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 That's one reason why bullies favor targets who are isolated from, withdrawn from, or different from the group as a whole.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
Is 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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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.
- 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?
- Meeting 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?
- 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.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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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.