Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 11, Issue 23;   June 8, 2011: Workplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: II

Workplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: II

by

Of the tools we use to address toxic conflict, many are ineffective for ending bullying. Here's a review of some of the tools that don't work well and why.
A P-14 lady beetle devours a pea aphid

A P-14 lady beetle devours a pea aphid. The P-14 lady beetle is 3/16 inches long (4.76 mm). Its Latin name is Propylea quatuordecimpunctata, named for the 14 black spots on its forewings. The P-14's diet consists largely of aphids, which consume fluids from plants including agricultural crops such as alfalfa, broccoli, cabbages, sweet corn, raspberries, blueberries, euonymus, tomatoes, vetch, and clover. The P-14 story provides an illustration of an important principle: insecticides that produce desired results in one ecosystem might actually be counter-effective in another. Specifically, when we use insecticides to control aphids, we also kill P-14s and other aphid predators. In this way, insecticide use can actually increase aphid populations, exacerbating the problem.

Transporting problem solving techniques from one problem space to another often yields unexpected and undesirable results. Conflict management strategies that work well for ordinary toxic conflict, when applied to bully systems, might actually make the bullying worse. Photo by Scott Bauer courtesy United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service.

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 target
conflict, 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.

Well, so much for strategies that don't work. In coming weeks, we'll consider some strategies for ending bullying that do work. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: The Deck Chairs of the Titanic: Obvious Waste  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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More articles on Workplace Bullying:

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Some people achieve or maintain power by intimidating others in deniable ways. Too often, when intimidators succeed, their success rests in part on our unwillingness to resist, or on our lack of skill. By understanding their tactics, and by preparing responses, we can deter intimidators.
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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.
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Someone asks you a question. Within seconds of starting to reply, you're hit with another question, or a rejection of your reply. Abusively. The pattern repeats. And repeats again. And again. You're being attacked. What can you do?
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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.
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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.

See also Workplace Bullying and Conflict Management for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

C. Northcote Parkinson in 1961Coming September 27: Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are three examples of this pattern. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
A typical standup meetingAnd on October 4: Meeting Troubles: Culture
Sometimes meetings are less effective than they might be because of cultural factors that are outside our awareness. Here are some examples. Available here and by RSS on October 4.

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