Relationships at Work - Leadership Skills Guide to Create a Company Culture We Love

How to Manage Workplace Bullying and Abrasive Leaders with Dr. Laura Crawshaw

February 27, 2024 Russel Lolacher Episode 140
Relationships at Work - Leadership Skills Guide to Create a Company Culture We Love
How to Manage Workplace Bullying and Abrasive Leaders with Dr. Laura Crawshaw
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Relationships at Work, Russel chats with researcher, author and psychotherapist Dr. Laura Crawshaw about how organizations can better manage bullies and abrasive leaders in the workplace.

Laura shares her insights and experience in...

  • Understanding abrasive behaviour
  • The fear and lack of knowledge leaders have of intervention
  • The importance of management responsibility
  • Collective action and advocacy
  • Leadership development and coaching
  • Proactive measures to prevent abrasiveness

And connect with me for more great content!

Russel Lolacher: And on the show today we have Dr. Laura Crawshaw and here is why she is awesome. She's a speaker, researcher, and founding fellow of Harvard's Institute of Coaching, and she's been busy. With over 40 years experience as a psychotherapist, corporate officer, and executive coach, she founded the Executive Insight Development Group in 1994, the Boss Whispering Institute in 2009, and co founded the Consortium on Abrasive Conduct in Higher Education. CACHE. How's that for an acronym? In 2013 where organizations have helped fortune 500 companies, United Nations organizations, and NASA to name a few. She's released a new book, should mention that. She's an author. I think I might've glossed over that. The book Grow Your Spine And Manage Abrasive Leadership Behavior, A Guide For Those Who Manage Bosses Who Bully. Oh, we're digging into this. Hello, Laura.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Hello, Russel. Hello.

Russel Lolacher: So we got to start with the question I ask all of my guests, you're not off the hook. Sorry. It is, what is your best Laura or worst Laura employee experience?

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: I think my worst employee experience was when I was an executive in a corporation. And leadership was, shall we say, unethical. And they tried to make me do things that were unethical. And I refused to do them. I fought back. I won the battle. But that was, that was challenging character building, I'm sure.

But I think that was my worst experience. Yeah.

Russel Lolacher: So how do you handle a situation like that? I mean, we don't have to get into huge details here, but the idea that you're in an organization, I'm assuming you're in a leadership position, a leadership role, and you're being asked to do things repeatedly... do you just not answer emails? Do you just diversion over here and then run the other way?

Like, how do you handle situations like that where it's repeatedly happening over and over again and not one offs?

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Well, it didn't actually, it wasn't repeatedly happening. It was, it was a big kind of single event. And the way I handled that was by, leaving. But at the same time, in terms of my leaving, I held them accountable and I won. So I did not leave quietly. And that's so I was able to stand up for myself, which most people who experience workplace bullying are not able to do. Okay, it, mine was sort of a rare circumstance.

Russel Lolacher: I'm really excited to talk to you about this today. We've had, I've had a guest on the show who's spoken from a bullied standpoint. She was certainly, I hate using the word victim of it...

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Oh, no. Target's another term that's used for people who don't want to be called victims, but go ahead.

Russel Lolacher: Yeah. And totally fair. So I'm thrilled to talk to you from a employer standpoint and organizational standpoint and their role in allowing... Turning the other cheek. So before we get in anything, Lauren, I, I love doing this on the show, which is defining terms first, because who knows what we're talking about unless we do that.

So what constitutes or defines bullying at work?

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Okay, so first of all, there are a thousand definitions of bullying and I even wrote a paper about that. So number one there are legal definitions of bullying which hold in certain countries. In the United States, we have no legal definition of bullying. And I think that you're much better off, the term I use is abrasive behavior.

And this is behavior that rubs people the wrong way, leaves wounds... it's essentially, interpersonal interactions that are sufficiently damaging to disrupt organizational functioning. I, my focus is, I've been coaching abrasive leaders for over 35 years now, and, I don't, I'm fine with using the term bullying, but I don't call them bullies because I think it's sort of a rude thing to call a person a bully.

