Proven Ways to Prevent Workplace Bullying

Why would a blog on employee engagement discuss bullying? Well, have you ever known a bullied employee who felt engaged?

I had the opportunity to interview Dennis A. Davis, Ph.D., National Director of Client Training for Ogletree Deakins Learning Solutions, and an acknowledged expert on preventing workplace bullying and violence. In my interview, which can be read in full here, Dr. Davis addressed several important topics.

Question: Why is it so important to eliminate workplace bullying?

Answer: “Three reasons: (1) workplace bullying often leads to workplace violence; (2) harassment litigation often is not rooted in race/sex/religion, etc., but in bullying—reducing bullying reduces harassment claims; and (3) people who experience or witness workplace bullying don’t want to go to work, they don’t go the extra mile, and they become less engaged.”

Question: What’s the difference between bullying and harmless banter?

Answer: “Look for three signs: (1) the banter isn’t reciprocal—the one who dishes it doesn’t get it in return; (2) it’s targeted—the same people are continually on the receiving end; and (3) it’s personal—the banter focuses on something about the person’s innate weaknesses or inferiority.

Question: What should employers do to prevent bullying?

Answer: “Start with your policy. It should explicitly define bullying, prohibit it and provide avenues of recourse. Supervisors should be trained on the policy, including what to do when problems arise.”

Question: Can bullies change?

Answer: “Yes. I hold a mirror up to the person, focusing on their intensity, voice and word choices. I teach them other ways to handle their anger and frustration with others, such as thinking before reacting. Many bullies can be taught alternative tools to the hammer.”

Question: How do you deal with senior executives or others in positions of power who may be unaware of their behavior because no one will tell them?

Answer: “Senior executives have had years of unrealistic interactions with subordinates. They’ve typically developed major blindspots as a result. With them, I apply a technique called “transferal of behavior.” I get them to “transfer” the way they treat people in power above them to the way they treat their subordinates. If they don’t have a boss, I focus on their interactions in their family where they have been more aggressive with a spouse or children than they realized at the time.”

Question: Is disciplinary action ever part of the plan?

Answer: “Yes. If there has been repeated bullying behavior despite coaching and counseling, or if the behavior is outrageous such as threats or physicality, discipline and discharge become part of the equation. Nevertheless, in all cases, the focus should be on problem-solving, not punishment.