Are You a Bully or a Victim or Above All of That?

A 2013 study from the State University of New York at Buffalo found that many bullies in the workplace, and presumably elsewhere, are very socially skilled and use their bullying to further their objectives—and they coerce others to support that mission. They select their targets carefully and strategically and are adept at assessing and understanding their environments. Their political intellect and ability to conceal the abuse they visit upon victims (the ultimate in successful bullying) lend to their elevation in the workplace and the perpetuation of their behavior. So why don’t we love bullies?

The study defines bullying as “systematic aggression and violence targeted towards one or more individuals by one individual or by a group.” General George Patton may be one of the most famous bullies, though he has a respected legacy. Why? Bullies thrive in industries or sectors with a machismo stereotype, according to the report’s author. They understand the people factor. They have a mission focus. They appear to outperform others. They know how to coalesce a team and to create an order of operations. They are aggressive and seemingly courageous (though in an obviously defective way). Bullies still sound pretty cool. Maybe, but bullies always have victims, and they are often a net negative in groups.

They don’t always use physical prowess, though that can be part of their modus operandi. They often use ridicule, information control or environmental manipulation to make victims uncomfortable. From an organizational perspective, bullies are a negative even if their personal performance outpaces peers. For the most part, they create dysfunction and harm morale, dragging down others who would, in the absence of bullying, perform well.

So what’s the trick to shutting down a bully, especially if they are favored by superiors because of their git-er-done attitude? Everyday Valor guest Matt Larsen of says the key is to build your own self-confidence. Bullies select victims based on the chance of dominating them. People who express personal confidence don’t fit the victim profile and are generally culled from a bully’s target list.


  • Develop your skill set.
  • Be comfortable in your own skin—it’s yours: if you don’t like it, change it.
  • Be nice but not fearful.
  • Identify weaknesses in bullies and point them out publicly if needed.
  • Maintain calm when targeted and report harassment to the appropriate authorities using good recordkeeping of all such communications.

Are you wondering if you have to be a Brazilian jiu-jitsu expert like Larsen to deal with bullies? Not everyone—even with good training—is going to be strong or agile or top-macho. But everyone can build up personal confidence. Matt Larsen’s Combat Fitness Centers offer that kind of opportunity for people of all ages. It’s true when you go in on a Wednesday night you will see some battle-chiseled bods on the mats, but you will also see about 50 kids either going or coming in their child-size gis. They are learning grappling and physical defense techniques but most importantly personal carriage, situational awareness, humility, determination, perseverance and courage. These are skills and characteristics everyone can build.

Does Larsen develop bullies? He told Everyday Valor that people who have strength and fighting skills mostly don’t have to use them—they exude a confidence that telegraphs a clear message: “Don’t mess with me.”

Kristin says it’s kind of like Obi Wan Kenobi: “These are not the droids you are looking for” in the real world. If you are confident and your self- and situation-awareness are keen, the bullies will quickly discount you as a target and might even try to ally or enlist you onto their side.

For people who feel victimized, taking a step towards reframing their self-perception could lead to a professional and social leap forward. Check out Matt Larsen’s appearance on Everyday Valor at

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