By adopting tactics similar to the mimics of biological mimicry systems, targets of workplace bullies can, in some cases, more effectively defeat their bullies. It takes nerve and smarts, but with Nature's guidance, success is a real possibility. (See "What Is Workplace Bullying?," Point Lookout for March 3, 2010 for a definition of workplace bullying.)
A biological mimicry system involves three roles. The mimic is the organism that indicates, through various means, that it is something it's not. Indications can include coloration, shape, movement, odor, and more. The second role, the dupe is the organism that's deceived. The third role is the model which is the organism or context element that the mimic copies.
In workplace bullying, a target who exploits a mimicry strategy would be a mimic; the model is someone the target copies to deceive the bully; and the bully is the dupe. To see how this works, let's examine a biological mimicry system.
The turkey vulture ranges over much of the Americas. It's a large bird and a scavenger, feeding almost exclusively on carrion. In our example, it plays the role of model. Our mimic is the zone-tailed hawk, whose range overlaps the turkey vulture's. Its plumage resembles the turkey vulture's, but it feeds on terrestrial vertebrates. The dupe is the hawk's prey.
To fool its prey, let's say, a ground squirrel, the hawk soars among turkey vultures, making rocking motions with its wings in the manner of a vulture. The squirrel is fooled, because it feels safe, knowing that vultures seek only carrion. When the squirrel least expects it, the hawk strikes.
Targets of bullies can exploit an analogous strategy. Suppose a bully has been targeting someone. In desperation, the target decides, "I've had enough." Many targets then adopt a common and tragically self-destructive strategy of striking back immediately in small ways. Sadly, this only alerts the bully to the target's change of attitude, and enables the bully to adjust before the target gathers enough strength and courage to be truly effective.
Mimicry An excellent strategy for
bully targets to end the bullying
is not to take any action
at all until all preparations
are completecomes to the rescue. Although the decision to counter the bully's tactics is an essential beginning, the decision alone doesn't make the target capable of stopping the bully. Preparation is required. The target might have to consult an attorney, or gather evidence, or prepare a formal grievance, or assemble witnesses willing to corroborate the bullying charges. These things take time.
Meanwhile, targets can "auto-mimic" — behave just as if nothing had changed. The bullies are therefore not alerted, and thus have no motivation to escalate, or to cover their tracks.
Since bullying might actually continue during this interval, targets often have difficulty concealing the change in their willingness to engage. Self-control is essential. But if the target can dupe the bully until preparations are complete, a surprise counterattack can be very successful. Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Bullying:
- Deniable Intimidation
- 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.
- Responding to Threats: I
- Threats are one form of communication common to many organizational cultures, especially as pressure
mounts. Understanding the varieties of threats can be helpful in determining a response that fits for you.
- How Workplace Bullies Use OODA: I
- Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time rely on more
than mere intimidation to escape prosecution. They proactively shape their environments to make them
safe for bullying. The OODA model gives us insights into how they accomplish this.
- So You Want the Bullying to End: II
- If you're the target of a workplace bully, ending the bullying can be an elusive goal. Here are some
guidelines for tactics to bring it to a close.
- Look Where You Aren't Looking
- Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can
also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve
our ability to prepare for adverse events?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- Three feelings are often confused with each other: embarrassment, shame, and guilt. To understand how to cope with these feelings, begin by understanding what different kinds of situations we use when we create these feelings. Available here and by RSS on December 19.
- And on December 26: Embarrassment, Shame, and Guilt at Work: Coping
- Coping effectively with feelings of embarrassment, shame, or guilt is the path to recovering a sense of balance that's the foundation of clear thinking. And thinking clearly at work is important if you want to avoid feeling embarrassment, shame, or guilt. Available here and by RSS on December 26.
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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.