The Bully

Who are the bullies?

Ken Rigby’s research into school bullying reveals two types of bullies, the malicious and the non-malicious. The same types go to work. The secret is to remind ourselves that most people can bully or be bullied!

The serial bully:

  • Psychopath, sociopath or anti-social personality disorder.
  • Bully instinctively.
  • 1% of the population are psychopaths (less women).
  • 3-4% have an anti-social personality disorder.
  • Refer: Tim Field, John Clarke, Robert Hare.

Ordinary people:

  • They bully under certain conditions, eg achieve their goals, survive, seek promotion, impress their manager, avoid confrontation, jealous, can get away with it, copy others, join the mob, insecure, poor management skills, new to the role, belong to a boy’s club or women’s clique, enabled by nepotism.
  • There’s limited research about ordinary bullies who theoretically do 96% of bullying.
  • Most employees who bully don’t realise that their toxic behaviours are harmful, humiliating and unproductive.
  • They don’t wish to hurt targets consciously.
  • Some experience real emotional distress when confronted.
  • Some can be bullied and bully in turn.
  • Most ordinary bullies don’t realise that they achieve more by being respectful and fair than employing passive or aggressive power games.
  • Some are set up as payback or manipulated to bully. Refer:  Dr Laura Crawshaw. (see below)

Few bullies are:

  • Investigated from a historical perspective (previous bullying or previous jobs).
  • Investigated from a systemic perspective (who else is being bullied by them at work).
  • Have their performance appraisals compared to their staff relationships.
  • Checked against witness reports or videotaped.
  • Referred for a psychiatric/psychological referral (unlike their targets).
  • Given coaching to improve their behaviours as most of them can reduce their bullying behaviours.

Some reasons why bullying occurs and why bullies get away with it:

  • If you need to belong to a group, you’re expected to follow the leader regardless of whether they are respectful or disrespectful, competent or incompetent.
  • If a leader wants everyone to treat others with respect and dignity, they must create a co-operative, collaborative work climate.
  • If the leader is a bully or condones bullying, everyone follows, thereby creating an adversarial, aggressive or passive aggressive culture.
  • Like the animal world, a tribe is threatened by vulnerable members. They remind them of their own survival needs and fears. These vulnerable members threaten or handicap the tribe’s survival. Thus, people fear, reject and despise others who show vulnerability.
  • Most people follow the majority. Few people have the guts to stand up and say ‘this is not fair, you cannot treat another human being like this‘ (Refer Stanley Milgram, Philip Zimbardo).
  • People who challenge unethical behaviours, fraud, work difficulties, or try to make suggestions to improve their workplace, upset many management systems, which prefer to remain dysfunctional and maintain the prevailing power and group culture.
  • Employees who show their shock, fear, anger and distress threaten bullies, managers, human resources, etc.
  • Targets give their power to bullies because they think they will be  safe if they complain and won’t be injured.
  • Many targets don’t take action to protect themselves when they should. They believe that they will receive justice at work, (even though sometimes they see that others are also treated without due respect) then they are shocked when they don’t receive justice.
  • By the time many targets act, it is too late, they are injured or their organization fights back, fearing liability and exposure of their incompetent management structure.
  • Most employees work for organizations who value adversarial styles of management, few work for organizations that value collaborative leadership, who work together to resolve all types of conflicts or differences of opinion.

How can the bully be affected?

  • Become extremely upset, hurt and defensive.
  • Hate being labelled a bully, ashamed at exposure, deny their behaviours.
  • May be wrongly blamed by a manipulative, over-sensitive target.
  • Lack prosocial skills, so become more aggressive and disruptive.
  • Angry at being blamed for doing what they’ve always done or did unconsciously because they were under pressure or following company role models.
  • May blame others, manipulate and lie to cover up their lack of expertise or productivity.
  • Unfairly treated by a faulty dispute resolution system at work.
  • Denied natural justice.
  • Some bullies make it to the top of the ladder, hurting people on their way up. But sometimes they’re toppled. Their bullying behaviours boomerangs back on them!
  • Bullies’ actions are becoming too expensive for some organizations to correct, they’re less likely to be tolerated and protected in the future.
  • Families may reject a bully’s aggression and payback eg an expensive divorce.
  • Many can’t release their anger in healthy, assertive ways, (possibly Type A’s) (may be more prone to heart attacks).

Can bullies change ?

According to Dr Laura Crashaw, ( only a very small percentage of bullies won’t alter their abusive, abrasive behaviours. Bullies may be insensitive, but not stupid, they can change their behaviours when they want to keep their job.

However, while they need to be made accountable for their abusive behaviours, they need to be treated with respect, provided with feedback/ coaching/training/ counselling while their employer needs to redesign its toxic systems and replace them with collaborative, restorative ones.

Bad apples

Sometimes a group will change their behaviours and upset the whole organization. Then they need to be let go. Refer

Evelyn M. Field, OAM is available for consultation by phone, Skype or FaceTime.
Please call: (03) 9525 0555 or email: to make an appointment.

The Bully