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Punishment damages goodwill and self-esteem” Rosenberg

In approaching personal relationships, some of us wear our heart on our sleeve. This is “OK” as long as it doesn’t interfere with building community – with trying to understand what the other party is saying, no matter how clumsy or ill-intentioned the message. Constructing barricades prevents us from discovering the cause of a problem. In-expression in our expected mode does not however invalidate a message.

In Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life, Rosenberg gives us step by step instructions for sharing empathically, and for diffusing conflict through identifying with others’ concerns. He suggests that when we truly feel heard, we become less defensive, more open to hearing alternatives, and increasingly receptive to problem solving. Although Rosenberg eschews the use of aggression, he indicates that “protective force” may be necessary to counteract ignorant behavior.

He defines ignorance as: (1) a “lack of awareness of the consequences of our actions; (2) an inability to see how our needs may be met without injury to others; and (3) the belief that we have the right to punish or hurt others because they ‘deserve’ it.” Blame and judgment in his opinion (rather than creating repentance), merely prompt retaliation.

The techniques embodied in non-violent communication (NVC) (based upon vulnerability, mutual sharing, openness, and equality) are means to educate those who were inculcated that punishment is appropriate. Other methods include personality tests to uncover our weaknesses, such as Strengths Finder by Tom Rath.

Simply teaching coworkers about the cost of their behavior may be an eye opening beginning. As Pearson and Porath share, one bullying incident experienced by one half of a 10,000 person company can potentially cost millions. In organizations that use gain sharing, knowing this information can significantly impact actions.

Conflict management, emotional intelligence (EI) training, civility book clubs that apply related concepts to workplace dilemmas, and keynote speakers like Ernie Mendes (who uses anecdotes and humor to demonstrate the importance of acting with compassion) can chip away at incivility. The Workplace Bullying Institute offers Train the Trainer workshops, which teach employees how to triage problems before they erupt into crises. The ability to splice anger, spite laden words, and overt hostility is the mark of an emotionally intelligent person.

Folding participation into performance appraisal is a terrific tool to ensure policy adherence. A starting point in cultural change can be holding town hall meetings, in which employees share ideas on creating cohesion. The desired result is to shrink poorly behaving persons into a minority – one in which they find difficulty gathering additional disciples, or occupying positions of power. Civility requires a new, inclusive norm.

Methods to create a more civil culture can also include:

  • Benchmarking exemplary companies (those known for “civil” cultures), and establishing an industry roundtable to share information.
  • Establishing a baseline through conducting “civility surveys” which may help diagnose hidden problems, and help your firm craft corresponding solutions. With this information in hand, a cross sectional task force (spearheaded by top management) can instigate initiatives to change perceptions and culture.

If companies were proactive workplace bullies would cease to be the elephant in the room, and, a subsequent drain on human resources. Organizations might actually increase their bottom lines as a result.


Related post: The fight against bullying turns to the workplace

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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2 Responses
  1. Your thoughts are interesting and well researched. I would add, in my workplace experience, the workplace bully does not seem to see themselves as a bully. It seems that the bully feels that he/she is in the right and only acting appropriate as the situation dictates and at the direction of their manager. I have seen other coworkers describe this “bully” employee as controlling, territorial, manipulative, and self absorbed. The “bully” seems to describe themselves as efficient. Two very different perspectives…

  2. Paula Mansfield on January 26th, 2014 at 5:11 pm
  3. Great article, and very informative. It brings to light the problem that I never looked at it as workplace bullying until now. I experienced a situation that was beyond believable with what I now know as workplace bullying. There was a coworker in my same work group, that had been there for while. In the technical arena, he was an expert. As a coworker he was unacceptable. Everyone knew this, but management would not do anything about it. This was at a very large company over $10 Billion in revenue per year, and my management was so weak, that instead of addressing the issue, they encouraged us to stand up to the bully and challenge the individual.
    There were times when our team lead (the layer between us and management) and this individual were literally screaming at each other loud enough for 50 people in the area to hear it. Ultimately I left the organization, as have countless others, and the offender, ultimately moved up in the company.
    One unique bit of information on the individual was that his father was a corporate attorney. Basically an individual who argues for a living. As stated, this is a learned behavior, proving to me that the apple does not fall far from the tree.

  4. Steve Miller on January 29th, 2014 at 4:37 am