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Why bullying? 

Brinkman and Kirshner (2003: 7) argue that depending upon goals and intentions of people in an organisation for example certain personality characteristics and behaviours emerge depending upon what a task may entail. They claim that there are 4 intentions that people use in their lives in order to function in undertaking tasks. They include:

  1. Get it done
  2. Get it right 
  3. Get along, and the most powerful of all 
  4.  Get appreciated.

Most people know how to balance these intentions to derive success or to reduce their stress levels. However some people in their drive to succeed twist these intentions and adopt personalities and behaviours that are threatening and controlling over others. Brinkman and Kirshner (2003: 15-16) further identified what could happen if any of those intents were threatened, and the table below reflects their contentions:

Threat to Intent: May not get it done
Associated Behaviour: Controlling. Will take over and push ahead.

Threat to Intent: May get it wrong
Associated Behaviour: ‘Perfectionist’. They will see every flaw and potential error.

Threat to Intent: Want to get along with others but fear they will be left out.
Associated Behaviour: Approval seeking. They sacrifice to please others.

Threat to Intent: Fear of not being appreciated.
Associated Behaviour: Attention getting. The person becomes difficult to ignore.

It is possible to see from Brinkman’s and Kirshner’s (2003) contentions here that that this is a way to understand how a bullying person may develop their thoughts and behaviours. For example most people are keen to get their work done or ensure that the work of others’ is done as they like it to be done. Brinkman and Kirshner identified three problem personalities and 3 associated difficult controlling behaviours that are exhibited respectively by each when the need to get things done is required.

They include:

The Tank. On a mission to get things done, the Tank is unable to slow down and may push you around or run right over you in the process. The Tank has no inhibitions about ripping you apart personally, yet its nothing personal: you just happened to get in the way…Tank behaviour (sic.) ranges from mild pushiness to outright aggression.

The Sniper. When things aren’t getting done to his or her satisfaction, the sniper attempts to control you through embarrassment or humiliation. Most people live in fear of public embarrassment – a fact that snipers use to their advantage, by making loaded statements and sarcastic comments at times when you are most vulnerable.

The Know-It-All. The Know-It-All controls people and events by dominating the conversation with lengthy, imperious arguments and eliminates opposition by finding flaws and weaknesses to discredit other points of view. Because Know-It-Alls are actually knowledgeable and competent, most people are quickly worn down by their strategy, and finally just give up.”

Do you recognise these sorts of characteristics in people you work with? Do you have some of those characteristics yourself? People may have some hybrid version – a combination of these characteristic behaviours as well.

Brinkman and Kirshner (2003: 7-8) argue that in the process in which some people just want to get things done, their controlling behaviours increase. The more obsessively they want things done the more the controlling behaviours increase either by adopting a Tank, a Sniper or a Know-It-All personality.

8 Responses to “Why Do People Harass and Bully? Is it in Their Personality?”

Author comments are in a darker gray color for you to easily identify the posts author in the comments

  1. robert tilbrooke says:

    I am currently studying Dispute resolution and mediation at JCU and I have decided to base one essay on the above ‘Bullying in the workplace’. The above article has been very helpful in my research for material. I also see the need to see if the shoe fits and learn from this.


  2. Editor says:

    Hi Robert,

    Thank you for your feedback – we’re very happy to hear that the information has been useful!

    And feel more than welcome to share it in the Blog once it has been finalised… we’d be interested in taking a look at your essay for possible publication at our ‘Special Reports’ sub-section.

    You can contact us at for more information.

  3. Priti Venkatesan says:


    It was nice to go through your article. Actually this tendency to control is not just at the work place. Each one of us tries to impose his or her wishes on the weaker or the subordinate to accomplish his superiority. This may not necessarily be to get the work done but it is usually done to reassure oneself and also the others about ones own worth or superiority.

    I give you a very small example. At home a mother always tries to get things done by her kids the way she wants them to be done. In case the kids refuse to do so she inflicts emotional or physical pressure on kids to give up and follow her directions. A mother loves her children and wants their well being but when it comes to following her direction she becomes uncompromising. She does not care about the childs individuality or his own wishes, likes or dislikes.

    The same happens at the work place with small changes in feelings and emotion. A boss always wants to assert his superiority and thus uses all types of force or ways to get things done the way he wants them to be done. Actually we all humans are so vulnearable with our self identity and so keen on proving to others that “I” am better then the rest that we forget to be humans. We pressurise and bully others where as we would not like the same to be done to us.