And, and the second is that the common belief is that these individuals, they all intend to do harm. And what I discovered was the vast majority not only didn't intend to do harm, they had no idea of the harm they were doing. And abrasive behavior is any behavior that rubs people the wrong way. And is really wounding. So we're not talking about the annoying coworker. We're not talking about the irritating coworker. We're talking about an individual whose behavior and there's an endless array of abrasive behaviors. Domination, condescending, micromanaging, shouting, yelling, throwing, hitting, gossiping.

I mean, there's just an endless array of behaviors. And so when I'm working with organizations and helping them understand they need to intervene with their abrasive later leader and put an end to the bullying behavior. So many of them get paralyzed by what is the definition of bullying? And does this constitute bullying?

And I say to them, look are you getting complaints? Are your operations disrupted? Is there a steady stream of negative perceptions being voiced to you? That's all you need. And the criteria I give employers is, instead of just this legal definition, I think one, a really good one is if a family member or friend worked in your organization, would you want them to be subjected to that behavior?

And if the answer's no, You have to do something about it. So that's kind of my, my take on workplace bullying. Don't be paralyzed by finding is, is this the right definition? If you see bad behavior, and I'm particularly now talking about the superiors of abrasive leaders if you hear about it or see it.

You need to intervene. You need to manage not only performance we all understand that as managers, we have to manage technical performance, but we also have to manage interpersonal conduct. Remember, managing performance and conduct. And if that conduct is abrasive, it's unacceptable.

Russel Lolacher: I remember, I remember chatting in our pre chat and we were talking about how bullying behavior by leaders seems to be ignored or, or tolerated due to inaction.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Yes.

Russel Lolacher: We, we kind of touched on it, but I want to, obviously I want to save it for our conversation. So why is it that organizations do that?

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Okay. The common belief is that organizations don't intervene, they don't do anything about their abrasive leaders because they're evil, they don't care, and to my surprise, what I discovered was that in my many, many years of work, the organizations that I encountered, they didn't intervene with the abrasive leader...

Number one, because they were afraid. They were afraid, afraid. The superiors are afraid. What are they afraid of? They're afraid of two things. One is afraid of being harmed. So for instance, let's, let's just say Chris is our abrasive leader. Chris is our top moneymaker. He's our top software designer. He's our top salesman.

And, and, and if we intervene with Chris, if we confront him on his behavior, he could quit and we could lose a lot of money, okay? So we could be harmed that way. Chris could sue us. Chris could turn on me. Chris could sabotage our operations. Chris could accuse me of abrasive behavior. I'm no saint.

So that's the idea of being harmed. That if we do, if we intervene, we, we as an organization or me as Chris's boss are going to be harmed. The other is the fear of doing harm. So what I would hear is things like look Chris has been with us for 20 years. He's, he's so loyal and I've never observed the behaviors or I'm not sure it happens that often.

And so a lot of times they'll minimize it's I remember sitting in one law firm where the head of the law firm says it doesn't happen that often. And I, I said to him how often is too often? He did not like me.

Russel Lolacher: Great question.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Yeah. So how if, if, if this person's attacking coworkers, is one attack a month okay? But if it gets up to three attacks a month, you got it. So anyway, so the, the, so they're afraid of doing harm or being harmed. You might hear, look, Jane has been with us. She's my top person. And she's going through a divorce and I don't want to make life worse for her. So it's the fear of being harmed or the fear of doing harm.

And I, I will just cite recently Adidas is located their North American offices here in Portland, Oregon. And now it's coming out that Kanye West was behaving very badly for a very long time. And for them to end that relationship and take a stand meant losing billions of dollars.

Okay. So there's, there's an example there. The other reason I discovered that organizations don't intervene, that they don't do anything about it, managers just, they don't know how. So they'll say things to me like I did talk to Chris. I sat down with him a year ago and I said, look, we're getting steady streaming complaints.

