10 signs you’re the office bully

A few months ago, we wrote about what to do when your boss is a psychopath. But (dun dun dun) what if you’re the bully everyone secretly dreams of deposing? 

Work relationship

PHOTO: Ingimage

A few months ago, we wrote about what to do when your boss is a psychopath. But (dun dun dun) what if you’re the bully everyone secretly dreams of deposing? While all people commit villainous acts at one point or another, you might just be an actual corporate villain if you routinely exhibit any of the following behaviors:

1. You can’t correct people without scolding them

Signature quote: “Are you kidding me? An intern could have done this.”

Things get personal when you correct others. Poor work signifies incompetence. You’re not content to inform the person of his mistake and ask him to fix it. You have to scold him for being lazy, careless, and an impediment to your goals.

If you want to change: People have bad days, bad weeks, and even bad months. Before screaming at your colleague about how a 10-year-old could have done a better job, review how his work compares to his past results. If he’s normally competent, let it go, but keep an eye on him in case things get worse. And if his poor performance is a trend, try to find out why. Is he overloaded with work? Is he struggling with something in his personal life? Or has he simply stopped feeling challenged? Address those problems directly, and you might just get your star teammate back.

2. You’re always interrupting others

Signature quote: “Wait, I need to say something.”

You just have to get the last word in. If people don’t listen, or if the boss simply replies, “okay,” you get hopping mad. You work hard, you deserve to have a voice!

If you want to change: True confidence doesn’t need to be asserted. True confidence radiates from a person who has nothing to prove. As they say, respect is earned, not demanded. Instead of voicing your opinion for the sake of sounding smarter or more involved than others, speak up during a meeting to give credit to your teammates for their hard work on the project.

3. You threaten people to keep them in line

Signature quote: “You had ONE job. And now you have ONE chance left.”

Regardless of whether or not you’re a bully, it’s a lot easier to intimidate people than it is to inspire them. So to keep people disciplined, you threaten to fire them, to tattle on them, or to kick them off the team. You feel powerful knowing that people are afraid of you, and you use their fear to make sure they do things your way.

If you want to change: Yeah, it’s easier to hurl a threat than it is to become an example. But even the most fearsome world leaders, such as Saddam Hussein and Josef Stalin, met their sorry end. If you want people to perform at their best, and to meet company standards, show that you’re the type of person who can live up to them first. Reward good work and make them believe they’re capable of doing more than they imagined. Don’t threaten them with what could happen if they screw up; instead, inspire them with how far they could go if they do a good job.

4. You stalk your colleagues on social media to manipulate and undermine them

Signature quote: “Candy Crush? Never heard of it. Some of us are busy working.” 

Okay, everyone indulges in a little Facebook stalking here and there. But you’ve dialed it to 11. When you see on Facebook that your colleague’s going through a tough breakup, you purposely assign her a pile of work so that she will fail and you will look more competent (of course, you do this under the guise of providing her with a distraction from her heartbreak). And when Instagram reveals that your male colleague has expensive taste in food, you throw digs about how someone of his rank is so “adventurous” in his spending.

If you want to change: Don’t be a busybody. It’s that simple. Let them be.

5. You’ve mastered the art of passive insults and backhanded compliments

Signature quote: “You’re so successful for someone of your education level.”

When your colleague complains about his work, you tell him that he should relax, yours is so much worse. When your teammate gets promoted, you say that you’d probably be where he is if it weren’t for the fact that you have a personal life. And when your coworker puts in 110 per cent on a project, you tease her for being a perfectionist instead of congratulating her for going the extra mile.

If you want to change: This is classic bullying behaviour. You believe that the only way to make an impact on people is by getting under their skin.  But unlike in school, the people around you are adults. They understand that your behavior smacks of insecurity, so unless you stop putting people down, they’ll never give you the respect that you crave.

6. You publically correct and belittle your colleagues to make yourself look better

Signature quote: “Melvin, I saw an error in the report you filed last night so I changed it since I was still in the office anyway. Just letting you know in case you didn’t see it. [Turns head] Oh hi boss, didn’t see you sitting there. Sorry if I was being too loud just now.”

