At a meeting a few days ago, I was asked a question “Wouldn’t it be great if we had a checklist that allowed a bully to work out for themselves whether they are a bully?”

Creating a checklist to assist people to assess whether they are using bullying type behaviours is not that difficult. Potential bullying behaviours have been listed on multiple internet sites, research reports and books about bullying. The real challenge lies in the use of the checklist. Does he or she answering the questions on the checklist have the insight to be able to identify the behaviours that they use? Can he or she see the impact of those behaviours on those around him or her? Does he or she actually care about the impact on those around him or her?

Normalisation of Behaviour

When confronted and accused of bullying, many of those using bullying type behaviours are shocked and distressed. This may be a result of their inappropriate behaviours being normalised. As a child, the bully may have used these tactics in the schoolyard and no one told them it wasn’t ok to behave like that. These same behaviours then transferred with them into adulthood and their workplace, yet still no one has told them that those behaviours are inappropriate in the workplace.

In another scenario, the person’s workplace may enable his or her bullying behaviour. This can occur as a result of organisational culture. Where there is a negative competitive environment, autocratic hierarchical management, poor leadership and management skills, poorly developed policies and procedures, a bully can flourish without control.

The Link to Self-Awareness

However, our own use of bullying behaviours is fundamentally linked to our own awareness of self. Workplace bullying literature discusses why some people use bullying type behaviours. This includes that in some cases they are highly aggressive personalities who are narcissistic lacking in empathy. Some are insecure and use the behaviours to cover up their own shortfalls. Others may be ambitious, aiming to reach their goal no matter what, or who, bears the cost. These don’t tend to be traits that go together well with self-awareness.

While people with particular personality types can use bullying type behaviours, bullying expert Evelyn Field notes that “Almost anyone can…use bullying behaviours, regardless of their career or position on the hierarchical ladder.” Of course, Field is not saying that we are all the worst type of bully that lived. She is saying that if we have a period of time that is lacking in self-awareness and the conditions around us are conducive we too might use bullying type behaviours. In fact, we might become the bully ourselves.

My first response to this idea was quiet indignation. As if I would be a bully or use bullying behaviours. Yet thinking in this way is the trap. To dismiss it outright is to not reflect on it either way. To not reflect on it either way means that you might, or might not, be a bully or use bullying type behaviours. Though what I have learned is that by reflecting on my behaviours and understanding how I respond, I have achieved self-improvement.

We’re Not Bad People!

The one thing I strongly emphasise to you is that having some of these traits doesn’t make us a bad person or a bully. To be bullying it has to be repeated unreasonable behaviours over time that creates a risk to another person’s health and safety. We all are people with traits and personality flaws we need to improve.

Are you ready to ask yourself some of these questions?

  • Do you raise your voice, shout or become abusive when a colleague or employee has made a mistake?
  • Do you point out a colleague or employee’s mistakes in front of other employees or people?
  • Do you isolate a colleague or employee by not providing them with key information required to complete their job, not invite them to key meetings related to their work, or social gatherings everyone else in the office is invited to?
  • Do you play practical jokes or excessively ridicule or tease a colleague or employee?
  • Do you spread rumours or gossip about a colleague or employee?
  • In meetings, are your positions are rarely, if ever, challenged as inappropriate or wrong?
  • Are you always surprised that colleagues and managers do not have the same high-performance standards you have?
  • Do you understand the merits of collaborative decision making, but in the final analysis, and for expediency, the decision is yours?
  • Do employees you personally appointed or promoted experience the highest rates of turnover or transfer requests compared with other managers?
  • Do employees in your team have the highest levels of absenteeism compared with other managers?
  • Are you straightforward and honest when evaluating others, yet others often misunderstand or do not appreciate your “style”?
  • If a decision you’ve made proves to be a critical failure, was it based on incomplete or inaccurate information provided to you?
  • Does it take a special type of person to succeed in roles supporting you? Does your staff change often?
  • When you are told that one or more groups of employees are experiencing high levels of “stress,” do you feel it is the responsibility of those employees to better manage their feelings and perceptions?
  • Do you believe fear motivates staff? That it prevents complacency and sharpens the mind and produces optimal performance?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, welcome to the train of self-awareness!