Making sense of 'bullying' behaviour: Individual perspectives on critical incidents

Document Type

Conference Proceeding


Faculty of Business and Law


School of Management




Paull, M. J., Standen, P. P., & Omari, M. (2009). Making sense of 'bullying' behaviour: individual perspectives on critical incidents. Proceedings of 23rd British Academy of Management Conference, BAM 2009. (pp. 1-12). Conference website available here.


Despite the recent growth of research on workplace bullying researchers have had little opportunity to study how individuals come to be labeled as bullies. While bullying is sometimes described in terms of individuals' perceptions, researchers lack a framework for working through the subjectivities on both sides of the labelling process. Using the lens of sensemaking (Weick 1995), this paper considers stories of bullying related by participants in public service organisations in Australia, where data was collected from the alleged perpetrators as well as from 'victims', bystanders and those charged with managing complaints of bullying. Our goal is to raise alternative perspectives for interpreting bullying scenarios and to commence a process of highlighting some different options for managers and researchers seeking to understand actions labelled as bullying. Sensemaking theory offers quite a different and detailed account of the social construction processes that might go into the use of such a labeL