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Reproduce with the kind permission of Steve Myers at Team Technology

Is 'bullying' associated with Myers Briggs* type?
[*see here for more details on Myers Briggs personality types]

What is bullying? Power advantage
The effect 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

Power advantage
An advantage of power exists where the behaviour of one person is able to control or strongly influence the behaviour of another.

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, from 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).

Therefore, 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 hurt).

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 bullying.

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'.

For 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 Rusedski 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...

Policeman: "Go down that road please"

Driver: "But I need to go to a job interview urgently down there"

Policeman: "Go down that road"

Driver: "But 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...

Driver: "But I'll be late. You just let that car through."

Policeman: "That 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."

Driver: "Oh, OK. Is there any way that I can get to my job interview on time?"

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 individual needs.

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 bullied.

From 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 the alternative 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 and impartiality
Js may seem to impose inflexible structured methods on Ps
Ps may seem to throw away the carefully worked plans of Js

These differences in approaches by the different personality types can lead to a misunderstanding of intentions. What one personality type views as an important contribution can be viewed by another type as bullying. Type awareness can therefore help to reduce the incidence of bullying by promoting awareness, tolerance and respect for people who are different, and encourage the right kind of interaction that builds consent.

Another area where personality type can influence the perception of bullying is in 'shadow behaviour'. Each 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.

'Bullying' 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.

The shadow 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 Quenck.

There is no evidence that bullying is due to Myers Briggs personality type.

What 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 a workplace 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.

One option 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.

Another 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 effective way.

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.

©1997 Team Technology

®Myers Briggs Type Indicator and MBTI are registered trademarks of Consulting Psychologists Press Inc.. Oxford Psycholgists Press Ltd has exclusive rights to the trademark in the UK.

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