Confusion about workplace bullying is one reason why bullies are as successful as they are. Central to the confusion is the mistaken belief that we can address bullying using the same approaches we use to deal with toxic conflict. To untangle this confusion, let's start by exploring conflict.
Conflict can be either creative or destructive, or both. Two experts disagreeing about how to solve a problem can be in conflict. The result might be a new approach, not conceived by either party, and which combines their two ideas in a result superior to both. That's the nature of creative conflict.
By contrast, the same two experts might assassinate each other's characters, or sabotage one another's efforts. That's destructive conflict, sometimes called toxic conflict.
Bullying is always toxic. It has no creative form. To understand why this is so, we must understand how bullying differs from other forms of toxic conflict.
- In ordinary toxic conflict, either party might undertake aggressive actions that perpetuate the conflict.
- In bullying, we can easily identify the party responsible for the vast majority of aggressive, perpetuating actions. The bully's target rarely undertakes aggressive action.
- In ordinary toxic conflict, either party can initiate the conflict, either by accident or by intention.
- In bullying, In ordinary toxic conflict,
either party might undertake
aggressive actions that
perpetuate the conflictthe bully is almost universally the initiator. Often, the target has provided no apparent provocation at all, or the bully's provocation story lacks substance, plausibility, or coherence.
- The goals of the participants in ordinary toxic conflict are usually real and symmetric. They include content, reciprocity, self-defense, or expressions of rage.
- In bullying, the bully seeks to demonstrate control and power over the target. The target usually has no goal at all, other than seeking an end to the bullying.
- In ordinary toxic conflict, both parties agree — at least privately — that a conflict is underway.
- In bullying, the bully usually denies that bullying is taking place, often with adroitly crafted explanations for incidents of aggressive behavior. Ironically, many targets also deny that bullying is taking place, though they usually agree that they are the targets of aggression.
- Perceived balance of power
- In ordinary toxic conflict, there is general consensus that the power of each party over the other is in relative balance.
- In bullying, the consensus perception is that the bully's power over the target is far greater than the target's power over the bully.
Perhaps the inner experiences of the participants provide the most dramatic contrast. In ordinary toxic conflict, both parties have similar experiences of frustration, anger, hatred, or rage. In bullying, bullies experience elation and validation of their power, while targets experience humiliation, shame, agony, and feelings of worthlessness.
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 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!
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More articles on Workplace Bullying:
- Hurtful Clichés: II
- Much of our day-to-day conversation consists of harmless clichés: "How goes it?" or
"Nice to meet you." Some other clichés aren't harmless, but they're so common that
we use them without thinking. Here's Part II of a series exploring some of these clichés.
- The Costs of Threats
- Threatening as a way of influencing others might work in the short term. But a pattern of using threats
to gain compliance has long-term effects that can undermine your own efforts, corrode your relationships,
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- Responding to Threats: II
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of some of the tools that don't work well and why.
- The Paradox of Structure and Workplace Bullying
- Structures of all kinds — organizations, domains of knowledge, cities, whatever — are both
enabling and limiting. To gain more of the benefits of structure, while avoiding their limits, it helps
to understand this paradox and learn to recognize its effects.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming May 23: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: IX
- An arrogant demeanor is widely viewed as a hallmark of the narcissist. But truly narcissistic arrogance is off the charts. It's something beyond the merely annoying arrogance of a sometimes-obnoxious individual. What is narcissistic arrogance and how can we cope with it? Available here and by RSS on May 23.
- And on May 30: Chronic Peer Interrupters: I
- When making contributions to meeting discussions, we're sometimes interrupted. Often, the interruption is beneficial and saves time. But some people constantly interrupt their peers or near peers, disrespectfully, in a pattern that compromises meeting outcomes. How can we deal with chronic peer interrupters? Available here and by RSS on May 30.
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