Wrote about tyrants who perceive that they can’t escape their abuse, and so stay until death. Wondered how such circumstances could be analogised to the workplace. Found a document by Karen Harrell Porter on workplace bullying, published by the Ombuds Office of the University of Louisville. Part of the university’s self-help series. Lots of other interesting topics: apologies, difficult conversations, good listening…
What is a workplace bully?
On its surface, bullying is a simple concept. A strong person acts harshly towards someone weaker, and the bullying is blatant and habitual. It includes browbeating and threatening, verbal abuse and yelling. Everyone recognizes that person as a bully.
Obvious bullies ultimately fail
An obvious bully is noisy, overly aggressive and blatant in his attempts to force others to comply with his will. Resist him and he attacks like an ill-bred pit bull. In some toxic workplaces, he may survive for years, or even become a high-level executive. But usually he will get himself fired. His nasty over-the-top bullying is just too obvious. This simple, stupid version of bullying is rarely a path to sustained success in the American workplace.
Beware the clever bully
Because of this, a successful workplace bully is usually much cleverer in his tactics. He rarely resembles the stereotype. His methods are very subtle, disguised with all the right behaviors. In that lies his treachery. People respect and trust him, and he quietly betrays their trust whenever necessary to fulfill his ambitions. For him, the ends always justify the means. And if the bully is particularly good at this, no one except his victims sees the betrayals. In some cases, not even the victims realize what has happened.
It gets worse and worse…
To make matters worse, a highly skilled bully usually has the dedication, focus and business acumen to create success, or at least the appearance of success. Then he is honored and promoted, held up as an example of a company-centric leader. He is rewarded while the frustration builds among the targets of his bullying and intimidating, backstabbing and manipulating. For them, life has become an upside-down hell..
Beyond the traditional definition of “bully”
A skilled, clever bully displays an elaborate, complex set of behaviors to exploit people around him. Those who only consider bullying to be blatantly aggressive behavior are missing the point. Any habitual pattern of intentional, socially cruel behavior is bullying, including the subtle tactics of deceit, distortion, misrepresentation and misdirection. When the penalty for resisting someone is destruction of your position and reputation, it’s fair to describe that person as a bully. Using this broad definition, bullying has reached epidemic proportions in the American workplace.