… why bullies do they do what they do, what their motives are, who they target, and what to do about it…

I have a serious question about something that has been bothering me for a while now. Are adults (particularly in the business world) as bad or worse when it comes to cyber bullying? I’m helping more and more clients build and then maintain or protect their own online brands from all sorts of attacks from (so-called) adults. It seems to me that maturity escapes many of us when it comes to online communication skills, and I’m seeing lives get unnecessarily ruined because of petty people with bruised egos.

Watch the video and tell me what you think.

Not Just For Kids

So I did some research. There is a lot of information on teen bullying. There is some information on bullying in the work place. The discussion about adult bullying usually refers to one employee or group of employees relating to another, within a single company or organization. It’s usually considered an HR (human relations department) issue. There isn’t much about when one company bullies another.

What I did find was helpful, though. The main principles apply to individuals as well as companies. I’ve heard it said that a company’s leaders are the heart of the business, so it goes to show you that how a company acts says a lot about the people in charge.

The Mob Is Coming

Note: Some research done in Europe chose to use the term “mobbing” rather than bullying, because bullying is so strongly associated with children. The researcher felt that a different term was needed for adults. So you know, I’ll use both “bullying” and “mobbing” in this post.

Which One?

There are two kinds of bullies (speaking both of individuals and groups) who cause others discomfort: 1. Some people lack the social understanding (“graces”) to speak appropriately, but they mean no harm, and 2. Those who mean to harm.

Accidental Bullies

For businesses dealing with group 1, the “Accidental Bullies”, we need patience & understanding. Maybe take on some advice I read once about businesses teaching their emlpoyees social etiquette. (…Do this sincerely, people. Otherwise don’t bother. Going though the motions is a waste of time…) Even the most socially adept business people respond with surprise about how they learned something new about communicating with and treating other people better.

Corporate Psychopaths

For businesses dealing with group 2, aka “Corporate Psychopaths” (term coined by Gary Namie), we are going to zero in here. Let’s understand why these bullies do they do what they do, what their motives are, who they target, and what to do about it.


Clive Boddy gave a TEDx talk on bullying in the workplace, “Bullies are predatory. They do it because they like it. They like to hurt people.” Yes, psychopaths.


Bullies want four things: Power, influence, prestige and/or money. (Contrast this with businesses who exist because they want to help people. I promise you that there are many businesses out there who are service-minded.)

How They Do It

How is it that so many bullies seem to get promoted? How do they get to be in leadership positions? Well, they are most often loud and strong. Those qualities alone are not a bad thing. Boddy explains that bullies get promoted more because they are manipulative. Bullies create confusion and chaos for their own agenda. They create smokescreens. Bosses look around and think why are so many of my employees “loosing it” when “knight-in-shining-armor” is handling everyone like a champ? Bullies get promoted more because they are often the only ones who keep their “cool” in the chaos. They set others up to look bad so they look better.

Wake Up: If there is unexplained chaos going on somewhere, don’t be quick to find the one who seems to handle it best. Dig deeper. That person who looks so good “championing everything” is very likely the instigator of it all in the first place.

How To Spot the Big Bullies

Enron is a notorious organization known to have had a culture of bullying. The rot was top-down and inside-out. “They bullied their agencies, advisers and suppliers all to keep them in check and to stop them from asking questions, so that they could perpetuate this massive fraud that was going on for years,” said Boddy. “[Bullying is a] means to and end as well as an end in itself.” Enron had a very noticeable end.

“Bullying in banks and linking it to the financial crisis, was very evident as well,” continues Boddy. “There is a culture of ‘Don’t ask questions, or you’ll get into trouble. No ethical questions are allowed, which prevents people from exposing it.”

People and Organizations Who Are Targeted By Bullies

There are characteristics of targets, explains Namie:

  1. Bullies mob independent self-starting people (Hello? Entrepreneurs?), because bullies need to control.
  2. Bullies target others who are technically more skilled, who know their job better, because they feel threatened. (So they go around making others look bad. Beware the gossipers, because they are bullies too. Some businesses mob their competitors.)
  3. Bullies target people and businesses who are better liked, because they are jealous.
  4. All ethical whistle-blowers are bullied. Bullies take out the best and brightest first. Anyone who stands in their way of money, power, influence and prestige.
  5. Do-gooders in general are much more likely to get mobbed. They are seen as “soft” or “weak”, and easily manipulated.

What To Do When Facing The Mob

*Disclaimer: I am no expert. I do want to understand bullying better, and help good people and good businesses conquer it. So here is the advice I found, and will pass on. I hope it helps you.

  1. Call it. Identify the bullying behavior to yourself, and with your own business, internally. You might feel like you are in mourning, because you have lost something – maybe your or your business’ good name and identity has been damaged. Do not respond emotionally or negatively in return (Don’t bully back). For anyone in a third-party role watching, beware anyone speaking or posting negatively about individuals or businesses. When you see or hear them, you have a “red warning flag” of a possible bully.
  2. Step back from the chaos for a moment, and take a breath. Take care of yourself and your business as much as possible.
  3. Identify all the facts, and build your business’ plan of action as logically as possible. You need to be cool-and-clear-headed as you respond – if you even need to respond. (Remember, a bully’s #1 tool is fear. Don’t give it to them.)
  4. Imagine the worst-case scenario (and you probably already have) and figure out what you would do to champion it. Determine all the steps of what you will do moving forward.
  5. Plan it out. Be strategic in your response.

What would you add or change to this list? What can businesses do that are being bullied by other businesses? Have you seen a business cyber-bully another?


Images and Content Sources: http://www.forbes.com/sites/paigearnoffenn/2012/07/13/beware-of-business-bullies/, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlB1pFwGhA4, http://www.bizjournals.com/baltimore/blog/cyberbizblog/2013/10/annapolis-high-school-students.html, girltalkhq.com, and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2M0LVhonHUQ&spfreload=10