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.
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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: II
- When an exchange between individuals, or between an individual and a group, goes wrong, threats often
are either the cause or part of the results. If we know how to deal with threats — and how to
avoid and prevent them — we can help keep communications creative and constructive.
- 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.
- On Being the Canary
- Nobody else seems to be concerned about what's going on. You are. Should you raise the issue? What are
the risks? What are the risks of not raising the issue?
- How Workplace Bullies Use OODA: II
- Workplace bullies who succeed in carrying on their activities over a long period of time are intuitive
users of Boyd's OODA model. Here's Part II of an exploration of how bullies use the model.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 27: Brainstorming and Speedstorming: II
- Recent research into the effectiveness of brainstorming has raised some questions. Motivated to examine alternatives, I ran into speedstorming. Here's Part II of an exploration of the properties of speedstorming. Available here and by RSS on February 27.
- And on March 6: A Pain Scale for Meetings
- Most meetings could be shorter, less frequent, and more productive than they are. Part of the problem is that we don't realize how much we do to get in our own way. If we track the incidents of dysfunctional activity, we can use the data to spot trends and take corrective action. Available here and by RSS on March 6.
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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.