Newsflash: You may be a relationship bully.

I sat in a meeting the other day where a whole bunch of ideas were going around. The frustration in the room made me think I was in the Stone Age. It’s like the Chief Neanderthal said, ”I want you go get me a rock.” And his Neanderthal team said, “What kind of rock?”

  • Chief: “I don’t know, a rock. You know what a rock looks like.” So the team goes and brings back a rock.
  • Chief: “Ah, not that rock. I don’t like that kind of rock.”
  • Team: “Well, what kind of rock do you want?”
  • Chief: “I don’t know. I’ll know it when I see it.”

It becomes exhausting for the team to constantly go out there and look for rocks for the chief. Back in that meeting, the boss was being a relationship bully.

I got to thinking about the signs I’ve observed that indicates there’s a relationship bully in the house. It could be you. Here are fifteen clues:

  1. Nobody around the table argues or debates when you are in the room.
  2. If debate does take place, you are very clear about naming winners and losers. Somebody goes away feeling defeated.
  3. You don’t conduct pre-mortems—the kind of the advance planning that considers all the ways an initiative could fail. Instead, you spend an unbelievable amount of energy on post-mortem, with a specific person at fault. That’s unrealistic. One person can easily be a piece of a problem, but very rarely is one person the only problem.
  4. You see the world through tunnel vision. You latch on to an idea or perspective and everybody around you must align with it. (See Clues 1 and 2, above.)
  5. You think you are by far the smartest person in the room. Nobody else could possibly come up with a way to improve your idea? Really?
  6. You never admit that you’ve made a mistake. (See Clues 1 and 2, and 4.)
  7. No one has ever heard you apologize to anybody. Heads up: The words “I’m sorry, please forgive me” are incredibly powerful. If these are not in your repertoire, see Clues 1, 2, 4, and 6.
  8. Nobody ever brings you bad news. How is that possible? You tell me there is no bad news in your company? You’ve created a situation where people fear you. Bully!
  9. Everybody hates working for you. You may deliver results, but you don’t earn respect or admiration.
  10. You label others who don’t see things your way. If you hear yourself saying, “So and so is just a nag,” or “he’s a naysayer,” or “she’s is incompetent,” or “they’re never going to take chances over there,” you are showing your talent for shutting out people who push back on your perspective. See Clues 1, 2, 4, 6 and 7.
  11. You are shocked when things don’t work. “How could that be? Why didn’t anybody tell me?” Could it be because you bite their heads off? See Clues—by now, you get my point.
  12. You get joy out of highlighting others’ failures. If words like “I could have told you” come out of your mouth—re-read this list.
  13. Your leadership team never disagrees with you. No devil’s advocate in the room? It’s likely you have created a culture of fear. What retribution befell those who disagreed with you in the past?
  14. Your net-new relationships aren’t growing. Why? Because you’re not approachable. Who would want to be in a relationship with you?
  15. You eat alone. You are literally not interested in socializing with others—and they wouldn’t want to eat with you, either. See Clues 1 through 14.

In other realms of your life—your home, your children’s school—you draw the line at bullying. It’s time you recognized it is not okay at work, either. Denial is your first challenge. If you see yourself in any of these clues, you need to get yourself some coaching. An assessment of what is really happening is a good place to start. Make sure it’s not situational—we’ve all done some of these behaviors at some point. But if an independent assessment reveals a pattern, you’ve got to address the problem.

All of us can learn to lead with empathy. You can start by learning to listen louder. If you are not focusing your effort on thinking about telling others what to do, it’s amazing what you’ll hear.

Nour Takeaways:

1. If you see yourself in the picture I’ve painted of a relationship bully, get an independent assessment along with some coaching,

2. Start exercising your empathy muscle. Try walking in others’ shoes, seeing your world through their lens.

3. Become more intentional about listening to others—where they’re coming from, what they’re trying to accomplish, how you can help.


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