I co-wrote this article with Dr. Susanne Gaddis, The Communications Doctor, last year but know that bullying is such a prevalent topic right now and I wanted to share it again.


Alright, here’s what nobody wants to admit- there’s a little bully in all of us.  And while you might not be called Darth Vader behind your back (yet), we all, to some degree, whether we realize it or not, have participated in bully-esque behaviors.

Being able to recognize these behaviors at an early stage can help you fortify all of your relationships and, as an added bonus, it may keep you employed.  It’s also likely to prevent you from earning that only-used-behind-your-back nickname you’ll never live down.

To help identify the bully in you, here is a list of common bullying behaviors.  We invite you to take an honest look at yourself.  If you find that you have any of these red-flag behaviors, you should realize that these behaviors will never earn you the “Ms/ Mr. Congeniality” sash.

1. Passive-Aggressive Behavior

Passive-Aggressive individuals have perfected the act of sabotage.  This bully behaves stealthy in a way that says I’m okay, you’re not okay, but I’m not going to tell you that to your face. Instead, they do things behind your back that let you know you’re not okay.   They say one thing and do another, producing a chaotic environment.  They don’t hold themselves to the same set of standards they require of you.

Passive-Aggressive behavior can range from always being late to meetings, making and then breaking promises, saying, “I was just joking,” after sending out a barbed missile-like message intended to stop others dead in their tracks. This is the type of bully who avoids taking any leadership position, letting others take the lead instead, only to sit back and criticize them on all of their decisions.  Passive–Aggressive types can also act ridiculously literal.  For example, if you ask these bullies to go and pick up a paper, they go pick it up and then stand there looking at you for their next command. Yet another favorite tactic is to ignore you when you ask a question, causing you to feel discomfort when you ask it again.  In the hallway, they say hello to everyone else but you.  After all, why should they waste their breath?

Another form of Passive-Aggressive behavior is making threats.  These can be direct threats such as, “I can’t wait to see what HR thinks about this,” or “You won’t be around here to worry about it,” or indirect threats such as, “We’ll just have to see what happens.” Either way the point of a threat is to cause you discomfort, make you question yourself and establish themselves in the one-up position.


2. Blame Game

This bully makes mistakes and, you guessed it – it’s never their fault! Individuals who have perfected this behavior shirk responsibility for any wrongdoing and find a way to direct the blame onto others.  Forget about them sharing what they can do, what they are willing to do and what they have done.   Rather, they are quick to share what isn’t their job, what they can’t do, and what they haven’t done, which is, of course, no fault of their own.   The blame bully makes you believe it is actually your fault for something that did not go their way, like you are personally responsible for their shortcomings.

3. Aggressive Behavior

This in-your-face bully operates from a place of intimidation.  Their motto is “I’m okay, you’re not okay and it’s your fault!” They enjoy heated arguments filled with put-downs, talking at a volume that can be heard in the next county over and making open-ended threats such as “you’ll see what happens when HR gets wind of this.”   Instead of being constructive, their comments are destructive and combative.   They in no way make it safe for you to have a conversation with them.  They cut you off mid-sentence to put their ten cents in, and if they do let you finish, they find ways to use what you have said against you.

4.  The One-Upper

Never wanting you to think you are better, stronger or smarter, this dominatrix never lets you get the advantage. True to competitor form, everything is a life-or-death competition. If you’ve done it, then they have done it bigger and better.  No matter how awful your story is, theirs is worse.  If you’re stressed out, they’re about to blow a gasket.  They know more, they knew it earlier than you and they remind you about this often.   This bully seeks to maintain or boost their self-esteem and self-confidence by deflating yours.

5. Mr. Know-It-All

Next of kin to the One-Upper is Mr. Know- It-All.  This guy knows EVERYTHING about anything.  When asked even the simplest of questions Mr. Know-It-All delivers a Shakespearian soliloquy that makes you want to cover your ears say repeatedly, “I can’t hear, I can’t hear you!”  This wastes hours (or what seems like hours) of your precious time.  Like a jack hammer they pound away with irrelevant details you don’t want to hear and that you certainly won’t remember.  Mr. Know-it-All also relishes in letting you know when you are wrong.  They take great pride in letting you (and everyone else in a 10-mile radius) know that you are, in fact, w-r-o-n-g and therefore beneath Mr. Know-It-All.

6. Gossiper

By gossiping just 10 minutes a day, this bully loses forty-two hours of productivity a year.   But why stop there, as most gossipers deliver much more gossip than this.  This bully creates verbal viruses that spread like the flu. They infect everyone around them by sharing needless tidbits designed to make them look like they are “in the know.”   This type of bully is notorious for baiting people by using questions such as, “So what have you heard about the new hire,” and “So what do you think of what the boss said in the meeting this afternoon.”  Like a fisherman they stand with their line in the water waiting for you to bite, only to use your own words to filet you later.

