★ Overview ★ General Strategies ★ Specific Tactics ★ Tools Against Bullying
I’m not sure the term Workplace Bullying really captures the essence what happens. This name bullying has too many connotations attached to it. It’s associated too much with what happens in middle schools and on playgrounds, making you seem helpless and incapable of handling your own problems.
While bullying in the workplace is similar, there are many differences. Bullying in the workplace is more methodical, plausible deniability is usually exploited and it’s usually motivated by the bully’s fear of being inadequate. Additionally, workplace bullying involves many strategies and tactics which aren’t inherently harmful or evil in themselves. Many of these tactic are necessary for proper management and are invaluable for leadership. However, when certain actions are used repetitively with the wrong intentions, this is when you can begin to argue that you are being bullied at work.
However, the term “bullying” tends to evoke the wrong imagery and maybe paints the victim of workplace bullying as being helpless. For the most part, bullying in school tends to involve kids who just don’t understand how their behavior is ignorant and extremely harmful. Bullies in school tend not to be as manipulative; they don’t need to be to avoid being caught and so bullying is less subtle. Additionally, they aren’t motivated by financial incentives. Both occur in environments where the victims are trapped to some degree; that is, the victims have some obligation to be remain in the environment.
In general life, if someone mistreats you, you can usually just ignore or avoid that person. It becomes much harder if this takes place in situations where you are required to be. For example, if you may need to uproot your family and move in order to find another job. These kinds of disasterous consequences can be detrimental on someone’s life.
But it’s a serious issue that can have detrimental effects on the victim’s personal relationships and family life. Mobbing occurs when an individual is ganged up on in the workplace or in another social setting. It’s hard to imagine several people agreeing to treat someone in such a way, but it happens. There are many instances like this where this behavior occurs. But when it does, it’s usually the result of external pressure. People don’t naturally conspire to gang up on others. Certain situations in business particularly can provide the incentives to make this more likely to occur.
★ Before suspected layoffs. Maybe revenue numbers have mysteriously leaked out of the accounting department.
★ During a merger or organizational restructuring.
When [mobbing] occurs as emotional abuse in the workplace, such as “ganging up” by co-workers, subordinates or superiors, to force someone out of the workplace through rumor, innuendo, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting, and isolation, it is also referred to as malicious, nonsexual, nonracial, general harassment.
But according to the wikipedia, here’s some of the effects mobbing can have on victims. Many of these apply to bullying as well.
Victims of workplace mobbing frequently suffer from: adjustment disorders, somatic symptoms (e.g., headaches or irritable bowel syndrome), psychological trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. In mobbing targets with PTSD, Leymann notes that the “mental effects were fully comparable with PTSD from war or prison camp experiences. Some patients may develop alcoholism or other substance abuse disorders. Family relationships routinely suffer. Some targets may even develop brief psychotic episodes, generally with paranoid symptoms. Leymann estimated that 15% of suicides in Sweden could be directly attributed to workplace mobbing.
Think about that for a second:
”.. somatic symptoms (e.g., headaches or irritable bowel syndrome)” ….. as in “They bullied him until he shit himself?”
I’m tired of being the victim here
And too often, when I complain to my friends and family, they just tell me to look past it, to ignore it. They claim I’m paranoid or looking too deeply into things. Actually, this isn’t terrible advice: it’s important to not get caught up in a bully’s games, but sometimes they’re really hard to ignore. I’m tired of doing nothing. So, I’m going to describe exactly how to do this to someone. This is how it happens. Personally, I’m amazed that some poeple are capable of this or that people could do this at all.
Phillip Perea is a good example of someone who was pushed to the limit and you can watch his Youtube Documentary here. He even has recordings of meetings, where you listen in and see just how authority figures in his office made unethical, selfishly motivated decisions. Philip Perea also recently commited suicide after career assassination, which is actually typical after some extreme workplace bullying incidents. You can read more below. Career assassination is covered in the general strategy “Following Up.” Some bullies will see to it that you never have another chance again!
If you find yourself the victim of some of these strategies, remember that you may be overthinking things. Before you can be certain that someone really is trying to bully you at work, you need to account for dozens of examples of this behavior, implemented as part of a concerted strategy against you. If you act prematurely, you’ll just find yourself labelled as paranoid and you’ll be easily isolated.
