How do workplace bullies escape prosecution for as long as they do? Why do their targets tolerate ill treatment for as long as they do? Why do bystanders look the other way as consistently as they do? While most bullies do intimidate nearly everyone around them, that alone doesn't provide satisfactory answers to these questions.
A more satisfactory explanation is that workplace bullies shape their environments to enable continuation of their activities with a minimum of interference. The OODA model, due to US Air Force Col. John Boyd, is a useful tool for understanding how bullies shape their environments. See "OODA at Work," Point Lookout for April 6, 2011, for a summary of the model.
Here is Part I of a small catalog of the ways workplace bullies use the OODA model.
- Most bullies engage in bullying out of compulsion. Although they do plan and they do consciously formulate their attack strategies, they generally don't study bullying scientifically, and they are thus unaware of models like the OODA loop.
- Their understanding of OODA is thus intuitive. Since intuition is founded on experience and observation, the bully's use of OODA is usually limited to what the bully has experienced or seen.
- Targets can exploit this limitation by devising responses to bullying that would require their bullies to use OODA in ways their bullies are unlikely to have seen or experienced. See, for example, "Biological Mimicry and Workplace Bullying," Point Lookout for March 31, 2010.
- Selecting targets
- Bullies tend Since intuition is founded on
experience and observation, the
bully's use of OODA is usually
limited to what the bully has
experienced or seento select targets who, in their estimation, will not effectively resist the bullying. For example, bullies often regard someone who has a limited network of close associates as less likely to be able to mount effective resistance. That's one reason why bullies favor targets who are isolated from, withdrawn from, or different from the group as a whole. Since members of minorities tend to associate most closely with other members of their minority group, they're more likely to have limited networks, and thus make tempting targets for bullies.
- Here are two examples illustrating the importance of limited networks of close associates. Observation is the first element of the OODA Loop. Since a limited network reduces the ability of the prospective target to acquire information about the bully's activities, people with limited networks are less able to observe their situations, and thus less able to respond effectively. Action is the fourth element of the OODA Loop. Limited personal networks also reduce the ability of prospective targets to act in their own defense, because, for example, they have less ability to secure testimony in support of allegations against their bullies.
- Prospective targets can reduce their attractiveness to bullies by expanding their networks of close associates.
In Part II, we'll examine how and why workplace bullies try to control the tempo of their activities, and how they approach the more general shaping of their environments. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Are you being targeted by a workplace bully? 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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More articles on Workplace Bullying:
- Some Truths About Lies: II
- Knowing when someone else is lying doesn't make you a more ethical person, but it sure can be an advantage
if you want to stay out of trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of techniques misleaders use.
- 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: 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.
- See 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.
- So You Want the Bullying to End: I
- If you're the target of a workplace bully, you probably want the bullying to end. If you've ever been
the target of a workplace bully, you probably remember wanting it to end. But how it ends can be more
important than whether or when it ends.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
- And on February 5: Unrecognized Bullying: I
- Much workplace bullying goes unrecognized. Three reasons: (a) conventional definitions of bullying exclude much actual bullying; (b) perpetrators cleverly evade detection; and (c) cognitive biases skew our perceptions so we don't see bullying as bullying. Available here and by RSS on February 5.
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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.
Beware any resource that speaks of "winning" at workplace politics or "defeating" it. You can benefit or not, but there is no score-keeping, and it isn't a game.