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Workplace Bullying: Characteristics Bullies Look For and Why They Bully

Workplace Bullying, Characteristics Bullies Look For
© Feng Yu |

People bully for many reasons, whether it be school bullying, cyber-bullying, or workplace bullying. While there are more than likely as many reasons why people bully others as there are number of people, there are some generally recognized main reasons to take a look at. Before we look at the reasons why people bully others, let’s take a moment and look at some of the consequences of being bullied.

Bullying causes emotional, physical and psychological problems in people who victims of bullying. According to an article titled WBI Survey: Workplace Bullying Health Impact on the Workplace Bullying Institute website, the top 15 health and psychological problems (listed from most frequent to least frequent) that are caused by workplace bullying include:

  • Anticipation of next negative event
  • Overwhelming anxiety
  • Sleep disruption
  • Loss of concentration or memory
  • Uncontrollable mood swings
  • States of agitation or anger
  • Pervasive sadness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Insomnia
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Obsession over personal circumstances
  • Intrusive thoughts (flashbacks, nightmares)
  • Loss of affect (flat emotional responses)
  • Depression (diagnosed)
  • Migraine headaches

All of these health and psychological problems have a basis in stress. The higher the amount of stress you experience, the more of these problems you will most likely experience. Unfortunately, the health and psychological effects of bullying don’t stop there. A lesser recognized result of the high stress caused by bullying is the exacerbation of some existing conditions, including:

  • Irritable Bowel Disorder
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Sexual Dysfunction

Now that we have reviewed some of the more common physical and psychological problems bullying often causes, let’s move forward to discovering the reasons people bully others at work. Workplace bullies use five basic bullying tactics to achieve their goal. These tactics are:

  1. Manipulates through seduction – Promises friendship, respect, career advancement, and financial rewards in the hope that you will do everything you can to ensure the success and acceptance that only he or she can make happen. Keep in mind that this person will only deliver on his or her promises when it benefits them, not you.
  2. Intimidates through verbal aggression – Uses verbal aggression to intimidate others into compliance. Angry outbursts are a weapon and threats of failure, the use of guilt, and shame are used to appeal to your sense of duty. Any resistance on your part sends him or her into vehement argument. If this person thinks you need to be taught a lesson, he or she will embarrass you in front of coworkers.
  3. Political gamesmanship – Constantly works to build his or her power base by building alliances within the company and undermining anyone who opposes or does not support him. This person gathers information that is damaging to his opponents or blames them for every failure; subtle, negative phrasing to demean opponents and make them weak; and seeks to control more company resources so fewer resources are available for their rival.
  4. Plays mind games to distort others’ thinking – Creates an alternate reality in the minds of everyone around him or her; keeps people off-balance by using half-truths, hearsay and misstatements; intentionally gives distorted version of events in an effort to obscure and confuse; intentionally misleads to cause people to arrive at incorrect conclusions; and exposes any mistaken opinions as proof of ignorance or unreliability.
  5. Disguises true intentions and emotions – Puts on a good act to gain trust and respect while never revealing his or her self-serving and often harmful, to others, intentions. This type of person conceals innermost attitudes and emotions which are self-absorbed and disrespectful of others. He or she will keep up an image of strength, vision and leadership while avoiding exposure of their underhanded, manipulative nature.

Understanding the bullying tactics people use to bully others is an important step in understanding why people bully others at work. We need to take this examination of why people bully others a step further and discover the reasons people bully others. In an article titled How a Bully Targets, Life After Adult Bullying takes a look at some of the reasons people bully others at work:

  • Wrong place at the wrong time – Bullies are predatory and opportunistic, often taking advantage of a situation just because they can.
  • Envy or jealousy – Bullies may feel envious or jealous of another person’s expertise in an area they feel inadequate in, quality of work is above their own, or they are not as good at their job as you are.
  • Feel threatened – Bullies often feel threatened when their perceived power base is threatened or undermined either by the boss or a coworker. They may also feel threatened by how long a coworker has been at their job or by how popular a coworker is.
  • Fear of exposure – Bullies are afraid of their inadequacy and incompetence, either as an individual or an employee, being exposed. Your presence, popularity or competence often unknowingly or unwittingly fuels that fear of exposure.

An article on the Workplace Bullying Institute website titled Who Gets Targeted: Why Me? presents a list of some of the characteristics bullies look for in a target and why bullies target their victims. This list of characteristics includes:

  • Independent – Bullies like to enslave their targets. If the target refuses to be subservient to the bully and takes steps to keep their dignity and their right to be treated with respect, bullies escalate their campaign of hatred and intimidation to take control over their work away from the target.
  • More Technically Skilled – Everyone goes to this person because of their technical skills or because they are the go-to person new employees turn to for guidance. Insecure bosses and coworkers cannot stand to share credit with anyone else for recognition of talent and often steal credit from their more skilled targets.
  • Better Liked – These people have more social skills, are more friendly, often possess greater emotional intelligence and are more popular than the workplace bully. Everyone, from customer to management, appreciates the warmth these people bring to the workplace than do the bullies and their sponsors or cohorts.
  • Ethical and Honest – Maybe the target is a whistle-blower exposing fraudulent practices; every whistle-blower is bullied. Targets are not generally schemers or slimy con artists and tend to be guileless. The most easily exploited target is one who possesses a desire to help, heal, teach, develop, and nurture others.
  • Non-Confrontational – This person does not respond to aggression with aggression; they possess a moral superiority that the bully hates. The price the victim pays for appearing submissive to the bully is the bully is able to act with impunity as long as the employer does nothing to stop the bullying behavior.

Understanding bullying tactics and the characteristics a bully looks for in a target can help you minimize any bullying you are the victim of. No one should be the victim of bullying but, knowing what to do and what bullying tactics to be on guard against can help make your workplace a place you want to be.

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