People say you do X, Y, Z, this can't go on. And Chris listened and things got better for a while. But then they, they are back where they were, or they'll say things like we've sent Chris to a communications class which is totally ineffective with abrasive leaders.

Most employers, I think, they feel, they feel afraid, they feel hopeless, and they feel helpless, and they feel the only thing that we can do is fire this person. That's the only option. And they, they don't want to rush to do that. I have empathy for their position, but what they need to understand is they still need to manage conduct.

Russel Lolacher: And it's also, and you give an example there of they're not properly trained. They don't even know what to look for.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Right.

Russel Lolacher: How do you know bosses are bullying in your organization, especially if you seem out of sight, out of mind, I don't see it? Maybe they don't know what to look for. So what are the flags that you would recommend to look for?

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: All right. Usually you don't have to look very hard. Let's say that you're Chris's boss. What, what's going to happen is people are going to come to you and they're going to bring their complaints. I call them negative perceptions. They're going to say, Chris did this or Chris did that. Human Resources is going to come to you.

And they're going to talk about it. Or people are going to lodge informal or formal complaints. And so you're going to hear through those mechanisms that something's going on. I call those indirect perceptions where you hear about it, but you didn't directly observe it. Okay. A direct perception is when you see it going on.

And a lot of times you will. You'll be in a meeting and Chris is publicly humiliating another person. And it's hello what's going on? So the, the sign that's, the signs are these negative perceptions. And another thing I, that I want to share with these leaders is a lot of them will say I can't do anything cause I didn't observe it.

It's just hearsay. And you know what you need to hear heresay. When this comes bubbling in and, and if you think that employees feel empowered to just file complaints and come racing into your office... they don't. They're afraid everybody's afraid in the scenario they're afraid to go above Chris and report their concerns because they're of fear retaliation.

They fear that you, Russel, will discount them, won't believe them, will ignore them, or say that's just the way Chris is. And they leave your office feeling hopeless, helpless, and wounded. So it's a really sad scenario. There's so much suffering, I think on so many fronts.

Russel Lolacher: Now, keep in mind in this scenario, it's a different Russel. It's not this specific Russel, just so we can get covering my own ass here.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: I'm just, I'm just using you as an example.

Russel Lolacher: Of course. So how do advocacy groups fit into this? Cause I'm thinking of unions where there is maybe there is a different perception from their ability, because considering they're defending or looking out for the employee in these situations.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Unions are, I think, very open to the kind of executive coaching that the method I developed for helping abrasive leaders, because on the one hand, yes, they're supposed to defend the, the individual who's, who's being pointed at it's the bad guy, but on the other hand, they know that something's going on.

They know. You know that things are not going well. So I've had good discussions with unions and so often unions are willing to support and an abrasive individual getting help to turn around their style as opposed to the company just terminating them.

Russel Lolacher: You're mentioning sort of the micro of, of, from a smaller standpoint of looking for signs, getting these complaints, what are the macro effects of of bullying within an organization that really should be worrying some of these leaders who not paying attention.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: It's rather impressive. Number one is attrition. People have a lot of confidence in their abilities who are very competent. Many of those just won't put up with that kind of behavior. So you're going to, first of all, you're going to lose good people. All right. That's one cost. And so you see increased attrition the turnover replacing people is very, very expensive. You could see lawsuits. I mean, there's more and more litigation going on in this realm. And then, the researchers by the name of Pearson and Porath did a very interesting study. And what they found was they interviewed people who had been treated badly, had been bullied. And what you see is there's just a dramatic drop off of motivation.

Why should I work hard when I'm being treated badly at work? You see, you see absenteeism. There's a, there's an upsurge in medical claims, people going out on leave. Yeah, it's, and it's just so damaging to productivity. Yeah, there are a lot of, a lot of impacts. There's a lot of research on this now that shows.

