Bully Bosses? Two Ways Bad Managers Get Mistaken For Bullies

Bully Bosses? Two Ways Bad Managers Get Mistaken For Bullies

Is your boss out to get you?

I hear from quite a few employees who feel as if their boss is “out to get them” either by direct bullying or by not defending them against bullies who target them. And truth be told, sometimes the boss is using bullying behaviors that we can spot right away.

However, there are many cases where the behavior is not always targeted and/or intentional, as painful as it is on the receiving end.

I by no means excuse the behavior or say it is right, but it’s just not personal. Here are two ways bad managers get mistaken for bullies.


#1: Bosses Are Afraid of Conflict

Many of us are afraid of conflict and thus we either handle it badly or avoid it. A bad manager is oftentimes so afraid of conflict, so unable to prepare for a difficult conversation that they end up stonewalling their staff by refusing to handle the problem. Eventually they start to seem like bullies themselves. They get “snarky” and nasty and judgmental. Their anxiety oozes out as hostile comments. Eventually you start to feel like the weak boss is actually bullying you when in fact he or she simply cannot handle conflict. It’s not personal. He or she is doing this to everyone.\


#2. Bosses are Exercising Strategic Manipulation

Sometimes the boss intimidates and threatens everyone on the team because he believes it is good business practice to do so. He does not think that sharing information, working together and team support are good for business and he thinks that intimidation is speedy. The boss prides himself on controlling the team, and his totally unaware that he is reducing productivity instead of stimulating productivity.

When people ask the boss about her employees and their complaints, the boss says it makes good business to keep people “on their toes”. The boss does not believe that people would perform to the best of their abilities if he or she were not “riding them”.

These behaviors define a Manipulative Leader: someone who uses manipulative aggressive behavior to manipulate others to succeed. This type of aggression is seen as a leadership strategy.

The irony is that this  “leadership strategy” doesn’t work, and is counterproductive. Some employees may file complaints, others might transfer, good will may be lost and while there might be profits, it is likely that the team may be under-producing as a reaction to the manipulation. In any case it sure feels like bullying even though it is a behavior that is used indiscriminately and without intent to harm.


Does Any of This Sound Familiar?

Identifying bullying or bullying-like behaviors is the first step to regain control of the situation. There are personal behaviors you can change, and specific strategies you can use to help address the problem.  If you are notifying management about the behavior, there are also reporting behaviors you can utilize that will actually improve your situation, rather than make it worse.

Do you have a boss that is afraid of conflict or uses strategic manipulation? How have you dealt with us? Let us know by commenting below.

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For more on handling difficult conversations, read my ebook, Stop Arguing & Start Working: 6 Steps to Being Confident, Calm and Capable During Difficult Conversations At Work.” The book is available now.

I’ve been a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts.

I’m Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant.