Lawyer, therapist, and mediator Bill Eddy, in an insightful piece on the concept of “splitting” within organizations, frames the practice in a work context:
Splitting is the tendency of those with [borderline and narcissistic personality] disorders to view others as all-good or all-bad. It’s an intensely emotional and defensive dynamic – and it can become highly contagious in the workplace, whether the person is a customer, employee, supervisor or even business owner.
Eddy describes splitting in work settings as a personal and hostile process that promotes extreme, all-or-nothing positions and “often involves projection,” i.e., tagging “others as being divisive and inappropriate in the ways that they are actually being divisive and inappropriate themselves.
All-good vs. all-bad thinking is hardly the province of those with borderline and narcissistic personality disorders, and I’m guessing that most of us have fallen prey to it on occasion.
But when this mode of thinking morphs into targeted and virulent action, the results can be destructive. They can range from defining entire occupational cultures — witness the malignant political discourse of Washington D.C. — to individual campaigns of workplace bullying designed to ostracize someone and drive her out of an organization and/or profession. In the latter category, they often include what I’ve called “puppet master” bullying and mobbing behaviors that attempt to turn the many against the targets and sometimes succeed.