What You Should Do With A Bully On Your Team

Sometimes, you may have a team member who is bullying or being difficult to work with. What should you do in this situation, especially, when that person is your top performer?

Case Example

Teresa, CEO of Beta Learning Center, has seven direct reports. Eight months ago, the team went through a transition where Manuel was promoted to the Program Lead Director and joined the leadership team.

The number of complaints has increased considerably since Manuel joined the team. Although he has been with the company for five years, he has never worked with any of his new peers. It seems that everyone, except Ava, is having problems working with Manuel. People say that he is rude, shames, defends, and attacks people during meetings. 

Teresa is stuck as she does not want to let Manuel go because he is her top performer. What should she do?

The worst thing Teresa can do is to ignore the problem. The second worst thing is to issue Manuel a Personal Improvement Plan (PIP) and isolate the problem only to Manuel. Disruptive behaviors do not occur in isolation, they occur in relationships with others. Issuing Manuel a PIP would not change his behavior, but create resentment and further disconnection from the team. Teresa must look at the underlying issues that are causing his behavior. 

Creating an Emotional Organogram is one way to identify the relationships distress. To understand the diagram better, here are the details of what the colored lines mean:

  • Solid green lines represent harmony 
  • Purple dashes represent distant and poor 
  • Red dashes represent discord and conflict  
  • Red railroad represents distrust 

Looking at the diagram, we can see that there are several red lines connecting with Manuel: 

  • Teresa and Manuel are experiencing distrust 
  • Sophia and Manuel are experiencing distrust, discord, and conflict
  • Ben and Manuel are experiencing discord and conflict
  • Jim and Manuel are experiencing discord and conflict
  • Mia and Manuel are experiencing distant and poor relationship
  • Charlotte and Manuel are experiencing distant and poor relationship

Clearly, it is easy to label Manuel as the “problem employee,” but  Manuel is just a symptom of the team dysfunction, not the problem. 

In fact, in my interview with the rest of the leadership team, I learned that before Manuel came on board, the team experienced a similar problem with another member. Thus, even if Teresa lets Manuel go, it won’t be too long when the team falls into the same trap of a negative pattern that will end looking similar way as it looks now.

This type of a pattern exists in many organizations. Often, management is trying to address the symptom rather than the root of the problem.

Conflict is the inflammation. The virus is emotional disconnection.

Emotional disconnection for a group of mammals who seek connection is a danger cue for the brain and it causes all kinds of relationship stressors. Organizations that experience similar situations need to address the connection, not the symptom. 

The Emotional Connection Process

The Emotional Connection “EmC” process shifts the focus from a single-person problem to a team relationship. By using the EmC process, team members start to learn how to stop the negative cycle of conflict and create a more positive and effective way to interact with each other.  

The EmC process consists of three stages: 

Stage 1: We put a cap on the disconnection and help team members to understand the negative pattern that takes over their relationship. In this stage, we establish psychological safety and align team members against the cycle, not each other. This is very empowering for team members.

Stage 2: We do not just contain the negative cycle, we help create a positive pattern where team members start to work more cohesively together. They are able to share concerns in a way that helps others to support them, they can articulate what they need in a way that pulls them closer, and  nurture the relationship with bonding conversations that reduce the negative behavior and improves the communication on the team. 

“Bonding conversations improve emotional responsiveness, openness, and trust.” – John Bowlby, the founder of the Attachment Theory

Stage 3: We integrate the emotional connection into the daily interactions so that team members can nurture their relationships and strengthen the bond, increasing trust, transparency, and productivity.

In the example, we worked with Teresa and Manuel through EmC pair sessions. Once the connection between Teresa and Manuel was repaired, all other connections were a lot quicker to fix as team members felt a lot more positive in working together. 

The end result is that when team members become more connected, they are able to thrive and grow, both personally and professionally. 

If you are experiencing workplace conflicts or having a bully on your team, instead of issuing them a personal improvement plan, take your team through the Emotional Connection process and see how cohesive and productive they become again. 

Check out the online EmC Master Courses.

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