Bullies are frequently
the root of disruption, injury and violence in schools and the
workplace. Learn how to change the culture of your organization in
order to defuse bullying.
is a bully? It is someone who takes advantage of another individual
that he or she perceives as more vulnerable. The goal is to gain
control over the victim or to gain control over a social group. This
type of behavior occurs in all ages, sexes and social groups. Most
adults, if they think about it, have experienced bullying too.
Bullying usually involves deliberate hostility or aggression toward
the victim. . The interaction is painful and humiliating and
distressing to the victim. Note the word deliberate.
Bullying has existed
as long as there has been human civilization. However, recently our
society has become more aware of bullying and its harmful
consequences. In June 2002 the House of Delegates of the American
Medical Association adopted a report by the AMA’s Council on
Scientific Affairs that reviewed bullying among U.S. children and
adolescents. It found that 7 to 15 percent of sampled school-age
children were bullies. About 10 percent of the same group were
victims. Between 2 and 10 percent of students are both bullies and
victims. In elementary schools, more boys than girls are involved in
bullying; however, the gender difference decreases in junior high and
high school, and social bullying among girls – manipulation done to
harm acceptance into a group – becomes harder to detect.
Long-term consequences for
intervention, bullying can lead to serious academic, social, emotional
and legal problems,” the CSA report states. “Studies of successful
anti-bullying programs are scarce in the United States but …
adopting a comprehensive approach in schools can change student
behaviors and attitudes and increase adults’ willingness to
report defined bullying as behavior that involves a pattern of
repeated aggression, deliberate intent to harm or disturb a victim
despite apparent victim distress and a real or perceived imbalance of
power (e.g., due to age, strength, size) with the more powerful child
or group attacking a physically or psychologically vulnerable
from AMA House of Delegates Scientific Affairs Committee June 2002)
behavior harms both the victim and the perpetrator. If a child
experiences chronic intimidation, he or she may learn to expect this
from others. He may develop a pattern of compliance with the unfair
demands of those he perceives as stronger. He may become anxious or
depressed. Finally, he may identify with the bully and become a bully
bully is also harmed. If he or she is allowed to continue the
behavior, it becomes habitual. He becomes more likely to surround
himself with friends who condone and promote aggressive behavior. He
may not develop a mature sense of justice. If he intimidates others to
cover up his own insecurities, his own anxiety may increase.
bystander who observes the interaction may become frightened to
express himself openly. He may also adopt the behaviors or either the
bully or the victim.
Types of bullies:
Lacks empathy for others. Has low
degree of anxiety about consequences. Narcissistic need to feel
omnipotent. May appear to have a high self esteem but it is actually a
May have low self esteem or be
depressed. Influenced by the surrounding social climate. May use
whining or tattling or be manipulative. Often responds well to a
change in the culture of the classroom or social setting. If depressed
may need other intervention.
He is less likely to be part of a gang.
His bullying is more spontaneous and may appear more random. He has
difficulty restraining himself from the behavior even when authorities
are likely to impose consequences. He may have AD/HD. He may respond
to medications and behavioral treatment and social skills training. He
is also likely to be bullied.
If bullying is a deliberate act, this
individual might not be included. The behavior may be offensive
because the individual does not realize that his actions are upsetting
the victim. If someone patiently and compassionately explains the
situation, the individual will change the behavior. Sometimes social
skills need to be taught. There is some overlap with the impulsive
can be anyone. Sometimes it is an accident of time and place. Some
people are more likely to become targets but this does not make it
who is different by virtue of physical or cultural
who is envied by the bully for his talent
with bully for dominance in the social group
individual with low self esteem.
or masochistic victim. Often an adolescent girl who feels that she
must allow a sadistic boyfriend to humiliate her so that she can
with bully and may help. Enjoys the bullying.
with victim and feels immobilize
the situation or tries to minimize it.
mixed feelings and can see the problem but may fear to actively
intervene. Often more mature than others.
Situations that facilitate bullying
clubs and other places where children or teens congregate in
groups. Mobile phones and the Internet are newer venues for
bullying. Flaming, or anonymous threatening emails are examples of
of the opinion that mixed age class groupings result in more true
leadership and less bullying.
homes, acceptance of violence and humiliation as ways of getting
who turn a blind eye to bullying in classes.