Do this and you’re not just a bully, you’re a simpering try-hard. You’d better sharpen your weapons, because everyone already hates you.

If you want to change: When people make a mistake, tell them one-on-one. If they’re not around, correct it yourself and let them know privately. By correcting them in front of the boss, you’re showing that you care more about looking better than others than about actually fixing the mistake.

7. You block the success of other people

Signature: “Sorry, that’s a good idea, but it’s not possible.”

It doesn’t matter if you’re the lowliest intern or the seasoned department head. If you’re a gatekeeper, then you’re probably also the office bully. Gatekeepers ostensibly help their colleagues, but hold back just enough so that the other people can’t ever really succeed. Drawing from your own expertise, you tell them how to formulate good ideas, only to boycott the ones they come up with (especially if they’re better than yours). You leave them out of meetings, prohibit them from taking leave to do important training, and saddle them with heaps of pointless drudge work so that they’ll be too busy for creative development.

If you want to change: A good leader is as involved in helping others succeed as he is in his own success. In professional basketball, there are always point guards who hog the ball so they can be the star player. But some of the best, and most professional, examples of sportsmanship are exhibited through those who enable their teammates to play their best as well. Build yourself up, and you’ll be a giant among men. But build up your teammates, and you’ll captain an army of them. In the long run, which is more powerful?

8. You use gossip to pit people against each other

Signature quote: “I don’t normally gossip, but as your friend, I wanted you to know that Julie from Sales called you a brownnoser in the canteen today.”

It always starts with a bit of gossip. And before you know it, you’ve rallied people into teams and have created alliances that all lead back to you. You don’t need to sabotage or to exploit people directly. By dropping tidbits here and there, you let them do the dirty work. You’re not just a bully, you’re a corporate mastermind.

If you want to change: It’s not easy managing a tangled web. One simple development, like a resignation or a promotion, could throw off your plans altogether. Playing chess with your coworkers is tiring, time-consuming, and not particularly cost-effective. By focusing on the work you’re assigned, you might actually get somewhere.

9. You assign petty tasks to your subordinates “because you can”

Signature quote: “Is the intern back with my coffee?”

Instead of giving your subordinates work that is educational and rewarding, you assign them silly tasks because you know that they’re too lowly to say no to the boss. Thanks to you, these university-educated workers are tasked with picking up coffee every morning, re-typing your handwritten notes into Microsoft Word, and filing your taxi claims. By the end of his term, your poor intern knows more about running the fax machine than about your company’s inner workings.

If you want to change: Here’s an idea – every time you send the intern out for coffee, give him S$6.60 so he can buy a cup for himself. You’re an adult now. If you can juggle five to six major deadlines at once, then surely you can take 20 minutes out of your day to buy your own beverages, file your own taxi claims, or shred your own papers. Do the tasks that seem beneath you, and give your subordinates tasks that seem above them. By giving them a taste of your actual work, you’ll give them a greater opportunity to respect what you do.

10. You’re a maestro of guilt tripping

Signature quote: “All right, enjoy your lunch outside while I finish all the work with our clients. Don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine. There’s always the snack machine.”

When the boss takes starts mentoring another colleague, you get close to the person and subtly sabotage them so that they fall out of favour. Then you make that person feel guilty for not prospering under the guidance of not one, but two mentors. Meanwhile, when your colleague takes leave, you guilt-trip her by complaining about how much fun she’ll be having while you’re working overtime. And if you’re the boss, you call late-night “emergency” meetings just to see who will drop everything to show up.  The next day, you make the colleagues who didn’t turn up feel bad for being less committed than their comrades.

If you want to change: Guilt-tripping is effective because it sets up an expectation and a debt to you. But eventually, people will get tired of being kept on a tight leash and will grow immune to your guilt-tripping ways (“Okay, sure, I’ll enjoy my lunch outside! It’s beautiful today! Thanks for doing the work! You’re awesome!”). The quickest way to nip this habit in the bud is by becoming a giver, not a taker. Instead of making people feel as if they owe you, do something nice and refuse repayment. People who are used to your manipulative ways might feel wary of your sudden generosity, but the more you volunteer without asking anything in return, the more they will return the favour – not because they feel obligated, but because they want to. 

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