The “Shutdown”- Workplace Bullying Gone Wild

September 29th, 2013


“Our challenge today is to explain how Congress evolved into our national nutcase.”  Gail Collins, “Congress Cracks Up”, September 27th, New York Times.


I’m not sure how many ways I can say I agree with Ms. Collins, but suffice to say, I agree.  Some of the members of  the 113th Congress is acting probably more irrationally than any we’ve seen in decades.  But, from what I see and what I’ve learned over the years, I’d say they aren’t acting just like “nutcases”, they’re acting like what they are…bullies.

In October of 2012, I wrote a piece for Huffington Post called “Who Did You Bully Today?”  In it, I listed types of adult bullying that are not only getting in the way of efforts to keep kids from brutalizing each other, but are actively giving them bully lessons.  Among the groups I listed was the United States Congress.

This is what I said then about our elected officials..”There are some great politicians out there, dedicated and devoted to the public good, and many are active supporters of violence prevention. But, as a group, “hired” by us to work together in essentially a two-party system, they would earn a great big “dysfunctional” label and earn it easily. Let’s ponder this. Imagine a company where half the employees have as a stated goal the overthrow of the CEO. In this place, the employees have two camps, and many in both camps work not only on obstructing the work of the other camp every day, but are also featured in the media trashing the other camp on a daily basis as well. Would you invest in that company? We do. …I’m hoping they’ll gaze into their collective mirror and look at what’s not working in their own halls. I think many of them would like to see more civility in the process of legislating.”  

I await this civility, and have a feel I will be “awaiting this civility”  for a long time.  We currently face a government shutdown and the tactics currently being used by the “shutdown” gang are textbook bully tactics.

Here’s what I’ve learned about the types of workplace bullies from years of  working with our Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention partners ,Workplace Bullying Institute founders Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie; and from studying the work of the late workplace bullying  activist Tim Field.

The first four types come from the Drs. Namie,,  and the last four come from Tim Field

See if  the behavior of our people on the Hill doesn’t sound like the types of schoolhouse nemesis we’ve all faced.

1) The Screaming Mimi.  These are the specialists  in “the outbursts”.  Some of the rants are well timed, and some are just uncontrolled.  Either way, it’s not the most effective tactic, although they  rarely know that.  They’re the classic “slam them into the locker” types.   They tend to lose their temper at each other and sometimes the host  in double screened news show interviews. It’s fun to watch for a few minutes, until you change the channel because really nothing of value is being heard or said.

 2)The Constant Critic- Haven’t we all experienced the “know it all”? They rarely know it all, but they’ll let you know they do, both on the floor and on the networks. Like Downton Abbey’s dowager countess, “I am never wrong”, and the elementary school tattle tale,  it’s always someone else’s fault.  Always.

 3)The Two-Headed Snake– I like to think of these folks as the “divide and conquer” champions of the playground.  The “enemy of my enemy is my friend” tactic is at work here. Backstabbing is their game and they do it well.

 4)The Gatekeeper.  This one is my personal favorite when it comes to Congress.  If you can’t do something yourself, then keep someone else  from doing anything at all.  Obstruction, obstruction, and more obstruction.  Nothing gets done, and they like it that way.

 5. The Attention Seeker. The “grandstanders”! The speech makers that everyone starts to tune out are in it for themselves.  They love the attention, they love the press, they love to be noticed.  They’re the class clown with a mean streak, and the show off that no one likes. They don’t play well with others, because it’s all about them.

 6. The Wannabe.  These are the Hill dwellers who just aren’t very competent.  Knowing this,  they’ll make sure others look as clueless as they are.  It keeps the focus off their deficiencies.  If  little Johnny isn’t the best student in class, he’ll make sure little Susie and little Bobby look worse than he does.

 7. The Guru.   In their minds,  they are above all criticism and above reproach.  They may be experts, but in their minds, they’re the only experts.  Possible “teacher’s pet”.  This is the kid with their hand raised-all the time.

 8. The Sociopath.  This is the most dangerous type of bully, with no empathy, no loyalty, no bonds.  Like many sociopaths, they are master manipulators, and can be charming in getting to their goal, which is always to look out for themselves.   Period.

Does any of these sound  like some people we know up on The Hill?  And we want our children to stop bullying?

Ms. Collins asks in her excellent piece“”So, what do you think is wrong with these people?”  I would simply answer, see above.


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All Grown Up and Still Bullying at Work

June 19th, 2013

The 2010 Workplace Bullying Survey, courtesy Workplace Bullying Institute

“I think adults need to know they’re doing the same thing. It’s not just kids. There are adults that are out there bullying, and they need to be kind.”  Ellen DeGeneres

As a supporter of school bullying prevention programs for almost 15 years, I am encouraged.  More and more states have passed anti bullying laws,  more school systems have begun implementing programs, the reception of the documentary “Bully” has been overwhelming, and we’ve finally collectively decided that  the “kids will be kids” excuse isn’t working anymore.  As thirty percent of students in the United States are involved in bullying on a regular basis either as a victim, bully or both and over 13 million kids are suffering from bullying, the movement needed to happen, and it needs to continue.  Thankfully, as the “Bully” team went through the process of making the documentary, we found fierce advocates.  They came from everywhere.  Kids, parents, teachers, the media, celebrities, and Congress on both sides of the aisle stepped up and spoke out.

