Workplace bullies

You know the story. We receive it, witness it or hear about it. It seems to be everywhere including social media, schools, workplaces. For many bullying in the workplace is particularly troublesome as it effects one’s livelihood. But the narrative regarding workplaces seems strangely absent. Not many people are talking about it.

Is there any observable pattern or strategy regarding workplace bullying? What forces drive toxic work environments and who controls them? It turns out that we can recognise four key perpetrators. These individuals are behind typically destructive workplaces and enable them to perpetuate.
The following summary is a reality check that will surely blow your mind!

The Screaming Mimi
They are the boss or supervisor instilling fear into the worker through public shock tactics with the purpose of paralysing the subject with surprise. Their tactic is to be unnerving and destabilising. The victim has the shocked look with the dropped jaw expression. This paralysis tactic is also designed to frighten co-workers so they can be primed later as ally to the bully. The Screaming Mimi is typically seen as the prototype bully but statistically is the rarest.
The Constant Critic
They get you behind closed doors and drill you with unjustifiable criticism with the knowledge they will be believed over you because they are managers. They misuse performance appraisal system (used in proper workplaces) as their primary tactic to undermine the integrity of the victim.
The chosen targets are well liked workers and technically skilled workers or the ‘go to’ worker. They apply unrelenting criticism. This is spread to other workers They are targeting the psyche of the worker to traumatise them so they will believe themselves to be incompetent.
The Two Headed Snake
Beware the hugging boss or manager because while they’re hugging you they are stabbing you in the back. They will hug you early in their work relationship with you. They employ passive aggressive techniques. They exhibit Jekyll and Hyde personality traits. They are both back stabbers and rumour mongers. In a supervisory role they fail to stop rumours which control the competent worker’s reputation. If the worker is alert to the corruption and takes action through moving to another department or workplace, The Two Headed Snake will make sure the escapee is saddled with the rumours as concrete reputation. In the new workplace the worker is greeted with the proviso that ‘you can’t do what you did in your former workplace’ etc.
These three type of bullies are attempting to redefine the competent worker as incompetent through actively questioning and attacking their identity, their psyche. This is the most traumatising element. This type of bullying is also known as co-mission.
The fourth type of bully employs withholding resource rather than active or co-mission bullying.
The Gatekeeper
The Gatekeeper filters out key information so as to control those around them and to protect the corrupted workplace. They are not necessarily managers. They can enforce arbitrary deadlines that are designed to control other workers. Only the target victim receives these unrealistic deadlines while others are unburdened. The Gatekeeper controls the social environment so as to deprive the victim of inclusion. They deny the worker any assistance and the opportunity to collaborate with co-workers. The victim is attacked during greatest vulnerability such as after a vacation, first day back after a divorce or first day back from sickness.

This summary reveals the stereotypical behaviour of empowered bullies and should provide a stark warning for those subject to them. It should lead to one simple conclusion: leave. Simply put, you are too valuable.



One percent of the population is a Psychopath. This percentage doubles or quadruples in high power positions such as lawyers, business leaders or surgeons. Because it is a spectrum disorder it can vary considerably from one individual to the next. But how do you identify a Psychopath?

Psychopathy has qualities of the two other personality types in ‘the dark triad’. Machiavellianism and Narcissism together with Psychopathy make up the triad.

One of the key shared conditions amongst all three personality types is a lack of empathy. There is also the absence of remorse and of guilt. If they pity it is for those who show kindness or compassion. To them, such feelings are a sign of weakness. 

Another Psychopathy trait is low impulse control and can see them engage in violent and risky behavior. Extreme situations may occur where the Psychopath will dispatch or kill someone on impulse. The phrase ‘act now, think later’ is scarily appropriate in regards the Psychopathy personality.

Psychopathy can be seen as having two separate models. There exists a primary or factor one type and a secondary, factor two type. ‘Act now and think later’ describes the impulsive inclination tied up with factor two Psychopathy. The manipulation, power jostling character of psychopaths describes primary Psychopathy where calculation and cunning are used against competition.

A lot has been written on Psychopathy and it is popular subject material in fiction and the movies. Hannibal Lecter immediately comes to mind. What is not commonly understood is the nuanced condition of Psychopathy, how it is part of ’the dark triad’ and how certain traits are shared with both Machiavellianism and Narcissism. In short, malevolence may vary from one individual to the next. And because Psychopathy is a spectrum disorder it may not be at all obvious. It could be your friended person on social media, your neighbour down the street or even a member of your family. 


