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Bullies/Mobbers and Job Performance

This article origimally appeared in the Workplace Violence Prevention E-Report, June 2013 issue. I write the Bully at Work column for them.

Bullies/Mobbers and Job Performance
©2013 Gail Pursell Elliott

A recent study by a group at the University at Buffalo School of Management and published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology showed that many workplace bullies are successful in business, winning at the expense of others. The study found that some workplace bullies have high social and political skills that they use to strategically abuse their co-workers while still receiving positive evaluations from their supervisors. The study abstract recommends, “Companies and researchers should consider how organizational interventions could serve to balance bullying behavior in a manner that limits deviant behavior while rewarding high performers.”

When the ability to manipulate and intimidate is rewarded there is little reason for change. It is difficult for employers to identify and address bullying and mobbing behavior when the perpetrator may be a high performer bringing in revenue for the organization, has a group of admirers and colleagues with whom he or she seems to relate well, while others are targeted. Unfortunately this also echoes middle and high school cliques and inner circles that rebuff those they arbitrarily deem unworthy.

A number of years ago an international group of experts on mobbing and bullying in the workplace had an online discussion about whether a mobber could be rehabilitated. The consensus at that time was that a mobber/bully had a psychopathic/sociopathic personality style and could not be rehabilitated. As a member of this group, I was not in complete agreement with the conclusion.

While there are indeed people who have antisocial personality disorders, I do not agree that all perpetrators of mobbing/bullying fall into this category. To paint any group of people with such a wide brush is dangerous as well as what is known as stereotyping. A 2012 book by Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Ronald Schouten and coauthor James Silver, Almost a Psychopath (www.thealmosteffect.com) discusses the gray area between normalcy and full blown psychopathy. In a recent article in Psychology Today, Dr. Schouten offers some warnings and indicators for leadership. “Almost psychopaths are able to fly under the radar and operate close to the ethical edge, in part because some of their psychopathic traits can help them succeed in the business world and allow them to deceive their superiors and coworkers.”

“It pays for senior leaders to be aware of some key indicators that the person being evaluated may not be as honest and ethical as they are inclined to believe. These are:
• He or she knows the difference between right and wrong, but they don’t care about it.
• His or her interactions are noteworthy for their glibness, superficial charm, and efforts to show how much the employee and the leader have in common.
• Whether in business dealings or personal interactions, the employee is unable to appreciate the feelings of others.
• When there is a choice of action, it is always in favor of self-interest and self promotion, even where it is ethically questionable.
• Chronic and pervasive lying about matters that may be major or insignificant.
• Lack of remorse for harm caused to others.
• Blaming others for their mistakes or problems.
• Insincere or transient emotions, but capable of emotional outbursts.
• Failure to fulfill responsibilities.
• Evidence of conning and manipulating coworkers, customers, clients, and competitors.

The presence of some, or even all, of these does not necessarily mean that the employee in question is an almost or full-blown psychopath. But they do mean that the leader who is assuming the best should take a second look.”

A number of these behaviors echo the lists associated with mobbing and bullying in the workplace. A true mobber is a master at manipulation, loves to be the catalyst and then stand back and watch the mayhem created by what has been instigated. When people think of psychopaths, they think of a serial killer or a rapist. Mobbing is like a rape of the spirit. Mobbing destroys people from the inside out. When this satisfies a need for power and control over other human beings the perpetrator actually enjoys the domination over others, for example, “likes watching them squirm.”

I still believe that many who engage in this behavior are lacking in empathy, insight and awareness which can be developed, while acknowledging that there are those who truly relish the power and arrogance that comes from being able to manipulate and abuse others in this way. Power can act like a narcotic to some people, causing their ability to relate to the humanity of others to be diminished. The clichéd phrase “drunk with power” has a basis in fact. Adding expectations of civility and human relations skills to evaluations, as well as determining whether an individual’s successful performance has the side effect of leaving a trail of professional human carnage in its wake, is well advised. When educated about mobbing and bullying, a majority of people make personal decisions to pay closer attention to what they say and do with regard to other human beings.

* * * * * *
Gail Pursell Elliott, “The Dignity and Respect Lady”, has over 20 years experience in middle and upper management, founded Innovations “Training With A Can-Do Attitude” in 1998, and is author of several books including School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse and co-author of the book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace. Her weekly Food for Thought is read by people around the world. Gail trains employees for corporations, associations and universities, designs sessions upon request to address specific needs and timely issues, and is a featured speaker at conferences as well as a media expert on workplace and school violence. Gail has been a guest on such programs as MSNBC’s Deborah Norville Tonight, ABC World News NOW television programs and the Workplace Violence Today program on talk radio.
Contact Gail through her website: http://www.innovations-training.com

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