Tag Archives: Mediation

Advice to a Bully

You do realise that 10% of these people will dislike you as soon as you open your mouth, don’t you Mike?

I’m just about to present to 150 senior leaders in education when my co-presenter offers this heartening advice. She’s a psychologist specialising in recruitment. Companies pay her to spot sociopathic and psychopathic behaviours at interview. They argue her fee is far, far less than the price of employing a bully.

Her helplful observation is actually empowering and emancipating. Get over expecting everyone to like you or your message. People see the world in very different ways and that’s OK. My colleague just happens to have put a number on it. It rings true: I have to work a little harder with one in ten, one in twenty people and why would this audience be any different?

Maybe you’d have felt bullied in this situation; a victim of her well-timed passive-aggression designed to destabilise a co-presenter – I was only sharing information with you, I thought you’d be interested!

Maybe she’d have caused her own alarm bells to ring at interview. Who knows her intention. I never asked.

Anyhow the keynote passed off without a hitch and my life carried on. But I’m reminded of this now in early 2020 (Corona Virus, Brexit etc.) as current secretary of state for the home department Priti Patel stands accused of bullying behaviour. Initiated by the departure of senior home office official Sir Philip Rutman, who is suing the UK government for constructive dismissal, the story is playing out around the issue of bullying. Is she a bully or a strong and focussed leader? Are her behaviours appropriate? Misunderstood? Effective? Is this just someone’s hissy fit in response to Patel’s poorly executed ‘difficult conversation’. And would my colleague have nailed her at interview? We won’t know for a while, if ever.

I once set up an anti-bullying program in school. After much research I chose the ‘No Blame’ approach.  Although vilified by punishment-hungry traditionalists, the system worked. It seeks long term solutions by presenting the full impact of the bullying behaviour to the perpetrator – but without blame. For once they are not judged. They have a chance to assimilate the consequences of their actions. The victim gets an equal voice and healing happens. We found most times the bully was themselves a victim, their skewed actions a cry for control and esteem.

But that was children, learning to navigate power. These are adults who should know better. And what is better? I’m not suggesting the No Blame approach for the UK government. I am mooting ‘Radical Candour’ to anyone who finds themselves in a bullying scenario.

Conceived by entrepreneur and CEO coach Kim Scott, this approach to strong leadership is deceptively simple:

1. Care personally

2. Challenge directly

Missing 1. you are abrasive and bullish, without 2. weak, unwilling to speak necessary truths. If both are in deficit there’s toxicity and manipulation.

No, for strong and effective leadership Scott argues we need to say it like it is to a person who we continue to value.

Maybe, way ahead of Scott’s thinking, that’s exactly what my co-presenter was doing all those years ago.

Something to think about

What features of radical candour do you see in yourself, your leaders?

Bully? Bullying behaviour? Sociopathic or sociopath?

What’s the best way to speak truth to power?

How do we teach pupils Radical Candour?


Becoming a Mediator

Conflict 1

Becoming a Mediator

I’m involved in a workplace disagreement today. My partner (business and life), Lucy (above, top, bearing down), wants my input on finance and marketing jobs; I’d planned to write resources. We’re not on task because we’ve got the extra job of arguing. Five minutes of sulking (me); justification (her); and a coffee in the kitchen fixed it. After 20 years of occasional working from home we’re good at the swift resolution of minor misunderstandings.

But I’m not making light of the serious stuff; the scenarios where interpersonal conflict undermines confidence and diminishes productivity. These are workplace ‘disagreements’ that really hurt and cause lasting harm. Professional relationships sour into manipulation, harassment and bullying where one human being willfully (or even accidentally) damages another. It might be a difference of opinion, banter gone too far, unhealthy competition or even sexual and physical abuse. All are commonplace; none need go unacknowledged or unresolved.

As a coach I see a lot of this second hand. 90% of my coaching work includes  ‘people issues’. My clients are either involved or trying to sort things out, and are often wholly unprepared to do so.  As well as this, coachees sometimes have internal conflict, battling with themselves, beating themselves up or judging themselves against some irrelevant personal criteria. You could say they have a longstanding workplace grievance against themselves. I can work with that, it’s my job, but I can’t reach beyond and into their workplace unless invited to do so.

So I’ve decided to invite myself, by training as a mediator. I’ve decided it’s a natural and necessary development of my professional offer and my training starts in March. I’ll share the journey with you here and I hope it helps you in some way too. You can even join me on the training if you like – details here

Starting Points

Conflict is a fact of life in the modern workplace; against a backdrop of tumultuous political and economic change and highly pressurised work environment.
Managing conflict in the modern workplace, CIPD 2020

CIPD Workplace Report
If you want to know the scale of the challenge – and what to do about it – start here. This report from CIPD describes the good, the bad and the ugly of the contemporary workplace. One finding (from over 1000 respondents) suggests that, “people managers are at the forefront of identifying and managing conflict, as well as often being a cause of it.” Conflict arises from differences in personality and working styles and the most common associated behaviour is lack of respect.

The potential impact is stark:

Our findings show how devastating the negative effects of conflict can be on people. Stress, a drop in motivation or commitment, anxiety and a loss of self confidence are the most common effects on people, but some individuals say the impact is felt for years, and their confidence will never be the same again.

However there’s good news, which is part of the compelling attraction of mediation,

Respondents to our employer survey are significantly more likely to report a number of tangible outcomes in their ability to handle conflict where they have invested in people management skills training for their managers. 

Learning to Mediate

Obviously nothing replaces actually doing it under the guidance of experienced trainers, but I’ve found The Mediator’s Handbook an inspiring and practical read. It’s a ‘what/how’ book rather than a ‘why’ one, covering the principles and practice of successful mediation. I think I’ll leave it laying around next time I’m working from home.

Mediators Handbook

Something to Think About

  • What kind of situations cause workplace conflict?
  • What’s your experience of conflict or grievance?
  • What, exactly, is conflict?
  • Is one person’s conflict another’s lively debate or bonding chat?

Website: www.thinkingclassroom.co.uk

Contact: mike@thinkingclassroom.co.uk