How to motivate a bully - not to bully - HR edition

One of the questions I get asked a lot is how to convince a bully to not bully.

The problem of bullying is my area of expertise. I take a behavioral approach. In general – convincing a bully to not bully is not something that can be done easily and even if you could convince them – it probably wouldn’t change their behavior. So what should you do instead?

There is an assumption in most anti-harassment and anti-bullying programs that is that if we could just convince the bullies to not bully – the problem would go away. That’s why most sexual harassment training programs are basically 2 hours of “don’t do it – it’s illegal.”  Obviously – that doesn’t work.

Even with a person who is motivated to change – change is hard because it’s not just a matter of wanting to change. It’s about actually changing behavior. Extinguishing unwanted behavior is the hardest of the behavioral conditioning techniques to master.

The good news is that you don’t actually need a bully to want to stop bullying to make them stop bullying.  You can train them to stop by not allowing bullying to work.  (Note: This works for most people – but not all – some are not in operant control of their behavior and they will blow out spectacularly).

Instead of trying to convince someone who doesn’t want to stop – to stop. You train the people who want them to stop – on how exactly to make the unwanted behavior stop.  Focus on helping the victims learn what they want to learn and supporting them and the bully – through the behavioral change process. This helps remove the reward for the unwanted behavior and rewards the behavior you do want.  This isn’t easy to do and any behavioral modification trainer will tell you but it can be done.

The key is for management to understand how this behavior extinction is going to play out so they can support it until the unwanted behavior is extinguished and replaced with more pro-social behavior.  AND management needs to know what to do if it turns out that person isn’t in control of their behavior – which is rare – but does happen.

PS – I just wrote about this on my blog since I keep getting calls from companies wanting me to train a problem person – but refusing to educate themselves about what needs to happen. They just want an outsider to fix this person – and really – unless they educate themselves – it’s not going to happen. 

In the meantime, if you are finally ready to learn what actually has to happen to make bullying and harassment stop in your workplace - take my online class for HR professionals which is approved for both HRCI & SHRM recertification credits so you can educate yourself.

If you are an employment lawyer - I have a CLE program for you too.

And finally - and most importantly - hire me to do a staff training - start with your leaders and we can work our way down to line staff. And yes - you can use me for your sexual harassment training and onboarding programs.

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