Motivation and emotion/Book/2014/Workplace bullying motivation

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Workplace bullying:
What motivates bullying in the workplace?


This chapter will inform you of workplace bullying identifying the behavior of the workplace bullies and how to spot them in your own workplace. It will also help you understand that there are many forms of bullying. This chapter aims to guard you with information to navigate your workplace and be one step ahead.


One feature common to all definitions of workplace bullying is the experience of negative verbal or non-verbal behaviour. (Ayoko et al., 2003) Using victim accounts as a basis, a diverse array of negative workplace behaviours, ranging from the covert and subtle, such as a dirty look or a snide comment, to the overtly aggressive, such as an item being thrown or a physical threat, have been cited by researchers and practitioners as examples of workplace bullying conduct; (Baron & Neuman, 1998). When asked to indicate the types of behaviours they have experienced in their workplace, employees report that they are subjected to subtle and less obvious bullying behaviours much more frequently than they are subjected to more overt forms of bullying . Regardless of the nature and blatancy of the behaviour perpetrated, the perceptions of a behaviour by the target as negative and inappropriate is a core and agreed upon component of any definition of workplace bullying. (Bjorkqvist et al., 1994). In an earlier overview of research, Rayner and Ho¨el (1997) grouped workplace bullying behaviours into the following types:

  • Threat to professional status

Belittling opinion, public professional humiliation, and accusation regarding lack of effort.

  • Threat to personal standing

Name-calling, insults, intimidation, and devaluing with reference to age.

  • Isolation

Preventing access to opportunities, physical or social isolation, and withholding of information.

  • Overwork

Undue pressure, impossible deadlines, and unnecessary disruptions.

  • Destabilisation

Failure to give credit when due, meaningless tasks, removal of responsibility, repeated reminders of blunders, and setting up to fail.

  • Relational bullying

In which the bully damages the victim’s friendship networks.


Frequency and Duration[edit]

While some degree of repetition is usually thought to characterize bullying, there is no agreement on the extent of frequency and duration needed to define it. Anecdotal accounts indicate the belief that a colleague can bully another person without demonstrating regular behaviour. (Cowie et al)

Imbalance of Power[edit]

Some imbalance of power is usually thought to characterize bullying. Einarsen and Skogstad (1996, p. 187) argue that a person is bullied if he or she is repeatedly subjected to negative acts in the workplace, adding that ‘to be a victim of such bullying one must also feel inferiority in defending oneself in the actual situation.’ This means that they do not limit their definition of bullying to a set of ‘objectively’ predefined negative acts; furthermore, they invoke the subjective experience of the victim.

Values and Norms of the Workplace[edit]

The values and norms of the workplace influence how bullying is defined in that context, how employees interpret situations (for example, as ‘bullying’ or ‘firm management’), and whether bullying is recognized as a problem. (Einarsen & Raknes, 1997) view the culture of the workplace as a form of filter through which behaviours are interpreted and through which a range of behaviours is accepted or tolerated.

The Workplace Bully as Master Manipulator[edit]

(Namie, 2000)

A skilled workplace bully is usually an expert at manipulation. Through artful, indirect and devious methods, they influence and control others. Like a clever politician, a manipulative workplace bully keeps their desires hidden. Pretending to pursue the greater good, they adopt the mantra of “company first” with a fervency that inspires admiration and respect, and most people accept their claims of selfless pursuit of noble causes. But underneath their self-righteous image lies the essence of a manipulator: someone who shrewdly and deviously attempts to control how you feel, think and behave.

Methods of manipulation:

  • Distortion of human relationship
  • Lack of respect for others
  • Exploit negative personality traits

Distortion of human relationship[edit]

Healthy human interactions are not dominated by manipulation instead; you find genuine concern for others and a sense of cooperation. Even when people have their own self-interest in mind, the principle of fair exchange is followed. Now compare these honourable behaviours with a manipulator rather than the simplicity of straightforward, mutually respectful relationships, they find clever and indirect means to control others. They deceive and seduce, or create a chaotic, complex situation within an emotionally supercharged work environment, allowing them to stealthily exploit the naiveté and character flaws of others. To a skilled workplace bully, human interaction is all about manipulation.

