Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 12, Issue 40;   October 3, 2012: See No Bully, Hear No Bully

See No Bully, Hear No Bully


Supervisors of bullies sometimes are unaware of bullying activity in their organizations. Here's a collection of indicators for supervisors who suspect bullying but who haven't witnessed it directly.
A vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) in Tanzania

A vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) in Tanzania. There are five distinct subspecies of vervets, all known for their alarm calls. They issue different calls for different kinds of predators, including leopards, snakes, and eagles. Naturally, they focus on predators of particular interest to them, but forest travelers who hear and understand the calls can determine which kind of predator is nearby.

Supervisors can be similarly attuned to the changes in behavior of the people they supervise. They can become adept at detecting bullying indirectly, and beyond that, they can even tell what kind of bullying is happening and how intense it is.

Photo of Vervet taken in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania by Alexander Landfair, and available at Wikipedia.

When we discover bullying at work we sometimes ask supervisors, "Why did you let this go on for so long?" In their own defense, those we question sometimes respond, "I had no idea," or "How could I have known?" Unless these supervisors witnessed bullying incidents, we sometimes regard such responses as reasonable.

But that standard — first-person eye witnessing of bullying incidents — is a low bar when measuring supervisors' performance. Supervisors have many possible ways to detect bullying. Here are just a few examples of indicators of bullying.

Complaints about bullying
A complaint about bullying is perhaps the most glaring, flashing-red-light indicator of bullying. Yet some managers deal with complaints by placing the burden of proof on the complainant. Certainly a complaint isn't proof, but a complaint or a pattern of complaints ought to trigger a thorough, impartial investigation.
Expressed reluctance to interact
When one individual expresses or manifests a reluctance to interact with another, distaste is one possible explanation. Bullying of the first individual by the second is another.
Degraded work performance
Sudden declines in someone's work performance can arise from many factors. Being bullied is one possibility. If the person in question has also been newly isolated socially, bullying is more likely. When several people are affected, all could be targets, or some could be upset bystanders.
Elevated incidence of leave days
Targets of bullies sometimes seek temporary respite from abuse by calling in sick or taking vacation or unpaid leave. Sudden changes in patterns of leave taking can indicate bullying.
Changes of schedule
Targets of bullies can Desire for travel isn't unusual,
but when someone suddenly starts
volunteering for undesirable travel,
bullying is a possible explanation
sometimes avoid their bullies by changing their work schedules. Bullies can respond by adjusting theirs to match. Watch for these adjustments.
Desire for undesirable travel
Desire for travel isn't unusual, but when someone suddenly starts volunteering for undesirable travel, bullying is a possible explanation. If the volunteer is the bully, the target might be resident at the remote site. If the volunteer is the target, the bully might be co-resident with the target, and the target might be fleeing by traveling.
Requests for reassignment
Reassignment can involve internal transfer at the same site, or even more drastically, relocation. Either can be motivated by factors other than being bullied. But bullying can be a motivator too.
Voluntary termination or early retirement
Beyond travel or reassignment, there is always quitting altogether. The more depressed the job market is, the more likely is being bullied a possible reason for voluntary termination or early retirement.
Another significant change one can observe in targets of bullies is a change of affect, which is the psychologist's word for manner or demeanor. Targets of bullies often display withdrawal, low energy, loss of initiative, and most of all, absence of joy.

These observations don't provide dead-certain, solid proof of bullying. But they are possible indicators. Managers who see them would do well to investigate what's happening. Go to top Top  Next issue: Impasses in Group Decision-Making: I  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!

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

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