And while this article seems incredibly negative, I don’t want to give readers the impression that I view everyone I work with as an opponent! This is one of the problems with manipulative, toxic people like this. They turn a positive team environment into a living hell for everyone. They stir up problems, so they can take advantage of the chaos later on. Often, if you’re bullied at work, you’ll find that you’re not the only one! And you may also find that, later on, this person used the circumstances they created in order to gain power.
General Strategies of Workplace Bullying
Utilizing passive aggressive behavior to make someone miserable:
In general, these are the tactics you will find yourself facing if someone is going to bully you out of work or attempt to exploit passive aggressive behavior.
The bully will want to make sure that what they do seems justified. If there are ways of distracting their opponent to prevent them from completing work, you can bet on it: they will pursue those tactics.
At the end of the game, they need the system to approve everything they’ve done. If management views the bully as someone who pushed out an employee who didn’t accomplish much, the management may actually favor that person as someone who helped avoid their hands getting dirty! So the bully will pursue strategies and distort the perceptions of those around them to make sure that, after the endgame plays out, the system will favor everything they did!
Watch Out! These kinds of early-game strategies are subtle and before you know it, you’ll find yourself surrounded. These are the kinds of chips that a manipulative opponent will stack against you, probably while they are acting like your new best buddy.
In a subsequent part of this series, I’m going to describe ways of distracting people in software specifically, by abusing bureaucracy, with fools errand’s and through other means.
Moral of the story: keep your eye on the ball!
The bully will find multiple explanations for their behavior and get people to become aware of them, even though they’re duplicitous. This confuses anyone that might try to stop them. This person will be indirect, they will always prefer to obscure or to avoid revealing what they want. They may distract you by giving away false motivations.
How do you pick up on this?
“1 + 1 == 2!” – fantastic advice. It is incredibly hard for people to fake consistency. Therefore, ask lots of questions, be skeptical of people who reveal little and be wary of those whose motivations do not add up.
This person wants to make you give up, so they have control. Therefore they will want to make you feel the burn. If they can make you feel bad or question everything that you do, you’re going to be less able to defend yourself.
This one is used by every workplace bully I know and one of their most important tactics. They will seek to control visibility. They will react differently to you in front of different people. They may chastise you and belittle you in private. They may ask you to lunch privately to ask you leading questions.
They will abuse Carbon Copy on email. In other words, they will leave off your manager when asking for help or asking for your advice or when congradulating you for a job well done. Then, they will C.C. their manager when it suits them.
Controlling the audience is usually a coincidence – most people don’t think of this in this way. It’s important not to jump to conclusions here. After all, many times, that’s just how the chips fall. But, after it happens repeatedly and with strategic purpose, it becomes hard to ignore.
This may be the most important tactic a workplace bully persues! They will attempt to isolate you, which is easier if you are quiet and keep to yourself.
General word of advice: establish as many authentic relationships with colleagues as early as possible. Help others out, so that when you need help, they will be there for you. Get to know other people, so that you establish strong relationships early on. Don’t allow one or two relationships to dominate your work life.
You are at a disadvantage in this regard, if you have High Functioning Autism. You’re the weak link – maybe not weak in terms of competence – but if you haven’t played the game right and you haven’t established relationships, then you’re simply the easiest person to cut out from the network.
Have you ever watched a lion hunt? Which animals to they go for? How do they do it?
They chase the pack of animals, which naturally separates the weakest, slowest one. They isolate this animal and then it’s over.
And you will find yourself targeted. A workplace bully is usually one who is afraid of being cut out themselves. In fact, they have honed these tools as a response to being cut out from previous opportunities, for competence. But where they do excel is manipulation. This is perhaps the most frustrating part: these people excel in constructing contrived circumstances that make people at your office unhappy! They may appear useful, but it’s usually because they take credit for other people’s work.
Managers: *Visibility, *Visibility, VISIBILITY! ** Do not allow one person to construct your perspective of your office’s environment and culture!
“Those are the Rules! Sorry, not my fault!”