Lack of respect for others[edit]

At the root of these manipulative behaviours is a pervasive lack of respect for others. A manipulative bully holds him or herself in high esteem, but views others as deeply flawed. They are blind to the serious defects in their character, but keenly aware of the slightest weakness or imperfection in others. They are convinced that most people are inferior to themselves. Because the workplace bully doesn’t respect you as an individual, they don’t respect your right to make your own choices. If you are ‘with’ a bully, they attempt to thoroughly dominate you and if you are against them they feel no pang of conscience as they undermine you or strive to get you fired. It never occurs to him that you possess an equal right to pursue success and happiness.

Exploit negative personality traits[edit]

From a manipulative bully’s perspective, people with negative personality traits are ideal targets. They can more easily manipulate people who are greedy, submissive or anxious. Or people who are blindly sacrificing and naively supportive, or perhaps just trying too hard to please others. Their cunning and deceitfulness are powerful weapons against the weaknesses of others. A manipulative bully’s own nature is a study in negative traits. They are shrewd and dominant, the negative version of leadership and strength. They are judgmental, suspicious, demanding and calculating, all negative personality characteristics. Even their outward charm is cold and calculated. They lacks positive personality traits, such as genuine concern for others, a generous and understanding nature, a desire to teach and encourage, a desire to have straightforward dealings with others. The workplace bully dwells in a very dark place lit only by their own hyper-inflated ego and ambition.

If you stay out of their world of negative personality traits, you will be a much more difficult target for their manipulation.

How Does a Manipulative Bully Think?[edit]

(Rayner C, 1997)

How a manipulator thinks:

  • Image vs. reality
  • Centre of their own universe
  • Master of deception
  • Full of rationalisations

Image vs. reality[edit]

A manipulative bully is preoccupied with image, particularly their own. They want to be viewed as highly competent and successful, selfless and noble, a true leader who only wants what is best for their company and the people who work there. Their reality, however, is vastly different. If you see through their mask, a disturbing truth appears: they are scheming and deceitful, driven by an obsessive desire for power, prestige and/or money.

Their outward image is intended to convey virtue and self-sacrifice:
“I care about you. I care about the company. Trust me.”

But what they are actually thinking they would never say to your face:
“You don’t have my savvy, intelligence and strength. You aren’t aggressive and competitive, so you must be weak. I’m going to discover where you are vulnerable, and then use that to control your emotions and behaviour.
“I will make you help me become more successful. I may cause you some pain, but that’s okay, because that’s my ‘tough management’ style. And if you don’t cooperate, I’ll make sure you don’t succeed there, or perhaps even get you fired.”

Centre of their own universe[edit]

A manipulative bully never sees things through the eyes of others. That would require empathy, which they lack. Instead, they create their own reality, in which they are at the centre.

What truly matters to a manipulator?
Their own ambitions are most important, particularly financial and career success. They may also seek a vaunted status. They enjoy being the centre of attention and want everything to revolve around them. They derive satisfaction from successfully dominating others.

Why are some manipulators so self-absorbed and aggressive?
Self-absorption and aggressiveness often stem from a lack of control over impulses. When a manipulator lacks internal brakes (which occur naturally for those who are self-aware and care about others), they learn that pleasure comes through impulsiveness and aggression, especially when applied with a keen understanding of human weakness. Often past successes may have taught a work place bully how to control the behaviours of others through exploitation of fear or guilt. The success of workplace bullying feeds their ego and increases their self-absorption, making it easier for him to justify their behaviour as perfectly acceptable, even desirable.

Does a manipulative bully care about other people?
They only care to the extent others can gratify their ego and help them succeed. Absent are they to healthy relationships of mutual respect. They may experience the beginnings of selfless affection for someone else, but sooner or later their ego reasserts it primacy.

Why is a bully so anxious to control people?
A bully never wants to look ineffective and powerless. In their thinking, if they can’t control the people close to them, upper management won’t view him or her as a strong leader. So they become frustrated when other shows any independent thinking or actions that might threaten their control and tarnish their image.

