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Leading coach Vera Ng’oma offers five tips on how to manage without a tinge of bullying.

Many are familiar with the playground bully and everyone agrees that bullying must not be tolerated. But there’s also the ‘bully’ manager who unfortunately tends to get away with a lot of unacceptable behaviour. Getting a team to be their most productive is challenging, but bullying in any form to get your job done cannot be part of that equation.

The problem is that not every manager is clear what bullying behaviour looks like, nor realises that some seemingly ‘harmless’ behaviours and attitudes towards team members can be classified as subtle bullying and impact negatively.

Here are five behaviours to avoid so as not to be guilty of any shade of bullying.

1. Don’t chastise others in public

Some managers take pride in chastising or correcting people publicly, sometimes out of a need to stamp their authority or because they act on their frustration in the moment. People will do wrong but nothing justifies ‘dressing them down’ in public or making them squirm or scurry for cover. Such behaviour humiliates them and makes you look unkind, out of control and absolutely unprofessional.

Tame your emotions so that you can work with people in a way that enables and affirms them but also holds people accountable in the appropriate way. Needing something done and having the power to push to get it done is not permission to mistreat people. When you ‘rebuke’ in a professional way, people learn the lessons appropriately.

2. Avoid targeting specific people negatively

This is when you decide for whatever reason that a particular person can do nothing right. They become your fall guy and when things don’t go well in the team, they’re the first person you feel is responsible. Also, when they do a good job, you ignore it and never give them the credit due them.

As a manager you have to make sure how you treat or interact people is not influenced by how much you like them or not as individuals. Treating people with the same yardstick is important to people feeling valued.

Remember that you have to be a model of what it means to be constructive and professional at all times. That includes not judging negatively or letting your personal feelings rule your management style. Teach and nurture; don’t crush the spirits of those who are under your charge or who look up to you for guidance.

3. Don’t be patronising

There are many ways this can manifest and sometimes takes the form of what you might call ‘harmless’ jokes. When you patronise others, you’re saying you don’t care how they feel or that your opinions are more important than theirs. Nothing good can come out of being condescending to others, especially those in your care.

The authority you have as a manager often means that your opinions will be given more weight than others’. That is why you must be sure not to belittle those who care to share their views or do anything that reinforces any perception that your word is law. Always make the case for the merits of your views as it’ll encourage others to contribute their opinions too.

4. Don’t lord it over others

This can be a tricky one because a manager’s legitimate action in being directive in a situation can be construed as ‘lording’ it over people. The real problem is when a manager feels the need to let people know they are the boss or to demand that what they say be done because ‘he or she said so’. Wielding power this way is style of a weak manager.

You have authority but you don’t need to flaunt it by belittling others or making others feel uncomfortable. For example, when you ignore someone’s contribution in a meeting, you belittle them. Acknowledging people and what they have to say, even if you don’t agree, is the proper thing to do. Acknowledging viewpoints does not mean you agree with what they are saying, but that you respect and appreciate their caring to speak up.

5. Stop insisting on always being right
You won’t always get things right and learning to acknowledge that and apologise is the right thing to do and can help make up for what you got wrong. Admitting to a mistake you’ve made or even acknowledging a poor decision could earn you more respect than acting high and mighty. Acknowledge your errors and fix them or make up for them where possible.

It’s not always easy to tell the impact you may be having on others with your own actions. Do pay attention as sometimes you can be so wrapped up in your own world that you may not realise you may be going overboard in some way. Your primary job as a manager is to develop others and to help them do the best job they can confidently.

There you have it! Bullying doesn’t have to be ‘in your face’. Lead well by engaging your team, don’t be afraid to be directive when a situation calls for it but whatever you do, never be coercive in your style or approach.

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