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 of the United States Department of Agriculture courtesy Wikimedia.

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!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenUIHlTkFsZAolKBTpner@ChacCgxvnOTYAVbeynlXoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Workplace Bullying:

Too much time on his handsHurtful 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.
Small cage with canary used in testing for carbon monoxide after the Hollinger Mine fire on February 10, 1928On 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?
Gary Jones, Oklahoma State Auditor and InspectorWhen 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.
Palm trees blowing in a hurricaneDealing 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?
An FBI SWAT team assists local law enforcement in New Orleans in August 2005The 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.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Mistletoe growing in abundance in the Wye Valley, WalesComing 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.
A shark of unspecified speciesAnd 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.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenFGAGidTJRXTlZNxIner@ChaczdSHGihKMlomCYugoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.