The “me too” campaign as both voice and trigger

When the New York Times broke the story that powerful Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has quietly settled numerous sexual harassment claims against him going back decades (per this article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey), it unleashed an ongoing storm of similar allegations against Weinstein and stories of the “casting couch” practices of the filmmaking industry. Not since the 1991 Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas centering on Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment has this topic been so prominently in the mainstream news.

And now the forces of social media are weighing in, especially with a meme/hashtag campaign of “me too,” whereby (mostly) women are posting these two words on Facebook and other sites to proclaim that they, too, have experienced sexual harassment and abuse. Scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed over the past couple of days has conveyed a powerful message about the frequency and pain of these behaviors.

For some, it hasn’t been a difficult decision to type in “me too” and click “post.” But for many, many others, the “me too” campaign has been a triggering event at the same time it has provided an opportunity to be heard, causing them to relive their own experiences, which in some cases have been deeply traumatic.

There’s more that I want to write about the Harvey Weinstein story, but because it’s still developing, I will wait a bit. For now, however, let’s acknowledge that for many women, the question of whether to post two simple words to their Facebook page or Twitter feed has triggered conflicting emotions about voice, outrage, abuse, and victimization. Their ultimate decision is not ours to judge, either way. But if we care about dignity and equality in the workplace and in society overall, then we must understand why so many are saying “me too.”

Workplace bullying and mobbing stories: “Do you have a few hours?”

…in about the time it takes to read this book

Countless public speaking appearances about workplace bullying have taught me that covering the essential basics about work abuse is doable in about 15 minutes or so. For many talks, I include a “Workplace Bullying 101” intro segment that quickly describes the most common bullying behaviors and their impacts on workers and organizations, as well as prevalence rates and a few other key pieces of information. As I go through this baseline description, I often see folks nodding their heads in recognition.

However, what I can’t do in the typical short presentation is adequately convey the twisted, sick, and utterly disturbing narratives of the worst individual bullying and mobbing experiences, where the abusive behavior has been ongoing, targeted, malicious, multidirectional, and often suggesting an absence of conscience on the part of the main perpetrator(s). In past blog posts, I have invoked terms to describe aspects of these behaviors — “crazy making,” “gaslighting,” “blitzkrieg,” “eliminationist,” and the like — but a standard entry of 300-750 words does not yield sufficient space to communicate the excruciating details of individual stories.

I have learned that some of the most compelling stories of work abuse often take hours to explain, even if the targeted individuals have been able to work through the resulting trauma so as to be able to share their experiences coherently. (See my 2016 blog entry, “Workplace bullying, psychological trauma, and the challenge of storytelling,” summarizing scientific research that explains why traumatized individuals may find it difficult or impossible to provide ordered narratives of their experiences.) You see, the complexities of certain bullying and mobbing situations often do not fit into neat, sequential, and linear start-to-finish storylines. There are digressions, subplots, and spin-offs along the way, and some of them are important toward comprehending the overall narrative. In fact, sometimes these little details provide the “OMG” moment of understanding the breadth and depth of the situation.

In trying to get to the essence of a story, many of us would prefer The Little Engine That Could over Moby Dick, at least if we’re stretched for time. I believe this is among the reasons why targets of bullying and mobbing who have committed their stories to paper have found that conventional book publishers are not very receptive to their work. Some have opted for the self-publishing route as an alternative. While these self-published narratives are uneven in quality, they are uniformly reflective of the writers’ courage in bringing them to publication.

Personally, I’m at a point where I’m not searching for more stories. Alas, the ones I’m closely familiar with have sufficiently informed my grasp on how virulent, heartless, and harmful these behaviors can be. I also realize that longer, detail-packed narratives of work abuse exceed the attention spans of most legislators, executives and managers, labor leaders, and other individuals who should be taking such mistreatment more seriously. That said, the true horror and destructiveness of severe bullying and mobbing at work cannot be known without absorbing the whole of individual stories. We have to find a better way to tell and share them.

