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Ask the Expert : How can I change my management style so I don’t come across as a bully?


This article’s expert on management style was our director, Jan Lawrence


I manage a team which consists of 6 team leaders who all look after between 6 and 8 members of staff. Recently one of the team leaders, who had only just started with the company, told me that they found my management tone aggressive. This shocked and upset me so, in confidence, I asked one of my longest serving team leaders for their honest opinion.  They agreed that I can be very abrupt and dismissive but apparently my team just put it down to the way I manage and try not to let it get to them.  I know that I’m always really busy and often feel like I’m being pulled in many directions but am appalled that I might be thought of as a bullying boss.  Please can you offer some suggestions as to how I can change my behaviour and come across as a better manager to my team?


Sometimes our self-perception can be quite different from other people’s sense of what we are like and this can come as quite a shock!  As you know, it’s more often the way we say things, rather than what we say that makes the biggest impact on other people.  Being open to changing your behaviour is not the easiest thing to do, so firstly well done for reflecting on the feedback and deciding to do something about it.


Give yourself time to think about how you want to move forward with this new information and think about it in the context of your comments on how busy you are and how you might manage that differently to ease some of the pressure points.  Perhaps you could try to have a conversation about your strengths and weaknesses with a trusted friend or family member and think about areas you wish to work on which could rectify things at work.  Ask them how they would describe your communication style.  Do you notice a difference in the style of communication you use with colleagues compared to family and friends?  This might help you to see yourself in a slightly different light.

Maybe you could use the Johari window to help you consider these objectively which can be quite hard to do with total honesty.

When you are going through this process try to be open to your own feelings of defensiveness which are somewhat inevitable, it is not easy to look at ourselves warts and all!  Try to stand back and view yourself objectively.

For example, your perception might be that you are quite a demanding but fair boss and that this toughness is necessary to ensure good performance and productivity.  Some research contradicts this; it is often those managers who take time to reflect on their own performance, are polite, show respect, have self-control, demonstrate emotional stability and support team members, in addition to expecting good performance and achievement of goals, that do well in the long-term.

Your Impact

You might use the HSE’s Line Manager Competency Indicator Tool, particularly in relation to ‘managing emotions’ and ‘considerate approach’.

Consider the following:

  • Explore your management style, aiming to develop a greater awareness of the impact your management behaviour can have on your team members.  How do you use the power you have at work?
  • Do you think your standards are high and wonder why others don’t seem to care as much as you do about the job?
  • Do you feel like you know what works better than everyone else or that your way of doing things is always right?


  • Do you think colleagues feel empowered after an exchange with you, are they motivated to act?
  • Do colleagues look to you for guidance?
  • When you have a conversation with someone, are they left with the feeling that you are a reasonable person?

Try to read up on what bullying behaviour consists of, including the more subtle behaviours.  This article on covert and overt bullying might help. Do you use some of these styles of communicating in your interactions at work?

Here are some examples of bullying behaviours:

  • Micro managing
  • Ignoring others’ views
  • Having emotional outbursts when things aren’t going your way
  • Use criticism a lot, failing to recognise valuable contributions
  • Spreading gossip
  • Finger pointing, invading personal space
  • Setting deadlines which could be seen as unreasonable
  • Blaming others for mistakes in your area of responsibility
  • Making comments about job security without foundation
  • Blocking requests for leave or promotion without good reason

Focus on what is within your control

Bullying for one person is different from bullying for another.  Interpretations of bullying are influenced by people’s perception, individual experiences and their personality.  However, this should not be used as an excuse not to take action.  This is a time to focus on your behaviour.  Only your behaviour is within your control.  My advice would be to acquire a good understanding of what is and what is not bullying and try to eliminate the bullying behaviours from your management style.

Aim to demonstrate behaviours that you are not a bully:

  • Have an open door policy
  • Take time to diarise regular 1:1s where you don’t just talk about the job.
  • Demonstrate a relaxed body language
  • Show respect – be polite, use please and thank you, excuse me
  • Keep your word
  • Communicate with others in a clear, calm and respectful way, even when under pressure
  • Actively listen and try to understand, seek others’ views and suggestions
  • Take less credit and give more credit
  • Clearly define and describe job roles
  • Be reasonable in your expectations, make priorities clear
  • Delegate tasks as soon as you can, aim to empower others, give them personal responsibility
  • Work together with people in your team to establish goals which are both challenging and realistic
  • Avoid criticising the person, any constructive criticism should be focused on the task and not be personal
  • Make an effort to develop relations with your team and others in your workplace, encouraging staff to support one another
  • Discourage exclusive cliques and gossiping, be fair and consistent in your communication with people
  • Make sure colleagues know they can come to you with questions and potential problems, including suggestions for improvements or if they need help to accomplish the goals
  • Admit to your mistakes straight away, apologise and learn from them (this includes any bullying behaviours you may now be aware of)

Don’t avoid tackling issues at work

Moving forward, it is important that you don’t end up in a position where you are avoiding tackling poor performance or negative attitudes for fear of being classed as a bully.  Use 1:1s to be clear about expectations and roles as well as individual responsibilities – yours and theirs.  Open communication about expectations and clear roles can reduce the need for this.  Rehearse new ways of getting the desired outcome using non-bullying behaviours.

Changing Your Own Behaviour

Changing behaviours takes time and practice and it is worth trying the new behaviours out on friends or rehearsing them in private to hear how they sound.  Try rehearsing what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.

Becoming aware of your own behaviours is not easy, many people go through life without considering this – in a way this situation has forced self-reflection upon you but, with some effort on your part, your working life from this point on will inevitably benefit. You may find that you end up feeling more self-confident once you have become used to this alternative style of communicating and discover new ways of relating to your team leaders and colleagues.

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