Posts Tagged ‘innocence’


Fourth of Five Freedoms for Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week

Thursday, October 24th, 2013


#4: Freedom to be Innocent & Not Exploited

Freedom From Bullies Week Workplace Bullying is unjust primarily because the assaults launched against targets have everything to do with the perpetrators’ unmet social needs and their ability to act on opportunities to exploit others that go unseen by most workers. It has nearly nothing to do with work itself. It is even less about the person targeted. The injustice of suffering without provocation or deservedness becomes a focal point for bullied individuals that can last months or years, if left unresolved.

I say unprovoked because targets would not, do not, awake on a workday wishing for some personal humiliation at work, that they would “ask for it.” That provocation is no more likely than battered spouses asking for a physical beating on a given day. Yet, bullies and their apologists (including many business school researchers) deflect responsibility away from perpetrators (especially when they are perpetrators) and onto their victims.

We have written about this blame-the-victim tendency before. It is rife in the workplace because it is nearly the American mantra when horrific events happen to people.

Some consider our declaration of targets’ innocence misguided or defensive. OK, assume that we are defensive on behalf of targets. We proudly admit this often. We are target-centric. We have chosen sides. We defend those who cannot defend themselves, those who are the underdogs and the ones victimized by perpetrators with a more advantageous power perch in organizations.

We have talked to bullied targets on the phone for 16 years — an accumulation of over 10,000 one-hour conversations. Coupling that qualitative database of stories with our 39 quantitative surveys allows us to speak confidently about the character of individuals selected for the psychological terrorization that is workplace abuse. Targets are selected primarily because of the threat their talents and skills pose to the bully who relies more on political acumen than production-related skills.

Targets do not react spontaneously to aggression with counter-aggression. If they could have, they would have and not been attacked. Call it a fault or call it noble, principled conduct that conforms to “turning the other cheek,” as some religions dictate. The other shortcoming targets bring to the workplace is an optimistic, politically naive, set of expectations that the world is benevolent. That is, good outcomes necessarily follow hard work (inputs). Unfortunately, traumatologist Ronnie Janoff-Bulman believes that expectation is a good predictor of suffering trauma when exposed to abuse. Finally, it is clear that many targets are not effective at setting personal emotional boundaries. To gain swift approval from others, they eagerly share too much personal information that is later used against them by perpetrators who collected the information for later nefarious use.

However, targets chosen for bullying at work are not as meek and mild as bad stereotypes suggest. Over time, as the injustice percolates and the employer fails to provide relief the target requested, the likelihood of exploding emotionally and losing control grows.

For some individuals, that explosion will happen at work. It might be the target’s long-postponed confrontation (most wait months to react). In any case, the explosion is emotional and an out-of-character moment. If directed against the perpetrator, the bully can point to the ill advised tactic as “proof” that the target is “contentious, unruly, aggressive and provocative.” In this way, targets become their own worst enemies. The impression of self-control is blown. The act need not be physical. In one case for which I served as expert witness in court, a target-plaintiff’s case was seriously weakened with the discovery of an emotion-laden letter that she should have never sent. It made her appear vindictive and petty. She was at wits end with her judgment strained.

The perp uses the single emotional event as a retroactive justification for the abuse leveled against the target. And in a sick twisted turn of events, the bully gets to play victim. They accuse the target, who sustained months of private and deniable health-harming abuse, of being the aggressor, as observed by others. The organization erroneously characterizes the bully-target relationship as one in which aggression flows in both directions — a false equivalency.

As soon as the organization can hint that the bullied target is to blame, it jumps on the chance to deny the target’s complaint. A pox on both houses nullifies the claim from the only legitimate victim, the bullied target. Worse still, many bullies abuse anti-bullying policies to claim they are the victims deserving protection. Strangely managerial bullies are given protection denied to non-supervisory targets.

Five Freedoms for WBI Freedom from Workplace Bullies Week
To Affiliate with Friends | Dignity at Work | To be Believed | To be Innocent | From Fear

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