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.