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Feature Articles : Mobbing - Part 2

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Three Part Series on Mobbing Overview Profiles Effects Mandate


Profile of the Bullies and Victims
   A Profile of the Bully
   A Profile of the Victim

In this second article on the subject of Workplace Bullying, Jacinta Kitt provides an in-depth profile of those who bully and those who become the victims.

A Profile of the Bully


There is considerable consensus that workplace bullies are selfish, self-obsessed, inadequate, insecure and totally insensitive.

Bullying bosses are extremely autocratic, exhibiting an unrelenting need to be fully in control. They dictate how and what decisions are made, allowing no real debate. Lip service is paid to consultation. Employees expressing concerns about inappropriate, unethical or bullying behaviours are frequently described as having a negative attitude, being paranoid, or engaging in whistleblowing. Bullying bosses exaggerate their own contribution and are reluctant to acknowledge the contributions of others. They adopt a territorial approach to running their workplaces and often use loud voiced aggressive tactics to dominate decision making and day-to-day operations. The notion that anyone else might have an alternative point of view is not considered. Compromise is not countenanced. Workplace bullies display gross inadequacies in their ability to communicate in an open and healthy manner. They frequently lack vision or initiative and they are often threatened by competence.

A bully’s aggression occasionally involves screaming and shouting but more often manifests itself in criticism, insulting comments, whispers and other insidious behaviour. The effect of this behaviour is humiliation and intimidation. This more sinister form of aggression can often be found in gestures, tones, facial expressions and other non-verbal messages. However, the victims are left in no doubt about their demeaning content. The coercion is achieved by instilling terror and fear.

They use their power to disempower others.
They frequently intimidate those who have the skills
to do the job better than them.

The obsessive and narcissistic behaviour of workplace bullies is evidence of their selfishness. An important feature of the bully is their compulsion to have their own needs met at all costs. This compulsion is also highlighted in the bully’s constant demands for respect and consideration whilst persistently denying similar treatment to others. Bullying bosses, by their self-centered, selfish behaviour effectively treat their subordinates as non-persons. A bully’s inappropriate behaviour results from his or her own inadequacies and insecurities. Their actions are dysfunctional means of dealing with their own problems of low self-esteem. The bullying reproduces similar problems in the victims, creating a cycle of abuse. Bullying Managers or bosses frighten and belittle their victims in a vain attempt to conceal their own fears and to make themselves look big. They diminish the confidence and integrity of others in order to deflect attention from their own inadequacies. They use their power to disempower others. They frequently intimidate those who have the skills to do the job better than them.

The insensitivity of the bully’s behaviour is particularly sad, and extremely difficult to comprehend. They are perceived as being cold and heartless. They show no consideration for the feelings of those they hurt and humiliate. Irrespective of the type of behaviour engaged in by the workplace bully, the view common to all studies on the subject is that the bully inflicts intolerable pain and suffering. They have the power to destroy the work and home lives of those they target. Unfortunately, despite their absolutist, righteous and unethical behaviour, they are inclined to filter upwards by being promoted.
Bullies should be made aware of the consequences of their behaviour. However, they can be evasive and manipulative, dishonest and convincing. A climate of unacceptability must be created in relation to bullying and all employees must be made aware that it is neither condoned nor tolerated.

A Profile of the Victim

A common misconception is that victims of bullying are invariably weak, timid, submissive and often possessing negative attitudes about themselves. This profile, particularly of adult victims of workplace bullying, is very much at variance with the majority view of those writing on the subject. Research which has been undertaken on adult bullying, has consistently failed to link bullying to the victim’s personality. The image of the victim as insipid and inadequate belies the reality of the many positive attributes typically possessed by the bullied victim. Integrity, empathy, and confidence are frequently cited among these attributes. People who are good at their jobs, are popular with colleagues, speak out against unethical behaviour and are intolerant of hypocrisy are often targets of bullying. Those with the integrity to withstand the efforts of the bully to create a group of "yes men or women" risk being victimised. It is often the person who tries to change the system, who introduces new systems with enthusiasm and is potentially an organisation’s best asset, who becomes the victim of bullying.

The notion that personality characteristics are causes of bullying, is widely disputed. Personality changes as a result of bullying however, is not disputed. Confident and strong people once bullied often become weak and insecure. Bullying makes victims doubt themselves, sometimes even doubt their sanity. It can make competent people feel stupid and inadequate. A bullied victim’s position and influence in the workplace are very much weakened. Their viewpoint on the problem may not be accepted by their colleagues or management. This experience can be devastating to their confidence and self-esteem. People who have previously been reasonable and balanced in their relations with others may, as a result of bullying, display irrational and erratic behaviour consistent with mental injury.

Victims of bullying may also express uncharacteristic anger, and frustration, aggravated by the incredulity of what is happening to them and also by the blatant injustice of the behaviour perpetrated against them. This anger needs to be managed and accompanied by a well thought out strategy. If, instead, it provokes an understandable outburst, it then presents an opportunity for the bully to suggest that the victim is "mad" and a troublemaker. It may be easier at that point to get rid of the "offender".

