Okay, now that I’ve got your attention, I want you to think about if is possible that at some point in your life you have bullied another at work without setting out to be destructive.

If we hold any sort of power at work including being a person of influence within a team even when we are not the boss, then we also have the power to make someone else feel bad. And bullying is bad for business and certainly bad for personal brand building.

The extreme side of bullying is well-defined on the Workplace Bullying Institute website. However, it is also any pattern of unreasonable behavior and that is where we get back to us. Bullying is a behavior, not a person. Sometimes, nice people bully so I will fess up. I have been an accidental bully, here is how.

I worked with a woman who was so focused on pleasing people that she would give any answer to a question rather than saying she did not have an answer.  She wanted her personal brand to stand for “can do” and had come from a call center background so had a strong customer ethic.

“Amanda” was on a web production team that would interact with the online editorial team I was leading. My team often needed answers in a hurry if something wasn’t going according to plan. If the answer was “I don’t know” we could then escalate the issue to outside technical support. As a journalist from a daily news background, I was also well versed in people trying to evade my questions and was trained to be persistent. And inside our business, I was the Editor so seen as a big personality. All these factors played a role in what went on.

My interactions with Amanda were intensely frustrating. She would give answers to questions I had not asked and seemingly never give answers to the questions I did ask. Instead, she would go off on long verbal trails into the wilderness never to return. And it was getting worse. In response, I was rolling my eyes, sighing deeply, frowning intensely and dreading our every interaction.

To my horror, I realized I was making this woman so nervous that she would start stuttering when I so much as looked in her direction.  Here she was someone who really wanted to do a good job but was lacking the skills to do so. My personal brand was very much about getting things done and empowering others. Neither of us were aligning our actions to the personal brands we had developed.

While Amanda was not on my team, I needed to not only put the brakes on my pattern of unreasonable behavior (making her nervous) but somehow turn things around by boosting her confidence in our interactions.

Organizations struggle with calling people on workplace bullying – especially managers – so it is important we remain self-aware and call ourselves on any behavior that could be impacting the work performance and general happiness of a colleague.

In front of colleagues, I asked Amanda to go for coffee with me because I had a personal favor to ask her. She was so pleased. Over coffee I asked her advice on website builds so I could help a relative starting a small business (which I did do). I put Amanda in the power position over me. We were then able to discuss what was going on inside our office and agree on a way to improve things.

Changing behavior is not instant – I had to be mindful of my facial expressions and Amanda needed reminding that “I don’t know” was sometimes a good answer. However, we got back to being efficient as well as the people we wanted to be. Best of all, we are still in touch seven years later and Amanda is still providing me with valuable advice.


Kate Southam has been giving people advice on careers for 13 years. She has been the editor of a career website, author of a syndicated newspaper column and remains a regular blogger. She also continues to coach individuals as well as provide commentary on careers and workplace issues to TV, radio and magazines. Kate is also a communications consultant advising businesses. Follow Kate on Twitter @KateSoutham.