Monday, February 23, 2015

The Workplace: Playground of the Bully Boss

According to a recent 2014 Workplace Bullying survey, Bullies abound in business.  More than 65 million workers in the US reported being affected by workplace bullying behaviour.  The Workplace Bullying Institute has found that, of those people reported having been repeatedly bullied in the workplace, 72% of those bullies were bosses.  It seems that as much as the schoolyard is the stomping ground of Bully boys and girls, the workplace is the playground of the Bully Boss.

Bullying in the workplace can take on many guises; yelling, cursing, losing temper, putting people down, negative and unfair criticism, discounting ideas, snide remarks, exploitation, and other controlling behaviours.  Taken on their own no one behaviour constitutes bullying, it's the continual and perpetual put downs and negative behaviours that create the abusive environment, serving to undermine the potential success of the employee.  The continual need to run a gauntlet of fear, every time they show up to work, takes a toll on the mental and physical health and well-being of the employee.
"Workplace bullying has become a silent epidemic in North America, one that has huge hidden costs in terms of employee well-being and productivity.  Also known as psychological harassment or emotional abuse,  bullying involves the conscious repeated effort to wound and serioudly harm another person, not with violence, but with words and actions.  Bullying damages the physical, emotional and mental health of the person who is targeted."             Ray Williams, Wired for Success
The Top 5 health issues experienced by those being bullied include:
  • Anxiety (76%)
  • Loss of Concentration  (71%)
  • Disrupted Sleep  (71%)
  • Hyper-vigilance Symptoms  (60%)
  • Stress Headaches  (55%)
Additionally, the bullying behaviour puts people into a protective mode which means they are not likely to look for opportunities to stand out in any way.  They do not seek any unwanted attention and therefore make fewer decisions, back away from any risk taking behaviours and stop speaking up in meetings or sharing their knowledge and expertise.  It is clear that the organization then begins to suffer the loss of the contributions of these people.  

If the organization 'loses' the efforts and contributions of bullied employees, why are there so few organizations that are actively taking a stance against bullying behaviour?  Apparently the biggest determining factor rests on how 'successful' the bully is.  Not in their bullying but in making money for the company.  

Unsuccessful bullies don't last long.  But successful bullies?  It seems that the positive results that they bring to the organization might lead the company to attempt to 'overlook' some of their negative behaviours.  Enough so that many bullies come to believe that they are 'untouchable' or bullet-proof, simply because they make money for the company. At some point though, it becomes too costly for the organization to continue to overlook or ignore the behaviours... but only if the organization is put in the position of coming to understand just what the 'bully' is costing versus making for them.

In either event, it is clear that we will all face a workplace bully at least once in our careers, if not more often.  Just what actions do the experts recommend we take in dealing with them?  Here are the best Tactics of the Pros...

  • Confront the Bully.  Now I want to be clear that not all experts support this, especially if the bully is your boss.  Confrontation can come with a cost.  That said though, many of our stressors are driven out of a sense of inaction so taking a stand for yourself may be just what is needed.  If so, there are a couple of common recommendations that all pros would offer: confront in private because bullies won't back down in public, confront early so that the bully has not gotten locked into an expectation of treatment or bullying, use the moment to highlight your boundaries.  Bullies typically lack boundaries on their behaviours. Confronting them helps you to establish yours.  In essence... they can't bully you if you refuse to be bullied.
  • Be specific about the behaviour.  Be clear and to the point about the behaviour you find unacceptable, describing it with as little emotion as possible.  Additionally, be specific about how you would like to be treated instead.  Don't leave them to come up with an alternative behaviour, they clearly don't have a clue.  Share with them what and how you expect to be treated in future.
  • Don't be an Armchair Psychoanalyst.  Don't attempt to psychoanalyze the bully, offering your own armchair diagnosis as to 'why' they engage in the behaviour.  Don't worry about the reasons, just focus on the results you are after.  You are trying to control the emotional aspects of the dialogue, not escalate theirs.
  • Use positive reinforcement.  Catch them doing something right!  When they do treat you courteously or professionally, thank them.  Reward them.  Recognize them for making an effort. Even if they aren't perfect yet, reinforce the positive direction.  
  • Be a model of good citizenship.  Model the behaviours you are after.  It will be difficult to get others to treat you better than you are seen treating others.  If you want to hold the bully accountable to a certain yardstick you had better be living to the same measurement!
  • Speak to co-workers.  Determine if you are the only one being mistreated or whether others are experiencing the same treatment.  Is your boss 'picking on you' because they are a bully or are they, in fact, attempting to deal with your poor performance?  Ensure that your issue with their behaviour isn't really an issue with yours.  
Many people choose to internalize the bullying.  Don't allow someone else's issues and inappropriate behaviour to become your issues.  Name it!  Legitimize it!  It is bullying, it is psychological harassment, it is emotional abuse and it is a problem with them, not with you.  There is tremendous healing power in naming something.  

