How To Identify A Workplace Bully

Workplace bullying might seem like a trite expression to describe a situation where an employee can’t handle pressure or reprimands from their boss. Unfortunately that thought eviscerates the recipient and allows the perpetrator to continue on their behavior.

Workplace bullying is real and its affects on the mental and emotional state of people at work should never be minimized or ignored. It creates toxic cultures, high turnover and increased medical costs, not to mention the potential for lawsuits. This Lexis Nexis article shows how bullying behaviors have a financially negative impact on an organization.

Workplace bullying is a subset of emotional abuse, a “power over” control system that also exerts control through a variety of means:

  • Emotional abuse in the form of putdowns, name calling, guilt and mind games (either public or private)
  • Intimidation, threats and coercion that could threaten reprimands, firing, getting in someone’s face, over-assertiveness and yelling
  • Economic control in the form of passed over promotions, withheld bonuses/pay/benefits or threatening demotions and pay cuts
  • Other abuse may come in the forms of racial slurs, innuendo or fostering a “good ol’ boys” exclusivity just to name a few

What’s interesting is that many states have declared that emotional abuse and these other behaviors in a home relationship context falls under domestic abuse, which is a crime. While not technically seen as a crime in the workplace at large, it exists to a great degree. In fact, the Workplace Bullying Institute is gaining ground on passing legislation to address this type of toxic behavior from a legal and criminal perspective.

1 in 5 adults in American are the subject of workplace bullying, which equates to about 60 million workers. And according to Monster and Forbes, this number may actually be higher than 40% and rising. While the majority of perpetrators are men and the recipients female or minorities, there is a rising trend of workplace bullying committed by people of all genders, races, and socio-economic backgrounds. A recent study in the UK confirmed 70% of female executives have been bullied by females.

As with every failing in human beings, it’s not an issue bucketed to one demographic of individuals. Simply stated, it’s an issue that comes from the heart of an individual who chooses to exert control in their role to gain a supply of narcissism, power and/or economic advantage over a person or group of people.

As bullies come in many forms, here are a the more common manifestations of a workplace bully to help us identify these perpetrators:

  • Overt bullies are those that are very upfront and public. They are the screamers, the intimidators and the control grabbers. They seek to have the last word, put people down in public and squelch certain people’s ability to thrive. They simply want everyone to know who is in control.
  • The passive-aggressive bully is more subversive. They do their work in private many times but also can make a public confrontation that seems like they’re just being a strong leader at a given time. They can force someone to do their dirty work for them so their hands are clean from any wrongdoing. They give off-handed remarks and nitpick, sometimes using micro-managing techniques.
  • The direct and dominant bully is more elusive. Their strong personality might seem like “that’s just who they are” because they don’t really yell or show the typical aggressive or passive aggressive modes. But they control and bully by being domineering, especially when they don’t get their way. These may be the people who are constantly submitting complaints, going to HR, looking to change policy. They may also align with upper leadership to gain favor and execute their schemes. Because of their tactics, most people back off but this aggression is tolerated too often as a misunderstood personality quirk.

For context, we need to understand that these are not just one-off behaviors. We need to be discerning to understand the difference between a pattern of behavior and certain spikes due to stress. After all, every human being can show an ability to exhibit these behaviors from time to time.

But when a pattern is defined, that’s when the next steps come in. Bullies need to be confronted in a constructive way, and Sherri Gordon’s article in VeryWellMind is a terrific starting resource.

Behaviors of bullies may or may not be corrected, that’s up to the individual’s willingness to be self-aware. Our obligation is to carefully identify it, address it and help the individual weed it out of their heart. If not, then they need to be weeded out of the organization.

(image: pixabay)

About Paul LaRue

My goal - To encourage you to lead & influence others with positive impact.

Posted on June.14.2020, in Leadership. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I had managers nearly fire me over misunderstandings, attempt to cancel requests for time off, coerce me into cancelling plans and rush to work on short notice with threat of “no-call-no-show”, or told “act your age, not your shoe size”…co-workers would purposely take over my personal space, stalk, or obstruct my path in the store.


  1. Pingback: Confronting The Workplace Bully | The UPwards Leader

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