Conflict specialists have a magnificent set of tools for dealing with ordinary toxic conflict. I've used many of them myself to help clients, with much success. But I've noticed that some of these methods are less than effective in the context of bullying. Since strategies misapplied can create the most befuddling setbacks, here are some cautionary insights about applying common conflict resolution strategies in bullying situations.
- Guide the parties toward achieving common goals
- In ordinary toxic conflict, adopting common goals, especially goals achievable only through collaboration, transforms the goals of the parties from trying to conquer each other to trying to conquer a shared problem.
- Although most targets of bullying are willing to adopt goals in common with their bullies, most bullies are unlikely to adopt any goal unless it includes or implies their dominance over their targets. This inherent paradox in such goal transformation strategies limits their usefulness.
- Adopt a win-win approach
- In seeking win-win solutions to ordinary toxic conflict, we consciously maximize the benefits to both parties through collaborative problem solving.
- In bullying, win-win is meaningless. Bullies seek domination of their targets, inflicting physical or emotional pain if possible. They find satisfaction only if their targets are harmed. There is no resolution in which the bully achieves dominance of the target and the target achieves peace with dignity.
- Foster mutual understanding
- We can often unwind toxic conflicts by fostering mutual understanding between the parties, and empathy one for the other.
- Mutual understanding cannot resolve the issue between bully and target. Bullies already understand their targets very well — that's the basis they use for maintaining dominance. Neither targets nor anyone else can "understand" the bully, because what the bully is doing — inflicting harm on the target — is inherently non-rational.
- Encourage the parties to put the past behind them
- In ordinary toxic Mutual understanding cannot
resolve the issue between
bully and targetconflict, forgiveness is essential for ending the cycle of conflict. Only when each party forgives the other can they move forward together in harmony.
- Often, bullying behavior arises from significant personality disorder. Forgiveness of the bullying might be possible and useful, but it can be counterproductive unless the bully has undergone treatment. To ask a target to provide forgiveness for an untreated bully can erode the self-respect of the target, and invite continuation or even escalation of the bullying behavior.
- Encourage mutual respect, avoiding talk of punishment and blaming
- Mutual respect between the parties is essential to ending to ordinary toxic conflict. Any talk of punishment or blame risks extending hostilities, as the parties strive to minimize their own negative consequences.
- By contrast, careful consideration of consequences for the bully is essential to ending the bullying. The bully, and sometimes the target, will likely misperceive these consequences as punishment or blame, but the consequences are nevertheless a necessary means of altering the bully's behavior.
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:
- Hurtful Clichés: II
- Much of our day-to-day conversation consists of harmless clichés: "How goes it?" or
"Nice to meet you." Some other clichés aren't harmless, but they're so common that
we use them without thinking. Here's Part II of a series exploring some of these clichés.
- 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?
- When the Chair Is a Bully: II
- Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's
dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration
of the problem of bully chairs.
- 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?
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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