©2018 Gail Pursell Elliott
One of the key needs for a target of bullying/mobbing is to be believed. That is not to say that we must not take a hard look at an accusation or report for clarity, patterns of behavior, or in worse cases a perpetrator posing as a target, which I have seen. A study by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that 75% of workplace harassment victims experienced retaliation after filing a complaint. This fear obviously contributes to underreporting, which is why we see offences reported sometimes years after they are committed. Once it becomes recognized, validated, believed, and reported, others may gain the courage to come forward and we see an apparent avalanche of incidents. Keeping an open mind, when listening to a story that flies in the face of reason, can be a challenge, especially when people who are targeted are subjected to unreasonable and inhuman behavior. Reprisal in an organization can take the form of mobbing. Reprisal in an organization that has a venomous undercurrent can go way beyond the workplace. I have worked with individuals who have been followed, stalked, or run off the road on the way home from work. Others have reported tires slashed, homes broken into, garbage appearing in locked cars, and other vandalism. One wonders why or how others can be enlisted to participate. There are documented cases of man’s inhumanity to man throughout history. What was once thought of as an aberration is now received with, “here we go again.” When statements once relegated to what was affectionately called the lunatic fringe become regularly reported occurrences we have reached a critical juncture that goes unrecognized or ignored by too many.
The second key need for a target is validation. That is affirming that the person is not only believed but also is a valuable individual. The concept of gaslighting is frequently used as part of mobbing and bullying to make it appear that the person is not only at fault but deserves the ill treatment being dispensed. “Gaslighting is a form of persistent manipulation and brainwashing that causes the victim to doubt her or himself, and ultimately lose her or his own sense of perception, identity, and self-worth. The term is derived from the 1944 film Gaslight, in which a husband tries to convince his wife that she’s insane by causing her to question herself and her reality.” – Preston Ni M.S.B.A., Psychology Today, April 30, 2017. In the film, the wife is saved by a detective validating that the incidents she is supposedly imagining are indeed real. This tactic is used in relational abuse as well as workplace emotional abuse, and again, validation is one of the key factors in helping the individual regain a sense of identity, personal dignity, and self-respect. Some statements I have used with targets that have been helpful are, “This is not your fault,” “You don’t deserve to be treated like this,” “You are the same person you always thought you were.”
The third key need is for recourse and this is the most difficult. Most employees simply want the behavior to be addressed, for it to stop, and to be able to continue to work in an emotionally healthy environment, free from threats and abuse. Some want an apology, which is validating that the abuse occurred. Some want to file a lawsuit, which is a form of validation and recourse that may take the form of a monetary award. Some want the perpetrator(s) punished or to retaliate in some other way. Those with whom I’ve worked frequently say that they don’t want it to happen to anyone else. The news has been filled with horrible events over the past month in which people in various situations have taken retaliation for perceived offenses into their own hands. I say perceived because I don’t have enough information to make definitive statements regarding their motivations. What I do know is that potentially anyone can be targeted, anyone can lose sight of their humanity long enough to treat someone like an object or opportunity, and anyone can be pushed past the point of reason. I also know that we as human beings at work can treat our coworkers as human beings as well, with wants, hopes, needs, dreams, desires, and the right to be treated with dignity and respect.
Gail Pursell Elliott, “The Dignity and Respect Lady”, has over 20 years’ experience in middle and upper management, founded Innovations “Training With A Can-Do Attitude” in 1998, and is author of several books including School Mobbing and Emotional Abuse and co-author of the book Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace. Her Food for Thought articles are read by people around the world. Gail has been a guest on such programs as MSNBC’s Deborah Norville Tonight, ABC World News NOW television programs and the Workplace Violence Today program on talk radio. She loves what she does and believes that it matters
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