Five Reasons Bullies Bully – And What To Do About It

Bullying in the workplace is a sad fact of life.  I take the view that factors inside the life of a potential bully, plus issues they perceive to be evolving in the workplace, can influence their decision to commence a campaign of workplace bullying.

Whatever their methods each bully has the same aim when they commence a campaign of workplace bullying: to remove power from the colleague they are targeting and retain that control for themselves. Bullies do this by trying to limit the behavioural choices open to the target at the time of an attack. The bully wants the target to feel so anxious that they don’t fight back, leaving the bully fully in charge of the interaction between them. If a bully can successfully do that, they are well on the way to introducing a bullying dynamic into the relationship whereby they use coercive behaviour to keep themselves in control, while the target’s anxiety keeps them on the back foot.

Here are five key contexts for the decision to bully:

  1. The bully starts to fear that they are failing at their job. There is no actual evidence to back up this fear, but his terror of failure and the humiliation which will result, clouds his judgement. The bully targets a successful and popular colleague in a misguided attempt to take the spotlight off his own shortcomings and place it elsewhere.
  2. The bully employs a robust workstyle and has a strong preference for working with people who favour similar values. She feels contempt for any colleague who doesn’t present themselves as able, active and confident. The bully targets an under-stated but effective colleague in order to punish them for being ‘weak’, and to bolster her own flagging self-esteem through a false sense of ‘power’.
  3. The bully becomes jealous of the successes of a colleague. Rather than work hard to learn the skills which would make his own success inevitable, the bully’s jealousy results in him targeting this colleague in an attempt to undermine her performance and prevent her from enjoying the rewards of her success.
  4. The bully fears that her role may be under threat from a talented colleague, even though that colleague is neither competitive nor ambitious. Rather than confront her own irrational fears, and apply herself more diligently to her work, the bully decides to target this colleague to eliminate the opposition.
  5. The bully is envious of the work of a colleague, but rather than learn the skills which will enable him to produce similarly excellent work, the bully targets his colleague, causing her to doubt her own competence and, eventually, under-perform. The way is now open for the bully to ‘rescue’ the target’s work and take over her role.

However, the good news that every target needs to hear is that a clean and clear expression of choice by the target at the time of an attack will alter the bullying dynamic in their favour. Even if their options are limited, targets have some choices open to them in the moment of an attack. It’s what the target says and does in the moment of being bullied that interrupts or maintains the bullying dynamic, and that is where their true power lies. A clean, clear expression of choice results in the bully relinquishing some degree of control and going onto the back foot so that the balance of power between the target and the bully alters in the favour of the target, sometimes sufficiently, sometimes decisively.

Learning how to use the influence available to them under pressure is a key goal for people vulnerable to workplace bullying. Learn how by:

  • Accessing free downloads on how to detoxify, recover from and combat workplace bullying.
  • Reading my award-winning bestseller Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying: Become Bully-Proof and Regain Control of Your Life for input on how to alter the bullying dynamic in your favour at the time of an attack, and how to regain your self-belief and self-confidence after a successful campaign.
  • Reading the only book to show you how to handle the complex dynamics in team bullying: Bullying in Teams: How to Survive It and Thrive for input on how to retain your dignity when you are attacked in a team situation, stand up for team colleague who is bullied in front of others, prevent a bully from controlling your team, and developing a bully-proof mindset.

How to Take the Strain Out of Networking

It can feel daunting to attend a networking event. You might walk into the room and not know anybody and flounder. Even if you do recognise some people you might not know how to approach them. Or what to say if they are already speaking with other people. However, there are some simple skills you can acquire to help you navigate the awkwardness of networking events, and enable you to make fruitful connections and introductions.

Networking is an inescapable part of business life. Whether its an event organised by your own organisation or an event for people from different employers, almost everyone will need to negotiate the pitfalls of participating at some point. It’s a myth to think that some people are born with the ability to form effective, influential connections with very little effort. For sure, some people do have the handy ability to strike up a conversation with seemingly anyone at the drop of a hat. But, in reality, the skills they have honed to make their craft look effortless are actually exactly that: a set of learned skills that they have worked on and developed over a long period of time. And the good news is that there are a number of different ways to engage effectively with people at networking events that don’t involve the art of establishing rapport in a matter of seconds.

