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:
- 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?
- 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.
- 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: 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?
- 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.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
- Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.
- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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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.