Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 13;   March 31, 2010: Biological Mimicry and Workplace Bullying

Biological Mimicry and Workplace Bullying

by

When targets of bullies decide to stand up to their bullies, to end the harassment, they frequently act before they're really ready. Here's a metaphor that explains the value of waiting for the right time to act.
A Turkey Vulture and its mimic, a Zone-Tailed Hawk

A Turkey Vulture and its mimic, a Zone-Tailed Hawk. The Turkey Vulture is at top. Not to scale. Photos sources: zone tailed talk and turkey vulture courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

By adopting tactics similar to the mimics of biological mimicry systems, targets of workplace bullies can, in some cases, more effectively defeat their bullies. It takes nerve and smarts, but with Nature's guidance, success is a real possibility. (See "What Is Workplace Bullying?," Point Lookout for March 3, 2010 for a definition of workplace bullying.)

A biological mimicry system involves three roles. The mimic is the organism that indicates, through various means, that it is something it's not. Indications can include coloration, shape, movement, odor, and more. The second role, the dupe is the organism that's deceived. The third role is the model which is the organism or context element that the mimic copies.

In workplace bullying, a target who exploits a mimicry strategy would be a mimic; the model is someone the target copies to deceive the bully; and the bully is the dupe. To see how this works, let's examine a biological mimicry system.

The turkey vulture ranges over much of the Americas. It's a large bird and a scavenger, feeding almost exclusively on carrion. In our example, it plays the role of model. Our mimic is the zone-tailed hawk, whose range overlaps the turkey vulture's. Its plumage resembles the turkey vulture's, but it feeds on terrestrial vertebrates. The dupe is the hawk's prey.

To fool its prey, let's say, a ground squirrel, the hawk soars among turkey vultures, making rocking motions with its wings in the manner of a vulture. The squirrel is fooled, because it feels safe, knowing that vultures seek only carrion. When the squirrel least expects it, the hawk strikes.

Targets of bullies can exploit an analogous strategy. Suppose a bully has been targeting someone. In desperation, the target decides, "I've had enough." Many targets then adopt a common and tragically self-destructive strategy of striking back immediately in small ways. Sadly, this only alerts the bully to the target's change of attitude, and enables the bully to adjust before the target gathers enough strength and courage to be truly effective.

Mimicry An excellent strategy for
bully targets to end the bullying
is not to take any action
at all until all preparations
are complete
comes to the rescue. Although the decision to counter the bully's tactics is an essential beginning, the decision alone doesn't make the target capable of stopping the bully. Preparation is required. The target might have to consult an attorney, or gather evidence, or prepare a formal grievance, or assemble witnesses willing to corroborate the bullying charges. These things take time.

Meanwhile, targets can "auto-mimic" — behave just as if nothing had changed. The bullies are therefore not alerted, and thus have no motivation to escalate, or to cover their tracks.

Since bullying might actually continue during this interval, targets often have difficulty concealing the change in their willingness to engage. Self-control is essential. But if the target can dupe the bully until preparations are complete, a surprise counterattack can be very successful. Go to top Top  Next issue: Project Improvisation Fundamentals  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesAre you being targeted by a workplace bully? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just USD 9.99. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenYHpmeNwjLUPkMuLNner@ChacCMxwToRlTPdXAciroCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Bullying:

Two fingers pointing at each otherIntimidation Tactics: Touching
Workplace touching can be friendly, or it can be dangerous and intimidating. When touching is used to intimidate, it often works, because intimidators know how to select their targets. If you're targeted, what can you do?
The U.S. Federal Correctional Institution at Danbury, ConnecticutConfronting the Workplace Bully: I
When a bully targets you, you have three options: accept the abuse; avoid the bully or escape; and confront or fight back. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
George III, King of Great Britain and King of Ireland, 1738-1820What Is Workplace Bullying?
We're gradually becoming aware that workplace bullying is a significant deviant pattern in workplace relationships. To deal effectively with it, we must know how to recognize it. Here's a start.
A modern roller coaster showing an inverted portion of the tripHow Workplace Bullies Use OODA: II
Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time are intuitive users of Boyd's OODA model. Here's Part II of an exploration of how bullies use the model.
Gen. Robert E. Lee's traveling chess setSo You Want the Bullying to End: II
If you're the target of a workplace bully, ending the bullying can be an elusive goal. Here are some guidelines for tactics to bring it to a close.

See also Workplace Bullying and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A human marionetteComing November 29: Manipulators Beware
When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.
Desperation at workAnd on December 6: Reframing Revision Resentment: I
From time to time, we're required to revise something previously produced — some copy, remarks, an announcement, code, the Mona Lisa, whatever… When we do, some of us experience frustration, and view the assignment as an onerous chore. Here are some alternative perspectives that might ease the burden. Available here and by RSS on December 6.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenzMTLuBVxqUkZoZEjner@ChacHavqkjkPHzuYnvELoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy new blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.