Targets of workplace bullying are often generous creatives who foster community and search for innovative solutions to knotty problems, characteristics that contribute to the success of the organizations they serve. So why are these top performers sometimes targeted for abuse on the job?
Let’s meet the players. The Namies (2009), founders of the Workplace Bullying Institute, use the following adjectives to describe bullies: Unpredictable, controlling, manipulative, and jealous. In contrast, targets of workplace abuse are thought of as innovative, competent, altruistic, and highly ethical. If you were to write these eight adjectives out on index cards and lay them upon the table, the opposing natures of the two descriptions are readily apparent, offering insight into who gets bullied and why.
To dig deeper into the bully’s selection process, below is a description of the top six defining traits of targets of workplace abuse, according to research, and why they trigger bullies to pounce. As you read, notice how bullies’ need for control and power thread the narratives (Carbo, 2017; Duffy and Sperry, 2014; Namie and Namie, 2009).
6 Defining Traits Of Targets Of Workplace Bullying
Targets tend to exude positive energy. They stop colleagues in the hall to see how they are doing and listen intently as they share. When a peer is chosen for an award, selected to work on a big campaign, or secures a record-breaking bonus, targets are often genuinely happy for their friend’s win. Colleagues enjoy targets’ company and often comment on their warmth and authenticity.
Bullies may become jealous of targets’ perceived social capital and spread gossip in an effort to tarnish targets’ reputations and get them excluded from work meetings and social events.
Bullies often employ the tactic of the “silent army” in which they tell targets how “everybody” was gossiping about them after work, but fail to supply names or details. These stories are often purposely fabricated in order to shake targets’ confidence and make them feel like they do not belong.
Targets tend to be community builders, making sure each person feels like he is part of the team. When someone speaks to a target harshly or leaves her out of an important meeting, she makes the most generous assumptions regarding the behavior. She may think to herself, “I imagine he is just having a bad day,” or “She probably didn’t realize I was not on the calendar invite.”
Bullies seek power through the path of least resistance. When they make a move and meet with aggression, the bullies will usually retreat and seek out a new victim without claws. Bullies may be attracted to targets’ kindness and benevolent worldview and set out to take advantage of their good nature and forgiving spirit.
3. Highly Skilled:
Targets tend to be top performers in their field. They possess rich content knowledge and others often seek them out for advice. It doesn’t take long for targets’ expertise to shine through, resulting in well-earned accolades and promotions.
Bullies, on the other hand, may give the illusion of success, pretending to be experts and top producers. A peek behind their masks, however, reveals bullies’ tendencies to offload work on others, take credit for colleagues’ ideas, and deflect responsibility anytime someone questions their competence or work ethic. Bullies are often intensely jealous of targets’ expertise, so in order to maintain their Oz status, they employ manipulative tactics that enable them to hide their lack of skills in the shadows.
4. Internally Motivated:
Targets are in competition with themselves, internally motivated to beat their last efforts. The satisfaction of a well-written article, a thoughtfully run in-service, or a successful product launch is a reward in itself. Targets tend not to require a saturation of external praise to maintain their self-worth.