Why is a bully so hot-and-cold?
They fluctuate wildly in their treatment of people they “own” because their possessiveness leads to pride of ownership. When one of their possessions does something right, it gratifies their ego. But when they believes someone has made them look bad they get angry and if they feel betrayed, they becomes jealous and can retaliate.

Does a manipulative bully feel bad about hurting and exploiting others?
They have no respect for people who are emotionally weak and vulnerable, so they don’t feel bad about exploiting them. At the same time, they believe that their superior intellect, uncommon wisdom and noble ambition justify their aggressively controlling of other people. By forcing them to follow their leadership, they are doing them a favour (in their thinking). As the centre of their own universe, they are very good at rationalising their behaviours so that they feel noble.

Master of deception[edit]

It is counterproductive for a manipulative bully to be straightforward: no one would support him if they revealed their true character. An effective manipulator must be a master of deception. Their repertoire includes hiding their true intentions and predatory nature, concealing information of potential value to others, misleading people on key issues, effectively using hearsay and innuendo, and otherwise obscuring the truth. They shrewdly use these deceptions to sway others, always to their personal advantage, often to the detriment of their fellow workers.

Controls their conscience through rationalisations[edit]

A manipulative bully wants to maintain their focus and which means they can’t be constantly worrying about their questionable motives and negative impact on others. To keep their conscience in control, they rationalise their bullying behaviour.

Ends justify the mean
“Even though my tactics may be a little harsh, my success will bring great things to the company. I must use whatever means are necessary to gain the compliance of others, and I must retaliate against anyone who threatens my good intentions.”

Superior judgment
“Because I have superior intellect, experience, vision and drive to succeed, my judgment is much better than those around me. That makes it desirable to force my will upon others. They will be better off than if they relied on their own inferior abilities.”

Tough management
“Tough management is the best way to get things done. I am strong and I manage with a firm hand. I may hurt others now and then, but they are better for it.” Get them before they get me
“In the competitive world of business, you are either a predator or a victim. If I don’t destroy the competition, they will destroy me.”

Winning is all that matters
“I am displaying the values of winning, including vision, leadership, competitiveness and gamesmanship. I am building a legacy of success that others will respect and honour.”

Identifying a Workplace Bully[edit]

(Rhodes, C 2010)

A workplace bully prefers you to be blind to his true nature. Perceptive people are difficult targets. And the better your understanding of a bully and their behaviours, the more effective you will be in applying the techniques for fighting back. This section fleshes out the essentials for identifying a bully, including his basic methods and classic characteristics. In later sections, we’ll get into numerous, specific traits of a bully--visible and hidden--and the type of environment that encourages workplace bullies (the toxic workplace).

Basic methods of a workplace bully[edit]

Although a workplace bully has many ways of controlling others and gaining power, five basic methods form the foundation of their powerful strategy for personal success. The most effective bullies employ these in a skilful blend of charm and aggression that carries them to the top of their profession.

Basic bully methods:

  • Manipulates through seduction
  • Intimidates through verbal aggression
  • Uses political gamesmanship
  • Plays mind games
  • Disguises true intentions and emotions

Manipulates through seduction[edit]

A bully encourages others to obey them by offering to meet their emotional and financial needs. They may promise friendship, respect, career advancement and financial rewards, hoping you will strive for the success and acceptance that can come through him. However, they only delivers on the promises when it benefits them

Intimidates through verbal aggression[edit]

A bully is verbally aggressive in order to intimidate others into compliance. He or she uses angry outbursts as a weapon. He threatens failure, or uses guilt and shame to appeal to your sense of duty. If you resist, they argue and if they feel that the person they are bullying needs to be taught a lesson, they embarrass the individual in front of others.

Uses political gamesmanship[edit]

A bully is constantly building their own power base building alliances within the company and undermines anyone who won’t support them. They gather damaging information on their opponents, and will blame them for any failures. They use subtle, negative phrasing to demean opponents and weaken them. The bully will also seek to control more company resources, which means fewer resources are available for rivals.

