When you read the word bully, who do you think of? We've all had a bully in our life, whether we realize it or not. Bullying can be as obvious as name-calling or intimidation, or as subtle as disappointment or disapproval. Let's look at the obvious first.
Most of the time bullies are pretty easy to spot, even when they try to disguise themselves by acting as if they are helpful, or sharing critical confidences about others with you. I remember working with two women who could never pass up an opportunity to gossip about someone else, including each other. They made life miserable. The problem is, often a bully can be nice, and even enjoyable to be around. It's when you turn your back that the knife will be inserted, even as your heart is being blessed. Every now and then you may think that you've made some progress with a bully, only to be blind-sided when they get you again. Unfortunately, bullies often drive good employees away. They erode their self confidence and try to stunt their growth and progress in the practice. Why? Because bullies are insecure and can't stand to see anyone else do well.
The benign bully may not even realize that they are intimidating someone else. This type of bully usually just wants to control someone else. Guilt is the weapon of choice for a subtle bully. They use guilt to keep people in line and make them think like they think. Got a complaint? You'll wish you kept it to yourself. Feeling overworked? Did you forget how lucky you are to have a job? Shame on you! The guilt bully will teach you. You'll learn how to repress your feelings, swallow your opinions and make you wish you'd never opened your mouth. They're counting on your work ethic, decency and love of your job to keep you coming back for more. How do you know if you're dealing with a benign bully? You change your mind, your story, or your request when you really don't want to, just so they'll be happy with you. Benign bullies can be great people and lots of fun to be around. You'll know it's them when you express dissatisfaction and rather than finding a solution, or allowing you to vent and get their opinion, they act wounded or try to invalidate your concern.
Ok, here's the tough part, look in the mirror. Chances are you are looking at someone who has bullied someone else at some point in the past. How do you rate yourself on a scale of 1-5? It's hard to say it, but I fall somewhere around a 3 on the benign bully scale. I'd give myself a zero on the more deliberate bully scale. That doesn't let me off the hook though. I'll need to watch any comments that induce guilt.
So, what can you do if you're feeling a little squirmy right now because you've realized that you have some bullying tendencies? First, if you're a mean, deliberate bully, knock it off. You hurt people and make them feel insignificant. They don't like you because of it, so you're hurting yourself, too. You have to make a conscious decision to change, and it won't be easy. You should be encouraged by the reaction you'll get, though. Most times, a person who's been bullied will gladly accept better treatment. They'll embrace the new you and welcome an improved relationship with you. They'll be surprised, but they'll usually quickly adapt to the change.
What if you're being bullied? Approach the bully and ask them why they are acting that way. Ask them to stop. If they don't, ask your supervisor or manager to help you work toward a solution. Be objective, just state the facts. Be willing to face the bully, don't just dump the problem on someone else. Honesty and openness are the best weapons to combat bullying. Stand up, try to affect peace, and then move on with your life. If the bully changes, that's good for both of you. If the bully stays the same, that's their problem. You know who you are, be secure in that.
Finally, what if you are a manager who has a bully on your team? Don't turn a blind eye. If you do, you're letting someone down. Don't let it play out, letting a bully have extra rope won't hang them, but it will trip everyone else out. Being a manager means accepting leadership. You are asking others to follow you. Don't just lead the ones that are easy to lead. Make a real difference and lead bullies to a better way. Everyone will thank you for it, maybe even the bully themself.