You can hardly turn on the tv or pick up a newspaper these days without seeing or reading about the increase in bullying at work, at school, in homes and out in public.

Why? I call it “the food chain of bullying.”

When people are under stress, they often take it out on the people around them. And with today’s layoffs, foreclosures and disappearing 401K’s, a lot of people are under stress.

The good news is, you can take action to keep bullies from making you their next target.

First step is to figure out whether the difficult person in your personal or professional life qualifies as a bully.
Is he or she difficult once in a while . . . or all the time?

Take the following questionnaire to see if you’re dealing with someone who’s “just having a bad day” or someone who consistently mistreats others to get his/her own way.

To keep these posts short, I’ve divided up the questionnaire into three sections (or you can access the whole thing by going directly to

The Characteristics of a Control Freak – Verbal Bully Checklist
by Sam Horn, author of Tongue Fu! and Take the Bully by the Horns

Is someone making your life miserable? To know how best to deal with that person; it’s important to determine if he or she is actually a bully . . .or if they’re just going through a rough time and taking their stress out on anyone unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity.

On a scale of 1 – 5 (with 1 being never, 3 being sometimes, and 5 being most of the time); ask yourself how often the difficult person in your life exhibits the following behaviors.

1. Dissonance. Psychologists agree that one of the primary indicators of a troubled person is incongruent behavior. Dave Barry said, “Someone who is nice to you and nasty to the waiter is not a nice person.”

Someone who is kind to you and cruel to others is not who he or she seems. Someone who makes racist remarks and then tries to laugh them off is revealing his or her true character (or lack of). Someone who says s/he loves children but seems remote or rigid when around them is displaying dissonance — defined as “inconsistency between one’s beliefs and one’s actions.” What this means is that you cannot take this person at his or her word. Everything they say will be suspect because you won’t know when they’re telling the truth and when they’re not.

2. Bitterness. Does this person have a lot of animosity for his or her parents or previous managers? Please understand you will be reliving and working out the unresolved traumas of this individual’s childhood and prior work relationships. You’ve heard the Zen saying, “Wherever you go, there you are?” This person hasn’t yet figured out that his or her source of bitterness is internal, not external. If this individual is lugging around deep-seated resentments, it is only a matter of time before s/he starts accusing you of the same “crimes” former significant others supposedly perpetrated upon him or her.

3. Twists words. Does this person take what you say and turn it into something you didn’t mean? Do you sometimes feel on the defensive and don’t even know why? Does this person obfuscate – make confusing statements and then accuse you of misunderstanding? Bullies often make commitments and then claim they never made them in the first place. This is a crazy-making ploy designed to turn you inside-out so you don’t know what’s up.

Any of these behaviors sound familiar? If so, check back in 3 days for 3 more tell-tale signs of a tryant . . . .