“Bullying is demeaning, ostracizing, disempowering, cruel, threatening, humiliating, untruthful, and unrelated to work itself,” says the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI). In a 2014 poll, WBI asked respondents what the most offensive aspects of the bullying experience are. They are, in order of popularity:
Being accused of incompetence when I possessed more technical skills than my accuser
“[Targets] posed a threat for the thin-skinned perpetrators who appear less capable by comparison,” says WBI. “The most offensive act was the bully’s lie that the target was incompetent. The claim is dissonant with everything the target has known about her- or himself for an entire work career. It would be laughable were it not for the power the perpetrator yields to act in accordance with the lie. Soon after leveling the false charges (and they are false by objective criteria), perpetrators rely on human resources support to start a performance improvement plan (PIP). The PIP itself is humiliating but doubly harmful because it is not based on facts or data.”
Being humiliated in front of coworkers and feeling ashamed though I did nothing wrong
“Once an accusation of incompetence is made, nothing the target says will be believed by management. Being humiliated in front of coworkers triggers and justifies coworkers’ social exclusion directed at the target, their former friend. And each of the tactics generates a great deal of shame,” explains WBI.
Management ignoring my complaint
When managers ignore complaints of workplace bullying, the bullied target is made to believe that the complaint is illegitimate. “The person is made to feel that he or she had no right to feel wronged…. By ignoring the complaint or treating it with indifference, management, speaking for the employer, is saying that the problem with the bully is not real or is not as big as the target believes it is. Management support for the bully trumps all of the harm the perpetrator caused the target…. When management abdicates its responsibility for the bullies behavior, it shifts the blame from leadership to a lower level, HR, problem. In fact, bullying can be resolved only by leadership, not HR,” says WBI.
Having coworkers ostracize, exclude, and reject me
“The lies, humiliation, shame and exclusion are the most insufferable aspects of bullying and define the experience,” explains WBI.
Retaliation that followed my complaint
Present in 99 percent of cases according to a WBI study, retaliation is inevitable. “Senior managers tend to punish complainants who dare to reveal negative information about bullies in lower or middle management with strong personal bonds with those senior managers,” says WBI.
Other responses (in order of popularity)
Having coworkers not support me
Not being left alone to do my work without meddling
HR not treating my complaint seriously
Losing my job
Told to be sympathetic towards the bully’s issues
Stigmatized as weak or as victim
Told to toughen up
My inability to get a comparable next job
The bad reference that prevented getting a next job
Denial of unemployment
Denial of workers comp claim
Simply put, to end workplace bullying, we focus on the actual root of the problem: the bullies. Why? We keep the focus on the bullies as the problem — not how targets react or what personality traits might be flawed (especially since it’s the strengths of the target that puts him or her at risk).
Why bullies bully
Sociopaths can’t empathize (put themselves in others’ shoes) because they’re so completely cut off from their own emotions — particularly fear, hurt, and vulnerability, which they see as a shameful weakness. “If you can’t feel your own emotions, you can’t resonate and empathize with the emotions of other people,” says Joseph Burgo, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and author of The Narcissist You Know: Defending Yourself Against Extreme Narcissists in an All-About-Me World.
More on why a bully bullies: