Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 13;   March 31, 2010: Biological Mimicry and Workplace Bullying

Biological Mimicry and Workplace Bullying

by

When targets of bullies decide to stand up to their bullies, to end the harassment, they frequently act before they're really ready. Here's a metaphor that explains the value of waiting for the right time to act.
A Turkey Vulture and its mimic, a Zone-Tailed Hawk

A Turkey Vulture and its mimic, a Zone-Tailed Hawk. The Turkey Vulture is at top. Not to scale. Photos sources: zone tailed talk and turkey vulture courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

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 complete
comes 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. Go to top Top  Next issue: Project Improvisation Fundamentals  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesIs a workplace bully targeting you? 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 . Order Now!

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This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.

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Related articles

More articles on Workplace Bullying:

A straw-bale houseResponding 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.
Senator Joseph R. McCarthy (Democrat of Wisconsin)Confronting the Workplace Bully: II
When bullied, one option is to fight back, but many don't, because they fear the consequences. Confrontation is a better choice than many believe — if you know what you're doing.
Comparision of brain scans before and after a concussionMeeting Bullies: Advice for Chairs
Bullying in meetings is difficult to address, because intervention in the moment is inherently public. When bullying happens in meetings, what can you do?
A vervet monkey (Chlorocebus pygerythrus) in TanzaniaSee No Bully, Hear No Bully
Supervisors of bullies sometimes are unaware of bullying activity in their organizations. Here's a collection of indicators for supervisors who suspect bullying but who haven't witnessed it directly.
An owl of undetermined speciesBullying by Proxy: I
The form of workplace bullying perhaps most often observed involves a bully and a target. Other forms are less obvious. One of these, bullying by proxy, is especially difficult to control, because it so easily evades most anti-bullying policies.

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

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

What most of us think of when we think of checklistsComing February 28: Checklists: Conventional or Auditable
Checklists help us remember the steps of complex procedures, and the order in which we must execute them. The simplest form is the conventional checklist. But when we need a record of what we've done, we need an auditable checklist. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
Adolf Hitler greets Neville Chamberlain at the beginning of the Bad Godesberg meeting on 24 September 1938And on March 6: Six More Insights About Workplace Bullying
Some of the lore about dealing with bullies at work isn't just wrong — it's harmful. It's harmful in the sense that applying it intensifies the bullying. Here are six insights that might help when devising strategies for dealing with bullies at work. Example: Letting yourself be bullied is not a thing. Available here and by RSS on March 6.

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