Tag Archives: Bullying

On apologising: respect the sorry!

9 Dec

not-sorry_20081216-1458I recently received a sorry email from an individual who had, among other things, threatened to kick my fucking head in. As police were involved, I was pretty sure the apology was made more with potential court proceedings in mind, than as an expression of regret for threatening me with physical violence. It turned out I was right, and the sorry email was taken into account by the magistrate though its alleged author was still found guilty of intimidation. I write “alleged” because I found it very difficult to reconcile the language of the email with what I know of the offender.

I also recently wrote a sorry email to a pompous, arrogant medical specialist who refused to treat a patient because he (the pompous arrogant specialist) was engaged in a dispute with me. I wasn’t in the least bit sorry for what I’d said to the specialist and would say it again in a heartbeat, but he had me over a barrel. I apologised, and he agreed to treat the patient. Now that the treatment is over and we won’t be needing him again, I’m reporting him to the Health Care Complaints Commission. The contempt I continue to feel for that medical specialist and his pathetic need to make me say a sorry he knows damn well I don’t mean by refusing treatment to someone I love, is profound.

This is a rare situation in my adult life, when I’ve said I’m sorry when I’ve absolutely known I’m not. Sometimes I’ve said sorry, only to realise later I wasn’t and had simply reacted in the emotion of the moment, or because I was scared. Quite often I’ve had to apologise because I’ve been out of line. That’s never easy, but it’s a good thing to live with. Being bullied into apologies is not.

Letters threatening defamation action frequently include a demand for apology, usually public. What does this mean? It’s obvious that if an apology must be demanded, nobody is feeling especially sorry. If it is an attempt on the part of the offended person to bring humiliation down upon the offender it doesn’t work, because in my case I offer the apology feeling nothing but increased contempt.

The apology is, in these circumstances, a species of  Pyrrhic victory. If I am to be bullied or blackmailed into saying I’m sorry, who is the loser? It’s not me, it’s the deluded twerp who believes they’ve achieved something by forcing me to say I’m sorry when I’m not.

There are times when one may apologise in full knowledge of one’s insincerity, in order to achieve a greater goal. I have no problem with this, it’s a matter of conscience and circumstance. There is, however, something very distasteful about those who attempt to bully and blackmail others into making apologies. The clue is, if you have to demand it, it probably isn’t authentic so why do you want it and what does it say about you, that you’re willing to settle for such insincerity?

When an apology is made from the heart, and with regret for an action, it is a precious thing. It is something to be treasured, and it can heal much. Forced apologies only devalue the authentic sorry. Yet it is such a central part of our social discourse to demand an apology, as if appearances are all that counts.

There’s currently someone in my life demanding an apology that I have no intention of offering. The cost to me will be high. I’ve spent many hours considering the best course of action. In this instance, I’ve decided the worst thing I can do for both of us is to allow this person to bully me into mouthing sorries I don’t mean, and I don’t feel are warranted. Indeed, the very fact that it is being demanded of me or else, tells me this relationship has nowhere much to go.

I want to treat the sorry with the respect it deserves. I want to honour the sorry, and only use it when I mean it. The sorry is a thing of great beauty, to be used sparingly and always with consideration and intention. It is a sad thing, to see the sorry reduced to a meaningless convention, used to blackmail, bully and humiliate.  Is it too late to Respect the Sorry?

 

 

Is there an elephant in your room?

10 Jul

Today’s guest post is by Stewart Hase. 

Is that an elephant that I see?

Elephants are big people. In fact, you would not want one to sit on your sandwich.  You would think an elephant is too big to ignore. But there are zillions of elephants, everywhere you look, but we pretend they’re not there: it’s the elephant in the room phenomenon.

In families, elephants in the room range from the worst kind, such as family incest, to the more harmless (except to her) cupboard drinking of Aunt Mildred.  Everyone knows what is happening, in the case of incest it may even be the mother, but often no-one speaks up or takes action. Humans are even reluctant to say anything about relatively small matters such as offensive or antisocial behaviour, being let down by a friend or that what someone is doing might in fact be a poor choice: what I call the ‘zit on the nose’ phenomenon.

We just don’t like to tell people bad things.

It takes courage to act. Largely, humans dislike conflict mainly because it creates a huge amount of anxiety, which is extremely uncomfortable and to be avoided at all costs. There is also the fall out that might involve fractured relationships, being disliked and rejection. We like to be liked or as Albert Ellis says, we are love slobs. Better to remain in the inner circle with a nasty secret that being a pariah and morally or ethically intact. After all, it is family.

Elephants love living in organisations too where they are ignored with an even greater intensity than in families. You’d think it was the other way around given the emotional factor in a family setting but it is likely that there are huge emotional investments in the organisations in which we work and play.

Again, there is a huge range when it comes to severity and impact. There are organisations in which there is institutionalised corruption and bullying, for example, that goes on unchecked. In some cases the organisations acknowledge that there is a problem, such as paedophilia in the Catholic Church and bullying in the Australian defence forces, but still nothing is done. Its as if the elephant has been let out in the garden for feeding time.

Poor behaviour is one of the more common elephants in the room. Here I am not referring to poor performance, which often gets picked up at performance review time but to what amounts to anti-social behaviour. Every organisation or organisational unit has at least one person who behaves in ways that causes reactions from mild irritation to motional catharsis.

This is an even bigger problem when the person is a manager. You might find, for example, a very senior person is a dreadful bully but he is allowed to get away with it. The result is a culture of bullying that runs right through the organisation. People are, understandably, reluctant to speak up and people who do in fact blow the whistle on high level abuse or corruption do not have a good time if it, as the research on whistle-blowers shows.

We might think that, well, if its not a big thing then let it go. So what if the boss or someone else in the team tells lies, doesn’t keep promises, doesn’t listen, fails to communicate information, gets a little irritated, ignores people, is not a team player or is just plain rude. It doesn’t matter.

Well, it does, Employee engagement is a critical factor in job satisfaction and, we know that both these effect performance. Employees can easily become disengaged by elephants in the room. They sap motivation, destroy loyalty, disintegrate faith and hope, distinguish innovation and create a culture of mistrust. Elephants in teams can completely undermine effectiveness.

When we let someone get away with poor behaviour we being a co-dependent. We are implicitly saying that all is fine, that we approve and the behaviour will continue. And we’ll complain: a co-dependent victim.

All it takes is courage.

Also relevant to this topic is Stewart’s earlier post here on workplace bullying

Dr Stewart Hase

Guest author Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com


Entitlement, bullying, and private faith

21 Jan

Since I received defamation threats from Melinda Tankard Reist’s lawyers, I’ve had occasion to consider just what a defamation threat is actually intended to achieve.

If I had done what was demanded of me, that is apologised, retracted, signed and published a letter drafted by the lawyers, and then paid all Tankard Reist’s legal costs, I would now be free of fear. This is the deal. Do what we say and you won’t have to worry about massive legal costs that will break you. Don’t do what we say and you risk ruin.

This is what a defamation threat does. It is weighed in favour of the plaintiff. It does not require a fair hearing in a court of law for it to be effective. It works entirely on fear. It is bullying. There’s no other way to describe it. It’s a bullying scam. The plaintiff counts on you collapsing and doing what she’s demanded, for fear of what will happen to you if you don’t.

You pay all the costs of her instigating this bullying action against yourself. The plaintiff will get exactly what she wants, which is you silenced, and it won’t cost her a cent.

Neither Tankard Reist nor her lawyers counted on their intended victim announcing she’d received defamation threats on Twitter. That wasn’t the way it was supposed to play out. Bullying only works when there’s secrecy. Take it out into the open, shine the light of day on it, and it’s useless as an intimidatory tactic.

Tankard Reist is reportedly horrified at the swell of reaction against her, some of which has been quite foul. I have also received some disgusting tweets from people claiming to be her supporters. I know how to use the block button. I know Melinda does as well. It works. If you don’t want to see them, Melinda, get someone else to monitor Twitter for you. And take responsibility for having created this situation all by yourself.

In her article in the SMH today, Julia Baird says in her last paragraph that it would be a pity if Tankard Reist’s faith was used to try to discredit her.

I’ve never used the ad hominem argument that MTR’s views should be dismissed because she’s a Christian. My argument is that as a public figure, seeking to influence public policy on female sexuality and its representation, and on abortion to which she is unequivocally opposed, she needs to be upfront about her religious allegiances. Women have the right to know if someone who is working to prevent access to abortion is doing so from concern for women, or is fueled by her belief system.

We need to have from MTR evidence -based arguments against abortion, and many other issues she argues on emotive and anecodotal grounds. Because if this evidence isn’t available, her conclusions are subjective. This is not good enough.

No one should be attacking Tankard Reist because of her faith. She should be rigorously questioned on her evidence for her claims and if she has none, then she should be asked to explain on what they are based. This is the price paid for advocating a public morality. I don’t care what she tells her children to do. But once she’s prescribing for women, thats another story.

Baird also asks the question when must a private faith become public? I would say certainly when the believer is in a position to effect public policy making on issues of morality. The churches have considerable power, consider for example their exemption from anti discrimination legislation in the matter of employing gays and lesbians. Any other employer who refused to hire on the grounds of sexual orientation would be liable for prosecution. Not so the churches. Why? Because of their beliefs.

So are we required on the one hand to adjust our laws to accommodate the Christian faith, while simultaneously granting the believers who influence those laws the right to conceal that faith from the public gaze?

Are any Christians entitled to wield such influence, and to demand protection from all scrutiny as well?

I don’t understand this notion of privacy around religion. It seems to me many religious followers, perhaps not all Christians but certainly some, believe that living their faith in the light of day is one of the things their God requires of them. Christian politicians for example, usually seem reasonably up front about where they are coming from. What reasons would a Christian have for demanding privacy for their faith in Australia? They aren’t facing any kind of discrimination or persecution, indeed it is their churches that are enacting discrimination.

