Bullying in the work place is something I feel very strongly about having been a victim myself in the past I very much feel for anyone who is the current target of a bully. It is horrible place to be, you feel powerless, confused, upset, angry and exhausted. It can destroy your self esteem and totally undermine your ability to achieve anything positive. Productivity and self confidence suffer which impact both the individual and organisation alike.
In my experience bullies fit into one of four categories:
The "wannabe" and the "guru" are by far the most common and are not inherently bad people they are simply suffering themselves from frustration, lack of self esteem, abuse, ineptitude or such like. The "attention-seeker" and "sociopath", which are fortunately quite rare, are basically "nasty pieces of work" and are far more difficult to deal with.
Why is this an issue in IT?
The IT stereotype is characterised as someone who has a high intellect but is lacking in people skills or emotional intelligence (EQ). The most common personality type found in IT are people who are Introverted, Factual, Logical and Organised.
Such people have a strong sense of responsibility and great loyalty to the organisations in which they work. They rely upon knowledge and experience to guide them and pay attention to immediate and practical organisational needs. Generally preferring to work alone they can be relied upon to fulfil commitments as stated and on time. They would be described as practical, pragmatic and sensible but could also be seen as inflexible and overly serious. They strive for perfection and can be poor at delegation. They have a tendency to get bogged down in the detail and failing to see the "wood from the trees". They will strive to accomplish tasks rather than to understand or appreciate others. They dislike small talk and may not work towards developing rapport. They are not tuned into emotional undertones and can, therefore, seem abrupt or detached.
Now firstly imagine a person who is competitive by nature and who also possesses the above character type what this adds up to is your "Guru".
Then secondly imagine a person who is non-competitive by nature and who also possesses the above character type what this adds up to is your victim.
This character analysis explains both why bullying is so common in IT and why the most common type of bully found in IT is the "Guru".
What can be done to resolve this situation?
Fortunately the "Guru" is the easiest type of bully to deal with. You need to take away their fears and insecurities and then they will not find the need to bully:
- Be helpful
- Give them what makes them feel comfortable initially and then slowly and gradually wean them onto a more sensible routine as you gain their trust
- Praise their intellect and build on their suggestions
- Help them to understand you your motives, drivers, strengths and weaknesses
- Be truthful, but also firm
- Don't be sloppy or slap dash
- Keep positive about yourself and your own abilities
- Develop your emotional intelligence through reading, coaching and training courses
- Subtly and tactfully share your new found knowledge with them and hope that a bit rubs off
Robina Chatham is a Visiting Fellow at Cranfield school of Management and MD of her own training company.
This was first published in October 2008