Isolating worker IS bullying

June 22, 2014

Q I’ve hired a new employee and I am observing the five existing team members excluding him and talking about him behind his back. How should I handle it?

A: Ignoring a co-worker with the intent to harm or control, treating them differently than other peers and co-workers, or ostracism, isolation, dissociation or exclusion from others is workplace bullying.

Every employee deserves a respectful workplace and it is the organization’s responsibility to ensure it. If bullying is occurring, do not make excuses for it. Bullying is not something that an employee should be left alone to address.

Leaders either create or eradicate a bullying culture by how they behave and what they accept in the workplace. Do not ignore, condone, permit or contribute to any form of exclusion of any employee. Put a stop to any subtle signs of exclusion immediately.

Not acting sends the message that the behaviour is endorsed.  Toxic behaviour will grow to eventually subvert the workplace if staff sees there are no consequences. Workplace bullying destroys teams, collaboration, willingness to contribute and increases turnover.

Some steps to diffuse a toxic work environment :

  • Calling a staff meeting to educate everyone about what is considered bullying, how to respond to potential bullying behaviours and whom they can go to for help.
  • Acting swiftly and firmly. Insisting everyone at the workplace act respectfully and professionally to all staff, suppliers and customers.
  • While you may have a code of conduct, establish a written respectful workplace/anti-bullying policy that outlines acceptable and prohibited behaviours – including consequences, remediation and possible disciplinary action for violations.

The most important indicator of a successful workplace prevention program is management’s commitment. For tips on how to set up your policy go to or seek the help of an HR professional.

Reprinted from The Province, June 22, 2014.

Play nice with vicious co-worker

November 20, 2012

Q: I’m so furious at my colleague who threw me under the bus in front of my entire team. We have to present together to our client next week. How can I work with him when all I want to do is drive over him?

A: Sacrificing a colleague is a cheap temporary solution when the bus is heading directly for him. A convenient scapegoat deflects attention from their mistakes. Running scared creates reactive, short sighted and hurtful actions.

Retaliating may feel better in the short term, but a pedestrian rarely wins when he goes head to head with a bus. It just creates more carnage.

Instead, retreat and nurse your ego until your emotions are no longer clouding your judgment. Replay the situation and identify what you can take responsibility for in the situation.

There is always something. What did you do or not do that allowed you to be cast in a bad light? Find some truth – even if it is only two per cent – in the person’s accusation. As painful as this may be, the self reflection can be a catalyst for huge learning.

Now you have found a starting point to clear the air between you. Take the leader role and book a meeting with your colleague. Open with stepping up and owning your part in the unintended impact. Share what you learned from the situation and what steps you will take to avoid a recurrence. Request his assistance and support.  This can create an opening for your colleague to take responsibility for their actions.  Discuss how you could both work together next time in a way that respects both of your needs.

The bystanders are still watching to see if the runaway bus could take them out, too. Your responsiveness can reinstate the team’s trust and confidence in you and your leadership.

Originally published in The Province, Nov. 18, 2012.

Taking high road pays off in the end

September 13, 2012

Q: I was wrongfully blasted by my boss in front of my entire team. I was so blindsided that I couldn’t even respond. I’m sure I’ve lost all credibility and want to know if there’s any way to recover.

A: You probably feel like you have nowhere to go except out the door right now. However, your silence probably saved you. A public outburst or retort against someone of higher rank can be corporate suicide.

Choosing the high road versus defending the indefensible in the moment pays dividends.

The exchange revealed not just your character but that of your boss under pressure. It is not a weakness to stand in the tornado without acquiescing to your emotions or retaliating.

Demonstrating self-control shows self-discipline, inner resolve and emotional intelligence.

Leaders who manage their impulsivity create an environment of trust, comfort and fairness. One study showed that executives promoted to CEO demonstrated seven times more emotional self management than those who were passed over.

Your team is unlikely to come to your rescue. However, don’t interpret their self preservation as abandoning you.

They are watching you closely. What kind of leader do you want to be viewed as? It is entirely possible to turn a slap in the face into a powerful victory by being viewed as calm, fair and honourable.

Focus your energy on the issue at hand rather than taking the attack personally. Look beyond the boss’s behaviour and determine the underlying trigger for the outburst.

Detach from your reaction before responding so you will be calm and objective as you determine your desired outcome.

Set up a private one-on-one to understand the boss’ perspective, clear the air and set the record straight.

Following these steps could avert being the boss’s future scapegoat when he loses control.