Workplace bullying and mobbing: Abuse vs. conflict

image courtesy of clipartfest.com

As I wrote in my previous post, Dr. Maureen Duffy and I are doing a final review of our forthcoming two-volume book set, Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States (ABC-CLIO, 2018), scheduled for publication in December. The process of re-reading 25 chapters featuring the work of over two dozen contributors highlights recurring themes for me. Among others, I keep coming back to this question: In terms of negative workplace interactions, what factors distinguish “conflict” from “abuse”? 

You’ll find differences of opinion on this question among our learned contributors. For me, the distinction between workplace conflict and workplace abuse often boils down to two major factors, namely, (1) the intentions of the parties, and (2) the power relationships between the parties.

If a party’s main intention is to cause harm or distress to another (thus meeting a common legal definition of malice), then the situation is more likely to be an abusive one.

If the power relationships between the parties are significantly uneven due to some combination of internal hierarchy (e.g., supervisor vs. subordinate), numbers (e.g., many vs. one), personality matches (e.g., exploiting someone’s emotional vulnerabilities), and resources (organizational, financial, etc.), then the situation is more likely to be an abusive one.

If one side exhibits malicious intent and exercises a significant power advantage over the other, then the situation is very likely to be an abusive one. The combination of bad intentions and the ability to effectuate them can be overwhelming to the less-advantaged individual.

Here is where we find some of the sharper dividing lines between disrespect and incivility on one hand, and bullying and mobbing on the other. Of course, there are others, including repeated acts of aggression and the greater presence of serious health-harming effects with the latter.

If you’d like an illuminating comparison in terms of social relationships, consider spousal or domestic partnership relationships. It’s one thing for a couple not to get along, perhaps even to the point where the conflict has elevated to frequent disagreements and verbal and non-verbal aggression. It’s quite another for one party to continually subject the other to verbal and/or physical abuse in a one-sided show of aggression. (This illustration is among the reasons why I have long joined with others in believing that workplace bullying is more like domestic abuse than schoolyard bullying.)

Again, I’m simply sharing my thoughts on this topic as an ongoing response to reviewing the forthcoming book volumes. I’m sure that once these volumes are published, I’ll be drawing upon them frequently for more observations and insights.

Coming in December: “Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States”

Dear readers, Dr. Maureen Duffy and I are going through the final galley proofs of our forthcoming two-volume book set, Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States (ABC-CLIO, 2018), scheduled for publication in December!

With over two dozen contributors (including a Foreword by Dr. Gary Namie of the Workplace Bullying Institute) and some 600 pages packed into two volumes, we believe this will be an important, comprehensive contribution to the growing literature on workplace bullying and mobbing, useful for scholars and practitioners alike. The project deliberately takes a U.S. focus in order to take into account the unique aspects of American employment relations.

From the publisher’s webpage for the book, here’s a quick rundown of the highlights:

  • “The first comprehensive, multi-contributor book on workplace bullying and mobbing grounded in American employee relations”;
  • “An ideal starting place for anyone seeking to better understand the breadth and depth of research on workplace bullying and mobbing in the United States”;
  • “Features contributions from leading researchers and subject-matter experts on workplace bullying and mobbing, including some who are founding members of the U.S. Academy on Workplace Bullying, Mobbing, and Abuse”; and,
  • “Summarizes and analyzes leading research for scholars and researchers in industrial/organizational psychology, clinical and counseling psychology, organizational behavior and communications, business management, law, and public health”.

With a $131 publisher’s retail price, this book set is aimed at academicians and practitioners who want an encyclopedic treatment of this topic, as well as specialized and general libraries. 

We’ll be sharing more about the contents and our contributors during the weeks to come. In the meantime, we’re proud to reprint the following endorsements from valued colleagues:

Michael L. Perlin, Esq., Professor Emeritus of Law, New York Law School; Cofounder, Mental Disability Law and Policy Associates: “With each day that passes, the need for these volumes grows. This is a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary major work looking carefully at issues of workplace bullying and mobbing, asking hard questions, and offering a multifaceted agenda for interventions, law reform, and behavioral changes. It calls out for an infusion of much-needed dignity into our offices, factories, and universities. If only this were to be read in the White House. Bravo!”

