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The Fine Line Between Bullying and Strong Management

By: Kevin Watson MSc - Updated: 29 May 2016 | comments*Discuss
Bullying Strong Management Trainers

There’s a growing interest in the UK about management styles. Many organisations want their senior staff to exhibit a strong management approach. They feel this is the only way to successfully pull through hard economic times. But strong management can easily spill over into Bullying. Not all managers realise this. They take the view that they are being abrupt and tough out of necessity.

Staff, however, can feel harassed and treated badly. They become demoralised. They start looking for employment elsewhere.A lot of consultants and trainers are now focusing on this problem. They offer advice to managers on identifying the fine line between bullying and strong management.


Surveys show that most people believe they know what constitutes bullying or strong management. This clarity, however, isn’t necessarily objective. Personal circumstances and opinions often dictate what people believe. An objective definition of bullying is as follows: it is the use of superior influence or strength to intimidate. The purpose of this intimidation is to force someone to do something.

At work, a manager has a position of superior influence over his or her staff. The definition of a bullying manager is one who abuses this position to intimidate staff.

There are many examples of such abuse. They include:

These forms of bullying are obvious and aggressive. There are also many subtler forms of bullying. Among these are:

  • Ignoring people for promotion
  • Needlessly reviewing someone’s work
  • Addressing people by their job title or grade rather than by name
  • Sending intimidating or hurtful emails or text messages. This form of bullying is know as Cyber Bullying

Strong Management

In contrast, strong management is direct and clear. Managers explain what they want done. They listen to staff feedback even if they don’t act on it. Strong managers have no need to make threats or to intimidate. They expect staff to meet reasonable demands and to do their jobs.

With strong managers, staff know where they stand. Staff may not like what is happening; but they understand why it is happening.


These definitions of bullying and strong management work well in theory. In practice, there’s a problem. The ingrained attitudes of managers and staff blur the actual or perceived line between bullying and strong management. In these circumstances, consultants and trainers propose ways of tackling bullying by encouraging strong management.

The main responsibility for a strong management style, for instance, lies with the head of an organisation. The chief executive, or his or her equivalent, must lead by example. This example must engender respect. For any chief executive who wants to create a culture of strong management, respect is the most effective tool. By encouraging respect in every area of work, a chief executive can eliminate much day-to-day bullying. But openness must accompany respect. Managers need to use an open style of communication. They must explain to staff why they have to do things in a certain way.

This doesn’t mean that managers needn’t be firm with staff. In fact, it is easier to be firm when staff fully understand a situation.

The other key proposal from consultants and trainers is confrontation. Everyone who is aware of bullying must confront it.

This can be difficult for staff to do and managers must therefore take the lead. They should look out for bullying behaviour among their colleagues. They must then address this behaviour head-on and insist that their organisations are no place for bullies.

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I recetnly quit my accommodation job because of the things that were going on in my workplace. One of my supervisor broke health and safety rules and does not keep conversations confidential. She uses bad language and comes up with nasty punishments if someone forgets to do something or the room isnt done perfectly to satisfy her. One day she crossed the line after getting a complaint about someone because of sheets on the bed not being done tight enough she threatened all staff that if they leave the room without doing their bed perfectly she will fire them also at the end of her vulgar speech she said "get out of my sight before i kill ye all' in an angry irritated voice. I quit my job and i don't want to leave it this way as when i talked to my employer it doesnt seem like her threatening us is a big problem to him.
Pixallie - 29-May-16 @ 7:31 PM
I currently work for Caterplus in the UK and I have been bullied by two smiling, unpleasant individuals within the past year. By a manager, other times by the head cook. My advice to anyone is to stand your ground, specifically if you work your socks off while they attempt to shift your designated free days. People like this are utterly clueless and expect you to not plan your personal life. Leaving will happen and what a relief it will be.
ZoomText10 - 12-Jan-16 @ 6:29 PM
My manager is a bullie she constant slaggs all her workers off she breaks private conversation with other staff when its personal when can I do to stop it please
nelly - 30-Mar-14 @ 12:07 AM
I have currently started with a fairly big company which i will not name, but after our training two team leaders were chosen one is lovely good with the team and good with customers the other is obnoxious and big headed but the way he deals with complaints is unnecessary and handles majority of complaints with the statement that the staff need retraining or aren't up to scratch even though he has had the same training as us is this classed as bullying at work ?he also makes irrelevant jokes to other team members about certain team members about there work ethic but never faces them to work on or clarify the problems.
tjc93 - 21-Jun-13 @ 11:37 PM
Im a manager of a restaurant I'm a strong person and confident in what I do, Ive joined a team who have been working badly in the restaurant for many years, and have changed alot in the restaurant, the old staff members dont like it, I like things done a certain way, but the staff members pick it up wrong and one member claimed I was bullying her, even though she came back, things arent getting any better, and i feel that i am always fighting for myself, is this the difference of strong management and bullying?
sormay - 5-Mar-13 @ 3:31 PM
good day; I amworking part time. I have noticed; The last couple of schedules I have not been considered any days off. Because of the industry I work in I can and may be called off on any given day. When I look at the schedule I am the only one who has not been given any designated days off. I find this difficult to plan appointments and my personal life. Is this a norm? I woill appreciate any answeres. Thank-you
loni - 29-Jan-13 @ 7:17 PM
Strong management, who thought this little escape route up. Typical stiff upper lip from the united kindom. This is so sad. There is a policy that states there should be no doubt in anyones mind that bullying in any shape or forum will not be tolerated. My policy and there is no manager getting away with using that line. Management models need to be reviewed as only bad managers would have to implement strong management. I should say strong management techniques are bullying. End bullying now.
Babyblu - 14-Sep-11 @ 8:02 AM
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