The rapid-fire attack, often executed before witnesses or within earshot of witnesses, can be unbearable. Defending against it can be even more difficult. But targets who understand the dynamics that make these attacks so hurtful can respond effectively. And that can be very satisfying.
The OODA model of conflict can help us understand the power of the rapid-fire attack. (See "OODA at Work," Point Lookout for April 6, 2011) According to OODA, when we're engaged in conflict, we cycle through a loop of Observing, Orienting, Deciding, and Acting. If the attacks arrive more rapidly than the target can cycle through his or her OODA loop, the attacker can eventually prevail. Unable to keep up with the attacks, some targets feel so overloaded and frustrated that clear thinking itself becomes impossible.
When this happens, how can targets respond? Let's first explore some responses that are usually ineffective.
- File complaints
- Targets can complain to the attacker's supervisor, to their own supervisors, or to the Human Resources department.
- Most likely, if a pattern is in place, a competent supervisor — the target's or the attacker's — would have already noticed the pattern. The supervisor hasn't acted effectively, and probably won't or can't. Still, complaining to supervisors might be worthwhile. It's a matter of judgment.
- Filing complaints with Human Resources might work, especially if the organization has a workplace bullying policy. (See "What Is Workplace Bullying?," Point Lookout for March 3, 2010, for more) But what ensues will be beyond the target's control. For example, the investigation will probably involve interviews of all concerned. If any of those interviewed experience these interviews as attacks instigated by the target, retribution could follow.
- Build alliances
- Sometimes, targets try to assemble alliances of witnesses and other targets, before filing a joint complaint. This approach can work, but there are risks. First, alliance members might not preserve confidentiality. If any of them circulates information about the alliance before the alliance takes action, the attacker can disable the alliance before it can act.
- More important, the person who initiates the alliance might be seen by Management as a "troublemaker." Almost certainly, the attacker will attempt to characterize the alliance initiator as such. If that characterization sticks, the initiator has a new problem, far more serious than the attacker's attacks.
- Wait for the attacks to pass
- Waiting can work, Filing complaints with Human Resources
might work, especially if the
organization has a workplace
bullying policybut targets must maintain an unfailingly cool demeanor, because the attacks will persist, and they might even escalate. As they escalate, they become more obvious to all, and the attacker acquires a well-deserved reputation.
- If the target remains cool, never showing aggression, the attacks will seem to be unprovoked, which could force Management to act. But a single break in discipline by the target can make the attacks seem provoked, reducing the likelihood of Management intervening on behalf of the target.
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:
- 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.
- Responding to Threats: III
- Workplace threats come in a variety of flavors. One class of threats is indirect. Threateners who use
the indirect threats aim to evoke fear of consequences brought about not by the threatener, but by other
parties. Indirect threats are indeed warnings, but not in the way you might think.
- When the Chair Is a Bully: I
- Most meetings have chairs or "leads." Although the expression that the chair "owns"
the meeting is usually innocent shorthand, some chairs actually believe that they own the meeting. This
view is almost entirely destructive. What are the consequences of this attitude, and what can we do about it?
- Shame and Bullying
- Targets of bullies sometimes experience intense feelings of shame. Here are some insights that might
restore the ability to think, and maybe end the bullying.
- Strategy for Targets of Verbal Abuse
- Many targets of verbal abuse at work believe that they have just two strategic options: find a new job,
or accept the abuse. In some cases, they're correct. But not always.
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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