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Violence and bullying: Three steps to an alternative

Should we smack our children? Some people say, ‘I was smacked as a child, and it didn’t do me any harm.’

When I hear that, I’m always tempted to ask, ‘Are you sure?’

The truth is that violence teaches us that violence is normal. And violence (even a ‘little smack’) creates a barrier. Some children do achieve greatness despite horrific experiences. But not all.

The same applies in the workplace. Just because some survive appalling conditions and dictatorial management, doesn’t mean everyone should or will. Aggressive, bullying managers will get the timid running around doing as they are told. But here’s the thing: they would have done that anyway, and more. Bullying just tells them to stick to the rules, don’t try anything new. Creativity, enthusiasm, engagement all go out the window.

And those impossible employees you are struggling to bring into line? Bullying is like water off a duck’s back.

Eugene Peterson wrote:

Violent action is the antithesis of creative action.
When we no longer have the will or the patience to be creative, we attempt to express our will by coercion. The lazy and the immature account for most of the violence in the world.
(Psalms that Summon You from Self to Community)

Here are three steps towards creating a workplace where employees can thrive and grow our organisations:

  1. Encourage the willing
    Wander around. Show interest in what people are doing and struggling with. Listen to their struggles and their excitement.
  2. Deal with the impossible
    If discussion and engagement doesn’t work with difficult employees, deal with them through disciplinary or performance management processes, and get them out of there.
  3. Find the right people
    Don’t rush to replace. Choose carefully before you hire. Find the right skills and experience, certainly. But look beyond them to find the right fit, the right attitude, and the right level of enthusiasm.

Peterson is right. Bullying and coercion is the lazy way. Creative engagement is hard work, but your team will flourish, and you will do less managing and more leading. And you’ll have fun doing it.

Ian Webster

From Methodist minister to Customer Relations manager in a computer bureau to HR Manager in a newspaper printing and publishing company. Now focussing on training and developing people, people-management consulting and writing and editing.

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