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Political skill and the job performance of bullies

Darren C. Treadway (State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, USA)
Brooke A. Shaughnessy (Technical University of Munich, Munich, Germany)
Jacob W. Breland (Youngstown State University, Youngstown, Ohio, USA)
Jun Yang (Renmin University of China, Beijing, China)
Maiyuwai Reeves (State University of New York at Buffalo, Buffalo, New York, USA)

Journal of Managerial Psychology

ISSN: 0268-3946

Article publication date: 22 March 2013




Recent studies suggest that 84 percent of employees are affected in some manner by workplace bullies. The current study aims to integrate theory from social information processing and political skill to explain how bullies can successfully navigate the social and political organizational environment and achieve higher ratings of performance.


A questionnaire, archival performance data, and social networks methodology were employed in a health services organization in order to capture the individual differences and social perception of bullies in the workplace.


While victims are usually targeted due to their social incompetence, on some occasions bullies can possess high levels of social ability. Due to their social competence, they are able to strategically abuse coworkers and yet be evaluated positively by their supervisor.

Research limitations/implications

This study is the first attempt to measure the high performance of bullies who thrive in the workplace. Future research could investigate the ways in which bullies select their targets and the role of an abusive organizational climate in their subsequent effectiveness.

Practical implications

Companies and researchers should consider how organizational interventions could serve to balance bullying behavior in a manner that limits deviant behavior while rewarding high performers.


The current paper applies a social effectiveness framework (social information processing (SIP)) as a lens through which to explain bullies who maintain high levels of performance ratings. The application of this theory to bullying leads to a functional perspective of workplace deviance.



Treadway, D.C., Shaughnessy, B.A., Breland, J.W., Yang, J. and Reeves, M. (2013), "Political skill and the job performance of bullies", Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol. 28 No. 3, pp. 273-289.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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