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spike bullet July 2005 - Bullying in the Workplace

Definition: What is Bullying?
What does bullying look like?
Are there differences between genders?
How does bullying affect the workplace?
How to fight back against bullies
Tips for supervisors, managers and executives
How to prevent bullies from harming others
Personality traits
Resources (links, books, articles, humor)

color bulletBullying in the Workplace

Definition: What is Bullying?

We receive many requests for information on how to deal with bullies.  Most writers use the term "hostile workplace" and the majority of their complaints are about bosses.

Bullying is what many people today think when they hear "hostile workplace" or "hostile environment" — an environment where someone (or a group) is threatened, harassed, belittled, verbally abused or overly criticized.  In other words, the workplace or environment is "hostile" to good productivity.   

In the US, the legal definition currently of "hostile environment" is harassment related to gender discrimination (commonly called "sexual harassment"), so those who are being bullied have little legal recourse at present.  [Note: We are not attorneys and are not giving legal advice.].  The UK is much more advanced than the US in their recognition of this problem and its negative impact on individuals and workplace productivity. 

People usually feel trapped if the person harassing them is their boss.  According to Tina Vanderwel, most bullies are supervisors or managers who use the power of their positions to control and intimidate their targets.

Last year, the state of Washington introduced The Workplace Bullying Bill (House Bill 1968 and Senate Bill 1968).  The bills died before being passed this year.  The discussion did raise the awareness of the subject to legislators and to the general public.

From an article by Tina Vanderwal for The Olympian on February 28, 2005:

"So what is workplace bullying?  According to Gary and Ruth Namie, authors of The Bully at Work, bulling is ‘the repeated malicious, health-endangering mistreatment of one employee (the target) by one or more employees (the bully, bullies).  The mistreatment is psychological violence, a mix of verbal and strategic assaults to prevent the target from performing well.  It is illegitimate conduct in that it prevents work getting done.  Thus an employer’s legitimate business interests are not met.

According to House Bill 1968, Workplace bullying is conduct that: 
(a) a reasonable person would find hostile or offensive and unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interests
; and 
(b) causes physical or psychological harm to the employee.

Also according to the bill, workplace bullying includes but is not limited to:

  1. Repeated infliction of verbal abuse such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults and epithets.
  2. Verbal or physical conduct that a reasonable person would find threatening, intimidating or humiliating.
  3. The gratuitous sabotage or undermining of an employee’s work performance.
  4. A single act of workplace bullying that is especially severe and egregious.

Some of you may be looking at this list and be wondering why on earth would anyone put up with such behavior.  The problem is that 81 percent of workplace bullies are bosses. [emphasis added]  Unless you have adequate income from another job or source, it makes it very difficult to stand up to your boss or complain to a higher manager without fear that your job is in jeopardy.  The other problem is that since part of the manipulation is to undermine your self-worth, outsiders looking in may think that you are the problem."

What does bullying look like?

According to the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute (WBTI), the top 10 bullying tactics include:

  1. Falsely accused someone of "errors" not actually made (71%)
  2. Stared, glared, was nonverbally intimidating and was clearly showing hostility (68%)
  3. Discounted the person’s thoughts or feelings ("oh, that’s silly") in meetings (64%)
  4. Used the "silent treatment" to "ice out" & separate from others (64%)
  5. Exhibited presumably uncontrollable mood swings in front of the group (61%)
  6. Made up own rules on the fly that even she/he did not follow (61%)
  7. Disregarded satisfactory or exemplary quality of completed work despite evidence (58%)
  8. Harshly and constantly criticized having a different ‘standard’ for the Target (57%)
  9. Started, or failed to stop, destructive rumors or gossip about the person (56%)
  10. Encouraged people to turn against the person being tormented (55%).

[Note: the WCTI uses the words"Target" for the person being bullied and "Perpetrator" for the bully.] (for children) says, "If you think you are being bullied, you are."  They define bullying as:

  • Picking on
  • Hurting
  • Threatening
  • Or, frightening another person or group.

Bullying is defined this way by

  • Micro-management
  • Setting up to fail
  • Withholding information
  • Withdrawing interesting and challenging jobs and replacing with the mundane
  • Blocking requests for leave or promotion
  • Constant criticism
  • Spreading malicious gossip
  • Encouraging others to make complaints.

Tim Field defines bullying this way: "Bullying is a compulsive need to displace aggression and is achieved by the expression of inadequacy (social, personal, interpersonal, behavioural, professional) by projection of that inadequacy onto others through control and subjugation (criticism, exclusion, isolation etc). Bullying is sustained by abdication of responsibility (denial, counter-accusation, pretence of victimhood) and perpetuated by a climate of fear, ignorance, indifference, silence, denial, disbelief, deception, evasion of accountability, tolerance and reward (eg promotion) for the bully."
Tim Field, 1999 "Those who can, do. Those who can't, bully" 

A 1999 article (PDF) in a California Dept of Transportation newsletter describes bullying this way:

What are the top 10 acts of workplace bullies?