Plays mind games to distort the thinking of others[edit]

A bully creates an alternative reality in the minds of those around them. They keep people off-balance through half-truths, hearsay and misstatements. The distorted version of events is intended to obscure and confuse, often they intentionally misleads you so that you arrive at an incorrect conclusion, and then exposes your mistaken opinion as proof of your ignorance or unreliability.

Disguises true intentions and emotions[edit]

A bully puts on a good act to gain your trust and respect. They never reveal their true intentions they aim to conceal their attitudes and emotions, which are generally self-absorbed and disrespectful of others. They strive to maintain an image of strength, vision and leadership, and thus avoids exposing their underhanded, manipulative nature. A skilled bully can achieve a lifetime of success through their deceptions.

Bully Traits[edit]

(Rhodes, C 2010).

Visible bullying traits:[edit]

  1. Controls you
  2. Very ambitious
  3. Overly confident
  4. Strong-willed
  5. Argumentative
  6. Judgmental
  7. Highly critical
  8. Character assassin
  9. Vengeful

Hidden bullying traits[edit]

  1. Charming
  2. Obsessed with image
  3. Distorts truth and reality
  4. Evasive
  5. Plays the victim
  6. Self-righteous
  7. Pompous
  8. Hypocritical
  9. Two-faced
  10. Spreads Rumors
  11. Passive-aggressive
  12. Pretends to care

Your Rights[edit]

Safe and healthy working conditions are enshrined by the United Nations and the government is liable for your workplace injuries. Bullying events can be threatening and harmful, you may will feel fear as you anticipate what will happen. Once that harm has occurred, your workplace could have caused you a serious emotional injury.

United Nations Article 7 UCESCR[edit]

The United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO) state that you are entitled to safe and healthy working conditions.

UCESCO Article 7

International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)

The States to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which ensure, in particular:

(b)Safe and healthy working conditions;

World Health Organization Act (Cth) 1947[edit]

The World Health Organization Act (Cth) 1947 approved of Australia becoming a member of the WHO and Australia became a signatory. The First Schedule of the WHO Act 1947 states that ‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’.


Workplace bullying comes in a vast amount of shapes and sizes, and at times you can be getting bullied on a sliding scale of severity, additionally you may be causing bullying by your actions. Using this chapter you will be able to identify workplace bullies by their behaviour and will have an understating of their motivations and will be able to keep your behaviours in check.


Ayoko, O. B., Callan, V. J., & Hartel, C. E. (2003). Workplace conflict, bullying, and counterproductive behaviors. International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 11, 283−301.

Baron, R. A., & Neuman, J. H. (1998).Workplace aggression—The iceberg beneath the tip of workplace violence: Evidence of its forms, frequency,and targets. Public Administration Quarterly, 21, 446−464.

Bjorkqvist, B., Osterman, K., & Hjelt-Back, M. (1994). Aggression among university employees. Aggressive Behavior, 20, 173−184.

Cowie, H., Naylor, P., Rivers, I., Smith, P., Pereira, B., (2000). Measuring Workplace Bullying. Journal of Aggression and Violent Behavior, 7, 33-51.

Einarsen, S., & Raknes, B. (1997). Harassment in the workplace and the victimisation of men. Violence and Victims, 12, 247–263.

Einarsen, S., & Skogstad, A. (1996). Bullying at work: epidemiological findings in public and private organizations. European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, 5, 185–201

Rayner, C. (1997). The incidence of workplace bullying. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 7, 199–208.

Rayner, C., & Ho¨el, H. (1997). A summary review of literature relating to workplace bullying. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 7, 181–191.

Rhodes, C., Pullen, A., Vickers, M., Clegg, S., Pitsis, A. (2010). Violence and workplace bullying. Administrative Theory & Praxis, 32(1), 96-115.

Namie, G. (2000) The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job,

United Nations International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

World Health Organization (2001). The World Health Report 2001. Mental health: New Understanding, New Hope. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.

World Health Organization (1996). Prevention of Violence: Public Health Priority.

External links[edit]