Friday, July 31, 2009

Using Powerful Words to Regain Power

In his book, The Articulate Executive in Action, Granville Toogood discusses the use of something he calls CVA (communications value added). The rule of CVA is this: what you say and how you say it can determine your success. Once you get the hang of it, it can become your greatest asset.

Practitioners of CVA use the hi-C's: concept, conviction, clarity, candor, credibility, character, coolness, concentration, color, competence, crispness, civility, consistency, continuity, creativity, cohesion, caring and communication. In contrast, those who lack CVA may exhibit emptiness, uncertainty, fuzziness, doubt, fear, absentmindedness, drabness, blather, indifference, and alienation.

Users of CVA speak to "primal mind" - that gut reaction in people. In other words, be innovative; find an opportunity to offer something beneficial to the company, save the company thousands (if not millions) of dollars, or improve productivity; and march right into the next meeting and tell everyone at the table what it takes to make this thing happen. Muscular language has a lot more impact than abstract explanations about your plan.

And finally, use powerful words. Here are some examples.
cut instead of reduce
slash instead of lower
keep instead of maintain
yet instead of nevertheless
so instead of therefore
but instead of however
grab instead of acquire
strike instead of delete
give instead of donate
big instead of significant
hot instead of fashionable
launch instead of implement

And most of all, don't let that bully steal your confidence away!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Why bullying happens at work: Transforming research with a transactional model

Today’s workers face the costs of insecurity and incivility. Indeed, an abundance of research indicates bullying is prevalent in the workplace and invites serious damaging consequences for victims, observers, and the organization – including depression, reduced quality of work, increased absenteeism and turnover, and resulting loss to the bottom line.

Scholars agree that bullying is caused by a variety of factors working together that ultimately include organizational factors, and target and bully personality and predisposition. Relatively few models however, have addressed the role targets play in the process of bullying and most even advise against taking such perspectives. For example, Einarsen (1999) posits that “the victim is accidentally in a situation where a predator either is demonstrating power or in other ways is trying to exploit an accidental victim” (p. 23). Leymann (1992, 1996) notes that victim personality is irrelevant and that work conditions are the primary cause of aggression. Rayner, Sheehan and Barker (1999) warn that designating targets a role in the process of bullying may remove focus from bullies and the organizations that reward them; and incorrectly allocate responsibility to the victim. Salin (2003) purports that the individual and organization exert influence on each other thereby eradicating the victim of any role in the process of bullying at work.

Certainly blaming victims is unprincipled, but ignoring the active role they play in a relationship with a co-worker is erroneous and precludes victims from taking empowering action against their abusers.

We need a fresh and more realistic view than current scholarship offers and should explore bullying as an ongoing relationship and communication transaction rather than a one-sided exchange. Organizational norms and stressors, culture, and colleagues are ongoing factors in the process of bullying rather than antecedents.

As businesses continue to ignore the problem of bullying at work, it becomes particularly important that we arm victims with the resources needed to successfully maneuver through work. Counseling (read: reactive) is not the answer, communication competence is (read: proactive). But we cannot provide these tools without a more ingenuous understanding of the phenomenon - and one that advocates victim accountability and empowerment. This provides the opportunity to develop tools to facilitate a victims’ own quest for positive change at work.

Otherwise, the victim remains a helpless passerby in his or her own life.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Common Management Mistakes in Dealing with a Bully

Unfortunately, the organizational response to bullying behavior is fairly predictable and not always on target. Following are some typical management mistakes encountered when dealing with a bully at work (Namie & Namie, 2000; Hornstein, 1996):

• Management often seeks to appease the bully by assuming that his or her
aggressive behavior will cease when the bully is given what he or she desires. This often results in a short-term elimination of the behavior, but the bully usually resumes and sometimes escalates the aggression when he or she wants something else.

• Management often blames both of the parties involved in the situation, with the target being blamed for not getting along with the bully. Usually there is no
credence given to the possibility that the bully may be purely to blame.

• Sometimes management will blame only the target in an effort to stop the target from complaining. As a result, the target is made to suffer twice—once at the hands of the bully and once at the hands of management.

