Conflict specialists have a magnificent set of tools for dealing with ordinary toxic conflict. I've used many of them myself to help clients, with much success. But I've noticed that some of these methods are less than effective in the context of bullying. Since strategies misapplied can create the most befuddling setbacks, here are some cautionary insights about applying common conflict resolution strategies in bullying situations.
- Guide the parties toward achieving common goals
- In ordinary toxic conflict, adopting common goals, especially goals achievable only through collaboration, transforms the goals of the parties from trying to conquer each other to trying to conquer a shared problem.
- Although most targets of bullying are willing to adopt goals in common with their bullies, most bullies are unlikely to adopt any goal unless it includes or implies their dominance over their targets. This inherent paradox in such goal transformation strategies limits their usefulness.
- Adopt a win-win approach
- In seeking win-win solutions to ordinary toxic conflict, we consciously maximize the benefits to both parties through collaborative problem solving.
- In bullying, win-win is meaningless. Bullies seek domination of their targets, inflicting physical or emotional pain if possible. They find satisfaction only if their targets are harmed. There is no resolution in which the bully achieves dominance of the target and the target achieves peace with dignity.
- Foster mutual understanding
- We can often unwind toxic conflicts by fostering mutual understanding between the parties, and empathy one for the other.
- Mutual understanding cannot resolve the issue between bully and target. Bullies already understand their targets very well — that's the basis they use for maintaining dominance. Neither targets nor anyone else can "understand" the bully, because what the bully is doing — inflicting harm on the target — is inherently non-rational.
- Encourage the parties to put the past behind them
- In ordinary toxic Mutual understanding cannot
resolve the issue between
bully and targetconflict, forgiveness is essential for ending the cycle of conflict. Only when each party forgives the other can they move forward together in harmony.
- Often, bullying behavior arises from significant personality disorder. Forgiveness of the bullying might be possible and useful, but it can be counterproductive unless the bully has undergone treatment. To ask a target to provide forgiveness for an untreated bully can erode the self-respect of the target, and invite continuation or even escalation of the bullying behavior.
- Encourage mutual respect, avoiding talk of punishment and blaming
- Mutual respect between the parties is essential to ending to ordinary toxic conflict. Any talk of punishment or blame risks extending hostilities, as the parties strive to minimize their own negative consequences.
- By contrast, careful consideration of consequences for the bully is essential to ending the bullying. The bully, and sometimes the target, will likely misperceive these consequences as punishment or blame, but the consequences are nevertheless a necessary means of altering the bully's behavior.
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.
- On Being the Canary
- Nobody else seems to be concerned about what's going on. You are. Should you raise the issue? What are
the risks? What are the risks of not raising the issue?
- When the Chair Is a Bully: III
- When the Chair of the meeting is so dominant that attendees withhold comments or slant contributions
to please the Chair, meeting output is at risk of corruption. Because Chairs usually can retaliate against
attendees who aren't "cooperative," this problem is difficult to address. Here's Part III
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?
- 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 April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
- Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
- And on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
- Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.