Bullying, it seems, pays off. Did you ever wonder why the bully gets away with it and even benefits with a promotion or other reward?
Your gut feeling is correct: the boss really does prefer the bully to you.
No wonder you hesitate in reporting workplace bullying. Not only is it unlikely you’ll get a fair hearing, but it could also incite retribution and even lead to the loss of your job.
Bullies are rarely held to account. Fewer than 13 percent ever lose their jobs because of their bullying ways and fewer than 4 percent stop bullying even after punishment or sanctions (Namie, 2003).
Even public exposure won’t deter bullies. In a recent high-profile case, several “BBC Bullies” were named and shamed. One of them, a self-confessed “war bore” and senior executive, was found guilty of intimidating and verbally abusing staff following a year-long investigation.
He got promoted to a “plum job” as head of outside broadcasts for an important World War One project, aligning perfectly with his interests. One commentator remarked: “He has been given the keys to the sweet shop.”
The response from the Director General was the usual clichéd denial: a pledge to “zero tolerance” of bullying and an upbeat message about the latest and greatest BBC anti-bullying campaign.
Meanwhile, the best, brightest and most popular employees leave their jobs. The sensible ones realize they are in a no-win situation and quit quietly; others are fired or relocated. Most tolerate the intolerable for two years or more, but overall, the company loses more than 70 percent of their most competent staff from bullying (Namie, 2003).
It seems bullies are untouchable, but why are they so popular with upper echelons of management, who are blind to the havoc and misery they wreak? Simply put, the bully is a political animal for whom image and power mean everything.
The whole identity of a bully is wrapped up in the prestige of career success; it is the oxygen without which there is no life. For ordinary workers, identity is a far more complex mix that includes important relationships and goals outside of work. We have empathy for our friends, family and community and will sacrifice self-interest in a genuine desire to help others.
For bullies, these kinds of relationships are a waste of time. In their world, survival trumps empathy. In fact, empathy is an obstacle that hinders the precise and effective rise to the top. Only an appearance of empathy, if it leads to an effective move on the chessboard of life, is allowable.
With this much at stake, bullies are either very good at their jobs or good at appearing as if they are by appropriating the work of others in order to get credit for excellent results.
Bullies are instinctive and smart chameleons, able to hoodwink senior executives into perceiving them as outstanding. They are strategic and manipulative thinkers, concerned with their own self-interests over the team’s.
Bullies scope out the important power brokers within the organization who are able to assist in their ascension to power. Then they pay attention to the things that matter the most to them.
Clues will be found from the photographs adorning their offices, the clothes they wear, their food preferences and what they talk about the most. The bully cleverly insinuates himself into the executive’s heart by mirroring the same interests, values and beliefs.
By appearing to be “just like me,” the executive feels a connection with a kindred spirit. It seems impossible that this person would ever diverge on important matters; therefore he or she can be trusted implicitly.
In contrast, normal employees don’t have such a polished facade. Having consideration for others can delay important organizational goals. Having family relationships creates unavailability at important times. Being humble about achievements lends a lackluster appearance. Focusing attention on the team takes personal attention away from the executive.
In addition to promoting their own image, bullies are good at concomitantly demoting yours without appearing to do so. They do this by subtly pointing out your flaws and mistakes in contrast with their own dazzling performance.
They also know how to pit one employee against another, which serves a useful dual purpose. When you are seen to be involved in a conflict, it’s a very poor reflection on your credibility, and it also serves as a distraction away from the bully’s own shortcomings.
Do you stand a chance against bullies? No. You will never beat them at their own game because only they know the rules. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t succeed using other means.