Case Study : Coaching in the Aftermath of Bullying

Case Study : Coaching in the Aftermath of Bullying

Posted by Amanda Furness

John, an accounts manager, reluctantly used the company’s grievance procedure after some few months of bullying by his boss, Phil, the Finance Director.  An investigation confirmed that Phil’s behaviour had been bullying and indeed there were indications that other staff had left because of Phil’s behaviour.

Throughout the process, Phil asserted his innocence of any unacceptable behaviour, and at the end of the investigation, both Phil and John were feeling ‘bruised’.  It is rare – particularly in small companies where there is little scope to move people into alternative areas – for relationships to be ‘mended’ sufficiently to enable people to work together in harmony going forward.  However, Elaine, the HR Director, wanted to put every effort into keeping both individuals together, and recognizing that the bully also needs support, suggested coaching for Phil.

The first session was exploratory or ‘diagnostic’ to try to get beneath the surface and to find a way of supporting him, helping him to manage the aftermath, particularly in his position as a member of the senior team.  This required delicate handling, overcoming his resistance and resentment about the situation he was now in,  as well as  time to build trust and confidence.  Phil asserted that he did not know what was wrong with his behaviour, and it became clear that he found relationships with both peers and his own reports difficult, although he spoke more warmly of his relationship with his boss, the CEO.  The way forward was to “hold a mirror” up to his behaviour and help him understand what was unhelpful and how it might affect other people.

We worked quite intensively over three months through a mixture of activities, including various psychological and management questionnaires and discussions to help him to understand his strengths as well as his weaknesses, his preferred personal and management style, identifying patterns of thinking over time. Agreeing areas to work on together and approaching tasks and challenges – eventually with some humility –  over some three months enabled Phil to regain his self-confidence and develop more useful ways of relating to his staff.

Six months on, the feedback from the HR Director was that he was a ‘changed person’.  We had quarterly reviews over the following year so that Phil continued to feel supported and was encouraged to develop as a much more effective – and much happier – people-manager.

Please note: All the names have been changed for purposes of confidentiality