Russel Lolacher: And you've, you mentioned too, that people will hear these complaints, but a lot of people don't lodge them. So if you heard of one or two, there's probably 15 or 20 that people are just not feeling that psychological safety or that comfort level to talk to these bosses because bosses that are tolerating this behavior are not seen as safe spaces to provide that feedback.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Okay. Very, it's very interesting point you bring out. So first of all so often there's this whole focus on, let's develop strategies for the targets. My answer to that is I don't think targets should have to find ways to protect themselves. When you think about, child abuse, do we have, do we give children strategies to deal with their abusive parents? No, we don't. We don't hold that expectation. And I believe the same. It is not the responsibility of employees to find ways to protect themselves or fend off the bullying. It's the employers. It is the employers responsibility. And one thing I talk about a lot in my book, Grow Your Spine, is developing a management backbone and the first vertebra of that backbone.

I'll read it because I don't have it memorized is this, I am the guardian of my organization's mission and the employees who work to fulfill it. And for managemers to think of themselves as guardians of the employees who work to who, who make the widgets who sell the, the whatever, that's kind of a novel concept because so many times managers think I'm just here to get the widgets out the door.

Actually, you're there to take care of the people and serve as our guardian and protect them from any kind of physical threats. or psychological threats. Now I'm forgetting your question, Russell, but, I don't know, I like to, I kind of go on these riffs.

Russel Lolacher: I was just going to say, I mean, basically anybody that's a manager and I'll put air quotes in there

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Yes, yes.

Russel Lolacher: That talks about widgets isn't a leader because they're not looking at these as humans are looking at these as a means to an end.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: No, I mean, no, when I mean widgets, I mean like let's say you have a software company and your employees write software. Okay, certainly most managers think it's my job to go and get the software produced. Yeah, it is. But it's also to serve as the guard. That's the mission of your organization.

But in order to fulfill that mission, you have to serve as the guardian and make sure that people are being protected from threats physical or psychological. Yeah, the other thing I know, I know what you're talking about now. So first of all, the idea that we should there's so many survival guides those, okay, here's what you say to your boss. You go in and you say this, you say that.

And again, I'm, I'm sort of like, gee, we, no, it's not their job to, to parry with their abrasive leader. And then I, I will say that the most effective strategy, cause I've interviewed thousands of people who've been affected the most effective strategy was what I call the mass mutiny strategy which is when multiple people discovered it wasn't just me that was being bullied but other people. And what they would do is they would go to management above Chris and voice their concerns now this could take sort of uh people going en masse.

I don't believe in having flaming torches and, calling for people's heads when you do that, and there's a way to do it. But essentially the group going in and saying, this is what's going on. This is how it's impacting us. We don't think Chris is a bad guy, necessarily. And he has a lot of strength.

So you sound like rational you're not overwhelmed with emotion and then you say, but this cannot continue. And we would really like to ask that you get some coaching for him and start monitoring what's going on in our department. Now I've seen other organizations, I did coaching, I've done work with the UN and there'd be some outposts where everybody would write a letter to the local newspapers and you don't want that going on,

Russel Lolacher: So...

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: I want managers to manage conduct.

Russel Lolacher: This group of not torch carrying people going to executive for Chris. Now, executive in that situation... are executive looking at themselves going, this is my responsibility? Are they pointing the finger to HR or are they going, no, actually managers, this is your fault. Who takes responsibility for this as an organization?

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: That's, that's very interesting because oftentimes managers and I'll just use the term manager to apply to anybody above the abrasive leader. So managers oftentimes, yeah, they'll call up HR and say, Hey, you deal with this, right? Or, or they'll hope that maybe go talk to the ombuds office or anybody but me.

And the stark reality is, here's what I like to say, which is when we talk about stopping bullying. policies will not stop bullying. Legislation does not stop bullying. HR cannot stop bullying because HR does not have the authority over Chris. And bystanders can't stop bullying because they have no power.

Targets can't stop it. The only individual who has the authority over the abrasive leader or employee if they're not a leader, is that person's manager. And yeah, they have to learn how to do it, which is why I wrote my very short book because managers don't have a lot of time to, to read. And it is my hope that every single manager in the world will read this book and know how, how to manage abrasive behavior confidently and calmly.

