If you see a bully, stand up to him – Hillary Rodham Clinton
In Not All Bullies Throw things: How to Survive a Subtle Workplace Bully, Borgeson describes what she terms “bully–lite” behaviors – actions that don’t appear overtly aggressive, but nevertheless clash with what we regard as civil expectation. Camouflaged bullies operate behind the scenes to ambush coworkers.
• Misleading – managerial jujitsu in which bosses tell employees what they want to hear (leaving out critical pieces of information), later retelling the story in a self-serving fashion;
• Crossing your boundaries – nuzzling into workplace nooks and crannies, either electronically (without your knowledge), or by requesting information that’s none of their business. Authoritarianism usurps employee confidence, making people feel they can’t perform without supervisory saving graces;
• Triangulation – over involvement in which managers insert themselves into relations between coworkers, creating even more conflict;
• Showering reports with derogatory, inappropriate language designed to put them in a one down position;
• Creating a distrustful workplace environment by behaving unpredictably;
• Withholding resources and information, keeping these secret until they can be used to either shame or discredit; and
• Controlling people by involvement in petty details.
Over control (and an unhealthy need to know) result in stress, particularly for those in subordinate positions. An additional subtle bully tactic is stonewalling (Borgeson, 2015), in which persons clam up when their coworkers uncover something that incriminates them. This deflective technique includes (1) refusing to respond to questions; (2) making nonsensical responses – e.g.: “Does everything have to have a reason?” (3) playing dumb by feigning ignorance – e.g., “I don’t know;” or the time honored (4) “Let me get back with you” hiding place of managerial lethargy.
“Bully-lite” can be as simple as giving people dirty looks, or failing to acknowledge them for no other reason than their absence of sycophant status. Borgeson’s advice (other than confronting) include a (1) “not caring attitude,” rather than jumping on stage in a narcissist’s personal show; (2) shaking off what bullies say as unimportant and superfluous; and (3) saving e-mails that raise your hackles on a flash drive. Conversely, the following positive actions may stave off bully-associated strain: (1) concentrating on upcoming projects (and creating a plan of attack); (2) focusing thoughts on what you do well; and (3) spending time with people who provide positive strokes.
Remember that Aggressive behavior asphyxiates in the absence of attention.