Saturday, April 19, 2008

Cubicle Bully

From time to time, I have encountered some really difficult people in the workplace as I am sure everyone has. In one place that I worked, we had a organization coach who specialized in team dynamics and interaction between individuals. He would coach individuals on behavior patterns that they could change to diffuse tension with others or simply become a happier more productive individuals. It helped that none of us reported to him - direct or dotted line.We were able to take his input knowing that it was unbiased - he had no personal axe to grind. His sole goal was to make the team reach their full potential.

He had taught me some very valuable lessons that worked wonders in the context of the team I was with at the time. Unfortunately, those lessons don't seem to transfer so well. Each team is like a living organism and no two are alike and not all companies see the value of having an organization coach.

So we are left to our own to cope and work around the interpersonal issues we find ourselves in. A bad situation is one in which it feels like no matter what you do you can't win - that is the workplace death trap. Even worse is when you know the only way you can survive will be at the cost of collateral damage to the other person. You never want to do that if there is any other option. With your survival is at stake, you may have little choice in the matter.

The rules of engagement that kindergartners learn should be carried to the workplace. When one kid has a behavior problem and is causing another kid a great deal of grief, it is the teacher's role to step in, pull the problem child out of the mix and restore normalcy in the life of the normal one. A teacher would never expect the two to sort it out on their own or that the normal kid could work her way out of the situation.

In the workplace all adults are treated as equals having similar emotional and intellectual maturity when clearly that is not the case. If two people are finding it impossible to work together the idea is that somehow they can both contribute equally to the situation they are in and therefore have and equal role in solving the problem.

Often this is just not true. Unlike kindergarten, bullies at the workplace get a free ride. Its fairly common to blame the regular person for lacking "people skills" and not being a "team player" if they seek help or intervention. They are supposed to know the way out all on their own, even it the only one happens to be through the bully's cubicle.

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