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Six ways to spot and stop potential bullying behaviour

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Is it possible that you are, unknowingly, bullying your colleagues? Here are ways to recognise common bullying traits and curb this toxic behaviour.

21st Oct 2022
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Is it possible that you are a bully at work? Perhaps you have thought before that you are being cruel to be kind with a couple of your comments? Was there that one time when you came across as a little too aggressive? Do you often upset people who are around you? Do you remember that time you belittled that annoying colleague?

Do you think you might have deliberately excluded someone because they are a bit different to you and perhaps you spread a little gossip about them? Has there ever been a time when you misused your power or position at work? Most likely we have all been bullied and have bullying traits, but we often don’t recognise it in ourselves. 

Shouting at someone or overly and repeatedly criticising them can badly affect self-esteem

How do I know if I am bullying someone?

Bullying is clearly sometimes obvious, but we may not realise that what we’re doing actually constitutes bullying. The less overt traits of bullying include when we invade someone else’s personal space when talking to them, and using known triggers to upset them such as threatening to hurt an already injured foot or talking about something that is likely to cause PTSD.

Shouting at someone or overly and repeatedly criticising them can badly affect self-esteem, as can isolating someone or making them feel like they don’t belong. Gossiping pointedly behind someone’s back and trying to turn others against them, setting them up to fail, or doing things to make them feel uncomfortable are all key indicators that you may well be bullying someone. 

So why do we bully others?

Without question undue stress and feeling under pressure exacerbate bullying. According to Ditchthelabel.org, those who bully are far more likely than average to have experienced a stressful or traumatic situation in the past five years. Bullies often have been bullied themselves or have poor relationships and low self-esteem. Whilst some of us find positive ways to deal with stress such as talking about it or exercising, as part of our flight, fight, freeze response many of us turn to blame other people if a problem occurs.  

Bullying is often insidious

Bullying is often systemic in the workplace because it is condoned by simply not dealing with it and therefore leaders and company culture are complicit.  In these organisations, hierarchy is often excessively valued with a clear nod to a ‘master and servant’ culture. An aggressor may instead be labelled as ‘a strong leader’ who gets things done.

In many cases, the victim doesn’t realise this constitutes bullying and thinks it is part of the job and the power in the relationship often prevents the target from speaking out.  These days we are also usually hired for our technical skills rather than our people skills which are vital for good management, but it doesn’t need to be this way.  

Understand the impact you are having on someone else’s life and experience at work

How can you stop bullying others?

1. Check your stress levels

You might feel horrified if you recognise bullying behaviour in yourself, and a first step may be checking in to look at how you are feeling, whilst recognising bullying is never acceptable.  Perhaps you suffer from low self-esteem, burnout, anxiety, depression or stress.  Getting help with your own issues may well help you to curb this behaviour.

2. Can you accept criticism?

Leaders need to role model good behaviours and lead by example and create a psychologically safe environment that allows difficult but healthy conversations and challenges to occur. Do you have people around you that are going to tell you if you are out of line and are you open to feedback and constructive criticism? 

3. Appraise your work relationships regularly

Understand the impact you are having on someone else’s life and experience at work. Recognise if you are in a position of power that balance may have tipped into something unhealthy and potentially toxic. Do you pull rank as a defence? Instead, ask yourself what was your intention. How did that land? Did they learn the lesson you wanted? Are you able to compromise? Are you using different styles of ‘leadership’ for different people, or do you feel some people need to be taught more of a lesson? Is the other person always in the wrong? Do you think they want to come to work?  

4. Take a moment

Often we need to take the time to process and not to react immediately. Sometimes walking away from a possible confrontation before it happens, even for a few minutes might mean you can have some clarity and better perspective on something that was just said. Our natural reaction can be very defensive and come out aggressively.  

Sometimes the breakdown of the relationship may come from miscommunication, so apologising for any past behaviour and trying to start afresh may be possible

5. Change the communication

Sometimes the breakdown of the relationship may come from miscommunication, so apologising for any past behaviour and trying to start afresh may be possible. On occasion, reframing and unlabelling the word ‘bullying’ might help us to stop the shame and stigma of being bullied because of the power dynamics involved.  

6. Be more self-aware

Look at how you see yourself and what side other people see. What does everyone else see that you don’t, and what does nobody see at all? 

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