It is widely accepted that knowledge is power. Therefore, I think it is best to start by raising our awareness into the nature of a bully. I submit that the behavior we label as bullying is actually the mentality and noxious temperament of a narcissist in action. We can all benefit from a closer examination into the personality profile of a narcissist in order to gain insights into the thinking and motivation of a bully.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association, narcissism is a personality disorder characterized by the following personality traits:
- An exaggerated sense of self-importance
- A belief that they are special and expect people to defer to them
- Expects recognition without achievements that warrant it
- A belief that they are superior and can only be understood to be equally superior individuals
- A need for continuous admiration
- Possesses a sense of entitlement and expects special considerations and accommodations
- Lacks the ability or willingness to recognize the needs or feelings of others
- Demonstrate an arrogant, superior manner
They often act with the demeanor of someone who is super self-secure when in actuality they are in constant battle with their fragile self-esteem demons. What actual confidence they have is superficial and cannot withstand scrutiny let alone criticism. Their reaction to criticism goes beyond the conventional human reaction of defensiveness and anger. It triggers a need for revenge within them. They personify the adage; you are either with me or against me.
It is vital that you understand the secret weapons of a narcissist. They possess above average IQs and are usually very skilled at what they do. They count on making themselves indispensable so that you will hesitate to definitively address their disruptive behavior because you require their knowledge and skills to help the department operate smoothly. They view information as power, therefore; they are usually well informed and like to volunteer to be on committees they view as powerful or at the center of things.
Perhaps the most unsettling tool in their arsenal is that they possess the following predator characteristics: attractive, charming when they feel it is a useful tool, and seductive. They have the ability to tell you exactly what you want to hear and make you believe that they are truly sincere in their desire to “get it right” if you give them one more chance.
By comparison, the characteristics of a chronically uncivil person can be irritating, immature and disruptive but it does not leave the target of their behavior threatened, humiliated or feeling vulnerable and unsafe. Examples of chronically uncivil behavior include but are not limited to:
- Recurrently late for work, report, relieving others
- Poor boundaries with personal life and challenges
- Chronic complainer regardless of the issue
- Inappropriate body language at huddles and meetings
- Chronic cancellation of meetings
- Habitually interrupting or talking over someone
A bully (narcissist) rarely follows the acceptable chain of command when they have an idea to share or a complaint to register. They do not view the people immediately above them as special or worthy enough to appreciate their input. Customarily, they prefer to go directly to the top regardless of how often you restate structure. Unfortunately, they will only take you seriously when you employ a disciplinary process. An uncivil employee may occasionally leapfrog the chain of command but they will stop if the appropriate structure is restated.
It is unusual for an individual who engages in disruptive behavior to self-correct without intervention by leadership. Coaching and training aimed at affecting and adjusting behavior take time and patience. However, sustainable change will not happen unless the disruptive person can actually acknowledge that his or her actions are inappropriate and potentially harmful. Furthermore, this acknowledgment must be followed by clear evidence that the desired changes in behavior can be sustained.
Uncivil individuals have the ability to acknowledge a shortcoming and make an active choice to adopt a better way of conducting themselves at work. Change may not happen overnight but it can happen. Bullies lack this ability. Bullies are challenged by boundaries and are compelled to push back. Since they lack the insight necessary to identify the need for a change and they are unable to sustain any claim they make to embrace a better way. A bully’s behavior is predictable and cyclical. You will be forced to invest a good deal of time into the documentation of repeated offenses.