What do you mean by the word ‘bullying’?

5th November 2014
If you disagree, dig into meaning.

I had a unique request this week. I was contacted by a member of a senior sales team who was looking for help as he perceived himself to be the victim of bullying within his organization. This is an area in which I am familiar and as an external coach the impact has usually been preparation to move on to another role. I am not sure whether this salesman will move on but during our phone conversation what became very clear was the lack of attention to definition and meaning of such a relevant high emotive words as  bullying and the organizations position of it being just  firm management.

He had reached an impasse with the organization, what he felt and thought was bullying was seen as firm management by the organization and progress was non existent.

‘It’s a simple change of language.’ I said to him. ‘Instead of asking the question, what is a bully? Why not ask the question, what do you mean by the word ‘bullying’ and what do you mean by the phrase ‘firm management’?’

So what was the organization’s definition of bullying and firm management when he asked them? They had none. They could have said that their definition of firm management was up to but not including physical violence within the context of business success  and anything past that could be defined as bullying. A culture of bullying in the workplace is not against the law and reading this back you can see how inappropriate it would be to define it this way.

What the salesman noticed was how much calmer and clear of mind he was when he simply asked the questions ‘What do you mean by….?’ It reduced his anger,confrontational approach and allowed him to gain some traction as he did want to rebuild his relationship on a new footing.

I have no evidence to support the salesman’s effectiveness in his role or whether this is simply a culture fit issue that he finds too uncomfortable. However, what learning could the organization take from this? I suggest that as they are setting ambitious growth targets that they consider why they are starting from a position of gradual loss of revenue over the last few years and why adopting the same sales strategy with greater punish and reward measures will have the outcome they assume it will. Time will tell.

Best wishes


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