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Don’t panic when allegations of bullying are made at the C-suite level

Just when what is needed is clear thinking and a determination to apply the essential principles of fairness and justice, people bring poor thinking and weak understanding to bear once allegations of bullying and harassment are made.

Too ofen, we take a general allegation of bullying and use it to justify character analysis or indulge in a kind of psychologicial profiling.

We take the reputation of the respondent (alleged perpetrator) as ‘fact’.  Instead of supporting individuals to come forward with real, specific allegations which can then be dealt with through a fair, robust and thorough process, what happens is that vague allegations are pursued in a manner which is highly risky, when the results of this process arrives at a panel of ET members.

When a senior manager (remember Gordon Brown?) is described as a ‘bully’, their senior colleagues jump up to insist that there is no bullying in that department.

There is a knee-jerk defensiveness to any suggestion that this kind of behaviour happens in any pool in which they swim.  Instead of this immediate ‘not on my turf’ response, senior management should stay calm when allegations of bullying are made about a senior member of staff; they should encourage all their staff to engage in an open conversation about the culture of the organisation, and they should commit to making improvements wherever shortcomings are found.  Trying simply to put a big and very heavy lid on whatever unpleasantness might be simmering away in the pot is understandable, but damaging in the long run.

People lose sight of the fact that allegations of any kind prove nothing.  Vague allegations are damaging to relationships and to performance, as they make swathes of staff spend time in speculation.   Allegations need to be specific, clear, and made by the complainant.

Allowing allegations to be made which are then not followed through with a proper professional investigation is wholly unfair to the respondent, no matter what their position in the organisation.

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