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:
- Some Truths About Lies: II
- Knowing when someone else is lying doesn't make you a more ethical person, but it sure can be an advantage
if you want to stay out of trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of techniques misleaders use.
- Deniable Intimidation
- Some people achieve or maintain power by intimidating others in deniable ways. Too often, when intimidators
succeed, their success rests in part on our unwillingness to resist, or on our lack of skill. By understanding
their tactics, and by preparing responses, we can deter intimidators.
- 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.
- 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.
- Seventeen Guidelines About Workplace Bullying
- Bullying is a complex social pattern. Thinking clearly about bullying is difficult in the moment because
our emotions can distract us. Here are some short insights about bullying that are easy to remember
in the moment.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 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.