How to spot bullies at the workplace (Part-1)

Do you frequently feel intimidated by someone at the office? Do you feel uneasy working in close association with a certain co-worker? Is someone at work constantly yelling at you and being rude and insulting? Do you find them taking credit for a job that you did? If the answer to any of these is 'yes', then you are being bullied.

Bullies never grow up, they just move base, from the playground to the office. They intimidate with their bullying tactics, and you'll probably encounter them as an adult. You've possibly been bullied or have witnessed someone being bullied in the office. Bullies are everywhere, not just in school and office.

Bullying is no different from sexual harassment; it is unsolicited, unjustifiable and undeserved. Office bullies like to be in control and select the easiest targets to prey upon. And anyone who has been bullied as a child or as an adult knows that feeling of helpless that takes over. They feel defenceless and afraid by the coercive behaviour.

Being bullied has a serious impact on both mental and physical health. The body cannot take the mental assault that bullies put you through and it results in adverse reactions. It is one of the major causes of stress, nervousness, depression, mental trauma and high blood pressure and many more health issues. To put it simply, bullying is toxic behaviour and it is destructive, it creates an atmosphere where the one being bullied is always terrified and stops being the person they are – that's a terrible state to be in, every day of your life.

I'll define office bullying, throw some light on the subject since it often goes undiscussed and unresolved. This will provide an insight on what workplace bullying is and the best ways of handling the monstrous behaviour.

What is office bullying?

Can the funny and sometimes not so funny jibes be characterised as office bullying or is it something more sinister? The WBI journal describes bullying as "repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (targets) by one or more perpetrators". That would include any kind of offensive behaviour, including verbal abuse, aimed at intimidating, degrading and being hostile towards the target. Such behaviour results in the target losing confidence and concentration towards their job. It interferes with their work, mental health and self-confidence.

Let's get one thing straight, office bullying cannot be ignored and looked upon as trivial annoyances or inconsequential disruptions. They are more than that because they build this huge psychological power disparity between the bully and the target so that it gets to a stage where the one at the receiving end is left feeling powerless.

That's not how an office environment should be, but it is unfortunate that bullying continues and is not recognised as offensive and unacceptable behaviour. There are no official policies and guidelines that identify and speak against such behaviour. Harassment of any kind, including environments where hostility is created against a person or persons, is bullying. Harassment based on sexual orientation, gender, religion, caste or regional origins is bullying. Toxicity that destroys an individual's self-esteem is bullying.

Identifying the types of bullies

Bullies come in different shapes and sizes, and their behaviour stems from their own inadequacies. Bullies can be categorised into four groups, and the majority of office bullies are superiors at the workplace, and the rest are often associates and other co-workers. Bullies can be found everywhere in the office and bullying can take different forms. Let's identify the bullies and their obnoxious behaviour. Bullies do not stick to one kind of tactic they often adopt multiple ways to bully people.

Hostile, antagonistic and aggressive communicator

Most of us carry a stereotypical image of a bully and it's not very pretty. If I ask you to describe a bully, your description probably won't be far from the image we carry in our heads. It's usually that of a horrible person who shouts and cusses around people. The constantly 'angry meanie' uses this approach to get their way.

This type of bullies, terrorise people, they instil fear in others with their fierce behaviour. They don't hesitate to create a scene in front of everyone, because doing so helps them achieve their mission – of making everyone fearful of them.

Aggressive communication manifests in different ways, from shouting, sending nastily worded emails and other forms of verbal aggression. It also involves the use of threatening body language. A power pose can be both aggressive and intimidating. Someone who reclines on their chair tilts their head back supporting the back of it with both their hands, simultaneously places their feet on the table and tells you that your presentation is not up to the mark, exhibits aggressive power – a form of bullying.

Relentless criticiser

Criticism is fine, as long as its aim is to seek improvement, but constant criticism is heckling. The disapproval especially when it is regularly combined with humiliating, disparaging comments, it is a sign of bullying.

Such communication can happen in person or via email; and there comes a point where every communication from the perpetrator has the same tone and tenor to it. They love the power they wield over you and that gives their ego a huge boost. It is passive-aggressive behaviour, such people display arbitrary behaviour and will chide you, for no fault of yours.

Nothing pleases these constant critics, they may not shout or make a scene, but they mock and belittle people at every given chance. Such bullies refrain from giving people credit for a job well done, instead take the credit for themselves. They paint a damaging picture of other's capabilities, isolating them completely.

Manipulative behaviour

Bullies are not just controlling in nature, but they are also devious and unscrupulous. They will scheme against you, without your knowledge and put you in a tight spot.

For instance, they will ridicule your work and tell you that your efforts aren't good enough. They will criticise what you do, without ever telling you what to do or how to do it. They give no instructions, and then find fault with your effort.

They also expect you to know things they don't tell you about. They will get angry because you didn't do something that they never asked you to, in the first place. With bullies it is always, heads I win, tails you lose.

Basically, they exploit their targets by withholding specifics, whether that is data, information, directives and bits of advice or deadlines etc. Their purpose is to see you flounder. They won't share every bit of information with you, give you just a few details and miss telling you about the major ones, or distract you with other jobs so you miss the deadline for an important project.

They will rate your performance poorly at the annual appraisal and reduce your chances of a raise or promotion. Such bullies can be a boss or an associate or even a subordinate.

