Shelley Lane’s broad-ranging look at incivility

I’m delighted that Dr. Shelley Lane’s (U. Texas-Dallas) Understanding Everyday Incivility: Why Are They So Rude? (Rowan & Littlefield, 2017) has now been published. I was honored to write the Foreword, and I’d like to draw on it for this post.

Everyday Incivility is an informed, wide-ranging, and provocative examination of a topic that carries everyday significance. As Dr. Lane points out in the first chapter, this is not a volume about manners and etiquette. Rather, here we find civility and incivility observed and interpreted through the lens of a communications scholar and teacher who happens to be a thoughtful human being. The volume examines civility and incivility in multiple settings, including workplace tensions (naturally!), family disputes, road rage, online behavior, relationship issues, school dynamics, politics, community relations, and more — all framed by a communications perspective.

The book is neither a breezy self-help manual nor a heavy academic tome. Written in an accessible style, it is backed by research and insights that lift our overall grasp of the topic. It’s a humane and stimulating invitation for all of us to navigate this challenging world with more heart quality.

By the way, my original introduction to Shelley had nothing to do with workplace stuff! A few years ago I was researching online for memoirs of study-abroad experiences, and I discovered Shelley’s book recounting her junior year at the University of Stirling in Scotland. You can read the full story about how our paths crossed here!

Feedspot tags MTW a top workplace and bullying blog

Feedspot, a popular online content reader, has named Minding the Workplace a “Top 75 Workplace Blog” and a “Top 20 Bullying Blog.” MTW was listed 39th among the top 75 workplace blogs and websites and 9th among the top 20 bullying blogs and websites.

I’m very grateful to be included in both of these listings. This is my ninth year of writing this blog, and it remains one of the most rewarding parts of my work. Over the years I’ve received very positive feedback on many articles. I’m especially aware that MTW has helped many  targets of workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse to understand their experiences and, when possible, develop strategies for responding.

I didn’t know what to expect when I began this blog, but the experience has been very meaningful. Of course, it all starts and ends with you, my readers, and I thank you for your ongoing interest.

Two-headed snakes are rare — except at work!

Screenshot from Yahoo! News

Dear readers, I found myself chuckling over this recent Yahoo! news item, reporting on the discovery of a two-headed rattlesnake in Arkansas, and noting that such creatures are “very rare.” My immediate thought was, ummm, not in the workplace!!!

You see, when Drs. Gary and Ruth Namie began their pioneering investigations of workplace bullying many years ago, they set out a typology of on-the-job aggressors, and prominent among them was the “Two-Headed Snake.” Here’s how they describe the workplace variety in the current edition of The Bully at Work (2009):

Passive-aggressive, indirect, dishonest style of dealing with people and issues. Pretends to be nice while sabotaging you. “Friendliness” serves only to decrease resistance to giving information she may later use against you. Smile hides naked aggression. Assassinates reputation with higher-ups. Plays favorites. Satisfies need for control by managing the image of the Target in other people’s minds.

Sound familiar? I bet that many of you are nodding your heads in agreement.

The two-headed snake is often an expert at crazy making, gaslighting behaviors. Relational manipulation is what this type of abuser is all about. With such an individual, it can take forever to figure out what’s happening, and sometimes it’s too late to do anything about the toxic venom. As with the reptilian version, one should be very, very careful in dealing with this creature.

 

A Labor Day with too few union members

According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. labor union membership rate is rough half of what it was in 1983, when the government began keeping comparable data:

The union membership rate—the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of unions— was 10.7 percent in 2016, down 0.4 percentage point from 2015, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions, at 14.6 million in 2016, declined by 240,000 from 2015. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.

If we go back to the 1950s, we see that roughly one third of the American workforce was unionized.

During this stretch of time, giant wage and wealth gaps have opened up and the middle class has been giving way to economic extremes of the top 10-15 percent doing very well and so many others barely hanging on, if that. The accompanying dynamics include virulent, corporate-fueled on-the-floor and political opposition to organized labor. And let’s also acknowledge that too many unions don’t serve their members well and retain leaders who act like the worst CEOs.

The labor movement has been the most effective force in American history for raising wages and benefits to livable, sustainable levels and keeping them there. So long as the union membership rate continues its decline, I don’t have much hope for the fortunes of the average American worker. Hopefully people will wake up and realize that they’ve been sold a bad bill of goods over the past few decades and come to embrace what good unions do for our society.

Harvey brings out the best and worst in business practices

Hurricane Harvey is proving once again that large-scale disasters bring out the best and the worst in people, and that includes those who run local businesses.

A shining exemplar of the best side is Houston furniture store owner Jim McIngvale, known locally as “Mattress Mack.” As the seemingly endless sheets of rain started to flood Houston, Mattress Mack put out the word that those who needed shelter could come to one of his stores and have a warm, dry place to sleep. As Heidi Glenn and Daniella Cheslow reported for National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition”:

Houstonian Jim McIngvale, known as “Mattress Mack,” has turned his two furniture stores into temporary shelters for Tropical Storm Harvey evacuees.

As the city started to flood, he posted a video online with a simple message: Come on over. He gave out his personal phone number. And hundreds of people streamed in.

