Dealing with employees who miss deadlines or whose work is below standard is relatively easy and straightforward. Dealing with persistently negative employees who don’t make big mistakes or openly violate organizational policy is tougher for many supervisors.
But it’s important that you deal swiftly and firmly because negative employees create suspicion, tension, cliques and hostility, and undermine leadership.
Most insidious are negative employees who come to work on time each day and are good workers technically, so traditional performance evaluations will grade them adequate or even better. They use negativity for bullying to get control.
Sweet and placating supervisors excuse Sally’s behavior because each incident is too minor to make a big deal about, because “that’s just way she is,” or because they hope that if they give Sally what she wants, she’ll repay their kindness with a positive attitude and support. But Sally is never satisfied. She’s just a bully.
Inexperienced supervisors don’t know how to intervene effectively or are afraid that Sally will accuse them of harassment. They feel isolated and helpless even though they’re supervisors.
Increasing productivity is relatively easy because you can measure and quantify production, and then respond effectively. But how do you fix poor attitudes, which you can’t quantify?
Actually, it’s not that hard.
A list of poor attitudes typically presented to me by managers and employees includes negativity, insubordination, narcissism, hyper-sensitivity, bullying, abuse of power and lack of responsibility.
How do you clarify attitudes you can’t quantify? The first step is to acknowledge that although you can’t quantify attitudes like “narcissistic control-freak,” you can recognize and document behaviors without resorting to mind reading, moral judgments or personal attacks. Then you can act on your documentation of non-professional versus professional behavior.
Make sure it’s legal. Then everyone from the owner on down is required to subscribe to or sign off on the new code of professional behavior. The code then becomes a significant part of everyone’s evaluations. Be consistent in rewarding the desired behavior and having consequences for actions against your code.
Although each situation is different, bullies exhibit common styles, techniques and patterns. These commonalities enable us see what responses are ineffective and also to develop responses that are effective to stop bullying.
Whether in relationships, by our own children’s temper tantrums or nastiness, by false friends, at school or in the workplace, there is one rule of thumb that’s critical in order to stop bullies: Don’t suffer in silence.
For some relationship examples, see the comments to the articles:
Kids’ silence prevents effective action from the principals and teachers who would protect them.
As parents, we must learn to recognize the signs that our children might be subjected to bullying and abuse. Sometimes, we must pry the truth out of our reluctant kids. Sometimes, we must check their phones, computers and social websites. Sometimes, we must investigate with parents of their friends or with teachers. Sometimes, we must learn to force reluctant principals to act, even though that might violate our old beliefs or values.
I’m not going into the many reasons that targets suffer in silence. We don’t need a scientific study to analyze all the reasons. If we and ten friends make a list, we’ll cover more than 90% of the reasons. So what?
We grow up testing ourselves; “Are we good enough? If not it’s our fault. Did we succeed; we still could have done more. Did we fail; it’s our fault.” Testing ourselves is a motivation strategy, “Figure out what’s wrong with us and improve it.” And behind it is the hidden message, “We’re defective and we’d better work at improving and perfecting ourselves every minute or no one will want us and we’ll fail.”
The strategy may work for us when we’re children, but it’s self-defeating when we’re adults.
We do grow up; we do get free of our families; we do get jobs, lovers, our own children. That seems to prove that the self-testing strategy works. Since we’re obviously still a long way from being good enough, so we’d better keep questioning ourselves in order to improve.
And if we can’t change a pattern, that means we have a great and permanent defect, an evil place inside of us, maybe too much ego, and we’re doomed to fail forever. And that feeds a vicious cycle:
Low self-confidence and low self-esteem --> so we give up ourselves even more --> we pick the wrong people and try to please them by doing what they want --> we fail once again and feel even worse --> our self-confidence and low self-esteem plummets -->…
So what can we do to find love and relationships that fit?
Instead of testing ourselves, we can test the world.
Act like we are and set high standards for behavior we want. We’re reasonably good, nice, decent people. Therefore, in addition to participating in the other person’s activities, ask the other person to participate in ours. Don’t justify our standards. Be behaviorally specific. Ask for more than vague words like “kindness, respect, appreciation, love.” Simply say, “No yelling, no hitting, no threatening, no relentless sarcastic blaming, no controlling, no public humiliating, no demanding perfectionism. Instead, speak softly, negotiate about what we do, give in and do what I want sometimes for no reason, keep disagreements private and my sense of humor counts.” We can fill in the rest of our lists from what we got or didn’t get in previous relationships.
“Create an isle of song in a sea of shouts.” Rabindranath Tagore said that decades ago. I agree. We were told that if we insist on our high standards and what we want, we’ll end up alone. “The only way to get someone is to lower your standards.” Nonsense. Of course, in all relationships we make agreements and we don’t always get our way, but we must not lower our important standards.
Now that we’re adults, now that we’ve been in and out of relationships in which we gave up our true selves, we’ve learned that we’ll never get the love we want if we fill our space with inappropriate, abusive bullies. We’ll never get what we need if we give up on ourselves. We’ll only get what we need, we’ll only find someone who loves us for ourselves if we act like ourselves and test the other person to see if they like that.
Of course the other person has free will also. They can stay or leave if they want. But if they leave because they don’t want to live up to our standards or they think we’re incompatible, we have to get over the emotional pain and be thankful that our isle is clear for someone else who wants to be with us as we are.