I take the view that the art of networking is a set of learned skills which requires the ability to get someone’s attention within a short period of time, and to engage them in a dialogue about issues of mutual interest. It doesn’t require that you ‘build rapport’ straight away, although it is great when that happens, but does need you to recognise the moment for what it is: an opportunity to connect with someone you don’t know very well and who doesn’t see you at work every day. Consequently, they don’t know your strengths, won’t understand what you can offer unless you tell them, and can’t know much about what you do or how you do it. Equally, they may well want to tell you about their work and may also have the potential awkwardness you feel about ‘selling yourself,’ or appearing to ‘blow your own trumpet’. There is likely to be nothing fundamentally wrong with what you want to say, but adjustments to how you say it may be beneficial: where to start your input, the emphasis of what you are saying, how you frame your input to make it directly relevant to the other person, and how you end the dialogue are all important learned skills. Here are some tips to get you off on the crucial right footing at the start of the networking conversation:

Firstly, have a clear goal in mind before you attend the event. What do you want to talk about and with whom? What further contact would you like to have with each of these people after the event, and in what form (email, phone call, skype, face to face meeting)? By when would you like to have this contact?

Secondly, resolve in your own mind whether you prefer to initiate contact and are comfortable approaching your potential contacts yourself, or whether you prefer to respond. It’s a continuum, so some of you will be at one end, some at the other, and some of you may find yourself with no preference either way. Play to your strengths. Some of you will be fine walking up to other people and saying hello. But if you’d prefer to be introduced to someone you want to speak with rather than to approach them yourself, ask one of the organisers to make the introduction for you. You could mention your request to them before the event. Another option could be to contact the person you want to network with ahead of the meeting, letting them know you’d value time with them and will be looking out for them at the event.

Thirdly, think about your opening remarks and practise them before the event. Being clear about what you will say first of all at the start of the conversation means that you can use your energy to connect with the person effectively rather than looking for your words. Whatever you say, say it in a confident way, conveying warmth and interest. Maintain eye contact, smile, shake hands if that feels natural for you. These opening seconds are important in setting an open tone, and in getting the dialogue off on the right footing.

Next, consider what can you offer each of the people you’ve identified in step one that might be of value to them? If you aren’t sure whether you do or don’t have anything of use to them, you can always ask them once the dialogue has begun. ‘I don’t know whether this is of interest to you, but….’ is an overture that tells them immediately that you are thinking about them and interested in what they might value. Equally, you might approach them because they have something you’d value. You could say: ‘My ears pricked up when you said……..’

Now you can use your knowledge of your subject matter, the facts and data you have to hand, your opinions and your questions, and your listening skills just as you would in any other workplace conversation.

3 Principles for Combatting Bullying

My work bullyproofing and recovery from successful campaigns I use three key principles. Here they are:

The first principle is that workplace bullying – whether it happens 1-to-1 or in a team setting – is about power. It is about one person, the bully, seeking to remove power from another person, their target, so that they can retain that control for themselves.  While the methods employed by different bullies are varied and individual to that bully, the underlying aim is always the same: to remove either personal power, reputational influence and/or organisational status from the target and retain those forms of control for themselves.  A bully who attacks a target’s personal power is trying to undermine their relationship with their inner self: their sense of their own value as a person, their self-belief and self-confidence. A bully who attacks a target’s reputational influence is trying to undermine their relationships with co-workers, their credibility and their reputation by causing colleagues to think less well of them as a person or their work quality. A bully who attacks their target’s organisational status is trying to undermine their target’s ability to perform their job or carry out their role effectively. A skilled bully will target all three forms of power simultaneously, an experience which can be overwhelming for a target who does not know how to protect themselves or mitigate the impact of a campaign.

The second principle is that the target has more influence in the moment of attack than they often realise.  There is no blame in this principle at all.  Targets are often distressed, fearful and often paralysed in the moment of attack.  They feel intimidated and on the back foot, and try to get the bullying encounter over with as soon as possible, often resorting to the well-intentioned but ultimately ineffective strategies of compliance and avoidance.  Compliance means doing what the bully wants to get the incident over with as soon as possible.  Avoidance means not confronting the bullying out of the fear that to do so would result in an escalation of aggression.  The short term use of these strategies can be beneficial in that they create respite for the target. But if they are the only strategies a target uses, they can work against their best interests because their use makes it easier for the bully to bully.  I coach clients to recognise the choices they do have at the time of an attack, however limited they may in some instances, and to exercise at least one of them. This is a powerful thing to do because what a target says and does at the time of an attack influences the way the bullying dynamic evolves between them and the bully from that moment onwards. It also means that the target can leave that encounter without feeling as distressed as they do when they behaved powerlessly. Finding something to say which puts the issues back to the bully, takes the spotlight off the target and, with dignity, puts it onto the bully interrupts the bullying dynamic the bully is trying to create, sometimes sufficiently for that encounter, sometimes decisively for that campaign.   Bullies are on the look-out for signs of vulnerability and confusion which they can exploit, and often desist when they realise that the person they have targeted is not a straightforward person to attack.

The third principle is that it is quite possible, with some dedication and know-how, to regain both your self-confidence and self-belief after a campaign, or indeed while a campaign is on-going.  I take the view that confidence is a learned skill, and that with a little effort and encouragement, even targets who have been severely impacted by bullying can re-gain their self-belief, no matter how far it has plummeted due to being successfully targeted.

Learning how to use the influence available to you under pressure is a key goal for people vulnerable to being successfully bullied.  You could start your journey by accessing the valuable free written and audio downloads from this website or, if you’d like to, purchase my award-winning guide Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying: Become Bullyproof and Regain Control of Your Life or the only book available on handling the complex dynamics which evolve when one member of a tea starts to bully at least one other member of the team: Bullying in Teams: How to Survive It and Thrive. Both books are also available on this website.

How to Raise Your Profile Outside of Your Immediate Team

You may be great at building and maintaining high quality relationships with people who work alongside you day-in, day-out. Consequently, those colleagues recognise the value of what you do and how you do it. These co-workers regard you as being someone who works hard, understands your subject matter, has something to say, wants to make a contribution, and is both competent and confident. They know your strengths and your areas for development. They have first hand, regular evidence of the value of the work you do. Within your department or your team you have influence and may even be regarded as an opinion-former on some topics.

But outside of your team or department it may be another story. You might not be that well known and may find it more difficult to get heard. You may lack the basic influence and connections that you need or you might not be known at all. Equally, the reputation you do have might not do justice to your skills. Perhaps you don’t meet many senior managers in the normal course of your work. Or, when you do, struggle to sell yourself to them, and don’t manage to cultivate the degree of positive regard you would like to have. You might think that your ambition and hard work go unacknowledged by those people whose decisions shape the future of your employing organisation, and you may be frustrated that your desire to play a bigger role in the organisation goes unrewarded. You may think that you deserve an opportunity to have greater responsibility and you may believe that you could do a more senior role. However, with your current profile, none of these things is likely to happen. And you don’t know how to bring about a situation where your reputation outside of your team or department becomes a more accurate reflection of your knowledge, application and endeavour within it. You are afraid that you will continually be seen as low key or lacking punch and therefore, unfairly, will be denied opportunities for advancement.

So, what can you do to change your image and manage your profile with the senior people in your organisation who don’t work alongside you on a day-to-day basis?

Firstly, create a plan. Who specifically do you want to raise your profile with? Over what issues do you want to engage with them? What messages do you want them to receive from you about your work and the benefits of your approach to it?

Secondly, enlist the help of carefully selected sponsors. Who do you know who you could approach for an introduction to the senior managers you want to speak with? What testimonials about your good work might these sponsors be willing to pass on? What forums already exist in your organisation where you might have an opportunity to speak with the senior people whose opinion you want to influence? What do you need to do to get an introduction to one of these events?

