Taking notes on the slide Warren was displaying, Maria felt a looming presence to her right. She turned, and found herself nose-to-nose with Norton, who was gazing intently at her notepad, reading greedily. Recoiling, she rolled her chair back, and turned the page on her pad to cover it. She said to Norton, "May I help you?" With that, everyone around the conference table turned to look at her.
Unless the toucher
and touched are
intimidatingNorton replied, "Sheesh, don't be so sensitive! I couldn't make out Southwest revenue, that's all. 2.5 or 2.8?"
"2.5," she said, certain that he had been brazenly reading her notes. She wondered why, but didn't want to accuse him, certainly not in public. So she turned her back to him, and rolling her chair forward a foot, tuned back in to Warren's presentation.
Maybe Norton really couldn't read the slide, but perhaps he's an Intimidator, engaging in a form of boundary violation, a favorite tactic of intimidators. Personal space boundary violations, such as the one Maria just experienced, are among the most obvious in the workplace. And among these, perhaps the most upsetting involve touching.
Even in the workplace, touching can be a welcome symbol of friendship. But unless the toucher and the touched are close friends, being touched is often intimidating. Intended or not, intimidation is especially likely when:
- The toucher is male and the touched female, or
- The toucher has relatively more organizational power, or
- The toucher is standing and the touched is seated, or
- The toucher is physically larger.
Failing to respond to intimidating touching increases the likelihood of repetition. Even so, responding can be difficult, because it often occurs in public settings, where most of us are reluctant to confront a toucher. What works and what doesn't?
- Once you're a target, you're a target
- The Intimidator will find you. Avoiding him or her probably won't work.
- Don't rely on witnesses
- Most witnesses probably won't have noticed anything inappropriate. Intimidators often fly under the radar.
- Retreat — don't retaliate
- If the Intimidator puts a hand on you, step away, turning as necessary to break contact. Avoid retaliatory touching — it can escalate dangerously.
- If power is involved, get help
- If there is an organizational power differential between you (either way), get help from Human Resources. When you ask for help, have a log of incidents — dates, times, and places.
- Confront in a safe setting
- If you elect to confront, choose a setting in which you feel safe. At a minimum, safety should include guaranteed egress. Tell the toucher directly that the touching must end. Don't threaten, but project earnest seriousness.
Recognize that what drives intimidators is fear. If you can marshal the courage to respond, you'll be delighted with the outcome, and, most likely, you'll wonder why you didn't act sooner. Top Next Issue
Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!
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More articles on Workplace Bullying:
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- When we convene a meeting to work a problem, we sometimes find that progress is stalled. Taking a break to allow a subgroup to work part of the problem can be key to finding simple, elegant solutions rapidly. Choosing the subgroup is only the first step. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
- And on October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
- Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
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