In praise of thoughtful dissenters

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In a 1954 broadcast critical of red-baiting U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, celebrated journalist Edward R. Murrow urged upon his listeners that “We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.” Given today’s often poisonous political and social atmosphere, buttressed by bad leaders fueling these dynamics, Murrow’s words continue to ring very true.

And if you’re looking for some contemporary commentary about the importance of dissent in our institutions, workplaces, and civic life, then I’m pleased to recommend a new title by social psychologist Charlan Nemeth (UC-Berkeley), In Defense of Troublemakers: The Power of Dissent in Life and Business (2018). In her book, Dr. Nemeth poses a challenge to leaders and institutions that drive us toward consensus, without leaving room for thoughtful dissent and questioning. Here’s a description, drawn from her website:

Good decision making requires divergent thinking, an unbiased search for information on all sides of the issue, a consideration of multiple alternatives, the weighing of the cons as well as the pros of any given position etc. Regardless of good intentions or even education and training, we don’t do this. We are subject to biases and most social processes conspire to narrow the range of considerations. Consensus and the seeking of it are culprits, not because we follow the consensus right or wrong, but because we think about the issue from that perspective.

By contrast, dissent opens the mind and actually stimulates divergent thinking. It not only challenges and breaks the hold of the majority, it stimulates the information search and consideration of alternatives; it widens the strategies used in problem solving and increases the originality of thought. This is true even when the dissenter is wrong. It is true even when we vigorously dislike the dissenter and her ideas.

The take-home of this book is two-fold. There are perils in consensus and there is value in dissent.

Okay, I hear you: Isn’t reaching consensus a good thing? Don’t we all want to “get to ‘yes'”?, to paraphrase the title of a popular conflict resolution book. Obviously decisions have to be made, for in their absence, things can grind to a halt. Nemeth is not advocating for such outcomes or calling for people to be knee-jerk naysayers. Instead, she’s saying that when decisions result from weighing differences of opinion, the outcomes are often better.

There are lessons in this book for everyone. For example, when I’m in leadership roles or in the classroom, I can be welcoming of differing points of view. However, when I feel very strongly that I’m right, I can get impatient, especially when I perceive that other comments are not well reasoned. Nemeth understands that dissenting opinions — even ultimately erroneous ones — can slow down the process, but she urges their importance nevertheless.

Believe me, I’ve been in academic workplaces long enough to see the damage wrought by marginalizing and even squelching dissenting voices. Organizations that do not encourage genuine input often pay for their insularity. Sadly, their leaders rarely comprehend or admit those costs, instead preferring to bumble along with a top-down approach. Inclusive leadership, bolstered by the confidence to encourage thoughtful dissent, is the better way to go.

Workplace bullying and mobbing: Recommended book list

It’s time for an update. Back in 2011, I wrote up a list of 20 recommended books on workplace bullying and related topics. A lot of valuable work has appeared since then, and so I’ve revised and expanded the list to 30 books. Some books from the 2011 list do not appear here, but they will reappear in future lists.

A few explanations before we jump into the new listing:

  • First, this list emphasizes books that are primarily about workplace bullying, mobbing, and related behaviors, as well as the organizational cultures that fuel them. During the coming months, I’ll be sharing additional lists of recommended books, including those that focus on incivility at work and those that examine the dynamics of abusive behavior and trauma generally.
  • Second, I have not included several valuable books that look at bullying in specific occupational fields, such as education and health care. Those works, too, will be part of future lists.
  • Third, there is a strong U.S.-based focus here, with a healthy sprinkling of international perspectives. That said, important work on this subject continues to expand on a global scale, and I won’t even try to capture all of it here.
  • Finally, I have not covered the growing number of self-published titles on these topics, including first-person accounts of those who have experienced severe workplace mistreatment. There are important insights and stories in some of these works, but regrettably I have not been able to evaluate them for this list.

***

Andrea Adams, with Neil Crawford, Bullying at Work: How to confront and overcome it (1992) — A pioneering work by a BBC journalist whose investigations helped to launch the workplace anti-bullying movement.

Paul Babiak & Robert D. Hare, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work (2006) — Informative and gruesomely entertaining look at the very worst types of workplace abusers, by two leading experts in psychopathic behavior.

Judith Geneva Balcerzak, Workplace Bullying: Clinical and Organizational Perspectives (2015) — Written by a clinical social worker and published by the National Association of Social Workers, this book is helpful to anyone who wants to understand workplace bullying and is especially useful for those in the social work field.

