Who is Behind Workplace Bullying

Most workplace bullying is traceable to a person with several identifiable traits, although some (such traits) might only be evident to those who are being or have been bullied themselves:

Charismatic

  • May occupy a role that is important in some way;
  • Very self-assured;
  • May be believed to be doing or to have done something selfless or of great value, eg charitable work or turning a failing department or business around;
  • May give off an impression of trustworthiness and reliability.
  • Has an air of untouchability: questioning this person's actions or decisions is taboo especially among peers and superiors.

Deceptive

  • compulsive liar: spontaneously makes things up to fit the needs of the moment; routinely embellishes stories for effect;
  • convinces superiors and peers by seeming plausible and convincing, sometimes by copying others' behaviour, words or work;
  • portrays him or herself as kind, caring and compassionate but only behaves this way where it leads to personal gain;
  • doesn't listen, can't sustain a meaningful conversation;
  • hollow, superficial and glib;
  • seems to have an overbearing belief in his or her qualities (especially as a leader or manager);
  • apparently cannot distinguish between leadership, management and bullying;
    • i.e. cannot distinguish between maturity and immaturity, decisiveness and impulsiveness, assertiveness and aggression, personal objectives and corporate objectives, eloquence and crassness; honesty and deceitfulness;
  • is oblivious to the difference between how he or she would like to be seen, and how he or she is seen.

Manipulative

  • is drawn to positions of power;
  • wants to control everything;
  • has a subjective sense of right and wrong.
    • "Right" is whatever he or she can get away with, such as falsifying time sheets to inflate income;
    • "Wrong" could be anything done by others, justifying the bully's punishment, threats, control etc, such as refusing to falsify time sheets for the bully or, indeed, falsifying them under duress;
  • projects his or her own shortcomings onto others;
  • distorts peoples' perceptions of reality through falsehood and gossip;
  • rewrites history to paint a better picture of him or herself and/or a worse picture of someone else;
  • Tells different people different things, causing confusion, disruption, division and conflict;
  • is selectively (un)friendly and (un)cooperative:-
    • is mean, officious and inappropriately inflexible with some people; but is generous, relaxed and very accommodating with others;
    • may motivate allies with the prospect of reward; but motivates most people with fear and guilt.
  • threatens dire consequences for people under his or her influence, who think or act for themselves. Threats could be made directly in private, or indirectly in front of witnesses;
  • warns targets that no-one will believe them if they report the bullying;
  • once called to account:-
    • aggressively denies and refutes any criticism, counter-attacking the critic with fabricated or distorted counter-criticism;
    • claims to have been bullied by the complainant, feigns victimhood, ("poor me"), uses amateur dramatics (bursting into tears etc), to avoid the question and evade accountability,
    • makes others feel guilty for daring to suggest that he or she might have done the slightest thing wrong;

Jekyll & Hyde nature

  • can be innocent and charming some of the time (typically in the presence of witnesses), but vicious and vindictive at other times (typically where there are no witnesses).

Ruthless and unpleasant

  • lacks a conscience, shows no remorse;
  • has a compulsive need to criticise;
  • is often devious, manipulative, spiteful, vengeful;
  • becomes impatient, irritable and aggressive if asked to address the needs and concerns of others;
  • may be emotionally cold, humourless, joyless;
  • may exhibit inappropriate or unusual attitudes to sex, gender, race, disability and other personal characteristics.

Tim Field estimated that one person in thirty has several of these traits, describing them as aggressive but intelligent individuals who express their aggression psychologically (constant criticism etc) rather than physically (assault).

(More information on the Serial Bully)

What a bully might say when held to account

This is a real-life text book example of a bully's response to accusations of bullying, when his game was almost up. In May 2013, former TV presenter Stuart Hall pleaded guilty to 14 charges of indecent assault involving 13 victims, over a period of 18 years. Four months earlier, however, Hall spoke to reporters after his initial appearance in court. Hall's words are in italics, with our understanding of what he meant in brackets:

  • "May I just say these allegations are pernicious, callous, cruel and above all spurious.
    • (TFF inference: "I project the key qualities of my sexual deviancy - perniciousness, callousness, cruelty and spuriousness - onto my victims' allegations.")
  • "And may I just say I am not guilty and will be defending these accusations.
    • ("I am prepared to waste taxpayers' resources and commit perjury")
  • "Like a lot of other people in this country today I am wondering why it has taken 30 or 40 years for these allegations to surface.
    • ("I want you to doubt the credibility of my victims")
    • NOTE that Hall inadvertently gave a bit of the game away by using the word "surface", implying that he knew there was substance to the allegations and that it had thus far been hidden beneath the proverbial surface.
  • "The last two months of my life have been a living nightmare. I have never gone through so much stress in my life and I am finding it difficult to sustain.
    • ("Poor me. Please share the contempt I have for my victims, by focusing on the terrible harm they have done to me")
  • "Fortunately I have a very loving family and they are very supportive and I think but for their love I might have been constrained to take my own life.
    • ("I need you to associate me with the image of a loving family, which has also been harmed by my victims. Poor family, poor me. What a close shave I am having.")
  • "They have encouraged me to fight on, to fight the charges and regain my reputation and good name and whatever I have represented to this country down the years.
    • ("I have lied to everyone - those closest to me and the general public - for years. Even my family think I am innocent. Most people have always thought I was wonderful and I need that to continue. Who gives a damn about the children and young women I assaulted.")
  • "With that I would like to thank everybody who has supported me for their good will which has sustained me through this absolutely horrific ordeal.
    • ("In case I have not already made the point, my victims are audacious and horrible for coming forward. I genuinely hope that you feel sorry for me.")
  • "As I say I shall be defending myself. I am 83 years old. I was a healthy 83 year old, but I am now incubating a heart complaint and I'll be very lucky to survive another couple of years.
    • (In case you don't already feel sorry for me, feel sorry for me because I am frail and I've got a heart condition, and it's all my victims' fault. To help me get away with this, I need you to feel really, really sorry for me, and I need you and the general public to share the disdain and contempt I have for my victims.")
  • "But I hope to survive those two years and regain my honour and reputation and more than ever, my life."
    • ("My reputation and being untouchable are what let me get away with these crimes for so long. If I can just sustain those things I might reach the end of my life without being punished, like Jimmy Savile. To that end, I intend to continue fooling my family, my lawyers and the courts, you reporters and the whole world, into thinking that I must be innocent.")

Stuart Hall's comments to news reporters after his initial court appearance were just what you should expect a bully to say when they are being held to account. Their words are meant to make the listener feel sorry for the accused and contempt for the accuser. In Hall's case, they were intended to manipulate public opinion in his favour because, in his case, having a jovial reputation and the public on his side had been enough to deter his victims from reporting his crimes.

If you question an alleged bully, and the response is a "poor me" melodrama, punctuated with expressions of contempt and disdain for the accuser, it could well be an implicit admission of guilt.

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