Compliments of Derby Resident via Flickr

This is far from over; you haven’t seen the last of me. Cher

What prompts outrage at work is the illegitimate use of force. In his book David and Goliath, Gladwell explains that acceptance of authority, and whether it is considered “legitimate,” is premised on three pillars: (1) expectation that one’s concerns will be both solicited and considered; (2) rule predictability; and (3) consistency in application. Bosses who abrogate these expectations are viewed as capricious, volatile, and authoritarian – none of which engender worker loyalty. He states: “. . .what actually matters are the hundreds of small things that the powerful do – or don’t do – to establish their legitimacy.

Bullies have two things in common: “moral laziness,” and lack of empathy. Their behavior is often times camouflage for non-talent, and a cover for incompetence. Dialogue with them proves fruitless because they are disinterested in becoming your friend. Gabriel describes a real life workplace bully referred to as “JB,” who “gets his ‘kicks’ from behaving badly on purpose and enjoying negative reactions:”

JB is crafty. His machinations are subtle. He targets women; pursues tactics such as making unnecessary, but confrontational remarks and slightly raising his voice to excite while working with team members; and he uses blame and shame as a means to intimidate and humiliate – all with a superior air and a claim of goodness.

Statistics from a 2013 Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) study showed that a majority (79%) reported feeling abandoned in the wake of a bullying event. Targets may be subsequently plagued by PTSD, anxiety, and hypervigilance, and forced to work alongside the very abusers who caused their suffering. Targets of bullying are blamed for the incident, endure rationalizations from abusers (and their supporters alike), find themselves alone, scapegoated, equated with weakness by association, all the while dragging the crippling effects of the mental aftermath behind them. They endure mobbing (gang bullying), being marginalized and ostracized, and ultimately branded a poor team player by the very organization that should be protecting their interests. They are in some cases deemed a cancer in the organizational corpus.

Targets struggle in the wake of self-blame, confusion, fear, and self-loathing. Some however recover to the point where they can mount a counter attack. As Gladwell explains, it’s individuals who experienced injustice that are the most vehement in securing it for others. They possess resilience and a proud rebelliousness that can pose a serious threat to bullies. People who had previously not uttered a peep may suddenly take a prominent stand. They have developed the defiance to unabashedly state, “Not on my watch. Not now. Not ever.” Freedom fighters realize their destiny is so much bigger than a single institution; they disrupt the status quo to produce disequilibrium. It should come as no surprise that Person of the Year Finalists were all branded disruptors.

The common denominator in David and Goliath stories is underestimating a perceived “weaker” opponent. It is power wielded inappropriately that yields insurgents. Gladwell argues “. . . force without legitimacy leads to defiance, not submission.” At a minimum, workers slighted feel betrayed; at the far end of the spectrum, they engage in sabotage. A small minority may actually use unfairness as a catalyst to campaign against abuse, to counter brute force, and to lobby for humane treatment. An explosive bullying attack may debilitate some, but to those of a defiant strain it merely stokes their resolve. The powerful are disarmed when faced with persons who appear invincible; those working for a cause they feel is of inestimable importance. Gladwell mentions Moshe Dayan, who stated that certain weapons can act as equalizers between the seemingly weak and those of superior strength.

Social media (the sling shot of a new era) and 24/7 television make defiant elements more difficult to subdue. They provide an electronic way to shake one’s fist in the face of abuse. When individuals take a contrary, apolitical stance, visibility is a self-preservation tactic. It is more difficult to silence someone who’s in the spotlight.

Bystanders find it easier to support bullies than to champion the cause of coworkers who “attract” workplace barbs. Instead, attempts at formulating grassroots change may be the best option. A 2012 WBI Survey found that bullied workers have a 78% chance of losing their jobs. This possibility, (coupled with the potential onset of mental and physical ailments), makes it all the more imperative that employers not only wield authority with kindness, but that they craft policy to see that others in the workplace do as well. The reality is that employers establish all conditions of work. Firms are reluctant to enact bullying policy for fear of ruffling  feathers. Only 3% of surveyed companies reported having a dedicated workplace bullying policy.

The next frontier for workplace disruptors is the Healthy Workplace Bill. Efforts to hold employers accountable are essential to ensuring office parity, and to securing dignified employment conditions. Working for passage of this important legislation has attracted myriad disruptors – the unstoppable, the relentless, some of whom have personally experienced workplace abuse themselves.

I think that 2014 will be their watershed year.


Related posts:

Reframing the anti-bullying movement
Rebel with a cause– contains links to several other “resistance” blog posts
Take a stand Stop the Bully/The face of a new resistance-YouTube video

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

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