Bullies OR Employee Engagement and Improved Performance: Your Choice.
By: Jean R. McFarland, Ph.D., and Bonnie F. Mattick, M.A. Ed., MBA

As the only technologist for a medical researcher from England, I (McFarland in a former career) had the dubious honor of sharing a lab in a beautiful, new medical research facility with Dr. Cox. He was in his late 30's, tall and lanky with naturally curly, light red hair and somewhat resembled Vincent van Gogh before the ear came off.

Because I had been working with international researchers for several years, I was not concerned about changing to this position. In fact, I was looking forward to working with a British researcher as a new cross-cultural experience. Unfortunately, Dr. Cox was not looking forward to working with anyone new---but he had to. His current technologist, whom he highly favored, had been with him since he came to the United States to conduct research, but she and her husband planned to relocate soon to a different state.

Dr. Cox was a perfectionist who rarely smiled or said anything kind. Most of his communication amounted to instruction. Do this. Do that. So, when he planned to return to London for a week, I secretly rejoiced. Not because I thought of skipping out of work or shirking my duties, but rather because I anticipated working without his cloudy countenance hovering over the lab.

However, Dr. Cox managed to maintain his cloudy presence even in his absence. Without talking with me before leaving about projects to be addressed, he left a LONG list of experiments and procedures for me to complete before his return. I worked alone in that lab from 7 a.m. to 7 or 8 p.m. everyday including both weekends he was away and managed to finish the evening before his return.

When Dr. Cox came into the lab the next morning and I told him I had completed the work, showing him all the detailed results, he snarled, "Impossible! No one could have done all that in one week." He had intentionally overloaded me with work! Reflecting on that and other incidents over several months, I believe his intention was to assign more than he thought I could possibly complete, so he would have "evidence" that he could use to complain against me. Dr. Cox was a bully.

Bullying behaviors create interpersonal conflict and a negative workplace culture that decrease employee engagement. Yet, we hear from management that the employees just don't perform as well as they should no matter how hard management struggles to motivate them. Well, guess what! Constant criticism and instructions to do this and do that will not increase employee engagement and productivity. It simply creates conflict.

Conflict occurs when people are not able to relate in ways that they find gratifying. In a different situation, we were asked by a company CEO to help the senior management team resolve some conflict within the team and improve their performance. We met with the team to ascertain their specific concerns. They all felt they would benefit from knowing more about the impact of behaviors in the workplace. Following our initial assessment, we suggested a variety of tools; one of them was a behavior profile inventory called the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), which was administered by Mattick. This is not a personality inventory; it's an indicator of behavior and motivational traits that help predict people's patterns of interpersonal relationships and their awareness of how they affect others.

The management team's relationship awareness improved, so they began to recognize the bullying behavior shown by one female team member. They began to see that she controlled their meetings and their communication. The rest of the team had been dealing with conflict because they were cut off from the opportunity to behave in ways that gave them self-worth. They learned how to better respond to the situation -- through relationship awareness theory.

Awareness of how we relate to others--and why--is the theoretical basis of the SDI. Three basic premises support relationship awareness theory:
  1. We all want to feel worthwhile.
  2. Our behavior depends on two different conditions.
  3. Our personal strengths can become weaknesses.
The SDI helps us to be more aware of our behaviors and reveals where we are "coming from" when things are going well for us and where we "go" when faced with conflict or stress. We learn how to manage workplace conflict by understanding these factors and identifying the boundaries of constructive conflict as opposed to destructive conflict.

Going back to the case of Dr. Cox, he was outside the boundaries of constructive conflict. Much to his surprise, he got what he wanted in terms of work completed during that week, but how long could an employee endure the stress of his bullying? Fortunately, he completed his research mission and returned to England. There was rejoicing!

Biographical Information:
Both Jean McFarland and Bonnie Mattick are owners of their individual businesses. Together and individually, they conduct workshops and seminars, and they are both professional speakers. Jean's Ph.D. is in Human Resource Development and Cross-Cultural Communication. Her clients include Northwest Airlines, Toyota, General Mills, The St. Paul Insurance Companies, Cytec Industries, Solvay Pharmaceuticals, universities, and others. Bonnie holds Masters degrees in both Adult Education and Business and is a Certified Performance Technologist. Among Bonnie's clients are Bank of America, the U.S. Department of Energy, Prudential Financial, Deer Valley Credit Union, Tucson Electric Power and the Westinghouse U.S. Government Services Group. Jean and Bonnie have more years of experience than they care to mention, but it is approximately 20 years each of consulting, professional speaking, and authoring.
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