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Bully in the Workplace: Learn to Read the Bully’s Body Language

A good actor is skilled in using his or her body language to create a character. Al Pacino uses bold gestures and abrupt movements to portray the head of a crime family in “The Godfather.” Tom Hanks’ body language reveals both firmness and gentleness to create the sympathetic army officer in “Saving Private Ryan.” Helen Mirren makes us believe she is “The Queen” by using subtle gestures and erect posture. Sarah Jessica Parker’s hip-swinging, carefree walk convinces us that she’s the embodiment of thirtysomething fun in “Sex and the City.”

However you look at it, every person uses body language to express themselves, whether or not they’re conscious of doing it. You don’t need to hear what an angry patron is saying to a waiter to know the patron is dissatisfied. You only have to look at the unhappy expression on the patron’s face and how he’s using his hands for emphasis. In the same way, you don’t have to hear a mother comforting a child to know what she’s doing. You only have to look at the softness around the mother’s eyes and the tender way she’s holding the child close to her.

A bully in the workplace also uses body language to express herself. If you’re uncertain about whether or not you’re being bullied, look for these body language signals:

• Eyes: narrowed or very wide. Some people report they can see “coldness” in the eyes of a hostile person.
• Eye contact: little or none. You may notice that the bully maintains eye contact with others but not with you. That is a sign that you’re not important to her or that she wants to make sure you know you’re not important/worthy of notice.
• Mouth: a sneer or a cocky smile. A person who values others shows sincerity in her smile.
• Arms: crossed over chest. This gesture says, “I’m closed to anything you have to say.”
• Body: turned away from you. A person who is giving you his full attention turns his body toward you.
• Gestures: aggressive. Is the bully stabbing the air to make a point, turning away from you before you finish, pointing at you or pounding the desk? These gestures are dead giveaways that a bully is on the loose.

Body language is a powerful tool you can watch to determine whether you have a bully in the workplace. It often communicates a person’s attitude more forcefully than words.

Valerie Cade, Founder
Bully Free Workplace