Many people choose to try to ignore the bullying, fearing that they may lose their jobs otherwise. However, the targets of bullying tend to lose their jobs (involuntarily, by choice, or for health reasons) over 75% of the time.  It is therefore no riskier to call out a bully than it is to try to ignore the behaviour.  When calling out the bully though, ensure that you have your escape route planned in advance and your documentation of their behaviour in place.  

The best method to use in highlighting their behaviour to senior management is to build a business case demonstrating that the bully is simply 'too expensive to keep'.  Pull together as much documentation as you can that clearly demonstrates the Costs of Bullying.  Who has left due to the bully?  How much has it cost to search for, hire and train replacements?  How much has the organization had to pay out in sick leave for bullying related illnesses, absenteeism, or even past litigation of complaints?

The bottom line truly comes down to the fact that Bullying, in whatever form, is unacceptable whether at school, at home or at the office.  Don't suffer in silence, seek out the help you need whether it's to manage the situation or to bow out of it.  There are always options, ensure you explore yours! 

Monday, February 16, 2015

5 Steps to Building your Self Confidence

Perhaps one of the most common requests that I receive from my coaching clients is for guidance on how to feel more Confident. Perhaps one of the most highly prized, and envied, characteristics of leaders is their confidence, that ease and belief they have in their ability to make things happen.

We know also that highly confident people tend to: get promoted more and faster, be seen as more attractive, make more money, be seen as charismatic, be remembered longer, be viewed as more decisive, smarter, and even taller.  In fact, the list is far longer than this but it all stems from the projection of confidence.

This is all well and good for those that possess confidence, that belief in their ability to perform, but what about those of us that could do with a little more of this quality?  That struggle to find it in ourselves to believe in ourselves?

The good news is that confidence is not something that you are simply born with, it is something that you can develop and grow.  To start it is helpful to have a clear idea of who you are, gaining a clear picture of what your current strengths and abilities and even weaknesses are.  You need to have a clear perspective of what you currently bring to the table, in order to know what to work on and what to promote.

If you need to gain a better perspective on this, complete the following exercise.  Divide a piece of paper into three columns and label them Strengths, Weaknesses, Accomplishments.

