Compliments of Bullying UK Charity via Flickr

Bullies “dominate [their targets] into submission.” Ted Leonhardt describes abusive putdowns as a means of control; a “one-upmanship” that made his father feel superior in the moment. Dictatorship arises at work when people use brute force to achieve results and then proceed as if nothing has happened. Building rapport takes time, and so does listening to understand—especially when you might have been the person at fault. A relational virtuoso has a refined interactional skill set. Willingness to learn from other people (and about oneself) is all but absent from a bully’s interpersonal toolkit. Bully bosses and dominant peers have a “me first” mentality, one that flattens the community. If you have encountered the following behaviors, you may have been the target of a boss/peer who prefers to abuse other people.

  • Your coworker’s language puts you in a subservient position. Their evaluations and emotionally charged words are interspersed with over-the-top language: “I was flabbergasted;” “I had to bite my tongue;” “My middle grade son could have done a better job.” When I ask students which is worse (extrinsic negative motivation in the form of threats – “If you can’t do this job I’ll find someone who can”) or intrinsic negative motivation that threatens someone’s esteem, they choose the latter.
  • You feel exploited by the interaction. Bullying doesn’t always consist of yelling and screaming; it can be sleight-of-hand as well. Some people mine their peers for all they can get, then move to greener pastures. Users come in all assorted types. The most insidious pretend to be a supportive colleague, but later wad someone up once they’ve served their purpose.
  • Your peer is deliberately prideful. Following an incident where they behaved poorly, they either righteously self-assert, “You know how I feel about anyone who arrives late;” or they use a hang-dog expression the next time they see you–to imply “Poor me, I’m pitiful, don’t say anything to me.” Both approaches focus the spotlight on themselves, ignoring the target’s need for restitution, dignity on the job, or  respect at work. Neither is mutual.
  • No apology occurs. Instead they pretend like nothing has happened and they expect you to do the same. A non-apology sends the message that you are beneath them. This unbalanced power dynamic between abuser and the abused is something that people may tolerate short term when they have no options. In the words of Harvey Hornstein, “obedience isn’t loyalty.” People will find a way to leave, sabotage, or express themselves on social media. An office of equals necessitates employees are treated as assets. Recompense is the relational glue that can bridge fractured bonds.



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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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