Emily S. Bassman, Abuse in the Workplace: Management Remedies and Bottom Line Impact (1992) — Excellent examination of the organizational costs of emotional abuse at work.

Carroll M. Brodsky, The harassed worker (1976) — Perhaps the earliest book to document and analyze these behaviors, this out-of-print and hard to find volume is worthy of mention for serious researchers and scholars.

Carlo Caponecchia & Anne Wyatt, Preventing Workplace Bullying: An Evidence-Based Guide for Managers and Employees (2011) — Brisk overview with thought-provoking case studies, and applying research and analysis to practices and responses.

Duncan Chappell & Vittorio Di Martino, Violence at Work (3rd ed., 2006) — One of several treatments classifying bullying and mobbing under the rubric of workplace violence, this one published by the International Labour Office.

Ellen Pinkos Cobb, Workplace Bullying and Harassment: New Developments in International Law (2017) — A very handy and thorough global compilation and summary of laws and regulations pertaining to workplace bullying, mobbing, and harassment.

Lynne Curry, Beating the Workplace Bully: A Tactical Guide to Taking Charge (2016) — Authored by a management and human resources consultant who has experienced workplace bullying, this book takes a helpful, systematic, coaching-based approach for those who are dealing with bullying at work.

Teresa A. Daniel & Gary S. Metcalf, Stop Bullying at Work: Strategies and Tools for HR, Legal, & Risk Management Professionals (2nd ed., 2016) — An “inside the fish bowl,” management perspective on preventing and responding to workplace bullying, with valuable guidance for different levels of organizational leadership.

Noa Davenport, Ruth Distler Schwartz & Gail Pursell Elliott, Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace (2002) — An early, important work built around the European conceptualization of mobbing and the vitally important research of the late Heinz Leymann.

Maureen Duffy & David C. Yamada, eds., Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States (2018) — A two-volume, encyclopedic, multidisciplinary examination of workplace bullying and mobbing from an American perspective, featuring over two dozen contributors. As a co-editor and chapter contributor, I’m obviously biased in recommending this title, but I believe it’s very good. It’s also pricey, however, and thus most likely an investment for researchers, practitioners, and academic and professional libraries. You can learn more about it here.

Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry, Mobbing: Causes, Consequences, and Solutions (2012) — A thorough, scholarly examination of mobbing behaviors and dynamics and how to respond to them, co-authored by two leading authorities on the subject.

Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry, Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014) — For both a comprehensive examination of workplace mobbing and valuable guidance for individuals, employers, and other workplace stakeholders, this is the best one-volume treatment of the topic.

Stale Einarsen, Helge Hoel, Dieter Zapf & Cary L. Cooper, eds., Bullying and Harassment in the Workplace: Developments in Theory, Research, and Practice (2nd ed., 2011) — Second edition of the best one-volume, multidisciplinary, international collection of research and commentary on workplace bullying, with contributions from leading authorities. I contributed a chapter on international legal responses to workplace bullying. Note: A third edition of this volume is in the works.

Tim Field, Bully in Sight (1996) — One of the first works on workplace bullying by an early U.K. anti-bullying movement advocate, it remains an important commentary for serious students of this subject.

Suzi Fox & Paul E. Spector, eds., Counterproductive Work Behavior: Investigations of Actors and Targets (2005) — Very useful collection of chapter contributions that includes considerable research and commentary on bullying.

Marie-France Hirogoyen, Stalking the Soul: Emotional Abuse and the Erosion of Identity (English ed., 2004) — Important analysis of emotional abuse in private lives and in the workplace by a French psychiatrist and therapist.

Randy Hodson, Dignity at Work (2001) — Broad examination of dignity at work, including bullying behaviors, from a sociological perspective.

Harvey Hornstein, Brutal Bosses and Their Prey: How to Identify and Overcome Abuse in the Workplace (1996) — This work by a social psychologist examines bad boss behaviors, with especially relevant research findings and commentary about abusive supervision in the midst of difficult economic times.

Sheila M. Keegan, The Psychology of Fear in Organizations (2015) —  An important book by a British consultant and psychologist that links the experience of fear at work to organizational cultures, and suggests solutions for moving forward. Includes a chapter on workplace bullying.

Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, Adult Bullying: A Nasty Piece of Work (2013) — A leading researcher on workplace bullying and related topics has gathered her journal articles, many of which are co-authored with other experts, into a single volume helpful to both scholars and those dealing with bullying at their workplaces.

Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, The Bully at Work: What You Can Do to Stop the Hurt and Reclaim Your Dignity on the Job (2nd ed., 2009) — A seminal work by the individuals most responsible for introducing the concept of workplace bullying to a North American audience. It remains the most readable, accessible book for targets of workplace bullying. (Disclosure note: I have worked with the Namies and their Workplace Bullying Institute on a pro bono basis for almost two decades, and my work is discussed in this book.)

Gary Namie & Ruth F. Namie, The Bully-Free Workplace (2011) — The Namies’ step-by-step program for employers that want to pro-actively address workplace bullying, drawing upon many years of research and consulting.

Charlotte Rayner, Helge Hoel & Cary L. Cooper, Workplace Bullying: What we know, who is to blame, and what can we do? (2002) — An early, foundational book by three leading authorities on bullying and stress at work.

Peter Schnall, Marnie Dobson & Ellen Rosskam, eds., Unhealthy Work: Causes, Consequences, Cures (2009) — Occupational health experts analyze the psychosocial aspects of work, public health impacts, and possible stakeholder responses.

Robert I. Sutton, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t (2007) — While the title alone guaranteed this book a fair amount of attention, its discussion of bullying and incivility at work is noteworthy in its own right.

Noreen Tehrani, ed., Workplace Bullying: Symptoms and Solutions (2012) — A thought-provoking collection of chapter contributions from an international group of scholars and practitioners, with an emphasis on European perspectives.

Kenneth Westhues, The Envy of Excellence: Administrative Mobbing of High Achieving Professors (2006) — Centers around a thorough case study of how a well-known theologian was mobbed out of his teaching position, full of insights about individual and organizational behaviors in mobbing situations. This is part of an excellent series of books on academic and professional mobbing by Westhues. (Disclosure note: My work is discussed and critiqued in this book, and I contributed an invited responsive essay to a followup volume.)

Judith Wyatt & Chauncey Hare, Work Abuse: How to Recognize and Survive It (1997) — One of the earliest books about psychological abuse at work, this is an important piece of the literature.

On organizations, evil, and the seeds of mobbing: Ray Russell’s “The Case Against Satan”

In Ray Russell’s 1962 novel The Case Against Satan, we have a normally sweet and well-behaved teenaged girl named Susan Garth now acting in frightening and bizarre ways. Catholic Bishop Conrad Crimmings concludes that she may be demonically possessed, and he recruits the local parish priest, Gregory Sargent, to help perform an exorcism. Russell tells this chilling tale in under 140 pages, with almost all of the activity occurring within the rectory and adjoining rooms of the church.

Of course, if you’re familiar with late 20th century American pop culture, then you may be thinking that The Case Against Satan is a mere warm-up to William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, which gained fame first as a bestselling book (1971) and later as a blockbuster motion picture (1973).

But believe me, The Case Against Satan has more substance. I won’t give too much away, but in addition to being a darn good horror story, it goes as deep as a short novel can get into matters such as the culture and history of the Catholic Church, the nature of evil, and how community-based mobbing campaigns start. I picked up it because I was looking for a good, scary read that wouldn’t exceed my currently all-too-short attention span. I got something much more, including storylines that spoke to my work with surprising resonance.

 

Jonathan Karmel’s “Dying to Work”

“There are no accidents.” That’s a main theme of Jonathan D. Karmel’s Dying to Work: Death and Injury in the American Workplace (2017). Karmel, a Chicago-based labor lawyer, talked about his book at a Thursday event organized by the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health (MassCOSH) and hosted by the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

Karmel was referring to his observation that most serious workplace injuries and fatalities are not the result of “accidents,” assuming we define them as random, chance events. Rather, they’re the result of negligent or deliberate actions that undermine worker safety and health.

Dying to Work contains plenty of basic facts and statistics about work-related injuries and deaths, as well as a thorough history of workplace safety and health legislation in the United States. The heart of the book, however, is a series of stories of workers and how they were seriously injured or died on the job. 

Paul King

At Thursday’s event in Boston, Karmel focused on the story of Paul King, a husband and father of three children who lived in Massachusetts. Paul had worked in the printing industry for many years until his company closed its doors, a casualty of the digital revolution. He eventually enrolled in a technical school, and in 2005, he was hired by a contractor, MainTech, that did maintenance work at Logan International Airport.

Some two months after starting his new job with MainTech, Paul was sent to the roof of a Logan terminal to work on some wiring. A co-worker on the ground made repeated attempts to call him, with no response. Minutes later, Paul was found on the ground with burns on his hands, face, and shoulder. Efforts to save him failed. It was later determined that he was electrocuted after coming in contact with a live electrical box. After a subsequent investigation, MainTech was cited for eight “serious” violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act, covering a failure to provide training and safety equipment, and fined all of $54,000.

Melissa King, Paul’s daughter and now a MassCOSH activist, also spoke at the program and was joined by members of the King family. The pain of losing Paul remains very palpable, yet they have channeled their grief into advocacy for stronger workplace safety protections.

More stories

Dying to Work is filled with these accounts, for Karmel smartly understood that a book filled mostly with dry facts and figures would not convey the human impacts of these injuries and losses. In the midst of a busy law practice, he traveled around the country to talk to injured workers and surviving family members in many different occupations, including store clerks, hotel housekeepers, miners, nurses, grain handlers, and others.

In rendering his assessment, Karmel ultimately concluded that “all of these deaths and injuries were preventable,” and he urges us to understand that these stories are “a tip of the proverbial iceberg” in terms of the deadly hazards that workers face across the country. He hopes that Dying to Work will contribute to a dialogue about how to prevent these deadly events from occurring, and I believe he is succeeding at that.

 

Networks vs. hierarchies

Historian Niall Ferguson has written a very interesting book for anyone interested in the intersections of power, institutional hierarchies, and social networks. It’s titled The Square and the Tower: Networks, Hierarchies, and the Struggle for Global Power (2018). Here’s a snippet from the publisher’s description:

Most history is hierarchical: it’s about popes, presidents, and prime ministers. But what if that’s simply because they create the historical archives? What if we are missing equally powerful but less visible networks – leaving them to the conspiracy theorists, with their dreams of all-powerful Illuminati?

The twenty-first century has been hailed as the Networked Age. But in The Square and the Tower Niall Ferguson argues that social networks are nothing new. From the printers and preachers who made the Reformation to the freemasons who led the American Revolution, it was the networkers who disrupted the old order of popes and kings. Far from being novel, our era is the Second Networked Age, with the computer in the role of the printing press. Once we understand this, both the past, and the future, start to look very different indeed.

I’ve spent some time with this book, and although its focus is on the grander sweep of history, it’s a thoughtful and provocative read for anyone who wants to contemplate the hierarchy vs. network dichotomy generally.

In fact, the book’s main theme may have special significance for those of us in “underdog” roles with the ideas and causes we’re advocating for, in a world where political, economic, and social power can feel so stubbornly concentrated. In essence, The Square and the Tower invites us to think about how we can use our horizontal networks to overcome entrenched hierarchies. It’s not easy, but it can happen, and access to digital communications can help us do it. Technology is not a panacea, but it can be an accessible and relatively affordable connector, not to mention a welcomed complement to face-to-face communications.

Of course we shouldn’t err in assuming that all networks are good and all hierarchies are bad. Structures can be created and activated for positive and nefarious purposes alike; human motivations and actions give them their meaning.

This theme is but one element of the much larger conversation of how we can change an increasingly plutocratic society, with its enormous hierarchies of wealth and power. Nevertheless, it puts some historical “oomph” behind the notion that networks matter and can impact change.

Our primary purpose behind “Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States”

Volumes 1 and 2 are published!!!

Waiting for me in my office today was a box containing authors’ courtesy copies of the newly-published, two-volume book set that Dr. Maureen Duffy and I co-edited, Workplace Bullying and Mobbing in the United States (Praeger/ABC-CLIO, 2018). This was the first time that I’d held the actual printed volumes in my hands, and I have to say it was a happy and proud moment.