Machiavellian motivation and purpose is to take advantage of others at their expense.

Machiavelli was a 16th century philosopher and political adviser who wrote of the principle in favour of deception and pragmatism over honesty and morality in his manifesto The Prince. This is the origin of the definition Machiavellian.

The Machiavellian personality type could be described as manipulative and deceiving and having a blatant disregard for the feelings of those they manipulate. Unlike the Narcissist their motivation isn’t the need for attention but rather to control others for their purposes. While in conversation with the Machiavellian, you may feel a lack of engagement and a certain emotional distance even though the interaction may be very engaging. What is occurring is an interaction that is devoid of empathy. From their perspective you exist only to serve their purposes.

The Machiavellian is calculating and clinical in both their personal and non-personal relationships. They are emotionally detached from their partners and have no apparent difficulty in leaving them as they have alexithymia. It is not surprising any relationship they have is abusive and dysfunctional. They will run rough shot over someone rather choose a diplomatic approach. Their choice to damage an individual for personal gain is a key Machiavellian trait.

The Machiavellian can successfully climb the corporate ladder but are subject to their own unscrupulousness. They can make too many enemies and burn too many bridges. Compared to the Narcissists who will actively seek others attention, the Machiavellian may seem withdrawn because of their scheming nature. As an outcome of this they do not appear to take action. This apparent hesitancy is a misinterpretation of the Machiavellian’s calculated and unscrupulous intentions. If it suits them, they will turn people against each other without the need to take any action at all.

Robert Smith

I’d lost contact with Bob sometime before he had passed away. My friendship with him could be described as close but over the duration of 30 years it inevitably changed. When I first knew him he was embroiled in a legal wrangle with the Flinders University where he had started the Art History Department in the 1960’s. By the time he died he had become a nationally recognized scholar, one of the formative generation of Australian art historians. Personally, I think his greatest knowledge lay in English literature and the Italian Renaissance but his interests were broad. True to art scholarship he was fluent in Italian.

I was a student of his at Flinders University, a raw undergraduate with only moderate ability and motivation. One night he phoned regarding an overdue essay of mine. I was so surprised because I didn’t think it mattered or that he cared. He requested I forward what preparatory notes I had in regards the essay topic. I was touched and this really motivated me to knuckle down and study. I guess this was his intention. But more importantly, it started a life long friendship. His interest and fascination in life was infectious. I couldn’t write until I met Bob who basically taught me from the ground up. He led through example. Simply put, it is the interest in source material that drives the process and with the correct approach, results should follow.

So many years after that fateful night in the early ’80’s I have an extract reflecting Bob’s inimitable style. His request was a simple one: pose a monthly question on anything and he’ll give me an answer. Any opportunity to exercise his far ranging thoughts and interests. He surprised me to the end. I was lucky to have this enduring friendship.

6 Sept 2006

Re: I know why you didn’t ask about the poem


Thanks again for the poetry Bob. Reading Olivier has enlightened me on Picasso’s literary efforts but the quote that gets me is “others talk, I work!” apparently in Souchere Dor 1960.

Yours Steve 


Hello Steve, Speaking of that poem, I once said to Alan Flashtig* “Say not the struggle nought availeth,” to which he replied “I wasn’t about to.”

The poem has been so widely quoted that its author is often referred to as “Poor Man’s Tennyson.” I always thought Tennyson was !

However curious you might have been, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to use up this month’s one wish from your friendly neighbourhood geni on something so simple to resolve.

So here, out of the kindness of my heart is an attachment with the whole four stanzas, and author’s name.

I recall that during World War Two Winston Churchill was fond of quoting the final line: “But westward, look, the land is bright.” Australian Labor Party Minister for External Affairs at the time, Dr H. V. Evatt, preferred the entire first stanza. But then he was the great champion of the United Nations General Assembly, while Churchill preferred the Security Council, dominated by “the big powers” (especially the “westward” ones). Evatt is the most impressive politician I’ve ever met (and I’ve met quite a few–thankfully not the current crop of police state advocates). Cheers, Bob.

*Colleague at Flinders