with the kind permission of Steve Myers at Team
'bullying' associated with Myers Briggs* type?
[*see here for
more details on Myers Briggs personality types]
is bullying? Power advantage
of hurt/loss The
absence of consent
How does bullying
arise What do I do if I am bullied?
What is Bullying?
'Bullying' is the use of an advantage of power, to cause
physical, emotional or intellectual hurt, against someone's
feeling of consent.
Bullying therefore has three key components:
an advantage of power
an effect of hurt (or loss)
an absence of consent
An advantage of power exists where the behaviour of one
person is able to control or strongly influence the behaviour
A simple example that illustrates this is that of a young
toddler physically hitting his father whilst in a tantrum.
This is not bullying because the father is able to cope
easily with the attack. The father has a range of choices,
physically restraining the toddler, through introducing
distractions, to walking away and returning when the
tantrum is over. The
toddler's behaviour does not dictate what the father
does in this situation.
The other elements of bullying are present in this example.
The toddler has the intent of, and may succeed in, causing
some physical harm to the father. Also, the father does not
consent to the tantrum. However, there is no advantage of
power, so this example does not constitute bullying.
In the workplace, an advantage of power exists when someone
has authority. This authority may arise from the position
in the organisation, the network of people he/she can influence,
the taking of a platform at a presentation, or being the
holder of important information at a meeting (eg: expertise,
or confidential details about employees).
a statement such as "Agree with my proposal,
or I'll tell people how much bonus you got last year" might
constitute bullying, because it is using informational power
to coerce someone into conceding a decision (ie intellectual
An effect of hurt, or loss
Bullying involves some form of hurt - physical, emotional
or intellectual - to the person being bullied.
An example that illustrates this is that of a policeman
redirecting traffic at the scene of an accident.
The policeman has an
advantage of power, and is using it to cause drivers to
change their route. Also, the driver may not want
to go via the
detour. However, there is no physical, emotional or intellectual
hurt that is being caused, so this example does not constitute
Examples of hurt that can occur in the workplace are: 'put-downs'
or humiliation, being forced to take action that the person
does not want to take, concessions in decisions, or the loss
of status or respect from others.
An absence of consent
For bullying to take place, there has also to be an absence
of consent by the person being 'bullied'.
example, when two boxers throw punches at each other, trying
to use their advantage of power with the intention
of causing physical harm, this is not bullying, because
they are both consenting to the use of power. Or when Greg
plays a low ranking tennis player with the aim of beating
him, this is not bullying. Even if the low ranking player
feels emotionally hurt by the defeat, they have consented
to the use of power in this way.
It is important to note that 'absence of consent' refers
to the way the person thinks or feels inwardly, and not to
what they say outwardly. Sometimes, when confronted by a
situation in which people feel bullied, they will state their
consent to a particular course of action. However, inwardly
they may feel exploited, intimidated or 'bullied', because
they do not want to consent. They may have expressed consent
for some other reason, such as a lack of assertiveness, or
fear of the consequences of disagreeing.
Consent is an important concept, because it can highlight
how different people can view the same situation differently.
One person might see the situation as normal and rational,
and the other as one where bullying has taken place.
For example, in the above example where the policeman is
redirecting traffic, suppose someone is driving to a job
interview (and any delay will make him late). When he arrives
at the roadblock, the car in front is allowed through. The
policeman then redirects him down another road, with a conversation
that goes something like...
down that road please"
I need to go to a job interview urgently down there"
down that road"
I'll be late. You just let that car through."
Policeman: "Go down that road".
From the driver's perspective, he may well feel that he
is being 'bullied' in this situation. It may only be a mild
form of bullying, but there is some justification in this
interpretation of events, because the policeman is using
his power to cause emotional loss (the stress of being late
for a job interview) against the driver's consent.
However, suppose the conversation had continued...
I'll be late. You just let that car through."
was the local fire chief. There is a large fuel spillage,
and he needs to make sure any fire
hazards are removed and the road is safe to use before we
open it again."
OK. Is there any way that I can get to my job interview
Policeman: "Not this way - the road is closed to all
traffic except emergency vehicles".
In this dialogue, the driver may still not be happy about
having to take a detour, but he consents (as most people
do) to the need for emergencies to take priority over his
In the workplace, people often have to do things they are
not completely happy with. However, bullying does not take
place if the person consents to the need to observe agreed
group rules or values. For example, someone may not like
taking their turn to make or fetch coffee for the team. If
the team manager just tells the person to do it, then this
could constitute bullying, because there is no consent. However,
if the team manager explains the reasons for sharing the
work, and gets the individual to buy in to the team rules
or values (which include fetching coffee) then this does
not constitute bullying, because there is now consent.
How does bullying arise?
School research has shown that very many children consider
themselves to have been bullied at school. However, very
few consider themselves to be bullies.
One reason for this is that bullying interactions are usually
seen as such only from the perspective of the person being
the bully's perspective, these interactions were part of
normal life - "we were having a laugh together" or "I
just persuaded him - I didn't bully".
Bullying arises, therefore, when someone feels that they
are being bullied. In the police example above, whilst the
driver felt 'bullied' by being told to take another route,
the policeman simply felt he was discharging his duty, and
would have refuted any charges of bullying.
In the workplace, bullying can arise because:
people in authority do not actively listen to others, in
order to find out how their use of power is being perceived
by others - in particular, whether any hurt is being caused
people, in positions of power, do not have sufficient interpersonal
skill to gain the consent of those with less power
attention is paid to what people say rather than effort being
made to find out how they feel.
people, in positions without power, do not have sufficient
assertiveness skill to communicate their hurt or lack of
consent to those in authority.
miscommunications take place, which means that different
people interpret behaviours and words in different ways
strong team cultures build up, where minority views are unwittingly
marginalised, ridiculed or devalued.
assumptions are made that other people react, feel and think
in the same way that we do.
There is no evidence to suggest that bullying is associated
with personality type. However, type can contribute
to misunderstandings that give rise to the feeling
of being bullied. For example,
differences in preferences can cause
Es, in their eagerness for interaction and progress,
might seem to ride roughshod over the views of
Is, who wish to
spend more time in thought.
Is, in their desire to think things through, may
seem to ignore the contributions of Es
Ns, in their desire to create and invent, may appear
to devalue the contribution of Ss who prefer to
operate in the realm
of known experience
Ss, in wanting to implement solutions that experience
shows will work, may seem unwillingly to entertain
suggestions of Ns
Ts, in their pursuit of the objective truth, may
seem to ignore people's feelings
Fs, in their desire to address the concerns of
people who are laden down with worries, may seem
to lack fairness
Js may seem to impose inflexible structured methods
Ps may seem to throw away the carefully worked
plans of Js
differences in approaches by the different personality
types can lead to a misunderstanding
What one personality type views as an important
be viewed by another type as bullying.
Type awareness can therefore help to reduce the incidence
awareness, tolerance and respect for people
who are different, and encourage the right kind of
that builds consent.
Another area where personality type can influence
the perception of bullying is in 'shadow
and every personality
type has a "shadow" personality, a sort of Master
Hyde, that can appear when under stress. It represents the
aspects of our personality that we dislike and try to disown.
NB: everyone has a shadow, but by its very nature, we will
often deny that it exists.
Naomi Quenck, in the book "Beside Ourselves" explains
that this is a normal part of personality. Getting to recognise
and understand one's shadow is an important part of personal
growth and maturity.
is perhaps most likely to occur during 'shadow episodes'
where we become 'in the grip' of our shadow personality.
That is, the shadow takes over, and we say or do things that
we regret later. It is important, for relationships to succeed,
that shadow episodes are recognised and dealt with appropriately
- which (for other people) usually means ignoring it, if
at all possible. That is, if someone says something when
they are "in the grip", then don't pay too much
attention to it, but come back and talk to the person later
when they have calmed down.
can also play another role in the perception of bullying: "projection".
Projection is a psychological process whereby we deny something
exists in ourselves, but
then see it in other people. For example: someone whose shadow
is 'a messy person' might complain about other people's lack
of organisation; someone whose shadow is 'an aggressive person'
might complain that other people are bullies; someone whose
shadow is 'cold and brutal' might complain about the lack
of feeling in others.
For more information, read the above-mentioned book by Naomi
There is no evidence that bullying is due to Myers Briggs
do I do if I am bullied?
The best way to deal with out-and-out bullies is to stand
up to them - not in a confrontational manner, but in an
assertive manner. Appeasing them, or getting upset by their
actions, gives them what they want and, in a perverse way,
actually encourages the bullying behaviour.
One strategy is to calmly and rationally point out that
you disagree with what the bully says. For example, if
bully says: "you wouldn't like so-and-so..", one
possible assertive response is to say (calmly): "Excuse
me, but you are incorrect. You don't know what I would or
would not like, so please stop trying to tell me." If
a bully makes a racist or sexist remark, then say (calmly) "I
find that remark offensive. Please do not make racist remarks.".
Assertiveness courses can help build the skills in this area.
Another set of strategies is to 'make friends', with the
bully. Underneath, bullies are insecure people who don't
have the interpersonal skills to make friends, and their
defences cope with this by bullying other people. It is possible
sometimes to change their behaviour by taking the initiative
and using your skills in establishing a friendship.
for making friends is to use humour to disarm bullies (though
it has to divert attention away from the
topic of conversation). For example, if the workplace bully
says "your desk is untidy" you could reply with
something that he would find humorous, such as: "yep
- I'm obviously doing too much work!". Note, the wording,
timing and mood of this have to be right, otherwise a disarming
bit of humour could backfire and cause a row - only use it
if you are sure it will have the right effect.
approach is to give a 'cushion' statement, and then demonstrate
an interest in the bully, such as: "I'm
sorry if the state of my desk bugs you. Are there many things
that upset you at work?" If the bully comes back with
more criticism of you, then give another cushion statement
(showing acknowledgement of his/her feelings, not regret
for your behaviour), and again ask about him/her. Once the
bully starts talking about him/herself, you can then just
listen (and this needs patience - lots of it).
One way of looking at a bully is to think of him/her as
holding a baton called 'feeling of unworthiness'. The bully
doesn't like it, so he/she wants to make sure someone else
has it, so tries to give you the baton. If your reaction
indicates that you were not going to accept it - the bully
may try even harder to make sure that you do. Even if you
do not accept it, the bully may try again later.
Never accept this baton from a bully. Even if you agree
to do things that the bully demands, remember that you are
a person worthy of respect and consideration (but so is the
bully). Even if the bully has the right to make decisions,
you have the right to be considered with respect and dignity.
The bully does not have the right to pass his/her (subconscious)
feelings of unworthiness onto you. Thinking of the baton
can help to decide what it is reasonable to accept from the
bully, and what is unacceptable.
If you find that you are unable to maintain the assertive
line without getting emotional, it may be that the bullying
has hooked in to something in you that prevents you from
dealing with it rationally. If that is the case, it can sometimes
help to examine that issue and get it sorted - which will
then give you the freedom to deal with the bully in a more
By pursuing the assertiveness route, rather than appeasement,
you will probably change the bully's behaviour (though it
may get temporarily worse before it gets better - but you
have to maintain the assertive line). However, there can
be instances where the behaviour doesn't change, particularly
if the causes of the person's behaviour are deep seated.
In this instance, if the behaviour is still causing a problem,
it may be appropriate to raise the issue with the Human Resources
department - by which point it should come as no surprise
to the bully that you are submitting a complaint.
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