Difficult Manager, Co-worker or Bully – How Do You Tell?

This was a pre course survey run in readiness for a “bullying” workshop a small group of us planned to run. We wanted to know if all the bullying we were reading about in schools and the workplace were for real or just media hype.




Does your organisation have a dedicated HR department?



Have you ever been bullied



Have you ever seen someone bullied in the workplace?



Have you ever been a bully yourself?



Have you ever received a complaint that you are a bully?



Have you ever had to deal with a complaint about bullying?



Do you think that bullying is sometimes misrepresented as something else or the label is attached to something it isn’t?



Do you think employers take bullying seriously?



The first surprise was that 17.6% of respondents acknowledged that they had actually bullied someone and the second surprise, that 100% of respondents felt that the bullying label was often used when in fact what was happening wasn’t actually bullying.

Some of the actual responses in detail:

Q: How would you define bullying?

The dictionary description of Bullying is ‘any form of behavior that is unwelcome, often repeated and personally intimidating or offensive to the recipient’, but we wanted the respondents to give us THEIR take on bullying – comments as follows:

  • Unwanted comments/behavior that makes an individual feel unable to continue their work
  • Repeated or significant inappropriate behavior which undermines an individual’s right to dignity at work
  • Someone being brow-beaten by a colleague or superior
  • Repeated and unwanted negative behavior towards a person
  • Intimidation, inducing fear for a personal gain
  • Intimidating and unpleasant behavior
  • Continual eroding of confidence by put downs and threats
  • Bullying is behavior that can intimidate, offend, degrade or humiliate a person. It is deliberate actions or behaviours directed towards another person which may take many forms and can often occur over a long period of time
  • Imposing someone else’s will onto a person, making someone feel uncomfortable, making their lives a misery
  • When a person with power enforces their power through any means 
  • 1. Bad management. 2. Managing as a tyrant 3. Wielding power and pressure over those you expect to achieve results for you
  • Unwanted, repeated and unwarranted behavior that negatively affects a person’s emotional and psychological well being
  • Unwanted attention or behavior that intimidates, threatens, menaces and makes people uncomfortable and scared and eats away at your confidence and self esteem 
  • Behaviour that is unwanted.

Effects mentioned of being bullied:

  • Loss of sleep, not wanting to go to work, tearfulness, fatigue and health issues
  • Annoyed, grew from it, moved on
  • It caused me to become withdrawn while it was happening. Self doubt creeping in
  • It affects the atmosphere in the workplace, you feel down and don’t want to be there
  • It caused my health to suffer, I ended up stressed which caused fatigue anxiety and then panic attacks. Made me tearful which I am not normally
  • Increased negativity, decreased productivity, very unhappy
  • Lost confidence, questioned my own abilities, became unhappy and unproductive
  • Self esteem plummeted, self confidence vanished – poor productivity
  • It had a terrible impact on all areas of my life – loss of sleep, ill health and stress

Q: Do you think bullying is sometimes misrepresented as something else or the label of bullying is attached to something which isn’t really bullying?

  • Performance management can sometimes be seen as bullying by the person in the process
  • Perhaps sometimes by the ‘victim’ – I think if it is bullying there would be an intent to harm insult or make things personal and fearful, but if the antagonist is simply angry about a situation, rather than at a person, then I don’t think it is bullying 
  • Anybody can misinterpret occasional actions or statements but bullying is repeated, not a one-off 
  • Employees who are not performing may think they are being bullied when really they are being told to pull their socks up 
  • Manipulators often use the word ‘bully’ as a tool to gain their own goals 
  • People sometime view a raised voice as bullying but when they are given a definition, it becomes clearer 
  • Management can often be accused of bullying by those who know that what they are doing should be corrected, but to save face they say they are being victimized or bullied 
  • A lot of companies don’t deal with it, especially when it comes from one of the top managers 
  • I’ve come across managers who say that their staff bully them – another sign of ineffective leadership if the manager doesn’t have the skills to effectively respond to abusive behavior from their staff 
  • Bullying isn’t being a strong leader with firm ideas.

