identify when behaviour may be perceived
as bullying and to agree that this is not acceptable
in the workplace.
Doing this with tact and diplomacy
can be challenging, especially when the alleged
bully may be someone in authority.
Employees should never put themselves at
risk in confronting or responding to violent
behaviour, but when it is a matter of
intense emotions there are steps they can
take to intervene.
Diffusing a situation where bullying behaviours
are apparent can be as simple as
saying, “Is there something I can do to help
here? It seems like emotions are running
high.” This works much better when all
stakeholders, including senior leaders, recognize
this response is an opportunity to
step back and reconsider the interaction.
It may not stop the intentional bully, but
it can certainly give pause to most people.
Ask all employees to consider these
questions to help establish their power
and influence as bystanders:
■■ When I see someone yelling at a coworker,
do I intervene, ignore it or just
■■ Would my response be different if the
person who is yelling is a senior leader?
■■ What are the thoughts and emotions I
have after witnessing a bullying incident
■■ What could we as a group decide is
a respectful, but direct response to
emotionally intense behaviours that would
help support a change in approach?
When addressing bullying, the conversation
should be focused on helping the
alleged target identify the specific and
measureable behavioural changes needed
from the alleged bully. This should include
what he or she needs in order to feel safe
and able to work with the alleged bully in a
positive and professional way. Recognizing
that what may be perceived as a passionate
response by some can be seen as bullying
by others reduces the need to “prove” who
is right. The focus then shifts to what can
make the interaction between the two individuals
Asking someone who feels they are the
target of bullying for specific examples of
what he or she would need to see, hear
or experience to believe that the bullying
has stopped centres the conversation on
the changes needed to feel safe. These behavioural
changes are then asked of the
alleged bully, without the need to assign
blame. Clear expectations and consequences
related to the behaviour form the
basis of an agreement for interaction going
forward between the alleged bully and
The alleged bully should be advised of
the required behavioural changes in an
instructional rather than accusatory manner.
An example might be something like,
“When you interact with Sam, we expect
you to always ensure that your voice is
calm and that there is about three feet of
space between you and her. This will help
her to interact more effectively with you.
Do you have any questions or concerns
about doing this?”
The alleged bully should understand
that emotional intelligence comprises
learning how to engage and interact effectively
with different personality types. If
the individual is resistant to changing the
perceived bullying behaviour, further disciplinary
action may be required.
It is possible to avoid or improve a bullying
culture, when all complaints of bullying
are taken seriously and acted upon quickly
and effectively. ■
Mary Ann Baynton is program director
of the Great-West Life Centre for Mental
Health in the Workplace. Questions reprinted
with permission of the Great-West Life
Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.
The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety offers this information
related to workplace bullying:
■■ Bullying is usually seen as acts or verbal comments that could “mentally”
hurt or isolate a person in the workplace.
■■ Sometimes bullying can involve negative physical contact as well.
■■ Bullying usually involves repeated incidents or a pattern of behaviour that
is intended to intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a particular person
or group of people.
30 ❚ JANUARY 2015 ❚ HR PROFESSIONAL