The backstabber

Such bullies are like the fictitious Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, with a double personality. You can never tell which version of them is real. They are the sweet to your face, even as they hold a dagger to your back – they are extremely deceptive and dangerous. This trait makes them the most difficult to detect. They profess to be your buddy while sabotaging your prospects behind your back.

You think of these bullies as your closest confidants, aides and friends. They are your most trusted people, but they wreck your reputation and status, tearing you to shreds with others. They backbite, calling you undependable, unprofessional, unqualified etc. while acting like your good friend to your face.

You'll eventually get wind of it when someone tips you off or lets slip the rumours doing the rounds. However, it is often too late, because the damage to your reputation is done. Combating something you know nothing of is never easy.

Why office bullies get off scot-free?

Bullies almost always escape punishment or reprimand, and there is a reason why this happens. Bullying is a personality trait based on human nature. The reason they get away with their behaviour is that they are master manipulators who spread their wings of deceit with the utmost care and create a foolproof way of functioning. Most bullies are good at what they do and their performance at the workplace is brilliant. They tick all the right boxes and keep their bosses happy with their work. That means the managers and bosses wouldn't want to see them leave, based primarily on what they bring to the table. Their efficiency and abilities work as a kind of inducement for the bosses to trust them and their words.

Bullies want to control, they do not want to lose that spot on the top, and they resort to bullying to intimidate others, lower their confidence, ruin their reputation and take credit of all the good that happens for themselves. Somewhere it is a game of ego.

The game plan of bullies is to be on the top and to make that work, they first fit in with their superiors as well as with their associates. While on the one hand, they gain their confidence on the other they work behind their back and craftily ruin their efforts. They go to great lengths to come out successful in their show of one-upmanship. So, while they are at their friendliest best and offer cooperation, they are also abusive and contumelious.

They are such masters at this game of deception that they are rarely caught or blamed openly for their behaviour. Instead, they are treated as an asset and often commended and given pay hikes and/or promotions. On the other hand, the bullied remain in a constant state of fear and become more subdued and intimidated by them. They do not raise questions and doubts about their bullies or report their truculent attitude for fear of not being believed. It is a vicious circle. The bullies build an impenetrable wall of trust among those who matter, which gives them a license of sorts to carry on with their unbridled abuse and exploitation.

The second part of the series discusses how to deal with office bullies.

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Author: Natarajan11 Jun 2019 Member Level: Gold   Points : 6

I feel that it is practically difficult to define or label someone a bully. However, when one reads this article, especially new entrants, interns, temporary staff or new transfers, they would be able to pick up the cues and identify a bully. Then it's about learning how to handle them.

Just as we thought we are done with bullies at school and college, we encounter them in our professional life too. A thoughtful article; having gone through it personally, I feel it is difficult to confide in someone about office bullies. Such people often drain your energy and take away the joy and satisfaction that we get at the workplace.

A very useful tip of identifying the bullies and the various types. Being criticised constantly is something that only the victims can understand. It seems that people are just waiting to jump in and pass a sarcastic comment under the guise of constructive criticism. I found the manipulative type is also surprisingly nice to you and completely fool you until you realise it too late.

Author: Varghese11 Jun 2019 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 3

A nice topic and many might have faced such situations in workplaces. We need to be careful about what we do and what we share. You never know when it will be thrown back to you which will demoralize you.

Always learn to judge a person. As all that glitters are not gold, a sweet person can be the most dangerous also. Try to complete your work on time and whenever submitting them do keep a copy with you or if it is through the mail, keep a cc to your senior or boss.

Always follow the rules and be pleasant. Don't give a chance to others to pinpoint at you. Learn to say "NO" where required, this will save you from many problems.

Author: Umesh12 Jun 2019 Member Level: Platinum   Points : 4

A good article giving the complete anatomy of workplace bullies. I agree that bullies are the cleverest people around who can make our life miserable. They will put a curtain on the eyes of the superiors and we will suffer because of that.

Though it is difficult to control the activities of the bullies, here are some methods which can subdue them to some extent. One is to have good relations and intimacy with our superiors so that we can alert them about the move of the bullies beforehand. It requires time and energy to do that but believe me it works. It is said that offence is the best defence and it works effectively in case of bullies. Remember that bullies are basically cowards who will keep a low profile when they come to know that such and such person can do harm to them indirectly.

Author: Anauj15 Jun 2019 Member Level: Diamond   Points : 5

Bullies are manipulative and they know the pulse of their victims. They recognise fear and weaknesses and prey on those. If the victim takes the crap and doesn't speak up, the bully becomes more confident. Bullies feed their egos with every conquest. Soon their behaviour becomes ‘famous' and people learn to either avoid them or be intimidated by them. And that gives them more power. If someone stands up to them, they usually back off, because bullies are actually weak.

Bullies generally hold powerful positions at work or they integrate themselves with the powerful lot. They make themselves indispensable and it becomes difficult to fight them because they are someone who can ruin your career. This is a key reason for victims to stay quiet.

Bullies are shrewd, they create an environment where they often get rewarded with elevations, raises and commendation for their behaviour. They know how to play their cards, but victims have to fight it out and beat them at their own game. It is tough, but with a plan in place, it can be done.

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