Difficult employees: Shut down bully behavior for good

You haven’t risen to the level you have without coming across difficult employees. Those difficult behaviors probably include bullying, since half of the workplace have experienced or witnessed bullying in a recent poll.

Workplace bullies are now being recognized as productivity killers and potential legal threats to employers. Experts say bullying costs businesses more than $200 billion a year due to decreased productivity, increased absenteeism and high turnover.

There are steps you as a leader can take to address bullying behavior, but first let’s first identify the different types of bullies in today’s workplace.

Know what a bully looks like

Some of the most common bully personalities are the ones identified by Anton Hout, founder of OvercomeBullying.org:

  1. Screaming Mimi. This is the most easily recognizable type of workplace bully. Screaming Mimis are loud and obnoxious, and their abusive behavior is meant to berate and humiliate people.
  2. Two-headed snake. To a co-worker’s face, this employee acts like a trusted friend or colleague. However, when the co-worker is out of earshot, this person will destroy their colleague’s reputation, stab them in the back and even take credit for their work.
  3. Constant critic. This bully’s goal is to dismantle other people’s confidence through constant – and often unwarranted – criticism.
  4. Wannabe. This is an employee who sees themselves as absolutely indispensable and expects recognition for everything for emphasis.
  5. Sociopath. Intelligent, well-spoken, charming and charismatic, sociopaths are the most destructive bullies of all. Reason: They have absolutely no empathy for others, yet they are experts at manipulating the emotions of others in order to get what they want. Sociopaths tend to surround themselves with a circle of lackeys who are willing to do their dirty work in exchange for moving up the ranks with them.

How to deal with a bully: One-on-one

Sometimes spotting workplace bullying can be difficult. A bully may act one way towards you (the boss) and another way towards their colleagues. But once you become aware that someone is interrupting others, constantly being critical or coming across as a know-it-all, you have to take action. But getting their bullying behavior to stop is difficult.

Christine Comaford, author of Power Your Tribe: Create Resilient Teams in Turbulent Times, has outlined a six-step plan for a one-on-one conversation managers must have with workplace bullies:

  • Set the stage. You want to explain why the meeting’s been called and the outcome you want to achieve. (“We need to talk about how you were constantly interrupting others in yesterday’s meeting. We need to work together to correct that bad behavior ”)
  • Lay out the observable behavior. It’s crucial that managers describe specific instances where the bully acted out or said something inappropriate.(“In yesterday’s meeting, you constantly interrupted and prevented others from talking.”)
  • Describe the impact. Bullies likely don’t understand the damage their behaviors are doing to both their co-workers and the company. (“You have a lot you want to contribute, but so does everyone else. Everyone needs to feel they can contribute.”)
  • See if the bully agrees with you. Does the bully now see the problem and acknowledge it needs to stop? (“Do you agree that interrupting in a meeting is not fair to others who want to contribute?”)
  • Create a plan. Work out a set period of time (maybe 30 to 60 days) where the manager will meet with the worker once a week to check on progress. The key here: Be specific. Managers should be clear on which behaviors need to stop and state the consequences (not attend meetings, lose job, etc.) if a turnaround doesn’t occur. (“Let’s meet once a week for 15 minutes to track your progress.”)
  • Make sure you’re on the same page. Does the bully understand everything? Confirm that you both agree that the issue needs to be corrected, steps to resolve it and consequences if the behavior isn’t changed. (“Is everything clear? Anything else you want to cover? I want you to succeed so we can continue our working relationship”

Employees often have a hard time accepting that their behavior is wrong and impacting others. But this approach allows you to coax them into taking responsibility for the problem and its solution. And the faster you move difficult people to better behavior, the more likely you and your team will continue to be productive.