How to spot an abuser early on

Afraid you won't be able to detect an abuser on your next job interview? In his book Bully in Sight: How to Predict, Resist, Challenge, and Combat Workplace Bullying: Overcoming the Silence and Denial by which Abuse Thrives, Tim Field outlines these bully characteristics:

  • Cavalier attitude
  • Delegation and dumping
  • Differing values
  • Divided loyalty
  • Duplicity
  • Envy
  • Evasiveness
  • Failure mentality
  • Fait accompli
  • Favoritism
  • Focus on the victim
  • Frequent moves
  • Humorlessness
  • Inability to cope with failure
  • Inability to plan ahead
  • Inconsistency
  • Indecision
  • Ingratitude
  • Insatiability
  • Insensitivity
  • Insincerity
  • Interference
  • Imposition
  • Jekyll and Hyde persona
  • Know-it-all attitude
  • Lack of competence
  • Lack of contingency planning
  • Lack of foresight
  • Misrepresentation
  • Mood swings
  • Need to assert authority
  • Negative language
  • Opportunism
  • Plagiarism
  • Poor judgment
  • Poor listening skills
  • Resoluteness
  • Rigidity
  • Self-importance
  • Selfishness
  • Shifting goalposts
  • Short-term thinking
  • Short-term memory
  • Spinelessness
  • Steadfast...
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What the road to recovery from workplace abuse looks like

UK psychologist Aryanne Oade works with both workplace abusers and targets of workplace abuse and says in her "Recovery From Workplace Bullying" article that workplace abuse involves:

  • The abuser taking away power from the target by limiting her behavioral choices and disregarding her boundaries.
  • The abuser giving that power to herself.

This power dynamic sets the tone for their relationship and involves compliance on the part of the target, who is left feeling less than human and powerless. Eventually, the once high performing target's wellbeing, performance, and reputation greatly suffer.

The target's biggest challenge: to save her self-confidence
Targets struggle to remain objective about themselves both during and after bullying.

Some lose sight of who they are, what qualities they possess, what skills they have developed, and what they are good at doing. [They begin to believe that] they are useless or ineffective or won’t be happy again or...

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Entitlement may be killing your happiness at work

Have you ever felt like management treats co-workers better than you even though those co-workers do less work? Do those co-workers seem more entitled to higher pay or other recognition even though you're more cooperative, hard-working, or productive?

We see the ego-driven person get rewarded above the hard worker throughout history. Martin Luther King Jr. got more recognition for progress in the civil rights movement. Yet Rosa Parks put in hard work over years and was reduced to a tired worker who refused to give up her seat one day.

Entitlement refers to a belief that one is deserving of some particular reward or benefit. In Bully Free at Work's "What does entitlement have to do with workplace bullying?," the writer says that if you feel resentment at work, your bosses may be treating you unfairly.

You may experience entitlement if:

  • You do more of the work for less compensation. You may be the go-to person because you get things done, but you feel like a dumping...
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How to set boundaries with your jerk boss

Abuse of any kind involves boundary crossing. Abusers can selfishly take without asking, including your kindness, patience, and need for respect.

But targets aren't helpless. In her Psychology Today article "If you set a boundary, expect to deal with anger," Susan Biali M.D. says that "in most cases when our boundaries are crossed, we’ve allowed it. As a child, we may have learned to allow it because we were helpless and depended on the big boundary-crossers for survival. But as an adult, unless a situation is extreme, we usually participate in the violation of our own boundaries by failing to properly defend them."

So what do we do when we were raised as children to accept boundary crossing, maybe from a parent or sibling? How to we begin to defend our boundaries? Says Biali:

I remember a few years ago, when someone wanted me to make a major change in my plans in order to accommodate their plans. My plans had been in place for months, they had just...

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How you react to initial abuse could help you ward off an abuser

Grooming is the behavior used by an abuser to figure out if he'll be able to abuse a target. Think of grooming as testing the waters to see how you'll react. If you pass his grooming test, the abuser will know he can start and maintain the abuse dynamic.

UK psychologist Aryanne Oade coaches clients on how to recover from workplace abuse. She believes that anyone can be groomed, from the assertive to those who don't like conflict to those who don't have the tools to stand up for themselves. But she also believes that assertive behavior may ward off an abuser. In her article "Grooming in the workplace: How to identify and handle incidents of bullying," Oade addresses workplace grooming dynamics and how to respond effectively if you find yourself the target of grooming.