Some consolation is available for victims through the consensus that they are never responsible for the bullying. The abused person is never to blame for the abuse committed by another individual who has chosen to act in an abusive manner. Victims may derive further comfort from the fact that frequently predecessors have suffered at the hands of their tormentor, as will successors.

As victims of bullying tend to be optimistic and forgiving,
it is difficult for them to accept that another human being
could knowingly cause such cruelty.

A victim’s ordeal may be intensified by his/her own, and others’ inability to recognise the problem for what it is. The personal survival of victims depends on their recognising what is happening to them while the bullying is still at an early stage. As victims of bullying tend to be optimistic and forgiving, it is difficult for them to accept that another human being could knowingly cause such cruelty. They suffer grave injustices, often for years, without identifying them as bullying. It is only when they become aware of the nature of their problem that the chances of adequate diagnosis and treatment increase. In the meantime, victims suffer, and their isolation and helplessness increases. Fear is their constant companion. Fear of their complaint being dismissed tends to silence them. Fear of being regarded as a whistle-blower or a troublemaker prevents them from complaining. Finally, fear instilled in victims as a result of being hounded, hurt and humiliated, compels them to be extremely cautious, making themselves as inconspicuous as possible in an attempt to avoid further abuse. They are intimidated into using as little initiative and innovation as possible.

A sense that they are disbelieved, or regarded as being paranoid creates despair in victims. However, reports of bullying by bosses are frequently corroborated by others who were similarly bullied. Also, other victims of the abuse of a particular supervisor exhibit similar symptoms of depression and anxiety. These findings point to the conclusion that it is the bosses’ behaviour and not the "oversensitive ramblings" of the victims that is responsible for the bullying of employees. Victims feel thoroughly vulnerable because of the lack of avenues of recourse. Sexual harassment and discrimination are recognised as serious problems and a set of procedures is in place to deal with their consequences. However, bullying is still generally unrecognised, and ignored. This fact limits the opportunities of the victims to fight the abuse.

Every employee has the right to be treated with
respect and dignity by colleagues and management.

Many victims, as previously stated, cannot put a name on what is happening to them. This, allied to the lack of overt support available to them, diminishes their means of defending themselves. Victims are not inherently defenceless or weak. Yes, victims are generally non-aggressive, Yes, they are sensitive and feel the pain of the cruelty perpetrated on them. Yes, victims, like most functional people, like to feel accepted and valued. And yes, they may be more vulnerable because of their inability to escape the bullying environment. However, any weakness in defending themselves is very much linked with the lack of support available.

An interesting aspect of workplace bullying is that those being bullied have rarely, if ever, previously experienced bullying. The particular bullying situation confers the victim status on those who suffer abuse. It is a transient and not a permanent state. Bullying has an almost immeasurable effect on victims. It greatly reduces their ability to work effectively and to participate in their workplace.

Bullying needs certain conditions to thrive. These include lack of understanding of the problem, inadequate measures to deal with it and a tolerance of disrespectful, inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. Every employee has the right to be treated with respect and dignity by colleagues and management. When this fact is fully recognised and acted on, bullying will be exposed and marginalised and will become totally unacceptable. Some progress has been made, however there is still some considerable distance to travel!

The third of these articles will deal with the effects of bullying on individuals and on the organisation generally. Strategies for dealing with bullying together with prevention and resolution measures will be outlined.

1  2  3

(Note: Bolding has been added in this series of articles for emphasis.)


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The glory of great men should always be measured
by the means they have used to acquire it.

~ Francois de La Rochefoucauld


Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.

~ John F. Kennedy

Interview with a Target of
Workplace Bullying

by John Peel
on Home Truths,
BBC Radio 4

Courtesy BullyEQ


Calgary Herald
"...grossly unacceptable employer behaviour."
"There was a lot of bullying in the newsroom and it was a gift to be able to stand up and say we are prepared to do something about it."

Canwest Global
"The CanWest corporation is showing the ugly and intolerant face of modern media," ... "While openly interfering in editorial content it cravenly punishes those journalists who have the courage to protest."
"Many journalists left CanWest, deciding to quit or take disability leave after the frigid mood of their newsrooms made them ill."
> Canwest Watch

Imperial Parking
"Timothy Lloyd decided he had had enough of "going in to war every day." ... I was very unhappy in my work -- burned out, stressed out ... There were constant threats of dismissal, constant invading of my personal space, and use of profanity that was personally directed at me."
> HealthSmith

Annuity Research & Marketing Service Ltd.
"Every employer, said Justice Dambrot, owes a contractual duty to its employees to “treat them fairly, with civility, decency, respect, and dignity.” By failing to protect Ms. Stamos from Mr. Hammami’s harassment, the court concluded that the employer had breached this contractual duty."
> Labor Relations Consultants

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