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More on Bullying – Because it is Everywhere!

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More on Bullying – Because it is Everywhere!

By Beverly Flaxington

April 1, 2014

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues.  To submit yours, email us here.

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.

To our readers,

I received a response to last week’s column, in which I gave advice to someone who was being bullied, that pointed out some areas where I missed the mark. The writer said I did not address taking a “direct approach” to dealing with the bully.

A direct approach could look like:

  1. Addressing the bully directly and standing up to them in a confident and direct manner — something like a “cease and desist” order to the bully.
  2. Addressing the issue with senior management or the Human Resources department. This could involve either registering a formal complaint or just letting management know about the issue.
  3. Talking to a lawyer outside of the firm. (In most cases, this works only after you have pursued all internal upward channels.

The reader said bullies don’t respond to kindness, so my idea about having coffee was a “weak” way to deal with it.

I believe this issue is bigger than we tend to admit in our industry – and probably in others. There are bullies everywhere. Many people who write to me, or with whom I work in my consulting business, will talk about being abused by a boss or colleague in small and large investment and advisory firms. It may not always look like the playground bullying we are used to, but any form of over-the-top anger, sarcasm, teasing, criticism of people’s lifestyle or choices, demeaning or talking behind someone’s back instead of addressing them directly could be construed as bullying.

I completely agree that I missed the mark and should have addressed the options of confronting the bully directly or taking the issue to senior management. I have found over time that “aggression begets aggression,” so I don’t advocate bullying back, getting into a shouting match or physically threatening another person. But I do believe that staying confident and telling bullies to back off in certain cases could be effective, depending on the bully.

As a woman, I don’t have the option of punching someone out or making threats. I have had to become creative over the years in dealing with my own bullying situations. That said, taking the issue to senior management works in some cases. However, this approach works only if you have a senior manager or HR department who will value your confidentiality and respond to your issues. I have had clients tell me they were accused of being weak by senior management when they brought up situations like this instead of dealing with the problems on their own. I know of one case where the bullied person went to a boss, and the boss sided with the bully and began to torment the bullied person, making the entire environment toxic and unbearable.

My original recommendations were based on seeing tactics that have backfired and trying to find more creative ways to disarm a bully by building the confidence of the person being bullied and solidifying a support base so that the person bullied does not go through it alone.

Beverly Flaxington co-founded The Collaborative, a consulting firm devoted to business building for the financial services industry in 1995; in 2008 she co-founded Advisors Trusted Advisor to offer dedicated practice management resources to advisors, planners and wealth managers.  She is currently an adjunct professor at Suffolk University teaching undergraduate students Leadership & Social Responsibility. Beverly is a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst (CPBA) and Certified Professional Values Analyst (CPVA).

She has spent over 25 years in the investment industry and has been featured in Selling Power Magazine and quoted in hundreds of media outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, Investment News and Solutions Magazine for the FPA. She speaks frequently at investment industry conferences and is a speaker for the CFA Institute.


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