Workplace grooming dynamics
Abusers use grooming (ranging from subtle and confusing to direct) to figure out how you'll respond (confidently, uncomfortably, or somewhere in between) and the...

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Unrealistic responses to targets of workplace abuse

We've all read comments on online workplace abuse articles telling targets to just get a tough skin or a new job — that life is just hard, and abuse on the job is just another problem that we have to deal with.

Experts compare workplace abuse with domestic violence. In the recent past, it was perfectly legal for a husband to beat his wife. Imagine telling a wife to "just leave" or to "toughen up" as her self-esteem worsens but yet she needs to rebuild her life. Doesn't sound simple, does it?

A target of workplace abuse faces a similar problem. As abusers encourage targets who care about their work and organizations to question their abilities, targets feel beaten down and lose confidence to find another job. Even if they do have the strength to find another job, they generally need months to find other work — and endure more abuse during those months. Only those with safety nets (enough savings to cover months of living expenses, a second income through a side hustle or...

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The singlemost important thing to remember in trying to end workplace abuse

Those of us who experienced workplace abuse firsthand remember a specific period of time: the window of time after the abuse pattern started when we felt most isolated and before we knew the term "workplace abuse."

Think about that time for a moment.

Remember when you discovered the term. You may have searched online for help and stumbled into the term. You may have read what workplace abuse is and what its effects are on your health. You may even remember exactly where you were when you found the term.

You suddenly felt less alone. You suddenly felt as though you weren't crazy, you weren't imagining what was happening to you, and you were and should have been just as shocked by your experience as your friends and family when you described it to them.

There are thousands of people out there just like you who feel isolated today — people who have no idea that what's happening to them at work isn't their fault. These are the people who would join our base of supporters and...

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What we can do to disrupt social hierarchies at work

Plaintiffs, courts, and employers tend to not see discrimination as a systemic problem, say the authors of Rights on Trial. Courts and employers tend to address discrimination individually. The result: a general commitment to the ideals of civil rights while delegitimizing workers claims and blaming victims — with a diluting of law, undermining of rights, and reproduction of hierarchy. Discrimination law is not intended to disrupt the authority of the managers in running the employer organization, which are overwhelmingly managed by the traditionally advantage social group in American society: white men.

Frivolous claims are a myth. While implicit bias is the more common form of discrimination, most instances of reported discrimination were not subtle. Still, the vast majority of potential grievants do not file with the EEOC or in federal court. “Only one in 100 potential African-American grievants filed a charge with the EEOC, and 13 in 10,000 potential African-American...

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It's a movement to end workplace abuse

At one point in time, it was normal for women not to vote. But advocacy changed the common way of thinking. It wasn't just a change of law. It was a movement.

While we want workplace abuse legislation passed, we’re also changing the common way of thinking about employees — that employees' mental well-being matters. We're not just saying that a bill needs to pass. We’re moving the needle, each one of us, one by one, to say that mental health matters at work. We’ll look back on this movement and think how absurd it is that workplace abuse is allowed — just as we think not allowing women to vote was absurd.

The vision
Imagine workplaces based on mutual respect, places where people can contribute and feel valued and important, where workplace abuse isn't acceptable, but growth and support are. How do we get there? What might the roadmap look like?

Let's take a look at other social ills: murder, rape, domestic violence. At first we deemed these problems to be...

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Stereotypes determine who has power — and how employers keeps others out of it

Employers deny discrimination, assert managerial prerogatives, individualize problems, and denigrate plaintiffs. They offer small monetary awards, isolate disputes from the workplace by refusing to reinstate employees, and require that plaintiffs sign confidentiality agreements with settlements. Courts legitimize these practices, ignoring the asymmetry of power in the workplace and in litigation.

And workplace abuse is too often aimed at those who are off the norm of white, heterosexual, Christian, cisgender male.

Employers, lawyers, and courts fail to challenge — and even reinforce — hierarchies through stereotypes, say the authors of Rights on Trial. Stereotypes fuel discrimination against those who have been negatively stereotyped in favor of those who are positively typed. They’re cultural constructs about social reality used to justify asymmetrical social relations. They influence whether people get jobs, advance, support themselves financially, and achieve...

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