Compliments of Working Word via Flickr

 “Make sure your words are sweet; you may have to eat them.” 

Why do people bully? What motivates individuals to treat other people in a manner which erodes their dignity, deflates their self-confidence, and belittles their self-esteem? Why do some people feel comfortable behaving in a heavy handed, authoritative, and punitive fashion?  Discovery News provides one possible explanation: 

‘“The simple reason is it shows that they have power over others,” agreed Marlene Snyder, Development Director for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in the United States, based in Clemson, S.C. “The reason that they do it repeatedly is that they are getting away with it. Nobody is calling them on their bad behavior. When they aren’t called on it they think, ‘Well, it must be O.K.'” 

In an environment devoid of constraints behavior is uncontrolled (which is why modeling from the corporate apex is so important). In our paper “Diversity Management: The New Organizational Paradigm” my co-authors (Dr. Bette Stead and the late Jack Ivancevich) and I discuss how leaders set the tone for those lower in the hierarchy. Proactive policy enforcement and a zero tolerance policy send the message that not only is bullying bad for business, but it is unacceptable in a civil climate. In a toxic workplace  employees know that their well-being hinges on the bully’s volatility and on his/her continued appeasement. The organizational reality employees create for themselves is then in congruence with bully’s mission to mindrape and steamroll surrounding psyches. When conversants tire of silence and submission however their association with the bully is brought to an abrupt halt. To an organizational ogre, disagreement equals disrespect.  

Bullies are in essence thieves. In an effort to overpower and control, they rob people of the means to defend themselves and to be an equal party to the conversation. Bullying is the deployment of verbal aggression (e.g., rage, objectification, “you statements,” and interrupting) and passive-aggression (negative intonation, facial expressions, and ostracizing) to trounce a conversational opponent.  Combative speech is used by those thirsty for conquest. Note that the recipients are not in need of others’ emotional refuse, anger displacement, or cantankerous sparring. As Mary Kay Ash explains, people gravitate toward compliments like thirsty plants toward water – most likely because they’re considered an oasis in a desert of verbal abuse. 

Instead of self-aggrandizement that comes at the expense of others, we can instead choose to give of ourselves through encouragement, respectful interaction, empathy, and non-accusatory speech.  Today, consider the following: 

  • Surprise someone with a thank you card. How often do we complain when things go amiss, but remain silent when they’re to our liking? The internet offers a host of cards appropriate for workplace congratulations and expressions of gratitude.
  • Tell that person’s boss how good they are. Write a note or letter to a coworker’s supervisor, and send them a copy. I can guarantee you that the recipient will be pleasantly surprised.
  • Give a sincere compliment – not to the point of duplicitousness or Dale Carnegie in overdrive, but simply an acknowledgment of someone else’s worth and talent.

Choose today not to be the poster child for poor behavior at work, but rather, to be the one that other people seek for counsel.

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

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