Work Bullies: Debunking Some Myths About Why People Bully
While most of us don’t spend much time thinking about how to make another person’s life miserable, work bullies do. If you’re being bullied in the workplace, or know someone who is, you may have tried to comprehend, “What makes a person a bully?”
Knowing why work bullies act as they do can be helpful in understanding that the problem is truly them, not you. However, don’t let yourself get too caught up in sympathy. You need to focus your attention on coping with the bully, not in figuring him out.
With that word of caution, let’s explore some myths about why people bully…
Myth: Work bullies feel superior to their targets. They believe they are better, smarter or more attractive than their target and want others to see that, too.
Reality: Bullies feel inferior to their targets and often to others in the workplace.
They may lack an appreciation of their skills and the positive aspects of their own personality. Often, the people who bully have been bullied themselves. As a result, their feelings of low self-worth were so strong that they in fact shut down their feelings in order to survive. They may not know how to have a caring relationship with anyone, including themselves!
Surprisingly, work bullies often see their target as having strengths they want…
Quiet self-confidence, an ability to get along with others, kindness and generosity–all these qualities may be prized by a bully. While it’s hard for the target to believe, the bully is often trying to gain the target’s positive attributes for him or herself.
Myth: Bullies work on the fringe of the workplace culture, because their bullying behavior is unacceptable.
Reality: Many places of work consciously or unconsciously endorse, perhaps even encourage, bullying behavior.
Think of the workplace that places a high premium on “getting the job done, no matter how long we have to stay here,” or encourages workers to continually subordinate family to work. What about the workplace that says it “values cooperation,” but actually rewards competition?
These are all examples of work situations in which bullies thrive.
In these environments, work bullies can indulge their worst behavior–finding fault, setting unrealistic goals and even aggression–and get away with it.
Management may be wary of standing up to the bully for fear of losing the bully’s performance, not knowing that it’s not an either/or situation. Companies can have bully-free workplaces and have high performance.
Myth: “If I try harder, or be nicer, I can get the bully to change.”
Reality: A target’s first duty is to realize the bullying behavior for what it is. The bully has a low self image, and this has nothing to do with the target.
Understanding this fact and refusing to take the behavior personally can be difficult, but once targets accept this, they can move to bully proofing themselves so that the effects of the bullying are not so devastating.
Bottom line, work bullies need to control others. Where the average person finds satisfaction in getting a job done, bullies try to seek power for their own sake.
In our eBook “Bully Free at Work,” we often talk about the importance of recognizing that you are being bullied for this reason. Nothing you can do will please the bully. Start bully proofing yourself. Bullying says more about bullies and their shortcomings than about you and your inadequacies.
Valerie Cade, Founder
Bully Free at Work