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Workplace Bully Types

Know Your Enemy – A Look at the Types of Office Bullies You May Have to Deal With


By Anton Hout

"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat."
- Sun Tzu, The Art of War

When most of us go to work we go to do our job, earn a living and develop our careers. The workplace bully goes to wage war on anyone they view as being a threat or vulnerable. "All warfare is based on deception" or, alternatively, "Never will those who wage war tire of deception."

This is what gives workplace bullies an overwhelming advantage. They spend their time (or should I say "company time") and energies on creating conflict, undermining their targets and "managing the perceptions of reality" (lying) in order to convince everyone that you are incompetent, immoral and insane while they are working tirelessly in the best interest of the company. They will beat you down while puffing themselves up.

Meanwhile, those of us who go in to work naïvely thinking we are there to help further the interests of our employers are blindsided by the many types of bullies and the perverse machinations they bring to bear on their task of creating misery and chaos in the workplace.

The workplace bully comes in various types with different characteristics depending on their personality and position in the organization. But you cannot easily pigeon-hole an office bully as they will exhibit characteristics of different bully types depending on who they are dealing with and resources available to them.

I especially like the categories described by Drs. Ruth and Gary Namie. You will probably recognize one or more of these types of workplace bullies roaming your office:

The Screaming MiMi

We've all seen (or should I say "heard") the Screaming Mimi. They are loud, obnoxious and in your face. With their little faces turning beet red and their neck veins popping they will go on spittle-flying tirades that spew venom and are designed to berate and humiliate you. What they lack in logic and decency they make up with high decibel rants that are often carried out in front of an audience for best effect. They are not open to reasonable, rational debate. They are right and you are wrong and you are going to hear about it.

The Two-Headed Snake

This workplace bully can be on of the most dangerous as you may not even realize you are dealing with one until after they have already destroyed your reputation. To your face they may represent themselves as a friend; you may even trust and confide in them. With the Two-Headed Snake you are dealing with a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character. They will stab you in the back, slander your character and steal credit for your work while telling you they are your biggest fan.

The Constant Critic

If you ever thought you were good at your job and pride yourself on your work you are about to learn the truth. Your self-esteem will take a beating from the Constant Critic who will nit-pick you to death. Even if you've received excellent performance reviews and are at the top of your field they will find a way to twist everything into a negative. Even if they need to create the evidence themselves, falsify documents or sabotage your projects they will prove that you are incompetent – at everything, all the time.

The Gatekeeper

This workplace bully is a petty little power-tripper that will trip you up by denying you the resources you need to do your job then dance around with glee telling everyone when you fail. Will they expand your responsibilities and workload while cutting your budget and staff? Will they change the deadline to make success impossible? Will they "forget" to send you a critical memo or cut you out of project meetings? They will do those and many more devious things to deny you the time, materials, information, funding or support you need to get the job done. When you fail they will use it to prove to everyone that you are incompetent.

It is important to remember that your workplace bully won't necessarily fit neatly into any category. They may tend toward one as their primary modus operandi but will likely exhibit characteristics of all depending on the situation and who they are dealing with.

Other categories of workplace bullies have been identified by the late Tim Field in his extensive research and experience with serial bullies. He describes them as the Attention-Seeker, Wannabe, Guru and Sociopath.

The Attention Seeker

The Attention Seeker is emotionally immature and seeks above all else to be the center of attention. They will keep managers on-side by flattery and sycophantic prostrations. With new employees they will likely come across as extra nice and especially helpful. However, this is a ruse to get you into their web. If you do not prove yourself to be one of their adoring fans they will quickly turn vicious.

Their lives are a drama and they will relate every event to something (often bad) that has happened to them or they are going through to gain sympathy in order to manipulate and control. They are easily offended and will claim that they are the "real" victims if they are called on any of their behavior.

They are generally miserable, easily provoked and expecting of deferential treatment while being demanding of others. If you are just starting a new job you will want to identify this workplace bully and be sure to not share any personal information with them (when they are being sweet and friendly) that they will use against you later.

The Wannabe

The Wannabe can be one of the most petty and spiteful. They crave recognition for being a valued and highly competent worker. But they don't have the smarts or motivation to put in the real work that it takes to get there. Instead they hate people like you who are competent and professional.

They are controlling, manipulative and very insecure. They cling to questionable qualifications while demanding full respect from real professionals in their field. They will attempt to move into positions where they will have some power over others even if only as a committee member, union representative or limited supervisory position.

Because they are so poor at their jobs they are particularly sensitive and will react with aggression if called on their incompetence. Instead of improving their work skills they spend time watching every move of competent workers to find something to complain about or object to. They will demand that things be done their way even though there are better and more efficient ways of accomplishing the same task. (But if they were competent in their fields they would know that.)

Because they are barely functional as it is they will obstruct any changes or improvement to the workflow. When held accountable they will freak out and play the victim.

The Guru

Unlike the Wannabe, the Guru does actually exhibit real competence and may even be considered an expert in their field. The main problems stem from their inability to deal with others emotionally. They compensate for their emotional immaturity with their intellect. Many of them are very intelligent but emotionally distant.

They may feel that they are superior to others and don't consider how their decisions will affect other people. They are know-it-alls who don't recognize the possibility that they are wrong. Related to this is that they don't accept responsibility for the consequences of their actions.

Their cold, analytical approach extends into their environment and they may be unusually neat and orderly. They will generally hold to conservative views but not feel constrained by laws, mores or regulations (those are for others, not them).

This workplace bully lives in their own emotionally barren world where they view themselves as intellectually superior. That is why they are genuinely shocked if ever accused of workplace bullying.

The Sociopath or Socialized Psychopath

The most frightening and dangerous workplace bully of all. They are predators that have zero empathy for anything or anyone. They are completely without conscience. They do not process emotions they way you do and they do not understand your emotions. However, they are highly adept at manipulating the emotions of others in order to get them to do what they want.

Sociopaths are often very intelligent, charming, even charismatic with powerful verbal skills of persuasion. If you are up against a sociopath you will not likely win. They are ruthless and relentless.

They do not accept or care about the consequences of their actions. They gravitate to positions of authority and power and are able to attain executive levels of management. They will surround themselves with sycophants who have been put into their positions by this workplace bully. But because many of them are promoted because of their submission to the bully and lack the skills they should have they are forever beholden to the sociopath. He will then use that to get them do do the dirty work and engage in attacks against his target.

People are regarded as objects that serve a purpose. Once they are not able to serve a purpose for the sociopath they are discarded like yesterdays trash.

It is a mistake to underestimate the lengths to which a sociopath will go, the deception they will engage in or how little you matter to them. If you are being stalked by a sociopath your best option is to get as far away from them and their influence as you can. In a word, they are "evil".

Serial Workplace Bullies

What Every Target Of Workplace Bullying Needs To Know

The problem with any of these workplace bully types is that they do not stop once a target has been fired, forced to leave, or commits suicide. Managers and human resource departments that take the short-sighted approach of silencing a target and helping the bully to threaten and then terminate them think the problem (complaining employee) is resolved.

However, it is not. The serial workplace bully will need a new target and will often select one within days or weeks and the cycle of abuse will start over again. This is why it is vital that managers truly understand the consequences and costs of bullying to the organization and take bullying seriously.

A workplace bully is not something any company can really afford.


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