We’ve all heard it a million times: “people prefer to do business with people they know, like, and trust.” Why, then, do so many businesses fail to create an environment where people get to know, like and trust each other? It would seem obvious by now that this is the key to sustainable growth in any sector. But there’s a side to this story that no one is talking about. It lurks in the shadows, in the unspoken conversations.
Have you ever sat in a meeting where everyone felt tense, and no one wanted to say anything about it out loud? Have you ever worked in a dysfunctional office where complaining and gossping ran amok? Have you ever had “that” coworker or boss whose destructive behavior everyone noticed, but no one had the courage to confront head-on?
I can sum it all up in one word: bullying.
Children don’t stop bullying when they become adults. They just get sneakier and learn to evade detection. The playground thug who slams the runt up against a locker seeks to achieve the same outcome as a passive-aggressive office cubicle mate. Their goal is to tear down the self-confidence of those around them, because in the mind of a bully, that’s the only way to win.
In the adult world, bullying may take the form of sexual harrassment, underhanded negotiation tactics, hoarding information, or deliberately arranging circumstances to get someone fired because they wouldn’t play ball. The list goes on ad infinitum. When these and other tactics become commonplace in a work environment, it can constrain a company’s ability to grow and even kill the business. The solution is neither simple nor easy.
It’s not simply a matter of firing or disciplining the bullies. Why? It is extraordinarily difficult to identify the skillful ones. They know how to slip under the radar. While some employees may ultimately need to leave, terminations alone will make no difference without identifying the systematic root causes that led to the problem in the first place. And if you’re not the boss, you have no authority to fire or discipline anyone.
Now here’s the good news: you don’t have to be the boss.
The real solution to workplace bullying begins with building people up. If you help someone find their own voice and discover their self-confidence, they will be your loyal ally forever. Do you work down the hall from a quiet person who rarely speaks in meetings? Do you have any co-workers who are brilliant at what they do, but seldom recognized for their contributions? Do you see anyone who seems isolated or who always eats lunch alone? Have you noticed anyone trying to suggest ideas, only to be ignored?
Trust is born one person at a time. It begins with taking a genuine interest in a real person. By doing a random act of kindness such as bringing someone’s lunch, or even just asking them about something of interest to them, can make all the difference in the world. This is what separates mediocre leaders from great ones in my experience. Managers who can delegate tasks efficiently are a dime a dozen. Great enterprises are built on loyalty, and that takes more effort than most people are willing to put in.
When a rising tide of kindness begins to surge in a business, there is no room for bullying. The offenders may leave, they may get themselves fired, or better yet, they sometimes see the light. Former perpetrators, when awakened, often make the most powerful and passionate champions.
One person can make a real difference, and it can begin today.