Author Bio ▼

Dr Flis has a BA SSc and a PhD in organisational social psychology and is passionate about helping people who lead and work in organisations create better workplace experiences and improving work cultures. Get free resources and tactics on appropriately dealing with negative online and offline workplace behaviours at or contact Dr Flis at[email protected] or  LinkedIn. You can also follow Dr Flis on her blog Twitter or Facebook.
August 8, 2016

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Good work safety practices: recognising and interrupting bullying behaviours

According to Australian, US and UK research, negative workplace behaviour is on the rise, leading to concerns about work safety. HR managers, supervisors and employers can feel ineffective in dealing with disrespectful or bullying conduct due a combination of inexperience, intermittent training and lack of confidence in possibly out-dated anti-bullying workplace policies and practices.

Outdated guidelines can be a real concern especially in cyberbullying cases, as legislation has yet to catch up with the effects of this online behaviour. Research has revealed many employees often avoid confronting disrespectful co-workers and bullies. However, it is important to recognise and interrupt this conduct quickly before it undermines employees’ confidence in workplace safety.

FL workplace bullying

  1. Deceitful behaviour. Tactics include consciously prevaricating or lying, withholding critical information or providing only parts of the full story. Interestingly, this strategy requires a very good memory on behalf of the perpetrator. Once employees catch on, they can easily catch out the deceitful bully by sharing information and making copious personal and official notes that can be used as evidence of previous decisions.
  2. Intimidation and inconsistent behaviour. Strategies encompass making overt or covert threats. These threats could pertain to a reduction in salary, bonuses or budget, re-allocation of programs. Inconsistent behaviour includes unexplained sulking and temper-tantrums offset with moments of joviality, and creating a work climate where people feel unsafe and mistrustful. To counter this tactic, ensure a witness is invited to meetings, and follow these up with an email. More strategies in dealing with this tactic are in my article ‘ 6 risk management strategies to interrupt negative workplace behaviour.’
  3. Excluding or ‘cold shouldering’. This method involves consciously excluding, avoiding, or cold shouldering (i.e. socially excluding) an individual or group. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, employees may find themselves excluded from critical decisions, conversations, and work-related events that may directly impact them. Often employees ignored yesterday could become the perpetrator’s best mate today. Try not to take this behaviour personally, and where possible, start to share critical information with co-workers. This could be your opportunity to show your professionalism and courage.
  4. Rationalisation and projection of blame. Perpetrators using this tactic tend to excuse or defend their behaviour, mainly because it suits them at the time. This strategy shifts blame to others so the bully is not taking responsibility for their decisions. Curiously, this behaviour becomes obvious very quickly once the perpetrator(s) is observed castigating similar behaviour in a co-worker that they had previously exhibited. Rationalisation often doesn’t make any sense, and can be highly irrational.
  5. Denigration. Tactics such as denigrating, discounting, or failing to address someone’s legitimate concerns or feelings involves perpetrators denying their own behaviour, accusing the target of unprofessionalism or of being unable to ‘take a joke’. In some cases, organisational policy will be used to support their own misconduct, even to the point of misinterpreting the guidelines. This strategy can be hard to counter, however I recommend reading my article ‘5 steps to take back control during workplace confrontations.’
  6. Distraction and diversion. While often used in conjunction with intimidation, rationalisation and minimisation, this tactic also includes dodging issues, being ‘forgetful’ or playing dumb, cancelling meetings at the last minute, leaving meetings due to ‘an important phone call’, ignoring emails and avoiding people by ‘being too busy to talk’.  According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, flattery and compliments engenders trust, lowers people’s defences, and increases their susceptibility to manipulation.
  7. Shame, guilt and criticism. This tactic involves the perpetrator accusing another employee(s) of being a ‘princess’ and ‘guilts’ them into taking full responsibility for a particular issue, sometimes shaming them for over achieving, and making them feel inadequate and unworthy of their position. The perpetrator will be unusually critical of an employee’s work or behaviour, usually for conditional, unwarranted, unexplained or purely specious reasons. In countering this tactic, ask the perpetrator why their behaviour is so much better, and read my article ‘5 steps to take back control during workplace confrontations’ for other strategies.
  8. Undermining, constant change and removing work responsibilities. This tactic is an oldie, yet is consistently used. It involves deliberately delaying or blocking an employee’s work task, project or assignment, and is often used in conjunction with the re-allocation or removal of responsibilities and constantly changing work conditions. Targets may quickly find themselves accused of underperformance, simply because it is impossible to progress tasks. This tactic is soul destroying as it’s disrespectful for highly motivated employees. Helpful intervention strategies can be read in my free eBook ’20 killer tactics to staying sane in toxic workplaces,’ which can be downloaded here.
  9. Pitting employees against each other. This is a great strategy for insecure bullies who rule by dividing and conquering, establishing winners and losers, and creating conflict amongst the troops by encouraging people to turn on each other. Similar to tactic number 8, this method has the capacity to create so much churn, change and pain that highly motivated employees struggle to deliver outcomes and leave, allowing the perpetrator to recruit chosen replacements. As I mentioned in a recent article, keep calm and professional, and avoid confrontations.
  10. Setting impossible or changing work expectations. A common strategy is setting impossible expectations and goals, so the target becomes exhausted trying to fulfil it. Just as the goal is about to be achieved, it is moved. This tactic undermines employees’ ability to deliver, erodes self-confidence, and provides proof of under-performance. These are not ‘stretch’ goals; stretch goals are developmental where employees received support to achieve them. Record and report the matter to HR, take notes of any last minute verbal or written changes. Think about changing jobs before your emotional and physical health deteriorates.
  11. 11. Taking credit. This tactic is very old. Taking or stealing credit for other people’s ideas and contributions without acknowledging them is the sign of an insecure employee. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, once employees cotton onto this they either leave or are less likely to deliver results. One way to manage this risk is to strategically omit key details in the relevant presentation or documentation that can’t be explained or understood without your input. This tactic identifies who delivered the project. Some other tips can be found in a savvy article by Presh Talwalker entitled, ‘When your boss takes credit for your work its game theory.”

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