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Are You Becoming a Workplace Bully?

3 commonly overlooked signs and what you can do about them

Now that school is back in session, parents and teachers are concerned about the bullying that takes place in far too many schools. In the last decade, news reports, articles and even songs relay the prevalence and consequences of bullying among children and adolescents, but not enough attention is being given to the bullying that takes place in offices and
online workspaces.

In a 2016 Forbes article, this disturbing statistic was cited, “Research from Dr. Judy Blando (University of Phoenix) has proven that almost 75% of employees surveyed had been affected by workplace bullying, whether as a target or a witness.” That is a large number of us that are putting up with this harmful behavior on a regular basis. In fact, what distinguishes bullying from a one time conflict is the fact that it is on-going, repeated behavior. 

The definition most familiar to those of us who have read about workplace bullying is one supplied by the Workplace Bullying Institute: 

“Workplace Bullying is repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is: threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work- interference, i.e. sabotage, which prevents work from getting done.”

In my work with conflict, I have come across some behaviors that often catch people off guard when they are labeled as bullying.

  1. Interrupting. Many of us listen up until the point at which we wish to interrupt. So, this kind of interrupting is almost acceptable to most of us. Interrupting a person speaking is also the norm in some cultures. People don’t wait for each other to finish their sentences, instead they passionately interrupt in order to contribute to the conversation, get their point across or to agree or disagree. This kind of interrupting though often interpreted as rude to those outside the culture is accepted and understood by those within the culture. The interrupting more likely to be felt and interpreted as bullying behavior is when you constantly cut off the person that is speaking to tell them that they don’t make sense or that they’re wrong and then you go on to tell them how your ideas are so much better and discourage them from sharing. This is especially intimidating and humiliating if you are the boss or if this is done in front of coworkers.
  2. Mocking culture. While there certainly is a workplace culture, there are sometimes many different cultures represented within the workplace. To constantly remind someone or bring up that you really don’t understand them because of their accent or to question hair styles or clothing or the pictures on someone’s desk related to their culture or to insist that someone explain to you their culture, because their group is mentioned in the media and you just don’t understand them, can be considered bullying behavior. Yes, that’s right. To feel judged, pressured to explain yourself or to fit in culturally on a regular basis can be both humiliating and intimidating.
  3. Pressuring. Every workplace has pressure and deadlines. That’s normal. The kind of pressure I’m talking about is when you insist that someone who does not feel comfortable speaking up all the time speak up and tell you what it is they’re thinking every time you have a conversation with them even if it’s not necessary. Some people are really able to benefit from being silent and think things over. They don’t need to always voice their opinion. When you insist that they speak up, because you want a response to every little question, then that kind of pressure crosses the line. There’s also the pressuring of someone to do things within your time. Even if the deadline has not approached yet. Insisting that they tell you how much progress they have made, when they will be done and where they are with the assignment on a daily basis is unnecessary pressure, becomes very intimidating and can in fact be considered bullying.
Recognize yourself in any one of these?

If you do, you may in fact be on your way to being the workplace bully or worse you may already be one. I have some suggestions for what to do to change course.

Become curious about why you engage in these behaviors. Develop an awareness about what you are doing and when you are doing it.

  • Think about any feedback that has been given to you about these behaviors in the past and consider what you can learn from it. 
  • Consider the power of pause. Pausing to observe your behavior in the midst of doing it is a powerful way to stop. 
  • Look for resources to build your communication and relationship-building skills and learn from them.
Much of what we do is learned behavior and unfortunately it’s often behavior that was done to us that never got corrected. Take a bold step of correcting your behavior. I’m sure your colleagues will be relieved when they realize that there’s one less bully in the workplace.
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