Do you know anyone who has been bullied at work? Chances are that you do. That person might even be you. Have you also noticed that some people deal with it a lot better than others? Why might that be?
Part of the answer could lie in their preference for how they handle conflict. We all learn ways of handling conflict, from our parents, our friends, our workplace. The subconscious preference you have will tend to manifest itself when there is conflict around, of which bullying is a good example.
In this article I am going to get you thinking about your preference and how that might influence your response to bullying. For it to be of any use you will have to be completely honest with yourself. I encourage you to take a metaphorical honesty tablet so that you respond to what comes next completely as yourself (not a version of yourself that you wish you were).
When you have taken the tablet, please WRITE DOWN THE LEAST LAWFUL THING YOU HAVE EVER DONE. Note; speeding fines and parking tickets do not qualify.
Thank you. We will refer back to how you responded as we go through the next model.
This was a cheeky, not to say rude or even offensive, question to ask you. We’ve only just met, after all. How did you respond?
A useful conflict model
The world’s most widely used Conflict Preferences model is known as the Thomas – Kilmann Conflict Mode Instrument. (TKI for short). The model is based on the premise that we all have a personal preference for how we respond in a conflict situation. We are able to use our non preferred response, but under pressure and in the heat of the moment, our preferred response is the most likely to present itself.
The model shows five Conflict Modes, each of which varies based on the extent to which, when under pressure, you are concerned with what other people need (what Ralph Kilmann calls Co-operativeness) or how much you are concerned with your own needs (what he calls Assertiveness).
The five modes are:
> Competing (assertive and not co-operative)
> Collaborating (assertive and co-operative)
> Accommodating (co-operative and not assertive)
> Avoiding (not co-operative or assertive)
> Compromising (quite assertive and quite co-operative).
At the extremes, which are probably most relevant to bullying, Competers will try and get what they want and not care about you (arguably a good definition of bullying), and Accommodators will tend to let them (because they like to co-operate and be helpful).
Remember my little exercise at the start of this article? It was me trying to bully you, basically. Let’s see if your response showed your Preference in action, and if so its implication for dealing with bullies.
An Accommodator might have done as instructed, but not felt very comfortable about it. Maybe wrote down a truthful answer that was in fact the least lawful thing they have ever done, and glad they used a pencil so they can rub it out (because it’s incriminating evidence!). Complied with my request because I issued it and I’m in charge here. Was that how you responded?
What about an Avoider? Maybe didn’t do it at all, hoping that wouldn’t spoil their understanding. Maybe wrote down something that wasn’t true, or something that was unlawful but not the most unlawful thing they had ever done. Was this you?
A Competer might perhaps have proudly written down something that was true (maybe rather pleased with it as it was very naughty at the time, but no one found out and they got away with it) but knowing that under no circumstances are you going to share what you wrote down. You meet the challenge from me, but have a plan for how to get the better of me if necessary.
A Compromiser is someone who likes to find workable solutions when there is conflict around, but not spend all night over it. “It’ll do: it’s not perfect, but let’s move on.” So this person might have written something a bit illegal – something which might go along with the exercise in order to get the learning from it, but shying away from revealing the truly illegal thing they did 10 years ago. Working with me, but not revealing their complete hand. Might this have been your response?
And finally the Collaborator. This person might have gone along with the exercise despite feeling uncomfortable, because they were prepared to take a risk in order to get the maximum return from their investment. So they might have written down the truth but would draw the line if I said the next stage of the exercise is to email me what you wrote. If we’d been face to face this person would have asked questions of the “what’s in it for me?’ type, and if satisfied that there was a benefit from taking the risk, would have been happy to do so.
If you came out as an Accommodator, you probably find bullies hard to deal with, because you will hate having to not be helpful. A strategy for you could be to remind yourself of your Preference to be helpful, and next time someone tries to bully you, put on your Competer hat. Be Competitive back. Tell them it’s not possible/acceptable/convenient or whatever it is they’re asking you, and get ready to negotiate. You may be surprised at the response.
Avoiders: my advice to you is don’t avoid. The longer you do, the worse it will get, and the worse you will feel about yourself. Take the advice I gave the Accommodators: engage with it, respond, and do so Assertively.
If you’re a Competer, it doesn’t mean you’re a bully (although you might be, possibly without realising it). Make sure you soften the competitive impression, ask questions such as “how do you feel about that?” and make sure you ask for lots of regular feedback.
You often get the relationships you deserve in life, and you can influence them, even if it means getting out of your comfort zone. If you try a new approach and it works, you’ll probably try it again. So the most important thing is to make the effort to take that first step. Good luck!