7. “Negator” – The Stupor-hero of Negativity

Faster than a speeding bullet!  More spirit-sucking than a red-eyed ravenous vampire. Able to spoil positive conversations in a single bound.  This stupor-hero of negativity’s slogan is, “I’ve come to ruin the day!!”  Negator’s list of negative phrases includes:

  • “It’s not going to work.”
  • “Where’d you dig that one up?”
  • “You’re wrong.”
  • “That’s stupid.”
  • “Duh”
  • “Whatever!”

Forget maintaining the recommended 3-to-1 ratio of positive-to-negative communication now recommended by experts.  Forget boosting anyone’s self-confidence or self-esteem.  Forget any good feelings that you had before they entered the room.  Negator’s sole mission is to create downward emotional spiral for everyone involved.   The drain on energy after even a short visit is palatable.  Seeing this bully’s car in the parking lot is quite enough to break even the strongest resolve.

8. …Ist – Behavior

Racist… Sexist… Elitist… Whatever you call it, this person chooses to demean others in an attempt to elevate him/herself.  Quite often, this bully’s attitude has little to do with his/her true thoughts or beliefs.  This person just knows that the best way to hurt someone, thereby gaining power and control, is to hit them where it hurts.  Focusing on personal characteristics, such as race, sex, age, religion, national origin, or disability, is not only abusive, but is actually illegal.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows for protection under the law in the workplace for these protected categories.  Abusing people in this way is not only bad for your reputation and career but it also costs you time, money and jeopardizes your freedom.

9. Micromanager

Whether it is a bullying technique or simply bad management, the Micromanager tends to question the skills and abilities of those reporting to them.  This person tends to make those around them uncomfortable with their constant hovering and lack of trust.  This person takes credit for the work of others, since they will often swoop in and take over a project in the 11th hour – claiming the glory for a job well done… blaming their staff for a poor job.  Most people working for a Micromanager will eventually decide that they need to go somewhere else where their talents are recognized, or they will revert to slacker-employees, only doing the bare minimum to get by.

10. Electronic Bullying

Too cowardly to confront you face-to-face, this bully hides behind a screen name, sending out flames… or Molotov cocktails, if they see fit.  This bully doesn’t just burn a bridge… after all why stop there?  Instead, they communicate in a way that torches the whole town.  Rarely do they send out an e-mail without copying or blind-copying it to several others.  Their other favorite tactic?  Hitting ‘Reply to All’.  Oh yeah… they go there. As if damaging the reputation of a co-worker isn’t enough, this bully leaves their victims in isolation causing mental anxiety. They are confused as how to respond and waste their time unnecessarily trying to figure out the “right” way to respond to the one hiding behind the screen.

If you saw even a little of yourself in these characters, you aren’t alone.  Don’t be discouraged because the good news is: behavior is different from personality.  Unlike personality, behaviors can be changed at any time, simply by adopting a new behavior!

Over pay and over benefits, the number one reason why most people leave their jobs is because of their immediate supervisor. How many good people are you driving out of the workforce?

Once you can accept that you are participating in bullying behaviors, the end result is up to you.   You can continue on this path, or you can make a change.  What will you choose?


Bullying Cost-Benefit Analysis:Let’s be honest: There is an upside to being a bully.  If there wasn’t, no one would do it!!

~Being a bully means that you often get your way.

~It’s a power trip.  Watch as the peasants flee before you!

~People tend to agree with you more (even if your idea SUCKS!)

~You probably have more time (because no one want to talk with you!)

~Everybody knows your name (and your evil nickname, too).

~If intimidation is your goal- Um…good job!


On the flip side, the costs of being a bully are plentiful:

~Nobody wants to talk with you.  This lack of feedback causes you to have massive blind spots.

~You have a shortened career life-span.  When there is downsizing, guess whose head will be first on the chopping block?

~You’ll be overlooked for certain jobs due to your lack of people skills.

~People will undermine you and go out of their way to go around you to get things done.  Informed?  Not quite.

~In meetings you can expect a great deal of eye-rolling behavior whenever you present your ideas/demands (let’s face it they are demands!)

~Bullying makes it nearly impossible to get a good recommendation.

~You tend to bring out the worst in people (beware of the angry mob with the pitchforks.)



Do you find people shooting eye-daggers at you or refuse to make eye contact all together?

Do others withhold their opinions or are they reluctant to share facts with you?

Did the productivity in your department drop dramatically when you came onboard?


We found all these characters, and more, working with The Company.  Do you recognize these characters from your own company??

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