Agony Uncle: What do I do about bullies?

Croquet club

Dear Agony Uncle,

We have two very strong and determined people who have taken control of our croquet club – the secretary and the treasurer. Transparency has been wanting, and accountability has been unclear.

I have been voted onto the committee because the club members are concerned about their proprietorship of the club.

There has been bullying of members, and most of them are north of 70 so it’s very unpleasant.

I am a professional manager in my 50s and not afraid to stand up but I need some direction.

A. Mallet, New South Wales

Dear Ms Mallet,

I have every sympathy with your predicament, but I’m not at all sure that we can help.

If people are behaving badly on a board, there is absolutely no way round it that does not involve some level of face-to-face confrontation. If, as here, the problem is that people don’t want to have that confrontation and would rather buckle when faced with it – which is just about the definition of “being bullied” – then it’s not going to get fixed.

To rephrase that in constitutional terms, you can do nothing on the board unless you can get a majority of the votes, and if people’s votes can be changed by bullying then the bullies seem to have an advantage.

One way to limit bullying might be to introduce a bullying policy, such as the one in the Our Community Policy Bank, and that might be a first step here. However, the policy can only be adopted if people vote for it, and it can only be enforced if people are then willing to call it out, and both those contingencies depend on the will of the board to resist the bullies. Similarly, you might tighten the rules on transparency and accountability, if you can get the votes. If not, not.

Has your organisation got a problem? A deal-making dilemma or a constitutional conundrum? Found yourself in a personality pickle or a media muddle? Our Community's resident Agony Uncle, Chris Borthwick, is here to help. Email your question to [email protected].