People & Human Resources

The seven tell-tale signs of bullying and harassment

Eve Ash /

When most people think of bullying, they imagine a nasty, vindictive boss standing over a subordinate, belittling and insulting them in front of the entire office staff.

Unfortunately, bullying and harassment is usually a lot harder to detect than this, and it can creep up gradually. In fact, in some bullying cases it may have started out as something that one party considered playful and harmless which gradually built up over time.

So how do you keep an eye out for this creeping set of behaviours that can cause so much damage, the ones that gradually cause you to lower your threshold of acceptable behaviour? Here are seven tell-tale signs:

1. Bad feelings – intimidated, feeling worthless, not valued

Often victims of bullying feel intimidated and devalued long before they realise it with conscious thought. Ask yourself right now – is there someone that is regularly making you feel this way?

2. Unable to express an opinion

You regularly find yourself sitting in a meeting with ideas and opinions that you keep to yourself, for fear of a negative reaction – especially from one person who is usually aggressive or makes off-hand remarks, jokes and put-downs that are demeaning. So you have found it best to keep your lips sealed.

3. Censorship: not to upset them

Everyone is entitled to a bad mood occasionally, but that doesn’t mean that others should have to put up with ongoing and unprovoked aggressive outbursts or actions that are directed at you or others in the team. If you feel you are constantly treading on eggshells because of someone’s aggressive behaviour to you and others – ask yourself why.

4. Raised voices and foul language

Is there a particular person that generally gets their way by influencing a conversation with a louder voice than others, and/or by using abusive, foul language? Is this person unpredictably volatile?

5. You are constantly upset about their behaviour

You go home and talk about the bully at work, you complain to others at work, you plan ahead and consider scenarios, in fact, you are constantly thinking or venting about a person who upsets you and makes you feel bad.

6. Giving feedback – and it gets better then slides back, or gets worse

You finally take the brave but perhaps uncomfortable step of giving someone feedback because you don’t like the way they’re treating you. The outcomes may vary, but may also remain unhealthy.

The person might become more intolerable, or maybe they respond well and offer changes, but when they slip back to old habits you can feel powerless again and start to wonder if you should just ‘deal with it’. Maybe they are so erratic you cannot understand what is going on and your feedback all seems to be to no avail.

7. Your tolerance level/acceptance level has shifted

Although this could stem as much from your lack of assertiveness rather than someone else’s bullying behaviour, it is still time to note a change in tolerance level.

Think back to a few months ago. Are there behaviours you’re regularly witnessing that once shocked you, but you know consider acceptable and okay? This is an example of a shift in your values and acceptance, and a sign of deeper problems. Sometimes this can include putting up with a moody or aggressive colleague because she is producing great work, or learning not to react to a certain manager who is unkind.

Bullying is a murky area, and interpretation often causes a lot of discontent. Is someone overreacting to a situation they should be able to handle – or does the other person need to alter their behaviour to reduce the harm they’re causing in the office? Both options require a level of awareness of your actions and the effects of those actions, so keep an eye out for the changes listed above that may be a sign of an emerging problem.

And get help. Talk to someone who can help you at work or outside work. Don’t just accept this is the way your work life has to be. It can make you sick!

Eve Ash has produced some excellent DVDs and resources on bullying, including a comedy approach to introduce the topic as a preventative and to help bullies and the bullied recognise the need for change.

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Eve Ash

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.

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