Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 9;   March 3, 2010: What Is Workplace Bullying?

What Is Workplace Bullying?

by

We're gradually becoming aware that workplace bullying is a significant deviant pattern in workplace relationships. To deal effectively with it, we must know how to recognize it. Here's a start.
George III, King of Great Britain and King of Ireland, 1738-1820

George III (George William Frederick, 4 June 1738 - 29 January 1820) was King of Great Britain and King of Ireland during the American Revolu­tion­ary War. The U.S. Declaration of Indepen­dence includes a list of Facts submitted as evidence of the need to declare independence. Among them is this: "He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures."

This tactic has its analog in the modern workplace. Some bully bosses habitually schedule late meetings on short notice for times that they know will conflict with home responsibilities of their targets, such as a late meeting on a day when the target is supposed to pick up the kids at day care. Or they require a subordinate to make a business trip on the day of a child's graduation. Was King George III a bully? We cannot say with certainty whether the policies in question were solely his creation, but this particular tactic is surely a bullying tactic. Painting, oil on canvas, by Benjamin West (1738-1820). Painted for George III and Queen Charlotte. Now in the Royal Collection.

You've probably heard about bullying lately — both in school and at work. Perhaps your company or organization has a policy about bullying, or maybe one is being created. Maybe you fear someone, or someone makes you feel uncomfortable. Maybe you think some people are bullies. And maybe they are.

Bullying is a tragic but real part of work life. To defend yourself, or just to survive, you must know what bullying is. There is no universally accepted definition yet. For now, you must pick a definition that works for you. Here's mine:

Workplace bullying is any aggressive behavior, associated with work, and primarily intended to cause physical or psychological harm to others.

This definition encompasses a wider range of behavior than most definitions. Let's explore it.

Workplace bullying need not occur in the workplace, though it can. It need not involve abuse of power, though it can. It doesn't have to be part of a repeated pattern, though it can be. It doesn't even have to actually cause physical or psychological harm to others, though it can. All that's required is that it be aggressive, associated with work, and that it be primarily intended to cause harm, physically or psychologically.

For example, suppose Rita falsely accuses you of making mistakes in the accounting system. That might be bullying, if her primary goal is to harm you. For instance, Rita might consider you a rival. To sabotage your career, she accuses you of incompetence. Her primary goal is to harm you. That's bullying.

But if Rita lodges her complaint out of concern for accuracy generally, and if she is simply mistaken about your role in the alleged inaccuracies, the behavior might be oafish, destructive, rude, and disrespectful, but it isn't bullying. Causing you harm would not have been her primary objective.

Jake manages an IT group. He tells himself that he wants his group to be the most productive in the company. He constantly hovers over the people he manages, setting near-impossible goals. Workplace bullying need not
occur in the workplace, though
it can. It need not involve
abuse of power, though it can.
People who question him about his demanding style — or worse, people who don't meet the goals he sets — are either terminated whenever there are layoffs, or assigned to remote locations involving 100% travel. That's why his people regularly work killing hours. Jake believes productivity is high because he runs a tight ship, but he seems to get some kind of perverse pleasure from the distress his policies cause.

Jake is a bully. He might be achieving high productivity, but since there are many more effective ways to accomplish that, his choice to employ such draconian measures suggests that his primary objective is the psychological pain his approach produces.

Reflect on this definition and these examples. Think about how you're treated and how you treat others. What do you notice now that you haven't noticed before? Go to top Top  Next issue: Guidelines for Delegation  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesAre you being targeted by a workplace bully? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just USD 9.99. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenZMSiXKRCapEiSfUNner@ChacmiiBFTTKdiALqUskoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Bullying:

Tornado in a mature stage of development (Photo #3 of a series of classic photographs)Responding to Threats: II
When an exchange between individuals, or between an individual and a group, goes wrong, threats often are either the cause or part of the results. If we know how to deal with threats — and how to avoid and prevent them — we can help keep communications creative and constructive.
A polar bear, feeding, on landResponding to Threats: III
Workplace threats come in a variety of flavors. One class of threats is indirect. Threateners who use the indirect threats aim to evoke fear of consequences brought about not by the threatener, but by other parties. Indirect threats are indeed warnings, but not in the way you might think.
A mixed stand of aspen and pine in the Okanagan region of British Columbia and Washington stateHow Workplace Bullies Use OODA: I
Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time rely on more than mere intimidation to escape prosecution. They proactively shape their environments to make them safe for bullying. The OODA model gives us insights into how they accomplish this.
Two bull elk sparring in Grand Teton National Park, WyomingWorkplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: I
Bullying is unlike other forms of toxic conflict. That's why the tools we use to address toxic conflict simply do not work for bullying. In this Part I, we contrast bullying and ordinary toxic conflict.
Feeling shameShame and Bullying
Targets of bullies sometimes experience intense feelings of shame. Here are some insights that might restore the ability to think, and maybe end the bullying.

See also Workplace Bullying and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Five almondsComing October 25: Workplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International AirportAnd on November 1: Risk Creep: I
Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenSDCSnyCUxGOVPSxgner@ChacNEJZDHFNSWSvPaQcoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
Please donate!The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Workplace Politics Awareness Month KitIn October, increase awareness of workplace politics, and learn how to convert destructive politics into creative politics. Order the Workplace Politics Awareness Month Kit during October at the special price of USD 29.95 and save USD 10.00! Includes a copy of my tips book 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics which is a value!! ! Check it out!

Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics!
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
My free weekly email newsletter gives concrete tips and suggestions for dealing with the challenging but everyday situations we all face.
A Tip A DayA Tip a Day arrives by email, or by RSS Feed, each business day. It's 20 to 30 words at most, and gives you a new perspective on the hassles and rewards of work life. Most tips also contain links to related articles. Free!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.