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Xmas crackers: Coaching the bullies

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crackers
Dealing with the perpetrators and getting them on the road to recovery is an important, yet not much talked about part of the bullying problem. Annie Hayes finds coaching has a valuable part to play.







A growing problem

The Association for Coaching (AC), a not-for-profit organisation, carried out a joint survey with the Trades Union Congress and CBI and report that just under half of employees have witnessed workplace bullying.

It's a finding that is confirmed by the Andrea Adams Trust, a global workplace bullying charity that say as many as 18.9m working days are lost to bullying every year and up to a half of all stress-related illnesses are a direct result of bullying.

Even more worrying is that, despite legislation designed to stamp out the problems, the trend appears to be on the up.

When the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) last tested the waters in 2006, they found as many as 20% of respondents had experienced some kind of harassment or bullying over a two-year period. This is an increase of 7% since the 2004 survey.

Addressing behaviours

Marie Strebler, a senior research fellow from The Institute for Employment Studies says that part of the problem is that the bullies themselves are often not aware of their own bad behaviours: "There can be a fine line between firm management and bullying behaviour. In this case the first thing to do is raise awareness of the issues."

Too often, Strebler adds, the bully is blissfully unaware that their actions are causing misery and upset. Often in these cases it's only when absence and high turnover situations comes to light that the bully is then recognised as the perpetrator of the trouble, which often is news to them as well.

And the problem for many sectors is that bullying behaviours are often part and parcel of the fabric of that culture - take city banks, or the services and catering industries where larger-than-life personalities are often applauded as fine examples of 'leadership'.

Lyn Witheridge, chief executive officer of The Andrea Adams Trust, says that the key is to look into the culture and stamp out behaviours that over time have become accepted but need changing: "So when I am asked about bullies, my feeling is that the capacity to bully is present in everyone. The difference between the impulse to bully and bullying is enormous; just as having murderous thoughts is light years away from pulling a trigger. It is this instinct to bully that needs to be understood in all its varieties".

"When I am asked about bullies, my feeling is that the capacity to bully is present in everyone. The difference between the impulse to bully and bullying is enormous; just as having murderous thoughts is light years away from pulling a trigger. It is this instinct to bully that needs to be understood in all its varieties."

Marie Strebler, The Institute for Employment Studies

Like the AC, Withridge believes that most people who bully do not recognise their behaviour as such and need to have the impact of their behaviour on others pointed out to them:

"Their reaction will either be one of horror and immediate regret or of aggression and disbelief. Once they have acknowledged the effect their behaviour is having on others, part of their recovery process will be to reassure them that they can still have a future with the organisation but only if they change." Counselling is one of the methods used.

Counselling

The AC says that those bullies who sign up for coaching often don't like their own behaviours, once they have recognised them as such, but then don't know how to stop - or how else to behave.

Offering techniques in stress management and non-aggressive assertiveness, says Witheridge, are other strands in changing the behaviour pattern of an established bully. "Counselling courses in personal development, training in the development of social skills are also part of the repair package that must be made available by any organisation which cares about the people it employs."

Georgina Woudstra, co-founder of Wisdom8, a boutique coaching firm, recommends gaining the trust of the bully and says that bad behaviour is rarely resolved by punishment: "Use your skills in empathy to listen to the bully and understand the source of the problem." The key, adds Woudstra, is finding out what is behind the bad behaviour.

"Perhaps the bullies only role model for handling difficult situations is brute force or attack. Help the bully to find other ways to get results."

"Perhaps the bullies only role model for handling difficult situations is brute force or attack. Help the bully to find other ways to get results."

Georgina Woudstra, Wisdom8

Communication barriers also play their part with different cultures using different forms of body language to display feelings and thoughts. Once again, Woudstra advises showing the bully how their chosen communication style impacts on others and says this often leads to work on emotional intelligence: "This involves understanding the triggers and developing strategies to create a gap between event and response, and applying more rational objective analysis to the situation before responding."

In more extreme cases, however, the only course of action is to slap on disciplinary action. "Too often bad behaviour is tolerated because of the fear of losing a high revenue generating individual, but the collateral damage can have an even greater impact. As coach, you might need to coach key stakeholders to understand this," says Woudstra.

Using the law

Leon Deakin, a solicitor at Thomas Eggar LLP, offers a good antidote to those sceptical of the benefits of helping bullies. The awards for bullying are severe, he says, particularly so if the bullying or harassment has a discriminatory element such as sex/race/religion.

"Even more concerning for employers is the fact that compensation for a discrimination claim is not limited in the same way as for constructive dismissal and a further award can also be made on the basis of injury to the claimant's feelings," he adds.

Deakin further warns: "It should also be highlighted that in discrimination cases individual employees can be named as a respondent as well as the employer which could result in other employees ending up being found financially liable for any award".

Strebler says that in recent research by ACAS, all those who had been through the tribunal process hadn't regretted it, in a sign that victims are becoming more confident at blowing the whistle. Fear can work both ways.

Policies can help, says Deakin. According to the Andrea Adams Trust, the number of UK businesses now writing up specific policies and procedures and providing specialist training to deal with workplace bullying has almost doubled from 11% in 2006, to 19% in 2007.

It is clear that using legal weaponry and company policy is one way of helping bullies to be aware of the penalties, but those that go one step further and offer coaching, understanding and rehabilitation will be the real winners and should be saluted for not taking the easy options. These businesses are the ones that are willing to take a gamble on the leopard changing its spots.

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