But, where are we when the mirror turns to us big kids?  I’ve found less support there, and it doesn’t surprise me.  It’s harder to turn the spotlight on ourselves.   A Huffington Post piece I did in October, 2012, called “Who Did You Bully today?”,  made the point  that until we stopped bullying each other, we won’t see the results we want to see from our kids.  I named multiple sectors of adults (including me) who bully, from the home (the first role models kids have, and the most important place to stem violence), to the workplace, to Congress, to cyberspace, and yes,  the constant, mind numbing barrage of reality shows.  A lot of these big boys and big girls in all of these places continue to not only not be kind, but to be brutal to each other on so many of our adult “playgrounds and school yards”.  I’ve written about the link between violence in the home and violence in school, and the data backs it up.  But, as the workplace, for us, is similar to our schoolyard, where we interact, socialize, work, play, learn, grow, and spend much of our waking hours,  I decided to check into that again and see just how we are doing.

It’s not good.  As you can see above, 35% report being bullied at some time in their work life, and another 15% witnessed it.   Putting the numbers together, WBI says, with a well place exclamation point, “An astonishing 54 million Americans directly experience it!”.  I get the exclamation.  That’s abysmal news.   The Waitt Institute for Violence Prevention actually co-sponsored the first national survey with WBI and Zogby in 2007, and those results were similar, and disheartening.

“Bully” explores the mental, physical, and emotional toll on the victims and their families.  It’s hard to watch Alex being brutalized, and the despair of the Longs and the Smalleys, who suffered the cruelest loss-the suicide of their children.  We don’t have a film like that to show damage from the workplace, but it’s there.  The late Tim Field, an early advocate of workplace bullying prevention, said, ” Nothing can prepare you for living or working with a sociopathic serial bully. It is the most devastating, draining, misunderstood, and ultimately futile experience imaginable.”.

Here’s a slice of what it looks like, according to WBI.  Is this happening to you, or someone in your workplace?

  • Verbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
  • Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done
  • Is driven by perpetrators’ need to control the targeted individual(s).
  • Is initiated by bullies who choose their targets, timing, location, and methods.
  • Requires consequences for the targeted individual
  • Escalates to involve others who side with the bully, either voluntarily or through coercion.
  • Undermines legitimate business interests when bullies’ personal agendas take precedence over work itself.
  • Is akin to domestic violence at work, where the abuser is on the payroll
  • Constant criticism
  • Mobbing or targeting by a group
It’s classic bullying, and looking at the list, eerily similar to what can happen to children.   The outcome looks similar to what children experience as well.  Here are the consequences to our bodies and our minds according to a WBI online survey in 2012. “The top 15 health problems from bullying, ranked from most to least frequent, were:Anticipation of next negative event; Overwhelming anxiety; Sleep disruption (hard to begin/too little); Loss of concentration or memory; Uncontrollable mood swings; States of agitation or anger; Pervasive sadness; Heart palpitations; Insomnia; High blood pressure (hypertension); Obsession over personal circumstances; Intrusive thoughts (flashbacks, nightmares); Loss of affect (flat emotional responses); Depression (diagnosed); Migraine headaches”
It’s real, it’s pervasive, and all of it needs attention, just as we’ve started attending to our kids.  I have hopes that the current school age generation may learn early what we adults haven’t.  I also have hopes that because of the anti school bullying and violence prevention movement, we can give today’s children the social and emotional tools to recognize bullying in themselves and in others.  But, if we continue to treat each other this way, wherever we interact as grown ups, can we continue then to expect more from our kids?  Let’s learn to model respect, kindness, and decency.  Kids watch us, they listen to us, and we can make a difference.  But, let’s look in the mirror first, and go from there .
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The Color Purple

October 16th, 2012

The color purple stands now for both domestic violence awareness and bullying and October is the month.

If the numbers we see in domestic violence were applied to terrorism or gang violence, the entire country would be up in arms,and it would be the lead story on the news every night.”– Rep. Mark Green

“Bullying is killing our kids. Being different is killing our kids and the kids who are bullying are dying inside. We have to save our kids whether they are bullied or they are bullying. They are all in pain.”  Cat Cora

Preventing violence is the most crucial work I will ever do in this lifetime.  Herman Wouk said once, “Either war is finished, or we are”.  I believe him.  We need to stop the wars we wage against each other every day, in the home, at work, and in school. Read the rest of this entry »

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