While many of you may have hoped that bullying behaviors ended with high school, the sad truth is that sometimes even the boardroom has a bully problem. The tactics won’t be the same as when you were growing up, but they can still cause a great deal of discomfort. Perhaps your boardroom bully constantly cuts people off when they’re speaking or refuses to put topics on the agenda. Maybe they work behind the scenes to manipulate or intimidate fellow board members. Not only can these behaviors create awkward situations, they can also have a deeply negative effect on your board’s ability to function.
So how do you handle a tricky situation like this? Here are some of our suggestions:
- Call out the behavior.
Sometimes the best way to deal with a bully is by pointing out the behavior as it’s happening. If you notice the bully interrupted one of your fellow board members, politely step in to say that you’d like to hear the end of their original thought before continuing discussion. Try not to execute this strategy in a way that can be seen as bullying back. Instead, focus on ensuring that every board member is treated with dignity and respect.
- Encourage the chairperson to take a firm hand during meetings.
If you’re not the board chair, approach that person in a private setting and discuss your concerns. Perhaps, some of the issues that your board is facing can be handled by leaning more heavily on parliamentary procedure or ensuring that speaking times are not interrupted. If the behavior continues and the chair has been made aware, it’s their responsibility to move forward by contacting the director in question to try to create a solution.
- Band together.
When bullying behavior occurs, board members often start to talk. If you find yourself in a conversation with another director who is uncomfortable with your bully’s behavior, discuss ways that you can work together to create a more considerate environment through teamwork. Rather than “ganging up” on the bully, see this as an opportunity to work even more closely with a colleague or group of colleagues that you admire. Oftentimes, this will be enough to keep the bully’s behaviors in check.
Caution: Don’t mistake basic boardroom disagreement for bullying. Board members are bound to disagree, but those conversations should happen in a courteous manner.