December 2004 > Golden Business Ideas
BY STANLEY ZAROWIN
Block the Workplace
But bullying in the workplace is a different story. Here the bully and the victims do not share goals, nor do they share personal needs.
While bullying can spring from fear of competition from a subordinate or the need for a scapegoat to cover incompetence, often its a kind of low-grade sadism . Theyd start on one person and then move on to someone else, Harvey A. Hornstein, a retired professor from Teachers College of Columbia University and author of Brutal Bosses and Their Prey, told the New York Times (June 22, 2004).
Surprisingly, victims of workplace bullying rarely file complaints against their bosses, which is one reason for the dearth of data on the subject.
Dr. Mark Levey, a psychotherapist and business consultant in Chicago, ascribes the low complaint rate to both fearthey know the high cost of going around a bully bossand the fact that bullying stirs up childhood conflicts and triggers reflexive submission and explosive rage in the victim. Once these defensive positions lock in, Levey says, its as if victims are transported to a different reality, can no longer see whats actually happening to them and cannot adapt.
Curiously, having a bully for a boss does not lower productivity. While the staff may loathe the manager, it seems to have little impact on performancewith one exception: Victims of bullies withhold the unpaid extras such as being courteous to clients and customers and helping coworkers.
When employees witness a boss dumping on a colleague, they often are relieved not to be the target, and some even may feel more competent by comparison. After all, worker ambition provides the bullys greatest support.
What can the victims of a bully boss do? Grousing is a healthy outlet; in fact, with a close-knit group, it even may provide the courage for individuals or the group to file complaints against the boss.
Hornstein says one way to manage bullies is to watch for patterns. They may be bad on Mondays, a little better on Fridays or kinder before lunch than after. Also, staff should ignore the bosss insulting tone and respond only to the substance of the complaint. Stick with the substance, not the process, he said, to keep things from escalating.
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Another risk: Not hiring a candidate who appears to be too goodone who may become your competitor.
STANLEY ZAROWIN, a former JofA senior editor, now is a contributing editor to the magazine. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .