I’m ashamed to admit it, but I’ve been a bully

Put up your hand if you’ve bullied someone. Chances are nearly everyone’s hand just went up – maybe tentatively – but let’s be honest we are all guilty of bullying someone at some time in our life.

 

My first recollection of “bullying” someone was when I was 7 years old.

 

My dad was a priest and this girl (I’ll call her Chrissie) and I used to go to the same school and to the same church. We regularly caught the bus to and from school together (this was the 70s and seven year old children regularly caught buses to and from school without a supervising adult).  We were sort of friends. But the main reason that I wanted to hang around Chrissie was because I really liked her mum.  Chrissie’s mum was kind, generous and funny and I desperately wanted to spend time with her.

 

That’s because my mum wasn’t so great.  She took the advice about having a Bex and lie down very seriously. My mum suffered from chronic depression and for her own reasons she didn’t manage it very well.  She regularly mixed a lot of alcohol with sedatives that she “borrowed” from her nursing home patients and would be unconscious for hours at a time.

 

So I was always in search of good mum figures and Chrissie’s mum was my favourite. Chrissie’s mum was very good to me and I used to try and spend a lot of time with Chrissie as a result. The problem was that I didn’t think that Chrissie valued her mum enough. I thought that Chrissie was rude to her mum; that she didn’t treat her very well. And that upset me a lot.

 

So much so that one day I must have been very upset by her behaviour and decided that Chrissie should be taught a lesson.  So on a typical school day I decided to hide Chrissie’s school shoes whilst we were having our sports lesson. This action had the desired effect – Chrissie couldn’t find her school shoes anywhere.  She was desperately looking for them everywhere and, as expected she ended up in tears. There – that will learn her!!  In my mind my behaviour was absolutely justified. I wanted Chrissie to be upset; I wanted her to know what it is was like to feel bad, for things to go wrong. I wanted her to feel what I was feeling most of the time.

 

Well, I got in trouble and my favourite teacher told me off. I spent a couple of lunchtimes sitting by myself “thinking about how mean I had been”. I felt bad, mainly because I got told off. I was usually a goodie-two-shoes. I didn’t like being singled out as the bad person. But secretly I still thought my behaviour was justified. I could live with it. It was worth it.

 

I am now an adult and I don’t go about hiding shoes from people any more. I am a lot more self aware and I don’t actively seek out opportunities to upset people. But I still occasionally have hurtful thoughts. I can still think that’s someone got their comeuppance – that karma had done her thing. I am not proud of those thoughts – but I am human and I am not always fair and reasonable. That is particularly so when I am tired, stressed and self absorbed. When I’m not my best self I am more likely to privately (and sometimes publicly) celebrate payback and Schadenfreude and I can easily justify my thinking and joke with friends about it because I know that we all do it. It is something we have in common.

 

In my work as a mediator I regularly see people act in a way that they know is wrong or inappropriate but which they easily justify because they feel they have been wronged at some stage or in some way. It can take quite a long time for them to recognise that continuing to act in a vengeful manner or to continuously have negative thoughts about another person is just compounding the problems in their relationship. They do not want to be the one that is responsible for the continuing conflict. They didn’t start it and so it is not their fault.

 

However conflict only exists if we choose to participate in it. We choose how we respond to a situation. If a very young child hits out in frustration, we don’t automatically hit the child back or seek some sort of revenge. But if an adult verbally hits out in frustration, we sometimes decide that some form of similar response is appropriate. How is that we can recognise that a child is frustrated, tired and emotional but we don’t give adults the same courtesy?

 

As adults in the workplace, probably because we are far more stressed and have significantly more responsibilities than we did as children, we are much more likely to interpret someone else’s behaviour as a personal attack on us; we are far more paranoid and self absorbed. We get stuck in our world of one where the focus is on “me”.  If someone doesn’t acknowledge us as we walk in the door we can quickly decide that this person doesn’t like us or that we have done something to up set them; or if one of our “enemies” is talking to the manager in a whisper we usually assume that they are talking about us, that they are plotting our downfall.

 

We look for signs that feed our self doubts. We rarely ask what’s going on. We just jump in, sum up the situation in the negative and muse on these thoughts for hours on end. It impacts on our productivity and it has the potential to destroy our working relationships.

