Alicia Karwat Alicia has over 15 years of corporate experience and has been helping professionals, managers and executives identify and develop extraordinary powers they didn’t even know they had, for over 5 years. To find out more view Alicia's full bio or visit Alicia's website

Workplace Psychopaths Revisited - Who is bullying whom?

By Dr Alicia Karwat, KeySteps Pty. Ltd.

I have just come across interesting information about a University of Adelaide study currently recruiting managers and bosses to talk about their experiences if they have been accused of workplace bullying. The researcher asks a question “Office bully or workplace victim?” and provides some evidence that the latter might also be true.

Probably you would not think about such possibility, unless you were a manager who was accused of bullying.  In my April posting “Workplace Psychopaths – How to deal with them”, I have started the discussion from the perspective of someone who was a target of a workplace psychopath or a bully. The target was a victim. Moira Jenkins takes a different perspective. In her PhD study she wants to hear the other side of the story and asks if it is always how it appears to be – thus “who is bullying whom?”

Work Performance

Can work performance be a cause of a serious conflict at work? You bet. While workplace psychopaths often use imaginary underperformance as an excuse of their hostile attacks, workers can also accuse their bosses of bullying when in fact it is them not doing their work. In the article published in the newsletter Moira Jenkins cites cases where managers were accused of bullying when in fact the employees did not deliver to the standards required and managers were addressing underperformance.

Things Get Out Of Proportion

Sometimes things get blown out of proportion between managers and their staff or peers. Clear personality clashes where neither of the side understands where the other person is coming from are quite common at the workplace. I am sure that everyone either was in the situation or witnessed two opposites working together with diametrally different thinking styles and both convinced of being right. The conflict starts with an argument and then it builds up until it gets out of proportion.

In some cases, the first time a manager may hear about the problems is when employee lodge a complaint to the employer or receives a request from WorkCover for a formal interview to investigate the case.  The same article provides an example of a manager who was almost suicidal and was on a worker’s compensation after being called a bully.

Tips What to Do

• Always know what is expected from you at work. Knowing what is expected of you is part of proactive career management and building career resilience (see my previous posting). Request clarification of your performance expectations and how it is going to be measured. Ignore it at your peril. It is like a contract.

• Moreover, if you are a manager, set clear performance expectations for each team member and provide ongoing constructive feedback. Do not ignore underperformance when you first notice it expecting that things will change or go away. This will greatly reduce the risks of getting into a hostile conflict with your employee.

• Get some coaching or training on how to deal with difficult people, how to handle and resolve conflict, how to prepare to performance discussions with your boss and how to receive feedback.

• Moreover, if you are a manager, get some coaching or management training on how to manage people, how to conduct performance appraisals and how to provide constructive feedback.

• Remember that not every bully is a workplace psychopath. In its majority bullying stems from stupidity, fear, believing that an attack is the best form of defence, poor interpersonal and social skills, and careerism.

Have you ever been accused of workplace bullying? Maybe you would like to share your thoughts with others. We would love to hear from you. If you would like to take part in Moira Jenkins study you can find the details on her website under Research.

Further reading:

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