Thirdly, commit to selling yourself. When you speak with one of the managers whose view of you you want to develop, approach the verbal exchange as a sales conversation. Don’t regard it as a workplace chat. Or as a process in which you are a passive participant. It’s a conversation in which you are going to sell yourself. This is your opportunity to tell a senior manager about the value of the work you do, the outcomes your work creates for customers and your employer, and the fact that you are an effective, available member of staff who would like an opportunity to take on a bigger challenge. Pick one recent piece of work that you handled well and tell your senior colleague in clear, factual terms what you contributed to the project, what successes you had, and how those positive outcomes benefitted your organisation. Don’t give them some of the story, like what work you were involved in, and then omit the punch line: that it was you whose contribution was key in certain areas of the work, or that it was you who managed the project from start to finish. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that they will already know about your good work from someone else and be ready to reward you as soon as they realise who you are. Use the opportunity you have created to bring them up to date: tell your senior colleague what you want them to know about you and back it up with facts that prove your case.

5 Effective Strategies for Confronting a Team Bully

A team bully doesn’t only want to remove power from you, their target, and retain that control for themselves. A team bully also wants to remove power from non-targeted team colleagues so that they can retain as much control as possible over the entire team. 

A true team bully uses behaviour in 1-2-1 encounters with you, and in wider team meetings, which limits the choices available to you at the time of the attack in order to create a bullying dynamic between you.

Importantly, the team bully also wants to alter the wider team dynamic from one characterised by co-operation and goodwill towards one in which relationships become strained, team members defer to them, refuse to confront them, fail to support you, and regard the bullying as ‘normal’ and not noteworthy. Under these circumstances, the team bully will be able to continue their campaign without hindrance, disempowering you and the entire team.

Here are three effective ways for you, the target, to confront a team bully:

  1. Recognize bullying remarks for what they are: tactics designed to undermine you.  A true team bully wants to make you ‘the problem’.  Their bullying remarks highlight what they regard as your deficiencies or errors, issues which they focus on to undermine your self-confidence and to sully your reputation. But as soon as you recognize these comments for what they are – devices through which the bully tries to impugn your credibility in the eyes of colleagues and injure your self-belief – the remarks cease to have the same impact. They are not the truth about you. They are not valid comments about you or your performance. Seen from this standpoint, you can mentally take a step back from a bullying remark and use your energy to formulate an effective rejoinder.
  2. Clarify truth from fabrication.  Many bullying remarks contain a kernel of truth dressed up in fabrications and slanders. The bully takes a fact about you but then embellishes it with a cobweb of deceit before relating these ‘facts’ to colleagues in your hearing in the hope of undermining your self-esteem and impugning your reputation. The bully hopes that your colleagues will recognize the kernel of truth and swallow the falsehoods whole without questioning them.  Should you find yourself on the receiving end of this tactic, your primary task is to clarify the truth from the lies. Repeat back to the bully what you heard them say, before clarifying the truth from the falsehood. A bully who recognizes that you know your own mind, can stand up for yourself, and are not rendered vulnerable by their slanderous attack is likely to back down, at least for that encounter.
  3. Create a consequence for the bully to deal with.  A team bully wants to keep the spotlight on you, their target, and often does this by highlighting what they regard as your shortcomings both as a person and as an employee.  Their aim in doing this is to intimidate you and put you on the back foot. Creating consequences for the bully to deal with in the moment of an attack means putting the issues back to them, requiring them to give account for their behavior. Switching the conversation away from your supposed shortcomings back to the bully interrupts the bullying dynamic the bully wants to create, and puts them onto the back foot.  A pithy well-directed question from you to the bully can derail an attack, and send back the message to the bully that you will not be a straightforward person for them to target.

However, it is vital that non-targeted members of the team confront the team bully as well to prevent them from giving their power away to the bully. Here are a couple of effective ways a non-targeted team member can draw the line when they hear a bullying remark in a team meeting:

  1. Tell the bully that their remarks are out of step with the tone of the meeting, and invite them to re-phrase them.
  2. Remind the bully of the business purpose of the meeting, and tell them to restrict their remarks to relevant work topics only.

Learning how to use the influence available to you to combat team bullying is a key learned skill. You could upgrade your toolkit by:

  • Reading my new book Bullying in Teams: How to Survive It and Thrive for input on how to retain your dignity when you are attacked in a team situation, stand up for team colleague who is being bullied in front of others, prevent a bully from controlling your team, and how to develop a bully-proof mindset.
  • Accessing free audio and written downloads on how to detoxify, recover from and combat workplace bullying