How to tell if your manager is a bully (or just really tough)


Bullying is an important topic and there’s a lot of attention being focused on the subject of bullying in the workplace. All I can say is it’s about time and hopefully together we will be able to do something to stop this destructive behavior.

In order to start a dialogue about bullying, we need to define it. Wikipedia defines bullying as “aggressive behavior manifested by the use of force or coercion to affect others.” They add that it can include verbal or physical harassment. It can also be directed at a person based upon race, religion, gender, sexuality or ability.

The reason it’s vital to have a good understanding of the definition is because being tough or even being a jerk isn’t bullying. While we sometimes label tough bosses as jerks, there’s a difference. A difference we should all explore.

Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with being tough. Tough could be perceived as being objective and holding people accountable. You might even know of few corporate cultures that could stand a little bit more toughness.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not advocating being a jerk. Acting like a jerk has consequences. But th

ere is a difference between being a jerk and a bully - even if it’s a very fine line.

The SHRMStore has a really terrific book titled “Stop Bullying at Work” written by Teresa Daniel. In it, the author cites research asking HR pros to explain the difference between being a tough boss and a bully. The book drew a distinction between what might be perceived as actions that were organization-focused versus personally-focused. Meaning a bully’s actions are driven by self-interest and personal gain versus the tough boss whose actions are focused on the best interest of the organization. 

This is a key conversation because we don’t want to restrict tough bosses just because someone cries bully. And we can’t ignore claims of bullying just because the boss says their dispensing “tough love”. We need to be able to make objective evaluations and act appropriately.

I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. Is it possible to easily identify the difference between the person who is just being tough and a bully? How should we do it? Leave your thoughts in the comments.




The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: