Stand Up Against Bullying: A blog to help stop workplace bullying
Organizations Leadership

Got a Bully Giving You Grief? Four Tips for Keeping Bad Behavior in Check During Meetings

a group of people in an office with a sign that says help
Original publication date October 29, 2015. Edited and republished February 21, 2022

Meetings are a necessary evil in organizations. They are important to the day-to-day functioning and even the long-term goals of organizations. However, they can be extremely difficult and painful in a bully culture. But leadership should view these meetings as opportunities to observe and even modify problem and bullying behaviors in the workplace. 

One of the major problems in many meetings is that they are not structured. Disorganization is an invitation for workplace bullies wreak havoc and cause additional chaos. One of the first tips  for any leader who is running meetings to be proactive and develop a strong game plan before the meeting starts. A clear and concise agenda including a timeframe should be sent to members for review before the meeting. This allows the members to develop a clear understanding of what will be occurring. This is beneficial so that everyone knows what will be discussed. 

A leader must stick to their agenda and time frame. This can be challenging with a bully in the meeting. But a leader who does not abide by their agenda and keep discussion to the allotted time is asking for bullying to occur during meetings.

Another tip for leaders to run effective meetings is to identify rules for the meeting. It is important that the guidelines are mutually agreed upon because this helps to create an environment of being cooperative with one another rather than adversarial.  Once these are mutually agreed upon, this is and easy effective tool to prevent bad behavior and helps the leader keep the meeting on track. The rules should include taking turn to speak, maintaining an appropriate tone of voice, keeping non-verbal behavior in check, and not interrupting one another. These seem like basic rules that professionals should understand. However, in organizations, where workplace bullying occurs, it is likely that the aggressor uses these types of behaviors to intimidate and harass the target. They also use bullying behaviors in meetings to create an atmosphere of fear.  Meeting rules reduce opportunities for a bully to do these things.

The leader can also refer to the rules if anyone’s behavior becomes problematic rather than appearing as if she/he is taking sides. For example, the leader can say “Jan, I understand that you are getting frustrated, and your point of view is important, but we all agreed that we would not interrupt one another. I will get to you as soon as John is done speaking.” It is important that the leader apply the rules fairly and equitability. 

The third tip for leaders is to make sure that they maintain a sense of control over the meeting and that bad behavior is restricted before it escalates. If anyone in the meeting engages in unprofessional or bullying behavior, the leader must hold workers accountable, especially the bully. The leader should be prepared to discontinue the meeting if problematic behavior becomes out of hand. This sends a clear message to the aggressor(s) and the target that aggressive behavior is not tolerated.

The final tip and maybe the most important one is for leaders it to be highly attentive to everyone in the meeting including their verbal and non-verbal behavior. Are side conversations happening? Who is dominating the conversation? Who is not participating? Who sits by whom? The observation of these behaviors by the leader provides insight into what is happening in their organization. It can also lead to the effective solutions that can help stop and even prevent persistent workplace aggression.

Meetings do not have to be opportunities for bullying to occur or for toxicity to flare. Leaders who take the time to develop good leadership skills will not only run better meetings, but they will also be a more effective leader overall.

Call to Action:
If you are a leader, observe the meetings you oversee. Use the tips listed above for four weeks’ time so you can run your meetings more effectively.