Is It Rude, Mean, or Bullying Behavior?
There is a real need to draw a distinction between behavior that is rude, behavior that is mean, and behavior that is characteristic of bullying.
- Rude = Inadvertently saying or doing something that hurts someone else. Incidents of rudeness are usually spontaneous, unplanned inconsideration, based on thoughtlessness, poor manners, or narcissism, but not meant to actually hurt someone.
- Mean = Purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice). The main distinction between “rude” and “mean” behavior has to do with intention; while rudeness is often unintentional, mean behavior very much aims to hurt someone. Sometimes mean comes in the form of “humor.”
- Bullying = Intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power. Experts agree that bullying entails three key elements: an intent to harm, a power imbalance, and repeated acts or threats of aggressive behavior. Bullying may be physical, verbal, relational, or carried out via technology. An imbalance of power can be as simple as being a member of the majority in the congregation, being with a group of supportive friends, against someone who is not in the majority or is alone. Religious professionals and staff are not immune from bullying or being bullied. (Source: Whitson, Signe. “Rude Vs. Mean Vs. Bullying: Defining the Differences.”
Most of us have experienced it. Bullying can happen in committee meetings, on our boards, within our staff teams, and even between laity and staff (in either direction).
Thom Rainer talks about common traits of people who bully others in congregations:
They do not recognize themselves as potential bullies. On the contrary, they see themselves as necessary heroes sent to save the congregation from its own self.
They have personal and self-serving agendas. They have determined what “their” congregation should look like. Any person or ministry or program that is contrary to their perceived ideal congregation must be eliminated.
They are famous for saying “people are saying.” They love to gather tidbits of information and shape it to their own agendas.
They find their greatest opportunities in low-expectation congregations. Many of the members have an entitlement view of congregational membership, and the congregation requires little of them for inclusion. (Low expectation congregations are those that have few limits on behavior and that have low bars for involvement and inclusion.)
They seek to get their own needs and preferences fulfilled. They, therefore, won’t trouble themselves to confront and deal with other bullies. That leads to the next issue, which is a consequence of this point.
They are allowed to bully because members will not address their behavior. Religious professionals and lay leaders who have been attacked by bullies report that, while the bully brings them great pain, they have even greater hurt because most of the church members stood silent and let it happen.
They create chaos and wreak havoc. A bully always has their next mission. While they may take a brief break from one bullying mission to the next, they are not content unless they are exerting the full force of their manipulative behavior.
They often move to other congregations after they have done their damage. Whether they are forced out or simply get bored, they will move to other churches with the same bullying mission. Some bullies have wreaked havoc in three or more congregations. (Rainer, Thom S. “Nine Traits of Church Bullies.”
Further Resources on Bullying Behavior
- Tolerating Bad Behavior in Church from Congregational Consulting