By Israel “Izzy” Kalman
Are you a boss? Whether you are a principal in a school or have a leadership position in any type of business or company, the position of boss has become more challenging with the advent of anti-bullying laws.
You may have even looked forward to the passing of such laws as a way to get rid of social aggression in the workplace and allow you to focus on your job, rather than on keeping the peace. What you may not have realized is that laws cannot make bullying magically disappear. What they really do is make you responsible for your subordinates’ behavior. When Jane feels bullied by John, now it’s your problem and Jane sues you–not John. Since the majority of people accused of being socially aggressive at work are in leadership roles, you are the most likely to come under fire.
Now, not only must you run your department well, you are also required to know how to make your employees happy with the way their co-workers treat them. Don’t you wish you knew how to create complete harmony? Research has shown that the leading bullying prevention programs rarely reduce bullying behavior and often result in an increase. Absurdly, you can now be brought to court for failing to accomplish what the experts don’t know how to do.
Being a defendant in a bullying lawsuit is a losing proposition because even if you win, you will spend lots of money, undergo tons of stress and lose precious sleep. Hostilities among the parties involved will grow. They will spend less time on work and more on fighting legal battles. This process is likely to decrease the company’s efficiency, hurting the bottom line and potentially even pushing it into bankruptcy.
So, what should you do to avoid bullying lawsuits? The answer is simple: be a great leader. The company environment is a trickle-down affair; you set the tone for everyone under you.
Wise people have known for thousands of years that the secret formula for living in harmony is the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated if you were in their situation. You may think you know what this means, but you may not fully understand it. The message is radical. It is contrary to human nature.
Our nature is to treat others the way they treat us. When others are nice to us, we feel like being nice back. When they are mean to us, we feel like being mean to them. However, if you treat others the way they treat you, you are putting them in control of you. Their behavior determines yours.
The Golden Rule puts you in control. If you will maintain a respectful attitude towards them, before long, they will be nicer because they are instinctually programmed to treat you the way you treat them.
In short, when you respond to hostility with hostility, hostility escalates. When you respond with kindness, hostility fades away.
The following are some practical guidelines for operating by the Golden Rule.
Respect your authority.
Social science has verified that when people are placed in positions of power, there is a tendency to abuse that power. To make matters worse, they are usually oblivious of their abuse. Don’t be fooled by your title. Just because you are a boss, it doesn’t mean you are better or smarter than the people who work under you.
Don’t blame problems on others.
If you want people to like and respect you, take responsibility for solving the problem. You are the boss.
Don’t you like to feel appreciated? Well, so do your employees. Appreciation is a more powerful motivator than hope for a raise.
The number one destroyer of relationships is anger. No one will like and respect you for getting angry. If you find yourself getting angry often, you are accomplishing the opposite of what you want. You are creating a poisonous work environment. You are treating people like enemies. You are letting them defeat you, and unwittingly encouraging them to do what you don’t want them to. When you feel employees are doing something wrong, rather than getting angry, discuss their behavior with them calmly and respectfully.
No one is perfect, even leaders. We all make mistakes sometimes. When we forgive people, they feel better and so do we.
Don’t be too proud to apologize.
Sometimes we make mistakes and we hurt people. Some bosses believe it will undermine their authority if they apologize. The opposite is true. People will like and respect you more. They are likely to forgive you, so you will clear the atmosphere. And if you can admit wrongdoing and apologize, you set the example and make it easier for your employees to do so as well.
Set healthy boundaries.
Treating your employees like friends doesn’t mean you have to give them everything they want or let them do whatever they want. We often need to say no to friends and to establish firm boundaries. If you have to turn down a request, preface it with “I wish I could,” and give a reasonable explanation why you can’t. If you need to reprimand an employee, make it clear you are trying to help them do a better job. If you have to penalize them, do it with regret, as in, “I wish we didn’t have to do this to you, but…” and explain why.
Don’t defend yourself from criticism.
Other people see our faults better than we do. When we defend ourselves from their criticism, we are treating them like enemies, and we automatically lose because the defensive position is the weaker one. They won’t respect us and are likely to continue attacking us to get us to defend ourselves. Even if they are wrong, their criticism is their attempt to help us. So, appreciate it. You might learn something valuable.
Don’t play judge between employees.
Even if workplace policies require you to do this, it is almost always a mistake. You will intensify hostility between them, as each tries to convince you that they are right and the other is wrong. And the one you judge against will resent you for it. If employees have problems with each other, instruct them to talk to each other directly and guide them to do it like friends, without anger.
You’ve got this! Let the Golden Rule be your guide and people will be happy to work for you.
Israel “Izzy” Kalman is the lead author of the Be Strong Resilience program. A school psychologist and psychotherapist for four decades, he has been a leading figure in the promotion of the resilience approach to bullying.