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Boss or Bully: The Difference

Many people believe that bullying occurs among children in the school yard. However, a surprising amount of bullying occurs in the workplace. Are you, or do you work for, a boss or a bully?

Are you a manager, supervisor, director, or executive in a business? Are you a bully or a boss? Kyra Kudick, of J.J. Keller &

Boss or Bully The Difference -- Altizer Law

Boss’ unexplained threats to fire employees might be workplace bullying

Associates, a compliance resource company, recently published a set of questions you can ask yourself to uncover a bully beneath the surface.

  • Is there a great deal of turnover in your team? Is it clear that team members are not happy?
  • “Did you yell or use profanity to express your frustration or irritation with an employee?
  • “Have you taken an employee to task in front of others to make a point?
  • “Have you tried to exclude a qualified colleague from an important committee or project?
  • “Have you denied a coworker or subordinate credit for a job well done?
  • “Do you constantly interrupt or actively prevent others from speaking in meetings?
  • “Do you scoff when others share ideas or make suggestions?
  • “Do you make decisions that impact others without explaining how or why you made the decision?

If you answered in the affirmative to these questions, it is time to change your attitude and behavior. You are probably a bully.

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) has compared workplace bullying to domestic violence. Typically workplace bullying stems from a determination to be in control. It is often expressed by threats or intimidation of some kind, by interfering with the work of others (sometimes through sabotage), by offensive and inappropriate verbal and nonverbal actions, and by verbal abuse of the employee.

This is not a small or innocuous matter. The WBI reports that one of every four employees is affected in some way by workplace bullying. They also report that nearly 30 percent of American workers have been bullied at work. Truly frightening, they also report that 75 percent of American workers “admit that workplace bullying is a real occurrence happening on the job site.”

Workplace bullying cannot be swept under the carpet any longer. It has detrimental effects on the mental and physical health of the target and of others in the workplace. Many bullying expressions are overt and physical (aggressive behavior, threats of punishment or termination, or constant and unwarranted criticism). Workplace bullying can also take more subtle forms, such as taking credit for work done by another employee and not giving that person credit, impossible expectations, deceitful or belittling words and actions.)

Employees often feel trapped in the bullying situation because they need their jobs and fear the actions of the boss if they complain. If you are being bullied by your boss, there are things you can do in an effort to defuse the situation.

  • Keep in mind that bullies are insecure. They think they will feel better about themselves by making someone feel bad or look bad. Sometimes, they feed on the fear of the employee they are bullying. The best response is usually empathy. Ask if the boss really wants to embarrass or humiliate you. Then suggest a conversation about business goals and working together more effectively.
  • Always remain rational. Emotional reactions and responses just fuel further abuse.
  • Be calm but confident. You can respond to verbal abuse, for example, by responding to the abuse by saying something to the effect, “I know you think I’m stupid or incompetent, but I know I’m not. Your misperception really doesn’t matter to me, because I know better.”
  • Employ humor. Treat the behavior as a joke. Laugh.
  • Call the bully on the behavior. Give notice that you will not quietly endure the bullying.
  • Report the abuse to the bully’s superiors and to the human resources department in your organization.

It is very sad that bullies are active in many workplaces. Being a boss is not the same as being a bully. Employees need not endure bullying from a superior. Remain confident within yourself, respond logically and compassionately and report the behavior. These are the first steps in making the behavior stop.

If you are a bully instead of a boss, get some help and learn how to be an effective boss or supervisor without bullying. No one deserves to be bullied anywhere, including the workplace.