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Are you a bully or are you just stressed out?

Friday, November 20, 2015 - 11:47

Guest post by AIM Senior Research Fellow Dr Samantha Johnson

Remember: If someone’s trying to pull you down that means they’re already beneath you? - Karen Salmansohn

A manager or a bully?  A bully or just tough?  Is there a difference? 

If I feel bullied, therefore I am.  Correct?

Nope.  Not necessarily. And that’s good news. 

Too many bullies get away with bad behaviour – sometimes under the guise of being political, or simple being in a senior role. 

And too many hard-working managers do their best to get things right, only to be accused of bullying.

Let’s clear this up.

What’s bullying?

  We can group bullying behaviours into the following five categories:

  1. Behaviours that threaten professional status, for example:
    • Belittling another person’s opinion
    • Public professional humiliation
    • Unfounded accusations regarding a lack of effort
  2. Behaviours that threaten personal standing:
    • Name-calling
    • Insults
    • Intimidation
    • Devaluing with reference to age, ethnicity etc
  3. Behaviours that isolate people:
    • Preventing access to opportunities
    • Physical or social isolation
    • Unnecessary withholding of information
  4. Overworking people unnecessarily:
    • Putting people under undue pressure
    • Demanding deliberately impossible deadlines
    • Making unnecessary disruptions
  5. Behaviours that destabilise people:
    • Failure to give credit when due
    • Giving someone endless meaningless tasks
    • The unjustified and unnecessary removal of responsibility
    • Unfair repeated reminders of blunders
    • Setting people up to fail

If you’ve been wrongly accused of bullying and your behaviours don’t fit into these categories, reflect on your stress levels. 

The ‘fight or flight’ response we all have can generate bullying-like behaviours in the workplace, if you’ve gone into ‘fight’ mode for self-preservation.  

Sometimes kind hearted, fair people, can become unnecessarily tough and critical and unintentionally cause harm, because they are in ‘fight’ mode.  If this is you, take time out and realign yourself, it’s never too late to move back into a safe place and shift behaviours back to where they should be.

A bully is a bully.  A good manager, under stress and behaving out of character is not a bully, but a manager under too much pressure.  Know the difference, it’s very important.  And if you’re the victim of a bully, don’t fall into their trap of isolation and guilt.  It’s not you, it’s them.  Speak up and get help. Management and bullying do not go hand in hand.

References: Brodsky, CM 1976, ‘The Harassed worker’, Lexington Books, DC Heath, Toronto.

Rayner, C  & Hoel, H 1997, 'A Summary Review of Literature Relating to Workplace Bullying', Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, vol. 7, pp.181-191.

AIM’s Preventing Bullying and Harassment course provides you with the essential skills you need to promote positive behaviours and ensure a safe and harmonious workplace. It focuses on the legal context for addressing inappropriate behaviour and the responsibility of managers and others in sustaining a tolerant and respectful workplace.