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
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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.
- Confronting the Workplace Bully: I
- When a bully targets you, you have three options: accept the abuse; avoid the bully or escape; and confront
or fight back. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
- Rapid-Fire Attacks
- 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?
- Overtalking: I
- Overtalking is the practice of using one's own talking to prevent others from talking. It can lead to
hurt feelings and toxic conflict. Why does it happen and what can we do about it?
- Entry Intimidation
- Feeling intimidated about entering a new work situation can affect performance for both the new entrant
and for the group as a whole. Four trouble patterns related to entry intimidation are inadvertent subversion,
bullying, hat hanging, and defenses and sabotage.
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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.
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