"Black Dog being chased from the Admiral Benbow Inn by Captain Billy Bones" by N.C. Wyeth. From Treasure Island, 1911 (cropped)

Office Bullies Do It Because They Enjoy Bullying

E. Forrest Christian Careers Leave a Comment

Yes, bullies enjoy hurting you, according to research reported in Medical News: “Brain Scans Show Bullies May Enjoy Watching Pain“.

Decety-Bullies Enjoy Inflicting Pain

The study, written up in Biological Psychology, looked at the brain scans of boys aged 16-18 who had been diagnosed with aggressive conduct disorder (“bullies”), along with a control set of boys who were not overly aggressive, while they were looking at aggressive images. When the bullies saw videos of someone intentionally inflicting pain on someone else, the pleasure centers of their brains lit up like little fireworks displays. This didn’t happen in the controls.

What does this have to do with the office and your career? Plenty.

Office bullies receive pleasure from inflicting hurt or damage on you. This pleasure may be the result of a variety of factors, combining biological and psychological issues. The root cause isn’t your problem: that they take pleasure in abusing you is.

It has been noted by others that sociopaths take delight in destroying people, not things, and take special joy in taking down good, kind, hard-working people. Their pleasure centers don’t light up at much but they do at this. Since aggressive conduct disorder has been associated with later full-blown sociopathy, this result may be relevant for them, too.

People who aren’t taught about how bullies (or “evil people”) work often think that the bully can be made to understand. So let me be clear:

Your office bully already understands that he’s hurting you: that’s why he’s doing it. There are people who take joy almost exclusively in damaging other people.

At work, you will run into people who bully. Many of these people will be doing it because they enjoy it. Since people with these types of disorders are apparently over-represented in management positions (at least in America), there seems to be a tacit understanding that bullying will be tolerated and is an accepted part of the “weeding out the unfit” process that occurs in most organisations. As if were all chimpanzees and not humans.

I have always believed that one of the reasons that Jaques findings are so controversial is that it removes the ability of bullies to operate freely. These people routinely take credit for other people’s work rather than doing their own. They lie about what they are doing, doing little but working long hours. Since they are accomplished liars and management is not holding their managers accountable for their work, they can always get out of the situations their lies create. In a Requisite Organization they have almost no place to hide.

Bullies exist. And by “bully” I mean “individuals that take great pleasure in hurting humans, especially ones that appear weak”. Keep that in mind the next time you head to the office.

Image Credit: “Black Dog being chased from the Admiral Benbow Inn by Captain Billy Bones” by N.C. Wyeth. From Treasure Island, 1911. Via Wikimedia Commons.

About the Author

Forrest Christian

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E. Forrest Christian is a consultant, coach, author, trainer and speaker at The Manasclerk Company who helps managers and experts find insight and solutions to what seem like insolvable problems. Cited for his "unique ability and insight" by his clients, Forrest has worked with people from almost every background, from artists to programmers to executives to global consultants. Forrest lives and works plain view of North Carolina's Mount Baker.  [contact]

Comments 0

  1. I had a bully boss a couple of years ago. Ironically, she was the only boss who ever saw my real potential–in hindsight I realize she spotted it in the job interview.

    Then after I was hired I did lots of her work, stuff that I wasn’t supposed to be able to do. I have to admit that sometimes I was grimly amused at how I pulled stuff off I most certainly was not qualified to do. “But I don’t know how to do this” I would say to myself as I somehow figured it out.

    Good times!

  2. Post

    I hadn’t thought about that. I’ve reflected before that I have often been taken advantage of by “bosses” of various sorts in the past, in a similar way. But I’m not sure that it helps too much. You often don’t realize that you have done something amazing. And often bully bosses will not give you credit, even after you leave, so people think that you’re lying about your work.

    I would imagine that bullies (whether aggressive or borderline) would be one of the few bosses who would want to hire someone too big for the job, so that their own word could be done by you. But they’ll never credit you or help you get your career aligned with your ability or capacity.

  3. I agree–nothing about working for a bully is helpful except what you may learn about minimizing the risk of being bullied again.

    I think having enough money to be free to leave a sick job is key since there are so many psycho bosses out there.

Tell Forrest how wrong he is: