Compliments of marcandrelariviere via Flickr

A recently study found that caustic, continual reprimands can injure your child. Verbally abused children were found to exhibit decreased self-esteem, increased worry, excessive anxiety, and a range of emotional problems.

It would seem obvious that degrading someone could be damaging. What appears less apparent is the effect of verbal epithets hurled at coworkers. Movies like Swimming with Sharks and Glengarry Glenn Ross seem to glamorize this behavior – e.g., the decisive, outspoken boss berating seemingly indolent employees.

Shouting is in fact a type of bullying. If administered publicly, the impact can be severe. Public humiliation is never a positive. Due to a tradition of blaming the victim (and the notion that we really don’t wish to believe adults can behave shoddily) the perpetrator is left alone. Diekmann et al. found that passive targets are twice mauled – once at the hands of abusers, and again in the court of public opinion. We espouse contempt for passive souls (despite workplace pressures that suggest few alternatives). Targets are then churned inside a hopper of capricious tongue lashings.

Victims “hit twice” are the Avoxs of modern firms – workers so shamelessly smeared they’re unable to speak. To people so disrespected each tiny event is a tinderbox, igniting a firestorm in their brains. Their defenses (and what they perceive as appropriate) are severely diminished. To the bullied, being in the one down position makes the world looks like an overpowering place. It’s analogous to a multistory dwelling, wherein each descending floor appears less luxurious. Living with the aftermath of bullying is like being relegated to the shabbiest compartment.

Bullies exhibit meddlesome, overbearing behavior, combined with an overpowering need to feel important. Often undetected, the craftier ones proceed in snakelike fashion – planting seeds of doubt in the minds of policy makers and persons in power. They possess an unmitigated gall which suggests that it’s OK to despise others. There is however a huge difference in helping your colleagues as opposed to eying your prey.

In a newspaper article, Holly Thornhill describes the bullying of her autistic child: “Kids are trying to up their status, and they’ve gotta pick on kids that are below them or ones they think are below them.” Children are not the only ones who arrogantly preempt their peers. Adult bullying is alive and well within a corporation near you, and is practiced by people you know.

How can managers prevent these shenanigans?

*Make it clear that your office is not a free for all in which bar fights are the norm. An ardent desire for respect, recognition, and inclusion is a basic part of our being. Bullying makes people feel debased (which in addition to being morally wrong) is bad for the bottom line.

A Laissez Faire management style may suit you personally, but it certainly does not help your employees. How empowered people would be if they felt happy – and, how productive they would seem as a result. In the absence of leadership, the behaviorally unkempt will assume your capacity.

The bottom line is that one suffering soul at work is too many. Take a hard look at what you allow. If people in your office assume slovenly positions, then perhaps it’s time to improve their comportment.

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

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