This week, I am at the ASAE Annual Meeting in Nashville. Sessions on board and committee management have been a big part of my days as I get to learn alongside some of the smartest brains in associations. One of the more interesting sessions that I attended was “Tackling the Turbo Bully on Your Board”. This lab, led by one of my favorite writers right now, Jamie Notter, along with attorney Mark Alcorn and California’s Landscape Contractors Associations ED Sandra Giarde, gave great session around understanding the characteristics of adult bullies, tactics to combat, and benchmarks to know when to make a change. In fact, the conversation was much more than just board focused, especially when they invited some of the folks in the room to share the “nightmare” stories about volunteers who just went too far.
I use the term nightmare tongue in cheek though. It’s easy enough to cast stones when we’ve probably all met that volunteer or member, who means well though his or her acts come off less than well intentioned. Many bullies don’t realize what they’re doing. They just think they’re making an important point about the health of their association. They’re giving of their time and money for a group they feel very passionate about and that excitement and loyalty can just fizz over the top. Although, sometimes it’s an outright power grab and sometimes it’s an overcompensation, other times it’s a slow poison that comes through a community and can undo good work for the group by whispers. Knowing the difference can go a long way in how you manage the group long term and help keep the important issues moving forward.
Did you know that 1 in 6 adults are bullied at work? I am always startled when faced with statistics like that, and yet, when I hear them, I can’t help but agree. Many of the habits that unfortunately govern a middle school playground continue to exist in our adult social structures and bullies comes in several forms.
Some great takeaways in case you run into one along the wayside
1) Set clear expectations about Conduct, Roles, and Responsibilities
I loved this! Many times we set the code of conduct for the board, but not for the volunteers who serve on the ad hoc committees. Having a clear line of accountability helps make future issues opportunities to talk about process and what is really working and not. It also helps downplay the personality piece so that when a bully rears their head or starts to whisper, there is a place to mediate back to and reset the tone of the dialogue.
2) Have clear talking points and a process in place for escalation
Bullies tend to come at you in the way that most chips at your confidence. Some are big and loud, some bulldoze, some are passive agressive. No matter the delivery, prepare your staff or yourself with some agreed on talking points that help draw a line back to the code of conduct, roles, and responsibilities. This gives the facilitator ground rules and words when issues escalate.
3) Don’t get stuck navel-gazing
Bullies love tactical. Because they’re in the making their point business. When you dive down to their level and make it about the detail they are fixated on, you’ve lost that hand of poker. In the heat of the moment, it can be tough to keep focused on the processes and strategic structure put into the place to keep the conversations high and moving forward, but it’s important to stick to your guns and try. And if you find that the conversation can’t at that given moment, take a time out.