We began exploring rapid-fire attacks last time, emphasizing response tactics that depend on assistance from others. But what if there are no others to turn to? What if others decline to assist? Options for targets depend to some extent on the relative organizational power of attacker and target.
When the attacker has superior organizational power, targets have limited options. Some attackers tempt their targets to "lose it" by leading them to exhibit behavior that justifies organizationally sanctioned disciplinary action. Others intentionally inflict emotional pain. Attackers' motives vary, but for targets of powerful attackers, the only "safe" response — short of transfer or voluntary termination — is tolerating the attacks. To limit opportunities for their attackers, targets should avoid private meetings or other settings free of witnesses. And, of course, log everything.
The more interesting case is the attacker who has little organizational power over the target. Perhaps attacker and target are peers, or close to it. In this situation, the target can choose the tolerance strategy described above, but that's unlikely to persuade the attacker to cease.
By creating conditions that can make the attacker's behavior both obvious to management and harmful to management's goals, the three alternative tactics below can help to convince management to intervene.
- In response to verbal criticisms and attacks, targets can request further detail and criticism. Attackers are unlikely to interrupt such validating queries. Some attackers can thus be seduced into making stunningly outrageous claims and demands.
- When the attacker demands additional explanations or records, and assembling that information would consume resources management would rather not expend, the target can agree to comply. If a management representative is present, he or she will feel pressure to intervene on behalf of the target to prevent waste. If management isn't present, the target can later seek approval from management, which can compel management to intervene on behalf of the target. In these cases, targets should make clear that the compilation effort will delay other efforts already scheduled.
- In assembling When the attacker has superior
organizational power, targets
have limited optionsthe requested information, targets can include excruciating detail and other ancillary information, so as to compel the attacker to demand further clarification.
- Plopping is a way of ignoring the attacker. Best used before witnesses, plopping can anger the attacker, which might lead to inappropriate behavior. To execute the tactic, the target pauses when interrupted by the attacker, waits for the attacker to finish, ignores whatever the attacker said, and resumes as if nothing happened. In effect, the attacker's words land with a "plop." While this approach seems superficially to be reasonable behavior, it is nevertheless extraordinarily irritating to the attacker. See "Plopping," Point Lookout for October 22, 2003, for more.
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More articles on Workplace Bullying:
- The Costs of Threats
- Threatening as a way of influencing others might work in the short term. But a pattern of using threats
to gain compliance has long-term effects that can undermine your own efforts, corrode your relationships,
and create an atmosphere of fear.
- Responding to Threats: II
- When an exchange between individuals, or between an individual and a group, goes wrong, threats often
are either the cause or part of the results. If we know how to deal with threats — and how to
avoid and prevent them — we can help keep communications creative and constructive.
- How Targets of Bullies Can Use OODA: I
- Most targets of bullies just want the bullying to stop, but most bullies don't stop unless they fear
for their own welfare if they continue the bullying. To end the bullying, targets must turn the tables.
- Workplace Bullying and Workplace Conflict: I
- Bullying is unlike other forms of toxic conflict. That's why the tools we use to address toxic conflict
simply do not work for bullying. In this Part I, we contrast bullying and ordinary toxic conflict.
- Social Isolation and Workplace Bullying
- Social isolation is a tactic widely used by workplace bullies. What is it? How do bullies use it? Why
do bullies use it? What can targets do about it?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
- Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
- And on March 7: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: II
- Narcissistic behavior at work threatens the enterprise. People who behave narcissistically systematically place their own interests and welfare ahead of anyone or anything else. In this Part II of the series we consider the narcissistic preoccupation with superiority fantasies. Available here and by RSS on March 7.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people 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.