“We sell home theater furniture that you watch TV in, they’re sleeping on that. They’re sleeping on recliners, sleeping on sofas and love seats. We have sleeper sofas, they pulled them out and slept on that,” McIngvale tells NPR’s Morning Edition. “They’re sleeping on hundreds of mattresses throughout the store. They’re sleeping on the couches — wherever they can find a place that’s comfortable, and God bless ’em.”

One station sold gas for a whopping $20 a gallon. A hotel reportedly charged guests more than twice the normal rate. One business sold bottles of  water for a staggering $99 per case — more than 10 times some of the prices seen online.

As people in southeastern Texas face the devastating floodwater left by Hurricane Harvey, they are also grappling with predatory businesses that are selling basic necessities at astronomical prices. As of Wednesday morning, the state attorney general’s office had received 684 consumer complaints, a majority of which involved price-gouging of bottled water, fuel, groceries and other necessities.

I’m betting that we’ll be hearing more stories of kindness, sharing, and courage during the days, weeks, and months to come. Hopefully those accounts will inspire the best in others and overcome some of the less wonderful practices that exploit people during the most trying of times.

Westhues: Major clues signaling social elimination & mobbing at work

For anyone who wants to learn about the nitty-gritty dynamics of workplace mobbing, especially in academic institutions, sociologist Kenneth Westhues’s (U. Waterloo, Canada) invaluable, thought-provoking body of work is worthy of close study. One of Ken’s most important books is among his earliest, The Envy of Excellence (2004), a thorough case study of the mobbing and eventual dismissal of University of Toronto professor Herbert Richardson, a respected theologian and scholar. Clocking in at over 350 pages, with a 130 pp. appendix of responsive essays by other scholars, it is a bizarre, fascinating, and disturbing tale, and Ken uses it to theorize about and comment upon mobbing processes overall.

Among other things, Ken sets out basic clues for when “social elimination” is likely to occur where a targeted worker has given others a supposed reason to push them out. The first and primary clue is “the eliminators’ focus on the targeted person, rather than on the allegedly offensive act,” manifesting in “personally derisive and humiliating statements” about the target. At this juncture, “the eliminative impulse has been unleashed.”

Westhues adds ten additional clues suggesting that the eliminative process is underway:

  • “A popular, high-achieving target.”
  • “Lack of due process.”
  • “Odd timing.”
  • “Resistance to external review.”
  • “Secrecy.”
  • “Unanimity.” (on the part of the eliminators)
  • “Fuzzy charges.”
  • “Prior marginalization.”
  • “Impassioned rhetoric.”
  • “Back-biting.”

I bet that a lot of folks who have experienced or observed severe mobbing or bullying at work would nod their heads in agreement on many of these factors.

***

Note: Those wishing to obtain a copy of Westhues’s book may be able to find comparatively inexpensive pre-formal publication paperback copies under the title Administrative Mobbing at the University of Toronto.

Related posts

How bad organizations create outsiders

For many years I’ve used the term institutional construction of outsider status to describe how bad organizations turn internal critics into outsiders, even if they remain on the payroll. The critics are generally competent — perhaps even excellent — at their jobs, but to the dismay of their employers, they will say what’s on their minds, offer suggestions for improvement, and when necessary raise ethical or legal concerns.

For whatever reasons (legal, practical, etc.), the respective organizations do not rid themselves of these individuals, at least not immediately. However, at best the organizations sort of tolerate them, while finding ways to subtly and not-so-subtly marginalize them. Such responses may fall short of outright ostracism, hostility, or retaliation, but suffice it to say that targets of such marginalization will never be in the inner circle and will never be seriously considered for certain types of promotions. They may also begin to feel isolated, as the organization’s responses (or non-responses) to their criticisms can send cues to co-workers to stay away from them. The targets may well perceive what’s happening, but they often find that it’s not easy to challenge practices, behaviors, and decisions that are cloaked in foggy subjectivity. At times, targets will internalize their perceived isolation and further withdraw from certain types of organizational engagement.

I see this a lot in academic institutions, where protections of tenure and academic freedom are designed in part to safeguard faculty speech, thus making it harder to discipline or terminate professors for expressing themselves on matters related to institutional governance and scholarly work. Lacking the right to simply get rid of a critical tenured faculty member who is performing satisfactorily, the schools will find ways to tolerate and marginalize the individual. Of course, tenured professors should never assume that they are bulletproof from wrongful retaliation for their exercise of free speech, even though tenure does add a strong layer of protection.

Unions and collective bargaining agreements (CBA) can also provide employees with greater free speech protections than those enjoyed by the average American worker. The typical CBA stipulates that a covered employee may be terminated only for just cause, which is usually defined as failure to perform competently, material misconduct, or financial necessity. Labor laws also afford these workers with the right to engage in concerted activities for mutual aid or protection.

As welcomed as these protections may be for workers fortunate to have them, they can only do so much. As I suggested above, no one is truly bulletproof in today’s workplace. If one is employed at a not-so-great organization and decides to become a critic, at the very least they can expect to be marginalized and to face an opaque ceiling when it comes to advancement.

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