Can we change bullying bosses through empathy?

Bullying along side the word empathy isn’t often placed side by side.

This is understandable when we have experienced bullies attack, undermine and/or humiliate us or our work colleagues. Sometimes this is overt involving verbal abuse and physical intimidation. However, it is often covert and behind closed doors. The last thing we think a bullying boss deserves is empathy.

But what if showing empathy to workplace bullies can guide us to better longer term solutions and safer workplaces? Can we support a bully to change rather than see them simply repeat the pattern of behaviour either within the same, or at a new, workplace?

Why Use Empathy?

Showing empathy to an employee who uses bullying type behaviours is not easy. It can be hard when you might be repulsed by their behaviour or even feel intimidated by them.

However, showing empathy is important if you are going to have any chance of successful behavioural. Bill Eddy of the High Conflict Institute who refers to them as high conflict personalities, argues that these employees in our workplace require an empathetic approach because this is what they are looking for. The high conflict person is at the core both very afraid and/or angry. He advises that they out of their depth. Showing empathy with that individual creates a sense of “us” working on the problem together to get to find a solution. A solution cannot be found unless you are approaching it together, even with bullies.

Both Eddy and Laura Crawshaw of the Boss Whispering Institute, also highlight that without using empathy the individual can become defensive. This will form a barrier to change and reduce the likelihood of success.

Empathy is only part of the solution

However, empathy is only part of the solution. Empathy opens the door to possibilities. Engaging in the solution also includes:

  • Approaching the individual with truthfulness. This is one of our key challenges employers can often avoid the hard discussions. This results in employers sabotaging solutions, rather than finding them.
  • Setting boundaries. Without set and reinforced boundaries, the behaviours can keep reoccurring.
  • Keep your emotions under control. When trying to support change with a person who uses bullying type behaviours, it can be hard to keep your emotions in check. However, it is necessary for success.
  • Knowledge and expertise is important when it comes to working with bullying employees. If necessary, get outside help. This is why we set up our Abrasive Leaders Specialist Coaching.

This is not to say that empathy will lead to success in every case. Some will still want to stay angry. However, in her work with over 400 abrasive leaders, Crawshaw states that about 80% of abrasive leaders she has worked with have been able to change. As she states, at least you know you have done everything you can to bring about change.

So how about it? Are you ready to try to bring about effective change with empathy?

Learn more about our Abrasive Leader Specialist Coaching

Contact us today for a confidential discussion on how we can help you support you and your employees with bullying claims.

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