Workplace bullying is a silent epidemic in corporate America. Studying anti-social behavior isn't new. It has been researched and evaluated widely over the years, and continues to be studied by psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, behaviorists, criminologists and educators. More recently, the workplace environment in American businesses has become the focus of the study of aggression, incivility and violence.

In the conclusion of this series, we will review the profile and characteristics of the workplace bully and present some traits of the toxic work environment in which bullying behavior can occur.

PROFILE AND CHARACTERISTICS OF THE WORKPLACE BULLY

In their breakthrough work and website, The Work Doctor, Doctors Ruth and Gary Namie describe bullies as individuals who believe they have more power than they do. They further describe bullies as people who consistently want subservience from others, and, to that end, maintain a consistent desire and intention to hurt and/or harm them.

This description of the bully is probably familiar to many of us. Anyone who has been bullied as a child, or watched someone else being bullied, knows just what a bully does and how he or she does it. Anyone who has been bullied by a co-worker knows what a bully does and exactly how he or she does it.

The behavior and characteristics of workplace bullies and school bullies are basically parallel in nature. A bully operates from a certain frame of reference, with specific behaviors which are purposefully focused and intended to control others and cause them harm.

The following examples of behaviors and characteristics are taken from two different sources, yet these behaviors and characteristics illustrate aggressive, hostile and bullying behavior which is shared by both the adult and child bully. In many instances most of these traits and behaviors are interchangeable between the two groups. The differences that exist are indicative of the environment, age and role of the bully rather than the method and intention of the behavior itself.

AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIORS IN THE WORKPLACE *

1. Talking about someone behind his/her back.
2. Interrupting others while they are speaking or working.
3. Flaunting status or authority, acting in a condescending manner.
4. Belittling someone's opinion to others.
5. Failing to return phone calls or respond to memos.
6. Giving others the silent treatment.
7. Insults, yelling and shouting.
8. Verbal forms of sexual harassment.
9.. Staring, dirty looks or other negative eye contact.
10. Intentionally damning with faint praise.

* Source: Professor Joel Neuman, Center for Applied Management, State
University of New York at New Paltz. Data is from examples of more than 600
employees in a variety of work settings.

COMMON CHARACTERISTICS OF BULLIES *

1. The need to control others through verbal threats and physical actions.
2. Quicker to anger and sooner to use force than others.
3. Tend to have little empathy for the problems of the other person in the victim/bully relationship.
4. Have often been exposed to models of aggressive behaviors themselves.
5. Chronically repeat aggressive behaviors.
6. Inappropriately perceive hostile intent in the actions of others.
7. Are angry and revengeful.
8. Parents are poor role models for getting along with others.
9. Are likely to have contact with aggressive groups.
10. Parents are poor role models for constructively solving problems.
11. See only aggression as the way to preserve their self-image.
12. Inconsistent discipline procedures at home.
13. Perceive physical image is important for maintaining a feeling of power and control.
14. Focus on angry thoughts.
15. Have many more family problems than usual.
16. Parents do not know the child's whereabouts.
17. Suffer physical and emotional abuse at home.
18. Create resentment and frustration in peer group.
19. Exhibit obsessive or rigid actions.

* Source: Richard J. Hazler, et al. "Areas of Expert Agreement on Identification of School Bullies and Victims", School Psychology International.
(Copyright SAGE Publications, London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi, India), Vol.18 (1997), 5-14.

One can only speculate that the school bully of today may become the office bully of tomorrow. We already know that many studies have found that children who exhibit disruptive behavior in the early years and continue to exhibit such behavior after the age of 5 or 6, regardless of the consequences imposed upon them, will, without direct, immediate and effective intervention, become more disposed to bullying, violence and criminal behavior as
adults.

The workplace bully isn't someone without a history of aggressive behavior. We know that repetitive behavior becomes habitual. We speak of positive and negative habits and of how to maintain them or break them. Habitual behavior evolves into a way of life, and in the case of the bully, it becomes the chosen way to relate with other human beings. This behavior is toxic, destructive and often times, illegal!

