How Workplace Bullies Use OODA:
by Rick Brenner
Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time rely on more than mere intimidation to escape prosecution. They proactively shape their environments to make them safe for bullying. The OODA model gives us insights into how they accomplish this.
A mixed stand of aspen and pine in the Okanagan region of British Columbia and Washington state. Aspen and pine often compete for territory. In some instances, aspen's success seems to be at least partially attributable to its clonal nature (See Chris J. Peterson and Edwin R. Squiers, "Competition and succession in an aspen-white-pine forest," Journal of Ecology 1995, 83, 449-457). That is, aspen groves often consist of a single plant with many shoots resembling individual trees, supported by a massive underground root system. At sites where the aspen's success in competing with pine seems to be related to the clonal nature of the plant, it is possible that the aspen is exploiting shared information across its biomass, which could give it a competitive advantage against pines, because pines, being individuals, probably act less collaboratively. If this is the case, OODA might provide insight into the success of the aspen against its competitor pine. Photo by Clay Antieau courtesy The Washington Biodiversity Council
How do workplace bullies escape prosecution for as long as they do? Why do their targets tolerate ill treatment for as long as they do? Why do bystanders look the other way as consistently as they do? While most bullies do intimidate nearly everyone around them, that alone doesn't provide satisfactory answers to these questions.
A more satisfactory explanation is that workplace bullies shape their environments to enable continuation of their activities with a minimum of interference. The OODA model, due to US Air Force Col. John Boyd, is a useful tool for understanding how bullies shape their environments. See "OODA at Work," Point Lookout for April 6, 2011, for a summary of the model.
Here is Part I of a small catalog of the ways workplace bullies use the OODA model.
- Most bullies engage in bullying out of compulsion. Although they do plan and they do consciously formulate their attack strategies, they generally don't study bullying scientifically, and they are thus unaware of models like the OODA loop.
- Their understanding of OODA is thus intuitive. Since intuition is founded on experience and observation, the bully's use of OODA is usually limited to what the bully has experienced or seen.
- Targets can exploit this limitation by devising responses to bullying that would require their bullies to use OODA in ways their bullies are unlikely to have seen or experienced. See, for example, "Biological Mimicry and Workplace Bullying," Point Lookout for March 31, 2010.
- Selecting targets
- Bullies tend Since intuition is founded on
experience and observation, the
bully's use of OODA is usually
limited to what the bully has
experienced or seento select targets who, in their estimation, will not effectively resist the bullying. For example, bullies often regard someone who has a limited network of close associates as less likely to be able to mount effective resistance. That's one reason why bullies favor targets who are isolated from, withdrawn from, or different from the group as a whole. Since members of minorities tend to associate most closely with other members of their minority group, they're more likely to have limited networks, and thus make tempting targets for bullies.
- Here are two examples illustrating the importance of limited networks of close associates. Observation is the first element of the OODA Loop. Since a limited network reduces the ability of the prospective target to acquire information about the bully's activities, people with limited networks are less able to observe their situations, and thus less able to respond effectively. Action is the fourth element of the OODA Loop. Limited personal networks also reduce the ability of prospective targets to act in their own defense, because, for example, they have less ability to secure testimony in support of allegations against their bullies.
- Prospective targets can reduce their attractiveness to bullies by expanding their networks of close associates.
In Part II, we'll examine how and why workplace bullies try to control the tempo of their activities, and how they approach the more general shaping of their environments. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Are you being targeted by a workplace bully? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2010 survey indicated that 35% of workers have experienced bullying firsthand, and that bullying is about four times more prevalent than all other forms of illegal harassment combined. 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. Now available at Apple's iTunes store! Just USD 9.99, Order Now!
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