December 21st, 2014

Torture & Workplace Bullying: Similar Abusive Tactics

At WBI we consistently draw the analogy between domestic violence and abusive conduct at work (the most serious forms of workplace bullying). Our rationale is based on the following commonalities shared by these two forms of abusive relationships:

• The abuser has more power to wield over the abused person
• The abuser unilaterally controls when, where and what method
• Abusers objectify, dehumanize and show contempt for victims
• Society tends to blame victims for their fate
• Victims are expected to solve their problem themselves
• Witnesses rarely intervene
• Institutional responses are delayed, inadequate and not helpful
• Root causes, often embedded societal values, remain unexplored

Advocates working to end domestic, or partner, violence described the myriad of tactics used by abusers using the 8-factor Biderman “chart of coercion.” Albert Biderman interviewed US Air Force pilots who had been captured and tortured during the Korean war. The Chinese taught interrogation techniques to the North Koreans. The piolots described their experiences and Biderman distilled the range of techniques to eight fundamental methods designed to break the will of, and brainwash, the pilots. In 1957, Biderman published his report “Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions From Air Force Prisoners of War.” [Note that Biderman recognized that torture produces false confessions. The 8-factor report became the model for US torture of prisoners at Guantanamo.] That article was the origin of the Biderman Chart of Coercion.

Domestic violence and child abuse advocates use the Biderman Chart to describe abusers’ tactics in their specialty domains.

Therefore, it is logical for us to apply Biderman’s Chart to workplace bullying, given the parallels with domestic violence. In its most extreme forms, bullying is torture. See the chart below.

Biderman Chart of Coercion & Workplace Bullying

General Method Effects & Purposes Abusive Tactics of Bullies

• Deprives victim of social support
from coworkers.
• Makes victim dependent on abuser
• Ostracism of target
• Split workgroup (divide ‘n conquer)
• Pit worker against worker, fosters
destructive intragroup competition


• Abuser is charming, turns
hostile when demands not met
• Punishes independence
or resistance
• Abuser blames abuse on victim
forcing self-focus on shortcomings
• Friendship with target
while assassinating character
thru rumor and gossip
• Work habits disrupted
• Constant emailing, calling, texting

Humiliation &

• Generates feelings of
incompetence or worthlessness
• Weakens mental & physical
ability to resist

• Insults and lies about
target’s character
• Name calling, verbal abuse
• Berating in front of peers

• Creates anxiety and despair
• States consequences for
noncompliance with abuser

• Of job loss, of benefits, of status
• Warnings about personal or family safety

Demonstration of
• To show that resistance is futile

• States that no one will believe
target’s version of reality
• Denial of resources needed
to perform successfully
• Misuse of employer’s complaint
system & investigations

Enforcing Trivial
• Creates unattainable demands
• Demonstrates power & control

• Ordered to do menial tasks
unrelated to work
• Ordered to follow “the rules”
despite being irrelevant & unrealistic
• Rules changed without notice


• Sleep deprivation to
fatigue & confuse victim

• Overwork for target
without rest or recuperation
• Scheduling that stresses
target and not others



• Temporary cessation of cruelty
• Provides positive motivation

• Unexpected rare kind treatment
• Cessation of cruelty for unpredictable period
• Cruelty shifted to a coworker


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This entry was posted on Sunday, December 21st, 2014 at 12:35 pm and is filed under Tutorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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