What I'm discovering is many targets are buying the book and putting it on the desk anonymously, putting it on the desk of Chris's manager. And say, please, they'll write in and say, please read this book and think of Chris or Chris needs help read this book. And that, that is one strategy where they're motivating management. And, and again, management they're so often afraid to intervene because they think there's no hope and Chris can't change. And in my work with abrasive leaders and the work of the members of the Boss Whispering Institute, we're finding about 82 percent of abrasive leaders who've been intervened upon by their superiors can turn around their management style to an acceptable level.

I mean, that's, that's astounding. And it's a win-win for everybody because the formerly suffering employees, it's a win. They're not suffering anymore. The organization isn't disrupted. The formerly abrasive leader isn't having everybody point their fingers at him or her behind their back. So yeah, it's really heartwarming to see the turnaround.

Russel Lolacher: And I think that reinforces the idea, I try to hammer home as much as I can is that leaders need leaders. I see too often that leaders are like, Oh, you'll figure it out. Whether you're a, you're a bad leader, you'll pick up your own personal development or you'll figure out eventually. Meanwhile, leaders are going, no, I need that support. I need to be shown the light of the way forward because so many leaders are put in positions that not because they're leaders, but because they did a thing for somebody.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: That's right or they're very technically very competent. They're the greatest software...

Russel Lolacher: Exactly.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: ...writers. And suddenly they find themselves in a management position. They're like, what?

Russel Lolacher: Yeah.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: What?

Russel Lolacher: How do you approach those abrasive leaders? Cause if they're there sitting there, I wish I had training. I wish I knew how to best approach or motivate my team. And they're causing damage to the culture, to their team. How do you, as their boss approach that situation in the best way possible?

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Okay. And interestingly, another, another discovery I've made through my research and practice is most abrasive leaders have no idea that they're abrasive. Why is that? First of all, because nobody gives them feedback. Everybody's afraid of them. So you're not going to go into your abrasive boss and say, Hey, I didn't like the way you publicly humiliated me at a meeting. Knock it off.

Russel Lolacher: Fair.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: So they don't get the feedback. And so they're generally quite clueless. Now what happens is let's say Chris's superior is Paul. Okay. Paul's gotten all sorts of complaints. Paul decides I gotta do something. I gotta do something.

And he, Paul may have even talked to Chris before. Since abrasive leaders do not perceive themselves to be abrasive, simply telling them that there are a lot of complaints you need to change, doesn't work for two reasons. One is they're in denial. So what they'll do is they'll say, no, it's the employees.

They don't understand. They're lazy. They're incompetent. I have to kind of bark to get them moving. So there's, there's a lot of projection onto them. They'll get, they'll get very defensive. All right. So they'll say it's not true. I'm not abrasive, whatever. And so they see no need to change. And so simply telling them, Hey, the situation's not good. You need to turn this around before somebody files a formal complaint and there's a big investigation you need to get on this. So that doesn't work because they don't see themselves as abrasive.

The second reason it doesn't work is they know no better way. They know no better way to motivate people. When we think of carrot versus stick, they use the stick. Why is that? Many reasons. They may have grown up in families where people were, were very aggressive. And they view that as natural and normal.

I had one client who said to me, oh yeah my dad used to kick my ass and look where I am today, Vice President. That's his idea of how, how you get somewhere. They know no better way. And so they need help. And that many years ago, I developed a specialized coaching method for abrasive leaders cause called boss whispering.

And so what Paul needs to do is he needs to sit down. And understand that this intervention, which basically means stating limits and consequences for further abrasive behavior. So very briefly, the limits are, Hey, we're getting a lot of complaints, negative perceptions. This cannot go on.

That's the limit. This cannot continue. Now the consequence each, each manager needs to think through the consequence. A consequence, of course, the most severe is if this continues, I will be forced to terminate you. But you don't always have to impose the most dire consequence. It could be if, if we receive further complaints, you'll not be eligible for promotion or we will not, I've had some employers said we can't give you a bonus or we'll move into disciplinary action.

