Traits of the serial bully

Most workplace bullying is traceable to a person with several identifiable traits in this page, in this article we hope to give you an understanding behind the character.

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  • May occupy a role that is important in some way.
  • Very self-assured.
  • May be believed to be doing or to have done something selfless or of great value, eg charitable work or turning a failing department or business around.
  • May give off an impression of trustworthiness and reliability.
  • Has an air of untouchability: questioning this person's actions or decisions is taboo especially among peers and superiors.


  • Compulsive liar - spontaneously makes things up to fit the needs of the moment, routinely embellishes stories for effect.
  • Convinces superiors and peers by seeming plausible, and convincing, sometimes by copying others' behaviour, words or work.
  • Portrays themselves as kind, caring and compassionate but only behaves this way where it leads to personal gain.
  • Doesn't listen and cannot sustain a meaningful conversation.
  • Seems to have an overbearing belief in his or her qualities (especially as a leader or manager).
  • Cannot distinguish between leadership, management and bullying.
  • Cannot distinguish between maturity and immaturity, decisiveness and impulsiveness, assertiveness and aggression, personal objectives and corporate objectives, eloquence and crassness; honesty and deceitfulness.
  • Oblivious to the difference between how they would like to be seen and how they are actually seen. 


  • Is drawn to positions of power.
  • Has a need to control everything.
  • Has a subjective sense of right and wrong.
  • Projects his or her own shortcomings onto others.
  • Distorts peoples' perceptions of reality through falsehood and gossip.
  • Rewrites history to paint a better picture of him or herself and/or a worse picture of someone else.
  • Tells different people different things, causing confusion, disruption, division and conflict.
  • Is mean, officious and inappropriately inflexible with some people; but is generous, relaxed and very accommodating with others.
  • May motivate allies with the prospect of reward, but motivates most people with fear and guilt.
  • Threatens dire consequences for people under his or her influence, who think or act for themselves. Threats could be made directly in private, or indirectly in front of witnesses.
  • Warns targets that no-one will believe them if they report the bullying;
  • Once called to account - aggressively denies and refutes any criticism, counter-attacking the critic with fabricated or distorted counter-criticism.
  • Claims to have been bullied by the complainant, feigns victimhood, ("poor me"), uses amateur dramatics (bursting into tears etc), to avoid the question and evade accountability.
  • Makes others feel guilty for daring to suggest that he or she might have done the slightest thing wrong.

Jekyll and Hyde nature

  • Can be innocent and charming some of the time (typically in the presence of witnesses), but vicious and vindictive at other times (typically where there are no witnesses).
  • Ruthless and unpleasant.
  • Lacks a conscience, shows no remorse.
  • Has a compulsive need to criticise.
  • Is often devious, manipulative, spiteful, vengeful.
  • Becomes impatient, irritable and aggressive if asked to address the needs and concerns of others.
  • May exhibit inappropriate or unusual attitudes to sex, gender, race, disability and other personal characteristics.


This content was developed by The Tim Field Foundation, based on the work of the late Dr Tim Field.

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