A short list of recommended books for targets of workplace bullying and mobbing

When someone is experiencing workplace bullying or mobbing, understanding what’s happening and assessing options are vitally important towards finding a way to a better place. There are many helpful resources available to targets of work abuse, such as those mentioned on the Need Help? page of this blog and my recently updated list of recommended books on workplace bullying and mobbing. However, the volume of resources may seem overwhelming, so I thought I’d offer a very selective list of four affordable books that I am repeatedly recommend to others.

Let’s start with Gary Namie & Ruth Namie, The Bully at Work (2d ed. 2009). This is the bestselling book on dealing with workplace bullying situations, and for good reason. Gary and Ruth are co-founders of the Workplace Bullying Institute and pioneers of the U.S. workplace anti-bullying movement. They were the first North American subject-matter experts to conceptualize the dynamics of workplace bullying and to communicate their knowledge to the general public. Their work is foundational, and the insights and supportive advice in this book are invaluable. For so many people, this book helped them understand the abuse they were experiencing at work.

Next is Maureen Duffy & Len Sperry, Overcoming Mobbing: A Recovery Guide for Workplace Aggression and Bullying (2014). It’s safe to say that with this volume, Maureen and Len established themselves as the preeminent authorities on workplace mobbing. This book is a bit more academic in tone than The Bully at Work, but it is written in accessible prose and with a very supportive voice. It is also deeply insightful in grasping the dynamics of mobbing behaviors. This book, too, has provided many “light bulb” moments of understanding for people experiencing abuse at work.

Psychological trauma is one of the most frequent impacts of severe bullying and mobbing at work. To understand trauma and possibilities for treating it, Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2014), is strongly recommended. This is a brilliant, in-depth, and accessible look at the nature of psychological trauma and potential treatment options, authored by one of the leading authorities. Suffice it to say that I have given away a good half dozen copies of this book to others.

Finally, there’s William Bridges, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (2004). Severe workplace bullying or mobbing is a life-changing experience, and for many, it involves leaving their job and place of employment. It can have long-term effects on careers and livelihoods. In sum, it involves transitions. And while these life changes can be terribly difficult, they’re better than being stuck in place. Hence, I strongly recommend Bridges’s excellent book as a guide for forging and comprehending that path.

Boston Globe: Two important features on workplace bullying

Over the weekend, the Boston Globe published two lengthy features on workplace bullying. Both are detailed and compelling and worthy of our close attention.

Bullied in the state prison system

The Globe‘s Jenna Russell goes in depth on the story of former corrections officer Marycatherin DeFazio, who suffered years of savage bullying and sexual harassment while working for the Massachusetts state prison system. It is a terrible account of repeated verbal battering, sexual vulgarities, defamatory rumor-mongering, physical assault, and abandonment by co-workers that left her at severe risk of harm. DeFazio’s reports of the abuse to prison officials made no difference.

Like so many stories of severe, ongoing bullying and abuse at work, this one cannot be easily summarized. Russell does a superb job of explaining the personal and organizational dynamics, sharing plenty of nuances that are part of many bullying situations. She also makes brief mention of efforts to enact the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill here in Massachusetts. You can read the entire story here; registration may be necessary.

Bullied in the process of becoming a doctor

Dr. Amitha Kalaichandran, a Canadian resident physician and medical journalist, provides an in-depth look at bullying and mobbing behaviors at the residency stage of medical training:

THERE’S NO QUESTION that bullying is endemic in medical education. One study revealed that about half of residents and fellows in the U.S. reported being bullied, most often by their attending physicians. Canadian researchers found that 78 percent of residents surveyed reported being bullied and harassed in their training, often by attendings or program directors. 

The mistreatment can be so severe that suicides of residents have been associated with it. And if the abuse alone isn’t bad enough, consider that it also negatively affects patient care.

This piece, too, is hard to capture in a few snippets and thus merits a full read. You can read it in full here; again, registration may be necessary.

Some background

In December 2017, the Globe became probably the first major newspaper in the U.S. to put a feature about workplace bullying on its front page, when it ran Beth Teitell’s excellent overview of workplace bullying and its impact on workers and workplaces.

This weekend’s coverage took the focus into a deeper level of understanding. I have to say that I hopefully anticipated both features. I provided background information to both Russell and  Kalaichandran as they were preparing their articles, and I could tell that they “got it” in terms of grasping the complexities of bullying, mobbing, and related behaviors at work. This was borne out by the quality of their published pieces.

We need more media coverage of this caliber in order to expand public education of the human carnage wrought by bullying, mobbing, and abuse in the workplace. Hat’s off to the Globe for providing two excellent examples this weekend.

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Workplace bullying, DARVO, and aggressors claiming victim status

One of the more popular posts on this blog is a 2013 piece about how some workplace bullies try to claim victim status:

We’ve seen it countless times: Workplace bullies claiming to be the victims of workplace bullying. And the smartest aggressors often are experts at doing this.

There is no foolproof method to prevent bullies from alleging victim status, but at the very least we don’t want to help them make their case.

I referred to this as a “judo flip” of sorts that targets of workplace bullying should be wary of and strive to avoid.

I’ve been thinking about that post because twice during the past week, I’ve had people ask me whether the term “DARVO” may apply to workplace bullying situations. DARVO, as explained by psychology professor Jennifer Freyd (U. Oregon) on her very informative webpage (link here):

…refers to a reaction perpetrators of wrong doing, particularly sexual offenders, may display in response to being held accountable for their behavior. DARVO stands for “Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender.” The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim — or the whistle blower — into an alleged offender. This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of “falsely accused” and attacks the accuser’s credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation.

Institutional DARVO occurs when the DARVO is committed by an institution (or with institutional complicity) as when police charge rape victims with lying. Institutional DARVO is a pernicious form of institutional betrayal.

Although I was vaguely familiar with DARVO from discussions about sexual and domestic abuse, I hadn’t associated it with workplace bullying. But it certainly fits: Deny, Attack, and Reverse Victim and Offender is exactly what happens when workplace bullies paint themselves as victims rather than as abusers. I replied to these inquirers that I believe we’re talking about similar if not identical dynamics of abusers claiming to be victimized by false accusations of wrongdoing.

Indeed, DARVO can be an especially devastating tactic for workplace bullies who enjoy superior status over the target and thus are often in a stronger position to recruit allies and supporters among senior managers and executives. Before the targets know what has happened, the tables have been turned on them, and they are left to defend themselves in a way that only reinforces the original mistreatment.

Workplace bullying and incivility: Does kissing up fuel kicking down?

Does kissing up to the boss make one more susceptible to kicking down subordinate workers? At least one study suggests that there may be an association between the two.

Science Daily reports on a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology:

Kissing up to the boss at work may help boost employees’ careers but it also depletes the employees’ self-control resources, leaving them more susceptible to behaving badly in the workplace, a new study has found.

“There’s a personal cost to ingratiating yourself with your boss,” said Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management in the College of Business at Oregon State University and the lead author of the paper. “When your energy is depleted, it may nudge you into slack-off territory.”

. . . Klotz [and his] co-authors examined how 75 professionals in China used two supervisor-focused impression management tactics — ingratiation and self-promotion — over two work weeks.

Ingratiation, or kissing up, generally includes flattery, conforming with the supervisor’s opinion and doing favors. Self-promotion refers to taking credit for success, boasting about performance and highlighting connections to other important people.

. . . The researchers found that the extent to which employees engaged in ingratiation varied widely from day to day. They also found that the more employees engaged in kissing up, the more their self-control resources were depleted by the end of the day.

. . . The depleted employees were more likely to engage in workplace deviance such as incivility to a co-worker, skipping a meeting or surfing the internet rather than working.

In sum, study suggests that workplace incivility may result from the energy depletion of kissing up to a boss. In other words, the process of brown nosing up the chain may be so emotionally exhausting that there’s not much energy left for treating other workers with a baseline of civility.

