Workplace Bullying: 6 Mistaken Assumptions Employers Make About Targets and Bullying

Workplace Bullying: 6 Mistaken Assumptions Employers Make About Targets and Bullying

Have you ever wondered why it’s so hard for companies to deal with workplace bullying?
The answer is: they don’t know what to do! Really, it’s amazing. From my point of view it’s pretty straightforward—protect the target, educate the person exhibiting the bullying behavior, repeat as necessary! But, that’s not how it works before they come to me for help.

Here are 6 mistakes people make about bullying, and what you can do to avoid them.

Mistake # 1: Assume that the target is overly sensitive.

Reality: Any extreme sensitivity usually comes from the length and intensity of the difficult behavior they’re experiencing. Avoid blaming them for seeming weak and vulnerable. That didn’t cause the bullying behavior, it the result of the behavior.

Mistake # 2: Assume the target caused the bullying behavior.

Reality: No one deserves to be bullied. Ever! There is nothing that causes bullying. Sure people can be frustrating, but classic bullying is extremely aggressive and hurtful behavior that takes place over time and is designed to force the target to move on. And lesser abrasive behaviors stem from fear and the lack of skills of the abrasive person, not antagonism by the target.

Mistake # 3: The bully is just as much a victim.

Reality: Again, nobody deserves to be abused and everyone is responsible for their behavior. That said, people who behave like bullies deserve to be helped and not tossed away. I don’t see them as victims, but I do think the right coaching and support can improve their behavior. And there’s excellent research to support this point of view.

Mistake: #4: Because bullying is not criminal, there’s no problem for the company.

Reality: Yes, bullying is not a criminal matter but it can become one when the bully transitions from abusive words to physical assault (and yes, it does happen). Bullying behavior is a sign that something is wrong, very wrong, and it’s in your interests, as an employer, to make a difference and help stop it.

Mistake #5: Witnesses don’t suffer.

Reality: The research is clear on this point. Witnesses suffer just as targets do, and in fact, they leave because it’s so stressful for them to witness. Why? Because they feel powerless and helpless to make a difference. No one likes that.

Mistake #6: Bullying is a personal matter without impact on the bottom line.

Reality: Bullying costs billions in lost productivity, absenteeism, health related costs, people quitting, having to hire new employees, and those great key leaders who say “I don’t need this, I’m outta here!”

Workplace Bullying: Are You Making the Wrong Assumptions?

There are many more mistaken assumptions about workplace bullying. Don’t let your assumptions block you for taking the right steps to help targets and bullies alike.

To breakthrough the assumptions, sign up for my free report on “Costs of Conflict” and receive more tips on workplace conflict and bullying behaviors, exclusive content, and detailed reports.

I’ve been 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.

I’m Kathleen Bartle, Conflict Consultant.


  • star

    You are so abundantly intelligent and extremely aware of the ins and outs of this this epidemic. I especially appreciate # 1-3. Thank you

  • Thank you Star. I appreciate the kudos.

  • Tamara Parris

    Always a pleasure to read your work