Bullying is not always obvious.  When bullying begins at work it's rarely upfront and much of the time when it's underway, bullying can be underhand and under the radar.

That's why when it comes to the suggestion of workplace bullying, there are signs to look for and a series of questions to ask.

Remember that as a target, bystander or manager considering a claim of mistreatment, that evidence of bullying constitutes behaviours on the part of one person against another, and that behaviour can be invisible.

These are some tips that allow you to test the situation without hurting anyone or making any accusations.

Can You Spot A Bully in the Workplace?Can You Spot A Bully in the Workplace?
Can You Spot A Bully in the Workplace?

How is the Environment?
Bullying is more likely to happen in an envirornment where such behaviours are somehow normalised.

This could be a place where shouting at other people is deemed OK, or justified with arguments such as: 'I was provoked' or 'they were asking for it'.

One thing that bullying individuals do is that they lower the bar when it comes to a standard of care.  So, arguing that someone is 'too sensitive' might be a sign of bullying behaviour, although that bar can be lowered in many ways.  

A low standard of care will allow a manager to yell at one person and then tell others a sob story about it. This low standard is specifically helpful to bullying individuals in removing targets.

Sir Brendan Barber is the Chair of Acas, and he knows the type of organisations most likely to suffer from bullying:

    "Our analysis reveals that bullying is on the rise in Britain and it is more likely to be found in organisations that have poor workplace climates where this type of behaviour can become institutionalised."

Perhaps this could be somewhere, such as a competitve enviroment in which getting ahead is more important than being nice? Or somewhere mild ridicule is tolerated, and maybe even encouraged.

That's the sort of place you might find bullying.   

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    Gossip is popular with bullying individuals, because rumours filter through an organisation and tarnish another person whether they are true or not.

Are you working in a place where one or other individuals are somehow sidelined?  

    Perhaps these same people are occasionally the butt of jokes?

    Maybe someone in your workgroup is in your opinion isolated from the others?

    Perhaps also there is someone who has on occasion 'forgotten to invite' a certain person to important meetings?  

    Maybe there are secret or other informal meetings going on?

These are some of the psychological tactics used by bullies to remove or unsettle a target, and are a part of what is sometimes called 'side-lining'.

Psychological bullying can include threats, 'the silent treatment', rumours and gossip, as well as other forms of sabotage.  Gossip is especially prevalent with bullying individuals, because rumours filter through an organisation and tarnish a person whether they are true or not. Worse, when targets redress this, bullying individuals usually reply that the target is a 'complainer' or a 'problem employee.'

Such practices can be hard to see but where there is a bully, there is always gossip, as such individuals use this to both attack others and defend themselves.  Where this sort of backchat goes on unchecked, that's the sort of place you might find bullying.  

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    Emails and other messages which state that certain individuals are 'not team players' are a big red flag.

Gentle Sabotage?

Bullies behave differently to your face and can guise their targetting of other people as concern for the company or the team.

Text messages and emails which state that certain individuals are 'not team players' for example are a big red flag.

One of the sounds to listen out for in your workplace if you suspect bullying is going on, is the sound of criticism - that person who may be constantly questioning another employee.

Those long critical emails. Repeated comments made by one person about another person.

These are fertile grounds for bullying.  

Temper, Temper

Temper tantrums in adults can disrupt any workplace and that is what they are supposed to do. It isn't just that the person who loses their temper has poor impulse control. These tantrums and other angry outbursts are supposed to be frightening.

When someone 'loses it at work', and more than once, then there is likely a buyllying problem in the offing.

Tantrums are always intimidating. They are never appropriate, and are the sign of an unproductive workplace, as well as the sign of a bully!

Tantrums generally include belittiling behaviour, accusations and abuse of one or more people - and they cost our workplaces untold sums in lost productivity.

If there is someone in your workplace having a tantrum, don't think it's over when they calm down.

Theirs is the sort of workplace in which you might find more ongoing and insidious bullying.  

Investigate Immediately

When it comes to emotional mistreatment at work, there may be an accusation, a suggestion or a suspicion.  All three should be looked into, but in different ways.

Suggestions and suspicions must be dealt with but not in the immediate way an accusation must. Suggestions can be dealt with in informal settings, but never on a one to one basis, and always with a third party present.

Targets who suspect they are being bullied are instructed to keep a log of what is happening, including date, time, place and any witnesses.  These suspicions can genuinely help a person establish if they are really the target if a bully.

Those who feel vulnerable must in the meantime never go into a one to one situation with someone whom they may feel is mistreating them, or is likely to mistreat them.

And when it comes to making an official or proper accusation, the targets of bullying always fear with good reason that speaking out will lead to further retaliation and increased bullying.

Later, be aware that even if you or anyone else thinks a potential or actual bullying issue is 'solved', you must keep up meetings or by another means monitor the well-being and behaviours of those involved.  

Once accusations are in the open and more than just suggestions, then the stakes will rise, and anyone dealing with this situation or considering becoming involved must admonish the alleged bully and anyone else against retaliation, and take measures to prevent this.

You can read complete measures for identifying and coping with bullying behaviours at work in BULLY, INC. The book covers everything from bullying tactics, to values which can make bullying an impossibility in any workgroup.

Make your workplace a safer place to be. Find out how at BULLY, INC.