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:
- Looking the Other Way
- Sometimes when we notice wrongdoing, and we aren't directly involved, we don't report it, and we don't
intervene. We look the other way. Typically, we do this to avoid the risks of making a report. But looking
the other way is also risky. What are the risks of looking the other way?
- 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.
- 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.
- The Paradox of Structure and Workplace Bullying
- Structures of all kinds — organizations, domains of knowledge, cities, whatever — are both
enabling and limiting. To gain more of the benefits of structure, while avoiding their limits, it helps
to understand this paradox and learn to recognize its effects.
- Manipulators Beware
- When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets
to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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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.