This person excels at operating within the system. Contrary to popular misconceptions, many sociopaths are actually great at playing by the rules and obeying laws. In fact, they excel at using the system against people. A workplace bully will construct contrived situations where you are publicly humiliated by the system.
The rules don’t favor the bully? The bully will find ways to implement new rules that do. This person will use the system to construct a box around you. Likely, they will avoid calling someone out on these new rules until you are fully trapped.
Examples of this behavior include complaining to management about minor problems. Acting like certain situations are unfair. They do this one on one with a manager, out of sight. The manager then responds as they should, by enforcing a policy which seems fair. But really, the workplace bully is just trying to trap you by setting up a game where you will fail.
“But he comes in an hour late every day!”
… yeh, I also stayed an hour late every day. Big fucking deal. I’m a programmer – good programmers eliminate time.
The bully will attempt to get other people to do the dirty work. This is very complicated, since you have to construct abstracted behavior to pass to other people, often using suggestion and manipulation. I honestly don’t get how people do it.
This is usually harder to achieve and requires someone who is particularly manipulative. Therefore, you won’t tend to see this happening, unless multiple people gang up on you at work – which is called mobbing by the way.
It seems to be easier if you excel at math, especially category theory, since you are technically obfuscating functions in a manner such that the behavior you intend will be executed by someone else.
Oh, but when a catspaw is caught? Well then, it’s on them, isn’t it? Oftentimes, when a catspaw is caught in the act, a bully will use this as a reason to push that person out – and thus, that person is no longer a threat to the bully.
This is another gem from Sun Tzu’s art of war: limit the opponent to playing from the cards in your hand. Besides using suggestion, the bully in this case would really need to be a manager in order to get this to work. And then, it’s really hard to question, isn’t it – after all, that person is your manager.
This is a vital one and one that doesn’t necessarily indicate a workplace bully. Just like the principle behind using catspaws, you don’t want to get your hand caught in the fire.
In business, this is often known as giving someone enough rope to hang themselves. If you find yourself in a position at work where things seem to be going really badly and then suddenly, you’re solely entrusted with a major project and all then tensions seem to vanish – this is probably because you’re about to get fired!
If that is the case, then this is probably your last week. This is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and this major new responsibility is one where you’re intended to fail. For example, you may reach out to your coworkers, who don’t efficiently or honestly answer your questions. Congratulations, you’ve just found yourself hung out to dry.
However, workplace bullies will time after time, set up a game where the victim is intended to lose. This is setting someone up for failure and, depending on the degree of failure you intend, could really be a business sin.
But it really depends on the intention behind the act: did you really intend to set someone up for failure? Or is that just how it played out? Either way, it’s your fault: you shouldn’t entrust someone who isn’t ready with major responsibilities.
The workplace bully, early on, will attempt to psychologically profile you. They will ask you questions that will allow them to label you and place you in a neat little box that makes it easy to manipulate you. They will be especially prone to asking questions about your lifestyle and especially your age. I have found, time and time again, that one of the first things a workplace bully does is asks my age. Every. Single. Time!
Now, normally, these are just questions which happen to come up. When people want to get to know each other, these are they questions they ask:
Are you single, dating or married? Do you have kids?
How old are you? Where are you from?
Do you drink? Do you smoke?
Do you smoke … weed?
Ok, that one doesn’t normally come up very early.
I heard you were libertarian
… is that true? They probably won’t ask this directly, but they will label you with it. Or they might. Happened to me.
See, but that’s the problem right there: plausible deniability. Remember that? These are just questions people ask to get to know each other – forget about whether or not you are even legally allowed to ask some of these questions! You will feel compelled to answer them because you want to get to know these people and aren’t they nice. You may also feel compelled to not ask the same questions, since it’s not workplace appropriate. This leaves you at a disadvantage!
Nine out of ten people asking these questions are not harboring any ill will! In fact, you may offend them by not answering! But you’re better off if you don’t! Don’t be rude of course. You’re better off finding a polite way to evade the question. Ugh, this sounds bad, since you really do want to get to know people at work. I don’t know what the right answer is here, but I have had labels attached to me and I have had them used against me!!
