Workplace Bullying: Which Personalities are Vulnerable? How Can You Respond?

More and research is revealing that bullying doesn’t just occur on school grounds anymore. According to The Workplace Bullying Institute, up to one-third of employees may be victims of workplace abuse. Further research from Stanford University suggests that productivity could decline up to 40% when workers become targeted and subsequently victimized by bullies on the job.

This can mean catastrophic consequences for the organization under heat – decreased morale and increased stress levels for workers, high staff turnover, retraining of employees, costly rebranding endeavours, and even lawsuits. It is estimated that American businesses are losing $360 billion a year due to the disputes that occur from workplace bullying, violence and harassment.

When it comes to addressing this issue in the workplace, a good leader can be the crusading force that can help steer things in the right direction. In your senior position, it is in your highest interests to ensure that your employees are performing at their best not just on the work front, but in all areas of their lives.

Which Types are Vulnerable to Bullying?

Anyone can be the victim of bullying of course. However, due to their heightened sensitivity, Introverted Feeler personality types (INFJ, ISFJ, ISFP, INFP) are not only vulnerable to bullying, but are prone to sustaining life-long trauma as a result of such harrowing experiences.

Feeler types are known to make decisions based on emotions and values and can also be highly vulnerable to conflict. In some corporate “cut-throat” environments, introverted Feelers who are quieter in nature can make easy targets for bullies because they may be perceived by domineering types as being “passive” and “weak” and thus, inferior to others. Well-performing Feeler employees may also garner unwanted attention from bullies who may be harbouring  their own fears and insecurities.

That’s why recognizing the signs of bullying early on as well as equipping yourself with the right strategies to support your highly-sensitive personnel can go a long way. Let’s look at how you as a workplace manager can work to better serve the needs of your Introverted Feeling (IF) employees.

Confront the Problem

Confrontation can be a difficult thing for most people. However, for the sensitive Introverted Feeler, there is more of a tendency to want to avoid conflict at whatever cost, leading them to side-step confrontation. Unfortunately, this works in the bully’s favour and may even increase the frequency of their attacks, rather than lessen them. As a manager, confrontation is not something you can easily avoid. You can begin to address bullying in your workplace by first acknowledging that the problem exists.  

As any mathematician will tell you, doing so is a crucial big step before attempting to solve any standard equation. Be ready to identify and address the incident(s) by singling out the key players at the forefront. Once you have done this, set a time to meet with the employees involved and present whatever findings you have about the rising conflicts. Listen and observe well so that you can effectively gather information from both parties in order to assess the situation later.

Should the report come from a source outside of the victim, a direct confrontation may not always be the best response. Shelly Wiggins of Driftwood Counseling recommends an alternative, more indirect approach: “Have a meeting with your employees where both the bully and the victim are present. You will be able to see [signs of bullying revealed] in the body language and dynamics in the room which will help to validate that there is something going on,” she says. “Also, empower the [victim] within that group dynamic to stick up for themselves.”

Be Vigilant to the Signs of Bullying

Since there does exist the reality that a large number of Feelers may choose not to report their situation, look out for these following signs that will help you discern that an IF employee is being bullied:

  • Tense body language (averted gaze, fidgeting hands and feet, clenched jaw) or obvious discomfort during interactions with said bully or whenever he/she is in the room.

  • Clear avoidance of face-to-face encounters with the suspected bully or whenever their name is raised in conversation.

  • Frequent withdrawals or purposeful isolation from group meetings or social events – this can raise special cause for alarm when an Introverted Feeler is declining activities that he/she had previously participated in and enjoyed.

  • Not speaking up or sharing their ideas as much in group meetings or with other colleagues. Or he/she may be quieter than usual during certain points of the work day (i.e. – when a certain colleague – “the bully” – is around).

  • Increase in missed absences or deadlines without any proper explanations.

  • Takes feedback from other managers or colleagues especially hard; demonstrates doubt or lack of confidence about work-related tasks.  

Get it in Writing

Most likely, some of the bullying incidents in question may be occurring at times when you are not in the room. That’s why it’s best to encourage the victim or whoever is reporting the bullying to produce any materials that can corroborate their story. This may include email correspondence, witness statements from other employees, victim’s testimony, etc.

Aside from regular meetings, be diligent in keeping up-to-date with the situation at hand by following up with the employees involved frequently. Since most Introverts are able to express themselves better in writing, this will offer an opportunity for the victim to provide an honest account without feeling pressured.

Appoint either yourself or another senior leader as the delegated mediator whom employees can report to directly should any further issues arise. Ensure that certain protocols are also in place that can allow for anonymous reporting and so that employees who do choose to report are not penalized for doing so.

Challenge any Preconceived Biases

Being highly emotional is often cast as being a negative thing which can easily place Introverted Feelers, and especially INFs, in situations where they feel misunderstood or undervalued. Your job as a leader is to make sure that this does not happen. In cases when the bully is more popular or favored by other colleagues in the workplace, the victim’s voice may sometimes get drowned out.

While you may not fully understand where some of your employees are coming from all the time, this doesn’t mean that you get to disrespect them or allow for anyone else to do so either. INFJs and INFPs, particularly, most often thrive in environments where they feel supported and where their ideas are valued. Be gentle with the feelings of all employees involved as well as flexible while you work to meet their needs.

Practice Positive Reinforcement

Bullies can resort to both direct or indirect tactics including: name-calling, manipulation, overt criticism, verbal aggression, undermining power, ruining one’s reputation and/or excluding or withholding information regarding work projects or social events. You were placed in your current position because of your duty to serve all of your employees, whom are each part of your organization for a specific purpose.

Many Feeler types are driven by a deep desire to make a truly meaningful contribution at their workplace and in the world at large. When an IF is wounded by an overbearing bully type, it may quickly cause them to doubt their own abilities and withdraw to alarming levels. Start to undo the damage through intentional affirmation of the victim’s unique traits and qualities.

Never underestimate an Introverted Feeler type as most have an inner core strength that you wouldn’t believe. Instead, use your position of authority for good by helping them tap into that inner strength to reassert control. This can be done by rallying up support from other colleagues in the office and having them face the problem head-on instead of ignoring it. Encourage the Feeler to practice assertive communication to directly challenge the bully’s inappropriate behavior and advocate for more respect and dignity for themselves and others.

Advocate for a Respectful Work Environment

When a workplace is functioning at its best, things inevitably become much easier for all members of an organization. On the flip side, when the working environment is unusually tense, it can stifle the very spirit out of the employees who are present.

The well-being of your employees will no doubt directly influence their quality of work and is perhaps why Forbes’ list for top workplace trends in 2018 include the prioritization for mental wellness. Also, on the list is a surge in the number of companies who are taking the topic of diversity seriously. If you’re looking to join these ranks and promote a harassment-free zone, start by creating a work policy which clearly outlines what workplace bullying is and what constitutes for a respectful environment – don’t be afraid to be specific as to what this looks like.

Do your part to ensure employees are aware of this policy by including it as part of their welcome package followed by storing it in a place where it is easily accessible to members of your team. Taking these necessary action steps are both ways you can help to encourage transparency and stimulate discussions on issues relevant to all employees. “It really empowers people when they have a language around the topic and they know that their leadership has already thought it through,” Wiggins explains. “As a leader, you’re bringing [bullying] out in the open and [saying that it is] a real thing and that it happens.”

As a manager, part of how you can better strive for inclusion and diversity in your own workplace is by first acknowledging the differences that you do see. Put together a committee to regularly review the policy and make sure it stays current with your organization’s mission.

As you seek to open up these relevant conversations, keep in mind that this may mean the need to provide your Introverted Feelers with time and space to articulate their own views and make sure their voice is heard along with the others. Recognize the Feeler’s desire for privacy and confidentiality by including a clause in the policy which speaks to this and allows for non-traditional methods of reporting (i.e. – live chat with impartial rep, etc). Use stirring words that will truly get to the heart of the matter and thus, appeal to the Feeler’s vested interest to create a harmonious environment for all.

Equip Employees with Conflict-Resolution Training

No organization is perfect, so even if you work with a bunch of faultless employees who never complain or disagree – this doesn’t exist, by the way – investing in some conflict-resolution training tools won’t hurt. All employees (and not just leaders) can benefit from developing an understanding on how to effectively deal with conflict in an appropriate way.

If you’re counting the pennies now, consider the even greater cost that could ensue should your workplace not be prepared to handle hostile situations. Workers who are supported emotionally and mentally are happier which leads to increased productivity levels and finally, a stronger, competent organization for the long-term.

Alexandra Yeboah

Alexandra Yeboah is a diversity issues writer and storyteller facilitator with a background in journalism. Her love of curiosity and adventure-seeking is what often drives her quest to discover new things, meet new people and find compelling stories to tell. Alexandra is an INFJ who appreciates long nature walks and stimulating one-on-one conversations with good company. Visit her at: theheartofthestory.ca

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