Monday, August 22, 2011

From the Bully Pulpit: The Buzz from the Hive

"Ever wonder why nobody says anything nice about Jamie?"
"Nobody likes Susie."
"Everybody who's ever done business with Mr. Smith says he's bad news."

"Nobody will sit with me at lunch."
"All my coworkers hate me."

Is it possible for an entire classroom, workplace, or community to be wrong? Yes, absolutely! Neuro-linguistic programming counselor Carolyn Laithwaite described this quite frankly as "gang bullying." She describes it as a phenomenon resulting when a primary bully gathers followers. "He may be a loud, highly visible leader. If he is a quieter sort, his role may be more insidious," she says. "Some members of the group may actively enjoy being part of the bullying. They like the reflected power of the primary bully. If the primary bully leaves the organization, and the institution does not change, one of these individuals may step in to fill the shoes of the primary bully. Others of the gang join in because they feel coerced. They fear that if they do not participate, they will be the next victims. Indeed some of these individuals do become victims at some point in time."

Latricia Wilson calls it "mobbing" and describes the behavior as "acted out by groups of individuals to protect a job position or a status/ranking... that mobbers have little confidence they have secured. So incompetent bullies attack competent employees because they are seen as threats by the bully." She says this behavior flourishes in mismanaged corporations, but it is also very common among contractors or freelance workers who often have to compete more fiercely for work.

In cases of mobbing (a word I like in this case, as it brings to mind lynch mobs and mob "justice"), it can very well be instigated by a "queen bee" type, but sometimes there is more than one instigator. Bullies in bigger and more sophisticated mobs may even specialize, each employing different tactics with the same purpose- to harm the target. The mob may not always employ overt coercion, but branding anyone who disputes their claims or tactics as an "enemy" and potential or even actual target is very common. Many people involved in a mob may not even see themselves as bullies. They may be convinced that the target is indeed "bad news" or that the bullying is just addressing some wrong, whether fabricated or real, that the target has committed. Or they may fear that standing up for the target will make targets of themselves, and understandably so, for the mob is woefully intolerant of dissent.

Dissent anyway. Targets and witnesses alike may feel powerless against the mob, but there are some things we can do. If it's safe to do so, discuss the matter privately and individually with members of the gang. Some hangers-on may only participate in the bullying out of fear, as I'd already mentioned, and may need support in distancing themselves from such activity. Some may not know just how detrimental their actions are, not just to the target, but to the entire work, school, or social environment. Sadly, some won't care, but may back off if you stand up for yourself. If the bullying takes place in school or at work, take it up with a teacher or supervisor. Be prepared to take your complaint all the way up to the top. If that doesn't work, prepare to take legal action and take hope in how more states are enacting or enforcing laws and courts are more willing to protect adults as well as children from such harmful behavior.

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