We began exploring rapid-fire attacks last time, emphasizing response tactics that depend on assistance from others. But what if there are no others to turn to? What if others decline to assist? Options for targets depend to some extent on the relative organizational power of attacker and target.
When the attacker has superior organizational power, targets have limited options. Some attackers tempt their targets to "lose it" by leading them to exhibit behavior that justifies organizationally sanctioned disciplinary action. Others intentionally inflict emotional pain. Attackers' motives vary, but for targets of powerful attackers, the only "safe" response — short of transfer or voluntary termination — is tolerating the attacks. To limit opportunities for their attackers, targets should avoid private meetings or other settings free of witnesses. And, of course, log everything.
The more interesting case is the attacker who has little organizational power over the target. Perhaps attacker and target are peers, or close to it. In this situation, the target can choose the tolerance strategy described above, but that's unlikely to persuade the attacker to cease.
By creating conditions that can make the attacker's behavior both obvious to management and harmful to management's goals, the three alternative tactics below can help to convince management to intervene.
- In response to verbal criticisms and attacks, targets can request further detail and criticism. Attackers are unlikely to interrupt such validating queries. Some attackers can thus be seduced into making stunningly outrageous claims and demands.
- When the attacker demands additional explanations or records, and assembling that information would consume resources management would rather not expend, the target can agree to comply. If a management representative is present, he or she will feel pressure to intervene on behalf of the target to prevent waste. If management isn't present, the target can later seek approval from management, which can compel management to intervene on behalf of the target. In these cases, targets should make clear that the compilation effort will delay other efforts already scheduled.
- In assembling When the attacker has superior
organizational power, targets
have limited optionsthe requested information, targets can include excruciating detail and other ancillary information, so as to compel the attacker to demand further clarification.
- Plopping is a way of ignoring the attacker. Best used before witnesses, plopping can anger the attacker, which might lead to inappropriate behavior. To execute the tactic, the target pauses when interrupted by the attacker, waits for the attacker to finish, ignores whatever the attacker said, and resumes as if nothing happened. In effect, the attacker's words land with a "plop." While this approach seems superficially to be reasonable behavior, it is nevertheless extraordinarily irritating to the attacker. See "Plopping," Point Lookout for October 22, 2003, for more.
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More articles on Workplace Bullying:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 April 24: Big, Complicated Problems
- Big, complicated problems can be difficult to solve. Even contemplating them can be daunting. But we can survive them if we get advice we can trust, know our resources, recall solutions to past problems, find workarounds, or as a last resort, escape. Available here and by RSS on April 24.
- And on May 1: Full Disclosure
- The term "full disclosure" is now a fairly common phrase, especially in news interviews and in film and fiction thrillers involving government employees or attorneys. It also has relevance in the knowledge workplace, and nuances associated with it can affect your credibility. Available here and by RSS on May 1.
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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.