Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Shunning—Not Just for Religious Sects

You may have read about shunning in the Amish, Quaker, and Jehovah Witness’ communities, but did you know that shunning is also a common tactic of the workplace bully?

Shunning as a form of church discipline for the purpose of bringing a member of the community to repentance is one thing. Shunning as a form of psychological warfare is something else altogether.

Time out.

Every time I sit down to write one of these pieces about some really bad management technique, I say to myself—where the hell do all these assholes come from? Even Bob Sutton, author of The No Asshole-Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't, doesn’t have any answers for me.

Okay, back to business.

Bullies are masters of self-delusion.
Like most everything else the bully does, shunning is about power and control. By shunning, or ignoring, you, the bully hopes to exercise some control over you by causing you to act or feel a certain way. Let’s say the bully is your boss. Perhaps, like many targets, you’ve survived the bully’s mistreatment by having as little contact with him as possible. With limited contact, you can still get the directions, instructions, and feedback you need to perform while maintaining some level of peace and sanity. But now that your a-hole boss realizes what’s going on, he’s going to raise the stakes and shun you completely—forcing you to place yourself in his sphere from a position of stress and weakness, and that’s what he likes, the jerk. More simply, shunning can also be an immature form of revenge. The bully will cause you to feel isolated, anxious, and frightened, and that makes him feel good, because he’s evil  it’s a demonstration of his power, and oh yeah, he’s evil.

Now, I know I sound a little dramatic, but I gotta tell you, ever since I was a kid, bullies make me crazy. I hate bullies. Perhaps it’s because I’m an independent sort, and I do not like it when someone tries to impose his will on me by force. Even the creator of the universe employs persuasion and not coercion to bring you to his way of thinking, so who the hell do these bullies think they are? Or perhaps it’s my sense of justice, which, granted, is not perfect, but still, I do not believe there is any excuse for going out of your way to make another human being feel like shit. So, I hear stories from friends (and—full disclaimer—one of my good friends is being bullied at work right now) or I read testimonies like this one, and it makes me nuts.

So, what is to be done?

As I wrote in Bullies Need Not Apply, a lot of employers turn a blind eye to this behavior, so if you’re being shunned, you’re probably on your own. Yeah I said it. Even as a human resources professional I’m saying it, because if your HR department had any power, assuming it has the heart, to stop this crap it would have never gotten to this level. That’s my expert opinion. Anyone is free to disagree.

So, my very best advice is—please, please take care of yourself. If you’re a praying person, pray. Surround yourself with loved ones. See a medical doctor. See a therapist. Dust off that resume, because your ultimate goal is to get the heck out of there. Take a class. Document everything your bully does. Everything. Keep as much distance between yourself and the bully as is possible. And, as difficult as it will be, do your job to the absolute best of your ability, and make every effort to take the high road. Bob Sutton’s "Latest Tips for Surviving Workplace Assholes"  will confirm what I’m saying and give you additional information, too.

Godspeed, my friend.

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