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Unconscious Bullying in Leadership

It is a unique experience to be in when you identify the concept of unconscious bullying in leadership. For many business professionals, this behaviour is put down to differences in opinion or personality clashes. The reality, however, is a far greater concern, and something that needs to be addressed across all stages of the talent lifecycle.

What is unconscious bullying?

As with all things that are deemed unconscious, unconscious bullying is the circumstance where the individual does not have the self-awareness that their behaviour is unacceptable, and because of this, it is not deemed a deliberate act.

In many of these instances, the individual has possibly had feedback provided to them about their approaches in the past that they have either amended to a degree or been unable to understand the why behind the reason for the feedback.

How do you make individuals aware of their unconscious bullying?

Talking about the concept of bullying is always a challenge for anyone, and it can be more challenging in the situation where it is an unconscious behaviour. These steps may, however, assist with this:

  • Introduce them to the concept of unconscious behaviours

Sometimes awareness can be the first step to understanding. It is essential that this individual gets a deeper understanding of what unconscious behaviour actually is, and how it may be on display in the workplace through other examples. You may do this through increasing their knowledge on various behaviours by sharing information, or you may choose to do this through a more formal coaching opportunity with the individual.

  • Talk to the cultural expectations of the organisation

We all know that everyone says they understand the cultural expectations of an organisation, and the vision and values it abides by, but sometimes a reminder of what these genuinely mean and how they should be displayed can be significant. This can be achieved through simple re-education or an open discussion on the organisational culture and values and how they were developed then implemented across the organisation.

  • Demonstrate the behaviour you want to see in others

We all understand that mirroring can always help to change the approach, but conscious approaches to demonstrating how you expect others to behave is critical. Ensure that you encourage this through managing up, across and down to show that the behaviour should occur at all levels of the organisation. Talk to people about how they like to know they are valued and how different approaches in communication can change this. Use this to align different behavioural approaches and expectations.

  • Realise in most situations this behaviour is unintentional

When it comes to the challenges of unconscious bullying, the first acceptance you should have is that this is most likely unintentional, and the person may be unaware of the impact of their behaviours. What this means is that jumping to formal conduct management can inflate the situation rather than educate. Take a caring approach to ensure that you can support the reason behind the behaviour and move this forward in a very caring and compassionate way.

Unconscious bullying can and will have a substantial impact on the culture of an organisation and should be addressed as soon as possible. The best outcome will be achieved if the approach to the situation is to increase an individual’s awareness of the impact from their behaviour, educate for development and growth and support the opportunity to increase emotional intelligence and awareness.

By Rebecca Fraser

Rebecca Fraser is a Leader of learning and development for organisations and individuals. She is highly recognised for her contribution to the industry and for her work in the media providing information on modern day job search strategies. She is the author of ‘How to get a job in the 21st century’, her newest release on job search and resumes.