Yep, you read that right – bullies in business. You figured when you left school you’d left bullies behind. But I guess they grow up and continue their practices in their adult life. I draw on the belief that we can do smart business whilst still being ethical, honest and just. I approach business from a win-win-win angle, but I can assure you, that there are quite some more out there who do not take this approach.
Bullies in business can come from a heap of different angles, including:
- Customers – usually at the point of when you ask to be paid or, in fact, push it to the next level and start collection procedures
- Suppliers – less so, but who pressure you to not leave – making it hard or difficult to leave
- Staff – behaving inappropriately in the workplace, but letting it be clear they have ‘rights’
- Competitors – simply by badmouthing you or your business.
Here are some tips to reduce the instance of bullies in business or deal with the challenge.
Of course, every scenario is different, so don’t feel if the answer isn’t here, it does not exist.
1. Set the rules clear up front
Particularly with clients or staff – have Client or Employment Agreements which clear state conditions – such as getting paid, or being paid, acceptable behaviour; interest charges for late payment and clearly what will happen if they (clients) don’t pay their account.
2. Ask questions initially
Whether it’s staff or clients, ask questions. For staff, really find out what they are like. The longer the interview, or ideally two interviews, will give you a better insight into them. Ask them scenario questions and consider personality profiling. Check them out on social media and thoroughly reference check them. Don’t just do the obligatory thing, but really delve. Remember, if they are a bully, chances are the person you are checking in with just wants to get them out of their life; so moving them on will do just that.
3. Start from a place of correct
Whoever you are dealing with, if you behave correctly and legally, then you not only send a message of how you do business, but they have nothing ‘on’ you to leverage you with. If you rip off your clients, then don’t be stunned if your staff try it on you. Do give people ammunition to use of you later.
4. With clients – be prepared to say ‘no’ to their business
Don’t be afraid to ask your clients questions (obviously suitable and as to not scare off the 95% who do the right thing). Ask things like who was their last supplier of this service. Ask for references and even check them out online. Is there anything online which is suspicious? Take the time to meet with them. Do they complain everyone is ‘against them’ or are they keen to proceed and want to skip your usual on-boarding activities? If you have a process, don’t circumvent it – if getting a 20% deposit first BEFORE you start is process, do that – regardless of how ‘urgent’ the job is … or how much more business they will give you after this. If things feel wrong, trust your gut and let that one go. Saying no to some clients can be the smartest thing you can ever do.
5. Action each job as if it potentially could go wrong
I’m not talking about being negative, but have systems and processes in place which ensure a smooth running job, and which have good tracking of progress, client approvals, communication (in writing ideally). Keep these records, customer “sign-offs” and file notes, so that if something does happen, you have your notes. Years ago in one of my businesses, a client was audited by the ATO. They got caught and proceeded to blame my company. We had numerous file notes, emails and general newsletters saying to do the right thing and specifically asking that client about transactions and giving advice to ensure dating and accuracy were correct. We suspected they were doing the ‘dodgy’ and it was our SOP to keep notes. Paid off big time, but even with other clients, because we did things in that manner, I am sure it was a deterrent to others considering the ‘dodgy’.
6. Educate staff and be clear about your policies
Whether it’s your anti-bullying policy or generally how you do business, ensure you not only induct well, train well but keep on with the training. If you have a bully, in the right way, make it clear that they cannot behave in that way. Years ago I had a staff member, tiny bit older than me, who had my office junior in tears. I asked both what happened and in the discussion with the senior, they said “Hey Donna, she’s a junior, it’s expected you’re going to get a bit of sh*t”. Now, I understand where she was coming from. If you are over 50/55 then chances are, in your early days of working at one time or another you experienced a Bully Boss. It was expected and you could do nothing about it other than quit. It may have happened then, but it cannot happen now. Sure my senior was cranky with me for not supporting her side, but as an employer, I have a duty of care and allowing bullying absolutely falls out of that scope. If you let things slide it will only get worse. I know one set of business owners who sold their business just to get away from a bully employee. Don’t let it come to that. Set the policy, educate and address issues before they become big problems.
7. Trying to get money out of the client from hell?
Some people might consider walking away. I’ll be honest and say I won’t – because that is enabling a bully and sending the message that if you bully a business owner, then you get what you want. These problem clients usually surface when you go into serious debt collecting mode with them. They will hound you. They will threaten to ruin your business. They will dob you into a government agency with a string of lies. If that occurs, remember that agency is required to investigate all complaints and they are just doing their job. Don’t get rude with them. If you had intended on collecting the debt through QCAT, action that immediately, and advise the government agency that you have done so. If they start abusing you on the phone, simply (and politely) advise them you will no longer take their calls and all further communication will need to be via email. Naturally, watch what you write and keep all emails. If they begin badmouthing you on social media, get your solicitor to issue a cease and desist order immediately. Now, it does come to a point, before this even started, that you need to be realistic and recognise a level when you will walk away. As much as it exacerbates me to empower a bully, for say $300, all the above just isn’t worth it. Base your decision on a good point of logic rather than purely on emotion.
8. Badmouthing by competitors
They actually shoot themselves in the foot when they do this. Only the other day my old water filter company rang for the annual cartridge replacement booking. I nicely said that my local plumber will be looking after that now. She proceeded to say ‘plumbers don’t know what they are doing’ and they ‘use the wrong products’ etc. Thing is, she doesn’t even know who my plumber is or what they use. She also didn’t know that one of my sons used to be a plumber. It reeked of sour grapes and left me feeling that I’d absolutely made the right decision to move. When you say negative things about your competitors it turns people off. Instead, be friendly and educate people – “great, just ensure they use at least a level XYZ and if you have any questions at all, I’d love to hear from you”. So, from your perspective, don’t’ sink to that level and shoot back insults. Better quality clients will recognise this and stick with you because of your professionalism. You just get dirty slinging mud; instead focus on your business, its benefits, positives and dismiss negative comments.
9. Online Reviews
With the likes of social media these days, this allows the ‘keyboard bully’ to tackle you and, of course, your competitors as well. Whether it be Google Plus or Trip Advisor, your bully or competitor can write something negative. For a start, people are not silly. If you have heaps of great reviews and one lousy one, people will recognise that it’s an aberration and not the norm. If you get a bad review, Google Plus won’t remove it, but you can ‘flood’ it with heaps of other great reviews. Ask your clients to post a comment. If you are about to collect from a client who you know will be a bully, then even temporarily pull down your Google Plus account … if they don’t see it, they can’t use it. Also ensure your website reviews are set to ‘moderate’ so nothing goes up you haven’t approved. This is a great practice anyway, as often spammers use website reviews to sell their wares.
10 Supplier Pressure
A supplier (perhaps less so bullying) can quite often pressure you. It might be huge price increases or reducing service or quality, thinking you are stuck having to use them. Before this even becomes an issue (and generally as best practice) never have all your eggs in one basket. Always try to have at least two suppliers. What happens if that business closes and you don’t know where else to get your product … you will be up the creek without the proverbial paddle. Action having a second supplier sooner, rather than later, and then you can shop around for the best pricing and conditions for your business. A small percentage difference really can compound over a year to equate to quite a bit in your pocket.
My final word to you is to not allow bullies to pressure you in your business. Don’t sink to their level, but also don’t be a pushover. Yes, make decisions based on logic; either to proceed or not, not from fear or anger, but from a place of what is the best course of action. Remember that a chunk of your time will be taken up with this activity, and a degree of stress, plus potentially legal costs, so decide if it’s worth it. The best thing I can say is to identify the bully straight up – don’t touch them with a barge pole and you will have a more financial and happy business.
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