Why are you better off not answering, and especially to a sociopathic workplace bully? Because that one in ten is going to use your answers to label you and limit your possible behaviors in their social model of you. This person may not need to ask the questions if other people do it for them.
Remember, sociopaths have no morals. They have no conscience that tells them not to do unethical things. I almost feel sorry for them. The best mechanism for limiting their behavior is making others aware of it. Here’s one of those tools I was telling you about in Part One: ** *make others aware. * **
- Just twenty-five years old? ‘How could this person 20 years younger than me possibly have the experience required! I’ll show them!’
- Married with kids? ‘Probably not likely to be an alcoholic who stays out late. Or maybe .. with just the right push, I can manipulate this person into having some relationship issues. Not going to be getting much work done then.’
- Married with older kids? ‘How’s your relationship going? How are your kids doing? Are there any buttons here I can push to make you mad?’
- Smokes Weed? ‘Probably smokes crack too. Who knows? Does he need a security clearance? Can we really trust a drug addict?’
- Far Right/Left Politics ‘Maybe I can create contrived circumstances to play him against the guy in the office with opposite politics.’
Out of all of these ageism is the most subtle, IMO. When you’re young, it doesn’t really seem to be that much of a problem. Who cares? While, I haven’t experienced a work environment as someone in their 50’s or 60’s, I do know that telling someone your age when you are in your early twenties can put you at a disadvantage. A workplace bully will be moreso enabled to critique your work experience and resume – and they won’t do that in front of you!
It’s also important to note that older people have experienced more in their careers. They can provide a wealth of experience to you, which you should definitely draw upon. Listen to these people. They’ve likely been through a lot and, like I mentioned in Part One, “Fools learn from their experiences – while the wise learn from history.” Me? I was the fool.
As a double-edged sword, it’s exactly this experience that enables them to be more manipulative! I’m not trying to say that older people are manipulative, I’m saying that some people who have acquired enough experience have the ability to manipulate. Out of the four or five workplace bullies I have personally experienced, all of them were in there mid-thirties or older. However, I’m assuming that if someone is younger than this and ends up being a workplace bully, then they are likely narcissistic and likely to be particularly bad, as they would have to naturally act in this manner. Either that, or they have grown up with extremely manipulative role models – and if so, watch out!
Bullies will use these labels to help determine your behavior. They will be more capable of effectively manipulating you and getting away with it. The goal in game theory is to limit your opponents behavior to a more predictable model.
Word of advice: ** Do not let yourself become predictable. ** You are much more easily manipulated when someone can predict your actions.
Religion and Psychological Labels are like roadmaps to manipulating people. In my experience, every workplace bully that I have dealt with excelled in psychologically assessing someone. Or … at least maybe they thought they did.
- High Functioning Autism? ‘Probably susceptible to distraction with auditory/visual stimulus. Probably easily distractable, suggestable, easy to lead on, and easy to make them emotional.’
- Christian? ‘Well, this guy is supposed to forgive & forget and turn the other cheek. And he also won’t do X, Y, or Z.’
- Mormon? ‘This guy probably won’t drink alcohol. Might not even drink caffeine.’
- Buddhist? ‘Hmmmm… he’s not even supposed to want anything. He probably loves everything. This guy will probably ignore everything I do to him. Perfect.’
Some people will take labels and they will use them. Of course, people sometimes want to identify labels out of respect and don’t intend harm. You’re probably not going to ask a Jewish guy if he wants some of your sushi. That’d imply that you didn’t know him very well and could be disrespectful. But sometimes – and this applies to religious labels especially – people will use these as models to predict your behavior and use it against you. They will test you a bit, to see that you’ll consistently act with the model they expect. And then they’ll use the model to exploit you.
Respect someone’s religion and politics if they share them with you. You need to accept it, understand it and appreciate it, but definitely do not use it against someone for Christ’s sake! Most people, even if they are a workplace bully, will not use religion. However, a true sociopath will not hesitate, so long as they don’t get caught!
Leave Religion and Politics at Home – For Your Own Sake!
Additionally, as this person begins to model your behavior more and more, they will begin to understand just how to push your buttons to get you to react in the way they want. They may push your buttons in private, 1-on-1, before a meeting. Then, they will act surprised when you lash back at them in front of everyone. They will push your buttons to shift blame and make it seem like you’re the bad guy.
