Identifying Workplace Bullies
Leveling the playing field
The purpose of this website is to make it a fair fight between bullies and their targets. I created it because I'm tired of seeing skilled manipulators take advantage of honest, well-intentioned subordinates and co-workers. These targets of bullying aren’t fools or doormats, but merely uninformed about the crafty ways of bullies who have spent a lifetime refining their dark arts.
Although much of the material on this website is geared towards office workers, it’s relevance is far-reaching. If you’re struggling to deal with an aggressive person in a structured environment, there is very little that won’t be useful in your attempts to cope with your situation.
Classic bully types
Four better-known aggressive personality types are commonly labeled as bullies in the workplace:
Obvious bullies in the workplace
- Easily triggered screamer
- Pushy obnoxious jerk
- Micromanaging control freak
- Arrogant self-righteous know-it-all
The stereotypical bully is a nasty, arrogant boss who is habitually critical, dominating and controlling. His overt aggression makes him easy to spot and easy to understand, though not necessarily any easier to deal with. But at least you’re not alone: others usually recognize him as a bully. They may not aid in your struggle, but at least they are not ganging up against you at the behest of the bully, or quietly undermining your attempts to fight back.
Complex and dangerous bullies
More dangerous is the skilled workplace bully. He combines two or more of these aggressive personality types, then cleverly disguises his true nature under an image of success and leadership.
Once you have suffered at the hands of a skilled bully, you are more likely to understand his true character. Typically, he is highly ambitious. To achieve his goals, he needs the cooperation of others; however, he doesn’t believe in fair exchange. Instead, he charms others for the purpose of controlling them and uses camaraderie to encourage loyalty. If necessary, he exploits weaknesses in others to change their behavior.
At the same time, he preaches teamwork and professes company values to enhance his reputation, or pretends to pursue company goals to boost his power. He is a master manipulator, constantly using stealth and deception to influence the thinking of those around him. And he does all this while intimidating, undermining and slandering everyone who stands in the way of his self-serving ambitions. With a skilled bully, nothing is ever as it appears.
The greatest challenge: covert bullies
Although it can be difficult to defend yourself against an obvious bully, it is usually a far greater challenge to deal with a well-disguised bully. We will focus our attention on these charming and powerful manipulators who attempt to bring you under their control by employing a broad spectrum of bullying strategies and techniques. My goal is prepare you for the worst type of bullying, and then if your nemesis turns out to be a weaker or less effective workplace bully, it should be easier to neutralize him.
“Victim” is a popular term to describe someone who suffers from a workplace bully’s aggression. However, anyone can apply techniques to avoid victimization at the hands of a bully. You may be a target of bullying, but you don’t have to become a victim.
Who are workplace bullies’ targets?
Although anyone may be targeted by a workplace bully, he typically chooses people who are currently under his authority, or who offer some type of weakness that he can exploit.
Being a boss means responsibility and power, including power over subordinates. This naturally provides opportunities to intimidate, manipulate and dominate others. When the boss is a bully, he exploits the situation. If he is ambitious, he believes he can better achieve his career goals through controlling his subordinates.
But a bully may also manipulate others who can contribute to his advancement, from the newest employee who unknowingly spreads malicious rumors, to the president of the company who falls for the bully’s clever deceptions.
Anyone who comes in contact with a workplace bully may become a target of his bullying, although he usually saves his worst behavior for those closest to him.
What do workplace bullies want?
Power and success
Most bullies have an intense desire to control others. This usually arises from a self-centered, self-absorbed drive to gain power and prestige, and career and financial success.
Well-adjusted people may have a similar single-minded purpose, but know they must achieve success through integrity and fair exchange with others. Their honest character demands it. But bullies, in their distorted value system, somehow feel they can only achieve great things by manipulating, intimidating or otherwise forcing others to submit to their will.
A bully may also have an insatiable hunger for ego gratification, which causes him to constantly strive to be admired and respected, or even feared, by others. An ego-hungry bully wants to be honored for his achievements, to be recognized as wise and strong.
Some workplace bullies enjoy dominating others. They get an ego-boost from the experience of cleverly manipulating people into complying with their desires. Afterwards, they bask in their intellectual superiority and political savvy, perhaps telling stories of their victories over uncooperative peers and subordinates.
Lord and master
Ultimately, a highly successful bully finds personal fulfillment in exercising power over others within the competitive environment of the workplace, where he has become lord of all he surveys.
What can you do about it?
If you are like most people, you will find yourself powerless around a clever bully. He has mastered the game of workplace politics and skillfully exploits others to his advantage. Any attempts to resist his aggression will cause the situation to deteriorate.
Even worse, you may strike back out of frustration or anger, potentially ruining your job situation, or even your career. Out-of-control confrontations with a bully, or chronic complaining about the bullying, typically destroys any chance of your life returning to normal.
Years of turmoil
Alternatively, you could work through established channels within the system, such as filing a formal complaint with the human resources department. You may even consider engaging in whistle-blowing and lawsuits. However, these approaches tend to backfire, putting you and your family through months or years of financial and career turmoil, often with an unfortunate conclusion.
But there is an alternative, more self-reliant approach. By carefully applying the strategies and techniques described on this website, you can learn to effectively deal with bullies.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get a bully fired and yourself promoted. Success is better defined as your ability to resist the bullying and maintain peace of mind, knowing you are standing firmly against inappropriate behavior. Then if you leave your current job--often more likely than the bully getting fired--you will still find that you are in control of your own destiny.
Getting the bully fired
Not that you can’t get a bully fired. I have personally seen several workplace bullies lose their jobs. In every case, the targets of bullying used techniques found on this website to help expose the undesirable characteristics of their nemesis. Once upper management recognized the bullying, they were smart enough to understand the resulting harm to employee morale and productivity (and thus company profits), causing them to terminate the bullies. A happy ending in these cases, though not before some serious challenges for the targets.
Unfortunately, these success stories are in the minority, particularly within companies that tend to encourage and reward aggressiveness over teamwork. Thus if you are seeking revenge against a bully, you will likely be disappointed.
Taking the high road
Above all else, you don’t need to sacrifice your own integrity and character to play this game. On the contrary, you have the opportunity take the high road in your dealings with workplace bullies. Without ever compromising your character, you can acquire an understanding of the bully, and then apply various people skills and communication techniques that can be very powerful in his extreme world of workplace politics. That is true success--though it may not seem that way if the bully gets you fired.
Level playing field
Wouldn’t it be great if more people could identify workplace bullies? Wouldn’t you like to see everyone recognize underhanded, manipulative, destructive, self-serving behaviors? On this leveled playing field, bullies could no longer act without fear of exposure and termination. They would be forced to use honest, straightforward teamwork and cooperation to achieve their ambitions, or go to another company where reality isn’t quite so dominant.
But until that happens, you will need to learn to fight back so you don’t become another victim of workplace bullying.