Linda M. Hartling, PhD, Director, Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies: “Finally, a comprehensive, reader-friendly, research-based text examining the full spectrum of interpersonal cruelty that poisons productivity and creativity in the American workplace. This book is not only an essential resource for anyone who has experienced workplace bullying or mobbing, it is a vital guide for professionals at all levels seeking practical approaches to prevent, reduce, and reverse the risks of aggression in today’s hyper-competitive world of work.”

Loree Sutton, MD, US Army Ret. Brigadier General: “Bravo! In this two-volume book set, Maureen Duffy and David Yamada have provided a most timely and essential resource for policymakers, practitioners, advocates, employers, and workers seeking to advance and accelerate desperately needed changes affecting the health, wellbeing, civility, and productivity of American society. This pioneering work, representing the collective expertise of cutting-edge legal, employment, therapist, human resources, and public policy professionals, is destined to serve as the tipping point of our country’s awareness concerning the devastating impact of workplace bullying and mobbing. As importantly, the knowledge, insights, and strategies outlined in these volumes identify what each of us, inspired by the ‘fierce urgency of now,’ must do to create a workplace whose culture and contributions are imbued with dignity, pride, and respect for all.”

Suzanne L. Walker, MS, CCMHC, LCAS, LPC, American Mental Health Counselors’ Association (AMHCA) Current Past President: “As a seasoned mental health professional of 35 years providing clinical mental health and psychotherapy to scores of traumatized people, I never imagined that I would be ‘that person’: a victim of workplace bullying and discrimination for more than 13 months. My friends, family, and professional colleagues still have trouble understanding how workplace bullying could exist in the public sector despite scores of potential legal protections. This book is a critically needed, seminal piece of well-written and researched professional literature—long overdue and so desperately needed.”

Dr. Edith Eger’s “The Choice”: On trauma and healing

Over the weekend I made a quick trip to the Bay Area to participate in a conference organized by the Western Institute for Social Research, on whose board I serve. The focus of the conference was on trauma, recovery, and storytelling, and it packed a wallop of heart and wisdom. Among the many highlights was a keynote address by Dr. Edith Eva Eger, a Holocaust survivor, trauma therapist, and genuine international treasure.

“Dr. Edie,” as she is known, survived the Auschwitz and Mauthausen concentration camps as a teenage girl. In her new book, The Choice: Embrace the Possible (2017), she recounts the major events of her life, framed by her experiences during the war. She takes us through the many steps of her recovery and healing, and then to her work as a therapist helping others who have experienced significant trauma in their lives. Her keynote address was a mini-version of the stories shared at greater depth in The Choice.

I was so moved by Dr. Edie’s presentation that I read her book cover-to-cover during the long flight back from San Francisco to Boston. For anyone who is dealing with psychological trauma or otherwise wants to understand more about supporting those who are experiencing it, I cannot recommend this intelligent and deeply humane book too highly. I believe it will be very helpful to those who are recovering from bullying and mobbing at work. 

The Choice may remind some readers of Viktor Frankl’s classic, Man’s Search for Meaning, and with good reason. Frankl, too, survived Auschwitz and wrote about it. Moreover, as a leading therapist he would later befriend and mentor Dr. Edie. This friendship is warmly recounted in her book.

***

I had a chance to talk to Dr. Edie during Saturday’s conference events, and getting to know her was such a gift. During the evening session, I had the intimidating task of immediately following her moving and insightful keynote remarks with my presentation about workplace bullying and mobbing. I confessed my nervousness about comparing the eliminationist instinct that fueled the Holocaust to that manifesting itself on a much smaller scale in workplace abuse situations, especially in the presence of someone who had survived the horrors of Nazi concentration camps. When I finished, Dr. Edie applauded enthusiastically and gave me a nod of approval. Yup, her opinion of my presentation meant so much to me that I looked to her as soon as I was done. Sometimes, connections made during a mere day in someone’s presence can be so profound and good.

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? (Rowman & Littlefield, 2017) has now been published. I was honored to write the Foreword, and I’d like to draw on it for this post.

Understanding 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.

%d bloggers like this: