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What Is Workplace Bullying?

While the term “bullying” is often associated with children, it is very common to see the same type of behavior in a work setting. Here are some startling facts about workplace bullying that you may not know.

by Valerie Cade
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While the term “bullying” is often associated with children, it is very common to see the same type of behavior in a work setting. Here are some startling facts about workplace bullying that you may not know:

• The vast majority of all bullies are bosses or people who think they are your boss but they are not.

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• Only a third of the people bullied confront the bully.

What, then, is workplace bullying?

Workplace bullying is deliberate, disrespectful, repeated behavior intended to harm the target, by one or more people toward another for the bully’s gratification.

First, the behavior that the bully uses is deliberate. The bully intends to hurt his or her target and is very focused, repeatedly attacking the same person. It is pre-meditated and designed. So yes, the bully is aware of his/her behavior and it’s not accidental.

Second, the behavior consists of disrespectful actions, such as humiliation, intimidation and undermining. Most adult bullying is done in private or by passive aggressive means so as to not alert anyone that this might be “out of line.” Since passive aggressive actions are harder to detect here are some examples:

Repeatedly scheduling surprise meetings to catch the target off-base.

Repeatedly ignoring the target in a meeting, while acknowledging others.

Repeatedly playing the target off against one or more other employees.

Thirdly, you’ll see from the points above that we define bullying behavior as being repeated. Here is a tip: The repeated nature toward one target and not toward others tells us the bully has the capability to treat others more respectfully.

It is important to note that not all negative workplace behavior is bullying.

Random actions, although hurtful, are not necessarily bullying but would be more appropriately labeled as difficult behavior.

In addition, if someone behaves disrespectfully to “everyone,” then this is not considered bullying, but rather a style issue.

In these two scenarios, the person is attempting to have their own needs met, rather than specifically and deliberately targeting another person at the other person’s expense, which is bullying.

A fourth note: You will notice that we use the word target rather than victim. Victim implies that the person being bullied is less powerful than the bully. We believe that the bully’s target has power—they just may not know how to use it...yet.

A fifth element in the definition is the bully’s gratification— what he or she gains from his or her bullying behavior. Bullies are envious of their targets and need to convince themselves regularly that they are more powerful in order to prop up their wobbly self-image.

Finally, do you think bullies suffer from low self-esteem? Most answer yes. The real answer is no, bullies do not suffer from low self esteem. Self esteem is the ability to believe one is deserving of happiness. The bully in fact believes and feels entitled to happiness, at the expense of others.

Why do we need to know if a situation is workplace bullying? Because of the exclusion factor. When one person is being treated at such a disadvantage compared to others it is the highest form of breaking one’s spirit, will, and motivation. Knowing how to assess this properly can save individuals’ lives, lab performance, and even families and communities.

Know this: Bullying says a lot more about the bully than it does about the target. For targets, know you are not alone and that there can be a different future. If you are unsure if the behavior you are experiencing is bullying, become as aware as you can in order to ‘name it’ as handling a bully is actually 180 degrees different than handling traditional conflict resolution.

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