All by yourself?
Some problems are exacerbated by nothing more than your own thoughts, in which case a healthy dose of perspective may be all the remedy that’s needed
10 November 2008
"Hi, the problem I’m having is kind of more personal than professional, although it’s having a major impact on my job. I work in a family business. I’m not a member of the family but I am in management. I think after a few months of things happening, I realise that I am being bullied by other members of staff. It was just small stuff at first from colleagues, like asking me to do things that aren’t really my job, and when it’s not really their role to be instructing me.
Then when I’d ask these certain co-workers to do something they’d ignore it or say they were too busy. Other staff under me have picked up on this idea that I’m a soft target and while there hasn’t been much, there’s been some joking at my exspense and even what I’d consider to be disrespectful behaviour. Lately, I’ve been feeling worse about the situation, since I’ve noticed that meetings are taking place without me that should really include me, and other stuff like that. I’m feeling very isolated, it’s affecting my job and my standing with the other staff, and I don’t know who to turn to – as I said, I’m not a member of the family. Also, I don’t want them to think I’m really weak either. What can I do to get back control of this situation?"
Many professional coaching sessions raise personal issues or professional issues and visa versa. It’s quite difficult to separate the two parts of our lives. Often we look to our professional life to give us the “lift” we may be looking for in our personal life. When we are low in our personal life, it can and often does at a sub-conscious level have a significant impact on how we live our work lives.
Let’s step back from the problem you have raised; particularly the bullying and the family business. It is unclear in your e-mail if most of the staff are family members. It might be a good idea to forget about the fact that this is a family business as I expect that this may be influencing the internal dialogue inside your head!
From my experience as a coach, bullying rarely exists, it is often perceived. Whilst I do not want to take away from the situation you face on a daily basis or indeed real cases of bullying in the work-place, I would ask you to look at the issues you raise from a different angle; one without the family business and the bullying. If you can cast these issues aside, the problems you are facing will be diminished.
Putting a different spin on things
I know that true cases of bullying exist in the workplace and elsewhere. I also know that in nearly all of the coaching cases relating to bullying that I have been presented with over the years that it is generally only perceived bullying. How? During coaching sessions, when we break down what is really happening on a day to day basis, and task by task basis, my clients see that they are putting their own spin on what is being said in the office or what is happening.
It’s often the difference between the strengths of the two characters that feels like bullying. One feeling of weakness compounded by another can increase the difference of strength between the two characters; often leaving the weaker character feeling unable to cope on a daily basis in the workplace. Often when we approach the “bully” he/she has no idea that the employee/colleague felt bullied.
I want you to think of a time when you felt really assertive and strong (either in a work situation or otherwise). Really think about the situation. Take a few moments to write down how you were behaving, what you were doing, what you were saying, how you felt and what it looked like. Look at the words that you have written down. This is your true personality. This is who you are. Now we need to help you to find that person again.
You are in management, therefore operating at a senior level within an organisation. Let us look at some of the competencies we would expect of a manager and see how balanced your competencies are using the Management Competency Wheel.
The eight sections in the wheel represent balance. Regarding the centre of the wheel as zero and the outer edge as 10, rank your level of satisfaction with each competency area by drawing a straight or curved line to create a new outer edge. The new perimeter of the circle represents your Management Competency Wheel. How balanced is your wheel?
Look at each of your rankings. Let’s take communication as an example. How do you rank your communication out of 10? Let’s say it is a five. What do you need to do to bring this up to a six, perhaps? Then ask yourself what other actions are required to bring it to a seven, eight etc.
For each of the eight core competencies, write down, what you believe a 10 looks like. Using communication as an example, this is what my list would look like based on your e-mail:
Highly effective communicator
• All parties communicating effectively
• I am saying no to tasks that I am not responsible for and am clear with my reasons why
• I am effective at communicating tasks to other staff
• Closed door communication no longer exists unless absolutely necessary
• Each of the members of the family is aware of the communication lines within the organisation
(Please feel free to add to this list)
Carry out this exercise for each of the other seven areas in the wheel and your direction in the organisation will become clearer. Once you have devised your lists at the level of 10, write down what actions you need to take to bring you up to that mark or as close as possible.
This all appears to be simple in writing. What if you do not have a coach to provide you with the “gentle nudge” to remind you of your actions? If you opt to be your own coach, I will leave you with a few techniques to help you along your way.
- Yes/No game. Say no to things that you normally say yes to and say yes to things you normally say no to. Watch how you change and observe how others change around you. Keep a note of how you feel and how others react. If you find this difficult, ask yourself “If I was at my best, what would I do right now?”
- Switching perspectives. It is very useful to switch perspectives on a problem. What do I mean? Seeing the issue through the eyes of someone else. The easiest way to do this is to imagine you meet a friend for coffee. He/she presents you with a similar problem or even one of the actions you propose to take; describing it in detail but leaving out the bullying. What advice would you give to your friend? Using this technique often removes the emotion from the issue.
- Villain/Victim mode. Finally, I will leave you with this coaching tool that I wrote about earlier the year. When dealing with work relationships, I normally recommend a tip referred to as the ‘The Relationship Triangle’ (ref. Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks). If you explore your relationships with other people you will notice that these relationships usually fall into three roles; the victim, the villain and the hero. The problem is that when you switch roles (stop being the victim), the triangle is so stable that the relationship issue usually continues unless the core of the issues is addressed.
The issue is addressed when you take responsibility and stop distributing blame. We tend to seek to distribute fault and blame out freely when the reality is that we are normally accountable for some of the blame. What I would suggest is that you explore the relationships that you have with your work colleagues taking a different perspective.
i. Write out your story as if you are the victim. Life has been hard and you have it tough
ii. Next, tell the story as if you were the evil villain; rant, rave and cite examples
iii. Now tell the story as if you are the hero that saved the day
Notice which of the roles is the most familiar. Which version of the story is closest to the line that you have been telling yourself?
Here is to changing your life around! Good luck.