A different take

This is a different take from how the term kiss up, kick down has evolved in the context of workplace bullying. Here, kicking down is part of an integrated strategy, rather than a consequence of emotional depletion. As the Wikipedia entry on kiss up, kick down states:

The workplace bully is often expert at knowing how to work the system. They can spout all the current management buzzwords about supportive management but basically use it as a cover. By keeping their abusive behavior hidden, any charges made by individuals about his or her bullying will always come down to your word against the bully’s. They may have a kiss up kick down personality, wherein they are always highly cooperative, respectful, and caring when talking to upper management but the opposite when it comes to their relationship with those whom they supervise.Bullies tend to ingratiate themselves to their bosses while intimidating subordinates. The bully may be socially popular with others in management, including those who will determine the bully’s fate. Often, a workplace bully will have mastered kiss up kick down tactics that hide their abusive side from superiors who review their performance. [footnotes omitted]

Not everyone who kisses up to a boss is a workplace bully. And we shouldn’t conflate lesser forms of incivility with bullying and mobbing behaviors. Nevertheless, kiss up, kick down bullies are iconic figures among those who study work abuse. These individuals are not simple brown nosers. Rather, kissing up is a job security tactic in the event that subordinates try to hold them accountable for their behaviors.

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Hat tip to the Society for Occupational Health Psychology for this article.

WBI video seminar for targets of workplace bullying

An ongoing challenge for the workplace anti-bullying movement is providing useful information and guidance for those who have been targets of this form of interpersonal abuse. Although we have made great strides in terms of public education on workplace bullying, mobbing, and related behaviors, the helping modalities for targets have yet to catch up with our general understanding of this destructive phenomenon. Among other things, awareness of work abuse still lags behind within the mental health treatment and coaching professions. While many therapists, counselors, and coaches readily understand, say, the health-impairing effects of domestic abuse or sexual harassment, they do not necessarily grasp how workplace bullying is a very similar form of mistreatment.

This is among the reasons why I am happy to recommend a new video seminar, “Workplace Bullying Action Plan and Tutorial,” by Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI). I have been affiliated with WBI on a pro bono basis dating back to the late 1990s, and I have been witness to the birth of their many publications, materials, and services. In terms of multimedia materials, this is easily the “beefiest” of their offerings for bullying targets.

This deeply informative and helpful video seminar goes into the details:

  • It explains the dynamics of workplace bullying, the impacts on those who are targeted (and others), and the neuroscience of bullying behaviors.
  • It provides practical guidance and advice for bullying targets who are assessing their options and developing a plan for response and recovery.
  • It also ties individual experiences to the broader experience of workplace abuse and the work of the workplace anti-bullying movement.

As a graduate of WBI’s intensive, three-day Workplace Bullying University on-site training and education course, I recognized a lot of content from the course in the video. In fact, one could say that it’s a boiled-down version of that course, with information curated specially for targeted workers and their families.

You may go here for a full description of the Workplace Bullying Action Plan and Tutorial and ordering information.

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For more resources for targets of workplace bullying, mobbing, and abuse, please the Need Help? page of this blog.

That extra little twist of the knife: One difference between abrasive vs. abusive bosses

(image courtesy of Clipart Panda)

What are the differences between an abrasive boss and an abusive one?

The abrasive boss can be hard to work for and make work life unpleasant.

The abusive boss can be intentionally cruel and make work life intolerable.

I associate the abrasive boss more with workplace incivility. Oftentimes this person just doesn’t know how to play well with others in the sandbox.

I associate the abusive boss more with workplace bullying and mobbing. This individual knows how to play well with others, but in some (perhaps many) instances identifies certain people for targeted mistreatment.

The twist

There are behavioral characteristics that distinguish the abrasive boss from the abusive one. One that I’ve become more aware of over the years is that the abusive boss not only sticks the knife in, so to speak, but also often gives it an extra twist. It could be a few well-chosen words in a conversation or an e-mail, designed to push someone’s buttons in an unsettling way. Or maybe it’s a very brief, totally untrue, but devastatingly effective putdown that blackballs a job candidate behind their back.

Just one little twist of the verbal knife can do a lot of damage. Unfortunately, I’m sure that varieties of this twist abound.

