A study published in 2017 shows differences in personalities of workplace bullies and workplace targets based on five factors: neuroticism, extroversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Here were the findings:
|Factor||Bully (Compared to Control)||Target (Compared to Control)|
|Openness||No effect||No effect|
Researchers explain their findings in these ways:
Those who score high on neuroticism are more likely to be moody and to experience such emotions as anxiety, anger, frustration, jealousy, guilt, depression, and loneliness. Researchers’ theories include:
- These emotions bother colleagues (perhaps vulnerability is a threat).
- Targets become more anxiety-prone over time due to bullying.
- Bullies tend to morally justify their bullying due to victims’ traits.
Scholars say that “assertiveness and power display as central aspects of extroversion.” Also, introverts and ambiverts receive less social support than extroverts.
“The largest differences between our experimental conditions were found for the Agreeableness dimension,” say researchers in this study. “Low scores on Agreeableness involve preoccupation with one’s own goals and interests and a lack of sympathy for others suffering (Costa and McCrae, 1997). People scoring low on Agreeableness are typically less motivated than those with high scores to maintain positive interpersonal relationships, which also may explain why people low on Agreeableness are more inclined to act aggressively toward others (Gleason et al., 2004).”
“Findings are in line with research showing that individuals with antisocial personality score relatively low on Conscientiousness (Miller and Lynam, 2001),” explain the researchers.
What these findings mean
Researchers propose that:
- If workplace bullying targets are generally neurotic and introverted, perhaps colleagues are inclined to avoid targets (Buss, 1991). (It’s important to note that the target qualities weren’t determined in this study as causes or effects, and not all targets exhibit these qualities.)
- If bullies are generally less agreeable and conscientious, bullies may induce fear in coworkers and force them to act certain ways (Georgakopoulos et al., 2011). “Still, they will overall, and in line with the results from the present study, typically not be regarded as good cooperators and reciprocators or as someone who will work industriously and dependably (Buss, 1991),” say researchers. “This can be assumed to lower the trust in the organization. The findings indicating that observers more or less accurately will tend to see bullies as being low on conscientiousness may influence how others, e.g., managers, will handle a given case of bullying and the involved employees, not trusting the bully to behave responsibly in the future, again lower the trust in the involved parties.”
What’s important here is that it’s the power plays and self-importance from bullies that causes the problems for both victims and organizations.