Office Female Bully…Is She a Bitch or Bully?

Determining “Bitch or Bully” Can Provide Options for the Target


Does the title shock you…because that is what it’s meant to do?  Based on the results of a number of research studies and articles whose expertise is in the area of female bullies, it’s been strongly suggested that women make a “better” bully than do their male counterparts.  In a famous national study conducted by The Workplace Bully Institute in 2010 of almost 8,000 respondents it was revealed that female bullies tend to be gender bias when targeting their potential victims.  Unlike the male bully who targets women approximately 48% of the time women are more prone to zero in on female targets as their victims 80% of the time. When respondents were asked if they had a gender preference as to who they would prefer to have as their manager 75% of both male and females expressed a preference to have a male as their manager. Workplace experts have different theories on why women more often target other women.

Ruth Namie, PhD  and founding consultant for Work Doctors explains that women targets are less likely to confront a person in response to being bullied and thus seen as “an easy mark.” Another factor that makes them susceptible to becoming a target is that women are more prone to be self-disclosures. The target is likely to be more open with their manager because they are eager-to-please and consequently offer lots of personal information about themselves and their families. This tendency backfires because the female bully is very likely to use this information to later wound the target. Women are also socialized to judge other girls about their appearance and personality traits that extend back to their high school days.  The female bully is adept at tuning into the office politics, how others act and dress, and even how they feel unlike a male bully. The primary purpose for this type of behavior is to be better able to use this arsenal of information for future attacks in her ongoing endeavor to achieve her ultimate goal of controlling her employees.  These attacks normally are committed behind closed doors in order for the bully to deny plausibility so it becomes a “she said, she said” dispute. Given this situation the target has very little credibility should the meeting ever become an issue in future accusations.  Unlike the male bully, most of the emotional and psychological abuse inflicted on the victim is usually carried out in some type of covert manner by the female bully. She prefers not to have an audience that can later serve as witnesses for the victim should the aberrant management style ever become a legal issue.   The victim ultimately reaches a psychological acceptance that she is trapped into a dehumanizing, subservient role in which there is no alternative but to suffer in silence.

Maria, 35, Education

When first meeting Maria she presents herself as a warm and charming individual. But it doesn’t take her peers and supervisors long to realize how phony this façade really is.  Underneath this phony facade is an individual that struggles with a narcissistic need that her peers come to realize is insatiable. Over the years she has become extremely adept at manipulating others in meeting those needs and, is willing to resort to using whatever maneuvers necessary from her arsenal of aberrant behaviors to accomplish it.  Maria is viewed by her peers as being the “go to” source in their department mainly due to her seniority status.  Since she is the senior staff member,  Maria believes there are certain unsubstantiated “perks” that are connected to her status.  When it comes to policies and regulations Maria firmly believes that she is exempt from such controls and that policies were meant for those employees she considers beneath her.  She feels totally justified in delegating work assignments to her peers because she considers herself to be totally overworked.  She delegates in a very bossy and condescending manner thus giving her peers the impression that, due to her seniority, she has the unspoken authority to do so.  By using this type of “pseudo-bullying” mannerism she discourages any protests.  But the department is unaware that her “busy overworked day” entails long lunches, extensive phone conversations with friends and family, or perhaps the time she needs to review the most recent postings in her social media.  Maria resents being confronted by management or other employees regarding the truth about her manipulative style of working.  She is quick to play the “victim card” or the “it’s not my fault card” in an effort to manipulate the attention away from herself and onto others. This tactic is very evident in her remarks such as, “you didn’t make yourself clear” or “I was only trying to help” or “why is everyone blaming me?”  She uses gossip as her primary method of attacking her adversaries in a very covert and passive-aggressive way.  Much like her “mean girl” high school years her underlying motive for spreading the lies and gossip is to convince her peers is to ostracize the target as well.  Maria has become skilled in applying her manipulative social behaviors with people and anxiety provoking situations for the purpose of getting her narcissistic needs met…she has had 25 years to perfect those skills.

In her bookshutterstock bitch Working with Bitches, Dr. Meredith Fuller, a consulting psychologist, identifies eight different types of  bitches in the workplace.  “Bitchy behavior is diffuse in that it can be viewed as being on a continuum from covert to overt or sneaky to theatrical exaggeration.”  It can be manifested in a subtle tone, a spiteful laugh, smirking, idle threats, or sabotaging. She believes that bitching usually has elements of envy, jealousy, hatred, or simply inappropriate styles of social behavior.  Whereas female bullies get an “emotional rush” in the put- downs, hostile threats, and the tendency to deliberately undermine their victim’s projects to get what they want.  Unlike the bitch, the bully’s goal is usually external in nature such as an upcoming promotion, ingratiating the boss, or simply for the satisfaction of hurting someone emotionally and/or psychologically.  The only real difference between a bitch and a female bully relates to the primary goals that each is trying to accomplish by resorting to bitchy behavior. Unlike the bully, the primary goals of a bitch is the fulfilling of her narcissistic needs that she believes will ultimately make her feel whole.

Trying to categorize bitchy behavior is complex to describe unlike such labels as “control freaks” or “bossy personality”.  Of the eight types of bitches that Dr. Fuller describes in her book the clusters of bitchy behavior that is most consistent with Maria is the Toxic type of bitch. The Toxic bitch is very touchy- feely but becomes a drama queen if she becomes upset or threatened which serves to keep the whole office in a turmoil.  These outbursts most likely coincide with perhaps the busiest time in the office or she is faced with performing tasks that she hates doing.  The “crises” could be a loved one that’s in the hospital, a fight with her boyfriend that has upset her, or her cat died. This type of behavior (when played correctly) can keep the office in turmoil and thus provides her with the attention she demands. This type of behavior also serves to create a toxic workplace environment that her fellow employees must cope with on a daily basis.  Dr. Fuller describes the Toxic bitch as, “…a broken piece of glass, wounded fragments who try to find their own identity by undertaking peripheral activities with greater enthusiasm than their work. They have a warped understanding of their abilities and their place in the organizational hierarchy, believing they should be more important in the workplace than they currently are, or who have failed to be, for whatever reasons.”

It’s important for the targeted female employee to understand that the bitch’s neediness is a bottomless pit; the target can then begin to establish clear boundaries that limit the effects the bitch can have on her. This becomes extremely critical when trying to cope with a pattern of “bossy behaviors” that can easily be interpreted as Bully behaviors. Much to the dismay of the bitch, she attempts to pull this off without the authority to control the target’s behavior nor the power to draw upon when the target fails to play the bitch’s game.  The critical question the target needs to ask herself is  “why she is so threatened by the bitch’s bossy behavior that she relinquishes the right to an office peer to establish control over her?”


About Ron Watkins:
Ron Watkins,President of Mountain Sky Consulting has degrees in Clinical Psychology  and Behavioral Psychology.  His 25 years as a management consultant has provided him with the insight and experience with addressing the behavioral problems related to Workplace Bullying.  He can be contracted at 828-508-9140 or ron@mskyconsult.com in Asheville, NC.



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