 

What we know though is that people don’t act out or seek to hurt another person without reason. So there is a lot of behaviour that we misinterpret and then there are times when people do act out; do behave badly.  And that’s when we need to be curious and find out what is going on.

 

For example, if an adult feels vulnerable or frightened that their job is at risk due to a change in their work environment due to restructure, loss of funding or technological change; or because they believe that the boss is constantly criticising their work or the new person is favoured by management; chances are they are going to behave in a manner that reflects that. A scared person might withdraw, or act up, insult people, go slow… there are so many ways they may behave in response to their heightened emotional state.  It doesn’t mean that behaviour is okay (depending on how far they go), but it is providing a lot of information that there is a significant problem and that they need help, support, reassurance and a greater level of understanding.

 

It doesn’t help improve the situation or change the behaviour of the scared person to be critical of them, to punish them. This only proves the point that their employment is at risk, that they are not valued. Chances are that being critical of a scared, vulnerable person at this point will probably escalate issues quickly.

 

This is not to say that we have to like everyone or that with a bit of understanding that we can get on with everyone we work with. There will always be people who hold beliefs that we vehemently disagree with; or who we think should take greater responsibility for their negative or destructive behaviours. There are also going to be people outside of our personal world whose behaviour we really struggle with and will criticise. For example we may be very critical of some high profile people, such as politicians or people in the media etc whose actions and comments impact directly on us or our community at large. We may have some understanding and/or sympathy as to why they act or behave the way they do; but we don’t have to agree with it or condone it.

 

But there are many people in our lives that we deal with daily, often at work, that we really struggle with. It’s easy for us to right them off as “dickheads” or “losers”. We don’t like their behaviour or their beliefs and if we have to have direct dealings with them, we can unnecessarily be looking for a fight.

 

Yet if we have to work with them, then we need to find ways to make that work.

 

And, in particular, if someone’s behaviour suddenly changes, if they are demonstrating that they are feeling attacked or vulnerable – stop and listen to them. Check in with them. Don’t assume that they are a “bad” person. Find out what is triggering this behaviour. And remember that no-one is going to be honest and tell you what is going on unless they feel safe. They need to know that any discussions will be, at least at the beginning, confidential and respectful.  We’ve all seen those emotionally charged dog videos on social media where angry, terrified and emotionally scarred dogs can turn their aggressive behaviour around over time with lots of care and attention.

 

I accept that it wasn’t ok for me to hide Chrissie’s shoes when I was seven years old and that my teacher had to set boundaries around my behaviour. But I also wish that my teacher had checked in on me and made sure that I was OK. I desperately needed extra care and understanding from the adults in my life at that time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kate’s top six life hacks for better managing a stressful life

In January 2014 I was read the Riot Act by my doctor. Take care of yourself or face an early death. Well… I had too much to do to die, so I decided to look after myself better.  I am not on top of all aspects of my life, but I have made some radical changes which have made an enormous difference in my life.

 

My top six life hacks are:

 

  1. Get up early and exercise.

Now this might not suit everyone, but I get up between 4.30 am and 5.00 am on weekdays and between 5.30 am and 6 am on weekends. I throw on my active wear and go for a run or a long walk. I do this every day. It’s a non-negotiable part of my day. It energises me and makes me feel like I can take on anything through the day. I get to feel smug knowing that most people are asleep and I get to do an hour of work whilst everyone else is commuting to work.

And I sleep so much better now than ever before because I am both physically and mentally tired at the end of the day.

 

  1. I don’t drink alcohol

Woah – that escalated quickly! I know, I know – but this is vital for me. One, I have a dodgy liver from drinking too much in my first 50 years on this planet and secondly, I’m not very good at moderation. I used to drink red wine like I drink water. So now I just drink water.  My doctor said I could drink occasionally in moderation but I find it easier not to drink at all.  It also means that I don’t generally have an issue managing to get up early every day and going out for a run.

At the end of the day, I have had a lot of experience watching people I love drink too much. It’s not pretty and it significantly increases the chance of conflict and unhealthy relationships. So I don’t go there any more. But I am more than happy to meet you at a pub and have a drink with you; it’s just that mine will be soda water.