So that's what motivates these abrasive leaders to enter the coaching. Because initially in the coaching they go, I don't get it. Why is everybody on my case? This is the first time I ever got feedback and it's my employees and what am I supposed to do? And the coaching helps them understand how you, how you lead people with a bit of psychological insight and you surrender the stick and you pick up the carrot.

Yeah, so they need help. So in the intervention, Paul has to be prepared to sit down and say, look, I'm talking to you like this because I want you here. I want you here for the long haul. You're one of our best software writers or our best researchers, etc. You've been loyal and you really you speak the truth.

It's not just nicey nicey talk. You say, you're of value. The situation cannot continue. We're getting a continuing stream of negative perceptions of people who feel that they're not being treated respectfully. Now, immediately, Chris is gonna say, Who said that? Who's saying that? How many people are saying that? Exactly what are they saying? And Paul's in a terrible bind because Paul can't give a lot of details because people came very frightened and in confidence. And so that's when Paul can say, look, I'm setting the, stating the limit. Here's the consequence, if this continues, but I also want to offer help and the help is specialized coaching for abrasive leaders who have negative perceptions about their management styles.

And so that, that it takes a little bit of preparation. And it can be, it can be intimidating to sit down and tell someone that their conduct is not acceptable, but I try to help managers know how to do that compassionately and also to be prepared for all the defensiveness, too. Instead of getting that deer in the headlights look when someone says, you're doing this to me because you don't like me, or you don't understand what I'm up against, or you weren't there when it happened. All these defensive, and there are 26 of them in the book, all that I've ever heard.

So it does take a bit of, of little practice and preparation to learn how to intervene confidently and effectively with abrasive leaders and really with any abrasive employee. Okay. Because you may not, as an employer, want to invest in it. Coaching is not cheap. And if, if you got an abrasive mailroom clerk, you may not be saying, okay, I'm going to offer you coaching, but you can still intervene and say, look, you need to aware this is an issue and you need to turn this around.

And you can come to me for mentoring if you want. Bring a situation where you'd normally blow up as you call it. You know, come talk to me first. So they can offer internal mentoring as well.

Russel Lolacher: How does this change as an approach or does it change as an approach with diversity as a part of this? Because one person's abrasiveness is another person's culture and you kind of mentioned that about being raised possibly differently, but that could be very different depending on what country you're from. So is it a different lens and is it a different approach?

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Yes. Now this whole question of whose perception prevails, because many times when Paul talks with Chris and Paul says for instance, I directly observed you in a meeting telling a person their idea was a stupid and that's not acceptable. Now Chris may argue and say, that's your perception.

I was just being direct. I mean, I'm trying to clarify what's going on and you're making a big deal out of this. Somebody's perception has to prevail. Okay. Let me ask you, what was the first organization you ever worked in, Russel?

Russel Lolacher: I worked in a restaurant chain as...

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: You're wrong. You're wrong.

Russel Lolacher: Oh, damn it. I thought it was so quick with my answer too.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: No, you're wrong. I would claim the first organization you worked in was your family.

Russel Lolacher: That's fair. That's fair.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: And whose perceptions prevailed?

Russel Lolacher: Depends on the day, my mother or my father.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: The Chief, the C, the C level, right? The Chief Executive or the Chief Operating Officer, right? So in order for the whole family, not to dissolve in chaos where kids are arguing their perception and four year old Johnny wins the argument that it's okay to hit his sister. It's the same in an organization that management's perceptions need to prevail.

For instance, I've worked with a lot of cross cultural abrasion, you could call it. It's called, I, I like to call it the New Yorker Syndrome, where I once lived in a, in a place where being nice was highly valued, this culture, all right, but everybody's nice and I would get calls from companies saying we hired somebody and we're having some problems and he's a New Yorker.

