Workplace Bullying Is A Play: Meet The 6 Characters

workplace bullying process

If you are reading this today, you may have arrived at the page because you are a seeker, teetering between confusion and anger, attempting to make sense of the nonsensical world of workplace bullying.

According to Davenport, Schwartz, and Elliot (1990), workplace bullying, or mobbing, as it is sometimes called, is “a malicious attempt to force a person out of the workplace through unjustified accusations, humiliation, general harassment, emotional abuse, and/or terror. It is a ‘ganging up by the leader(s)—organization, superior, co-worker, or subordinate—who rallies others into systematic and frequent ‘mob-like’ behavior… The result is always injury—physical or mental distress or illness and social misery and, most often, expulsion from the workplace” (p.40).

People Who Bully Others Are Highly Likely
Workplace Bullying Is A Play: Meet The 6 Characters

In an effort to provide a framework to contain the hurt of workplace abuse, I would like for you to think of workplace bullying as a play, and like all plays, it is made up of characters. The play called “Psychological Terrorism” rests on the plotlines of six archetypes, each inhabiting an essential role in the bullying process.

Momentarily, you will meet the Innovators, who think past the page of tradition in search of solutions to entrenched institutional problems. Their curiosity awakens the Dragons, who write the playbook and use gossip, manipulation, sabotage, and exclusion to enforce the rules.

Flanking the sidelines are the Shapeshifters, who in their desperate search for recognition and power do the Dragon’s biddings, and the Community Builders, whose “go along to get along” attitude and easy demeanor makes them reluctant to take creative risks and speak out against injustices. Next, you have the Figurehead, whose sense of self-worth is dependent on maintaining a steep hierarchy that shields her from wading into the muck of messy problems.

Lastly, there is the Leader. She is a unicorn, rare and seldom seen, her door is wide open, signaling her willingness to intently listen to stories of inequity and pain. She tackles abuses head-on, unwavering in her commitment to stand for the “hard right over the easy wrong” even at a high cost to herself.

As a Narrative Inquiry researcher, I have collected the stories of close to 200 victims of workplace bullying across 27 states and eight countries. Inside the victims’ stories, the same characters emerge. Though categorization can oversimplify complex phenomenons, it offers us signposts for who we are dealing with and what they might do next.

Let’s Meet The 6 Types Of Players In The Workplace Bullying:

1. Innovators

Victims of workplace abuse are most often Innovators who engage full-heartedly in the creative life, reading widely across perspectives, cultivating relationships with diverse people and ideas, and living their fluid discoveries out loud in the world. They often serve as unelected and unintentional change agents in their organizations, undeterred by rules and traditions.

Innovators are community-minded but independent, fueled by internal curiosities and a strong moral compass, as opposed to a reliance on external validations. They are energized by perspectives that challenge their own beliefs, constantly attempting to outgrow themselves. These creatives make connections across communities, research fields, and content areas. Their inclusivity and propensity to ask questions enrage the Dragon, for her power diminishes when people talk.

Innovators often become the Dragon’s target for one of three reasons: Their productivity, popularity, and expertise threaten insecure colleagues; their creative ideas challenge the “we have always done it this way” mindset of the organization; or their high ethical standards charge them to expose questionable and illegal practices that hurt the people the company is called to serve.

Related: Personal Boundaries: 9 Core Boundaries To Live By

2. Dragons

Dragons are dedicated to writing, posting, and enforcing the manual of organizational behavior and compliance. They embrace their anger and openly rage against the opposition. Dragons set the agenda as de facto leaders, elected and appointed by themselves.

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Dorothy Suskind Ph.D.

Dorothy Suskind, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Education and Counseling Department at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. Over the last two decades, she has taught in elementary schools, middle schools, prisons and served as a reading specialist and middle school principal. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and has published over twenty research articles and presented at over forty conferences across the country as well as in Australia and South Africa. Her research interests include workplace bullying, writing as a tool for empowerment, critical literacy, social justice, creativity, and innovation. Dr. Suskind completed the Workplace Bullying University training with Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute and foremost expert in the United States on workplace abuse.View Author posts