We all know a Mark Latham, the question is how to handle one at work?

At some point, over the course of most of our lives, we’ll have to deal with belligerent and boisterous bullies. Sure, other words come to mind but for polite company those adjectives will do.

Unless you have been living under a rock, this hasn’t been the best week for former Labor leader Mark Latham. And it doesn’t look like it will get any easier any time soon. He’s called people everything from wankers and deviants to expletives not worth repeating.

He has professed a disdain for “green left feminists”, a variety of individuals and encouraged those who disagree with him and his ideas to eff-off.   

It’s pretty dispiriting but it’s hardly a total anomaly. People like Mark Latham exist everywhere. Erratic bullish behaviour that frustrates work, belittles people and creates conflict isn’t just childish it is useless.

The great strength – and complexity - of workplaces lies in the fact they are filled with all sorts of different people. Some are straight-forward, some are complicated and combative. Some are focused on details, others stick with the big picture. Some are optimistic and some are cautious. Even without bullying, navigating these dynamics is something of a minefield. With bullying, it’s catastrophic.

It’s time to consider how, as individuals, we deal with bullies in the workplace. Difficult people exist and we will continue to face them.

Of course, technically the first port of call in relation to bullying should be your direct manager or the HR department, but that can be easier said than done. Everyone has had a bad experience with HR and so many managers have difficulties resolving conflict themselves that this can make situations worse. And in some cases, the bully might even be your direct manager.

People are often promoted to management not because they demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of people, but because they generate returns for the business. That is true across many fields.

Open, honest and upfront communication is a good rule of thumb. People are less likely to respond angrily if they know what is going on and feel included.

That doesn’t mean our workplaces should descend into chaos. Raising your voice, becoming stroppy will not help the situation. Becoming expressive, and emotive, might only help you reach an unworkable solution.

So, what can you do? If this person keeps raising their head and hindering your work then it is time to start strategically moving yourself away from them. Take on different projects, align yourself to a different team or, in the ultimate case, by leaving that job.

Taking those sorts of steps can be difficult and not available to some, knowing that the workplace is full of negotiations and a psychological test is part of that.

The best way to reduce conflict is to avoid it - that doesn’t mean staying silent, but making sure you don’t find yourself in situations where you have to confront someone.

Avoiding your own Mark Latham at work requires strategic decision making to suit your career trajectory and realising an environment in which you work best.

Conrad Liveris

Conrad Liveris is a workforce diversity specialist

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