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How to Create a Bully-Free Workplace Environment

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

A guide for employers and managers

By Israel Kalman, MS

Originally Published in November, 2011

The job of a leader has become more difficult and dangerous than ever courtesy of anti-bullying laws. State governments have been caving in to public pressure to pass tough anti-bullying laws to make the workplace safer for employees. However, they are a Catch-22: the harder you try to comply with them, the worse the bullying gets.

There is a good chance that you, too, have supported the passage of anti-bullying laws, in the belief they will get rid of bullying in the workplace and make your job easier. What you may not have realized is that anti-bullying laws do not make bullying magically disappear. What they really do is make you legally responsible for making the bullying disappear. When Jane feels bullied by John, the law makes it your fault and Jane sues you–not John­. Furthermore, since the great majority of alleged workplace bullies are bosses, you are the one most likely to be prosecuted for being a bully.

Now, not only must you run your department well, you are also required to know how to make all employees happy with they way their coworkers treat them. Do you wonder how anti-bullying laws imbued you with this incredible ability? Don’t you wish you knew how to create complete harmony at home? Moreover, research has shown that the leading bullying prevention programs rarely reduce bullying and often result in an increase. Absurdly, you can now be brought to court for failing to accomplish what the bullying experts don’t know how to do.

Being a defendant in a bullying lawsuit is a losing proposition because even if you win, you will spend lots of money, experience tons of stress, and lose sleep. Hostilities among the parties involved will grow. They will spend less time on work and more on fighting legal battles. This process is likely to decrease the company’s efficiency, hurting the bottom line and even pushing it into bankruptcy.

So what should you do to avoid bullying lawsuits? The answer is simple: be a great leader. The company environment is a trickle-down affair; you set the tone for everyone under you.

Wise people have known for thousands of years that the secret formula for harmony is the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated if you were in their situation. You may think you know what this means, but you may not fully understand it. The message is radical. It is contrary to our nature.

Our nature is to treat others the way they treat us. When others are nice to us, we feel like being nice back. When they are mean to us, we feel like being mean back. However, if you treat others the way they treat you, you are putting them in control of you. Their behavior determines your behavior.

The Golden Rule puts you in control. It means you should be nice to people even when they are mean to you. Before long, they will be nice to you because they are programmed to treat you the way you treat them.

In short, when you respond to hostility with hostility, hostility escalates. When you respond with kindness, hostility disappears.

The following are some practical guidelines for operating by the Golden Rule.

1. Don’t come across as a bully. Social science experiments have demonstrated unequivocally that when people are placed in positions of power, they very quickly start abusing their power without necessarily being aware of it. Don’t be fooled by your title. Just because you are a boss, it doesn’t mean you are any better or smarter than the people who work under you.

2. Don’t look to blame problems on others. If you want people to like and respect you, take responsibility for solving the problem. You are the boss.

3. Don’t you like to feel appreciated? Well, so do your employees. Appreciation is a more powerful motivator than hope for a raise.

4. The number one destroyer of relationships is anger. No one will like and respect you for getting angry. If you find yourself getting angry often, you are accomplishing the opposite of what you want. You create a poisonous work environment. You are letting people defeat you, and unwittingly encouraging them to do what you don’t want them to. When employees do something wrong, instead of getting angry, correct them calmly and respectfully.

5. Be forgiving. No one is perfect, even leaders. We all make mistakes sometimes. When we forgive people, they feel better and so do we.

6. Just because you are treating your employees like friends, it doesn’t mean you have to give them everything they want or to let them do whatever they want. We often need to say no to people and to put firm boundaries. But we should treat them like friends when we do so, not like enemies. If you have to turn down a request, preface it with “I wish I could,” and give them a reasonable explanation why you can’t. If you need to reprimand someone, make it clear you are trying to help them do a better job. If you have to penalize someone, do it with regret, as in, “I wish we didn’t have to do this to you, but…” and explain why.

7. Don’t defend yourself from criticism. Other people see our faults better than we do. When we defend ourselves from their criticism, we are treating them like enemies, and we automatically lose because the defensive position is the weaker one. They won’t respect us and are likely to continue attacking us to get us to defend ourselves. Even if they are wrong, criticism is their attempt to help us. So appreciate it. You might learn something valuable.

8. Do not play judge between employees. Even if anti-bullying policies require you to do this, it is a mistake. You will increase hostility between them as each one tries to convince you that they are right and the other is wrong. And the one you judge against will hate you, too. If employees have a conflict, instruct them to talk to each other directly, and guide them to do it like friends, without anger.

Good luck! Let the Golden Rule be your guide and people will be happy to work for you.

Izzy Kalman is the creator of Bullies to Buddies, a program that teaches the practical application of the Golden Rule, and producer of a DVD program for the workplace called, Turning Hostility into Harmony.

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