According to Keryl Egan, a Sydney-based clinical psychologist of Stormont Consulting, bullies fall into three main profiles:
- the accidental bully,
- the narcissistic bully,
- the serial bully
Egan describes the accidental bully as emotionally blunt, intelligent, confident, successful, aggressive and demanding, expecting a lot of the people working around them. "This person is task orientated and just wants to get things done, tends to panic when things are not getting done, and goes into a rage about it. This person is basically decent, they don't really think about the impact of what's happened or what they have done. They are responding to stress a lot of the time." Importantly,
Egan believes this type of bully can be trained or coached out of the bullying behaviour.
The Narcissistic Bully
They are grandiose and has fantasies of breath-taking achievement. "This type of bully feels they deserve power and position. They can fly into rages whenever reality confronts them. This person is very destructive and manipulative, they don't set out in a callous way to annihilate any other person - it's purely an expression of their superiority."
The Serial Bully
The most dangerous type of all "who has a more sociopathic or psychopathic personality. The Serial bully is intentional, systematic, and organised and the bullying is often relentless. They usually get things done in terms of self interest, not in the interest of the company." Egan's serial bully employs subtle techniques that are difficult to detect or prove and training or coaching is always unsuccessful; simply, the serial bully is often:
- grandiose yet charming,
- authoritative, aggressive and dominating,
- fearless and shameless,
- devoid of empathy or remorse,
- manipulative and deceptive;
- impulsive, chaotic or stimulus seeking; and
- a master of imitation and mimicry.
It seems women are particularly effective at this kind of behaviour. They intentionally hurt colleagues and revel in the pain they cause. "The psychopathic bully is very good at showing one face to the boss and another face to the people below them," explains Egan. Her research says it can take two years for a psychopathic workplace bully to be exposed.
"They isolate their target so that person doesn't have a support network. They manipulate the victim's workload and working conditions and make unrealistic demands and unpredictable decisions. One minute they praise, and the next minute they criticise. They isolate or ignore their victim and the bullying is systematic and relentless. They have a complete lack of empathy."
Egan says most people become psychopathic bullies because of a damaged childhood. They've usually been bullied themselves by uncaring parents or been emotionally neglected. They're incapable of having compassion for anyone else because they didn't receive love and care themselves.
Sally says whenever she's been generous in life people have taken advantage of her. "Sometimes I feel bad when I see the girls at work in tears. I see how they look at me when I arrive at work — they're afraid — but if they're afraid of me, they're not going to take advantage of me. Being soft doesn't get you anywhere."
*Names have been changed.