• Management may mistakenly believe that the problems will go away if the bully’s behaviour is ignored—if this is the response, the bully goes unpunished and is likely to escalate his or her aggressive behaviors since there is no logical reason to cease and desist.

• Managers will often emphasize teamwork and ignore individual effort. This strategy makes it easy for the bully to accuse the target of “not being a team player.”

• Believing the group means taking the word of multiple employees over that of the target. With this response, the assumption is that the majority is always right; however, the group may be lying about the target or acting out of fear or
ignorance. The manager may take this approach because it is easier to discipline one employee than to take a stand against multiple employees.

• Stereotyping often skews management’s judgment, and prejudices are prevalent in the workplace despite corporate policies to the contrary. Less overt forms of discrimination are often practiced based on common stereotypes (e.g., women are weaker, men are tougher, etc.).

“Bullying is the sexual harassment of 20 years ago; everybody knows about it, but nobody wants to admit it”.
- Lewis Maltby (Russell, 2001)

This is an excerpt from a white paper by the Society for Human Resources Management entitled Bullies in the Workplace: A Focus on the "Abusive Disrespect" of Employees by Teresa A. Daniel (2006). I don't have the link to post here, but am happy to send the white paper to anyone who requests it. Please email me at

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Building Self-Confidence

Self confidence is the difference between feeling unstoppable and feeling scared out of your wits. Your perception of yourself has an enormous impact on how others perceive you. Perception is reality — the more self confidence you have, the more likely it is you’ll succeed.

Although many of the factors affecting self confidence are beyond your control, there are a number of things you can consciously do to build self confidence. By using these 10 strategies you can get the mental edge you need to reach your potential.

Build Self Confidence

1. Dress Sharp
Although clothes don’t make the man, they certainly affect the way he feels about himself. No one is more conscious of your physical appearance than you are. When you don’t look good, it changes the way you carry yourself and interact with other people. Use this to your advantage by taking care of your personal appearance. In most cases, significant improvements can be made by bathing and shaving frequently, wearing clean clothes, and being cognizant of the latest styles.

This doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot on clothes. One great rule to follow is “spend twice as much, buy half as much”. Rather than buying a bunch of cheap clothes, buy half as many select, high quality items. In long run this decreases spending because expensive clothes wear out less easily and stay in style longer than cheap clothes. Buying less also helps reduce the clutter in your closet.

2. Walk Faster
One of the easiest ways to tell how a person feels about herself is to examine her walk. Is it slow? tired? painful? Or is it energetic and purposeful? People with confidence walk quickly. They have places to go, people to see, and important work to do. Even if you aren’t in a hurry, you can increase your self confidence by putting some pep in your step. Walking 25% faster will make to you look and feel more important.

3. Good Posture
Similarly, the way a person carries herself tells a story. People with slumped shoulders and lethargic movements display a lack of self confidence. They aren’t enthusiastic about what they’re doing and they don’t consider themselves important. By practicing good posture, you’ll automatically feel more confident. Stand up straight, keep your head up, and make eye contact. You’ll make a positive impression on others and instantly feel more alert and empowered.

4. Personal Commercial
One of the best ways to build confidence is listening to a motivational speech. Unfortunately, opportunities to listen to a great speaker are few and far between. You can fill this need by creating a personal commercial. Write a 30-60 second speech that highlights your strengths and goals. Then recite it in front of the mirror aloud (or inside your head if you prefer) whenever you need a confidence boost.

5. Gratitude
When you focus too much on what you want, the mind creates reasons why you can’t have it. This leads you to dwell on your weaknesses. The best way to avoid this is consciously focusing on gratitude. Set aside time each day to mentally list everything you have to be grateful for. Recall your past successes, unique skills, loving relationships, and positive momentum. You’ll be amazed how much you have going for you and motivated to take that next step towards success.

6. Compliment other people
When we think negatively about ourselves, we often project that feeling on to others in the form of insults and gossip. To break this cycle of negativity, get in the habit of praising other people. Refuse to engage in backstabbing gossip and make an effort to compliment those around you. In the process, you’ll become well liked and build self confidence. By looking for the best in others, you indirectly bring out the best in yourself.

7. Sit in the front rowIn schools, offices, and public assemblies around the world, people constantly strive to sit at the back of the room. Most people prefer the back because they’re afraid of being noticed. This reflects a lack of self confidence. By deciding to sit in the front row, you can get over this irrational fear and build your self confidence. You’ll also be more visible to the important people talking from the front of the room.

8. Speak up
During group discussions many people never speak up because they’re afraid that people will judge them for saying something stupid. This fear isn’t really justified. Generally, people are much more accepting than we imagine. In fact most people are dealing with the exact same fears. By making an effort to speak up at least once in every group discussion, you’ll become a better public speaker, more confident in your own thoughts, and recognized as a leader by your peers.

9. Work out
Along the same lines as personal appearance, physical fitness has a huge effect on self confidence. If you’re out of shape, you’ll feel insecure, unattractive, and less energetic. By working out, you improve your physcial appearance, energize yourself, and accomplish something positive. Having the discipline to work out not only makes you feel better, it creates positive momentum that you can build on the rest of the day.

10. Focus on contribution
Too often we get caught up in our own desires. We focus too much on ourselves and not enough on the needs of other people. If you stop thinking about yourself and concentrate on the contribution you’re making to the rest of the world, you won’t worry as much about you own flaws. This will increase self confidence and allow you to contribute with maximum efficiency. The more you contribute to the world the more you’ll be rewarded with personal success and recognition.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bullying may be more harmful than sexual harassment

Workplace bullying, such as belittling comments, persistent criticism of work and withholding resources, appears to inflict more harm on employees than sexual harassment, say researchers at the “Seventh International Conference on Work, Stress and Health.”

“As sexual harassment becomes less acceptable in society, organizations may be more attuned to helping victims, who may therefore find it easier to cope,” said lead author M. Sandy Hershcovis, PhD, of the University of Manitoba. “In contrast, non-violent forms of workplace aggression such as incivility and bullying are not illegal, leaving victims to fend for themselves.”

Both bullying and sexual harassment can create negative work environments and unhealthy consequences for employees, but the researchers found that workplace aggression has more severe consequences. Employees who experienced bullying, incivility or interpersonal conflict (86 of 128 participants) were more likely to quit their jobs, have lower well-being, be less satisfied with their jobs and have less satisfying relations with their bosses than employees who were sexually harassed (46 of 128 participants). Furthermore, bullied employees reported more job stress, less job commitment and higher levels of anger and anxiety.

“Bullying is often more subtle, and may include behaviors that do not appear obvious to others,” said Hershcovis. “The insidious nature of these behaviors makes them difficult to deal with and sanction.”

Bullying is not new

The idea that bullies exist at work is not a new one; articles and workshops on “dealing with difficult people” and “mean bosses” are abundant. However, “bullying” only recently became of interest to social scientists in the areas of organizational psychology and business management within the last 15 years, and within organizational communication within the last five. Bullying is different from these other topics because it is about under-the-radar and power-seeking behavior and communication tactics that are sincerely and severely destructive to the targets and the organization.

While harassment and sexual harassment are certainly illegal and therefore against any company’s policy, if the harasser is an equal opportunist victims find they have no managerial or legal recourse. In fact research indicates most often the victim is seen as the problem and either punished or let go for speaking up. This is a shame - victims are often besieged because they are high producers, and therefore a threat to the bully and thus singled out as a target. In an attempt to close the legal gap, David Yamada, Professor at Suffolk University, wrote the Healthy Workplace Bill. Under review in 15 states, including California in 2003, the bill has yet to pass into law in any of them. Only the government of Ireland (since as early as 1997), and the province of Quebec, Canada (since 2003), have specific laws against the act of bullying at work.

In addition, research indicates workplace bullying is far more harmful to victims than harassment and sexual harassment. It might be safe to assume that because harassment and sexual harassment is against the law it generally would not be allowed to go on for prolonged periods of time. Yet bullying often lasts between six months and five years, with the average victim leaving an organization after two years.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Working with you is killing me

Check out this little gem on YouTube... by Katherine Crowley and Kathi Elster

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Don't think there's a bully in your organization? Take this test and find out.

Research indicates that reports of being bullied are somewhere around 50%; and some studies indicate this number can be as high as 90%.

But most managers and human resource professionals would say that they don't have a bully in their organization and they do foster a very healthy workplace. With that many people feeling bullied, either these victims all work for the same company or there's some serious denial out there about behavior within our own organizations. Here are some questions to ask yourself that might help you determine if there's a bully in your workplace. See below regarding your answers.

1. Does your organization acknowledge or give public awards for demonstrating empathy, openness to feedback or effective communication skills?

2. Do items such as, "Demonstrates excellent reflective listening skills and an ability to outwardly exhibit cognitive comprehension", and "Motivated to appropriately respond to internal and external communication from all levels" appear in your job descriptions?

3. Do company meetings start with an open forum, where free thinkers, innovators and commentators are allowed to openly share ideas, thoughts, questions, and concerns?

4. Does your employee satisfaction survey ask employees if they are satisfied with internal communication flow and with the communication of their superiors? If it does, do your managers actually act on negative responses?

5. Do themes of openness, candidness, honesty and candor run through employee stories? (Or are employee stories about micromanagement, evil managers and keeping things quiet?)

6. Are contributions to organizational processes encouraged by employees at all levels?

7. Are bonuses and other rewards directly related to evaluations of communication from others in 360° reviews?

8. Have you received reports from employees that other employees are bullies?

9. Does your organization (or some of its managers) insist on following the rules right down to the dot above the "i" and the cross on the "t"?

10. Is there unhealthy organizational competition (within a specific department, or even across departments or department managers)?

11. Is your organization going through major changes (e.g., downsizing, restructuring)?

12. Have any of your managers changed personalities with a new promotion (e.g., seemingly become more power thirsty, aggressive, or untrusting)?

Questions 1-7: If you answered three of these seven questions "no", then it is very likely your organization is harboring a bully.

Questions 8-12: If you answered even just one of these five questions "yes", then it is very likely your organization is harboring a bully.

Remember that bullying is not a simple case of a bad behaving employee - it is systemic. Removing it from your organization requires the commitment of management and a well thought out and well executed plan. Organizations that value internal relationships and understand their positive impact on the bottom line will see employee individual success and greater organizational victory.

Don't forget to read the rest of my latest edition of NoWorkplaceBullies e-news.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Oldie but goodie

This little jewel came in my e-news from The Happiness Institute in Australia.

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, "Which wolf wins?" The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."

How often we are faced with a choice about how to react to each day's challenges. Do we rail at the outrageous winds of "fate" that pound us from time to time, falling into the pit of self-pity; or do we look upon these moments as opportunities to learn and grow, and broaden the humanity within us?

The good news is that we do have a choice. We can choose to feed the wolf of envy and resentment, or feed the wolf of humility, benevolence and compassion. We can choose to be happy or to be miserable. The choice we make colors our days, our work and our relationships to those around us.

Which wolf do you choose to feed today?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Toxic Workplaces

At last month’s IPPA Congress in Philadelphia, I was inspired by Lord Richard Layard’s comment “the highest thing in life is to uplift the spirit.”

Unfortunately, not everyone we work with uplifts our spirits. Harvard Business Review recently featured a short article, “How toxic colleagues corrode performance.” Authors Porath and Pearson have been researching incivility for more than ten years and have found that “common (and generally tolerated) antisocial behavior at work is far more toxic than managers imagine.”

They report that in response to incivility, people:
48% decreased their work effort
47% decreased their time at work
38% decreased their work quality
66% said their performance declined
80% lost work time worrying about the incident
63% lost time avoiding the offender
78% said their commitment to the organization declined

Incivility may be loss of control
Professor Robert Sutton’s “No Asshole Rule” caught my eye in Harvard Business Review’s 2004 article “More Trouble Than They’re Worth.” Sutton received such immense support for his ideas that he published a book on the subject in 2007. He also has a popular blog.

Sutton’s work, as well as Peter Frost’s on toxic emotions at work, is particularly appropriate in a business world increasingly interested in creating more positive, humane organizations — where people are treated well and with respect, and where a positive workplace culture abounds.

What Is Incivility?
Incivility includes glaring, rolling eyes and other unpleasant expressions, teasing, putting people down, treating people like they’re invisible, back stabbing, micromanaging, insulting, belittling, deflating, disrespecting, de-energizing, rudely interrupting, being mean-spirited, nasty, and tyrannical.
Bob Sutton’s ideas are about eliminating the behaviors which bring others down. “The difference between the ways a person treats the powerless and the powerful is as good a measure of human character as I know.”

Sutton has two tests for spotting whether a person is acting like a jerk:

Test One: After talking to the alleged jerk, does the ‘target’ feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized, or belittled by the person? In particular, does the target feel worse about him or herself?

Test Two: Does the alleged jerk aim his or her venom at people who are less powerful rather than at those people who are more powerful?

Implementing the Rule
Sutton suggests a range of ways to deal with such people:
don’t hire them
do not tolerate them just because they are the extraordinarily talented or difficult to replace
deal with them immediately
fire them if they don’t change
teach people to learn how to have constructive positive confrontations
“resist the temptation to apply the label to anyone who annoys you or has a bad moment” or are temporary jerks
“say the rule, write it down and act on it,” make it part of the rules of engagement

Surviving Nasty People and Workplaces
Sometimes fighting back is not successful, and can be high risk. If you have to work with jerks, Sutton suggests these tactics:
create a personal coping strategy
reframe, change your mindset: avoid self-blame, hope for the best but expect the worst, develop indifference and emotional detachment, do not allow their behavior to touch your soul
limit your exposure
build pockets of safety support and sanity: ‘a secret social network’
seek and fight the small battles that you have a good chance of winning’
See also “Neutralize Your Toxic Boss,” Annie McKee’s May 3rd blog post at

Positive Psychology in Action
While reading Sutton’s work, I am heartened by fields such as Positive Psychology and Positive Organizational Scholarship. These fields teach us how to neutralize toxicity and build strong cultures which minimize the possibility of ‘jerk-like’ behaviors. Focused attention on human decency and uplifting and energizing others are ways in which we can, in Lord Layard’s words, “uplift the spirit” of workers and organizations.

By Amanda Horne - July 3, 2009

Friday, July 3, 2009

The Cost of Workplace Bullying

The Orlando Business Journal cited an estimated cost of $180M in lost time and productivity to American businesses each year. The Workplace Bullying Institute estimates between turnover and lost productivity a bully could cost a Fortune 500 company an astounding $24,000,000; add another $1.4 Million for litigation and settlement costs.

Direct income loss is very real when it comes to a workplace bully. Here are some items to consider when calculating the cost of the bully in your organization:
· Distraction from tasks on the part of the victim, bully and witnesses
· Reduced psychological safety and associated climate of fear
· Loss of motivation and energy at work from victims and witnesses
· Stress induced psychological and physical illness
· Possible impaired mental ability
· Prolonged bullying turns victims into bullies
· Absenteeism and turnover (30% of the bullied will quit, and 20% of witnesses will follow)
· Time spent at work looking for different work
· Time spent at work talking about being bullied instead of working
· Time spent at work by others gossiping about the bully and his or her behavior
· Time spent by other employees and management calming and counseling victims
· Time spent by management appeasing, counseling or disciplining bullies
· Time spent soothing victimized customers, suppliers and other key outsiders
· Time spent reorganizing departments and teams
· Time spent interviewing, recruiting, and training replacements for departed victims, witnesses and bullies
· Pertinent information not provided to victims in order to do their job effectively and efficiently
· Lost customers who were victimized the bully and took business elsewhere
· Lost customers who heard about the bully from unhappy former customers and took their business elsewhere
· Management burnout, leading to decreased commitment and increased stress
· Anger management, communication, leadership and other training
· Legal costs for counsel
· Settlement fees and successful litigation by victims
· Settlement fees and successful litigation by bullies (e.g., wrongful termination claims)
· Health insurance and workers compensation costs as a result of stress

(Note: A portion of this list was taken from The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton, PhD, professor at Stanford University.)

Here is an example of how to calculate total costs of a bully in your organization.

Figure out time spent by:
· bully’s direct manager counseling bully: 80 hours, $8,000
· victim’s direct manager counseling victim: 150 hours, $15,000
· witnesses counseling victim: 100 hours, $6,000
· HR talking with managers, bully and target: 10 hours, $1,500
· HR talking with Executives about the problem:5 hours, $1,500
· HR recruiting and training replacement of victim employee; $40,000
· team and department members training new employee: 160 hours, $10,000
· actual costs (advertising, temp agency): $1,000

Estimated total cost of bully: $83,000

Do not forget to factor in the potential income loss. It is difficult to calculate specifically how much of your total return is affected by the workplace bully because so many factors are involved, but it is certainly something you want to pay attention to. Here are a few examples.

A study published in the Journal of Organizational Excellence (2006) by Watson Wyatt, a global consulting firm focused on human capital and financial management, indicated that companies who focus on effective internal functioning and communication enjoy a 57% higher total return, 19% higher market premium, are more than 4.5 times more likely to have highly engaged employees, and are 20% more likely to report reduced turnover, when compared to competitors who demonstrate ineffective communication practices.

GreatPlaceJobs, an innovative online job board that only allows award winning companies to post openings, conducted a study that indicated these “great” workplaces earn approximately 30% more revenue and have 10% higher stock prices when compared to competitors who have not won awards for being a great place to work.

Remember, everyone has the right to a safe and healthy workplace.

Change is a Choice

"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." Wayne Dyer

Most of the advice you'll find out there on dealing with a workplace bully is just that, dealing with a bully. Talk to HR using facts and dates, document everything, keep doing your work well, find a witness to back your story up, file a law suit, etc. This is all helpful of course, but I would argue there's a major first step most advice-givers are missing.

Attribution theory describes the ways in which people explain behaviors of others and themselves. External attribution (also known as external locus of control) assigns causes of behavior to outside factors such as luck or even the weather. Internal attribution (internal locus of control) assigns causality to factors within ourselves or within that other person. Skills and personal abilities are an example.

Whether we attribute ours or others' behaviors to internal or external factors is a choice. And, we often choose to attribute negative happenings to outside forces, and positive happenings to ourselves. As a teacher I know that students who receive A's in my courses will attribute the grade to their own hard work, and students who receive an F will approach me with the question "Why did you give me an F?" It's as predictable as the sunrise. On a more personal level, during arguments with spouses or family members we often blame the other party for the issue at hand, and very rarely do we stop to take a good hard look at the part we played in the yelling match.

With attribution theory in mind, ask yourself why you're being picked on specifically instead of the other people at your workplace. What is it about YOUR particular relationship with the bully that is turning it into such a negative experience? What part do you play in the scenarios acted out between you and your bully? What makes you different than others who are not picked on? What signals are you sending the bully with your communication style? Do you fail to make eye contact with him or her? Are your shoulders hunched over instead of pushed back in a manner of pride? Are you claiming the bully has issues and you are perfectly innocent bystander?

As much as it may hurt at first to take some responsibility in what's happening, understand that you are not a simple passerby in your life. Though it may feel like it, your bully is not the WB's cartoon Tasmanian Devil swirling through at record speeds knocking anything and anyone out of the way at random. The bully has chosen YOU. You play SOME part in the interaction and communication processes at play here. And when you take responsibility for what's happening to you, it's easier to make a change. When you attribute your experiences to the bully, you feel like you have no control over the situation. Change then becomes impossible.

Think about the control you turn over to the bully when you say things like, "He makes me feel depressed and anxious." Now try saying, "I feel depressed and anxious," and see how much power and empowerment even those simple words can bring you.

Victor Frankl, a famous neurologist and psychiatrist once said, "The last of the human freedoms is to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances." It's certainly very easy to blame the bully for the horrible treatment and have a bad attitude about your situation, understandably so. But find out what part you play in the interactions with your bully, take responsibility for it, and make a change. This might be a change in your body language, your attitude, your conflict management style, or your way of thinking.

I'm certainly not saying this is your fault. But I am saying you have the power to change your situation by changing the way you're looking at it. Absolutely you do.