3 Scripts for Talking to the Bully in Your Organization
According to a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, nearly half of American workers have experienced or witnessed bullying behavior at work. It's an unfortunately common problem, yet still goes unnoticed or unaddressed in many workplaces.
HR teams need to protect victims, but knowing what to say to a potentially angry employee can be tough. Use these scripts to talk to a bully in your company to ensure the experience is as positive and effective as possible.
Prevent bullying with better harassment training
Harassment training should be detailed, sensitive and centred around real-life scenarios, not legal definitions. Download this checklist to learn three types of employee harassment training you should implement and suggestions for content.
Script #1: Concentrate on Perceptions
When you're investigating a bullying allegation, you should gather as many facts as possible to understand the incident. However, as long as the victim perceives the accused person's behavior as bullying or harassment, that's enough evidence to warrant a discussion with the alleged bully.
Catherine Mattice Zundel, strategic HR consultant, suggests saying:
"We've had a series of complaints about perceptions of interactions with you. We don't see this with other managers [or employees]. It's not acceptable. I don't know what happened. I wasn't there. But I do know one fact, which is that you are perceived this way, and that perception has to change."
This conversation tells the bully that their behavior won't be tolerated, whether or not they meant for it to be hurtful to the victim.
Script #2: Offer Options
Trying to negotiate with an accused bully who is in denial, or worse, angry, might end poorly. They might blow up in anger or highlight their talents to get out of punishment. Sticking to a script when meeting with them keeps the conversation on track.
Author and founder of LeadershipIQ.com Mark Murphy recommends outlining two courses of action for the bully to choose from, with a strict 24-hour decision window:
"I can’t force you to change and I won’t try. But you do have a choice: you can change your behavior or keep it where it is. If you change, you will be much more effective, and I think you’ll see your teammates respond more positively. If you decide to change I can work with you to outline a very specific action plan with clear expectations. If you opt not to change, then we’ll begin an improvement plan which, without significant progress, could ultimately result in termination (insert your own HR policies here). I believe you can change this behavior. But only you can choose the path that’s right for you. Just be clear that there are only two options here and maintaining your present course is not an option. You can give me your decision right now or you can take 24 hours to make a decision."
Script #3: Ask Them to Weigh In
For many workplace bullies, simply sharing the accusations against them won't help them see the problem with their behavior. In fact, it could make them even more defensive. Instead, says Zundel, explain that their behavior is upsetting to others and ask their insight about the situation.
"Why do you think people perceive you that way? Can you think of any interactions or incidents that could've been hurtful to the other person? How can we eliminate these perceptions?"
Approaching the conversation this way helps the bully gain some perspective on their behavior on their own, rather than being scolded. Some bullies might not even be aware of how their behavior is perceived, and this conversation can bring self-awareness.
Download this free, customizable workplace bullying poster to raise awareness about anti-bullying efforts in your workplace and encourage employees to report incidents.
Before confronting a bully, figure out your goals for the conversation. Then, write a script like the ones above and stick to it, no matter how much the employee pushes back. This ensures the best result for you, the bully and the victim.