While it's easy to recognize the schoolyard bully, workplace bullies use more sophisticated tactics. Some of them are difficult to prove. Other behaviors allow bullies to fly under the radar undetected.
But it's important to recognize what behaviors constitute bullying because one workplace can be enough to create a toxic environment. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, surveys show these are the 25 most common tactics bullies use.
1. Making False Accusations
Seventy-one percent of survey respondents said a bully had accused them of making errors they didn't actually make.
2. Using Non-Verbal Intimidation
Staring and glaring are just a few ways bullies might try to intimidate their targets without saying a word. Sixty-eight percent of individuals say a bully clearly showed hostility with their body language.
3. Dismissing an Individual's Thoughts or Feelings
Bullies often try to minimize their target's contributions or embarrass them from sharing. Sixty-four percent of individuals say a bully has said something like, "Oh that's silly," in a meeting when they've shared their thoughts.
4. Using the Silent Treatment
Ostracism is a common tactic of bullies too. Sixty-four percent of individuals say a bully has used the silent treatment to try and cut their victims off from the group.
5. Exhibiting Mood Swings
Sometimes, bullies use anger to try and control others. Sixty-one percent of individuals say a bully has used "presumably" uncontrollable mood swings in front of a group as a way to try and intimidate others.
6. Making Up Random Rules
A bully, especially one who is in charge, may claim certain things are against company policy when it's to their benefit. Sixty-one percent of individuals say a bully has made up random rules that they don't even follow themselves.
7. Disregarded Satisfactory Work
Fifty-eight percent of individuals say a bully has disregarded their satisfactory or exemplary work. Despite evidence that a project meets the company's standards, a bully might say it's not good enough or doesn't meet guidelines.
8. Holding the Target to a Different Standard
Bullies often insist their targets aren't meeting the standards, even though they are performing the same as other employees. Fifty-seven percent of individuals say they've been harshly and constantly criticized by a bully for their performance.
9. Spreading Destructive Rumors
Bullies often gossip or spread harmful rumors to ruin their target's reputation. Fifty-six percent of individuals say they've known a bully who starts--or fails to stop--gossip about another person.
10. Encouraging People to Turn Against Their Target
Bullies feel more powerful when they gain allies. So, in an attempt to get more people on their side, they often encourage others to turn against the person being tormented. Fifty-five percent of individuals have seen this happen in the workplace.
11. Singling Out a Target
Whether the bully moves the target's office to the other end of the building or the target is purposely excluded from a meeting, isolation is a common tactic. Fifty-four percent of individuals say they've seen a bully try to separate their target from the group, either socially or physically.
12. Displaying "Gross," Undignified But Not Illegal Behavior
Bullies are quite calculating in their tactics. And they know how to misbehave without actually crossing the line into illegal activity that might get them in trouble. A whopping fifty-three percent of individuals say they've seen a bully stop just short of crossing the line into illegal behavior.
13. Yelling and Screaming to Humiliate a Person
Bullies frequently scream or throw tantrums in public to humiliate their target. Fifty-three percent of individuals say they've seen a bully act out of anger in an attempt to embarrass someone.
14. Stealing Credit for Work
Bullies are notorious for claiming exceptional work was their own. Forty-seven percent of individuals say they've seen a bully insist someone else's ideas or work was their own.
15. Abusing the Evaluation Process
Bullies are often dishonest about their target. Forty-six percent of individuals say they've seen a bully lie about another person's performance during the evaluation process in an attempt to sabotage that individual's career.
16. Accusing the Target of Being Insubordinate
Bullies try to set their targets up for failure. A bully who has some power may make arbitrary rules and then accuse the target of being insubordinate if those commands aren't followed. Forty-six percent of individuals have witnessed this first-hand.
17. Using Confidential Information to Humiliate an Individual
Whether you confided in HR that you're struggling with a mental health issue or you told a supervisor you're going through a divorce, a bully might try to use that information against you. Forty-five percent of individuals say they've known a bully who has tried to humiliate a person privately or publicly based on confidential information.
18. Retaliating After a Complaint Was Filed
Many people resist filing a complaint against a bully because they fear retaliation. And clearly, that's a real problem. Forty-five percent of individuals say they've seen a bully retaliate against someone after they became aware that a complaint was filed against them.
19. Insulting Someone Based on Gender, Race, Accent, Language or Disability
Bullies often resort to verbal put-downs. Forty-four percent of individuals say they have heard a bully insult someone based on their gender, appearance, accent, language, or disability.
20. Assigning Undesirable Work as Punishment
A bully boss might assign horrible work assignments to employees they dislike. Forty-four percent of individuals say they've seen a bully try to punish employees in this manner.
21. Making Impossible Demands
A bully is likely to give their target undoable demands. Forty-four percent of individuals have seen a bully assign someone an impossible deadline or make unreasonable requests.
22. Launching a Baseless Campaign to Oust the Target
Bullies love allies and quite often, they go to great lengths to get people on their side. Forty-three percent of people say they've seen a bully launch a campaign against someone that wasn't stopped by the employer.
23. Encouraging the Target to Quit
Bullies often threaten to continue mistreatment unless their target quits or transfer. Forty-three percent of individuals have seen a bully tell their target that quitting is the only way to end the torment.
24. Sabotaging an Individual's Contribution
A bully is likely to invest energy into sabotaging their target's contribution to a team goal. Forty-one percent of individuals have witnessed a bully try this tactic to make their target look bad.
25. Ensuring the Target's Project Fails
A bully boss might go so far as to make it impossible for their target to succeed. Forty percent of individuals have seen a bully refuse to perform tasks, like signing off on paperwork, to ensure that a target would fail.
Take Action Against a Bully
Dealing with a workplace bully is complicated--especially if it's your supervisor. But, it's important to recognize bullying when you see it and to take action to address the situation because bullies can take a serious toll on everyone in workplace.