Discovery of bullying
Things school may notice.
with school avoidance.
trips to the nurse
Things parents may notice.
What are the signs
that your child is the victim of a bully? One may see non-specific
signs of school distress: These might include falling grades, physical
complaints on school days, and lack of interest in school work or
sports. More specific signs would be unexplained injuries or torn
clothes, missing belongings or money, or repeated requests for more
money. If someone is taking your child's lunch, he or she may come
home hungry even though he took an adequate lunch to school.
How Parents Can Intervene:
You need to
know how to get your child talking about his concerns. It is best to
broach the subject at a calm neutral time. Ask general questions about
whether something is bothering your child. Get as detailed a narrative
as possible. Avoid interrupting or judging. Try to stay calm and do
not make outraged statements while your child is telling his tale.
Avoid offering premature solutions. You may not get the entire story
on the first telling. Be patient and bring up the topic again later.
Finally, if you feel that something is going on and suspect that your
child is withholding information, call his or her teacher.
can you help your child deal with the bullying? First, help teach him
to avoid being an easy target. Start with posture, voice and eye
contact. These can communicate a lot about whether you are vulnerable.
Practice with a mirror or even videotape. Tell your child to avoid
isolated places where no one can see or hear him. He should learn to
be vigilant for suspicious individuals or for trouble brewing. If
bullying starts, he might be able to deflect it with humor or by
changing the subject. He should run over a list of positive attributes
in his mind. This reminds him that he is worthy of something better
than bullying behavior. Teach your child not to obey the commands of
the bully. Often it is better to run away than to comply. The parent
may help the child make more positive friends. If he or she sticks
around with a group, he is less likely to be a target. Finally, if the
child sticks up for other children he sees being bullied, people may
get the idea that he is not someone who tolerates bullies.
How Schools Can Intervene:
Target The Students:
students from different cliques, ethnic groups and neighborhoods. Peer
mediation training, student government projects and conflict
resolution training are helpful.
Target the Faculty and Staff:
Faculty and staff should discuss the
social atmosphere at the school. Ideally, coaches, bus drivers, aides
and janitorial staff should be included. Make sure that staff is aware
of the long-term consequences of intimidation. Teachers and
administrators could either brainstorm about ways to integrate this
into each class or use a curriculum. Once a curriculum or an approach
is chosen, parents or PTSA should meet with staff. When bullying
behavior is seen, the teacher or guidance counselor can intervene at
different levels depending on the severity of the incident.
activities in the classroom and on the playground: Find ways to
emphasize the achievements and strengths of many different types
of children. (This is not the same thing as "dumbing
behavioral expectations for students to be signed by students,
parents and teachers
program that emphasizes rewards for correct behavior rather than
solely focusing on demerits from misbehavior
rules that mandate respect between students.
consequences for individuals who do not follow the student code of
mediation training. Mediators should be chosen from a broad
spectrum of students, not just the academic achievers or sports
who tend to be victims should be supported by the formation of
out the locations where bullying behavior is most likely and
monitor these areas closely. (e.g. lunchroom, locker room)
and adults who function as mentors for children who tend to be
students in an ongoing buddy system
parents in for classes on assertiveness, active, non-violent
parenting techniques, and anger management.
curriculum in decision making and conflict resolution.
like "The Decision is Yours" series.
classes and groups that build self-discipline and social skills.
These might include martial arts classes, Scouting and religious
Characteristics of Organizations with Bullying
rates of sick leave, dismissals, disciplinary suspensions, early and
health-related retirements, disciplinary procedures, grievance
procedures, and stress-related illnesses. This company may be more
likely to hire security agencies to gather data on employees.
Types of workplace bullying
or unintentional bully
Occurs when someone is under stress or
an institution is undergoing confusing, disorienting changes. This is
the easiest to redirect.
This includes hateful emails and cyber
stalking. Some feel that employers who monitor employees' email are
using intimidation but this position can be debated. If it is used
unfairly, it can be seen as intimidation.
Bullying perpetrated by subordinates (such as boss being bullied by an
employee, nursing staff being bullied by a patient.)
