You know how they say if you can’t tell who the ugliest person in the room is…then it’s probably you? I think the same is true for bullying. I hate to break it to you, but if you don’t think there are bullies at your workplace, you’re probably it. And to all the people who tell me that your workplace is so great this never happens, then congrats! (but I don’t believe you).
I can tell you the exact moment I was bullied for the first time in the workplace. But I won’t, it’s boring. I will, however, tell you I’m just like anyone who’s ever been bullied to the point of breakage, I remember the experience vividly. It made an impact on me and drove me to change how I interacted with certain kinds of coworkers. It also gave me the resolve to never work for a company that fostered a culture of bullying. And I haven’t since.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m not perfect. Because ever since that experience that I remember so well, I’m willing to bet that I’ve unknowingly bullied someone. And I bet you have too.
For some, bullying is a lifestyle – these people are the easiest to spot and avoid (seriously, I should have seen her coming, but my blonde highlights, I mean…my natural color…got in the way). For the rest of the bunch, moments of bullying are passing. But impactful. And people in this category are the ones I’m writing to here. The ones who have been bullied or the ones who have bullied in random situations. For the sake of the conversation, let’s say I’m only talking to…all humans.
Our moments of bullying come from a bevy of scenarios. Take your pick. If you’re competitive in the workplace or work in an industry where you have no choice not to be, you could be familiar with a little term called jealousy (we’ve all been there). Little random moments of jealousy can drive you to become a bully in the blink of an eye. For others, it’s simply survival in a cut-throat environment (no one likes to see the boss stomping down the hall!). Sometimes its anger (payback’s a…well, you know). Whatever it is, we can all agree that bullies are rarely born from sunshine’y happy internal moments that we would admit in public.
Here are just a few of the bullying tactics out there.
You torment. Ahh, this category has endless possibilities. You ignore someone. You bug them too much. You don’t invite them to lunch. You bombard them with meetings. You intentionally disregard emails. You don’t listen to instructions and make them do extra work. You can find a number of ways to torment a colleague, I’m sure you’ve all gotten creative. Each time you’re doing something you know will annoy a colleague, you’re being a bully. Here’s the caveat though, we all annoy each other! So when I talk about tormenting, I’m not referencing the torment that comes from different working styles and different personalities. I’m talking about the intentional instances.
You tattle. I’ll say this as professionally as I can – tattling about stupid stuff is stupid. When I tattled as a child (I’m the middle kid, of course I tattled), my parents were just as mad at me as they were at my sister for <insert whatever highly inappropriate, illegal and offensive act that big sisters do to make your life more difficult>. And now as a grown adult in the workplace, I see the same thing happening. The tattler looks just as foolish as the one who did the wrong. Why not, instead, work with the person who frustrated you and fix the problem before it turns into a wildfire of they-said-they-said?
You point fingers. Finger pointers are exposed when someone approaches them with fire in their eyes, looking for a fall guy. Some inner element of their body just cannot take the torture and BAM! Their fingers aim squarely into another person’s face (it’s the classic “I’m rubber, you’re glue” syndrome). Or, you want to share the love and spread the blame (because everything’s better in a team!). If you are in “trouble” for something that you legitimately played a part in, be a bigger person and take your licks. Sometimes there are issues in the workplace that are so big, the blame has to go somewhere, so don’t bully someone else and point fingers off of you. Taking ownership of your mistakes is a noble characteristic and a sign of a leader.
You publicly pick on people. None of us are idiots (I’m assuming). You know the coworkers who can take a joke, and you know the ones who can’t. You also know which topics are sensitive and which ones are not. When you publicly pick on someone who can’t take a joke about a topic they do not want to joke about, you might be bullying them. Cheap shots fall into this category too. Oh, and following it up with “I’m just teasing,” doesn’t give you reprieve.
You CC the whole world. So you don’t like what you read in an email. Well, that’s ok. It happens all the time. However, if your first go-to tactic is CC’ing your boss, or their boss, or tons of other people who can wreak havoc on a person, then you might be bullying someone. Granted, there are times when you really need to hammer something in, and a higher-up is helpful here. But people overuse the heck out of the CC line in an email, and frankly, it’s considered hostile if not warranted (here’s a simple test: if you’re doing it to be sassy, then it’s not warranted).
They point out your mistakes and tell everyone. Much like one of my “attention-to-detail” colleagues did as soon as I published this story with only five ways to spot a bully.
Spotting The signs:
Anton Hout, founder of OvercomeBullying.org, identifies these eight bully types:
#1. The Screaming Mimi.
This is the most easily recognizable type of workplace bully. Screaming Mimis are loud and obnoxious, and their abusive behavior is meant to berate and humiliate people. They thrive on the notion that others fear them.
#2. The Two-Headed Snake.
To a co-worker’s face, this employee acts like a trusted friend or colleague. However, when the co-worker is out of earshot, this person will destroy his colleague’s reputation, stab him in the back and even take credit for his work.
#3. The Constant Critic.
This bully’s goal is to dismantle other people’s confidence through constant – and often unwarranted – criticism. A critic will look for any possible flaw in someone’s work and labors tirelessly to kill that person’s credibility. Impeccable work? No problem: This type of bully isn’t above falsifying documents or creating evidence to make others look bad.
#4. The Gatekeeper.
Every office has at least one employee who gets off on wielding his or her power over others – regardless of whether that power is real or perceived. Gatekeepers deny people the tools they need – whether it’s resources, time or information – to do their jobs efficiently.
#5. The Attention Seeker.
This type of bully wants to be the center of the action at all times. They’ll try to get on their superior’s good side through consistent flattery and even come on as kind and helpful to their peers – especially the newer employees. However, if co-workers don’t provide the right amount of attention, these bullies can quickly turn on them.
Attention seekers are often overly dramatic and relate everything to something that’s going wrong in their own lives to garner sympathy and control. These bullies also have a tendency to coax personal info out of new employees – only to use it against them later.
#6. The Wannabe.
This is an employee who sees himself or herself as absolutely indispensable and expects recognition for everything. But Wannabes aren’t usually very good at their jobs. To compensate, these bullies spend a majority of their time watching more competent workers and looking for areas of skilled workers’ performance to complain about.
Wannabes will demand that everything is done their way – even when there are better ways of doing things. Because they’re automatically opposed to others’ ideas, they’ll do everything in their power to prevent changes to their work processes.
#7. The Guru.
Generally, there’s nothing wrong with this bully’s work performance. In fact, it’s not unusual for a Guru to be considered an expert in his or her own niche area. What these bullies offer in technical skill, however, they severely lack in emotional maturity.
Gurus see themselves as being superior to their co-workers. As a result, they don’t consider how their actions will affect others, aren’t able to fathom the possibility that they can be wrong and don’t accept responsibility for their own actions. In addition, because these bullies feel as though they’re “above it all,” they don’t always feel compelled to follow the same rules as everybody else.