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Leading with Empathy: 3 Ways to Reduce Bullying in Your Organization

I had the great pleasure of talking with Shari Collins, a workplace bullying expert and globally renowned speaker, for an episode of our livestream video series, Better Humans at Work (BH@W) 

Shari has an extensive background in education, with a recent shift to focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in organizations. She is a thought leader in age diversity and workplace bullying. 

We had a great conversation across a range of topics, with a focus on what workplace bullying looks like and how organizations can take a proactive approach to reducing it. 

What is workplace bullying?

Shari’s background in bullying research came from the education space. After taking graduate courses on bullying, she quickly realized that this issue affects people well beyond students.  

Workplace bullying can take on many forms, including both more covert, exclusionary behaviors, such as not inviting someone to a meeting, to more overt, aggressive behaviors, such as yelling at someone.  

What is the intersection of gender and bullying?

Shari and I had a great chat about how gender intersects with bullying. For example, while 2/3 of bullies are men, of the 1/3 that are women, they choose women as the targets of their bullying 65% of the time. (Unfortunately, there is minimal research on bullying from and toward non-binary folks). 

There are also gender differences in the kinds of bullying individuals perpetrate. For example, feminine individuals are more likely to exhibit the covert style of bullying, which can be harder to identify.  

While this more subtle bullying may sound “better”, it is important to note that social pain, or the pain that comes from being excluded in social situations such as at work, has a very similar neurological reaction in our brains as physical pain. The pain and stress associated with these behaviors can lead to negative outcomes for individuals and organizations, including absenteeism and turnover. 

What are three things that organizational leaders can do to reduce bullying in the workplace? 

Given the important and detrimental potential outcomes of bullying, it is important for leaders and organizations to know what bullying is and how to avoid it. Shari provided three key ways leaders can reduce bullying in their workplace: 

  1. Be an upstander, not a bystander. 

    1. It is important to be prepared to stand up against bullying when you see it. To be able to do so, organizations need to provide proactive education on what bullying looks like and how to stop it in real-time.

  2. Celebrate everyone’s expertise. 

    1. Leaders disproportionately are the perpetrators of workplace bullying. Often, this is due to feelings of threat around subject matter expertise from those who may know more about a subject than the leader. Building a collegial atmosphere at work that celebrates everyone's unique expertise goes a long way to reducing bullying. 

  3. Document any instances of bullying against you.

    1. Unfortunately, bullying is all too common. If you experience bullying at work, it is essential that you document exactly what happened, who was the perpetrator, and who witnessed the incident. Shari recommended doing so in a personal note rather than on a company-owned computer. This documentation will protect you in the future if you choose to report the incident.

To learn more about Shari and her work, connect with her on LinkedIn. 

Looking to build your organization’s DEI capabilities? Contact Mattingly Solutions today to learn how we can partner to advance your DEI goals. Together. 


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