Nia Thomas [00:00:00]:
You. Hello, and welcome to the Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast, the Fortnightly podcast that talks about self aware leadership with thinkers from around the globe. If you want to be a better leader and a better work colleague, then join me, your host, NIA Thomas, as we talk to today’s Knowing Self, Knowing Others guest. A very big welcome to today’s show to Nikki Ear and Jonathan Wilson. Nikki is a workplace bullying consultant and she focuses on training, education, and awareness of raising in this area of bullying. She’s also a director of her own company called Conduct Change, focusing on better business behaviors through the prevention of workplace bullying. Nikki, it’s absolutely brilliant to have you here. Thank you very much for joining me.
Thank you, NIA. Wonderful to be here.
Nia Thomas [00:00:55]:
Nikki, tell us a bit about how you got into this world of antibullying, because it is quite I guess it’s a stressful area of work and it’s highly emotionally charged. And when we’re talking about self awareness and self aware leadership, it feels like it’s at the really sharp end of that.
As with many people who end up in this area of work, then it was through my own workplace bullying experience. So I think when I went into that, I probably didn’t really understand what bullying was fully, and part of my recovery process was really learning about it, really getting to understand what had happened both from an organizational point of view, but from a personal point of view and a health point of view as well. And so if you have asked me at that point, do I want to work in this area, do I want to talk about workplace bullying all the time, I’d have said, no, absolutely not, because that was an incredibly damaging, harmful, traumatic time in my life. However, once I started learning about it, it actually turned into an incredibly interesting, fascinating topic, looking at behaviors, the complexity of the subject, the way in which people are influenced in organizations, and how that in turn can influence behavior and bullying in the workplace. So it becomes this huge and fascinating topic around people and what drives them and what creates these situations.
Nia Thomas [00:02:40]:
Interesting, because I think a lot of what you said about behavior is what drove my interest in self awareness, but coming at it from very different angles. Jonathan is a retired police officer, but he very much supports creating safer workplaces to prevent workplace bullying, harassment, and discrimination, and is an ambassador for Stop Hurt at Work.
Thank you, NIA. My name is Jonathan. I spent 28 years in Metropolitan Police. In my last ten years of service, I was at the rank of Detective Superintendent, which is quite a senior rank within the organization. I encountered in that period a period where I had a line manager or two line managers where I was challenging some behaviors that were wrong. At that point in my life, I felt that I’d seen the worst that life could throw at me. I was quite confident I challenged some bad behaviors and found myself subjected to a protracted period of bullying and gaslighting. Eventually, I took that to one of the organization’s more senior officers, a deputy assistant commissioner. She responded with a sound sound and a look of contempt with the words, that’s your view to every issue I raised. She then concluded by saying, from everything I’ve heard, you’re the problem. My mental health suffered from it. And eventually I decided for my own well being that I would leave the police service early and I retired with 28 year service. But I decided that I was going to do something to try and help other people that found themselves in that position and provide advice, because there was very little advice available to me at that time on how to deal with the situation. I now spend a lot of time on LinkedIn posting about leadership issues around bullying, gaslighting, responsibilities of HR, how people should deal with it, helping people to understand the signs of the bullying, and toxic leadership. I work as an ambassador for an organization called Stop Hurts at Work. So it’s really, really rewarding. I don’t do this for money. I do it because of a strong belief in my own personal experience.
Nia Thomas [00:04:55]:
Thank you so much for sharing that, Jonathan. Nikki, you mentioned in your website that there isn’t actually a legal definition of bullying. Where do we go with that? How do we deal with that in the workplace?
Yeah, that’s correct. And there’s two different elements. So I always talk about bullying behaviors and there’s also harassment. And first thing I want to do is make it really clear the difference between the two. The behaviors that we are talking about can be seen whether it’s a bullying case or harassment case. Harassment, though, is when it is linked to a protected characteristic. So sex, race, age, disability, religion, belief, those kind of things. When we’re talking about those, then we’ve got really clear legislation in the workplace. It’s all covered by the Equality Act. You are covered before you even come into the workplace. And if things go wrong, then you can start to make a case. You can bring that forward while you’re still at work. When it’s bullying in the workplace, then you’re not protected in the same way, and you’re not protected until you’ve been in the workplace for at least two years. And beyond that point, if you are feeling bullied and it becomes too much and you want to bring a case, then what you have to do is leave your role and bring a case, like a constructive dismissal. Or if things have got so bad, and for many people it does, it reaches the point of a psychiatric injury, then you can actually bring a case through the civil courts, a personal injury case. So in terms of the legislation, it sits very differently in terms of the behaviors, the management, the prevention, the interventions, then actually it’s not all that different. So what we need to look at is, although the root of the problem may come from a different place, the impact and the outcomes are very much the same in the way that they affect people at an individual and human.
Nia Thomas [00:07:09]:
Level, separating it into that, one has legislation to back it, and one has civil legal backing. That’s really, really helpful. How do you define self awareness?
So, for me, self awareness is about really knowing and understanding yourself, understanding what your core values and beliefs are and how those influence the way in which you perceive the world, the way in which you respond to different situations, and also the way that you react. So what are your triggers? What pushes your buttons? What will send you into a state of either anxiety or joy or excitement or frustration? What is it that really brings out those higher levels of emotion in you? And that, for me, is where the self awareness comes in. But we talk about self awareness. It’s a small part of the whole of emotional intelligence because you can have all of the self awareness in the world, and you have people I know myself. But unless you are prepared to think of yourself as constantly developing and recognizing your own weaknesses, need to change, need to respond in a different way, then having that self awareness won’t move things on. It won’t change anything.
Nia Thomas [00:08:50]:
One of the things that really brought me to self awareness was this question around are people cognizant aware and making choices about their behavior from your experience, are the people who are bullying bullies, perpetrators of workplace bullying? Are they people who are lacking in self awareness? Or as Tasha Yurich calls them, are they aware, don’t care? Or are they actively trying to pull the rug from under somebody and to belittle somebody, how active or passive is it?
So if you ask me, are they any of those things? I’d say, yes, okay. And quite frankly, a bully can be any of those things. So there are the people who are genuinely not aware of the impact that their behavior is having on others. So that’s when we’re moving from self awareness to social awareness. So there are people who actually just not aware. And a lot of the time, it’s just that nobody’s ever told them that it’s a problem. And quite often, if you bring that to their attention, then they’re absolutely mortified and really willing to change and look at doing things differently. The ones that are aware and don’t care, yeah, they probably cross quite a spectrum in the sense of, I’m aware, but I actually think this is okay, and I’m comfortable with myself. So they think they have the self awareness, but they’re lacking in the social awareness. When you have the people who really just want to pull the rug out I think there are a smaller set of people. I don’t think in terms of workplace bullying that there are a large number of people who really set out and enjoy causing misery to others. But they do exist. They are there, and they will have very limited self awareness, very little empathy. It will be very much about themselves. And this is where you’ll get people they’ll describe bullies as narcissists and psychopaths. And I think what we have to remember is that you can see elements of those traits in some people. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they would be a diagnosed psychopath, for example. But a lot of the time people learn these behaviors as well. And I always say that if you can learn one behavior, then you can learn a different one, definitely.
Nia Thomas [00:11:22]:
And it was interesting. As you’re talking, all of these thoughts are going through my mind. The Jerks at Work book by Tessa West I can see some of those people that you were describing. There was really excellent learning opportunity that I had through the Cognitive Institute, where they have a medical speak up program which allows peer messengers to share information with people who maybe haven’t realized the impact that they’re having on others. And you’re able to take that information to them on a non judgmental basis and give them that feedback, which, as you say, maybe nobody’s ever given them before.
Yeah, and I think what we really have to remember here is that there can be all sorts of different reasons and root causes behind these behaviors as well. So if we look at it very broadly, people may have been bullied themselves, they may have learned the behaviors from their supervisors, leaders, managers in the workplace, and it’s just become the thing that they do. We absorb so much information through observation and just unconsciously take on behaviors that way as well. They could have experienced bullying themselves. They could have experienced some sort of trauma themselves. And therefore some of their behavior may be a defense mechanism about protecting themselves. They’ve learned how to do that because of something else that’s happened to them and therefore everything for them is about protecting themselves, not about what it’s doing to the other person. So I think one of the really key things is that we can talk about bullying and we very much tend to focus on the target when we talk about bullying and the impact on them. But actually, if we get to a situation where we find that there is a bullying situation in the workplace, we have to put support in for both parties. They have to be helped to explore why this has happened, what are their beliefs, their values, their triggers. So they have to develop their own self awareness. And for one person it might be about, well, I need to understand more about empathy and social awareness and recognize the impact I have on others and adjusting my responses for the other person it might be about. I recognize that there was an ongoing impact of these behaviors that sent me into a mode of anxiety that fight or flight mode the stress response. And I stayed there so my body was responding in exactly the way it was supposed to. When I was being ill, mentally ill, physically ill, my performance went downhill because my concentration was affected, all of these things. So they have to understand that they have responded to a stressful situation that has taken them into distress. And actually they need to rebuild from that. They need to understand why they’ve got to that point of really not being able to cope when another person will say, well, you should be able to just brush that off and deal with it. You don’t know what else is going on for that person. So that’s where the awareness really comes in, in terms of recognizing when something becomes outside of the norm for somebody and their behavior starts to change.
From all of my experience within pleasing, the best way of dealing in any kind of how can I say? I don’t want to use the word hostile, but contested situation is not to step up a level of aggression should be always trying to talk it down to reason, discussion, to get debate going and get engagement. I think there’s a real danger that I learned from policing. If you step up your response because you feel someone’s been inappropriate or aggressive or you haven’t liked the way that someone’s spoken to you or engage with you and you respond negatively, then there’s going to be no going back. It’s just going to spiral out of control. And that’s really one of the important things about self awareness, is knowing what your impact could be on your others and your interactions with others and your relationships with others.
Nia Thomas [00:16:01]:
What are your thoughts on the relationship between self awareness and leader effectiveness?
I think self awareness is really, really important. To be an effective leader, you need to appreciate how you come across because you’re looking for cooperation, collaboration. I mean, I worked in a hierarchical organization where it’s very easy to say, I’m a rank above you, so I’m telling you to do this. But you get much better results from actually engaging people, helping them to understand what you’re about, what your intentions are, having that self awareness to listen to them and listen to their thoughts and show that engagement, you’re prepared to listen to opposing views or differing views. If you don’t do that, there’s a danger of saying, it’s always going to be my way, and you’re shutting off maybe a better route, a better roadmap to where you as a leader want to take your organization or your particular department. One of the things I noticed was that as you get up into more senior ranks, they actually tend to have less empathy and less willingness necessarily to listen to other people more concerned about, they have the confidence that they know they’re right. And in that way they can disengage from people, not just disengage people’s interests, but actually disengage that personal relationship.
For me, the more self aware leaders are, generally the better leaders. And that is because they will be able to listen with empathy, they’ll be able to elicit information from people, they’ll be able to build those relationships, those connections that are needed. They’ll be able to disagree in a positive way and they’ll be able to role model that for others as well as allowing others to do that around them. They’ll be able to manage their emotional responses to situations as well. So very much being able to step back, look at it from a different perspective, try and see other people’s point of view, all of those elements that really allow people to feel safer at work. So the more self awareness and emotional intelligence our leaders have, the more likely they are to create the psychological safety in a team that allows people to speak up, not only when things go wrong, but with the good ideas as well. The ideas that lead to innovation, creativity, competitiveness, success, failure. But not failure that is dwelt on for a long time, but failure that allows you to learn, move on and go, wow, that happened, but look what we learned from it and look how amazingly we’re working now. So for me, it is absolutely imperative that every leader works on their self awareness.
Nia Thomas [00:19:04]:
So from what you’ve said, am I right in thinking that where you have workplaces, where you have leaders that are more self aware, there is less bullying and bullying is easier to overcome and to work with and to recover from where you have leaders where self awareness is lacking? Those are the organizations and the teams that are in a difficult situation and they’re the ones who are going to suffer the most.
Correct? Yes. So if you have that self aware leader, if people feel psychologically safe, then if some behavior is brought forward that is unacceptable, if words are used which are harmful and hurtful, if something becomes personal rather than about the work itself an attack on somebody individually, then we can start to pick those up sooner. And the earlier the intervention, the better. And if we feel safe, we will say sorry, that’s not acceptable, or I don’t appreciate the way you said that to me, or I’m sorry, but I find the way that you are addressing this problem, it’s becoming personal, let’s stop this here, let’s come back to it when we have less emotion involved. So on that basis, you’ll never stop bullying, you’ll never stop kind of individual elements coming into a workplace. But you can change behaviors by putting those really early interventions in. If you’ve got leaders that are not emotionally aware, then they are quite frankly, they’re just not going to care they’re going to just want to get rid of the problem, that’s all. They will see it as just a problem to be resolved. If you can’t resolve it, then get rid of it. And that will just perpetuate the problem. And it’s those kind of organizations where they’ll keep people because they’re the high fee earners and not look at the ripple effect that their behavior is having on the people around them. So it’s very damaging not only for individuals, but for organizations as well.
Nia Thomas [00:21:20]:
And I guess in those organizations, staff turnover will be indicative of that. I don’t really care they’re bringing in the money, I don’t really care about the people around and the impact they’re having.
Yeah, absolutely. High staff turnover, high levels of sickness and absence as well. Productivity will go down. So you might have one or two high earners, but the people around them will probably seem worse. But they’re probably worse because their performance is being impacted by daily attacks on them. Their performance, the incivilities, the rudeness, the humiliation, all of those things that will actually be causing them stress and affecting their performance. So why would you want one good person who is impacting ten people around them instead of ten good people?
Nia Thomas [00:22:18]:
Do you think effective leaders can be found at all levels of organizations? And why?
Absolutely. Leadership, self awareness, these kind of personal qualities are not linked to a title, they are linked to an individual. And when somebody is willing to look at themselves, willing to make changes, open to seeing other people’s points of view, open to sharing their knowledge and learning from their mistakes and modeling that kind of behavior, that can happen at any level. And leaders are people who will inspire others, who will make others feel safe. And you can be a leader in any part of your life. You don’t have to be the chief executive of an organization to have those skills and those qualities. And actually, one of the most incredible things that organizations can do if they really want to increase the psychological safety, increase the awareness across the whole organization is look for those people. Work with them. They’re your influencers, they’re your enablers. They’re the people who will help you get the message out across the company and model it in the way that you want it to be seen. So titles are irrelevant when it comes to leadership and awareness. It’s about the individual.
I make a point that within the place there were some very good leaders. But I did notice that as people became more senior, they became more busy, they made judgments about what was important to them and what wasn’t. And sometimes people weren’t necessarily important. I think they can be found at all levels, but I think there’s a real, real danger as people ascend through levels of leadership that they lose the self awareness because they become more confident. And I don’t need to listen to others. I don’t need to think about how I interact with others. Now.
Nia Thomas [00:24:42]:
Do you think leaders at the most strategic level of organizations have greater self awareness than leaders at other levels of organizations? And what experience have you got that inform that view?
I don’t necessarily think that leaders at a strategic level have more awareness and in some ways you might think they might have less because they’re about strategy and process and structure.
My experience of very, very senior leaders operating at that strategic level was the imperative, was the strategic success, and not necessarily the awareness of how they came across or how their actions or their behaviors may impact on others or be perceived by others. I think as people go up, a lot more confidence in self, but not that introspective look at oneself and how their words, their actions, their thoughts of behaviors impact on others or impact on their own behavior. And I think it becomes very much focused on that strategic perspective and strategic aims.
It doesn’t necessarily correspond that just because they’re working at a strategic level, they have greater awareness. You could be a fantastic strategist, but a terrible leader of people. And I think this is why we need to look at instead of saying this is the role, let’s say this is a person, this is what they’re really fantastic at, let’s use them in that way in the company because we’ll get the most from them. But we have this skewed view of what leadership should look like and you should be managing people to be a leader and therefore the more responsibility you have, you get promoted. You probably don’t get any training in how to manage people, but you keep going up the ladder without worrying about any of that because you were good at a particular part of the job. If you’ve got people who are fantastic people, leaders, let them manage your people. If you’ve got people who are fantastic strategists but rubbish with people, let them do the strategy and find the way to communicate that to the person who understands them the most, who can take that and communicate it to a wider audience. There are so many different ways we can approach business without having to go through this. As you go up the hierarchy, you have to manage people. And the sooner we let people play to their strength, then particularly around people management, then the better the workplace will be.
Nia Thomas [00:27:26]:
The feedback that I’m getting from my podcast guests in terms of their experience and their view of the more strategic or the most strategic level of their organizations, is that people move so far away from the people that they are working to support or leading that they don’t have that perspective on what is really happening and they have filtered feedback from within their ranks so they don’t have that same self awareness. And only the very small few have that interest in introspection and reflection to be able to build their self awareness. Although I think from what I am hearing is that COVID and the need for greater employee well being focus within an organization is starting to change that and the traditional command and control organizations are becoming less popular when people are choosing roles and careers.
We’ve heard of the phenomenon called quiet quitting and the fact that the generation z as well and young people are less tolerant of bad behavior or those that aren’t willing to show empathy at work and will move on in the job market, then people will move on nowadays. And I think there are organizations that if they don’t change and at the senior levels as well don’t change the way they interact with their people, we’ll find that they will have recruitment and retention problems and they will also find that they’ll be getting bad feedback on websites like Glass Store. So I think there will be a.
Nia Thomas [00:29:01]:
Sea change in five years time. It’ll be interesting to have this same conversation to see if we’re still saying the same things. If there is bullying and there is a lack of self awareness are you finding that that is generally the view that they’re taking? That they’re not willing to be open, they’re not willing to listen, they’re not willing to consider that there are other ways of doing things?
I think they get really drawn into the processes so we have a process to deal with that and therefore we have to go through those processes and what we have are grievance procedures, disciplinary procedures, appeal processes and what those do is they put people into an adversarial position. So because in one of those, somebody has to win and somebody has to lose. From the organization’s perspective, all they’re thinking is, we don’t want this to go to tribunal because we don’t want that in the public eye. So we need to shut this down. We need to get rid of the problem. We’ll pay it off if we need to. Litigation seen as a normal business expense. There’s an element of that. There’s also the case that bullying is so complex it isn’t really that well understood. It takes a huge amount of time and energy and effort to go through these processes. So as it kind of goes through the different layers, then if you have people further up, then they are going to start saying, I’ve now got to give up my time to go and have a look at this and run an appeals meeting, which means I’ve got to read all the paperwork. And so they’re not necessarily trained in how to do that either. It’s just assumed because they’re senior they’ll know how to do it. So I think it can very easily be a case of I’m going to look at this, I’m going to make a decision and I don’t really think about the impact on the individuals in any of that because all I want to do is get this off my desk. And I think that can come across to the individual in that bullying case as absolutely being isolated and excluded through that process, which will add to the levels of distress, add to the levels of trauma, and because the trauma will increase, then their ability to articulate the problem in a coherent manner will absolutely decrease. And so somebody reading an allegation of bullying will say they were withheld information or they didn’t invite them to a meeting, or they didn’t make them a coffee, or they didn’t say hello in the morning, and all they look at is those as individual items and they say, Ridiculous. You’re making a fuss about nothing. I’ve never heard anything bad about this person. As their senior, they’re always incredibly polite to me. So that’s the other element as well. The people who show one face upwards and a different one downwards.
Nia Thomas [00:32:13]:
Yeah. Jix. They call that kiss up kick donors.
Yeah. There are all sorts of different elements involved, but I definitely think the processes in themselves are not helpful to these situations in the slightest.
