Targets of workplace bullies can be anyone, anywhere. There is no particularly easy-to-spot pick-me-as-a-target stereotype; however, there are some characteristics that bullies look for in their targets. Not every person with these characteristics will be the target of a bully, but, you are more apt to be targeted if you possess these characteristics. Let’s do a quick review of these five characteristics from Part 4 of the workplace bullying series:
- Independent – Bullies cannot stand independence because they need to control their target; independence is a threat that needs to be met with an increase in hatred and intimidation in order to regain control.
- More Technically Skilled – Anyone more technically skilled than the bully is a threat to their self-perceived role as most-technically-skilled-employee. Targets often are the person new employees turn to for guidance and bullies cannot stand to share credit with anyone else who shows talent. Bullies will often find ways to steal the credit from the more skilled target.
- Better Liked – Socially skilled, friendly people are feared by workplace bullies. Friendly coworkers and the warmth these individuals bring to the workplace, are appreciated by everyone from customers to management. This type of coworker is a threat to the less socially skilled bully.
- Ethical and Honest – The most easily exploited target is an individual possessing the desire to help, heal, teach, develop, and nurture others around them. For the most part, targets are not schemers or slimy con artists; most of the time they are guileless. A likely target is one who possesses strong ethics and refuses to let individuals or companies get away with less-than-ethical behaviors. A whistleblower is a good example of this type of target.
- Non-Confrontational – Seemingly submissive behavior when confronted with aggression only encourages a workplace bully to repeat their bullying; meeting aggression with aggression is not how this target operates. The non-confrontational target pays a price for their seemingly submissive behavior. The bully will feel he or she can continue to act with impunity as long as nothing is done, by the employer, to stop the bullying behavior.
Workplace bullies come in all shapes, sizes, and appearances. They also occupy all levels of the workforce. No one type of job or level of responsibility breeds bullies more than any other. We have reviewed the characteristics bullies look for in their targets, and now it’s time to uncover the face of a bully, as outlined by Bully Online in an article titled, Who is a Bully?, and find out what characteristics workplace bullies possess. Remember that not everyone possessing these characteristics is a bully, however, the majority of workplace bullies will have several of the following traits:
- Charismatic – Very self-assured; gives off an impression of being trustworthy and reliable; may occupy an important role; is believed to have done, or be doing, something selfless or of great value, such as charitable work, turning a failing department into a winning one; possesses an air of being untouchable where questioning the actions or decisions of this person is taboo, especially among peers and superiors.
- Deceptive – Compulsive liar who may spontaneously make things up to fit the need of the moment; embellishes stories, on a routine basis, for effect; able to convince superiors and peers by seeming plausible and convincing; portrays him or herself as kind, caring, or compassionate but only behaves so when it leads to personal gain; doesn’t listen or can’t seem to hold a meaningful conversation; is hollow, superficial, and glib; appears to have an overbearing belief in his or her qualities; cannot seem to distinguish between leadership, management, and bullying (can’t distinguish between immaturity and maturity, impulsiveness and decisiveness, aggression and assertiveness, deceitfulness and honesty, etc.); oblivious to the fact that there is a difference between how they think they are seen and how they ARE seen.
- Manipulative – Needs to control everything; positions of power draw them; possesses a subjective sense of right and wrong; projects own shortcomings onto others; uses falsehood and gossip to distort peoples’ perceptions of reality; tells each person something different to cause confusion, disruption, division, and conflict; is selectively friendly/unfriendly and cooperative/uncooperative; people under his or her influence are threatened, either directly in private or indirectly in front of others, with dire consequences if they think or act for themselves; warns targets no one will believe them if they report the bullying.
- Jekyll & Hyde Nature – In front of others is innocent and charming but, in private, are vicious and vindictive.
- Ruthless & Unpleasant – Lacks a conscious or shows no remorse; criticizes others compulsively; is often devious, manipulative, spiteful, or vengeful; when asked to address the needs of others, becomes impatient, irritable, and aggressive; emotionally cold, humorless, or joyless; sex, gender, race, disability, and other personal characteristics trigger inappropriate or unusual attitudes.
Along with characteristics that many bullies possess is a partial list of tactics workplace bullies commonly use. Below is a list, compiled by the Workplace Bullying Institute in an article titled Top 25 Workplace Bullying Tactics, of the top 16 tactics workplace bullies use:
- Falsely accuses person of making errors when errors were not made (71 percent)
- Stared, glared, nonverbally intimidating, showed clear hostility (68 percent)
- Discounts an individual’s thoughts or feelings in meetings (64 percent)
- Uses the “silent treatment” to put distance between self and others (64 percent)
- Indulged in seemingly uncontrollable mood swings in front of others (61 percent)
- Makes up rules on the fly but doesn’t follow them (61 percent)
- Discredited satisfactory or exemplary qualities of completed work despite evidence to the contrary (58 percent)
- Harsh and constant criticism, to the target, for having a different standard (57 percent)
- Started, or failed to stop, destructive rumors or gossip about the target (56 percent)
- Encourages others to turn against the target (55 percent)
- Socially or physically singles out and isolates one person from coworkers (54 percent)
- In public, displays gross, undignified, but not illegal behavior (53 percent)
- Humiliates target by yelling, screaming, throwing tantrums in front of others (53 percent)
- Plagiarized and stole credit for work done by others (47 percent)
- Lied on evaluations about a person’s performance (46 percent)
- Labels target as insubordinate for not following arbitrary commands (46 percent)
Understanding some of the common tactics workplace bullies use allows you a better chance at spotting the workplace bully before they target you. Workplace bullies generally exhibit at least several of five common characteristics. Being aware of these characteristics before you run up against them, can give you strength to resist bullying tactics. No one likes bullies whether they are at home, on the school grounds, or at work. Long-term stress from being subjected to workplace bullying can have you feeling like you are going crazy. Rest assured, you are not going crazy.
In Part 4 of this Workplace Bullying series, we looked at the characteristics a bully looks for in a victim and why they bully. In this article, we looked at what the face of a bully looks like. In Part 6, we will take our first look at the Serial Bully, find out who they are, what a serial bully looks like, and why they continue to get away with their bullying behaviors.
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