International Book Award Thought leaders

The Key to Dealing With Workplace Bullies? Exposing them, authors say

With bad bosses and their despicable acts grabbing headlines in recent months, the concept of workplace bullying is getting more attention than ever.

While not every bully is as toxic as movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, domineering, belittling bosses still can hurt morale and drive away top talent.

In The Bully-Proof Workplace, Peter J. Dean and Molly D. Shepard, joint partners at Pennsylvania-based Leaders By Design, offer a guide to short-circuiting bullies that’s one of the finalists in the getAbstract International Book Awards for 2018.


Dean spoke with getAbstract about the book.

getAbstract: Your timing seems prescient, considering the recent headlines about Harvey Weinstein and other bad bosses, along with the management style of President Trump and controversies over how coaches treat young athletes. How do you see the public discussion of those episodes affecting the conversation around workplace bullying?

Dean: This is an important time to discuss bullying and sexual harassment in light of the news reports. Many are realizing for the first time that they have been bullied or harassed – and have repressed those kinds of experiences. The healing has started but must continue. Bullies and harassers will no longer be able to hide as long as the conversation continues at work. It is uncomfortable and awkward at first, but people must continue to talk about the ramifications of bullying and harassing and how to correct it. One discussion can be about power and bullying.

Misuse of power occurs in the four types bullying and all forms of sexual harassment. The bully or the harasser is seeking to feel dominant over others given his position — and it usually is a man, although a woman can be a bully or a harasser. So we have the perpetrator, the target and the bystanders. The one with so much power to stop bullying and sexual harassment is the bystander. They must step up and say something. Think of Brad Pitt confronting Harvey Weinstein to stop his unwanted and improper attention to Ms. Paltrow, his girlfriend at the time. Weinstein stopped.

getAbstract:  Say I’m a manager who wants to prevent workplace bullying. How do I identify a bully, considering that the most effective bullies are adept at masking their behavior?

Dean: Look to the behavioral consequence on the employee being bullied. Bullying occurs when there is repeated, targeted abusive behavior from a person in power over a person with little or no power. The consequence is non-inspired behavior that is based in fear, shame or sadness. People who are bullied feel they do not quite measure up, not because they don’t measure up, but because someone is on their back all the time. One thing HR can do is to ask the people leaving the company if they been bullied and by whom. Also, companies should use survey questions as shown in the book. The best way to deal with bullying is to start at the top and have the CEO require a policy statement about bullying for all existing employees and new employees. We provide an example of a policy statement in the book, as well as the tenets every company should apply. The policy statement should be reinforced.

getAbstract: How do I distinguish bullying from someone who’s simply a demanding boss or a hard-driving colleague?

Dean: Do you feel inspired or defeated after the interaction with your boss? Do you feel uplifted or demeaned? Do you really want to do the best job you can or will you just get by after the interaction? Do you feel empowered or powerless? Ask these questions and the answers should give you your answers.

getAbstract: Often bullies are high achievers. How does a manager balance the bully’s productivity with the bully’s less positive traits?

Dean: The workplace is for task accomplishment and productive and trusting interaction among humans at work. Bullying destroys trust and a lack of trust in an organization limits productivity. The culture of the company is as important to productivity as is high individual achievement. If you hire good people and put them in a bad environment that is influenced by the negativity of bullies, the environment will win out and the company will lose good talent.

getAbstract: If I’m an employee who feels bullied at work, what are one or two effective ways to respond?

Dean: First, document the incidents in three parts – the situation, the behavior and the consequence. Collect five to 10 incidents. Read them over several times to determine the type of bully you are dealing with. Brute is usually a loud-mouth screamer who is negative and has picked you as a target for some reason. Braggart is consumed with how he feels and thinks but has limited ability to empathize with others. The Braggart will take all the energy and oxygen out of the room. A Blocker is an introverted type of bully who prevents you from getting credit or recognition for your work. The Belier works behind the scenes lying and gossiping and will set one up for failure. Once you have a pretty good idea what type of bully you are dealing with, then move to step 2: Follow the directions in the book on how to approach and confront the bully. There are also lessons in the book to show bystanders they must stand up to bullying. We ask them to get involved to stop the bullying.

getAbstract: Are you working on another book?

Dean: Yes, the book will be a manual for men on working successfully and properly with women at work. It will start with the differences biologically in men and women and why that is important to understand. For example, women’s brains are cross-lateral in their functioning and they use both sides of the brain at the same time, whereas men have inter-laterality within each hemisphere, meaning they operate well within a hemisphere but not cross-hemisphere. Some chapters will be dedicated to unlocking the tendency in men to suppress their feelings and chapters showing how to use the eight primary emotions to understand the communication exchange with others, whether male or female. The book will continue on with best practices, suggestions and tips of co-leading with men and women. These practices can be used by men or women.

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