Who is the target of bullying on the job? It might not be who you would expect.

shutterstock_176392286People often feel shame about having been bullied, and the stereotype is that the target is weak or a loner.  But it seems that when people get bullied in the workplace, it is because they pose a threat to the bully’s need to have power over others. A weak loner doesn’t pose much of a threat and such a person is not the target of choice for a bully.

The Workplace Bullying Institute (www.workplacebullying.org) has researched the phenomenon and has had conversations with thousands of targets.  According to WBI findings, the targets of bullying appear to be the more highly skilled members of the workgroup. In fact, targets tend to be independent people who refuse to be subservient.  And, it is often the targets’ steps to preserve their own dignity, which cause the bullies to escalate their inappropriate control.

Targets of bullies in the workplace appear to be more skilled and better liked than other employees.  They also have more social skills than others in the workgroup.  The target is often the veteran employee who has a desire to help, develop and teach others.  Targets definitely are people with empathy.

Bullies, on the other hand, have less-than-average empathy.  They also do not like to share credit with others.  And with less empathy to get in their way; they have little compunction about stealing credit from targets or interfering with their ability to do their work.

Jobs create stress for a lot of reasons, but certain situations indicate that bullying is the source of stress.  Signs include a getting a new position but receiving no training, or not being given enough time to learn the skills required for the job.  There may be surprise meetings or surprise changes in the locations of meetings.  If the surprise meeting is an ambush to talk about your deficits, you know you are working for a bully.  Often, a bully will throw hindrances in your way that prevent you from doing your job.  Interruptions, conflicting assignments, or failure to get you the tools or information you need in order to do your part of a job happen to everyone, but when they occur consistently, it is likely a sign of bullying.

If others have been warned off working with you, talking with you or socializing with you, a bully is at work.  We all too often take for granted that, “it’s the kiss of death to have lunch with Jones,” but stop and think how mean it is to participate and how risky it is not to participate.  

A more obvious bully may yell and scream at you and then call your objections an attack.  You could be forced to sit and listen to a diatribe of your deficits and be accused of incompetence without hearing any constructive advice for improvement. This humiliation may make you forget that you have often excelled at this work before and make you overlook the fact that the accusations come from someone who could not do your job.

I’ve seen quite a few people experience bullying in the workplace.  They have all been super competent.  They have all been seriously deflated and traumatized by the experience.  Often they go on to earn great respect as a high performer in their next job, and this belies the bully’s accusations.  But by this time, the target has developed cracks in his confidence, stress related symptoms and hyper-vigilance in with the next manager.

If you are targeted by a bully, do not waste a minute worrying that what the bully says is true.  Get feedback from someone who doesn’t have an axe to grind.  There are things you can do to create inner peace and power which will make the bullying less painful.

Remember that as the target of a bully you are probably more skilled and savvy than the norm.  Use that knowledge to buoy up your confidence as you find a civilized place to work.

Use that knowledge and those skills to buoy up your confidence as you find a civilized place to work.remember that is a sign that you are more skilled and savvy than the norm. 


2 Responses to “Who is the target of bullying on the job? It might not be who you would expect.”

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