Only one of many examples: A homely, awkward girl with a wonderful personality and spirit. Of course, during high school and college she was rejected by all the boys who were looking for cheerleaders. As much as she wanted to be wanted, she knew in her heart that she didn’t want jerks like that and she wasn’t going to abandon herself in order to please one. Then she met someone who was worthy of what she wanted. And wonder of wonders, he was hot for her, body and soul. They’re still enthralled with each others’ unique greatness and with their fit with each other.
How can we improve if we’re not always testing ourselves? It’s simple, although not necessarily easy. We know when we haven’t lived up to our standards, when we’ve done or not done something we should have. We don’t have to beat ourselves up in order to apologize, make amends and do better next time. We simply dedicate ourselves to that task.
Many types of family bullying are obvious, whether it’s physical or verbal harassment, nastiness or abuse, and targets or witnesses usually jump in to stop it. The typical perpetrators are mothers and fathers bullying each other or the kids, sibling bullies, bullying step-parents or kids sneakily bullying a step-parent in order to drive a wedge between a biological parent and their new partner.
But many people allow extended family members to abuse their children or their spouses, especially at the holidays, because they’re afraid that protest will split the family into warring factions that will never be healed. They’re afraid they’ll be blamed for destroying family unity or they accept a social code that proclaims some image of “family” as the most important value.
Except in a few, rare situations, that’s a big mistake.
A rare exception might be an aged, senile and demented, or a dying family member whose behavior is tolerated temporarily while the children are protected from the abuse.
But a more typical example of what shouldn’t be tolerated was a grandpa who had a vicious tongue, especially when he drank. He angrily told the grandchildren they were weak, selfish and dumb. He ripped them down for every fault – too smart, too stupid; too fat, too skinny; too short, too tall; too pretty, too ugly; too demanding, too shy. He also focused on fatal character flaws; born lazy, born failure, born evil, born unwanted.
For good measure, he verbally assaulted his own children and their spouses – except for the favorite ones. He even did this around the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables when the parents and their spouses were present. He was always righteous and right.
I assume you’ve asked him to stop or given him dirty looks, but that only seemed to encourage him to attack you and your children more. Or he apologized, but didn’t stop for even minute. When you arrived late and tried to leave early, he attacked your family even more. He blamed you for disrupting the family. The rest of the adults also said that it’s your fault you aren’t kind and family oriented enough to put up with him.
What else can you do?
I think you have to step back and look at the big picture – a view of culture, society and what’s important in life. Only then can you decide what fights are important enough to fight and only then will you have the strength, courage and perseverance to act effectively.
Compare two views: one in which blood family is all important.
We are supposed to do anything for family and put up with anything from family because we need family in order to survive or because family is the greatest good. This view says that if you put anything above family, especially your individual conscience or needs, you’ll destroy the foundations of civilized life and expose yourself in times of need. In this view, we are supposed to sacrifice ourselves and our children to our biological family – by blood or by marriage.
We can see the benefits of this view. When you’re old and sick, who else will take care of you but kith and kin? In this view, the moral basis of civilization is the bond of blood and marriage. Violate that relationship, bring disunity into the family by standing up for your individual views and you jeopardize everything important and traditional.
In my experience, this view is usually linked to the view that men and inherited traditions should rule. Boys are supposed to torment girls because that teaches them how to become men. Girls are supposed to submit because that’s their appointed role – sanctioned by religion and culture. If men are vicious to women and children, if old people are vicious to the young, that’s tolerated.
Contrast this view with an alternative in which behavior is more important than blood.
Your individual conscience and rules of acceptable behavior are more important than traditions that enable brutality and pain generation after generation. What’s most important in this view is that you strive to create an environment with people who fill your heart with joy – a family of your heart and spirit.
If you choose the first view, you’ll never be able to stop bullying and abuse. Your children will see who has the power and who bears the pain. They’ll model the family dynamics they saw during the holidays. You’ve abdicated the very individual conscience and power that you need to protect yourself and your children. You’ll wallow in ineffective whining and complaining, hoping that someone else will solve your problem.
The best you can hope for outside the family, when your children face bullies who have practiced being bullies or being bullied at home, is that school authorities will do what’s right and protect your children from bullies. But how can you expect more courage from them than you have? Or why shouldn’t they accept the culture which tolerates bullying and abuse, just like you have?
Are you the biological child in the family or merely a spouse?
Is your spouse willing to be as strong as you?
Who’s the perpetrator – a grandparent, another adult or spouse, a cousin, a more distant relative?
Do you see the perpetrator every year or once a decade?
Do other adults acknowledge the abuse also?
Expert coaching and good books and CDs like “Bullies Below the Radar: How to Wise Up, Stand Up and Stay Up” and “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks” will help you make the necessary inner shifts and also develop a stepwise action plan that fits your family situation and newly developed comfort zone. For example, see the case studies of Kathy, Jake and Ralph.
Keep in mind that while you hope the perpetrator will change his or her behavior, your goal is really to have an island with people who make every occasion joyous. You must be prepared to go all the way to withdrawing from family events or to starting a fight that will split the family into two camps. But at least you’ll be in a camp in which you feel comfortable spending the holidays.
Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised. Sometimes when one person speaks up, many others join in and the combined weight of opinion forces an acceptable change. Sometimes if you say you’ll withdraw, you’ll be seen as the most difficult person in the room and the rest of the family will make the abuser change or ostracize him or her.