Definitions vary, but my definition of workplace bullying is any aggressive behavior associated with work and intended to cause physical or psychological harm to others. Social isolation harms others, usually psychologically, by depriving them of social contact within the workgroup, or, for that matter, anywhere at work. Because everyone's need for social contact is unique, bullies tailor the kind and degree of social isolation to ensure that the target finds it painful.
Here are some social isolation tactics used by bully supervisors on target subordinates.
- Assigning the target to a remote site with few co-located peers
- Assigning the target to tasks that require far more travel than peers must endure
- Assigning the target to tasks that prevent the target from participating in meetings face-to-face, while most other peers can
- Assigning the target to tasks that prevent the target from participating in meetings at all
- Assigning the target to tasks on which the target must work alone, while peers work on tasks that allow or require collaboration
- Inviting the target's colleagues to lunch, while excluding the target
- Implicitly or explicitly threatening any of the target's peers who engage in social connection with the target
- When group members go to lunch together, the bully supervisor sits at a table too small for everyone, relegating the target to another table, with as few peers as possible
Bullies whose targets are their own supervisors, or their peers, must use different tactics, but they rarely have difficulty adapting the above methods.
Three factors explain why bullies find social isolation tactics so attractive.
- Vicarious experience of psychic pain
- Most bullies are Unlike many other means of inflicting
harm, social isolation requires the
cooperation of everyone who has
social contact with the targetmotivated by a desire to inflict psychic or physical pain on others. Typically, they want to actually observe the target suffering. Social isolation provides the elation the bullies seek, if the isolation is complete enough to cause observable suffering.
- The thrill of power
- Unlike many other means of inflicting harm, social isolation requires the cooperation of everyone who has social contact with the target. By successfully isolating their targets socially, bullies receive validation of their power to enlist that cooperation.
- Social isolation, cleverly executed, is deniable. That is, if an investigation occurs, the bully can credibly deny having done anything with the intention of causing harm. And targets can't be certain that the isolation was carried out with the intention of inflicting harm. This makes social isolation a favorite tactic of the covert bully.
Some targets respond to social isolation by soldiering on, seeking an end to social isolation by trying to show they are unaffected. This only tells the bully that increased isolation or new tactics are necessary, because the tactics used so far aren't causing observable suffering. Anyway, ending the social isolation isn't the goal — ending the bullying is the goal. More on that next time. 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 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.
- Responding to Threats: II
- When an exchange between individuals, or between an individual and a group, goes wrong, threats often
are either the cause or part of the results. If we know how to deal with threats — and how to
avoid and prevent them — we can help keep communications creative and constructive.
- When the Chair Is a Bully: II
- Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's
dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration
of the problem of bully chairs.
- Dealing with Rapid-Fire Attacks
- When a questioner repeatedly attacks someone within seconds of their starting to reply, complaining
to management about a pattern of abuse can work — if management understands abuse, and if management
wants deal with it. What if management is no help?
- Seventeen Guidelines About Workplace Bullying
- Bullying is a complex social pattern. Thinking clearly about bullying is difficult in the moment because
our emotions can distract us. Here are some short insights about bullying that are easy to remember
in the moment.
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- 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.
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