Seventeen Guidelines About Workplace Bullying
by Rick Brenner
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.
Bowling pins for ten-pin bowling. A standard bowling ball is 8.5 inches to 8.595 inches (about 22 cm) in diameter. A standard ten-pin bowling pin is 4.75 inches (about 12 cm) at its widest point, which is 4.5 inches (11.5 cm) above the lane surface. That's a little more than the radius of the ball. The pins are spaced exactly 12 inches (about 30.5 cm) apart. That means that the space between pins at their widest point is about 2.5 inches (about 6.4 cm). In other words, the ball diameter is about 3.5 times the space between the pins. If the bowler can roll the ball so it stays out of the gutter, knocking pins down is a certainty.
Conventional conflict resolution makes certain assumptions about conflict, including the assumption that the parties to the conflict would prefer a healthy relationship to a relationship burdened with toxic conflict. That assumption is not valid for the bully-target relationship — at least, not from the point of view of the bully. Trying to resolve a bullying issue with conventional conflict resolution techniques is like bowling with golf balls. Photo (cc) Stefan Grazer.
When we must make quick decisions about emotional issues, we're more likely than usual to make mistakes. It's helpful in those situations to have distilled what we believe into guidelines we can easily recall when we need them. Here are some memorable guidelines for dealing with bullying.
- Letting yourself be bullied without end isn't a success strategy.
- Ignoring bullying won't cause the bully to get bored and find another target. It's more likely to convince the bully to do something you can't ignore.
- Hiring an attorney won't stop the bully, but it will make your employer aware that you're a threat. Your employer must then decide which threat it fears more — you or the bully. If you do hire an attorney, be certain that your employer will fear you more than the bully.
- Trying to end bullying by avoiding the bully is as likely to succeed as trying to survive while swimming in shark-infested waters by avoiding sharks.
- Humor can deflect a bully's attack if the attack is public and the bully doesn't want to be seen as a bully. Otherwise, humor is unlikely to help.
- Bullies fear harm, just like everyone else. To make the bullying stop, convince the bully that if the bullying continues, severe harm is inevitable.
- Someone who has never been bullied can't really understand what it's like to be a target.
- Someone who has never been bullied by this specific bully can't really understand what it's like to be a target of this bully.
- The trouble between the bully and the target isn't a "personality clash." There is no such thing.
- Targets cannot end the bullying by trying harder to "get along." The bullying isn't about the target's misbehavior.
- Bullies don't bully their targets to "get even" for their targets' past offenses. They bully their targets because of inner compulsions that the bullies don't yet know how to control — or don't yet want to.
- Bullies cannot Bullies cannot be persuaded
by rational argument to stop
bullying. Their inner compulsions
aren't rational.be persuaded by rational argument to stop bullying. Their inner compulsions aren't rational.
- Being bullied isn't the target's "fault."
- Letting a bully abuse someone else without end isn't a way to avoid becoming the next target.
- Bystanders who are aware of the bullying and don't act to stop it share responsibility for the bullying. They aren't innocent.
- Many organizations claim, "We don't hire bullies." Horsepucky. All organizations hire bullies, mostly unintentionally. The key word is "mostly."
- Trying to resolve a bullying issue with conventional conflict resolution techniques is like bowling with golf balls. You might knock a pin down here and there by chance, but it would be a freak occurrence.
If you're a target, keep these in mind. If you know a target, keep these in mind. 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. 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? Send 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.
More articles on Conflict Management
- Practice Positive Politics
- Politics is a dirty word at work, as elsewhere. We think of it as purely destructive, often distorting decisions and leading the organization in wrong directions. And sometimes, it does. Politics can be constructive, though, and you can help to make it so.
- An Emergency Toolkit
- You've just had some bad news at work, and you're angry or really upset. Maybe you feel like the target of a vicious insult or the victim of a serious injustice. You have work to do, and you want to respond, but you must first regain your composure. What can you do to calm down and start feeling better?
- Making Meaning
- When we see or hear the goings-on around us, we interpret them to make meaning and significance. Some interpretations are thoughtful, but most are almost instantaneous. Since the instantaneous ones are sometimes goofy or dangerous, here's a look at how we make interpretations.
- Confronting the Workplace Bully: Part II
- When bullied, one option is to fight back, but many don't, because they fear the consequences. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
- Handling Heat: Part II
- Heated exchanges in meetings can compromise both the organizational mission and the careers of the meeting's participants. Here are some tactics for people who aren't chairing the meeting.
See also Conflict Management and Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming Issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 24: The Perils of Novel Argument
- When people use novel or sophisticated arguments to influence others, the people they're trying to influence are sometimes subject to cognitive biases triggered by the nature of the argument. This puts them at a disadvantage relative to the influencer. How does this happen? Available here and by RSS on December 24
- And on December 31: The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: Part I
- Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion, but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners. Available here and by RSS on December 31
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates.
Contact Rick for details at rbrenner@ChacoCanyon.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
- The Race to the South Pole: Ten Lessons for Project Managers
- On 14 December 1911, four men led by Roald Amundsen reached the South Pole. Thirty-five days later, Robert F. Scott and four others followed. Amundsen had won the race to the pole. Amundsen's party returned to base on 26 January 1912. Scott's party perished. As historical drama, why this happened is interesting enough, but to project managers, the story is fascinating. Lessons abound. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Human-Centered Risk Management
- Most of us can assess technological risks, but risks related to human behavior tend to resist our best efforts. This session provides a framework for evaluating risks related to the behavior of individuals, teams, organizations and people generally. Human-centered risk differs from technological or market risk, because objective evaluation requires acknowledging personal and organizational limitations and failures. Since some of those limitations and failures might apply to the people assessing the risks, or to their superiors, there's a tendency to deny them or to explain them away. Our approach examines capability, organization, context, risk mitigation, and workplace politics. It has tools for guiding the assessment and management of human-centered risk, and we show how to extend these tools to suit your situation. You'll learn how to identify sources of risk in human behavior; recognize systemic and individual barriers to acknowledging risk; assess the effects of organizational turbulence; determine the risk associated with inappropriate internal risk transfer; estimate the effects of team dysfunction, toxic conflict and turnover; and measure the impact of workplace politics. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- The Politics of Meetings for People Who Hate Politics
- There's a lot more to running an effective meeting than having the right room, the right equipment, and the right people. With meetings, the whole really is more than the sum of its parts. How the parts interact with each other and with external elements is as important as the parts themselves. And those interactions are the essence of politics for meetings. This program explores techniques for leading meetings that are based on understanding political interactions, and using that knowledge effectively to meet organizational goals. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program:
- Cognitive Biases and Workplace Decision-Making
- For most of us, making decisions is a large part of what we do at work. And we tend to believe that we make our decisions rationally, except possibly when stressed or hurried. That is a mistaken belief — very few of our decisions are purely rational. In this eye-opening yet entertaining program, Rick Brenner guides you through the fascinating world of cognitive biases, and he'll give concrete tips to help you control the influence of cognitive biases. Read more about this program. Here's an upcoming date for this program: