Ben Kimmel reflects on understanding the normalised bullying in the workplace. This was first published on his site.
Bullying is an attempt of ownership. This is more than a theft of services. Bullying is an attempt to own you, to claim you, to try and keep you and push you down so this way, you will always be beneath or subordinate
It has been a long time since I’ve been on the playground in McVey Elementary School. The memories of playground dominance and the rules of interaction have changed. This is more about position now. This is more about who’s the boss, who makes the decisions, and whom-so-ever should dare go against this; nowadays, the bullies are much different than say, a kid named The Gooch in sixth grade.
Dominance is more corporate and political now. People are afraid of social and professional cancellation. This is more about control. Whereas it used to be wedgies in the locker room or some kid knocking the books from your arm in the hallways; these days, bullying is positional and often financial. “You hit’em in the pocket,” is something I’ve heard. “If they don’t listen, take away their ability to earn or be listened to and suddenly, watch, they’ll turn around!” By the way, both are real quotes from corporate bullies.
The mob mentality is still the same. Acceptance is still acceptance and unfortunately, there are people who are far more concerned with being at the cool table than being kind to the others in their corporate org chart.
There are people who are far too concerned with bringing their report card home. They are concerned about approval. They mind their grades and seek acceptance from the upper tiers of management.
And where does this come from? I’ll tell you where.
The rush to belong is a trained behavior that dates back to when we were kids in pre-school. Who has the best toys? Who has the cooler things? Who is the prettiest? Who is the coolest or strongest? Who is the most popular? And how do I make this be me? However, we are decades away from the playgrounds. We are far from childhood but the science is still the same. There is a pathology here that goes unaddressed and undiagnosed. However, this does not mean the science does not exist
The true crimes of bullying are the remnants and the left-behind words that repeat in the mind. Whereas it used to be bumps and bruises, name-calling, and public shaming, bullying is more about physiological and in the real of professional warfare—this is the antithesis of psychological safety, especially in the workplace.
Let us be clear on this; where does most of the bullying take place when we are adults. And keep in mind; we are adults far longer than we are kids. As adults, where do we spend the majority of our adult life? The classrooms are gone but social gatherings are not. At some point, we trade our books and the hallways for a job and a workplace. The politics of the crowd do not change so much.
There is a still the social org chart. Who is popular? Who is persona non grata?Who are the cool kids? Where is the cool clique and where do they gather? This was hard enough when we were kids; and, to believe this does not exist in the corporate world would be tremendously inaccurate.
It is great to see the ideas of diversity, equity and inclusion programs. It was great to see teachers get involved when kids were being bullied at school. But yet, this doesn’t mean bullying does not exist nor does this change the reasons why people look to bully or “Own” someone else.
I am sure that I am not the only one who has seen this. I am sure that I am not the only one who has experienced bullying in the workplace or inside the different branches of corporate structures. I see this no differently than when we were in second grade. Rather than face the bullies who sat in the back of the bus on the way to school; we find ourselves, face-to-face, with corporate strong-arms who look to assert their dominance by way of position or financial influence. And why do they do this?
The reason is no different from when we were kids. They do this to keep their spot in the org-chart. They do this to show their importance, to create a fear of retaliation, to show dominance, and of course, they do this to deflect. The psychology has not changed. We are all kids in the lunchroom and just trying to find where we belong in life.
A long time ago, I made the decision to work on freeing myself from this mindset. I do not have to seek approval anymore. I am not looking to place myself in any so-called org-chart. I don’t have to bring my report card home anymore. However, I still have to interact and intermingle with people in both my personal and professional life. For the record, this does not mean when (or if) I experience corporate bullying that the pains will not hurt. I am human. I have feelings. I have thoughts and ideas. I also have boundaries now.
When I think of whom I was when I was young, I remember the remnants of bullying and the left-behind feelings. I think about the hurt I felt or the pain that came from this. And when I look back, there is a memory as well as a piece of me that wishes I had said something or done something different. Thoughts like this create a chemical change and affect my moods and emotions. However, as I have grown older. I have come to a better understanding and reached an improved level of consciousness.
I have allowed myself to create boundaries in which, I do not allow people to cross. I wished that I never allowed this to happen when I was young. And now that I am older, I look inwards to the child I used to be—and essentially, I explain, “Don’t worry. I won’t let anyone hurt you. I got this!”
No one has the right to bully. Yet, bullying is still a real threat in the working world; and the same as when we were kids, no one wants to run to the teacher and tell. We just want to be happy. We just want to get through the day, eat lunch, maybe have a few laughs, and when we come home and someone asks, “How was your day?” We can answer this positively, rather than painfully.
- Set boundaries. Create your own safety.
- Update your thinking and update your training.
- Set goals. And achieve them.
This is the bully’s kryptonite. And if this doesn’t work—
Document everything and contact a labor attorney because no matter how mighty someone is in the boardroom—nobody wants the trip to HR or to be deposed because of their behavior.
Ben Kimmel, Aug 28, 2021