Workplace bullying is alive and well. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, 27% of respondents to a 2014 survey had current or previous experience with workplace bullying, while 72% were aware of workplace bullying incidents.
But all bullies are not the same, says human resources expert Lynne Curry, president of the management consulting firm The Growth Company, and author of Beating the Workplace Bully: A Tactical Guide to Taking Charge. They often have different styles and approaches. Some may even be hybrids of different types. Here are some of the most common:
This angry bully thrives on and excels at insults and name calling, Curry says. This type of bully isn’t concerned with keeping a low profile—they’re hard to miss because of their bombastic style. They’ll embarrass and humiliate you in front of others, and are often in a position of authority or have some other sort of power that allows them to do so.
This type of bully is cutthroat with a relentless need to come out on top, Curry says. But it’s not enough to win—his or her opponent has to lose. Scorched-Earthers pull out all the stops to make sure that the victims in their sites are hurt in some way. Many cyberbullies fall into this category, she says.
Some bullies carry out their activities under the guise of "just doing what they’re told," says workplace abuse expert Patricia G. Barnes, author of Surviving Bullies, Queen Bees, and Psychopaths in the Workplace. "The spineless supervisor agrees to do anything that management wants to get rid of employees—good employees—for reasons that have nothing to do with work," she says. If a worker is likely to file a workers' compensation or other claim, the Spineless Supervisor may try to intimidate or fire the person instead of dealing with the problem.
When you tell others about the bullying you’ve experienced at the hands of this person, they may have a hard time believing you. The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality differences make the Shape-Shifter seem like two different people, Curry says. This bully is charming to those they seek to take advantage of or who offer opportunity to them, "but they’ve got their claws out for anyone else," Curry says.
This gossipy bully tells stories and defames you behind your back, Curry says. This bully can be particularly dangerous, because your reputation may be damaged before you know it’s even happening or can defend yourself.
While bullies vary in type, surprisingly, dealing with them often requires a very similar set of tactics, Barnes says. But the key is to stop the bullying as soon as you start to see it happening.
"If you're being targeted and bullied, it's going to take a toll. It’s a surprisingly short amount of time before you're a nervous wreck," she says. So, if you’re dealing with a workplace bully, try these steps.
Ground yourself. The bully is looking for your reaction. If you show that you’re hurt or upset, "that’s going to make them happy as heck," Curry says. Find a way to stay calm and work on your game face. Try to stay calm in the face of bullying.
Start documenting. Write down what happened and when, Barnes says. Keep detailed accounts of the circumstances, exactly what was said, and who, if anyone, heard or saw it.
Turn the tables. Sometimes, calling the bully’s bluff works, Curry says. Try responding to abusive statements such as, "You always mess up," with "What would you have done differently?" If the bully responds with another smear, like "I would have just done it right to begin with," ask for specifics. Often, the bully has nothing constructive to add and will back off, she says.
Find a champion. Your company may have a formal human resources process for dealing with bullies. If so, don’t wait to report egregious behavior, Barnes says. The bully could be damaging your reputation behind your back. If your company doesn’t have such a process, or if the person to whom you would report is the culprit, then try to find a champion elsewhere—another supervisor or leader in the company who can intervene on your behalf, she says. "That can be a very powerful strategy, and I've seen it work," she says.