, either overt or covert. Employees regardless of position can experience fear of that person who uses bullying or abrasive behaviours. The team loses productivity as they are distracted protecting themselves and others walk out the door.

If bullying is a team problem, should we adopt more of a team approach in working to change or reform the bully’s behaviour?

In this article we explore why and how a team approach can be used to positively change a bully’s behaviour.

Why should you involve others in the employees improvement?

Through my Abrasive Leader Specialist Coaching role, there are two key reasons that I see for using a team approach to challenging, and potentially changing, a bully or abrasive employees behaviour. The first is that the offending employee can be oblivious to the inappropriateness of the behaviours they are using. Those employees who have a chronic pattern of abrasive or bullying behaviour generally have a lifetime of learning in those behaviour patterns. Their approach of aggressive behaviour was learnt as children, refined in the sandpits of school and taken unchallenged into the workplace. It is behaviour that has been normalised and doesn’t stand out to them as being exceptional or inappropriate.

The second reason is that often when feedback is provided to that individual about their behaviour, it is not by a person on the receiving end of that behaviour (usually a line manager or HR). Therefore the information on the bullying or abrasive behaviour can be watered down. On top of that, the person delivering the feedback can be fearful of negative consequences, either to the business or themselves, so they utilise a softly, softly or down playing the behaviour approach.

Engaging team in the form of feedback helps be targeted and specific about negative behaviours to take off the blinders developed by that employee over time and give confidence in the feedback process that can lead to positive change in a bully or abrasive employees behaviour.

How does the team feedback solution work?

Team feedback can be an effective way to help an abrasive or bullying employee to change. This is core to our specialised coaching approach in helping that employee change or reform their behaviours.

Through this approach, we work with the abrasive or bullying employee and ask them to engage in an evidence based research process to help fix the problem (ie. their challenging behaviours). We ask the employee to identify colleagues in their workplace who will provide honest feedback and how the abrasive employee conducts themselves. We ask those colleagues for their perceptions on the challenging, inappropriate or abrasive behaviours.

This process also asks the employer to add to the interview list any employee who might be able to provide further insight that wasn’t nominated. This might be an employee who has informally or formally complained or a line manager responsible for the abrasive or bullying employee.

It should be specified that the interviews are not conducted by the abrasive or bullying employee. It is completed by the coach or individual working on resolving the behavioural problems. The interviews are kept confidential de-identified when fed back to the abrasive or bullying employee. Patterns of negative behaviour are then grouped and worked on with the abrasive or bullying employee.

In this way, the solution to an abrasive or bullying employee becomes a team team effort.

What are the benefits of this approach?

Engaging in this process sends clear messages. It says to the abrasive individual that you want them to change and that you want to help them to succeed.

To other employees, it sends a message that you are acting on the challenging behaviour. While the process is private and confidential, those who have been asked to participate in interviews will know the comapny is working to resolve any challenges. Those employees nominated by the abrasive or bullying employee will be asked to participate by that employee, indicating they are part of that education process of self improvement.

It’s a positive that shows you as an employer is caring and willing to help employees who need it.

Act early on abrasive behaviours

One final point of note. You don’t have to wait until you have a bullying claim to implement this process. In fact, it is better that you don’t. If you have identified an employee who is continuously rubbing other employees up the wrong way, and you are hearing about it, this is the time to act.

This can prevent serious injury and harm to both individual employees and the workplace.

Learn more about our Abrasive Leader Specialist Coaching Program

Contact us today for a confidential discussion on how we can help you through our Abrasive Leader Specialist Coaching Program.

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