 

  1. I deal with stuff (most of the time)

This is a hard one but I know, better than anyone, that worrying about things is way worse than actually dealing with it.  So rip that bandaid off and make that hard phone call, tell that person that you need to end the relationship, give the feedback you feel uncomfortable giving.  Just remember to do it all with kindness. And if the thing you are dealing with means having a difficult conversation with another person, be thoughtful in your approach and remember that at the time of making that phone call or giving the feedback you have pretty much all of the power at that time – you’re the one in charge of that conversation because you started it. The other person might not be expecting you to call them or to raise this is an issue – so be gentle. But do it. You will feel so much better when you have dealt with stuff that is keeping you awake at night.

 

  1. I write a journal

I keep a journal that I write in every day (well nearly every day). I write it as I eat breakfast.

I have a structure to what I write, because it makes it easier and faster or me to complete, but it also keeps me on track and focused. My journalling includes:

On page 1 I have the following headings;

  • 3 people/things I am grateful for
  • 3 most important things I need to do today
  • Quote of the day (based on what I am feeling)
  • 3 best things that happened today
  • Challenges

And then on page 2 I write a free flowing piece – just let my thoughts flow.

It helps me be more grateful, to be more focused on the issues, to talk through with myself the issues that I am dealing with or to brainstorm an idea.

 

  1. I eat well

I lost 30 kgs in 2014 in response to my doctor’s lecture. For me eating well means not eating carbs. I haven’t had any potato, rice, pasta, biscuits or pizza in over three years. I do eat bread but only very low carb bread – that’s my treat. I am allergic to refined sugar so sweets have never been my bag.

I acknowledge that not everyone has to eat really low carbs to keep their weight down, but I do. The main thing is to eat well. Junk food is just that – junk. It makes you feel awful (unless you are managing a hangover and then it makes you feel so much better).

And I don’t cheat.  I refer you to my earlier comment on not being able to drink in moderation. I find it easier to just not eat something than to eat a small portion of something. I just treat carbs as though I’m allergic to them and it works for me.

 

  1. I get enough sleep

Back in the bad old days when I drank too much and ate terrible foods, I slept badly. Really really badly. That was the reason that I went to the doctor in the first place – give me drugs so that I can sleep.

Now, I go to bed much earlier, I get up earlier. I sleep well, most of the time, despite going through menopause. I sleep well because I exercise and I manage stuff better.

 

And I’m never going back. I’ve never felt better in my whole life. I wish someone had given me the memo much earlier but to be honest I don’t think I would have listened. I justified my bad behaviour because I had a lot of stress in my life. I wasn’t in a good place.  I still have a lot of stress in my life but these days I am able to manage it so much better because of these life hacks. I don’t have it all under control all of the time but I know what I need to do when the wheels fall off.

What are your life hacks?

 

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Everyday Grief: How Endings Can Cause Conflict in the Workplace

Warning: there are a couple of Crabb and Sales “clang” name-dropping moments in this blog.

In July 2008, my son Tom travelled for 7 weeks all around the Flinders Ranges, filming Last Ride, his first feature film. He had a lead role and he was the only child on set. Tom was very fortunate to have his big sister, Lucy, on set to chaperone him. Last Ride had a small (read lean) cast and crew and they were a tight bunch. They all worked very hard for seven weeks straight and Tom had an absolute ball. This experience, to this day, would be one of the highlights of his life (and ours).

However the wheels started to fall off for Tom in the last week of filming. He was having a great time, he loved the people he was working with, his team, and he knew it was all about to come to an end. He was overwhelmed with emotions and he started to act out. At times he was moody and aggressive; other times he would be quite sad and needy. Tom was a 10 year old dealing with big emotions; he was grieving.

They filmed the last scene of the shoot at the skateboard ramp at Port Gawler. The cast and crew had worked hard all day filming the final scenes at various locations and it was very late when they filmed that last scene. We were all there huddled around the action in the car – a scene where Tom and his stage dad, Hugo Weaving (clang), were preparing to go to sleep in their car. Glendyn Ivin (clang), the director, got them to film the scene a couple more times than was probably necessary. No-one wanted the experience to end.

But then he called out “Cut. That’s a wrap” and there was cheering and hugging and tears and sparklers and celebrations. It was a hugely emotional experience for everyone but particularly for us. This had been an extraordinarily positive and rewarding experience not only for Tom but for the whole family.

Tom said his goodbyes. He hugged and kissed everyone and finally we took him home.

It was hard; he had to adapt to being an ordinary kid again. He had to go back to school. To do chores and homework. It took a few weeks before he was “back to normal”.  

