Mobbing & Retaliation
What happens when someone makes a complaint about workplace bullying/aggression?
Though sometimes management offers help and protection, often the response is retaliation, shame and isolation.
One of my clients is the target of workplace mobbing (when a group of people get together and bully a person in the hopes of getting them to quit). She came to me for help after four years in the trenches of a bullying nightmare. (I don’t recommend you wait four years, or even four months, but bullying in general and mobbing in particular are insidious and so it does take time to figure out all that is happening.)
Her story: Several employees detected an opportunity to take over her department and they did so with a systematic, vengeful, deliberate, abusive character assassination. Their aggression was both directly at my client as well as in gossip, complaints, stonewalling, and creative story-telling. For months, every meeting was a nightmare of attacks, recriminations, shouting and weeping.
My client was stunned by the attacks and sought the help of her managers, up to and including the president of the company. But, it was too late. By the time she realized the intent of the mobbing the damage was done. She was the “bad” person, even to the point of being labeled the bully because she was fighting back against the attacks.
Even though there were dozens of witnesses to the truth of the matters and the truth of her behavior, the tide had turned against her. As a result, when she did ask for help, she was further condemned and isolated. The mobbers were allowed to retaliate against her for her complaining about the situation. She truly believed that those in authority would see the truth and help her.
Why she experienced retaliation:
- Blaming the Victim: In this case, my client was retaliated against when she sought help because the mobbing had gone one for so long that she was already framed as the villain.
- Power Vacuum: The mobbers took advantage of a change in the power structure at the company. By aligning with the new power brokers they were able to push my client to the sidelines.Their gossip and complaints were positioned such that their goals met the goals of the new power brokers.
- Lack of Understanding: Those in leadership did not have the skills to recognize what was happening and so could not take steps to deal with it.
Were those mobbers clever? You bet. Strategic? Yes, that too. Successful? Absolutely.
While my client wasn’t let go, she was definitely side-lined and has been the object of ongoing attacks in all forms: verbal, email, gossip, and through innuendo. Our work is helping her to learn how to handle the politics of workplace bullying and mobbing, how to repair those relationships that can be repaired, how to cope and survive the ongoing mobbing, and how to find moments where she feels strong and at peace in the middle of all of these problems.
Recently she said she feel “victorious” for the first time. It was a huge leap for her to move from victim to victorious, but every week I see more moments of confidence and strength. She will survive and some day even thrive.
I’m Kathleen Bartle, a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts. You can contact me here.
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