  1. Talking about someone behind his/her back.
  2. Interrupting others when they are speaking or working.
  3. Flaunting status or authority; acting in a condescending manner.
  4. Belittling someone’s opinion to others.
  5. Failing to return phone calls or respond to memos.
  6. Giving others the silent treatment.
  7. Insults, yelling and shouting.
  8. Verbal forms of sexual harassment.
  9. Staring, dirty looks or other negative eye contact.
  10. Use of condescending or demeaning language.

Are there differences between genders?

The WBTI notes different tactics chosen based on the bully’s gender:

a.) Men perpetrators were more likely (& showed a statistically significant greater likelihood) than women perpetrators to adopt the following tactics:

Bullying Tactics Men bullies Women bullies
Public screaming


Illegal verbal tactics 55% 47%
Sabotaging a person’s contribution 54% 42%
Post-complaint retaliation 57% 47%
Timing mistreatment to correspond with medical or psych vulnerability 53% 39%
Withholding resources for success, then blaming the target 52% 40%
Name calling 48% 35%
Threatening job loss, punishment   45% 32%
Interfering with paycheck or earned benefits  37% 28%
Blocking access to equipment & resources for success  34% 26%
Discriminating so as to be illegal & potentially actionable 22% 10%
Assigning person to unsafe work environment 19% 12%
Threatening to do physical harm 22%  9%
Engaging in physical sexual aggression  14% 8%
Boasting about owning & proficiency with a weapon 10% 4%

b.) Women perpetrators were more likely (with similar statistical significance) than men perpetrators to adopt the following tactics:

Bullying Tactics Men bullies Women bullies
Silent treatment, icing out individuals 68%  76%
Encouraged colleagues to turn against the target 59% 67% 

What it could mean:  Clearly, men bullies chose tactics that ranged from the blatantly illegal through different forms of aggression to threats of physical force.  Men are meaner.

The WBTI notes different tactics chosen based on the targets’ gender:

a.) Women targets were more likely (& showed a statistically significant greater likelihood) than men targets to be recipients of the following tactics:

Bullying Tactics Men targets Women targets
Having contributions to meetings discounted 61% 74% 
Being mistreated when medically or psychologically vulnerable 35% 45%
Denied training or time to succeed in new job 34% 43%
Blocked access to equipment & resources for success 21% 30%
Uninvited invasion of office space & scrutiny of e-mails 14% 22%

b.) Men targets were more likely (& showed a statistically significant greater likelihood) than women targets to be recipients of the following tactics:

Bullying Tactics Men targets Women targets
Tormented because of disability 26% 18%
Threatened with physical harm 21% 12%

How does bullying affect the workplace?

Bullying of any kind is a source of incredible stress for the victim/target of the bully.  Some call it "psychological violence."  

Because it is often done selectively, it may be tolerated or left to fester for some time before the issue becomes visible.  If the victim engages in dialog with the bully or fights back, the victim may be seen as part of the problem.

According to WBTI’s 2003 research report (, 33% of the bullying situations resulted in the victim/target quitting their job.  37% of the them resulted in the victim/target being terminated.  In only 13% of the situations was the bully terminated or transferred.  See

For astute managers, it is important to notice when an employee’s behavior changes.  A good employee who becomes ill more than usual, withdraws or resists participating in activities they once enjoyed may be the victim of a bully.  The manager who is well-skilled in human nature should investigate to determine the reason for the change.  

Good employees should be valued and treated with respect at all times.  Helping them when they may not know where to turn can restore their high productivity before they become unable to work due to workplace hostility.

In our experience, someone who is a bully will find a "victim" and pursue them until they completely crush the victim’s resistance, until the victim fights back or the bully finds another more interesting victim.

How to fight back against bullies

Some types of behavior — such as bullying, harassment, threats or intimidation — simply should not be tolerated in a workplace or business setting.

In an earlier newsletter article, we discussed dealing with difficult people, where one type is the "Do it my way or else."  The worst offenders are the personality types of Warriors or Kings, who have a Goal of Dominance operating in the negative aspect of that personality trait — Dictatorship.  The positive aspect of Dominance is Leadership.  [See our Personality Game]

Fighting back might be a simple as telling the bully in no uncertain terms that you will not be harassed or intimidated by that person and by refusing to be victimized.  This is much easier to say than to do in practice so you should have a good support system available to assist you in this effort.  Let others know of the problem; don’t keep it to yourself.

Fighting back may consist of filing a lawsuit for harassment.  This is a difficult challenge since most U.S. laws now only protect against harassment because of gender.  Most situations of men bullying men and women bullying women won’t fall into gender harassment unless there is a sexual component to the harassment.

Fighting back might be reporting the unacceptable behavior to a supervisor, manager or the Human Resources/Personnel Department of your employer.

To help give you the skills to fight back, you may need to take assertive skills training.  According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, the majority of victims/targets of bullying are women.  Both men and women can be bullies. 

The WBTI 2003 Report on Abusive Workplaces provides very interesting information about the nature of bullying and we suggest that anyone interested in this subject read it thoroughly.

