Bullying in the workplace is a pervasive issue that can manifest in various forms, often recognised through overt behaviours like verbal abuse or direct intimidation.

However, there exists another insidious type of harassment that often goes unnoticed: covert bullying.

Unlike overt bullying, which involves explicit and direct actions, covert bullying operates under the surface, employing subtle tactics that can be challenging to identify and address.

In this article, we’ll delve into the nuances of covert bullying in professional settings, including proactive strategies to recognise it.

To watch the full video on this topic, which includes strategies for dealing with covert bullying, click here.

Understanding Covert Bullying

Covert bullying is a form of harassment characterised by subtle, manipulative, and often indirect behaviours aimed at undermining, isolating, or intimidating an individual within the workplace. It often operates behind the scenes, with abusers employing subtle tactics that can be challenging to pinpoint.

Unlike overt forms of bullying that may involve explicit threats or insults, covert bullying operates through covert tactics such as spreading rumours, exclusion from group activities, undermining someone’s work behind their back, or passive-aggressive behaviour.

Identifying Covert Bullying Behaviours

Recognising covert bullying behaviours is essential to address and mitigate their effects. Some common covert bullying tactics include:

1. Isolation and Exclusion

One of the most prevalent forms of covert bullying is the deliberate isolation or exclusion of an individual.

This can manifest as consistently leaving someone out of team activities, meetings, or social gatherings. Victims of isolation and exclusion may feel sidelined, alienated and experience a lack of belonging within the workplace.

To identify this form of covert bullying, observe patterns of exclusion and take note of any consistent behaviour that isolates you from group interactions.

2. Undermining and Sabotage

Covert bullies may employ tactics to undermine or sabotage your work or efforts. They might subtly discredit your contributions, ideas, or projects without directly confronting them.

This undermining behaviour can take the form of subtle criticism, downplaying achievements, or giving credit for ideas to others.

Watch for consistent patterns of devaluation or actions that seek to diminish your work or reputation without explicit confrontation.

3. Manipulative Communication

Covert bullies often engage in manipulative communication tactics. This could involve using passive-aggressive language, vague remarks, or subtle sarcasm that creates tension or confusion. Eye rolling, tutting, and smirking are all forms of passive-aggression meant to undermine or make you feel stupid.

I’ve done a video on ‘How to spot and deal with a PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE boss or co-worker’ – so I recommend checking that out for more information.

This type of behaviour might seem harmless on the surface but can convey disrespect or hostility. Watch for indirect or ambiguous communication patterns that make you feel uncomfortable or uneasy.

4. Spreading Rumours or Gossip

Another insidious form of covert bullying is spreading rumours or gossip about a colleague. This behaviour aims to tarnish someone’s reputation, create distrust, or manipulate perceptions within the workplace.

Watch for consistent circulation of negative information or rumours about an individual that lacks factual basis and may be intended to harm their reputation.

Spreading rumours and using others to spread rumours is a common tactic used by narcissists. They like to manipulate others to do their dirty work. We refer to the people who do the bidding of a narcissist in this way as flying monkeys. I’ve discussed that in previous videos, which you can watch on my YouTube channel.

5. Microaggressions

Microaggressions are subtle, often unintentional, yet impactful verbal or non-verbal communications that convey discriminatory or biased messages toward individuals based on their race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or other personal characteristics.

These seemingly small, casual remarks or actions can undermine a person’s sense of belonging, creating a hostile or unwelcoming environment.

Whether it’s a backhanded compliment, a stereotypical assumption, or a dismissive behaviour, microaggressions can have a profound cumulative effect, chipping away at an individual’s confidence and well-being over time.

Recognising and addressing microaggressions is crucial for fostering an inclusive workplace where everyone feels respected and valued for who they are without the burden of facing subtle forms of discrimination in their daily interactions.

In a professional setting, microaggressions can manifest as comments, gestures, or behaviours that, while seemingly innocuous, carry underlying biases or prejudices.

These can range from making assumptions about someone’s abilities based on appearance to constantly mispronouncing a colleague’s name.

Despite being subtle and often unintentional, these actions perpetuate stereotypes, create discomfort, and contribute to a sense of otherness for those targeted.

Addressing microaggressions involves raising awareness, fostering open dialogue, and creating a culture where individuals feel empowered to call out and address these subtle yet harmful behaviours, ultimately contributing to a more respectful and inclusive workplace environment.

The Wrap-up

Recognising the different forms of covert bullying is essential for creating a supportive and inclusive workplace environment and protecting yourself and others.

Unfortunately, as I’ve said in every video and article I’ve written on bullying:

Bullies build themselves up by putting others down.

By being attentive to these types of behavioural patterns, nipping undesirable behaviour in the bud and setting firm boundaries, we can help foster a culture that values respect, inclusivity, and zero tolerance for any form of harassment.

Nobody comes to work to be bullied, and every company has a duty of care to its employees, ensuring not only their physical safety but their psychological safety.

Identifying and addressing covert bullying ensures everyone feels respected, valued, and safe in the workplace.

What Next?

In the extended YouTube version of this article, I discuss ways of dealing with covert bullying. You can watch it here.

I’ve lots more videos on the topic of toxic work environments, so please have a look at those. I don’t want to keep repeating myself, so it’s definitely worth watching some of my recent videos on the topic of narcissism and bullying in the workplace.

This topic came from a viewer. I love getting your feedback. It helps me know what’s important to you. So, if there’s something you’d like me to cover, leave it in the comments section below, and I’ll add it to the list.

As always, please remember to like, comment, subscribe, and hit that notification bell (if you’re over on YouTube) so you don’t miss a thing.

Finally, thank you for your continued support.

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