Recognize & Respond to Adult Bullying (article)

Bullying gets attention for harm done to children. Did you know that adults are also on the receiving end of bullying behavior? In the workplace or other environments, adult bullies wreak havoc on other adults. Adult bullying can occur from peer-to-peer, supervisor to subordinate, or with the protection of policy, subordinate to supervisors and other higher-ups.

Defining Bullying and Bullying Behaviors

Bullying is "the repeated inappropriate behavior, direct or indirect, whether verbal or physical, or otherwise, conducted by one or more persons against others, at the place of work and/or in the course of employment" (Harvey et al, 2007, p. 119).

Take note that one occurrence does not constitute bullying. No, bullying is constant, persistent even, and can occur at the hands of one person or a team in collusion. Bullies keep at their target and seem insatiable in their sadistic pleasure. Bullying behaviors range from callousness and manipulation to hostile work environments and interpersonal conflicts. Bullies tend toward narcissism and exhibit domineering behaviors.

Keep in mind that the undercurrent of toxic leadership is selfishness. Toxic leaders operate in their own best interests and engage supporters to further their agenda. Bullies are included under the umbrella of toxic leadership.

Bullying in a Toxic Culture

Culture gives an organization its identity and character beyond any product or service for which the organization may be known. Where toxicity is allowed, encouraged, or ignored, toxic behaviors become part of the organizational culture. Toxic leaders perpetuate toxic culture. Environments become unhealthy and the people become anxious and hyper-focused on survival. Bullying behaviors in a toxic culture change people. People who are natural advocates and may speak up, do not for fear of becoming a target. People without the courage to confront or resist may shrink further back to avoid bullying.

Craft a Response to Bullying

Toxic culture will continue until systems that enable bad behavior are dismantled. In the interim, the brave hearts in toxic environments can take some strategic measures.

  1. Document!! Maintain good records of bullying occurrences and seek a transformational advocate to demand accountability.

  2. Civility!! Do not let the continued tolerance of bullying harden your heart. Continue to do the right thing, with the right motive.

  3. Boundaries!! If you are unable to separate yourself yet, then protect yourself. Create and/or maintain your boundaries.

  4. Be Brave!! All environments are not the same, and all departures are not immediate. Sometimes we have to work with/under bullies. Refuse to take shame into your heart and mind. Do yourself no harm. Instead, invest in your exit strategy and work with honor.

Harvey, M. G., Buckley, M. R., Heames, J. T., Zinko, R., Brouer, R. L., & Ferris, G. R. (2007). A bully as an archetypal destructive leader. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 14(2), 117-129.