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Psychoterror in the Workplace

©2016 Gail Pursell Elliott

Dr. Heinz Leymann first used the title of this article to describe Mobbing in the workplace. Dr. Leymann’s list of 45 behaviors that may surface during a mobbing is known as “LIPT,” the “Leymann Inventory of Psychological Terrorization,” and is regularly used in research.  With the escalating concerns about terrorist or terrorist like violence at work the term takes on different proportions and meanings.  Some workplaces include what to do if there is an active shooter on the premises as part of new employee training.  Certainly, the possibility of something like this happening can cause employees to become more alert to different situations that may arise, but anxiety and paranoia are not the general results of that training.  During mobbing awareness trainings, I have noted a variety of reactions on the part of participants.  They have varied from “thanks for giving this stuff a name” to “we did this to someone, it will never happen on my watch again” to obvious, but unvoiced discomfort.  Some even have snickered in amusement, usually from a small group in the back row.  The fact that some people actually find this topic amusing says volumes about what may be happening in that workplace, although there are some individuals who react to horrible circumstances with humor to make them more bearable.

Terror is defined as a state of intense fear.  Currently, terrorists create fear by acts of extreme violence, some of which have occurred in workplaces. Psychological terror is triggered by nonviolent behaviors and communication that threaten an individual in a variety of ways apart from bodily harm, although that may be included. The level of fear and the impact of it are as different as each person’s response. The correlation between mobbing and terrorism is specific as follows:

  • It gets others, through fear, to change their normal life patterns.
  • It creates confusion and mistrust.
  • It operates in secrecy or with a code of silence.
  • It causes participants, when confronted, to lie about their intentions and participation.
  • Participants believe any behavior is justified by their motives.
  • People who join in generally are convinced of this justification.
  • They are afraid of being targeted themselves.

With political candidates taking accusatory potshots at each other and the media grabbing hold of items to explore with supposition, it is no wonder that mobbing is still something that most people see every day but engage in inadvertently due to a lack of information.  Mobbing is surely a form of terrorism although using the term terrorist or even bully to identify someone is out of line without further investigation. We have seen these terms batted about in all sorts of situations in the workplace as well as in other venues in the past year and more.  A state legislator explained to me that they were having difficulty passing a bill addressing bullying because they were having trouble defining it.  When I present programs beginning with dignity and respect, one of the first exercises is to initially have participants define the terms individually, then in small groups, and finally share their definitions as a large group for discussion.  The same technique is important to consider when addressing bullying.  The definitions will vary depending upon each person’s experience, whether a target, a perpetrator, a witness, or a participant.  When mobbing is defined and explained to a group, it becomes apparent to people that they may have indeed experienced mobbing on some level.

It is important to have a proactive rather than a reactive approach to this issue. As we continue to see evidence of the less attractive aspects of human behavior and interaction, it is wise to make an assessment of what we believe and values for which we stand whether personally or professionally.  Too often compromise is asked in areas that are deal breakers for most of us.  Just as safety and security involve training on what to do in certain circumstances, whether fire, weather, blood borne pathogens, controlled substances, acts of terrorism or violence, mobbing is a safety issue to be addressed in a similar fashion.  A supportive environment free of intimidation, where it’s OK to make mistakes, greatly affects motivation and attitude. It addresses the basic human need for survival.  When our survival needs are met we are able to think and to concentrate.  Fearful or negative attitudes limit our ability to transfer knowledge to new situations. And of course this impacts the bottom line in myriad ways.

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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 is 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

Human Relations Consulting – Soft Skills Training – Webinars, Teleconferences, or at Your Location
Mobbing, Bullying, and Harassment Expert, Professional Speaker​

For Consulting, Assistance and Training, contact Gail through her website:   http://www.tashidelay.innovations-training.com

For videos including the Five Phases of the Mobbing Process visit www.youtube.com/dignityrespectlady/videos































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