SOLUTIONS (I found these great tips on Google – credit given to the author at the end of the article)

1. Evaluate the situation. First, look at the situation objectively. What’s really happening here? Is this person nasty to everyone, or is it just you? Are you, possibly, giving this person too much power? Maybe this bully just has a bad attitude and it has nothing to do with you. Is there any chance you’re being overly sensitive, taking his or her words or actions to heart when they should be simply ignored?

This isn’t intended to place the blame on the victim, but remember that the workplace is a professional environment, which means it won’t always feel warm and fuzzy. You don’t have to be friends with everyone. There are bound to be some people you just don’t get along with, and that’s OK.

Bullies, on the other hand, engage in persistently aggressive and/or unreasonable behavior against a person. That means you’re singled out and the person is being more than just annoying or rude. Various definitions of workplace bullying use the words systematic, hostile, threatening, abusive, humiliating, intimidating, and sabotage. In short, bullies are intentionally trying to harm you and your ability to do your work.

So take a step back and look at what’s going on. If the person is simply unpleasant and difficult to work with, you’re probably not the only one who sees it, and you’re certainly not alone. Practice patience and don’t let their bad attitude affect you. If your situation does indeed rise to the level of bullying keep reading.

2. Stand up for yourself. Don’t be an easy target. If you shrink away and allow the behavior to continue without consequence, there’s nothing to stop your bully from continuing on. Remember that people treat you the way you teach them to treat you (as Oprah has said about a thousand times). You give people instructions regarding what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not.

The trick is to remain polite and professional while still setting your limits firmly. Don’t let the bully get under your skin—that’s what he wants. Practice your response so you’re prepared the next time something happens and you can respond swiftly without getting emotional. Keep it simple and straightforward, for example: “I don’t think your tone is appropriate.”

Don’t get in a verbal tit-for-tat with your bully, but look him in the eye, stay calm, and be strong. Set your limits clearly and consistently, and your bully will eventually learn he can’t get away with it.

3. Document your situation. Get in the habit of noting what happens with this person and when. Keep a detailed log regarding your interactions—what he says and does, as well as what you say and do.

Documentation will be your biggest ally should things take a turn for the worse in the future. And, of course, remember to always act in a way that you can be proud of. Don’t let the bully push your buttons and bait you into an emotional reaction.

4. Get superiors involved. Unfortunately, there may only be so much you can do on your own in this situation. Bullies can be stubborn and irrational. Often, when it’s gotten to this point, there’s no use trying to simply sit down and hash it out with the person. You need to call in the cavalry.

Again, be sure you have your documentation in order and that you’ve objectively looked at the situation. Then, take the issue to your Human Resources department for help. Describe what is happening in detail and explain how the situation is impacting your ability to do your work. It’s important to stress that you want to find a productive, comfortable way of addressing the situation.

In most environments, HR is your best bet for action. If you choose to go to a trusted supervisor instead, he or she may not want to get involved. HR, however, is specifically designed to handle these kinds of complaints. That doesn’t mean it will always be addressed as quickly or effectively as you’d like, but they typically have more experience and a greater interest in resolving the issue, as they understand the potential legal ramification if the situation escalates.

5. Move on. Bullying left unchecked can harm your mental, physical, and emotional health. If you’ve done your best to manage the situation and you’ve sought assistance from HR but still no improvements have occurred, it’s time to consider moving on. No, you’re not letting the bully “win.” You’re simply taking care of yourself. You won’t prove a point or teach anyone a lesson by staying in a dangerous situation. Everyone deserves a safe, comfortable work environment. If your current employer is not able to provide that to you, take your skills elsewhere.

The above tips are from Chrissy Scivicque, the founder of EatYourCareer.com

Ann Andrews CSP – Speaker, Author, Profiler, Life Member NSANZ 

Author: Lessons in Leadership: 50 ways to avoid falling into the ‘Trump’ trap

Author: Leaders Behaving Badly: What happens when ordinary people show up, stand up and speak up

You can also take a really simple ‘Leadership Test’ right here

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