Takeaways from the NFL

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It's a rare workplace that seldom experiences conflict. There are a number of ways this happens: personality clashes, warring egos, poor performance, and heavy workloads, among others. However, what happens when workplace conflict – and even worse, bullying – is accepted and considered the norm?

Let's use the recent Miami Dolphins debacle as an example. If you aren't familiar with the story, here's a quick rundown:

Second-year tackle Jonathan Martin recently left the team after an incident in the Miami practice facility's dining hall. He later filed a formal charge with the league, saying Richard Incognito was guilty of player misconduct. After threatening, obscene, and racist voicemails from Incognito were found on Martin's phone, the team suspended Incognito indefinitely. Apparently, Incognitos' treatment of Martin had been on-going since Martin was a rookie.

We'd all like to think that this could never happen in a professional setting – it is the NFL after all – but we'd be wrong. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 72% of all bullying in the US occurs through top-down bullying by bosses. Does this mean that eliminating workplace bullying is only an executive or managerial problem? Absolutely not. The entire Miami Dolphins team contributed to this; coaches and players alike accepted the culture as normal and par for the course. Collectively, the team reinforced the behavior - making it more likely to occur - by doing nothing, rather than coming together to say this kind of environment is unacceptable and it will no longer be tolerated. So what can be done about it?

Take a Look at Your Anti-Bullying Policy

Do you even have one? It pains me to say that you probably should and here's what it should include (at a minimum). Also, remember that I am not an attorney, so please don't take this as legal gospel.

  • A clear definition of what is considered bullying – along with a list of some of the actual behaviors that meet the definition
  • An outline of how employees can report bullying, including guidance on what to do when the bully is the manager
  • A detailed explanation of the complaint and investigation process that will take place
  • A list of consequences of violating the anti-bullying policy
  • A requirement that employees report bullying behavior to their supervisor (or the next person up the chain of command if the supervisor is the bully)
  • A no retaliation clause to help employees feel safe about reporting problem behavior

Personalities to Look Out For

Are you sitting next to a bully or do you report to one? You might. Here are eight bully types to try to avoid at all costs.

  • The Screaming Mimi. This is the most easily recognizable type of workplace bully. Screaming Mimis are loud and obnoxious, and their abusive behavior is meant to berate and humiliate people. They thrive on the notion that others fear them.
  • The Two-Headed Snake. To a co-worker's face, this employee acts like a trusted friend or colleague. However, when the co-worker is out of earshot, this person will destroy his colleague's reputation, stab him in the back and even take credit for his work.
  • The Constant Critic. This bully's goal is to dismantle other people's confidence through constant – and often unwarranted – criticism. A critic will look for any possible flaw in a colleague's work and labors tirelessly to kill that person's credibility. Impeccable work? No problem: this type of bully isn't above falsifying documents or creating evidence to make others look bad.
  • The Gatekeeper. Every office has at least one employee who gets off on wielding his or her power over others – regardless of whether that power is real or perceived. Gatekeepers deny people the tools they need – whether it's resources, time or information – to do their jobs efficiently.
  • The Attention Seeker. This type of bully wants to be the center of action at all times. They'll try to get on their superior's good side through consistent flattery and even come off as kind and helpful to their peers – especially the newer employees. However, if co-workers don't provide the right amount of attention, these bullies can quickly turn on them.
  • The Wannabe. This is an employee who sees himself or herself as absolutely indispensable and expects recognition for everything. But Wannabes aren't usually very good at their jobs. To compensate, these bullies spend a majority of their time watching more competent workers and looking for areas of skilled workers' performance to complain about.
  • The Guru. Generally, there's nothing wrong with this bully's work performance. In fact, it's not unusual for a Guru to be considered an expert in his or her own niche area. What these bullies offer in technical skill, however, they severely lack in emotional maturity. Gurus see themselves as being superior to their co-workers. As a result, they don't consider how their actions will affect others, aren't able to fathom the possibility that they can be wrong and don't accept responsibility for their own actions.
  • The Sociopath. Intelligent, well-spoken, charming, and charismatic, sociopaths are the most destructive bullies of all. Reason: They have absolutely no empathy for others, yet they are experts at manipulating the emotions of others in order to get what they want. (Tim Gould, "Lessons to be learned in NFL's recent workplace bullying scandal")

What can we take away from the NFL? There's a saying: "Different office, same cast of characters". Even though bullies exist in every setting, that doesn't mean that we need to merely accept them and move on – we can all work together to minimize their behavior and make our work environment much more enjoyable.


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Guest January 22 2018