Published on September 7, 2017

Featured in: Careers: The Next LevelHuman ResourcesYour Career

Catherine Mattice Zundel, MA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

International Speaker, Consultant, Coach at Forbes Coaches Council

Last week I posted a workplace bully assessment because, through coaching abrasive people, I have learned that most don’t know how damaging their behaviors truly are. They are simply lacking self-awareness, and honestly really want to change for the better when they learn the truth about how they are perceived.

While the assessment is a great starting point, I wanted to dig a little deeper. Below is a list of things I hear from the “bully’s” co-workers when I conduct my pre-coaching interviews. These are the bullying behaviors often identified.

And I know that you most likely aren’t a workplace bully, but most people (including myself) unintentionally do things that hurt others sometimes.

So, just to be sure we aren’t workplace bullies, be aware that you might be considered one if…

#1: You are easily frustrated by the shortcomings of others.

We all have shortcomings, and we can’t all live up to other people’s expectations. If we tried we’d spend all our time doing that and wouldn’t get anything done. If you find yourself frustrated when others aren’t doing what you think they should do, then take a step back and realize you aren’t perfect either. It might be time to have a productive, collaborative conversation with this person about opportunities for improvement.

#2: You never think about how other people might feel if you do or say hurtful things to them. 

Communicators who are good at building relationships are always aware of what they say and how they say it. Granted, we can’t be all smiles all of the time, but for the most part someone who is not a bully thinks about their communication style. We can all benefit from attempting to keep communication professional, even when we don’t like someone.

Effective communicators also reflect on conversations after they are over – especially after arguments, or after giving someone else negative feedback. Non-bullies ask themselves if the other person’s feelings were hurt by what was said, and will apologize if necessary. Have you ever done that?

#3: You yell at people. Have you yelled at work?

Doing this even once is a big, fat no-no. From an HR standpoint, to be honest, this is considered workplace violence and therefore you put the organization at risk but engaging in this behavior. It is important to treat others with respect at all times, even if you don’t like them or are frustrated by them. If you’re not doing that, then there’s a good chance others perceive you as a bully.

#4: You think arguments are about winning. 

Disagreements are bound to happen; conflict is a normal part of life. The biggest mistake most people make during disagreements or arguments is to focus on their own needs. Lots of people forget that the person they are arguing with also has needs. The three goals of an argument, then, are to articulate your point of view, understand the other person’s needs and point of view, and then find an amicable solution that everyone can live with.

People who make arguments a competition and who focus on winning are probably labeled as bullies by their peers. These types of arguers are more focused on winning conflict than maintaining a relationship. They do not hesitate to use aggressive behavior, are authoritative, threatening, and intimidating. In other words, if you handle conflict by yelling, interrupting, not listening, and attacking the other person personally, then you are likely perceived as a bully.

#5: Your response to a co-worker not performing at your standards is to bluntly point it out.

So the question is, how do you handle the situation when you are feeling like employees are not pulling their weight? If you automatically jump to the conclusion that this person is incompetent, then you might be a bully. It is not safe to assume a low performer is incompetent – because that is only one of several possibilities. Maybe he or she didn’t receive proper training, is having a personal problem at home that is distracting from work – or maybe it’s your aggressive attitude that’s distracting and pushing down performance.

Approach low performers calmly and professionally, and have a conversation about the issues. Find out from them what’s going on with their performance, and together determine an action plan, the resources needed to become a better performer (e.g., training, coaching, a new computer program), and set specific performance goals. Provide a reward when the goals are met, and determine consequences if the goals are not met. Easy as pie.

#6: You think you’re surrounded by idiots at work. 

Bullies are often accused of believing their peers are incompetent, and research seems to support that. But bullies also claim they are passionate about the work and the organization’s goals, so they become frustrated when people are not performing at their standards. Frustration turns into aggressive communication.

So, if you find yourself at work often thinking about how incompetent your peers, subordinates or superiors are – you’ll want to start paying really close attention to how you communicate with those individuals. You might be responding to those feelings by bullying. You should also ask yourself, “Are they all really that incompetent or am I being over-confident?”

#7: Address other people’s mistakes by making them feel bad. 

Everybody makes mistakes – it’s how we recover from them that matters. If an employee makes a lot of really big mistakes all of the time, then it’s a performance issue and it should certainly be addressed – but not by yelling and screaming and making her feel bad. Calmly discuss why the mistakes are being made and what can be done to prevent them in the future. Set goals for performance improvement; if the goals aren’t met then you know she is indeed not the right fit for the position and maybe letting her go is the right call. And all of this can be accomplished in a normal, professional voice.

#8: You are an uber-excessive micromanager. 

How do you handle performance and job responsibilities of your subordinates? Do you give them tasks above competence level to help them grow, or because you know they can’t complete them and you want to get rid of them? Are you micro-managing your whole department? Or one specific employee because he or she really needs it?

If you’re micro-managing the entire department, it means you don’t trust your employees and you should consider a new management style. If you are micro-managing one person, ask yourself if this is really warranted. Admittedly, sometimes people need to be managed carefully because they are new or not doing a task the way it needs to be done. But if you are using your power as manager to keep tabs on everyone all of time, then something’s wrong – and it’s not your employee’s performance – it might be your management style.

#9: The last performance evaluation you gave someone did not address any of the things the employee was doing right, and only focused on all the things being done wrong. 

Performance evaluations are often used as an opportunity to tell an employee what needs work. Yes, this information should be provided to an employee, but not at an annual employee evaluation.

Again, if employees are not doing something right you should address it with them. Address it as soon as you see it, and provide the resources needed to make sure it is done right moving forward. As a manager, if you are working with employees like this on a consistent basis then there shouldn’t be any reason that the annual review would focus on all the bad things. The employee will have been doing things right, thanks to your guidance.

In addition, I think we can assume that no one likes a meeting where faults and mistakes are laid out before them, strewn like dirty laundry across a messy floor. If you must provide negative feedback, try delivering a minimum of three positive items for everyone one constructive item during an evaluation. You will get much better results and much better performance.

#10: You never tell your employees that they did a great job, or that you really appreciate them.

If you’re not giving your employees recognition for a job well done, they are not performing at top notch. The connection between recognition and motivation is clear. In fact, you should tell your employees they are doing well at least once a week.

Of course, don’t do it if you don’t mean it. But stopping to let people know you appreciated their hard work on something, or that they did well on the one piece of the project they were working on, can go a long way.

#11: When someone is talking and you don’t think their view matters, you just stop listening.

Bullies are infamous for showing an anti-relationship communication style. They do things that people who are interested in having positive relationships would never do. If you find yourself turning your listening off on a regular basis, especially when one specific person that you don’t like or think is incompetent is talking, then you might be a bully. Work on trying to be more courteous and professional with listening skills – you might even learn something.

#12: You talk badly about others to management.

Bullies are known for thwarting promotion opportunities by way of talking badly to management about others. If you are consistently going to management to complain about an individual, then your peers may perceive you as a bully. Granted, sometimes we have good reason to talk to management about others – maybe they are not pulling their weight or maybe they did something that warrants reporting – but if you are filing complaints about the same person all of the time with the goal to get them fired or demoted, then you might want to ask yourself why you despise this person so much, and if you are filing complaints for the right reasons.

#13: You don’t pay attention to nonverbal signs that people are uncomfortable.

One thing most bullies lack is social and emotional intelligence. If they had EQ then they would know they make people uncomfortable – they’d see it on the faces and in the body language of their employees. It would behoove you to read Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and follow up with the activities provided there.

#14: You get frustrated when people don’t see what you see.

One thing I’ve noticed in my coaching abrasive people is that they are amazingly intelligent, and it gets frustrating for them when others don’t see what they see. Either they have an amazing vision for what could be, or they see a problem (or a solution) that others don’t see, and that’s hard for them to understand.

The sooner you realize others will never see what you see, the better your life will be. Everyone brings different talents to the table – some are visionaries, some are detail-oriented, some are problem solvers, some are creative, and so forth. Start valuing people for what they bring, rather than what they lack.

In the end…

A lot of people who’ve been identified as “bullies” by their co-workers don’t realize they are hurting others, and want to stop but don’t know how. I’m all about solutions, so if you’re interested in how to get rid of your inner workplace bully once and for all, you can check out my Forbes article, Seven Steps You Can Take If You Think You Might be a Workplace Bullyhere.