Tips for managers, supervisors and executives

If you are a supervisor/manager who has a bully working for you, their inappropriate behavior will likely cause you major headaches in the form of complaints or worse from the person’s employees, co-workers and/or customers. It might even cost you a lawsuit or your own dismissal for particularly egregious incidents if you fail to protect the victims/targets of the bully’s bad behavior.

If you are a business owner or executive management, the bully’s bad behavior is already costing you lost productivity and might cost you your business reputation and serious legal penalties if a lawsuit is filed.

As a supervisor or manager your obligation is to prevent or correct bad behavior and the effects on your other employees.  Failure to do so makes you part of the problem and could make you legally liable for the negative results of the bully’s behavior.  Don’t let a bad situation get worse before taking action.

Some specific tips if you are being bullied:

  1. Tell someone you trust what is happening.  Ask for their help.  
  2. Keep a written diary of incidents, including the date, time, situation and any witnesses.
  3. Report the incident to your supervisor/manager, to the bully’s supervisor/manager or to your Personnel/Human Resources department.
  4. Tell the bully that their behavior is unacceptable and leave the situation.
  5. Don’t fight back or engage in debate with the bully – you may end up being blamed for the fight.
  6. Avoid being any place alone with the bully if at all possible.
  7. If someone else is nearby, ask the bully to repeat their comments in front of them as a witness.

If you are a bully, learn how to deal more effectively with people.  Perhaps take some sensitivity training, communication skills training, leadership training or get individual counseling to modify your behavior.  If you do not change your behavior, eventually you will wind up in serious trouble, perhaps being fired, fined or jailed for your inappropriate actions.

How to prevent bullies from harming others

Setting appropriate workplace values and codes of conduct helps the organization encourage good behavior by all supervisors, managers and employees.  Letting potential job applicants know your culture, values and expected conduct before they come to work helps prevent bullying incidents.  If you do hire someone with bullying traits, quick action to correct their negative behavior shows that you really do mean what you say.

Employees must be empowered to report bullying incidents and they must be investigated promptly.  Corrective action must be taken with the bully quickly and if the personnel action does not correct their bullying behavior, they must be let go.

Some specific tips for organizations:

  1. Set appropriate values, policies and a code of conduct for your organization that includes respect for each person.
  2. Make sure everyone is trained in correct procedures.
  3. Specify resources and steps to follow for people who feel they are being harassed, threatened, mistreated or disrespected.
  4. Follow through on complaints promptly.
  5. Enforce your values, policies and code of conduct by exercising appropriate discipline for bullies.
  6. Enforce your values, policies  and code of conduct by appropriate discipline for supervisors and managers who do not protect their employees from bullies.
  7. Watch for warning signs of bullying in potential victims.

Personality traits more prone to bullying 

People with the Dominance goal have the strongest likelihood to use the negative side of that trait: Dictatorship.  Remember, the positive side of Dominance is Leadership.

Other personality traits and life experiences can temper or exaggerate the natural tendencies.  Each person is different in how they use their personality traits so be careful about making generalizations.

Some famous people with the Dominance Goal: 
Idi Amin (also has Aggression mode), Attila the Hun (also has Aggression mode), Jim Bakker, Leonard Bernstein, Tony Blair, Ludwig Beethoven, John Belushi (also Aggression mode), Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando, George W. Bush, Al Capone, Edgar Cayce, Deepak Chopra, Cleopatra, Elizabeth Dole, Queen Elizabeth II (England), Diane Feinstein, Lady Godiva, Katherine Hepburn, Saddam Hussein (also has Aggression mode), Jack the Ripper (also has Aggression mode), Rudolph Nureyev, Condoleeza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld (also has Aggression mode), Sharon Stone, Margaret Thatcher, Donald Trump.

See our Personality Game for more information about the personality traits listed here.

World Wide Web graphic  Internet Resources

Updated: September, 2018 - Many of the original links are now defunct so have been removed. 

For children and schools:

book graphic  Books   -  Disclosure: We get a small commission for purchases made via links to Amazon.

  • Bully in Sight: How to Predict, Resist, Challenge and Combat Workplace Bullies, Tim Field.  Success Unlimited, 1996.  ISBN: 0952912104   
  • When You Work for a Bully : Assessing Your Options and Taking Action, Susan Futterman.   Croce Publishing Group, LLLC, 2004.  ISBN: 0971953880
  • The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job, Gary & Ruth Namie.   Sourcebooks, 2000.  ISBN: 1570715343"Secrets of Dealing with Difficult People"
  • Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace.  Noa Davenport, Ruth D. Schwartz, Gail Pursell Elliott.  Civil Society Publishing, 2002.  ISBN: 0967180309
  • Secrets of Dealing with Difficult People - electronic book by Dr. Mark Lauderdale.  

world wide web - articles  Articles

Related newsletter article:
    March 1999 - Dealing with Difficult People ("Do it my way or else")

Updated: September, 2018 - Many of the original links are now defunct so have been removed. 

smiley graphic  The Lighter Side  

About our resource links:  We do not endorse or agree with all the beliefs in these links.   We do keep an open mind about different viewpoints and respect the ability of our readers to decide for themselves what is useful.

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