Bullying at the Workplace

Bullying at the Workplace and Leadership

The topic of the research paper is bullying in the workplace. The issue of the interpersonal challenge is addressed as well as its links to the field of social intelligence and leadership. The paper defines the concept of leadership and outlines the leader’s traits of character. A common interpersonal challenge that leaders usually face is chosen and ways for its solution are presented. During the analysis, the works of different researchers in the field of interpersonal relationships and leadership were studied; the concept of interpersonal challenge and its links with different spheres of people’s lives were outlined. Several definitions of leadership and its three main features, as well as traits of character peculiar to leaders, are given in the work. On the basis of the analysis, the conclusion about the negative impact of interpersonal challenges and the importance of avoiding them is made.

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Introduction of the Relational/Interpersonal Challenge

The problem of interpersonal challenge is of current concern nowadays. One has to communicate with people all the time, and it is important to build relationships in a society so that one feels comfortable while interacting with people. The concept of interpersonal challenge is connected with such notions as social intelligence and leadership. Social intelligence helps one to interact with people and build good social relationships. According to Hiremath & Chandrappa (2013), social intelligence is “the ability to understand others, expressions and feelings easily, especially with others showing sensibility” (p. 1). Leadership nowadays is an omnipresent phenomenon. It occurs everywhere – at work, at school or university, among one’s friends and relatives. Researchers confirm that leaders “should possess a strong foundation of personal values, principles, or ethics” (Baloglu, 2012, p. 2). Although social intelligence and leadership presuppose only positive traits of character, there is no guaranty that these people will always avoid interpersonal challenge.

This topic is very wide and touches upon different aspects of people’s life. It is also related to the field of human development and leadership. This field deals with the study of people’s interaction and relationships in different spheres of life; it is aimed at the development of leadership skills and appliance of knowledge of group and human development, and interpersonal processes. Thus, it is directly linked with interpersonal challenges.

As it was said earlier, the phenomenon of interpersonal challenges is widespread in one’s daily life. Chapman (2005) states, “All interpersonal challenges are learning experiences. You can have this interpersonal challenge now or you can have it in about ten years” (p. 29). Interpersonal challenge often appears at the workplace. That is why interpersonal challenge, which can emerge as an interpersonal conflict is defined as “an inherent process to human relations, especially in work settings” (Boz, Medina, Ben?tez & Munduate, 2011, p. 118). Researchers confirm that conflicts always have a negative influence on people’s relationships and they “are an important part of organizational life and that their study is important” (Barki & Hartwick, 2011, p. 195).


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Results of the Research

One of the most common interpersonal challenges at the workplace is bullying. It is defined as “mobbing referring to a group of employees acting negatively towards an employee, as emotional abuse, as victimization or as harassment” (Van den Broeck, Baillien, & De Witte, 2011, p. 41). This phenomenon can occur at any workplace – in offices, shops, restaurants, governmental or educational institutions. The process of bullying usually involves the following:

  • hurtful remarks considering one’s work or personality;
  • depriving a person of his/her duties without any reasons;
  • attempts to influence a person in an unfair way;
  • making a person feel miserable and inferior to others;
  • giving a person tasks which are not related to his/her main job
  • making everything possible in order to create difficulties for the person, for example, changing working hours;
  • holding back the information which person needs in order to make it impossible for him/her to perform his/her duties.

As a rule, bullying at the workplace is not limited to the aforementioned examples. Nevertheless, these ones are enough to understand that this kind of interpersonal challenges has a negative influence not only on people’s job well-being but also on their relationships in general. This occurrence is unpleasant for every person within the group. However, it can creates problems for the leader in particular, because the results of bullying make a person less active, unwilling to work, stressed, scared, depressed, and unconfident. It is obvious that the leader with such characteristics will not be able to work in the team. That is why it is essential to know how to avoid this problem.

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Impact of the Relational/Interpersonal Challenge

It is evident that the impact of interpersonal challenges can only be negative. It does not matter in which form the conflict appears among people; any challenge can make communication and relationships in general impossible. Thus, every person who faces an interpersonal challenge feels its negative influence. For example, after having a conflict with his/her inferiors a leader can lose the desire to work with his/her colleagues and continue to pursue the team’s goals. Even if the conflict was not acute, for example, if the leader only had squabbles with someone, it can spoil the mood of the team for some time and make it unpleasant or uncomfortable for people to stay in one room. If the conflict was serious, as constant bullying at the workplace, it can affect not only the leader’s relationships with the team but also his/her mental state. It can lead to different mood disorders such as stress or depression. Moreover, it can decrease the leader’s self-esteem and negatively influence his/her career. As it is obvious from the examples, the impact of the interpersonal challenges can be short-lasting and long-lasting. Nevertheless, regardless of the type of impact, it is always hurtful and sometimes even dangerous.

