You may be a bully and not even know it

I'm looking for someone who can get the job done. Do you know anyone?

We all know what a big bully does: He yells, he threatens, he humiliates, he manipulates, he frightens. He’s king of the workplace jungle, and he needs to constantly remind his employees. Or does he really need to remind himself?

He’s at the red-orange end of the bullying spectrum and there’s no going back. His ego is fed at his employees’ expense. He knows it and he enjoys it.

But there are subtle ways a boss can bully his workers that are not so apparent to him or even his superiors. But the workers feel it. Those would be the little idiosyncrasies or habits that he picked up on his way to bossdom that begin to alienate his staff and chip away at morale.

Four things that make you monster lite, but nonetheless repulsive:

1. Your sarcasm has a nip to it. You think you’re funny and witty with clever one-liners that distinguish you from your workers. After all, we all need a good laugh now and then. But the recipient of a sarcastic crack thinks you’re treating him or her like an imbecile. Sarcasm has no place in the workplace, especially from a boss who holds sway over others’ livelihoods.

2. You’re tougher on submissive employees. It’s human nature: You’re less likely to push, prod or pressure someone who has a bit of a backbone. So in order to flex your supervisory muscle, you’re a little more demanding on the meek. It’s easier to bark an order when you know you won’t get any resistance. This act of who to pick on, who to leave alone doesn’t need to be overt to be sensed by employees. They will catch on and see you as a coward—the cornerstone of a bully.

3. You have all the answers. The matriculation into management doesn’t automatically give you unquestioning knowledge and foresight. In fact, there’s more you need to learn, namely humility. It’s an insecure boss—or a narcissistic one—who won’t admit that he’s stumped, that he doesn’t have all the answers his employees seek. There’s no quicker way to turn off your employees than by shooting down their ideas and suggestions because you know it all. The results are that employees will clam up in front of you, but will open up behind your back, criticizing your pompous ways.

4. You develop a “you’re an idiot” chuckle. There’s a certain forced laugh some bosses use before spewing their wisdom or points of view. For the boss, it may be just a habit, but the employee hears a dismissive, belittling chuckle that tells him or her that what you say after that should not be challenged.

Ditch these quirks fast if you recognize any in yourself. Employees don’t deserve a bully. Even a mild one.


Cal Butera is the editor of Business Management Daily’s Office Manager Today, Manager’s Legal Bulletin, Managing People at Work and Communication Briefings newsletters. He has been with Business Management Daily since 2007 and worked 22 years for midsize daily newspapers as sports writer, news reporter, layout and design editor, copy editor and city editor.