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Back off!

David Bannister
Bullying [Converted]
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There’s a lot in the media at the moment about “bullying”.  It seems that often when you challenge a point of view there is a risk that the challenge could give rise to an accusation of bullying.  When we ask people about which negotiating situation they find most challenging they often tell us it involves aggressive behaviour.  The use and abuse of power is a significant issue in life.  People who are bigger, stronger, more experienced or further up the organisational hierarchy can use their power positively and negatively.  Abusing power to the detriment of others is today often described as  “bullying” even though the original meaning of a bully was a “sweetheart”.

People abuse power because doing so works for them.  When we assess the power balance, we may judge that we are in a less advantageous position (although we often underestimate our own power).  If you think that you have the balance of power and that your goals are aligned then you should explore ways of achieving mutually beneficial outcomes – adopt a collaborative approach.  If you feel that although goals are aligned, the other party has the greater leverage, then seek to demonstrate that you can bring to the negotiation things that the other party values – that way, you can contribute and get an outcome which benefits you.

The problems usually arise when the other party wants their own way and sees crushing you as a legitimate means of getting it.  Remember, complete powerlessness is very rare – you usually have something the other party wants and aggression is mostly a tactic.  People use tactics because they work for them – bullies bully because they have got away with it before either with you or with others.

Abuse of power is usually determined by where your interests lie in relation to the activity.  Recently, a council meeting setting a budget was halted by a loud pro-Palestinian demonstration in the council chamber.  One of the councillors then tried to push one of the demonstration leaders out of the chamber.  I am sure  if you asked either of these players which of them was abusing power, they would both say it was the other party and that they were acting entirely within their rights.  In a similar way to other negotiating issues, it is never a bad thing to try your best to see the things  you plan to do from the other party’s perspective.

As with many issues, good communication is key.  When you negotiate with an aggressor, be very clear about what you want to achieve, where you might be willing to be flexible and, importantly, where you are not.  Very critical to all of this is avoiding emotions – remember the quote from George Bernard Shaw: “Never wrestle with a pig, you both  get dirty and the pig enjoys it!”  Don’t be drawn in to the temptation to use similar tactics back, they are almost certainly better at it than you, they have had more practice.  Keep things factual, describe the behaviour they exhibit and what effect it has on you and others then prescribe different behaviour for the future always avoiding evaluative expressions – accusing someone of being unreasonable, belligerent or a bully will just make them more so because it focuses on the emotion and not the facts: and the more you do it the more likely the real issue of the negotiation is to get lost in the ensuing scrap.  It is also helpful to make a timeline for improvement and to monitor it regularly.

Newspapers may have us believe that workplace bullying is more common than it has been – it probably isn’t, but if we encounter it, we need to treat it as we would if we met it in a negotiation – recognise it, call it out by describing it and propose better behaviour.  Your assertiveness balances the power with the aggressor and promoting your strength  brings positivity back.  Aggression, as anyone on a Scotwork course will tell you, very often leads to deals which are not optimal as the outcome is achieved without cooperation or real commitment to the outcome because no-one ever made themselves great by showing how small someone else is.

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