Related posts

Workplace bullying, blackballing, and the eliminationist instinct (2015)

The bullied and the button pushers (2014)

Workplace bullying, worker dignity, and therapeutic jurisprudence: Finding my center of gravity, Part I

The process of retrospection may sometimes yield soggy nostalgia, confusion, or even regret. On other occasions, it delivers a surprising dose of clarity. I experienced a big chunk of the latter, when — and apologies for the cliché — a random trip down memory lane reminded me of the origins of, and connectivity between, so much of the work I’m doing now. I forewarn readers that I’m going to use this post to ponder about this and meander a bit.

Recently I retrieved from my bookshelves Mark Satin‘s Radical Middle: The Politics We Need Now (2004). Mark is a political author, lawyer, and one-time 60s anti-war and left activist whose writings evolved to a place that he called the “radical middle.” I bore witness to a piece of his political transition. From 1984 to 1992, Mark wrote and published an independent, left leaning but “post-liberal” political newsletter titled New Options. I was among his subscribers, and I found it to be a thought-provoking publication.

However, at 46, and after many years of writing and editing New Options, Mark sought to have a greater impact within the mainstream. He figured that law school would give him some insights on how the worlds of law, policy, and commerce operated, so he set his sights on obtaining a legal education and earning a law degree.

This is how paths can cross in person: In the fall of 1992, I was starting my second year as an instructor in the first-year legal skills program at New York University School of Law, my legal alma mater. I looked at my class list and saw the name “Mark Satin” on it, and I soon confirmed he was the very person whose newsletter I had read. This connection led to many conversations about legal education, politics, and the future of the country.

During his second year at NYU, Mark asked me to supervise an independent study project that he had been contemplating for some time. Always attentive to emerging social and political trends, he wanted to write about the growing confluence between law and psychology. He envisioned putting together a broad-ranging paper that surveyed and analyzed law and psychology linkages in many different aspects of legal thought and practice. I agreed to oversee the paper despite that I only a mild curiosity in the topic that Mark had described. I saw law & policy through a primarily political lens, and while I didn’t disregard the role of psychology informing legal doctrine and practice, it wasn’t a front and center perspective for me.

With characteristic determination, Mark dove into his research project, and eventually producing a law review article, “Law and Psychology: A Movement Whose Time Has Come,” published by the Annual Survey of American Law, one of NYU’s student-edited law reviews. (Unfortunately, there is no open online access to this article.)

After graduating from law school, Mark did go mainstream, at least for a short while! For several years he became a commercial lawyer, working for a New York law firm. But the writing/newsletter/policy wonk side of him couldn’t be suppressed for long. Furthermore, Mark’s political worldview was evolving in a direction that he would call the “radical middle.” And so in the late 90s he launched what would become the Radical Middle Newsletter, which he would write and publish from 1999 to 2009. (You may access the newsletter archives here.) He would also author his book, Radical Middle, which was published in 2004.

Although my own political outlook was somewhat to the left of Mark’s, I agreed to join his first board of directors and then later would slide over to his advisory board. During this time, Mark started writing about stuff that I was discovering independently. You see, my work on workplace bullying and dignity at work was drawing me to the law and psychology perspective that he had championed in his law review article. Among other things, Mark wrote feature articles for Radical Middle discussing therapeutic jurisprudence (here), “rankism” and human dignity (here), and workplace bullying (here).

In one of his last Radical Middle pieces (here), he highlighted my 2009 law review article, “Human Dignity and American Employment Law:

At the risk of sounding immodest, I think my article (pictured at the top) still holds up well. It remains the best articulation of my beliefs of what our system of regulating the workplace and resolving employment disputes should look like. (You may download it without charge, here.)

My political center of gravity is still more left than center, and in many ways I’m an old-fashioned liberal. (Indeed, it makes sense that for many years, I’ve been on the board of Americans for Democratic Action, an old-fashioned liberal advocacy organization.)

But these deep themes of psychology, human dignity, and societal & individual well-being now frame my outlook on the making, implementation, and practice of law and public policy. Furthermore, the overlaps between Mark Satin’s “radical middle” and my back-in-the-day brand of liberalism appear to be many, at least if my other affiliations with the workplace anti-bullying movement, therapeutic jurisprudence movement, and human dignity movement are any indication. Perhaps this also means that while political labels matter at times, maybe the distinctions between them aren’t as sharp as we sometimes imagine them to be, at least at their respective margins. 

To be continued…..

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