As an introduction, I feel I need to define some terminology and my interpretations. The official definition of bullying is “the process of intimidating or mistreating somebody weaker or in a more vulnerable situation”.
However, I believe workplace bullying can be split into two distinct areas; the first is a particularly malevolent and unpleasant, deliberate act where the perpetrator is The Bully and the target is The Victim.
The second type of workplace bullying is more about abrasive or aggressive management. Most managers or bosses will, at some time or another, slip into this category. I feel uncomfortable describing them in demonic terms, giving them the label of The Bully; perhaps they may on occasions become the accidental bully. This does not excuse their behaviour, nor minimise the impact of it on the recipient, but clearly the response to the two categorise must be different.
For those of us who have been managers, I am certain we can remember times when we behaved in an unacceptable manner – to think of those times might make us cringe, but awareness that we are all capable of accidental bullying.
If proven, malevolent bullying constitutes gross misconduct and should result in immediate dismissal. Although, too often, employers and senior managers collude with the bully and condones their behaviour.
Accidental bullying, on the other hand, needs to be dealt with through education, awareness raising, mediation, conflict resolution and coaching. It should be an issue for personal and professional development.
As a practitioner, I offer to support to employers to ensure the impact of the abrasive manager is kept to a minimum. Indeed, I can see many benefits coming from working with teams and individuals where the accidental bully has emerged. It can be a learning opportunity for the employer too. Early intervention is paramount to “nip the situation in the bud”, even if it involves an accusation of bullying. It can be made to work to everyone’s advantage.