I love the Internet. Every day there are articles on bullying and bullies, educating us to see the signs of bullying and providing tips on what to do to help ourselves. But most of the signs and tips are generic. Things like ‘pressuring’, ‘isolation’ or ‘shouting’, ‘persistent criticism’, and ‘flaring tempers’ seem to be examples of bullying*. But many of these behaviors can be found in situations without any bullying accusations. Sometimes these behaviors are ‘let’s get-the-job done’ leadership behaviors or ‘I’m totally frustrated’ human behaviors. Ambiguous definitions and explanations of bullying lead to problems. For example:
If bullying is defined broadly, targets fail to see a serious situation as bullying and fail to act early on their own behalf.
If bullying definitions are too generic, there is a dearth of public support for targets.
If bullying is not a big deal then unhelpful suggestions like: ‘managing up’, and deep breathing, or, (once I saw this) ‘lavender oil’, seems to be reasonable solutions.
If bullying is just good leadership/power/get the job done behavior, then people have license to bully because it makes them good leaders (witness the recent comments on Great Britain Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s defenders noting he should be a bully because that’s what leaders need to do).
If bullying is just ‘I lost my temper’, then we cannot create guidelines for what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior. We need clarity.
Bullying is life damaging, career destroying, and confidence killing behavior. Bullying is persistent, pervasive, and gut wrenching. It might be as wide-spread as 30% of the working population. It impacts both men and women; is perpetrated by both men and women and is not confined to certain workplaces or pay grades or educational status. It is everywhere. I know. I’ve been bullied. I know, as an executive coach focusing on bullying and conflict issues, because my practice is replete with bully targets and bullies. I know because I have read over 10 years of research documenting, clarifying, and explaining the incidence and prevalence of bullying. Visit the Workplace Bully Institute http://www.workplacebullyinginstitute.com for a nice collection of research on this topic. The more you know, the more power you have.
In the interests of separating simply bad behavior from bullying, I’ve labeled and defined seven unambiguous signs bullying behaviors.