From my research and observation of people over the past four decades, I have come to believe all behavior has positive intent. This means any behavior we might label as destructive, has, from another viewpoint, a beneficial purpose. For example, from the perspective of a bully, intimidating or harassing others can be a way of attempting to show competence (even though it’s not very skillful). It may be a coping strategy after themselves being bullied. Abusive behavior can be a way of managing anxiety or insecurity. It’s an unconscious way of making yourself big when you actually feel small.
This doesn’t justify bullying. It simply brings some understanding and empathy to the experience.
With this awareness, here are three strategies for responding to bullying:
- Clarity. Clearly understand how intimidation, harassment, and bullying are a violation of the values and expectations of your organization. Start by clarifying and communicating exactly what disrespectful behavior is, in terms of organizational and leadership expectations. Clarity means understanding precisely the difference between leading and intimidating.
- Courage. You have to let people know that certain behavior violates the expectations of the organization, and therefore is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. You simply can’t work here if you’re going to behave in a disrespectful way. If you don’t get support with this from your organization, then you have to consider if this is a place where you want to work.
- Compassion. Respecting the intent behind bullying can create an opportunity to grow, to move toward a plan for change. This plan may involve coaching and learning strategies such as developing greater emotional intelligence, skills for managing anxiety more effectively, increasing your self-awareness, and accountability.