Situational Bullies

It might be hard to believe, but some people who are thought of as bullies – aren’t really.  These “bullies” are probably well-intended leaders who are driven to succeed, yet they get triggered by something or someone who is seen as an impediment.  Too often we’ve seen these leaders become explosive and, then, their reaction is perceived as bullying.  When we examine the situation, in-depth, and evaluate what might have triggered an intense reaction, we can often diffuse a situation before it spirals out of control into the red zone.  Here are two examples of when bullying is more situational than it is chronic.

Lack of Clarity / Performance
If your boss engages in bullying behavior, I invite you to consider mutual accountability for the upset.  Yes, the boss shouldn’t lose his/her cool.  Yet, also look closely at your performance; how well are you anticipating the needs of the organization?  How often are you delivering extraordinary results?  Nothing makes a leader upset more than talented yet underperforming employees who repeatedly disregard directives or demands for a given outcome.  Ironically, much of a direct report’s failings may have more to do with the boss’s lack of clear directions and vague expectations than the person’s abilities.  However, as the employee, your performance is being judged, not your boss’s directions. You are responsible for taking the initiative and asking for goal clarity if you are in doubt.

Lack of Understanding Style Differences
If a peer is the bully, closely examine the dynamics of your respective interpersonal styles. Your disconnect might be a lack of understanding as to how to approach someone with a different interpersonal style.  This is especially true when diametrically opposing styles are deeply vested in their own perspectives.  For instance, since I am a Creating Style (spontaneous, experimental, and transparent), I generally relate best to people with behaviors similar to my own.  Conversely, the people I naturally relate least well to are Analyzing Styles (detailed, linear, and structured), which are my behavioral style opposites.  The point being, if I’m the boss I could be increasingly judgmental and begin to bully people on my staff if I don’t adapt my behavior for those “not on my wavelength.”  BTW, I am not condoning or ignoring uninspired performance, behavioral, or attitudinal issues; rather I am advocating that everyone raise their self-awareness and master the subtleties of interpersonal styles.

By taking ownership of our own behaviors, thoughts, and feelings in any given situation we remain in charge and do not give in to bullying behaviors – ours or others.


  • Which conditions stated above might you have previously engaged?
  • What other “Situational Bullying” have you experienced – either as the bully or as a recipient?

My hope for you is that you become the best, most inspiring leader you can possibly be!  Trust, respect, and treat others as you’d like and need to be treated.


By Clyde C. Lowstuter


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