Lisa DeSanti, Fielding's School of Human and Organizational Development
Workplace bullying is recognized as a global phenomenon and its impacts can be devastating. Much of what is known about this dynamic is largely the result of victim and bystander accounts. Missing from our understanding of workplace bullying is a vital perspective—that of the bully. Applying a phenomenological approach, this study captured the experience of those accused of workplace bullying, from the time of the accusation to the present day. The focus of this research was to assess to what extent those accused of workplace bullying experience cognitive dissonance and to examine the dissonance–reduction strategies employed: 14 alleged bullies provided responses to a qualitative online questionnaire and 1 participant also engaged in an interview. A thematic analysis of the responses indicated that participants tended to represent a self-centric and work-centric form of perspective taking; many also justified their behaviors as warranted for the work they were hired to perform. Most not only denied engaging in bullying behaviors, they interpreted the allegation as a form of punishment resulting in a range of distress, injury, and cognitive dissonance. Although participants indicated pursuing a variety of reduction strategies, it is especially interesting that despite the denial, most also sought out coaching, new skills, and/or self-development—along with the desire to pursue other career options. This suggests that participants did not intentionally bully others, and it also points to the enduring injury and dissonance related to the allegation as well as the limited effectiveness of cognitive dissonance reduction strategies. These findings offer new insights into the alleged perpetrator’s experience, challenge what we think we know about workplace bullying and the notion of intentionality, and present a unique application of the study of cognitive dissonance and dissonance reduction in the “real world” that can be used to further inform mitigations and interventions into workplace bullying.
Key Words: Workplace Bullying, Workplace Abuse, Hostile Work Environment, Mobbing, Cognitive Dissonance, Dissonance Reduction, Abrasive Leaders, Abusive Managers, Perpetrators