Originally published in The Province, September 9, 2012

Steer clear of minefields

November 3, 2011

Q: My peer’s hypercritical attitude is wearing me down. Rather than deal with it, her supervisors are waiting for her to retire. I try including her in discussions, but it doesn’t help. What do you suggest?

A: Since she interacts with others the same way, this reveals more about her than those she criticizes.

Life rarely measures up to a critic’s expectations, since they usually hold themselves to an even higher level of criticism than they do others. So don’t waste your energy taking it personally. Stress can make people curt or blunt. Maybe she is unaware of how her words come across or how her negativity siphons other’s energy.

If inviting input or opinions, you must to be willing to hear her feedback. Focus on ‘what’ she is saying rather than getting caught up in ‘how’ she’s saying it. Find the golden nugget being offered and acknowledge its value. Leave the rest. Critical people believe the validity of their viewpoint and want it to be heard.

If you’re not ready to hear her insight, do not solicit it. Keep your communications factual, business-like and brief. Stay away from minefields and limit interactions to essential items.

You can’t change others’ attitudes, but you can choose how you react. Why do her criticisms get under your skin? What meaning do you attribute to her comments? What is it that bothers you? Just as the critic’s comments reflect more about them, your reaction reveals more about you.

Ironically, she can be a great teacher. A self-critical person doesn’t have the capacity or ability to offer it to others. However, you will have developed increased self-awareness and self management when you are can respond to her with genuine compassion and understanding.

Originally published in The Province, October 30, 2011.

End bullying in workplace

January 4, 2010

 Q: My boss’s friend is disregarding my role as her supervisor, treating me rudely and telling lies about me. As a leader, how can I prevent this kind of behaviour from spreading throughout the organization?

A: Examples of workplace bullying include being spoken to in a dismissive tone (“talked down to”); spreading malicious rumours; gossip or innuendo that isn’t true; character assassinations; an arrogant attitude; screaming; swearing or being hypercritical. Tolerating this type of behaviour from a subordinate will diminish your authority with others. The most effective way to ending abuse is to demonstrate management’s commitment to respect at work.

-Create a workplace code of conduct with concrete examples of acceptable/ unacceptable behaviours and working conditions. Distribute this among staff, encouraging their input and buy-in.

-Set up a written process for recording and dealing with all conflicts seriously, promptly and confidentially without reprisal to the target. Outline the consequences for acts of bullying and the effective start date of the prevention program.

-Initially, targets should attempt to work out situations themselves by firmly telling the bully their behaviour is unacceptable and asking them to stop. They should record abusive events with the date, time and a detailed account of what happened. Maintain copies of all correspondence from the perpetrator.

If the behaviour continues, the complainant should report it to their supervisor. If their concern is minimized or dismissed, they should escalate to the next level of management. An impartial third party should be available to resolve situations when necessary. Retaliation is not an option; when a victim becomes a perpetrator, it can evaluate the situation and make abuse more pervasive.

Originally printed in The Province  January 3, 2010.

Bully victim must seek help

November 23, 2009

Q: I am the victim of office bullying and my supervisor turns a blind eye to the situation. What can I do?

A: We expect bullying will end once we leave the school yard; however, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute (, almost half of working Americans have been affected by bullying on the job.

Workplace bullies use words or actions to assert power over their targets through aggression. They degrade, belittle, sabotage, threaten or humiliate to psychologically hurt or isolate.

If you feel you are the victim of bullying, first acknowledge that it’s happening and the emotional stress on you. Don’t allow this cruelty to undermine your self-confidence or feel ashamed of yourself. Stop being a target by seeking the advice of a mentor, coach or health professional who understands bullying.

Recognize that the perpetrator needs to control someone who enables or tolerates their behaviour. It continues as long as it is rewarded with the desired reaction or response. What repercussions are you afraid of that are preventing you from standing your ground?

While you can’t change another person, you can influence the situation by asserting yourself. Only confront the bully if your physical safety isn’t threatened. Only address the facts by remaining calm and professional. Don’t show any weakness or self-doubt.

Often subtle, bullying can go undetected — except by the intended target. Document the offensive behaviour and tell your supervisor so it is exposed. If the abuse continues, you can contact the provincial human-rights office or a lawyer to determine your right to recourse.

Bullying doesn’t flourish where it’s not tolerated. If you are not getting the support you need from your leaders, you may decide to leave the workplace with your dignity for an organization committed to a culture of respect.

Originally printed in The Province, November 22, 2009.