Bullying is the hot topic these days, and a buzzword guaranteed to get somebody’s dander up when used. Thinking about it this morning, it occurred to me that at the moment, using the word “bully” is tantamount to using the word “gun” while standing in the security line at an airport.
Dumb, dumb, dumb.
Not that I’m condoning bullying. I’m not.
What I’ve been observing over the past few years is that all behaviour deemed socially unacceptable has come to be labelled as “bullying.” The net effect has been what I call “The Lowest Common Denominator Factor.” Everything objectionable is treated as a bullying incident with consequent effect of maximising simple rudeness and minimising the true nature of bullying – the (real or perceived) power differential between individuals.
Incivility is a hazard of working with other human beings. Someone ends up at work with too-small-shoes; had a fight with his/her partner; scratched the car; or didn’t get enough sleep. Consequently, said human being is jangled, on edge, and hasn’t the emotional equilibrium to put on a game face at work. Then there are those who are unceasingly uncivil toeveryone all the time. While this makes the workplace uncomfortable, and others may develop compensating behaviours to avoid encounters with said prickly person, this still isn’t bullying. It’s bad manners.
Bullying is personal, involves a real or perceived power differential on both sides – the bully believing the intimidating behaviour can be perpetrated with impunity; the victim believing the intimidating behaviour can’t be addressed – and the familiar dance of torture begins. Make no mistake – a bully gains satisfaction from the process of bullying itself. This is rarely true of the social cretin. Mr Troll is just “being himself/herself” and everyone else can go to h-e-double-hockey-sticks. A bully on the other hand experiences a certain amount of gratification at the victim’s response. This feeds and encourages an escalation of the intimidating behaviours.
Unless, of course, the behaviour ceases to be rewarding or the consequences for such behaviour become prohibitive. This is where the whole issue of bystanders is germane.
Social cretins mostly need more grace …and a manager willing to provide the requisite mentoring and support to encourage or foster more socially acceptable responses to the workplace environment.
Bullies need consequences and they need to be confronted with the fact that the power differential doesn’t exist. Empowering the victim, real time consequences for intimidating words & actions, and consistent enforcement of workplace policies regarding bullying are generally effective. Occasionally, the power of the group must be employed to isolate and diminish the influence of the miscreant. If none of these things are effective, the bully should be fired.
In a perfect world, this might be standard procedure. Unfortunately, when everything is considered bullying, the response gets watered down, and the dynamics of power shift in favour of the bully. Couple that with pervasive societal sense that “someone else” should deal with a bully means that ironically, bullying has increased – not decreased – since the enacting of politically correct policies in the classroom and workplace.
The solution IMO is to stop treating social cretins as if they are bullies, and stop trying to impose social norms on bullies. Bullies understand the exercise of power and of consequences. When the cost of such behaviour becomes prohibitive, the behaviour stops. If there’s no response to consequences, turf the dude or dudette out on his/her ear from class &/or the workplace.
Socially inept people are socially inept everywhere – it’s not personal. Bullies are canny and manipulative in their choice of victim, situation, and behaviour. There’s a huge difference and not distinguishing between the two favours the bullies.