3 Tips to Address Toxic Behavior with Leaders

by Sep 30, 2020

You tell your CEO that there is bullying, it causes harm, and we should fix it. Yet, as leaders, we occasionally find ourselves faced with a challenging dilemma: how do we address toxic behavior when it rears its ugly head within our teams or organizations?

Seems obvious this needs to be addressed.

Alas, many HR professionals are met with push back: “People are just sensitive.” “She’s our top performer so hopefully people can figure out how to deal with it.” “Let’s get everyone some training on bullying at work and maybe that person will change.” (That’s my personal favorite because it’s so ridiculous.)

If you’re getting pushback, here are three tips for countering it.

Calculate the Costs

Leadership needs data. Help them see the actual costs of bullying and you might pique their interest.  

Create an excel sheet laying out all of the actual costs of bullying, including hours spent dealing with it, turnover, training new hires, absenteeism, and everything else but the kitchen sink.

Even more cool, if costs of bullying are clearly laid out you can also discuss the ROI of addressing it.

Turn Anecdotes into Clearer Data

Anecdotes are data, but they’re also made up of perceptions. Leaders hear the stories and respond with, “Why can’t they just act like adults.”

I hate to say it, but anecdotes also create the opportunity for HR to be seen as melodramatic, too sympathetic to the employees’ plight and not enough to the business’, and lacking business acumen. 

That’s why we’re introducing our abrasive leader diagnostic. It turns those anecdotes into clear and undeniable data. 

You’ll be asked to put a checkmark next to all of the bullying behaviors you’re aware of (e.g., aggressive body language, yelling, sabotage) and all of the outcomes of that behavior (e.g., turnover, complaints, requests for transfers). 

You receive a report that summarizes your anecdotes in a calm and composed way… in a way leadership can understand. 

Discuss Risk

In addition to laying out costs in your excel sheet, and the list of behaviors and outcomes in your diagnostic report, you’ll want to discuss risk. 

Harassment and bullying behaviors are the same – the only difference is whom they’re aimed at. All it takes is one employee to recognize they may have a hostile work environment complaint, and the organization is doomed for at least a costly investigation. 

Of course, an investigator’s fee won’t crush the business. It’s all the other stuff that makes investigations costly – time wasted participating, time wasted gossiping about participation, loyalty to the organization lost, and so forth. 

Implement these three tips, and you’ll convince your leadership that bullying is a problem that exists, is costly, and most be resolved. 


Catherine Mattice Zundel

P.S. Don’t forget about our upcoming webinar on Oct 22, 2020. We’ll be discussing politics at work and how to create an environment that can tolerate the emotions and outrage that’s sure to come with election night. We are offering up 1 SHRM PDC for those that attend this webinar!

It’s from 10:30-11:45 am Pacific. 

Claim your spot!

Incivility, bullying, and harassment occur because the culture allows them to. Before starting inclusivity initiatives, you’ve got to stop bad behavior. Take this assessment to determine if your workplace fosters a positive culture.


About Catherine Mattice

Catherine Mattice, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is President of consulting and training firm, Civility Partners, and has been successfully providing programs in workplace bullying and building positive workplaces since 2007. Her clients include Fortune 500’s, the military, several universities and hospitals, government agencies, small businesses and nonprofits. She has published in a variety of trade magazines and has appeared several times on NPR, FOX, NBC, and ABC as an expert, as well as in USA Today, Inc Magazine, Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, and more. Catherine is Past-President of the Association for Talent Development (ATD), San Diego Chapter and teaches at National University. In his book foreword, Ken Blanchard called her book, BACK OFF! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, “the most comprehensive and valuable handbook on the topic.” She recently released a second book entitled, SEEKING CIVILITY: How Leaders, Managers and HR Can Create a Workplace Free of Bullying.

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