  1. Strengths.  You want to understand the Strengths you possess because these are the areas that you are most likely going to want to promote to others and perhaps build your expertise around. 
  2. Weaknesses.   I deliberately label the second column Weaknesses and not Developmental Needs because you don't want to waste time in developing weaknesses that aren't needed by your current job or that you do not possess an interest in.  You can't be good at everything so don't waste time that could be spent creating excellence in a strength just to create mediocrity out of an unnecessary weakness.  
  3. Accomplishments.  The third column requires you to compile a list of your Accomplishments to date.  Large or small you have them.  Don't stop until you have listed at least 20. Any obstacle you have overcome in life is an accomplishment.  Anything you did that you felt a sense of pride in doing or attempting is an accomplishment.  If you struggle with completing any of your columns then consider enlisting the aid of a few close friends.  Ask them to complete the form for you, using their responses to help you gain some perspective on strengths and accomplishments that you are failing to recognise and give yourself credit for.  
Many find that just completing the exercise above helps them to already feel more confident about themselves and what they offer.  It is sometimes far too easy to lose sight of everything that we have accomplished, everything we do possess strength in when we are only focused on what we lack.  We are all a constant mix of strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures.  It is important to always be looking at the full picture and not just a portion.  As good a starting point as this is though, I offer the following 5 tips for helping you to continue to gain and strengthen your confidence.
  • Focus on Learning and Improving.  Developing our skills and knowledge about something can increase our confidence and belief in our abilities in that area.  Often our lack of confidence stems from our belief that we don't know enough or that we lack the necessary skill. Use your understanding of your strengths to build your skills and talents.  We can't be great at everything, but we can all be great at something.  Pick your area and focus on strengthen your skills in that area.  
  • Don't aim for Perfect.  Making mistakes is normal.  Use them as an opportunity to learn. Not leaving any mental room for the possibility of mistakes can undermine our confidence, feeding into the belief that we can't do it.  Instead, expect mistakes, learn from them and move on.  
"A person, who never made a mistake, never tried anything new"    Albert Einstein
  • Start Small.  It is the act of doing and accomplishing things that builds our confidence to do more and other in future.  Even small steps have a positive impact.  Take action, get it done and build positive proof of your ability.  Doing things builds your confidence, worrying about doing them builds your fear.  Take action.
 "Nothing builds self-esteem and self-confidence like accomplishment"  Thomas Carlyle
  •  Do Your Homework.  There is no substitute for preparation.  The more prepared you are for something, the more confident you will be in your ability to achieve it.  Don't focus on how much better prepared you 'wish' you were, focus on being as prepared as time and circumstances allow.  Preparation, of however much, is always better than none.
  • Keep a Success Log.  As you likely discovered, trying to recall our accomplishments can be a difficult task.  Far better to maintain an ongoing Success Log, in which you continuously record your victories, both large and small, as they occur.  As we continue to focus forward, on all we want to accomplish, it can become far too easy for us to lose sight of all of the successes that got us to this point, or to minimize their value and import.  Recording them as they occur will help to remind you of everything you overcame to get to where you are, helping you to minimize any doubts you may have about your abilities to overcome barriers in the future.
Our confidence is not static, it rises and falls in the face of different situations and their perceived level of challenge.  Use the above exercises and tips to help you to gain the level of confidence you need to face those challenges head-on, to become all that your meant and deserve to be.  I know that there is greatness in you and have every confidence in your uncovering it for yourself.  

Monday, February 9, 2015

Are you Addicted to the Opinions of Others?

  • Are you concerned with what others might be saying about you?
  • Do you hesitate to act upon your good ideas in case others don't think it's as good as you do?
  • Have you over-leveraged yourself financially (house, cars, trips, clothes... stuff) just to keep up with those around you?
  • Do you find yourself agreeing with people even if/when you disagree?
  • Do you hesitate to invite people to your house because you feel it's too small, unimpressive, or not in a great neighbourhood?
  • Do you not order what you really want for lunch because you're concerned about what your friend might think about your eating habits?
  • Do you not take your partner/spouse to a work event with you because you are concerned with what your co-workers might think?
  • Do you not pursue a job you would love simply because others might not think it's important enough?

The need for the approval of others can be a very secretive need.  It can influence our decisions without our even being aware that we are making choices based on the reactions of others, not out of a true personal interest.  The need for approval gets conditioned into us from the day we are born and can serve, for many, as their primary source of self esteem.  Somehow the recognition of others adds to our perceived level of self-worth and value.

Let's face it, we all care to some extent, what our family and friends think of us.  This need not be particularly detrimental or undermine our sense of self.  However, the trick is to ensure that we don't come to care so much what others think that it becomes our thoughts.  Becoming addicted to the opinions of others can repress our own expression of who we are and what we truly believe and value.

When we get caught up in trying to please others, to ensure that they think well of us, we become overly accommodating in our attitude.  We engage in many unconscious 'likability' behaviours that signal to others our desire to please them.  However, by trying so hard to accommodate everyone, typically in an attempt to be liked and respected, we actually can appear overly solicitous and even obsequious, becoming a person that no one likes or respects.
"You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do"          Eleanor Roosevelt
In a study conducted by the National Science Foundation, it was found that people have as many as 50,000 thoughts a day.  The sad truth is that people are so caught up in living their lives that they rarely even spare a thought or two for us.  Even if they thought about us ten times a day though, it would still only consume .02% of their daily thought total.  You don't even make a dent.

The real truth therefore, about every worry you have about what people will think of you... is that they aren't thinking of you.  Most people filter their thoughts through their ego.  How important you really are to them, to their lives, goals, wants and needs, will determine how much they likely are going to think of you.  That big list of people that care about your car, your clothes, your house, your job, your sexual orientation, your friends, your education, your hobbies... just got infinitely smaller.

