Dispute resolution

Is dispute resolution possible with a bully?

This was a question last week when we spent a day in each of Adelaide and Perth meeting with our DCM Institute colleagues for their quarterly Professional Development Days.

Bullying is an infrequent but increasing phenomena, especially with the new Baby Boomer residents, so we have assembled some materials from the Knowledge Centre for a refresher below.


Every village manager will face this issue at some stage – bullying between residents or bullying of the village manager!

It can be cancerous in a village and needs to be addressed quickly and responsibly.

(Before you start addressing bullying, it is wise to understand that there will be something personal that is driving the behaviour of the bully unrelated to the village. Most people are not mean and vindictive).

Signs of bullying

  • Intimidation
  • Humiliation
  • Being treated inconsistently from others
  • Every decision you make is being questioned
  • Socially alienated
  • Verbal or written abuse (inappropriate use of tone or language or assertion)
  • Feeling of anxiety, isolation from/towards another person or groups of people
  • Unreasonable obstacles
  • Constant criticism

Understand the motivations/triggers

  • Loss of control
  • Feeling under-valued
  • Powerless
  • Insecure / Inadequate
  • Jealous
  • Threatened
  • Lack of appreciation
  • Not being heard
  • Looking for reward or attention
  • Health trigger
  • Habitual bully
  • Has trouble regulating emotion

Do your groundwork early

  • Build honest relationships with residents to prepare for a time when you will need to have harder discussions with some residents
  • Implement Village Values that clearly outline how all stakeholders within the village will act, be treated and treat others
  • Implement a clear Communication Strategy/Policy that outlines expectations & boundaries for how, when and what the village communication standards are between residents and management and between residents to resident
  • It is recommended that both of these documents can have important components implemented within the Resident Rules/By-laws, and be discussed during Resident Induction
  • Ensure that all staff are educated in these expectations and boundaries and refer or enforce them, as needed
  • Ensure that these are regularly referred to and upheld (They can be re-enforced at meetings, in Newsletters, and other written communications).
  • Practice consultative management when dealing with sensitive or controversial village matters “A type of management in which stakeholders are encouraged to contribute ideas towards identifying and setting desired outcomes, problem solving, and other decisions that may directly affect them.”

Take a stand – lead the change

  • Be the leader, be brave – after all you are the leader of this community and your intention is that all members of the community are treated with respect!
  • When dealing with a bully it is important to be empathetic towards the bully as well; after all in most situations there is something that has triggered this behaviour
  • Gather evidence of specific examples of bullying, such as reports from residents. (Be careful if using hear say; acknowledge the information may not be totally accurate)
  • Invite the bully to a meeting to discuss
  • In some instances, depending of the severity of the situation it may be good to have another person with both parties
  • Prepare for the meeting – ensure you have a sensible agenda and desired outcome in mind
  • Be honest, transparent, express that your role is to be the facilitator of an issue that is of concern to other residents/staff etc… 
  • Be prepared to apologise if in some way you have contributed to the concern
  • Be prepared to have an open mind; be non-judgemental
  • Outline your observations, complaints/concerns and desired outcome clearly – again make sure you have specific examples
  • Make sure you check in with the other person to understand are there factors that are influencing their behaviour
  • Acknowledge and provide opportunity for them to openly discuss this matter
  • Discuss and describe alternate behaviour, communication expectations
  • At this point it is OK to ask for time to consider the situation further and commit to meeting again
  • Agree some mutual outcomes expected and commit to follow up the conversation
  • Document the conversation & diarise to follow up with them
  • Keep the conversations confidential
  • Don’t just address the issue once, follow it up, keep the discussion alive
  • Ensure actions or activities within the village are not allowing the bully to gain continual or maintain power, look to decrease the power of the bully by consulting with others, if appropriate
  • Bring in the professionals – mediators, Office of Ageing, Consumer Business Services or as a last resort, seek assistance from your experienced Retirement Village Lawyer

We hope this triggers a few thoughts for you. Next week we are in Melbourne and Brisbane, then Sydney a week later – if you are a DCMI participant make sure you have registered for more instruction on Dispute Resolution.

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