Now, my parents are New Yorkers, and New Yorkers are known for cut to the chase just say it as you see it or whatever. And so what's perfectly acceptable in New York was not acceptable in this city. It was viewed very differently. Now, the challenge for management is to convey the message.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. So if you have a New Yorker coming into a very mild culture where we we're very careful management needs to help the New Yorker understand you're in Rome now. And you have to, you have to adjust. Part of one of the vertebrae is that my perceptions prevail as a manager. I make the call of what's acceptable and what's not. And I hold people accountable to that. People may disagree for cultural reasons or otherwise, but Hey, somebody has got to be running the show.

Russel Lolacher: Now we're having this discussion in a very reactionary way. As in people have complained, we should do something about it. Is there something organizations, managers should be doing to make sure that bullying doesn't become bullying or abrasive does not become abrasiveness in organization before it's a problem, whether that's hiring or onboarding or where should, what should we do?

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Great question. Robert Sutton wrote the no, I can't, can I use the word asshole? He wrote the No Asshole Rule. Yeah. Okay. I'm so genteel. I don't use language...,

Russel Lolacher: Hell yeah.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: I mean, the kind of message was don't hire assholes. Let me tell you, how do you know? I mean you, you can't know and, and, and I don't like calling abrasive leaders assholes because I don't believe they are, but you can't know ahead of time because nowadays when you try and get references, employers aren't going to tell you they had a lot of difficulties because they can be liable for that.

So the whole thing, hire the right people. Yeah, good luck. You can try ways to give it a go. I think the best way is to have a barometer and that is what I call climate assessments, where maybe every year or six months, you just send a survey out to everybody anonymous saying how are you doing?

And you can design your own questions, but basically it's do you feel comfortable in your work environment? And, and if not, why not? And you fill that out and it's anonymous. And a lot of companies do that and that's how they, that's how they identify the trouble spots that way.

Also HR people will go to HR where they won't go to upper management and they'll, they'll hope that HR can kind of miraculously solve the problem, which HR can not because they don't have the authority. They're not managing. Those abrasive leaders, but listen to the HR. Another barometer is if you have an ombuds office... when people go to the ombuds office, it's confidential.

But if, if say you go in to talk about what's going on, how your boss is treating you, if you give them permission to give upward feedback, what you're doing is you're saying to the ombuds, you can carry this up to upper management, just as long as you don't mention my name. And so ombuds offices can be great as far as highlighting these hotspots.

Russel Lolacher: Do you feel there's benefit in defining what is and is not acceptable behavior in an organization up front?

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: That's a, that's a really good question because on the one hand, I don't think you can in a sense. So for instance you can say there's no ultimate compendium of what is acceptable and unacceptable. I mean, it would be, you know, you can, you can talk at this decibel, but not that decibel. It would be this huge manual. And so what most companies do is they come up with kind of generalized policies of we require that people treat each other with respect, respectful this or that.

And even if you look at legal definitions, such as in, I don't know, Australia, they have bullying laws. And their definition of bullying is what any reasonable person would deem to be. And so that's the reasonable person clause. I don't think it's helpful to try and delineate it up front, particularly because you also get into these situations where well, we were told that we can't we're not supposed to, I don't know, make fun of people, but does that mean we can't tell a joke on their birthdays?

And it gets all this kind of convoluted mess. No, I think. I and another problem is let me tell you what's acceptable in one workplace is not acceptable in another. I mean there's the Pike Place Fish Market in Seattle. I used to hang out there because it's fun.

They throw fish, they throw, the employees throw frozen fish at each other and yell at each other before they send the fish over. Okay. That is perfectly acceptable workplace conduct at the fish market. It would not be acceptable in a library for the librarians to be throwing books at each other. So I think each organization has to define what is acceptable and what is not.

And it's not a democratic voting decision. It's kind of like in a family where the parents. Say, uh uh, not okay to hit your brother or your sister, uh uh, not okay. So again, the leaders have to take the primary role in saying, this is not acceptable. And to feel fine about saying that. Not acceptable.

It's a great phrase. We don't do that here. We can't accept that here.

Russel Lolacher: So you've managed, you've coached a lot of organizations and aggressive leaders. What is the biggest obstacle to organizations getting this right?

