I’m not a bully, am I?
Q: I’ve been managing people for years and never had a complaint...until now. I am a sales director for a pharmaceutical firm and have a very close, tight-knit team. I recently appointed a new national account manager, and whilst he seemed really good during the interview, now he’s joined the team, he’s not quite where I need him to be. I don’t see this as a problem, and in fact I have been spending quite a lot of time with him on a one-to-one basis, coaching and motivating him. I have done this with other members of my team and it’s always been really positively received. Granted, I am quite an outgoing person and very passionate about what I do, and he is a lot more reserved than me, but now he says I am bullying him. Am I?
A: It’s a positive sign that you are even prepared to consider whether you might be, even though you may be feeling hurt and defensive and even a bit scared of the consequences if someone decides that you are. Before you jump to any conclusions, find out what has been alleged and reflect on your behaviour towards your colleague.
Q: I haven’t treated him any differently to anyone else in the team. Surely that counts for something?
A: It can be relevant – in your favour or against you if others in the team support the allegation of bullying.
Q: I think that I have always been firm but fair. I haven’t threatened, intimidated or ridiculed him so how can he call me a bully?
A: It may be that a firm management style is intimidating to him. Bullying could also include sabotaging his work or giving him verbal abuse. You may not have intended to come across in the way that you have been by your colleague. That doesn’t mean that his opinion is invalid.
Q: What should I do?
- Handle the matter as sensitively and objectively as you can;
- Get some support and guidance from HR or, if appropriate, a fellow manager on what to do, or not to do;
- Ask for more information about the allegations if you haven’t already been provided with it already. Be mindful of who you should ask for that information and in what way. For example, the person who made the complaint may feel intimidated if you ask them in an open office to give you examples of bullying behaviour;
- Gather your thoughts, notes and other documents that relate to the events referred to in the allegations;
- Review the evidence. How do you feel? Can you see it from their perspective?
- Consider what you are prepared to do to make things better between you (whether you think you are a bully or not); and
- Consider whether there are any other relevant circumstances that you should raise to complete the picture. For example, is he raising this because he is trying to deflect attention from his poor performance?