This is, after all, the culmination of a lot of work with a superb co-editor who invited me to join her in this endeavor and a very talented and smart group of contributors. The project reflected our deep and ongoing commitment to research and public education about workplace abuse. In fact, I would like to draw from our Preface to share our primary purpose behind the project:

Our primary purpose in developing this book set was to bring together important research and thinking about workplace bullying and mobbing from leading and emerging American researchers, theorists, and practitioners and to present that work in a comprehensive and systematic way. (For a chapter on applications from neuroscience, we did go half-way around the world to Australia to find the relevant expertise.) We assure our readers, especially those from outside the United States, that we were not being provincial or ethnocentric in choosing this focus. Rather, we understood that the employment context in the United States is very different from that in European nations, Australia, and Canada—countries that have produced so much foundational, high-quality research, scholarship, and commentary about workplace bullying and mobbing. For better and for worse, these American differences cover the major employment sectors (private, public, and nonprofit); systems of employee relations; and mechanisms for resolving legal and labor disputes.

In the context of this American focus, we perceived a need for an encyclopedic treatment of workplace bullying and mobbing that embraces multidisciplinary and multifaceted examination and analysis. We intended these volumes to be theoretically inclusive and to present a range of policy, practice, and research perspectives. We also wanted to showcase the accumulated wisdom of practitioners in the area of workplace bullying and mobbing so that readers would be able to juxtapose practitioner understandings and perspectives with those of researchers and scholars. In so doing, we tried to stay true to the most robust and comprehensive interpretation of evidence-based practice, namely, reliance on a combination of research and practice evidence with stakeholder values, priorities, and preferences.

We believe that the books will serve a variety of important uses for our readers. As we further stated in our Preface:

We hope that these volumes will be useful in different ways, depending on the individual reader’s needs. For some, this material will yield specific research summaries or potential good practices. For others, single chapters or groups of chapters will be worth cover-to-cover reads to obtain topical overviews. For those who want a comprehensive overview of workplace bullying and mobbing, a full reading of both volumes will provide a useful, comprehensive starting point. In any event, we trust that engaging with these volumes will be time well spent.

The book set includes 25 chapters written by over two dozen contributors, with some 600 pages packed into two volumes. You can use the “Look Inside” feature on the Amazon page to read the table of contents, Foreword, Preface, and first chapter. I also provided details about the book set in a January blog post.

With a $131 publisher’s retail price (e-book versions cost about 20 percent less), the volumes are aimed at researchers and practitioners who want an encyclopedic treatment of this topic, as well as specialized and general libraries. Most of the chapters are accessible to a general audience as well, and thus will be informative for individuals who simply want to learn more about the overall topic.

Reissued for 2018: Robin Stern’s “The Gaslight Effect”

Dr. Robin Stern’s The Gaslight Effect: How to Spot and Survive the Hidden Manipulation Others Use to Control Your Life, first published in 2007, has just been reissued in paperback for 2018 with a new Introduction. Especially for those interested in more manipulative forms of workplace bullying and abuse, this is a very useful and important book.

Dr. Stern defines gaslighting as:

a type of emotional manipulation in which a gaslighter tries to convince you that you’re misremembering, misunderstanding, or misinterpreting your own behavior or motivations, thus creating doubt in your mind that leaves you vulnerable and confused. Gaslighters might be men or women, spouses or lovers, bosses or colleagues, parents or siblings, but what they all have in common is their ability to make you question your own perceptions of reality.

According to Stern, gaslighting is a “mutually created relationship” involving a gaslighter who wants “the gaslightee to doubt her perceptions of reality,” and a gaslightee who is “equally intent on getting the gaslighter to see her as she wished to be seen.”

For those who are new to the term, gaslighting draws its inspiration from a 1944 film, “Gaslight,” in which a husband is trying to drive his wife insane, including the periodic dimming of gaslights in a house where her aunt was murdered years before.

Stern has played a major role in popularizing the concept of gaslighting, with her main focus being on such behaviors in interpersonal relationships, especially as experienced by women. This emphasis remains in the re-issued edition, but the new Introduction explains how gaslighting is now being applied to additional scenarios, including bullying. In fact, I was flattered to read a reference to this blog:

Meanwhile, an increasing number of blogs linked gaslighting to bullying, both in personal relationships and at work. “Is gaslighting a gendered form of workplace bullying?” asked David Yamada on his blog, Minding the Workplace, while numerous dating and self-help blogs talked about the importance of identifying and standing up to your gaslighter. 

I’m happy to recommend The Gaslight Effect. In addition, you can check out past blog posts about gaslighting at work and in society:

Gaslighting at work (2017)

Inauguration Week special: “Gaslighting” goes mainstream (2017)

Is gaslighting a gendered form of workplace bullying? (2013)

Gaslighting as a workplace bullying tactic (2012)

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