A workplace bully will make smart comments in meetings and poke fun at you in front of other colleagues. While they may belittle you 1-on-1 as well, this will take place in front of other people or via email. They will find ways to whittle down your reputation.
Make no mistake – this is not “just poking fun.” This is part of a concerted strategy to reduce your collegue’s confidence in you. The workplace bully is attempting to control others’ perceptions of you. If you let this go on, you will find yourself entrusted with less and less responsibilities. With less responsibilities, you will find yourself claiming less contributions to the team’s work!
Eventually, once this person has successfully rooted themselves in your environment, destroyed your colleagues’ confidence in you and smeared your reputation, they will begin convincing others that removing you is for the best. You’re useless anyways, since you don’t contribute – you’ve had your responsibilities limited, your tasks for work severely limited and, thus, your contributions are limited as well – so the best thing for everyone is to get rid of you.
If the bully has this much influence over your environment, then at this point, the bully will be able to remove you fairly easily. They will be able to convince your colleagues to start acting against you. They will push your buttons more and more, just to point and say – see? I told you so!
A workplace bully will tend to try to eliminate threats early, before a perceived problem becomes a threat. If you stand up for yourself or sidestep their tricks & charades, you will quickly find yourself a target. So watch out!
Some workplace bullies are particularly vindictive. They will work hard to make sure you are never given another chance again. Or that, at least, you won’t be close to them or anyone they know. They don’t want other people hearing about the dirty tricks up their sleeve. This is discussed in 48 Laws of Power – Crush Your Enemy Totally.
The Trojan War – Golden Apples, Pwnies, Salted Earth, and More
By the way, Troy has nothing to do with this. I’m mostly referring to the fact that after the Trojan War, the greeks salted the earth around Troy, so nothing would ever grow there again. In other words, they totally crushed there enemy. People have been doing this for thousands of years – but, honestly, if you’re not fighting a war, you should probably lay the !@#$ off.
Before the workplace bully finishes you off, they may place you in a position, where they subtly let you know that they want you to leave – and if you don’t you will face retribution down the line. WATCH OUT! It’s a trick! This person is going to dispense retribution regardless of what you do. And really, they are just trying to take advantage of you in a demoralized state. The earlier they push you out, the less dirty tricks they’ll have to reveal and use. ** And once you’re gone, there’s not much you can do to defend yourself!!**
The bully will attempt to close all doors leading back to them. Even after they defeat you, a wise enemy will still continue to work to affect your life. They may not deal with you personally, they may separate themself from threats by using catspaws and continually “isolating” you by assaulting your reputation. This means that fewer people will get closer to you. Eventually, everyone will forget your accomplishments. History is written by the victors, remember? And the workplace bully will work to make you seem as though you are nothing or worse – crazy.
You will likely be pushed out and provided severance. This severance will come accompanied by a gag order, a non-disparagement clause. This is to be expected and, in itself, is fair. However, if you’ve recently moved to a new area and have significant bills, this is basically the equivalent of handing you a week or two of pay, which you will take because otherwise you’d be homeless. And the effect is such that you will never be able to honestly talk about what happened to you at work! You may be distraught and emotionally incapable of handling what happened – but you can’t talk about it!. Legally, you can’t even discuss it with a psychologist!
A particularly vindictive bully with lots of connections will keep tabs on your social media presence. They won’t want you to become too successful. If you move to a new area and they have connections there, they may attempt to link you up, but they will poison their connections against you first. They won’t want to get caught doing this though.
They may even indirectly try to drive you to suicide. No, I’m serious. The FBI tried to do it to MLK jr. So, if there is documented evidence of a government agency doing it, is it really that far out there? Most people have at least enough conscience to dread even thinking about this – therefore, this doesn’t happen very often. But some people are only motivated by what others see.
And after all, if you are no longer around, you no control control over your legacy. The bully then has much more control over your life and your history. And there’s not a damn thing you can do about it! If they can manipulate while you can defend, they can manipulate when when you’re dead.
Part Two is a Wrap!
Part 3 will cover identifying and profiling a workplace bully, as well as other tools you can use to protect yourself.