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: I think, I think the, it's, it's being spineless. And I don't say that in a derogatory way, but it's, they cannot summon the courage to intervene. And some sadly, as in the case of Adidas, the billion dollar blocker was there, but in most organizations, it, it, it kind of boils down to, I don't know what, I don't know how to talk to Chris. Chris is going to get defensive, he's he's going to be angry with me forever, and even if I talk to Chris, I already talked to Chris a while ago and, and it improved, but there's no hope.

Because I'll just talk to him again and it'll get better for a couple of weeks. And then we'll be back to square one. And so I think once they hear that these people need help to change their management styles, then they feel more encouraged and we can kind of help them develop the courage to intervene. And and feel hope. And the thing is what I say to employers, I say, look, okay, if, if the individual can turn themselves around, it's great. It's a win win the employees that suffering ends, you're, you're not facing lawsuits, formal complaints, all that kind of thing. And also the formerly abrasive leader is grateful.

That you invested in them. Okay, but what if the abrasive leader can't turn around and you end up having to terminate them? All right. What about that scenario? The thing is, you will know much more quickly because you offered the help you you did everything that you could do as an employer, that's all you can do.

You can intervene to state limits and consequences and offer help. That's all you can do. And if they end up having to be terminated, that spared you years more of abrasive, disruptive behavior. That's the suffering does not end. Oh, it's just terrible. I mean, one of the, the first encounter I ever had with workplace bullying, I was up in Alaska, an employee came in, he was a, worked for one of the oil companies, and he came in, he said, I'm really mad at my boss, and I was like what?

And he cited a whole litany of bullying behaviors, and he said, I'm really mad. I said, how mad are you? And he said, I'm thinking of killing him. And I said, have you thought of how you'd do that? And he said, yeah, the gun's in my truck.

Russel Lolacher: Wow.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: That was my first encounter with workplace bullying, way back in the 80s.

And so I trotted down the hallway. I was, I was a newbie clinical social worker. And I said to my boss, what do we do? And he says, ask him if he'll give us the gun. And he did. And I will never forget the look of relief in his face when he gave me that gun. And I'll tell you, that was not the only gun we collected.

So the suffering is terrible. And, and I remember interviewing employee, one employee who was every time he'd go to work, he'd contemplate driving into the river next to the, the factory because he was so depressed and, and it was so horrible to be treated badly. So there's terrible suffering and it can be stopped. That's the thing, but the only ones who can stop it are the manager. That's it.

Russel Lolacher: Thanks so much for this, Laura. I, yeah, I, I really appreciate you taking the time to sort of highlight the fact that this is a, this is a problem and it has ripples. Like every time I start the conversation of what's your best or worst, a lot of them start with worst and a lot of them start with 20 or 30 years ago because people carry this stuff,

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Oh, the wounds are lasting. The working wounded. Those wounds don't heal.

Russel Lolacher: So let's, let's wrap it up on a happy note, Dr. Laura,

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Sure.

Russel Lolacher: With what's one simple action people can do right now to improve their relationships at work?

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: I think that simple action, if somebody offends you, rather than leaping to the conclusion that they're a terrible person, although they may, they may have behaved badly enough that you've come to that conclusion. But if somebody says something offensive to you, I think instead of immediately condemning and concluding that, that, it was, it's to just get curious and by that I mean saying later on when we were in that meeting, you kind of just my idea off there and didn't want to hear about it and I was wondering, is that because you didn't think it was worthwhile or help me understand.

Getting curious means getting people to talk about why they're doing what they're doing and sometimes that can reduce the defensiveness. So that'd be my little... get curious, don't just assume.

Russel Lolacher: That is Dr. Laura Crawshaw, she's a speaker, researcher, and author of the new book, Grow Your Spine and Manage Abrasive Leadership Behavior, A Guide for Those Who Manage Bosses Who Bully. Thank you so much for being here, Laura.

Dr. Laura Crawshaw: Thank you, Russel. Thank you very much.