Nia Thomas [00:32:27]:
Yeah. Interesting as you’re saying that, I’m thinking you’re right. It dehumanizes because it tries to take the emotion out of the situation and put the process in place so that you have a very clear guidelines. You got a checklist, you know what you need to do, but it forgets that there’s a human at the end of it as well.
It does. And the human at the end of it is probably looking for an apology. I’m sorry, I upset that we did something wrong here, we’re going to put it right. Whereas an investigation will look at, well, was there a breach of contract here? Was there misconduct? Which is a very high bar to reach. What are we actually measuring this against? They don’t really know. They’re not looking at the impact. They’re still hung up on intent. And actually, if you look at the way harassment is dealt with, it talks about the purpose or effect, what effect did that unwanted conduct have on that person? And even Acas has started changing their bullying definition. Now, to move in that direction and talk about potential emotional and physical harm. So we’ve got to start taking intent out of it and start looking at the impact. But the processes as they’re set up at the moment, don’t do that, which is really harmful.
Nia Thomas [00:33:52]:
What do you think is an effective way to develop self awareness as a mechanism, as you say, to have better business behaviors through preventing workplace bullying? How do we build this self awareness?
There are many different ways we can look at individual coaching. Find somebody who you feel safe with that is prepared to challenge you on different behaviors so that you can start to look at them in different ways. Look at your own values and your experiences in life. How have they. Influenced the way in which you make decisions, the way in which you respond to different events. Now, I think all of these, we start to know each other, be curious about each other in the workplace, get to know each other on an individual, a personal level, as far as is comfortable for the individual. So that we can start to recognize when their behavior is out of norm for them and there may be something going on for them where actually they need some support or adjustments need to be made. Be really clear about what behavior is acceptable and what is not acceptable in the workplace and reward the acceptable behavior. When we’re talking about bullying, we’re always talking about punishing the unacceptable. No support to change the unacceptable, but reward the acceptable behaviors. And unless you know what those are, you can’t measure against them. So make that really clear in your communications, in your behaviors, and in the role modeling from the leaders in the organization. Interventions can take many, many forms. It can be really small moments of just making sure you say hello to everybody on the way in. It can be training, it can be surveys and acting on those surveys and the feedback that you get. But if you haven’t got that really clear communication about these are what our expectations are and we’re going to live to them and we see it and feel it in everything we do, then there is no awareness. So model it, learn it, live it, model it.
Nia Thomas [00:36:20]:
And what a brilliant place to finish our podcast. Nikki and Jonathan, thank you so much for joining me. It’s been a really interesting conversation and I think it’s a difficult area to be talking about because I don’t think any of us want to believe that there is bullying and harassment going on in our organizations. But it’s quite likely that it’s there somewhere. There are microinsabilities, their language being used, and people are speaking to each other in a way that doesn’t live the values of the organization, wherever your organization is. Jonathan, thank you for being so open about the challenges that you had in your workplace and thank you for being such a positive ambassador for Stop Hurt at Work. Nikki and Jonathan, thank you so much. It’s been really, really interesting.
Thank you. Naya you’re welcome.
Nia Thomas [00:37:12]:
Thank you for joining me. Your host, NIA Thomas at the Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast. After every podcast, I’m going to be doing a top takeaways review of the things that I’ve learned from my discussions with guests, which you can find on my website. Knowingsalthknowingeathers. Co, UK, LinkedIn, TikTok and the other main social media sites, rates, reviews, and recommendations from you are the best way to get the word out about The Knowing selfknowing Others Podcast. Open your favorite podcast app. Find the knowing selfknowing. Others podcast. Take a listen to some episodes, give it some stars, and write a little review a little word from you means a big deal to me. Make sure you bookmark The Knowing Self Knowing Others Podcast on your favorite podcast player and tune in to the next episode in two weeks time. The Knowing Self Knowing Others podcast is available on Apple podcasts Spotify google Podcasts stitcher Good Pods pod Chaser amazon Music Podcast index podcast Addict