Stand Up Against Bullying: A blog to help stop workplace bullying
Organizations Leadership

The Making of a Bully: Are Bullies Born or Made?

{a red and white sign on a wooden wall} (No gender, age, or ethnicity information to remove)
Original Post on December 28, 2015; Edited and Re-published November 15, 2021

We often talk about who gets targeted for workplace bullying and there is a great deal of theories about how this happens. However, we rarely talk about who becomes bullies and aggressors at work. Reflecting on the making of a bully is an important part of the conversation when trying to address workplace bullying. We must know why someone transforms into a bully to stop and prevent workplace bullying. So, the real question is: are bullies born or are they made?

Each and every worker brings their own personality traits into the workplace. Many of these are inherited, based in genetics, and most likely dictate some of every worker’s ability, skills, and behaviors. For example, some workers are naturally more outspoken, belligerent, or aggressive. These skills certainly impact a work environment negatively and these types of characteristics may put a worker at higher risk for becoming a bully. However, these do not automatically mean that a worker is or will be a bully.

Most of us have probably worked with someone who has these traits. And these are irritating in the workplace and can make the work environment more difficult at times. But having someone who is annoying at work and having a bully at work are not the same. This is a clear distinction that needs to be made. A person may be annoying and even infuriating at times and still not be a bully.

More often than not, a bully is created and sustained by the work culture. A worker starts their transformation process into a bully by testing the limits of what they can and cannot get away with. For example, they might start with an inappropriate email. The worker then waits to see if there are consequences or if they will be held accountable. If not, they will keep pushing the bar farther away from professional work behavior and pushes it towards bullying behaviors. Eventually, the worker solidifies their role as the workplace bullying as their bad behavior becomes normalized, accepted, and even expected. As such, most bullies are not born, but not naturally made in organizations who has leaders who fail to intervene. This also means that given the right culture, the right leadership, and the right organization, anyone can be a workplace bully.