By David Vergun
Army News Service
Among the most effective strategies for dealing with workplace bullies and building effective teams and organizations is reinforcing values, Col. Kenneth Williams said.
Williams, who is with the Pentagon Chaplain’s Office, spoke at a seminar: “The Toxic Workplace: Dealing with a Bully,” here, May 27.
The Army Values, he pointed out, consists of loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity and personal courage. Fostering an atmosphere of respect is paramount.
The other military services and many organizations have codes that are remarkably similar to the Army Values, he said, since those in attendance, included civilians and personnel from the other services.
Before showing how values can be used to detoxify the workplace, Williams went over the symptoms of bullying and let everyone share their own experiences.
Bullies are easily identifiable by some or most of the following characteristics, Williams said: public humiliation, name-calling, gossiping, teasing, withholding information, ignoring someone, preventing access to opportunities, imposing impossible standards or deadlines, failure to give credit, repeated reminders of mistakes, manipulation, denial of wrongdoing, pitting folks against each other, arrogance and verbal abuse.
Williams asked the audience if they have ever encountered such a person. Everyone indicated that they had.
The chaplain then asked each to describe the effects this had on themselves and their organizations. Responses included stress, intimidation, feelings of being devalued, decreased productivity, avoiding the bully and a stifling of communications.
Williams then cited research backing up some of these effects from Drs. Mitch Kusy and Elizabeth Holloway, who authored a study in the Leader to Leader Journal, titled “Cultivating a Culture of Respectful Engagement,” in 2010.
They found that 68 percent of those surveyed, who worked for bullies were less productive, 78 percent were less committed, 27 percent discouraged others from taking jobs with their employers and, “this is telling,” 13 percent refused to use their employer’s products.
Williams then asked the attendees to share their own experiences.
A Soldier described dealing with a bully, who actually created a physically-hazardous workplace.
A female related dealing with a female toxic boss. She said many quit and “others tried to make her look good so she’d get promoted up and outside the organization, which is what happened. That’s horrible to do that, but it was the only way out from underneath her.”
The chaplain then made a surprising revelation, saying he “worked for and with some very toxic people,” one of whom was a chaplain.
The chaplain, who was a bully, had “volumes of meetings that focused almost solely on himself,” Williams said. He sent out “a lot of emails questioning status, behavior, decisions, public criticism and humiliation of other chaplains. When things went good, he said, ‘look what I did.’ When things went bad, he said, ‘look at what you did.'”
SOLUTIONS TO BULLYING
First, showing what not to do, Williams said, is research from Dr. Barbara Broome, author of “Dealing with Sharks and Bullies in the Workplace,” published in the Association of Black Nursing Faculty Journal, in 2008.
Broome equated bullies with sharks, since sharks usually have an exploratory look around to size up their prey. If the prey looks tasty and vulnerable, they go in for the kill.
In the same way as this, bullies size up their victims, Broome said. If the victims cry, go on the defensive or try to explain themselves, this incites more bullying. “The shark knows it’s inflicted injury” and goes on a feeding frenzy, he said.
Also to be avoided, according to Broome, is ingratiating or befriending behaviors. This may work for a while, he said, but the shark can turn on you at any moment.
Williams summed up the research for dealing with bullies.
– Keep a detailed log of observed toxic behaviors.
– Ensure your organization has strong policies against bullying and against retaliation for confronting bullies.
– Raise awareness about bullying and its deleterious affects.
– Conduct training on workplace policies on abuse and harassment.
CONFRONTING THE BULLY
While most people would probably try to avoid confronting bullies, this is a strategy that can actually work if done right, Williams said.
A tactful way to do this is to appeal to the bully’s sense of personal ambition and competitiveness with data-driven feedback. This is best done in private in a one-on-one talk, he said.
The Soldier, who earlier shared his experience about the hazardous workplace, vouched for this technique. He said he and his team collected data and facts on the hazards and presented it to him in a professional and non-confrontational manner. When the bully could not refute the facts, he backed down.
Another tactic is to focus on your own internalized values, such as trust to guide your behavior, Williams said. In study after study, the organizations that have been shown to be the most effective, employ values-based leadership where it is used to evaluate performance.
People do what they are supposed to do in a trusting relationship that does not rely solely on rules for enforcement, he said. “Our behaviors either instill trust or detract from trust.”
It may be appropriate to confront the bully and gently remind him or her that certain behaviors detract from the organization’s trust and other values, he suggested.
Lastly, the “opposite of bullying is empowering,” he said. In a healthy organization, leaders “give people the power to act and make decisions. It’s all about trust.”