Do you have employees or managers who demonstrate abrasive or bullying behaviour?

This week I was facilitating a conversation between two managers to help clarify roles, responsibilities and boundaries so that their working relationship could be strengthened.

Both managers were generally considered to be strong leaders but both were known to have very different styles of communicating. From the moment the conversation began it was  evident that not only were their styles different, but that the lack of respectful communication was impacting their working relationship.  The presented issue of clearing up their roles and responsibilities was not the issue at all.  The real issue was one manager displaying assertive and direct behaviour while the other displayed abrasive and bullying behaviour.  

Manager X was direct in their style, spoke with fairness and respect, and demonstrated responsibility for their actions. This manager showed positive intent and focused on trying to achieve a positive outcome.

Manager Y, however, did not demonstrate such attributes and displayed abrasive, bullying behaviour.  Some of the behaviours I observed included defensiveness, attempts of controlling the conversation, sarcasm,  poor listening skills, and limited emotional regulation.

As the facilitator of the conversation, I had empathy for both of the managers.  Manager X seemed to be confused by the lack of authentic engagement and Manager Y came across as trying to use formal authority to mask their vulnerability.

This might be a common scenario found in all organisations and various workplace cultures. Are there ways that you too can relate to this scenario?

A manager who displays abrasive behaviour often engages in bullying tactics as a way of protecting themselves. A fear of being perceived as incompetent often drives this. Although on the surface they come across as self-assured and confident, this often masks significant and profound anxiety.  

The impact of such behaviour can be profound not only on an individual but also at an organisational level. Often when an employee, team leader, supervisor, or manager displays abrasive behaviour I’m  engaged by the organisation who does not know what to do anymore. There comes a point in every organisation where ‘enough is enough’ and the employee’s behaviour can no longer be ignored.

Often times the employee has had a reputation of functioning in this manner for many years and the behaviour has been tacitly authorised by the most senior personnel in an organisation.  

One of the core reasons why the behaviour is often not addressed, is a belief that the employee will not listen or a fear that a complaint will be made against the person providing the feedback. Other rationale may include a genuine concern not to upset the employee as the person has been very loyal to the organisation. However, the reality is that to enable and authorise abrasive and bullying behaviour not only puts an organisation’s reputation at risk, but it also impacts productivity. The costs of all of the above are significant.  

So how do you assist an employee like Manager Y to strengthen their actions to be better aligned with respectful workplace behaviour?  Wondering what steps you can take?

1. Demonstrate respect by providing open and honest feedback to the employee.

It is quite often that such an employee is unaware of, or at a minimum will discount the nature and impact their behaviour has on others, and will project blame where it does not belong. To combat this there are a variety of ways of preparing feedback. This can include situational observation, cultural wellbeing reviews to obtain themes of behaviour, and 360 degree feedback.  

2. Support the employee through coaching.  

Coaching as part of ongoing professional development can actively address behavioural issues through a strength-based approach.  It is critical that the employee is able to see and hear that the by providing coaching they are being acknowledged as a valuable part of the team. The advantage of using an external coach for this is removing predetermined assumptions.

3. Look out for the employee’s well-being.

Personal needs can also be addressed through coaching. An assessment can be made if further professional support would be of benefit. Additional support includes engaging with a counsellor to better understand some of the internal struggles that often accompany hostile behaviour.  Anxiety is also one of the most common causes of defensiveness in workplace conflict scenarios. Identifying all these characteristics are all beneficial in looking after the employee’s well-being.

After all of this, you know you have done everything you can to try to support the employee by providing opportunities to allow the employee to grow and develop.  At the end of the day, should the employee not choose to accept the feedback or the coaching; then all that may be left is a formal performance management process.

Setting the boundaries and the expectations may be a reality check that will enable the employee to reflect on how they want to go forward.

If you would like to know more about how I may be able to assist you in supporting your employees in addressing any workplace behavioural issues; or further enhancing their understanding of respectful workplace behaviours - please connect with me by email or give me a ring and I will be more than happy to have an initial chat to see if I may be able to assist you.

I can be contacted via email at, on LinkedIn at or by phone 0413 145 925.

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