During this time we were (in the main) understanding and tolerant of Tom’s sometimes moody behaviour. We had lots of hugs and a few tears, we spent a lot of time on the couch, just being with him. We looked after him and were there for him. Letting him feel his feelings in a safe environment.

Grief is a normal part of life. We can’t have the ups without some downs.  As a family that has a lot to do with the arts, we have had to deal with lots of ups and downs. It is a normal part of a performing artist’s life. Every show must end and the set is bumped out as soon as that last curtain call is over; every film director calls “That’s a wrap”.  It is the same in team sports. Football teams change every year; no two premiership teams are exactly the same.  The experience of working on a special project, of creating a new tool or technology, of building something special must eventually come to an end. The more special, the more enjoyable the experience, the more there is to grieve.  It’s not bad or wrong. It just is. We miss the experience, we miss the camaraderie, the joy and thrill of the moment. We will never have that exact experience again with those people.

What do we do when someone we know is grieving the loss of a family member or someone close to them? We are kind to them, we give them time out, we let them be in the moment, we take them meals, we take care of them.

However we are often less caring when the grief is about the letting go of an experience, or a team or of a fellow worker. We expect people to just get on with life, the job; to move on.

But grief is grief and we need to respect it. We need to acknowledge it and feel it and talk about it.  We need to understand that people are sometimes going to act out, behave badly, be rude, act selfishly. We need to be there for people and not take any inappropriate behaviour personally. It’s not about us; it’s about them feeling overwhelmed by their feelings.

There will be a lot of grief in a workplace where teams come to an abrupt end due to retrenchment or the end of a great project. School teachers have to say goodbye to their favourite students at the end of every year. Inspirational leaders retire and the culture of a workplace can change dramatically.

Some people’s behaviour when dealing with grief will be inappropriate or difficult; and it can easily lead to conflict.  The mood of a workplace can suddenly feel “toxic” due to high levels of stress. Some staff members may become more self absorbed and demanding. It can be a tough time.

This is when leaders need to demonstrate generosity and caring for everyone in their team. For teams to be more tolerant and understanding of their fellow team members. For those people in leadership roles to be their best and most generous selves. It will be difficult at times; but the consequences of not being kind and generous at this time will aggravate the stress levels of those most at risk.

PS: Tom is OK. He went on to make other films and he’s now studying drama at University.

The Suitcase of Pain: Facing the Consequences of Ignoring Painful Problems

When I was growing up, my dad had a battered old brown suitcase under his desk. It was full of unopened bills.  Pretty much every time a windowed envelope arrived that looked like a bill, it went straight into the suitcase. He never opened those letters. Ever.

 

My dad was an Anglican priest at that time and we were poor. Money was always an issue. Eating out was a really big deal (whatever you do, don’t ask for a second drink!). There were four children in the family and we cost a lot to keep.

 

So every now and then debt collectors would rock up at the front door and Dad would be forced to deal with his debts. He never had the upper hand because he had lost total control of the situation. The situation controlled him. He also had to deal with the terrible and painful shame that went with having strangers turn up on the doorstep asking him to pay his bills.

 

Dad hid it well most of the time. We kids didn’t know what was going on; but as I got older I worked it out. I overheard the conversations with the strangers; I felt Dad’s shame and despair at having been caught out again.

 

It didn’t make sense to me because Dad was one of the toughest people I knew. In his younger years he had been a farmer. He knew how to hold his own; he was strong, intelligent and well read. He was passionate about his work and his favourite football team (Norwood Football Club); he seemed to be in control of his life. He was also our Dad, he was meant to know how to deal with this stuff and we trusted him to be on top of everything.

 

But when it came to money, he was hopeless. He didn’t know what to do to change the situation and he was too ashamed to ask for help. So the debt collectors kept coming to our house imposing the rules on him and that just magnified his sense of shame.

 

For many managers and leaders there are situations that they too just don’t deal with. They have their own old suitcases full of problems that they don’t know what to do with. They won’t open the suitcase because it’s too painful and they won’t ask for help because they’re “managers” and they should know how to deal with this stuff. So they continue to walk past the suitcase of pain.

