Q: I don’t think I’m a work bully. But my team is treating me like I am. They don’t tell me what they really think when we discuss strategies at work and seem to avoid me a bit. Overall, I’d say I don’t have many very satisfying personal relationships at the office. What should I do? — Greg, 42, VP of strategic planning
A: It’s mirror time.
Be honest with yourself. Start with this question: If you don’t behave like a bully, why would people treat you as if you do?
That’s a serious question, because your team’s behavior is coming from somewhere. If you want to have better work relationships, you need to understand what’s driving their interactions with you.
Take a close look at the ways you engage with people. Describe the most recent time you were in a meeting and someone disagreed with you. How did you react?
Pretend you are describing someone else’s behavior or watching it in a movie to help you focus on the actions and not on your feelings and motivations.
Do you yell? Insult? Just shut them down? If any of these things happen, people will stop offering opinions to avoid your wrath. If you are unpredictable in your reactions to things, you are creating a volatile environment in which it’s just safer to stay away.
I’m wondering if you read this and immediately started making excuses to justify your behavior. This would be another indication that you are, in fact, a bully.
It doesn’t matter that you just have a bad temper, you had a hard childhood, or that your past bosses were difficult so you don’t know better. You are responsible.
It also doesn’t matter how high your position is. From CEO to senator, manager to president, everyone has a responsibility to behave respectfully and kindly to others, even as they hold extremely high standards for work performance.
There’s no coddling for you here.
So what are you going to do? If you want to be real with yourself, own your behavior, and find new ways to interact, keep reading.
Figure out the first, most damaging, behavior you need to change.
If you have a habit of haranguing, notice when and why. Then figure out different ways to handle the situation.
Get to the root causes. If you holler when people fall short of your expectations, consider if you were actually clear on what you wanted (often expectations are unintentionally murky).
Also make sure they have the knowledge to achieve what you need done. And imagine how much more successful they’d be with training and mentoring.
Be transparent about the change you are trying to make. It’s an act of extreme vulnerability to look your team in the eye and admit you need to change.
While they may be skeptical and it may take time for them to see the change, the courage you show may help win them over.
Finally, don’t change because of the results you want to achieve.
Change because you want to be a better person. Benefits at work and the other parts of your life will follow, and you will be glad you did.