Recommended Strategies

As it was mentioned earlier, one of the common interpersonal challenges for leaders is bullying at the workplace. Reasons for such behavior can be of different nature. One may dislike the leader, not want to be inferior to another person, or simply not agree with the ideas of the leader. Although the causes for interpersonal challenge may vary, the leader should know how to cope with this problem. Nevertheless, the first thing the leader should do before seeking solutions to the problem is to understand what is the essence and reason of the conflict. Not knowing what caused this or that challenge, the leader will not be able to adequately address it; that is why it is significant. The next thing in this case is to behave in a proper way.

One can distinguish preparative and active stages of dealing with the problem of interpersonal challenges. First of all, a person should understand what leadership is and who a leader is. As leadership is a phenomenon which takes place everywhere, even little children can understand who a leader is. It is a common situation when an active, cheerful, and friendly child becomes a leader within a group at school, college or university. Other children admire this boy/girl and try to follow his/her example. The fact that a child can attract attention of the other people because of his/her traits of character means that leadership skills can be determined by genetic factor, i.e. they can be inborn. However, being a leader since childhood is not enough for one’s successful career. In most cases the understanding of leadership comes when a person reaches maturity and decides what he/she wants to do in his/her life. If the person decided to be a leader not only among friends but also in the career field, he/she should learn more about this concept and try to develop leadership skills in order to get what he/she wants.

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The second step of the preparative stage is to determine one’s personal attitudes and beliefs. Before starting to work with the team, it is significant to decide what is favorable and appropriate and what is detrimental or unsuitable (Wilson, 2007, p.8). These decisions will be the basis for the next steps and form a plan of the leader’s work. Speculating about the beneficial and the inappropriate one will understand which methods he/she should choose during the work process, which approaches in reaching the goals he/she can use, and which ways of treating team members will be acceptable.

The last step of this stage is designing a plan. The leader should know what to do, when to do it and how he/she is going to attain the goals (they also should be clearly defined). It is unacceptable for the leader to come to the team and say that he/she does not know what to do, how to start, how to allot the tasks. The leader should have a plan. Team members can agree or disagree with it; they can offer improvements or ways for problem solution. It will be useful for leader to listen to the suggestions of his/her colleagues. First of all, their ideas can be interesting and help to make the team work better. The second reason why it is important not only to listen but also to hear those who are around is that people can consider the person who does not care about others as selfish, indifferent or arrogant one. As the first impression is the strongest one, it is essential to prevent such situation.

The next stage in the process of building interpersonal relationships and avoiding conflicts is an active stage. It also can be divided into several steps. The first one is that the leader should present himself/herself in the right way. It is significant to make a good impression on people whom one is going to work with. Thus, while introducing himself/herself, the leader should pay attention to two aspects of his/her behavior. The first aspect is professional skills – one should be aware of what he/she is talking about, express their thoughts clearly, and inform about the goals and perspectives which the team is going to face during the workflow. The second aspect is personal traits. The leader should be confident, persuasive, and strict, but, at the same time, he/she should try to be friendly and open to people. One more thing which can be useful while introducing oneself is paying attention to body language. Researchers affirm that in most cases gestures, sights, voice, posture, micro expressions of the face can tell more than words. The main goal of self-presentation for leader is to make people believe and respect him/her. That is why it is significant to follow the above-listed rules to make a good impression.

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Another factor which is essential for the leader’s development is improving his/her leadership skills. According to Curtis and O’Connell (2011), “Leadership skills can be present in any member of the group” (p. 32). Thus, it is obvious that every person can develop a leader in himself/herself. There exist a lot of techniques for improving leadership nowadays, for example, Troy Lum’s one. He suggests ten steps one should take in order to become a more influential leader. The first one is to understand one’s own significance, imagine oneself being a leader and change the lifestyle accordingly. The second step is to find out about people’s attitudes to one’s leadership style. It enables a person to see the mistakes he/she makes during the process of leadership and change something in his/her behavior. The third step is to stimulate the confidence of the leader’s subordinates and support their actions. The next point is to act. Leaders should not wait for a lucky chance; they should create their own way to success. The fifth thing is that leader should be a mentor for his/her colleagues. The sixth step is to set definite goals and plan how to act in order to reach them. The seventh thing is to “maintain a positive attitude” (Lum, 2011). The eighth one is to develop one’s communication skills. The ninth step is to learn from experience; for example, if the leader made a mistake, he/she should do everything possible in order not to repeat it in future. The last step is to improve one’s knowledge during the whole life.

