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How often do you hear about bullying these days? At least once a week? It appears to be rampant from the playground to the nursing home. Our workplaces may be rife with bullying. My reflections on this horrible habit is not intended to be comprehensive, but rather to be thought provoking so that you join me in doing something about this destructive, disruptive, despicable behavior.

In a 2014 National Survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, bullying was defined as repeated mistreatment that is: threatening, humiliating, intimidating, sabotaging, and/or verbally abusive.


From everything I have read, seen, watched and heard, there are some commonalities among bullies:

  1. They all feel insecure and inferior – with low self-esteem (they feel bad about themselves and have to put others down and/or control them to feel more powerful)
  2. They all want to control
  3. Their bullying was allowed in childhood
  4. They are compensating for what they feel was and/or is missing in their life

Most, if not all, have experienced or seen bullying. Some readers may even be current or former bullies. I have been asked by some of my clients to coach workplace bullies. That is a very difficult task because most will not, or cannot, accept that what they are doing is bona fide bullying.
Here are some of the excuses I hear:

  1. "If you are too soft on people, they take advantage of you. I am called a bully because I demand performance excellence and my employees are lazy." (From management)
  2. "I am not a bully. My employees are way too sensitive. They just need to toughen up and quit taking things so personally." (From management)
  3. "They are out to get me. It's real popular to call people a bully so upper management will get rid of you."
  4. "I feel sorry for the people who think they are being bullied. They should have to deal with a real bully, not me!"

(As a coach and consultant, I have to research the allegation of bullying very carefully because there are instances where the above statements are actually true.)
What I look for are the following behaviors used by bona fide bullies:

  1. Anger and raising of the voice (labeled screaming). They curse, yell and shock their victims. They sometimes throw things. They often get into the victim's personal space, and sometimes push, punch or shove the victim.
  2. Constantly criticizing. They imply negative things about the victim to their face and/or behind closed doors. They find something wrong with almost everything the victim does. There is very little or no praise, acknowledgement or positive feedback.
  3. Passive-aggressive. They may hug and be friendly at the beginning of the relationship only to turn on the victim. They may go back and forth, thereby confusing the victim.
  4. Withholding information. They deprive the victim of vital information that can make the victim look bad. They set up unrealistic deadlines and standards so that the victim often fails.

Bullies are not always loud and obnoxious. Many are quietly working behind the scenes to sabotage and discredit their victims.
For every bully, there is a victim or victims. The usual targets for bullies also have common traits. They are:

  • Vulnerable
  • Non-confrontational; unlikely to retaliate
  • Passive and submissive
  • Shy, meek or quiet
  • Inexperienced
  • Loners – not part of a workplace or schoolyard clique

So, what should you do if you suspect you are a bully?
Get professional help. Bullying can be as addictive as drugs and alcohol. It is very hard to stop on your own, but there are professionals out there who can help you find better, more healthy behaviors.
What should you do if you are a victim?

  1. Give it a name. Call it what it is. There is power in owning what is happening to you. There is plenty of information to help you, especially at www.workplacebullying.com.
  2. Take time off and time out to heal and to research. Develop and prepare a "business case" during this time. Describe all the behaviors the bully engages in and create lists. Avoid labels. Be very specific. Get help from a good communicator friend or coach for this step. Describe the impact on you, your work and your environment. Research state and federal laws and know your school's or organization's policy on bullying and hostile work environment. Make your business case about the bottom line without emotion and stories. Otherwise, you run the risk of being discredited and discounted. Use facts and figures to present your case rather than feelings and emotions.
  3. Expose the bully. Present your "business case" to the highest level person you can reach and let them know about the bully's impact on the organization. Bullying is expensive.
  4. In a work situation, research shows that 77.7% of victims lose their jobs because of bullying, so you don't have a lot to lose by this exposure. Just be prepared to find another job if no one takes you seriously.

What I have written here is not intended to be all inclusive and/or comprehensive. You must do your homework whether you suspect you are the bully or the bullied. I hope this information will prompt you to investigate further so you can be more effective and make a positive difference in your life and in the lives of others.