Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 4, Issue 11;   March 17, 2004: When You're the Target of a Bully

When You're the Target of a Bully

by

Workplace bullies are probably the organization's most expensive employees. They reduce the effectiveness not only of their targets, but also of bystanders and of the organization as a whole. What can you do if you become a target?

Thomas was now officially rattled. He thought, 'He knows I hate the name "Tommy".' So he blanked PowerPoint, walked around to Warren's side of the conference table, and said, "Look. For the nth time, my name is Thomas. Not Tommy."

Warren looked up at Thomas from a frightened-looking slouch. "Sure…Thomas? I'm so sorry," he whined with fake sincerity. "I'm sorry if I got you so upset. I'll try to remember. Thomas. Got it."

A target with darts in it

A target with a dart in it. The term target, as applied in the context of bullying, is more apt than might first appear. Many bullies know how to choose targets who are particularly vulnerable to the tactics at which the bully is most adept. Uncanny accuracy is typical.

Warren is clever, and Thomas has just blundered into a trap. Warren had been sniping at Thomas all through the presentation. It wasn't just Warren's use of "Tommy" — there was much more to it. But to some of the others in the room, Thomas now appears to be the bully, and Warren the victim — instead of the reverse.

This tactic, which I call "reversing the victim," is just one of the many available to workplace bullies. By subtly attacking their targets, often in public but out of the awareness of others, bullies can maneuver their targets into "losing it," and then the target seems to others to be the attacker, while the attacker appears to be the victim.

Even if the target retains self-control, and seeks support, witnesses, or advice, the lack of evidence to support charges of abuse can make the target seem "overly sensitive" or "paranoid."

Workplace bullies use aggression to reduce their targets' effectiveness as employees. Often, the motive is political — increased status, political power, or resources — but some bullies attack from compulsion, or for other less rational motives.

What can you do if you become the target of a bully?

Accept that you must defend yourself
Most targets "Reversing the victim"
is just one of many
tactics available to
workplace bullies
are either naïve about attack tactics, or unwilling to mount a counteroffensive. Until you commit to an effective offense, you'll remain a target.
Distinguish the mob from its leader
Bullies recruit allies easily, especially from among those who are relieved that they aren't targets themselves. Be clear in your own mind who the bully really is.
Keep a journal
Record every incident, with as much detail as possible, including time, location, witnesses, and what was said or done. Photos and recordings are helpful.
Don't retaliate in kind; don't run away
Your attacker knows this battlefield better than you do, and has the initiative as well. You'd probably lose in a frontal counterattack. Running away probably won't help either — bullies are everywhere.
File formal complaints
When you've accumulated overwhelming evidence of abuse, exploit your organization's grievance procedures. Escalate to the max. This will make clear to your attacker that continued attacks will be costly. Legal counsel can also be helpful — you might be able to use the law in your counterattack.

Accept that wishing or waiting won't help. Once you're targeted, the safe life you thought you had is over. Go to top Top  Next issue: Intimidation Tactics: Touching  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesAre you being targeted by a workplace bully? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just USD 9.99. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenMEJblbwnnsnqDuBKner@ChaceipKENROhLulYfcFoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Bullying:

Too much time on his handsHurtful Clichés: II
Much of our day-to-day conversation consists of harmless clichés: "How goes it?" or "Nice to meet you." Some other clichés aren't harmless, but they're so common that we use them without thinking. Here's Part II of a series exploring some of these clichés.
Tornado in a mature stage of development (Photo #3 of a series of classic photographs)Responding to Threats: II
When an exchange between individuals, or between an individual and a group, goes wrong, threats often are either the cause or part of the results. If we know how to deal with threats — and how to avoid and prevent them — we can help keep communications creative and constructive.
A Turkey Vulture and its mimic, a Zone-Tailed HawkBiological Mimicry and Workplace Bullying
When targets of bullies decide to stand up to their bullies, to end the harassment, they frequently act before they're really ready. Here's a metaphor that explains the value of waiting for the right time to act.
A P-14 lady beetle devours a pea aphidWorkplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: II
Of the tools we use to address toxic conflict, many are ineffective for ending bullying. Here's a review of some of the tools that don't work well and why.
Gary Jones, Oklahoma State Auditor and InspectorWhen the Chair Is a Bully: III
When the Chair of the meeting is so dominant that attendees withhold comments or slant contributions to please the Chair, meeting output is at risk of corruption. Because Chairs usually can retaliate against attendees who aren't "cooperative," this problem is difficult to address. Here's Part III of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.

See also Workplace Bullying and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Prof. Tom PettigrewComing February 21: The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable. Available here and by RSS on February 21.
Daffodils of the variety Narcissus 'Barrett Browning'And on February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenjQxyLKGlTKRTQGXRner@ChacCfavIACOfuzmYpQzoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.