THE TOXIC WORKPLACE ENVIRONMENT

The workplace doesn't "cause" people to become bullies, but there are some environments which are conducive to, accepting of and contribute to hostile and aggressive behavior.

IT STARTS FROM THE TOP DOWN

The vision of a business or corporation, no matter what its size, comes from the top. The CEO sets the tone of and for the company, not only by what vision statement is created, but by how he or she treats ALL employees at ALL levels. One of the most destructive and debilitating environments in which to work is one where major gaps exist between how a company presents itself and how it treats is customers and employees. The CEO sets the tone by "walking the talk". When bullying and other forms of workplace violence aren't taken seriously at the highest level, then Human Resources and managers aren't encouraged to take those behaviors and attitudes seriously.

THE DENIAL OF INDIVIDUAL DIGNITY

One of the most destructive mistakes anyone can make, is to deny individual dignity to another human being. When places of work fail to foster an atmosphere of dignity toward and among their employees, they are opening the door wide for all manner of incivility, hostility, aggression and potential violence. All problems can be addressed in a manner which maintains a respect for the dignity of the individual. When individual dignity is denied, people become "game" for those who believe they are entitled to act in any manner they choose. This is the perfect environment for the toxic behavior of bullies. When individual dignity is ignored, the mentality of the bully reigns. Human nature abhors a vacuum. When standards of behavior are not universally based on dignity and respect, those who have the loudest voice will create the lowest standards.

IGNORING PROBLEM EMPLOYEES AND RULES OF CONDUCT

A company that is careless about, or fails to create rules of conduct with regard to hostile behavior, or other forms of unsatisfactory conduct, is failing to protect its employees, and possibly its customers. Both large as well as small problems which are dismissed, denied or allowed to go unresolved, will smolder and flame to large conflagrations. Ignoring unacceptable employee conduct is wrong! It is passive compliance with objectional behavior. It is destructive, harmful and often illegal.

FAILURE TO CREATE SUPPORTIVE TRANSITIONS

Downsizing, work load increases for remaining employees and restructuring takes a toll on everyone. The stress involved needs to be acknowledged and employees need to be given the opportunity to adjust to whatever their individual circumstances may be. This takes a commitment from management to be aware and pro-active during stressful transitions. Putting time, energy and money into viable programs goes a long way to assist employees to make the adjustments that will allow them to continue to be productive during difficult times of change. When a company expects a grin and bear it mentality, stress and tension will surface most noticeably among those employees who have the shortest fuses. Remember, bullies have the ability to create havoc. Transition times can be a field day for them. Employers need to be aware and beware.

THE ABSENCE OF PREVENTION, POLICIES AND PROCEDURES

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure for companies who see to it that their employees are trained to identify the potential signs of workplace violence. When companies do nothing to educate employees about this problem, the early warning signs of problem behavior go undetected. When and if employees become explosive, aggressive or violent, no one knows what to do. Fire drills are intended to train people on how to respond in case of fire. Training employees about the warning signs of aggressive and hostile behavior offers them knowledge of how to respond and what procedures to follow. To fail to offer such training may result in overwhelming
damage.

CONCLUSION:

This series of articles has focused on one form of workplace bullying, that of co-worker to co-worker. We began these articles with a profile of what a responsible manager can do in order to address the problem of bullying. We explored the victim's nightmare and we outlined a tri-level approach to deal with that trauma.
Lastly, we have profiled the characteristics of the bully and of the toxic work environment in which this behavior often occurs.

Make no mistake, bullying is a form of workplace violence. It exists in the boardroom, on the work line and anywhere in between. Bullies come in both genders. They can wear Armani suits, plain street clothes or company uniforms. They may be subtle, slick and sly, or they can be loud, outrageous and blatant. No matter the style or preference of the bully, the intention is always the same - to control, to subjugate and to hurt.

Author's Bio: 

Pauline A. Salvucci, M.A. is a Business and Personal Coach. Pauline coaches both individuals and small groups. For over 25 years Pauline has worked in the areas of counseling, organizational development and training. She is principal of The Coaching Connection. Visit her website: http://www.coachingconnection.com
E-mail her at: pauline@coachingconnection.com