An individual who repeatedly intimidates or harasses one individual
after another. A victim is selected and bullied for an
extended period of time until he leaves or asserts himself and goes to
Human Resources (HR) The bully deceives HR by being charming while the
victim appears emotional and angry. Since there are often no
witnesses, HR accepts the account of the senior staff member, possibly
a serial bully. The bully may convince the organization to get
rid of the troublesome victim. Once the victim is out of the
organization, the bully usually needs to find a new victim. This is
because the bully needs someone on whom he can project his inner
feelings of inadequacy. The bully may prevent others from sharing
negative information about him by sowing conflict. If the organization
eventually realizes that it has made a mistake, it is difficult for
them to publicly admit this. To do so might make them legally liable.
Others in the office or social group
start to react to bullying by imitating or joining in on the behavior.
This can lead to institutional bullying. Even if the primary bullying
individual is removed, the secondary bullies may fill in the gap
because they have learned that this is how to survive in this
Two individuals, sometimes people who
are having as affair, collude to intimidate others. The participation
of the second individual may be covert.
The primary bully gathers a number of
followers. He may be a loud, highly visible leader. If he is a quieter
sort, his role may be more insidious. Some members of the group may
actively enjoy being part of the bullying. They like the reflected
power of the primary bully. If the primary bully leaves the
organization, and the institution does not change, one of these
individuals may step in to fill the shoes of the primary bully. Others
of the gang join in because they feel coerced. They fear that if they
do not participate, they will be the next victims. Indeed some of
these individuals do become victims at some point in time.
Confrontations between employees, HR
interventions, social disputes take up a lot of energy and distract
everyone from things they should be doing at work and at home. (Aikido
story) It is better to prevent an incident than to deal with it later.
Sometimes this is a matter of judgment for the individual.
Assertiveness, humor and negotiation can often head off a
confrontation and prevent further bullying behavior. A strong positive
self-image can help by making it easier to ignore minor insults. The
positive self-image can also make it easier for one to take action
when the bullying has gone too far. Cultural misunderstandings
combined with personal insecurity can lead to hurt feelings.
Institutions can make intimidation less
likely by instituting policies discouraging bullying behavior.
Supervisors need help with learning sensitive ways to interact with
employees. Sometimes it may be as simple as cultural sensitivity and
remembering to ask employees for feedback. Other times, particular
individuals may need ongoing supervision or removal. It is difficult
to change old habit. Explicit directives with examples may help.
Managers need to understand their management style and how
subordinates perceive it. It is important to understand the line
between tough but fair and imperious and capricious.
© 2000 Gary and Ruth Namie, All Rights Reserved
Campaign Against Workplace Bullying
P.O. Box 1886
Benicia, CA 94510, USA
Bullying and social stability
might look at adult bullying as a mechanism of social control.
Employers, government officials, and others in authority wish to
retain and increase their control and authority. If power and control
are central to the existence of an organization, bullying and denial
about the existence of bullying may be central to the stability of the
organization. Rules, regulations and clear lines of authority are not
the same as institutional bullying. A person who might grow up in a
family where there was covert intimidation, inconsistent demands and
unfair treatment. His parents might single him out for harsher
treatment than his siblings but make him feel too guilty to speak out.
Paradoxically enough, such an individual might experience a strong
sense of relief after joining the military. He would experience more
overt yelling and more minute-to-minute control of his activities. Yet
he thrives. Why? In the armed forces he would report that he received
fair and consistent treatment. The rules were predictable. The
expectations were rigorous but clear and predictable. His superiors
shouted at him, but they shouted at everyone else. Some superiors
might be excessively harsh, but everyone knew who they were and knew
what to expect. Intense, highly authoritarian situations sometimes
lend themselves to bullying situations. However, this is not
always the case. If there are consistent predictable rules and no one
is unfairly singled out, hierarchy does not necessarily mean bullying.
In strict hierarchical situations, there should always be an avenue
for individuals who feel that they are being treated unfairly or being
asked to do unethical things.
E. Watkins, M.D.
See our other articles on
with Bullies and How Not To Be One
with Bullies (A shorter article aimed at elementary school
children-located on Kids and Teens page)