 

Ignoring the suitcase of pain means that from time to time you will get caught out; that someone will make a formal complaint about that inappropriate behaviour you are ignoring; that a valued staff member will leave the team because of the problems with staff culture; that the bully will bully you into doing something you usually wouldn’t do and you then have to justify your inappropriate behaviour.

 

We all have a suitcase of pain. We all have some area in our lives that we don’t want to deal with; that we push down, ignore. But we also know that this one thing is always going to raise its ugly head at some stage and remind us that we have lost control of the situation once again.

 

Opening the suitcase and dealing with the issues that we keep in there may be painful, confronting and stressful; but it can also be cathartic and rewarding. We take control of the situation; rather than the situation taking control of us.

 

We have the upper hand and the power when we manage the issue. We give our power away when we pretend there isn’t an issue. We will always get caught out.

 

Call me if you need help to open your suitcase. We can share notes.

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Why You Should Have that Difficult Conversation

Want an emotional lift? Have that difficult conversation and get it out of your head.

Do you have a conversation going on in your head? Is there that person you keep conversing with privately, in the sanctity of your brain? Do you replay this conversation over and over?  Do you wake up in the middle of the night and continue that conversation?

Have you also experienced the relief of finally getting something off your chest? The realisation that it wasn’t as bad as you thought it was going to be? Did you discover that the other person didn’t respond as negatively as you thought that they would?  Ahh, the relief. The emotional and physical relief of dealing with an issue.

How much are we damaging ourselves when we don’t speak out, when we don’t deal with situations but sit on them? How much time and possibly money do we waste by focussing on something that is not productive?  How is this unresolved issue messing with our sleep and our overall wellbeing?

Wouldn’t it be great to deal with the issue at hand and then move on. If you have this conversation you will finally find out how the other person is going to react (no more fantasising about it) – you can then deal with that and manage the situation. The stress will be released. The conversation had. Emotional release reducing the toxic energy that goes into holding onto all those unresolved issues.

And you don’t have to do it alone.

We here at ACM can help you if you need help to take that next step, to plan that difficult conversation and then to finally deal with those issues which are holding you backing.  Have a coffee with Kate and start the process.

You can’t change other people. You can only change yourself.

No-one else is responsible for how you feel. We all have to take responsibility for our feelings, our words and our actions.

When we use blaming and judgmental language against ourselves or another person we are stuck in the past. We are not looking for a solution and this will ultimately lead to a conflict.

However when we take ownership for our feelings and start to question what is going on for us and/or the other person we can then begin to move forward. What do we need in that moment; what are the needs of the other person? What questions do we need to ask of ourselves and the other person to get more clarity around the situation? What is important to me and to you? How can we move forward?

How much better would our relationships be if we stopped using judgmental/blaming language?

If-You-are-Searching-For-that-One-Person

Is this the face of a monster?

How much conflict do you think might be caused if your little dog (with a significant under-bite) did a big wee on your 18-year-old son’s bed about 30 minutes before he intended to go to bed?

Just saying. By the way, meet Doug.

Doug

Conflict is often very quiet

We often think of conflict being noisy; of people yelling at each other and people expressing how unhappy they are. But most conflict doesn’t look like that at all. So much conflict is silent; it is in our heads, it is not expressed. We wander around all day thinking about how terrible a situation is or how badly the other person has behaved; and we don’t say anything. Sometimes we spend hours practicing things we would like to say in our heads but more often than not we say and/or do nothing. Or worse, things get so bad that we explode and end up saying a lot of things we didn’t mean to say in a way we did not want to act.

And sometimes we think there is a conflict and there isn’t a conflict at all. We worry, we overthink the situation, we sleep badly, we make ourselves sick and often all of that angst is for nought.

I can be so paranoid that if someone rings and asks me to call them back in a formal or tense way but doesn’t say why they want me to call, I immediately think that I’ve done something wrong; that I’ve offended them in some way. I can overthink it for hours; thinking there’s a conflict between us – but there is nothing at all. I’m confident I’m not alone.

Small incidents can happen, or not happen and the person on the receiving end can read all sorts of terrible things into something that is quite innocent.

Or we can just suffer in silence. We don’t say how unfair it is that Bob gets into work late every day but leaves at 5 pm, or that Jenny always uses the last of the milk but never goes and replaces it.

There can be so many incidents that happen in a day that trigger conflict. Silent conflict – that distracts us for possibly hours every day.

Does any of this seem familiar to you?