Malicious (or Classic) Bullying


The “Real” Bullies: Malicious Bullying Behaviors
One of my clients, Alicia, called me about a workplace bullying situation she has been experiencing for over four years. The bullying included focused and targeted verbal abuse and intimidation. She was threatened, insulted, badgered, and abused. All of her work was ignored or berated. Any suggestions she made were met with a barrage of insulting emails that attacked both her work and her character. She was shunned by her subordinates and her colleagues and her requests for help were ignored.

The person who bullied her was reasonable to his colleagues and superiors, so it was hard for them to imagine that he was a bully to Alicia. She needed help because no one understood how he could be so abusive to her when he seemed so reasonable and courteous to everyone else. She was suffering from the abuses of a Malicious Bully.

What is Malicious Bullying?
Malicious Bullying refers to deliberate acts of aggression and intimidation designed to hurt, even crush, another person. The behavior does not come from any competition or lack of consciousness. It stems from a deep need to hurt another person. The Malicious Bully will target one person for abuse. This behavior can take many forms, like excluding someone from a meeting, destroying their credibility, gossiping, and relentless attacks. Sometimes it is changing assignments at the last minute, or setting unworkable deadlines. Malicious Bullies relish the idea that they are making the target of the abuse sick and they long for the day the target quits.

In What Types of Organizations Does Malicious Bullying Take Place?
ANY organization can have Malicious Bullying. Although certain fields certainly have more bullying as part of the culture (such as law, academia, science, as well as sales and services), Malicious Bullying can happen in virtually any workplace. Oftentimes Malicious Bullying happens in organizations with weak or absent leadership at the top. The behavior of the Malicious Bully may intimidate everyone even though it is expressly targeted at one person.

Consequences for the You, the Employer?
Ignoring or mismanaging the behavior can come at a high cost. Consequences can include high turnover, decreased productivity in the department, and lost time from investigating and managing the behavior from HR, and of course, lawsuits. The organization Alicia works in has spent countless hours listening to her complaints and trying to figure out ways to keep her, as she is an expert in her field, and also to keep the person bullying her. They do not understand how Malicious Bullying impacts their bottom line and how difficult it is to manage a Malicious Bully.

What’s the Fix?
First, it is critical to assess the situation to determine what type of bullying conflict exists. Second, specialized consulting with the bully, the target and upper management, focused on changing the culture of the organization and on individual behavior change, can also dramatically improve the situation.  This consulting can also involve working with the team or the target to teach new responses to manage the behaviors.

Why it Pays to Deal with Malicious Bullying
As an employer, you can’t afford NOT to deal with it. If you want to to keep your key employees, reduce friction across the organization, increase productivity, reduce absenteeism, cut medical costs, and improve ROI – then you must address the conflict immediately and appropriately. It is possible you will have to take away line management responsibilities from the Malicious Bully, or he or she may have to be removed from the organization. Malicious Bullies are used to getting their way with bullying and are difficult to retrain.

The Five Types of Conflict
There are five types of interpersonal conflict within organizations. Malicious Bullying is one type. Each type requires its own tailored solution. If you treat all workplace conflicts the same way, you have a 1 in 5 chance of success….unless you have the appropriate evaluation.

I’m Kathleen Bartle, a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts. You can contact me here.