Are You The Office Bully? 4 Ways To Tell

Last Updated Aug 9, 2011 4:41 PM EDT

There's a difference between being an assertive, strong leader and/or team member, and being a bullying jerk. Knowing where the line is drawn is crucial to a successful career. Lean too far in one direction, and you're a pushover who will never get promoted. Veer sharply to the other side, and you'll get noticed, but for the wrong reasons. While you might get promoted, you'll only go so far without being liked or respected. Here are 4 ways you can tell whether you're being appropriately assertive, or a bully:

1. Being Assertive Means: Giving Strong Direction To Team Members Clear communication is crucial in the office, and that requires, at times, a no-nonsense approach. "For example, saying, 'We need everyone on board to make this deadline, which means we'll be having some late nights. Everyone needs to manage their time accordingly with no exceptions' is an assertive statement," notes Vivian Scott, author of Conflict Resolution at Work for Dummies.

Being A Bully Means: Singling Someone Out To Shame Them Bullies point fingers in public in the schoolyard, and in the boardroom. "If your intention behind an action or comment isn't about furthering a project or another person's career, but instead is to make someone look foolish, that's bullying behavior," says Scott. Her example: "'We need everyone on board, including you, Fred, because we all know your history on these sorts of projects isn't up to par' is more in line with what a bully would say." Solve personnel issues privately.

2. Being Assertive Means: Giving Constructive Criticism A strong leader isn't afraid to tell people they aren't up to snuff -- but they explain how people can improve and reach expectations, too.

Being A Bully Means: Making Criticism Personal and About Power "Assertiveness from a leader is a learning opportunity; coming from a bully, it is just another power game," says Gonzague Dufour, executive recruitment and development at Bacardi-Martini and author of Managing Your Manager: How to Get Ahead with Any Type of Boss. A bully may want to keep others down in order to maintain their own stature (yep, just like on the playground).

3. Being Assertive Means: Setting And Enforcing Clear Rules Take, for example, tardiness. Jim Warner, who co-authored The Drama-Free Office with Kaley Klemp, says that an assertive leader will say "I acknowledge that each of you has a private life outside of the office. However, work hours are 9 to 5, and our clients are expecting us to be fully available and at our best during these hours." Expectations are laid out -- sans threats.

Being A Bully Means: Threatening Instead of Directing For the same issue of tardiness, Warner says that a bully might say something like "Our work hours are nine to five. Is there something not clear about this? Good. If this doesn't work for you, then you need to find another place to work." This tone is scolding, personal, and more appropriate for a mom "tsking" a toddler.

4. Being Assertive Means: Using Humor To Motivate or Alleviate Tension There are few better ways to relieve stress in a team than with well-played humor. Joking about set-backs, or vacations after a project finishes, is positive and brings light to a long day.

Being A Bully Means: Using Humor To Belittle "A bully uses sarcasm with the intent to diminish another person," says Warner. For instance, comparing your subordinates work to your 10-year-old makes your criticism crude and meaningless.

Are YOU the office bully, or just assertive? Or neither? Please share your experience in the comments section below.

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