How is it that we continue to tolerate bullies? This week we once again were not-so-privileged to observe, on multiple levels, a system that continues to embrace and tolerate bullies. Most organizations have at least one serialized bully, some have scores of them, and it continually amazes me as I observe a single human being’s conflict-ridden, disruptive, dysfunctional behavior saturate an entire organization and other peoples’ lives like a malignancy.
I'm not sure how this works in your world, but it reminds me of a rape victim who, in the words of the late Tim Field is expected “to identify, arrest, prosecute, convict and punish the person who raped her. People who have been targeted by bullies often find themselves having to do all of these things while those in positions of authority continue to abdicate and deny responsibility."
Why is it that our justice system, our management system, our education system and our families are forced to continue to tolerate this madness? When will those of us who know that it is wrong finally step forward and take charge?
This week, a close friend was put on alert that their job was literally up for grabs. This person was informed that they should just sit by the phone next Monday to see if they and their hundreds of colleagues still had jobs. “Some will and some won’t,” the human resources person announced on a national teleconference.
In a company like that, it is clear that employees are seen as objects for achieving certain tasks and units of labor which can be minimized when necessary. What an inhuman approach to management, and what a cold way to alter the structure of a workforce.
The other exposure that came our way this week came in the form of a legal action that revolved around a bully. I've come to believe that, in cases like this, the system is more like the lottery or the military than a system of justice. The master or judge hears the case, understands all of the ramifications and nuances of the relationship, or lack thereof, and then rules in favor of the bully.
Does it honestly take the death of the victim to indicate that a fair ruling should have been applied? Psychologists regularly compare being bullied by a serial bully as the equivalent to being beat-up or stalked by a brutal and abusive partner, and they all agree that it should be considered with the same amount of seriousness. I found this amazing quote and much of the inspiration to write this blog from that same British-based website that was posted back in February of 2002:
"When bullying results in suicide (bullycide), the coroner usually records an open verdict. Unlike a physical injury or physical cause of death, a psychiatric injury cannot be studied and recorded after death. All the coroner has is (sometimes) the suicide letter and (always) the denial of everyone who contributed to the bullycide: the bullies, the witnesses of bullying, and those in authority who should have acted but didn’t. Invariably greater weight is attached to these denials than to the written and reported testimony of the deceased who has been tormented to death and to the deceased’s family who have lived through (and continue to live) the nightmare. An open verdict, which may be legally correct, is not going to relieve the suffering of the family or enable the perpetrators to be held accountable for their sins of commission and omission."
This evening, in a speech to the Maine Primary Care Association, I shared my thoughts on leading a concerted effort to eradicate bullying, and the room burst into spontaneous applause. When we talked about aggressively removing bullies from the workplace, it felt as if they were about to give me a standing ovation.
Afterwards, a well-groomed woman came forward and said that she had finally returned to work after nearly three years because she had been bullied so completely and so consistently by her former boss that it took such a tremendous physical toll on her that she had to take a medical leave. In her case the bully finally left, but not because he was asked or forced to leave.
Where is this all going? The final piece that needs to be inserted here is that one of our employees began a series of passive aggressive bullying tactics against a small group of other employees within the hospital, and we took action to reprimand the individual who did this. Bottom line? If I’m not blogging next week, it will be Bullies: 1 . . . President: 0.
My concern is that this bully and most bullies have no governor and no sense of holding back. When these bullies are confronted, they become desperate victims who, without their bullying power, will have no power whatsoever.
So, once again, living on the edge is the place where I have elected to live, and being a bully-slayer is a job that I have grown to revere. Be it individuals, corporations or rules, they need to be confronted and removed.