Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 13;   March 31, 2010: Biological Mimicry and Workplace Bullying

Biological Mimicry and Workplace Bullying

by

When targets of bullies decide to stand up to their bullies, to end the harassment, they frequently act before they're really ready. Here's a metaphor that explains the value of waiting for the right time to act.
A Turkey Vulture and its mimic, a Zone-Tailed Hawk

A Turkey Vulture and its mimic, a Zone-Tailed Hawk. The Turkey Vulture is at top. Not to scale. Photos sources: zone tailed talk and turkey vulture courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

By adopting tactics similar to the mimics of biological mimicry systems, targets of workplace bullies can, in some cases, more effectively defeat their bullies. It takes nerve and smarts, but with Nature's guidance, success is a real possibility. (See "What Is Workplace Bullying?," Point Lookout for March 3, 2010 for a definition of workplace bullying.)

A biological mimicry system involves three roles. The mimic is the organism that indicates, through various means, that it is something it's not. Indications can include coloration, shape, movement, odor, and more. The second role, the dupe is the organism that's deceived. The third role is the model which is the organism or context element that the mimic copies.

In workplace bullying, a target who exploits a mimicry strategy would be a mimic; the model is someone the target copies to deceive the bully; and the bully is the dupe. To see how this works, let's examine a biological mimicry system.

The turkey vulture ranges over much of the Americas. It's a large bird and a scavenger, feeding almost exclusively on carrion. In our example, it plays the role of model. Our mimic is the zone-tailed hawk, whose range overlaps the turkey vulture's. Its plumage resembles the turkey vulture's, but it feeds on terrestrial vertebrates. The dupe is the hawk's prey.

To fool its prey, let's say, a ground squirrel, the hawk soars among turkey vultures, making rocking motions with its wings in the manner of a vulture. The squirrel is fooled, because it feels safe, knowing that vultures seek only carrion. When the squirrel least expects it, the hawk strikes.

Targets of bullies can exploit an analogous strategy. Suppose a bully has been targeting someone. In desperation, the target decides, "I've had enough." Many targets then adopt a common and tragically self-destructive strategy of striking back immediately in small ways. Sadly, this only alerts the bully to the target's change of attitude, and enables the bully to adjust before the target gathers enough strength and courage to be truly effective.

Mimicry An excellent strategy for
bully targets to end the bullying
is not to take any action
at all until all preparations
are complete
comes to the rescue. Although the decision to counter the bully's tactics is an essential beginning, the decision alone doesn't make the target capable of stopping the bully. Preparation is required. The target might have to consult an attorney, or gather evidence, or prepare a formal grievance, or assemble witnesses willing to corroborate the bullying charges. These things take time.

Meanwhile, targets can "auto-mimic" — behave just as if nothing had changed. The bullies are therefore not alerted, and thus have no motivation to escalate, or to cover their tracks.

Since bullying might actually continue during this interval, targets often have difficulty concealing the change in their willingness to engage. Self-control is essential. But if the target can dupe the bully until preparations are complete, a surprise counterattack can be very successful. Go to top Top  Next issue: Project Improvisation Fundamentals  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesAre 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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See also Workplace Bullying and Conflict Management for more related articles.

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