Who is a target for bullying? Skills and integrity attract bullies

Infographic With Bully Target Characteristics

Infographic and article by K. Patricia Bouweraerts; the graphic is made available under the Creative Commons License CC BY-ND 3.0. It may be used and displayed without charge by all commercial and non-commercial websites if attributed.

Intelligence, competence, and a natural ability to work well with others — characteristics of staffers who are most sought-after in the job market — but ironically, these strengths are the very ones that can attract workplace bullies.

Who is a target for bullying?

There is a comparable set of talents and abilities that have been listed by several expert sources as present in the makeup of people who are often chosen by aggressors. These characteristics are highlighted in the infographic above, “Targets for bullying: strengths may be kryptonite.”

Traits of employees targeted for negative actions by bullies can include the following:

  • Smart — An individual who is targeted is often smart and skilled, and a bully seeks to bring down the fellow staffer by damaging his or her work or reputation, wrote Sally Kane on TheBalanceCareers.com.
  • Competent — “In the workplace, bullies often target persons who are particularly skilled or competent, viewing them a competition, and compensating for their own weaknesses,” wrote Ronald Riggio, Ph.D. on the Psychology Today blog.
  • Ethical — Honesty is a quality often found in those bullied. “The most easily exploited targets are people with personalities founded on a prosocial orientation — a desire to help, heal, teach, develop, nurture others,” wrote Gary Namie, Ph.D.
  • Female — Male bullies target females 65 percent of the time, and female bullies target other females at 67 percent, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute.
  • Different — People who are targeted may be unique, such as staffers who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), older, or disabled. Alternatively, the co-worker may be different but not a member of a protected group, Dr. Riggio wrote.
  • Harmonious — “Workplace bullies target those for whom collaboration, compromise, team building, and consensus-seeking are second nature,” Kane wrote.
  • Independent — Targets who are skilled at being autonomous, and defend themselves from a bully are sometimes the object of escalating intimidation by the aggressor, Dr. Namie wrote.
  • Nonconfrontational — Individuals who are nonconfrontational appear as submissive to a bully, Dr. Namie wrote.
  • Vulnerable — Bullies may choose a person who is new at work, has not yet established supportive relationships, is excluded from cliques, or is dealing with issues such as depression or anxiety, Kane wrote.
  • Praised — “Workplace bullies often target employees who are liked by their supervisors and praised for their performances,” Kane wrote.

Developing a casual following in the workplace can be advantageous.

“Bullies focus on workers and students who are socially isolated,” Dr. Riggio wrote. “If you are an informal workplace leader, with co-workers who admire and ‘follow’ you, it is less likely that bullies will target you.”

It is painful to be the object of a bully’s harmful critiques and sabotage, although there is a hint of consolation when you know what attracted the aggressor in the first place may well have been your talent, smarts, and character.

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