Stacy Tye-Williams, Iowa State – Workplace Bullies

Dr. Stacy Tye-Williams

Dr. Stacy Tye-Williams

Bullying has never been limited to the schoolyard.

Stacy Tye-Williams, professor of communication studies and English at Iowa State University, sheds some light on bullying as it occurs in the professional arena.

Stacy Tye-Williams is an assistant professor of communication studies and English at Iowa State University. Her research focuses on workplace bullying, narratives, incivility, and civility in the workplace. Tye-Williams is interested in how individuals use communication to create, sustain, and sometimes even destroy organizations and the people working within them. She earned a Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in organizational communication.

Workplace Bullies


The ongoing abuse and isolation associated with workplace bullying is a traumatic experience that is often difficult for targets to describe or put into words. It’s important to understand how targets tell their story and the role of witnessing co-workers in the construction of that story, so targets can communicate in ways that gets them the help they need.

In this study my colleague Kathleen Krone and I interviewed 48 targets – more than half of which were bullied by a manager or a boss. Their stories were often shocking and heartbreaking. We explored how they told their stories and found that targets told chaos, quest, or report narratives about their experiences.

Unlike traditional stories that follow an order, many of the narratives were not told linearly or even chronologically. Some targets discussed painful work experiences that led them to a heightened awareness about the nature of work and organizations. While others told brief accounts that focused on the facts with little emotion.

We found the most common type was a chaos narrative. The stories were the most extreme cases and focused on isolation and loss. Targets felt shunned by the bully and witnessing co-workers. They shared how the experience negatively affected their health, job, relationships and dignity. Β 

Interestingly, when a co-worker offered support targets had an easier time organizing their thoughts and constructing their story so it was less chaotic. The ability for a target to tell their story to supportive co-workers allowed them to tell more convincing narratives about their experiences. This made the story more believable and helped targets deal with the situation.

Ultimately, co-workers play an important role in helping targets better communicate about their experiences and withstand their harmful treatment at work. Even if co-workers feel uncomfortable intervening or reporting the bullying, just listening can make a difference. Training sessions for all employees can help co-workers be better advocates for targets. Additionally, managers need to recognize the challenges targets may face and listen to their story in a different way.

Read More: Iowa State University News Service: Bullies in the workplace: ISU researcher examines the struggles for victims to tell their story

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