People are always going to have an opinion of you.  People have opinions about people they don't know, which means they will certainly have an opinion about those they do.  And certainly, everyone is entitled to their opinion, whether Right, Wrong or Indifferent.  However, their opinion need not become yours.  You have a right to choose how you respond to it, to Accept it, Reject it, or Ignore it, just as they have the same choices regarding your opinion of them.

People are also going to have an opinion about the choices you make, no matter who you are trying to please, yourself or them.  Sometimes your choices will please many, sometimes your choices will please only a few.  The important measure is whether they are pleasing to you.  What you will find, when you are in your 90's reflecting back on your life is that yours is likely the only opinion that will ultimately matter to you; did you live a life that mattered... to you.

In the immortal words of John Fogerty, in his song 'Garden Party'...
"It's all right now, I learned my lesson well.  You see, you can't please everyone, so you got to please yourself"
And, if you feel compelled to sing that line to yourself over and over, or to imitate Ricky Nelson singing it to you, or adopt it as your mantra... go right ahead. I'll likely be singing it right along with you.  Some might think we're crazy but that's their opinion.

What's yours?

Monday, February 2, 2015

Risks Versus Opportunities

Pssst... c'mere... wanna take a risk?

Why do many of us see taking a risk as something to avoid as assiduously as we would a guy standing on the corner trying to sell us a watch from the depths of his trench-coat?

When did risk-taking take on a negative connotation?  The fact is, every decision carries an element of risk, even the decision to not take a risk. There is a cost to every choice we make in life, large or small, and yet we still manage to make choices. However, label one of those choices 'risky' and we immediately begin dredging up visions of everything that could possibly go wrong.  Research has shown that when we evaluate the potential outcome of something that we have labelled as 'risky', we have a tendency to:

  • over-estimate the likelihood of something going wrong
  • we 'Catastrophize' the outcomes, exaggerating the perceived consequences of failing
  • we under-estimate our capabilities in dealing with those perceived consequences and
  • we discount the cost and impact to us of not taking the risk
We then remain firmly in place on the couch.  

When we hesitate to take risks it is because we are focusing solely on the loss and not focusing on the potential gains.  If we want to have and experience something more or different from what we have, then we are going to have to risk trying something different in order to get it.  Focusing solely on the possible cost of the risk leads us to stick with the status quo, living safe but infinitely smaller lives.
"The biggest risk is not taking any risk.  In a world that's changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks"       Mark Zuckerberg
In order to step out of our comfort zone and learn to embrace the benefits of risk-taking more fully, here's a few steps that will help get you up off that couch.

1.  Shift the focus from the potential Cost to Gain.  Sure the world is full of uncertainty but not all risks have negative consequences.  Sit down and take an open and honest look at the cost of inaction versus the cost of action, along with the potential benefits of inaction versus action.  Fight the tendency to 'awfulize' the potential negative outcomes by focusing more fully on what the positive outcomes look like.  Feel them, smell them, experience them.  The clearer our perspective of what they may be, the more desirable they appear, the easier it will be to let go of our fear and step forward.

2.  Build your Risk-Taking Muscle.  As with anything, the more we take risks, the better we get at it.  The key here then is to start small.  Researcher Norris Kreuger Jr. and Peter Dickson discovered that engaging in even small, measured risk-taking behaviours can increase your confidence and prepare you for facing and handling bigger risks.  It's experience that helps build confidence. Take a few small risks to help you build your base of experience.

3.  Not all Risks are Equal.  There is a difference between jumping into taking a Risk with no planning and taking a Calculated Risk.  You want to mitigate any of the potential negative outcomes of a risk through planning and preparation.  Just as professional football players assume the risk of a permanent career-ending injury each time they step out on the field might mitigate the negative impact by developing outside businesses during their off-season.  Don't confuse taking a risk with impulse actions.  Think, plan and then jump.

4. Accept that Failures Happen.  Not all risks pay off.  That's inevitable.  However, knowing this allows you to plan for the loss.  Often it is the fear of the unexpected that can prove to be the most crippling deterrent to taking a risk.  Mentally evaluate what failure might look like and what you could and would do about it. Often having this plan in place is the biggest preventative action you could take to ever needing to execute it.
"People who don't take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year.  People who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year."    Peter Drucker
In the end, after you have analyzed your risky opportunity to death, there comes the need to take a deep breath and just do it.  The only way to achieve anything in life is through action.  Sometimes, bold results require bold actions.  That's what your big-girl panties are for!