A few years ago, I worked with a manager (let’s call him Bob) who was technically fantastic at his job, but not so good at people management.

Bob liked control. When there was an issue to be sorted, it was his way or no way at all. Listening and collaboration was not his strength. A visit to his office by one of his team members often resulted in upset people coming out after a “dressing down”, but it was never overt abuse.

The general consensus was that everyone knew there was a problem with Bob’s abrasive management style. This was from his team members to HR to executive management, but nobody intervened. The problem was his behaviour was covert enough not to be easily managed, but overt enough to be noticed.

However, with no formal complaints and no clear facts, the problem was unable to be addressed as far as the company was concerned.

But was it really unable to be addressed? Are we missing the facts in situations like this?

Managing abrasive behaviours starts with perceptions

When it comes to managing abrasive, potentially bullying, behaviours we can start to resolve the problem by changing our understanding of the concept of facts.

We often like to work in hard definites. It’s easier when we see or hear someone shout abuse at another, or one individual physically standing over another.

However, what I have come to learn through our abrasive management coaching is that you don’t have to see the behaviour to manage the problem. To manage the problem you need to start recognising perceptions as fact.

Using Bob as the example, his team perceived his behaviour to be intimidating, aggressive and/or inappropriate. This may be impacting on the team’s overall productivity and some of the employees may have chosen to exit the company. This is the problem that you have to change.

Once you know the perception, you have a tangible fact that becomes the focus of your management of Bob.

When you raise these concerns with Bob, you may be met with statements like “you weren’t there” or “that’s not what I said”.

That’s true, you probably weren’t there. However, you need to stay on message, so you might respond with something like “That’s true Bob, I wasn’t there, but a number of your team members have a negative perception of your behaviour. It’s important that we have the team working cohesively and effectively. We need to change their perception so we can achieve that goal”.

This is Bob’s opportunity to change. This is your opportunity, as his employer, to give him that chance to change, learn and grow. If he can’t, then you need to look at alternative solutions.

What are the steps to change the abrasive behaviour?

Working with an employee to change abrasive or bullying behaviours involves investing the time to support that person change. If you don’t have the time or expertise internally, external options exist which is why we specialise in abrasive leader coaching.

The steps you need to take in implementing this approach include:

  1. Collect the team perceptions. Without the specific information of what the behaviours are, you can’t help Bob specifically understand what he needs to change. It needs to be specific; most people can’t see their abrasive behaviours because they have become normalised to them.
  2. Collate the themes. Grouping them under themes help to be able to prioritise the most important behaviours that need to be change.
  3. Provide the feedback. This is usually the most difficult part as it involves taking off the blinders and manager (Bob) learning about other’s negative perceptions of him.
  4. Coach and mentor Bob to develop solutions and test them to see whether they work or need to be changed.
  5. Monitor for change. If you don’t see positive change, then you need to adjust your plan. If you do see positive change, provide the feedback and reward as appropriate.
  6. Enforce consequences. If you don’t see change, you need to enact an alternative.

Learn more about our Abrasive Leader Specialist Coaching

Contact us today for a confidential discussion on how we can help you support you and your employees with bullying claims.