Recent study supports workplace bully and target personas


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)
Neuroticism High
Extroversion Low
Agreeableness Low
Conscientiousness Low
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.

Recent cases show courts determine that someone’s words can contribute to suicide


In the high-profile texting case, Michelle Carter was found guilty of manslaughter in the suicide of Conrad Roy III. This case wasn’t only unusual in how it happened. It was unusual in that it found that “a person’s words can directly cause someone else’s suicide,” said Kathleen Bonczyk, Esq..

“It’s an excellent sign the courts are beginning to see things in a different way. There must be accountability civilly and criminally if a defendant’s actions are physical in discharging a gun or driving a car into an innocent person or verbal as in bullying,” said Bonczyk. “Actions and words can and do hurt others. If one behaves in a reckless immoral and illegal matter, one should be held accountable in a criminal court.”

The Michelle Carter case wasn’t the first case in the last year where a defendant was charged with involuntary manslaughter for their words. Bonczyk outlines the significance of the charging of a Dairy Queen manager for felony involuntary manslaughter following bullying leading to the December 21, 2016 suicide of Kenneth Suttner of Missouri »

How workplace bullying can sting harder if your mother is a narcissist

Sad businesswoman

Workplace bullying is painful no matter how to slice it. But for those with narcissistic mothers, workplace bullying can both trigger open childhood wounds and affirm feelings of unworthiness.

In her book Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers, author Karyl McBride, Ph.D., says that some high-achieving daughters aka “Mary Marvels” focus on achievement as a way to prove to the world (and to their mothers) that they’re worthy. Struggling with feelings of inadequacy and growing up having to be doers to feel accepted and approved by their mothers, these daughters often didn’t receive validation in early years and don’t learn to validate themselves. “She [a high-achieving daughter] often succumbs to the lure of doing more and trying harder in ways that bring validation from others. This is an unconscious seduction because Mary Marvels are almost highly skilled and competent…. The praise appears to fill the emptiness, but relying on external praise can create anxiety,” explains McBride.

It’s important to note that it’s the narcissism from both the mother and then later a boss or co-worker that cause the problems. While addressing feelings from childhood surrounding maternal narcissism with a trained therapist may help you unravel unhealthy thought patterns, the bullying is not your fault nor a result of personality flaws. Many people with healthy upbringings also experience health harm from workplace bullying. These insights are simply tools for taking back your power.

How bad bosses are like online trolls


Online trolls fish for attention. They often make outlandish, sometimes controversial comments because they want to position themselves as in-the-know while dismissing and demeaning others. It’s a desperate attempt to feel important, and it stems from insecurity. When we look at online trolls, we see their behavior as ridiculous.

How we get over bully bosses
Does the description of online trolls sound familiar? Dismissive, demeaning, self-important, insecure. Sounds like your bully boss, doesn’t it?

So how do we use this comparison to get over bully bosses? While the answer is simple, the action is complex. Bully bosses use gaslighting to convince us we’re the problem — we’re sensitive or overreacting. But they’re only brainwashing us so they don’t have to take responsibility for their behavior. Once we slowly see the brainwashing as lies and the bully behavior as childish, we start to dig ourselves out of the misery. We slowly see we’re not the problem. It’s liberating. (This process also goes for gaslighting experienced in childhood by a parent or sibling that workplace bullying might trigger.)

In fact, Inc. Magazine reports that it’s humility that we should look for in managers and leaders. “When prolific consultant, author, and lecturer Jim Collins wrote about top leaders in his seminal book Good to Great, he said that they have mastered the paradoxical balance of personal humility and fierce resolve. Collins determined from his extensive research that these respected leaders direct their ego away from themselves to the larger goal of leading their company to greatness,” said Marcel Schwantes in “Want Your Employees to Respect You? Give Them the 1 Thing Most Bosses Never Do.”

You are above any nonsense. The more you see immature behavior as beneath you, just like online trolling, the easier it will be to heal.

Why working for controlling managers is a complete waste of your time

Sad businesswoman

We as advocates know how to recognize bullying at work. But to create a more compassionate culture, it’s not enough to identify what’s wrong. If you were thrust into a leadership position yourself, would you know how to create a positive culture for your employees?

If we look at management effectiveness on a continuum, we put effective management (using empathy, humility, teamwork, respect, and empowerment) on one end and ineffective management (abuse) on the other. At various points along the continuum, we’d have some positive tactics (consistent communication, celebrating wins, honoring employees’ expertise) and some negative tactics (micromanagement, pulling rank, ignoring issues, positioning above grunt work, denying employees opportunities without explanation).

The bottom line
Regardless of whether or not bosses lead well 100 percent of the time, we can watch their actions to understand their underlying management philosophies. The bottom line is that managers who look out for the organization most often lead well, while managers who look out for themselves don’t.

  • Managers who look out for the organization. When the organization’s success is a priority over one’s ego, managers understand that empowering employees and letting them own their positions encourages creativity and productivity. When managers treat people at any level as fellow humans rather than enforce a hierarchy to serve their egos, they listen and respond to their needs. They build people rather than power-trip them.
  • Managers who look out for themselves. “Me” managers, or “I’m so important” managers, are all about enforcing a hierarchy to make themselves feel important. They have a need to control because they simply don’t trust their employees. (If they know how to do their employees’ jobs so well, why’d they hire them in the first place?)

When you begin to look at managers’ behavior in contexts of effective vs. non-effective, or looking out for the organization vs. looking out for their own egos, you see that anything beyond general patterns of looking out for the organization (and therefore you as a valued member of it) is beneath you. Don’t be fooled by managers who pretend they care about the organization but then don’t fully value your skills or respect your feedback. It’s a lose-lose approach to the you and the whole organization. Accept they’re not worth your time and look for another job (or better yet work for yourself).

How grabbing power sets the stage for bullying


A great leader creates a positive work culture with empathy, humility, teamwork, and the idea that empowering employees not only shows them respect but also encourages productivity. It’s building people versus power-tripping people, looking out for the organization and the team versus one’s ego.

When a manager isn’t a leader, the entitled power-tripping can play out in such ways as:

  • Micromanagement
  • Pulling rank
  • Ignoring issues that matter to employees
  • Positioning themselves above grunt work
  • Denying employees opportunities without explanation

When the boss isn’t the power-tripper
When the power-tripper is a co-worker, often he or she will just take the power. I call this move the “power grab,” and I’ve witnessed it so many times both on the job and in my volunteer work. Someone on your level (or in the case of volunteer work, any level) simply starts acting like he or she can boss you around. It’s a gross move that sets up a hierarchy and often sets the stage for bullying. When you stand up to it, your self-respect is often met with gaslighting, as the power-tripper tries to excuse the behavior by acting like you’re crazy.

So how do we deal with it? First, remember that you aren’t the problem. Second, you can set boundaries by sending back a clear message that you’re neither intimidated nor confused, according to UK Psychologist Aryanne Oade. This process involves:

  • Recognizing the bullying behavior.
  • Being clear that it’s bullying by feeling confused and asking the right questions.
  • Protecting your boundaries in response to the aggression and intimidation.
  • Remaining assertive against the grooming instead of remaining silent or submissive.

Here are the steps to set boundaries with a bully:

  1. Be confused. If you’re confused in the moment, you’re being groomed.
  2. Choose to speak up. Don’t miss the moment. “The very fact of articulating a clear and relaxed response will change the dynamic evolving between the target and the bully and send a message to the bully that the target knows what they are doing and knows how to protect themselves,” says Oade.
  3. Ask for clarification or directly disagree with the bully. It’s not enough to simply say something. What you say is also important. You want to give the bully consequences to deal with in the moment instead of staying confused and anxious.

If the bully is indirect, ask him what he means. Let him explain himself.

If the bully is direct, directly disagree with him to show you have your own mind.

I’ve seen choosing power and control versus teamwork all too often, even among those who support healthy workplaces. It’s important we remind bullies of any kind how we are to be treated to reinforce what healthy relationships look like.

A new strategy to end workplace bullying

City Town

We have a goal of making 40,000 phone calls by the end of 2017 — with a big goal of passing workplace anti-bullying legislation by the summer of 2018, when this two-year legislative session ends.

The plan

The purpose of these calls is to let these people know what workplace bullying is and that we need them to call their state legislators to make it illegal. It’s really that simple.

We’ll call voters in the yellow towns on the above map. The goal: to get those state legislators for those yellow towns to support the workplace anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill to get enough of a backing in the State House to pass the bill. The gray towns are where we currently have co-sponsors, so our goal is to turn those yellow towns gray.

How we came up with this plan

Because we have limited time and people, we want to be strategic. Campaign managers say time and time again that using voter data to reach out face-to-face or on the phone is the most effective way to get people to act.

If we look at demographics, we know that:

  • Women ages 30-54 are most likely to get bullied at work.
  • Democrats and voters in state elections are most likely to take political action (since they’ve taken political action before by voting).
  • Cities and towns where sick leave pay most overwhelmingly passed in 2014 are the most progressive, so their state legislators will be the most likely to push for workplace anti-bullying legislation.

So we obtained voter data of Democratic women ages 30-54 who took action by voting in the last state election in the most progressive towns of the state where we do not already have official legislative support. Those are the yellow towns on the map above, and the number of phone numbers we have is roughly 40,000.

They’re the group most likely to have experienced workplace bullying and most likely to take action.

We need your help

All you need is an email address, and we’ll share a Google doc with you that outlines instructions, names and numbers, and scripts. It’s incredibly easy, and you can make as many calls in your spare time as you’d like before 9pm. (If you’re not in Massachusetts, you can still help. If one state passes the bill, it will be that much easier for other states to pass it.)

No more trainings. No more Google Hangouts. Nothing’s required except a phone, a computer, and your awareness that you can make a difference in helping to pass this bill and make history.

Sign up by emailing us with your interest »