This:

Matthew 5:14-16  “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

And this:

Matthew 28:18-20
(18)  And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  (19)  Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  (20)  Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

While it seems that faith is regarded as personal in many Christian teachings, it is not regarded as private, and these are two entirely separate things.

Tankard Reist has publicly said that she tries to live her life doing what Jesus wants. Where does Jesus require his followers to be private about their belief in him?

I don’t know how long Tankard Reist and her lawyers can keep their threats hanging over my head. I have no control over this. In the meantime thank you to everyone who is helping me with their concern, interest, signing of the petition, tweets, DMs, blog comments, phone calls, and even dinners and wine. I count myself lucky. Very, very lucky. And I thank you.

Workplace Bullying: Blowing the Whistle on Conspiracies of Silence

14 Jan

Stewart Hase

 

By Dr Stewart Hase

Guest author Dr Stewart Hase is a registered psychologist and has a doctorate in organisational behaviour as well as a BA, Diploma of Psychology, and a Master of Arts (Hons) in psychology.

There is a conspiracy of silence when it comes to workplace bullying. In the many thousands of words recently written about bullying at work in the local press the conspiracy has been maintained.

A conspiracy of silence occurs when everyone knows that bad behaviour is occurring but there is a tacit decision not to talk about it and certainly not to do anything. It was first used to describe incest in families and, more recently, other forms of abuse. People don’t do anything because they don’t want to rock the boat, to avoid conflict, and because it is just too hard. Sadly, by not speaking up or doing anything the observers validate the perpetrator and invalidate the victim.

As I have often seen in clinical practice, the effect of these conspiracies on the victims is monstrous. The victim feels as if he or she is somehow at fault, they are confused, and feel alone and unsupported. Most importantly they come to feel powerless and it is this that results in anxiety and depression, the most common effects of being bullied.

In all that is written about bullying at work there are two major conspiracies of silence that result in enormous pain and suffering for victims. It also seems that workmates who see the bullying can also be badly affected resulting in significant symptoms on their part too.

The first gaping silence is that senior managers in organisations prefer not to do anything about bullies. This conspiracy of silence occurs despite the fact that bullying is against the law and CEOs and boards of directors are in fact culpable by not acting. It is interesting to watch an organisation move a victim of bullying to another branch or even another job, and leave the bully in place: even after admitting openly that the bullying has occurred. Sometimes, it is easier to call a case of bullying a personality conflict and call in a mediator. The damage these behaviours do to the victim is enormous.

It’s also common to blame the victim. This is easy because the bullied worker has repeatedly made complaints, as instructed by the legislation and the bullying literature that is laying on the coffee table in the CEO’s waiting area. The victim, who has become increasingly distressed over time, can be simplistically labelled as unstable or over-sensitive: a troublemaker. Let’s not forget too that bullies often pick on already vulnerable people who might have a reputation already for being oversensitive.

There have been some notorious bullies in organisations in and around Lismore that have been allowed to get away with bullying behaviour time and time again: I have seen many of their victims at the clinic. Many of these bullies get promoted. There are also large numbers of senior managers that know that their staff are being bullied but do nothing. Under the legislation they are just as culpable as the bully and their organisation can be fined many thousands of dollars. But they still engage in the conspiracy and more often than not put the fox in charge of the chook shed.

The preferred personality profile of a successful manager (or one on the way up) appears to be someone who is aggressive, dominant, single minded, achievement-oriented, and task focused. Throw in a little pinch of narcissism, low empathy for others and an unsatisfied need for power and this is a nasty recipe for bullying behaviour. These are not easy people to deal with which makes it so much easier to turn the blind eye. Bullies often appear so good at their job and they create the right relationships with the right people to protect themselves.

And it happens every day in organisations in which we all work. In a recent case a colleague of mine was told by the human resource manager of her organisation that it would be better to let a case of bullying drop because it was against a very senior manager. The reason being that the consequences would not be worth it in the end.

The other conspiracy involves an unholy alliance between the organisation and the insurance company. Despite the pretty advertisements insurance companies want to avoid liability. To do this they will find any excuse to blame the victim rather than make the workplace deal with the problem. Everyone’s a winner: the insurance company doesn’t have to pay out and the organisation’s premiums are protected.

The main way this is done is to find a pre-existing condition in the victim such as a history of previous abuse, anxiety, depression, previous bullying or any other negative behaviour. This is then used as a means of blaming the victim. This is easy to do by running an unbalanced investigation and being highly selective with ‘the evidence’.  For someone who has genuinely been bullied at work this outcome is extremely damaging.

It is time for the conspiracies of silence to be broken. Those with the power to act need to make the hard decision and deal with the perpetrator rather than leaving it up to the victim who is already disempowered.

Stewart blogs at stewarthase.blogspot.com

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