    Well I too am a human being and have also tried to assert myself on others at work-place and even at home. I usually pressurise my 7 year old daughter to do things the way I want them to be done. But, on introspection I realise how wrong it is to make others feel inferior or incompetent. Your article was an eye-opener. I enjoyed reading it and writing back to you. I do not know whether you will bother to write back to me but through this writing of mine i have just poured out my hearts contents.

    Have a nice day,

    priti venkatesan,India,chennai.

  4. LP says:

    While working at a site I was a victim of workplace bullying along with many colleagues. This is the conclusion I came to as to why this certain management structure bullied and allowed bullying to happen. The bullies were an insecure boys club who couldn’t understand why not everyone they managed was playing by their rules. When I complained about my manager offending me, his manager told me to “consider my place on the team”. The offensive behaviour was considered acceptable. There was a mentality of superiority regarding rank no matter what. Managers were considered a privileged class of people rather than employees having a real job to do. People they managed were second class to them and there appeared to be serious elements of discrimination. You were expected to do what you were told no matter what. They bullied through their power over people’s professional work lifes, through evaluations and job assignments. If you were not playing by their rules which were about showing them that you were intimidated by their rank rather than focusing on being competent at the work being done you got no where professionally. Simply having an attitude of confidence and interest in collaborating with them as equals was not acceptable to them. This was a real pattern. Very unacceptable things ended up on my evaluations and when I asked for examples I was told “you won’t get examples”. These managers did not actually manage the work or get involved with the actual work or work results. These managers also bullied each other. My manager activally looked for alliances in the people he managed to help him bully another manager which was his competition. The other managers cubicle was actually vandalized! The environment was based on competition with peers as this is built right into the evaluation policies! The whole evaluation system was about ranking high performers/contributers relative to peers. Managers cohersed team leads to come up with bad performers based on a very suspicuous criteria. It was not a professional criteria. It was about who is adhereing to our boys club rules. They were allowed to function in this manner for years even though they were not following or even caring about company policy! They created obvious inequalities amongst the employees and out right sought to mob employees. It was stunning that IBM itself did not seem to have much in place to really get the situation under control before my colleagues started getting depressed, going on sick leave and one colleague told me when he was cohersed back to the environment through bullying from the sick leave case worker that at the meeting he asked if his manager was happy that he got him to the point of wanting to kill himself! HR and managers at this site have tried with everything they have to hide and cover up real injuries done to their employees in order to protect the status quo of an unacceptable boys club. The HR contact for this group admitted to not seeing the seriousness of the behaviour and attitude of these managers. HR can bully and support bullies. Another HR professional had already concluded that issues existed amongst these managing requiring action. Actions were taken too late and damage to human health had already occured.

    • debbie belair says:

      Hi, that really sucks! I feel for you because I too am being bullied in a hospital setting and people think that they can’t get fired.
      I want to approach management but not sure how.
      The thing is that people that are pushing me around are much less educated than I am.

  5. Nyrina says:


    Sad to say it happens and there’s no law to take this up. There’s a dominating presence presently where I work. Can’t do anything as they pay a deaf ear to it.

  6. Nyrina says:

    There’s another saying …it pays to be silent. I have learn’t from past experiences, never to retaliate.

    Being a Catholic, brought up in a Christian Way… I forgive those who have said things to hurt me, I’m just a sensitve human being, we do make mistakes at times, no one is perfect! I never cheat or tell lies.

    I have always been an honest person never brag about anything just to the point!

  7. GM says:

    Hi .
    It has concerned me about harassment and bullying in the workplace. I am currently trying very hard to get the HR in the hospital I work for to act on their own harassment and bullying policies in the workplace. It’s incredible that I actually received nearly 3 months ago a reply that they were investigating my complaint / grievance and that nothing has been done. I have used all my counselling skills to attempt a resolution with the person concerned and they flatly deny that they have a problem and still continue to harass and bully covertly other workmates. I am now being made the scapegoat and of course having expected this I had submitted in my complaint what this person would do in the attempt to shift blame. This same person is a serial offender over many years and manipulates her superiors by threats etc if she doesn’t get her way. I will eventually take up another position as a counselor ( my present employment is in another field of work ) and its very distressing that a this person is clearly unwell .

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