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A three-step plan to confront bullies in the workplace

If a manager or supervisor is told that one employee is bullying another, they must address the issue.

But before leaders can confront the person responsible, they need to identify that bullying has indeed taken place and confirm the facts. Here is a three-step plan you can follow:

Step 1: Identify what is considered bullying in the workplace.

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Workplace bullying can be described as repetitive, deliberate verbal, non-verbal and even physical actions directed against a co-worker or subordinate for the sole purpose of dominating and controlling.

Such behaviour is damaging and can result in severe psychological or physical harm to the victim.

Step 2: Confirm the facts and develop a plan to confront the bully.

Once bullying has been identified, it is the leader's responsibility to confirm the facts, prepare documentation, and develop a plan to confront the bully.

Confirming facts will help you understand the extent of damage that may have been done to the victim. If there are enough facts to confront the bully, prepare a plan.

Consult any appropriate partners such as human resources personnel and determine what consequences – which can range from written discipline to termination – may be considered. The plan must be sensitive to the needs of the victim, who may need support through an employee assistance program.

Step 3: Schedule a meeting to confront the bully.

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Next, determine the time and location of the meeting, as well as who will be involved, and prepare a script.

In a private, confidential space, facilitate the following conversation:

Explain the purpose of the meeting.

In a clear and assertive tone, explain that the employee has been linked to bullying and that this conversation is to address that.

For example: "John, I have asked to meet with you to discuss the following facts … and our position on this matter. Do you understand why you're here?"

Verify with the employee why they are there.

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This gives the individual time to understand the seriousness of the conversation and allows the leader to evaluate how the employee is going to manage their emotions. If the employee or leader becomes overly emotional, stop the conversation and start again only when everyone is calm.

Present the facts and concerns, and outline the consequences.

This is to ensure that the employee understands that this is not a negotiation; it's a reporting of the facts. The ultimate goal is for the employee to accept responsibility for his or her actions.

Facts: "John, you were observed ... " (Share the facts, history, evidence and the organization's position.)

Concerns: "John, bullying behaviour is not acceptable in this organization and it will not be tolerated. Do you understand the concern and expectation to stop any behaviours that could be perceived as bullying?"

Employee's response: Give the employee a chance to admit responsibility, ask questions about what they need to do, show remorse, apologize and commit to changing their behaviour.

Consequences: Inform the employee how the matter will be dealt with. A union representative may need to be involved.

Frame an action plan.

Outline the steps the employee must comply with to continue their employment.

"John, the first step is to stop bullying X immediately. You will be expected to …" Leave nothing to assumption. Get the employee to agree to those expectations.

Review the plan.

Review the expected behaviour, how the plan will be monitored, any disciplinary action, the impact on the employee's record, future consequences if there is a relapse, and the frequency of follow-up. A written plan may help the employee follow the guidelines.

Effective leaders must embrace the challenge of making sure their workplace is free of bullying.

Bill Howatt is the president of Howatt HR Consulting and founder of TalOp, in Kentville, N.S. Website:

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