October 27, 2007

Tactics against bullying at work

...There's a lot written about bullying, especially about:
  • how common it is (the answer: it's all too common);
  • what happens to targets (the career, psychological and health effects can be devastating);
  • what management should do (adopt policies and actions).

However, management can't be relied on to solve every problem. Furthermore, often management is the problem: favoured managers are the bullies.

From the point of view of an individual being bullied, the alternatives don't look good. If you put up with the abuse, it will probably continue. If you resist, it may get worse. Many advisers say the best option is to leave.

Is it possible to resist effectively? Sometimes it is, but you need skills and psychological toughness. And you need to know what tactics to use. That's what I tell about here: tactics...

Perpetrators typically use five methods to reduce popular outrage.

(1) Cover-up: the action is hidden. Torture is nearly always carried out in secrecy.

(2) Devaluation of the victim. When the victim is perceived as dangerous, inferior or worthless, what's done to them doesn't seem so bad. Protesters are called rabble and rent-a-crowd. Enemies are said to be ruthless and untrustworthy and sometimes labelled terrorists.

(3) Reinterpretation. A different explanation is given for the action, making it seem more acceptable. Or someone else might be blamed. Protesters are said to be provocative. Their injuries are claimed to be slight. Treatment of prisoners is said to be "abuse," not torture.

(4) Official channels. Expert investigators, formal inquiries or courts are used to give a stamp of approval to what happened, leading to an appearance of justice without the substance. An inquiry into police beatings might take years and lead to minor penalties against a few scapegoats. Meanwhile, public anger dies down and the problems remain.

(5) Intimidation and bribery. Victims and witnesses are threatened or given incentives to keep quiet and not oppose what happened. Witnesses to police brutality might be threatened should they speak out...

To increase outrage from bullying, you need to challenge the five methods. Here's the general approach.

(1) Expose the bullying.

(2) Validate the target, by demonstrating good performance, loyalty, honesty and other positive traits.

(3) Interpret the bullying as unfair, and explain why contrary explanations are wrong.

(4) Mobilise support. Avoid official channels or use them as tools in exposing the unfairness.

(5) Refuse to be intimidated or bribed, and expose intimidation and bribery...

People high up in organisations nearly always support the chain of command. A top manager will almost always support subordinates in the face of challenges from lower-level employees.

Grievance procedures have many disadvantages. They are:

  • Slow - it could take months for your matter to be dealt with, while the bullying continues or you are left in limbo.
  • Procedural - the focus is on technicalities, not the unfairness of the behaviour.
  • Time-consuming - you end up spending vast amounts of time and effort preparing submissions and responding to queries.
  • Expensive - if you need legal assistance.
  • Hidden - matters are handled without publicity, and often confidentiality is expected. This serves as a form of cover-up...
Here are some ways to deter bullying.

Collect lots of information about your own good performance. Keep copies in safe places. If you plan to act against corruption or bad practices, collect extensive information to back up your claims.

Develop your skills in speaking and writing. Know how to talk with others. Learn how to write persuasive accounts, how to prepare a leaflet, how to run a publicity campaign and how to set up a website - or have reliable friends willing to assist.

Avoid doing things that can be used against you. If you spend much of your time bad-mouthing others, getting others to do your work, and claiming credit for what you didn't do, you can't expect support when the crunch comes. Have others help you gain insight into being collegial, collaborative, approachable and civil.

Be prepared to survive. You may need financial reserves. You will need psychological strength. You need exercise and good diet to maintain your health. You need supportive relationships. When you come under attack, you may need all your reserves: financial, psychological, physical and interpersonal. If you're living on the edge, you're more vulnerable.

Build alliances. There is great strength in collective action. If you have a decent union, join it and be active.

Develop options. Find out about other potential jobs. Think about a career change. Consider downshifting to a less costly lifestyle. Sometimes it's better to walk away from a stressful job. If you have such options, you're actually in a stronger position to resist, if that's your choice.

Help others. If you assist other workers who are bullied, you develop useful insights and skills - and others are more likely to help you should you need it...


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you.

Articles like this are really useful.

As a target of bullying for many years at my university I can't stress enough the importance of psychological strength - it's a hell of a battle - you need lots and lots of patience...

But there are phases in the impact of the bullying - there are the dark dark days when you want to scream in pain and disbelief..and sometimes you go under..and just curl up and want to die...

...that's when you need the strength to get yourself up and carry on...and remember that some people are successful...

Don't think about those who don't make it... who drive a car to a layby... and kill themselves....

What will you be doing next month to tackle bullying?

Will you speak out... those people in my university who have taken part in my mobbing?

....those people who have watched...and continue to watch in silence...

....you little shits...

Aphra Behn