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Volume 12, Issue 24;   June 13, 2012: Meeting Bullies: Advice for Chairs

Meeting Bullies: Advice for Chairs

by

Bullying in meetings is difficult to address, because intervention in the moment is inherently public. When bullying happens in meetings, what can you do?
Comparision of brain scans before and after a concussion

Comparision of brain scans before and after a concussion. Magnetic Resonance Imaging has been used to demonstrate that the effects of concussion persist long after the symptoms disappear. New understanding of concussion has been used in sports medicine as a basis for rule changes, as, for example, in the U.S. National Football League. In that league, since the installation of rule changes in 2011, concussions have been reduced by 12.5%, according to SportsConcussions.org.

Installing behavioral norms for a meeting, as suggested here, will have two effects. First, the norms give the chair a means of charging bullies with violations. Second, installing norms has a deterrent effect. Photo courtesy U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Workplace bullying in meetings is expensive, not least because it degrades the quality of the work performed in meetings. If allowed to persist, those who are targeted tend to shut down, depriving the meeting of their contributions. Moreover, once the bully has established dominance, solving the problem becomes more difficult. That's why bullying must be dealt with immediately.

Let's begin by defining workplace bullying. Definitions vary — here's mine:

Workplace bullying is any aggressive behavior, associated with work, and primarily intended to cause physical or psychological harm to others.

Although workplace bullying is usually cloaked in business purposes, the bully's primary intention is inflicting physical or psychological harm to consolidate power.

In all cases, the chair is responsible for ending the bullying. Let's consider the least complex case first: neither the bully nor the target is the chair. In this case, the chair can demand a change in behavior.

Here are six suggestions for chairs who observe bullying taking place. They follow a simple pattern: Prepare, Intervene, and finally, Escalate.

Publish behavioral norms
Publish behavioral norms — ten or a dozen at most — before taking any other action. Examples: Be respectful, don't raise your voice, don't interrupt, wait for recognition by the chair, and so on. Incorporate in this list any relevant items from the company code of conduct.
Document what's been happening
Prepare documentation that specifies for each bullying incident the date and time, the target's name, the bully's name, the behavior itself, and what you did about it. The audience for this document is the bully's supervisor, your supervisor, and possibly a Human Resources representative.
Seize the floor
As chair, when you notice bullying behavior, seize the floor. Typically, some behavioral norm has been violated. Caution the offender. For example, "George, let's be more respectful. You may continue if you agree to be more respectful. Otherwise I'll give the floor to someone else."
Speak to the bully privately
Speaking to the bully privately deprives the bully of an audience. Explain that you regard the bully's behavior as bullying, that it must stop immediately, and that you'll take further action if it continues, but don't specify what action you'll take.
Speak to the bully's supervisor
If the bullying persists, speak to the bully's supervisor. Ask the supervisor to let you know when corrective action has been taken.
Speak to your own supervisor privately
If the Speaking to the bully
privately deprives the
bully of an audience
bully's supervisor doesn't act promptly and effectively, seek advice from your own supervisor. Perhaps your supervisor and the bully's supervisor can resolve the issue together.

If these actions fail, the problem belongs to HR, since neither you, nor the bully's supervisor, nor your own supervisor has acted effectively to end the bullying. Present your documentation to a Human Resources representative, and ask for advice about what further action might be required of you.

Next time we'll explore what can be done when the chair is the bully.  Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: When the Chair Is a Bully: I  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesAre you being targeted by a workplace bully? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just USD 9.99. Order Now!

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More articles on Workplace Bullying:

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When an exchange between individuals, or between an individual and a group, goes wrong, threats often are either the cause or part of the results. If we know how to deal with threats — and how to avoid and prevent them — we can help keep communications creative and constructive.
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Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
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When the Chair of the meeting is so dominant that attendees withhold comments or slant contributions to please the Chair, meeting output is at risk of corruption. Because Chairs usually can retaliate against attendees who aren't "cooperative," this problem is difficult to address. Here's Part III of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
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Supervisors of bullies sometimes are unaware of bullying activity in their organizations. Here's a collection of indicators for supervisors who suspect bullying but who haven't witnessed it directly.
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See also Workplace Bullying and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The United States curling team at the Torino Olympics in 2006Coming November 22: Motivation and the Reification Error
We commit the reification error when we assume, incorrectly, that we can treat abstract constructs as if they were real objects. It's a common error when we try to motivate people. Available here and by RSS on November 22.
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When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.

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