Adopt a multi-dimensional approach to reduce workplace bullying and harassment

Today, February 22, 2017, is anti-bullying day, aka Pink Shirt Day, in Canada. While the focus of the day is bullying in schools, bullying behaviour has no boundaries. Schoolyard bullies, unanswered, take their act forward; to their families, communities, workplaces.

pink shirt day

Bullying behaviour in the workplace

A respective workplace seeks to mitigate bullying and harassment behaviours. Across Canada, maintaining a respectful workplace is the law. Here’s a checklist for what a respectful workplace looks like.

A couple years ago, I mediated a dispute between two construction companies. At the time, I was working as a mediator in the BC Provincial Court Mediation Program During the course of the mediation, one of the disputing parties became increasingly belligerent. Their bullying, intimidating, behaviour was escalating the conflict. I was ready to call in the Sheriff, literally. At the same time, my emotions were starting to get the best of me. I’d been triggered, in multiple ways:

  • The safe space I’d created, for a difficult conversation, was being violated
  • My hot button (bullying) was threatening to cloud my role as neutral facilitator
  • The opportunity for the parties to reach mutually-beneficial settlement was at-risk; lose-lose

The mediation room is a workplace. I expect respectful behaviour from everyone in the room, including myself! Respectful behaviour scales to any size and type of workplace. And, woe is the company (Uber) publicly called out on their disrespectful behaviour.

A multi-dimensional response to workplace bullying

Over the past year, I’ve provided workplace conflict management services to a variety of SMEs, and a local government unit. With every client, either restoring and/or helping them maintain a respectful workplace was part of what they needed assistance with. The range of services I provided included:

  • 1:1 coaching with individuals in conflict
  • Facilitating difficult conversations around bullying behaviour, in a small group setting
  • Working with an individual to create their personalized conflict management action plan
  • Assessment of an ongoing departmental conflict
  • Negotiation support around a pending HR decision
  • Guidance on the design and implementation of a respectful, fair workplace
  • Leading conflict management training workshops for business teams, client service professionals…

Whenever I start talking with a client about workplace bullying and harassment, it inevitably leads to a conversation about some associated issue: workplace culture, management-employee relations, organization supports (or lack of), etc.  Relationship problems are often unresolvable. They are the half-life of conflict. However, they can be effectively managed.

One way I approach this complexity challenge is to filter the issues, and identify potential solutions, along three levels/dimensions; individual, group, and system.

  1. Individual: What’s going on with the individual? Are they aware of their behaviours, hot buttons, and how they respond to conflict? Do they see alternative courses of action? Individuals can improve their conflict competency thru intentional, guided work. Conflict management tools and coaching can assist. This applies to leaders, too. Leaders can/should serve as behavioural role models.
  2. Group: In the workplace, individual destructive behaviours, left to manifest, can escalate, drawing in co-workers, the team, department… A timely conflict assessment or intervention can clarify issues and concerns, and provide stakeholders with analysis and recommendations, leading to a restoration of workplace relationships and productivity.
  3. System: A systems approach to conflict recognizes that both reactive and proactive responses to conflict are valuable. When a workplace dispute arises, rights- or interest-based process can help resolve the dispute. Management can proactively establish standards, policies, procedures to guide personnel responses to conflict. Training in communications and conflict management can raise the bar for company behaviour. When you calculate the (true) cost of conflict in your organization, the importance of system-wide solutions becomes obvious.

[To get help, managing workplace conflict issues, contact me.]

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