Another theory of leadership skills development includes four aspects to take into consideration. They are self development, interpersonal development, organizational and group development, and transitional development (Illinois Leadership Center, n.d.). As the problem of interpersonal challenges implies that the reason of their appearance lies in interpersonal relationships, it will be appropriate to consider how to develop one’s interpersonal skills. As stated by Illinois Leadership Center (n.d.), interpersonal development consists of four main dimensions. Relationship building requires being fair, empathetic, and impartial. The ability to listen and be attentive to what others say is crucial for developing one’s communication skills. The next aspect is ethical practices which improve leader’s power and the capability of influencing people. The factor of team development which is the last component of improving interpersonal skills implicates such traits of character as collaboration, followership and the ability to compromise.

One more thing which will help the leader to improve his/her relationships with the inferiors is to organize the team work in the right way. For solving this problem the following solutions can be suggested. First of all, interpersonal relationships should be built on the basis of trust and openness. That is why it is important to organize the team taking into consideration all the problems which can appear during the workflow. Thus, it is essential to follow 5 stages of team building – “forming, storming, norming, performing and adjourning stages” (Erdem & Polat, 2010, p. 1), because they help people to understand and trust each other. The second solution to this problem is utilizing the outdoor improvement approach, which is also very useful if interpersonal relations are of great importance for the company. It “places members in a series of challenging situations that have to be handled by them effectively as a team, rather than individuals” (Sekaran, 2004, p. 173). Another aspect which can improve interpersonal relations and, as a result, the atmosphere at the workplace is leader’s understanding of his/her weaknesses and strengths and the desire to improve his/her leadership and interpersonal skills in order to become a better leader. Moreover, the leader should be active and have the desire to succeed in business. He/she should also be a creative person in order to generate new ideas and find solutions to problems. One more essential thing for leader is that he/she should maintain friendly relationships with all the workers and be ready to help in any situation. Thus, leader should possess only positive traits of character. Despite the fact that people tend to consider leaders to be honest, responsible and good people in general, not all of them are like that. One can give numerous examples of leaders who behaved in dishonest way or were rude to their inferiors (Kisling, 2007, p. 1) but still reached their goals and even made history.

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Every leader, regardless of whether he/she is honest or dishonest, selfish or altruistic, can face challenges; it is inevitable. As it was said earlier, leadership can not exist without a team, thus leader’s work is closely connected to his/her relationships with people. This factor determines the most common leadership difficulties – they are interpersonal challenges.

Interpersonal challenges can be prevented if the organization of workflow and team is correct. There are a lot of leadership principles which can be considered while dealing with this problem. We adduce the most important of them. First of all, this is listening. The main idea is that “listening shows the leader’s respect and love for those with whom he works, enabling him to be an influence for good in their lives” (Skinner, 1992, p. 13). The second main principle is close interaction with one’s subordinates. It means “to understand the individual, to identify the strengths and needs of the individual” (Skinner, 1992, p. 28) in order for leader “to be most effective with the person” (Skinner, 1992, p. 28).


Interpersonal challenges are unpleasant but inevitable part of people’s life. They are characterized by different conflicts which may occur among people; they have a negative impact on the relationships. As such challenges can be faced everywhere, in particular at the workplace, it is significant to know how to avoid them in order to organize productive workflow and provide job well-being. The problem of interpersonal challenges is highly common in the field of leadership. Although this concept is rather complicated, it possesses three distinctive features which characterize leadership as a group phenomenon which is aimed at achieving goals and exists in any type of groups. Thus, it is closely connected to the field of social intelligence, as it deals not only with relationships among people but also finds ways for their solution.

As a rule, leaders are supposed to be good people and possess only positive traits of character such as openness, honesty, responsibility. Nevertheless, not all of them achieve their goals using these traits; a lot of leaders do everything possible to reach their goals not paying attention to how they behave. It does not depend on whether the leader is a good or bad person, as it was mentioned earlier; any leader can face interpersonal challenges during work flow. One of the common challenges for leaders is that the team or part of it refuses to cooperate. In this case leader should know how to avoid this problem. For effective problem solution, it is suggested to divide the process of coping with this interpersonal challenge into two steps: preparative and active. Preparative stage implies that leader understands the concept of leadership, determines his/her personal beliefs and has a plan for future actions. Active stage consists of several steps: leader should present himself/herself in order to prepossess people; he/she should improve leadership skills and organize workflow in the right way. Development of leadership skills is one of the most important issues in dealing with interpersonal challenges at the workplace. That is why two techniques for improving leadership skills were given. The first one is after Troy Lum; it includes ten steps which should be taken one by one in order to become a successful leader. The second technique was suggested by Illinois Leadership Center and consisted of four aspects to take into consideration: self-development, interpersonal development, organizational and group development, and transitional development.

Thus, interpersonal challenges in leadership are a frequent occurrence, but they can be avoided. To cope with them, it is necessary to behave in a proper way. As interpersonal relationships are of great importance not only at the workplace but also in society, every person, not only a leader, should do everything possible to maintain them.


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