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A bully or a strong manager?

It can be very difficult to discriminate between bullying and a pro-active management style.

Crucially, it can be very difficult to discriminate between bullying and a pro-active management style. Some bosses like to take a firm line with employees in order to ‘get the job done’. Some employees even respond well to this kind of direction.

The Andrea Adams Trust has said that the line between bullying and strong management is crossed when “the target of the bullying is persistently downgraded with the result that they begin to show signs of being distressed, becoming either physically, mentally or psychologically hurt”.

The charity also says that bullying thrives where it becomes common practice across the management hierarchy. This is especially the case in highly competitive environments where many individuals consider bullying as the accepted method of motivating staff. As such it becomes part of the company’s culture, ignored or silently condoned by those at the top and quietly but resentfully accepted by everybody else.

Experts agree that bullying is intimately linked to intent. A boss can be rigorous and forthright without interfering with the rights and wellbeing of others. The trouble starts when there is a purposeful, malicious agenda, when intimidating, upsetting or humiliating someone becomes more important than the job or task itself.

What about colleagues?

It is not just bosses who bully. Anyone who has ever spent time on a school playground (so that’s pretty much all of us) knows that children can be terrifyingly cruel to each other. Unfortunately it’s the same with adults.

There can, for instance, be a fine line between teasing and bullying. If an office bully makes a joke at your expense, he or she might then accuse you of having no sense of humour if you object. “I was only teasing,” they say, often in front of other colleagues, “don’t be so sensitive”.

Our earliest, most primitive instincts emphasise the importance of belonging to a group, our survival depends on it. So excluding someone from activities (be they meetings, morning coffee, or an after-work drink) can be painful and harmful. If it is done over time, it can make life intolerable.

Need to talk someone in confidence?

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