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Bullying (Part 11): Addressing the Misuse of Power

  • Posted on November 22, 2010 at 2:46 PM

Social hierarchies exist within governments, within businesses, within non-profit organization, and within our social groups.  Avoidance of these situations is not possible.  But that does not mean we have to tolerate bullying behaviors within these abstract “environments.”

The reasons bullying occurs vary, but inadequate leadership skills are often involved.  Some bully consciously; others do so subconsciously.  Both types of bullying may occur from the same individual, even towards to the same victim.

Those who bully consciously can often justify their bullying behaviors, either for the sake of self-interest or for the sake of the group.  Addressing this choice involves addressing the justification for bullying.  When is bullying justified?  Is it ever justified?  There are many management and leadership strategies that can be used instead of bullying.  How do we teach those strategies?  What do we do when someone lacks the skill to use those strategies effectively?  Asking these questions, answering them, and equipping those in leadership positions to utilize non-bullying strategies would be an effective means to discourage bullying.  Consequences for relying on bullying to enforce authority would discourage bullying further.

For those who bully subconsciously—meaning they do not recognize their behavior as bullying—the best strategy would be to make them aware of their own bullying behaviors, and then equip them with alternative strategies.

Individuals can do these things on their own by assessing their own behavior and the behavior of those they look to as leaders.  Groups can do these things for their own group, and share the strategies they develop with other groups.  But, the ideal is to address this as a society.  This is, unfortunately, unlikely.  Many countries resort to bullying in their government, in their business, and in their social groups.  It goes in the toolbox because it works, and alternative strategies require more skill and more effort.

Power is not going to go away any time soon.  The corruption of power is not going to go away any time soon.  Perhaps it is my faith in God, or perhaps it is my lack of faith in man, but I don’t think we’ll ever progress to a point where power isn’t misused.  Perhaps it is my faith in God, or perhaps it is my faith in individuals, but I do think fighting the good fight, staying vigilant, and calling for change has a purpose.  We may never attain the ideal, but that isn’t a reason not to try.

Bullying (Part 10): Power in Hierarchies

  • Posted on November 20, 2010 at 6:17 PM

As I suggested in my last post, I believe power is a necessary social force that is prone to corruption.  Bullying is one form of this corruption.

Bullying for the sake of power is a form of bullying to which we are all susceptible.  The only way to avoid it completely, if that’s even possible, would be to become so powerful that you were too entrenched to be bullied.  Of course, to get that kind of entrenched power you’d be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

To say we are all susceptible does not mean we all experience it, or that we all experience it to the same degree.  It means a life well-lived, a person well-liked, and a situation secured by socially acceptable means cannot protect one from this form of bullying.  You can do everything “right” and still be bullied.

For those of us who do not or cannot do everything “right,” by which I mean we cannot or do not adhere to social standards, this form of bullying seems to be even more common.  I suspect this has more to do with lack of power than targeting differences.  Simply put, we’re lower on “the pecking order,” and therefore have more people with the power to bully us.  I say this because those who are different but have their own power base are not subject to as much of this kind of bullying; furthermore, as I have gained a larger power base, I have been subjected to less of this kind of bullying.

Pecking orders, or social hierarchies, can be established in just about any social system.  They are often systemized in organizations.  In the management of organizations, this systemization acts as structure—assuming the competence of members, bullying is unnecessary.  Commands filter through the hierarchal structure, and those commands are carried out based on the authority of those issuing the commands.  However, not all members of the structure are competent.  Thus, bullying occurs.  When the authority of the individual is not sufficient to earn obedience, the manager may resort to bullying to get things done.  Lack of management skills or lack of competence in exercising one’s role in a particular position is often the culprit.  Instead of improving his or her management style, the manager relies on bullying the employees under him or her to get the results he or she desires.  In the short term, this can work.  So, bullying goes in the toolbox.  In the long term, it creates a toxic environment that damages the manager, the employees, and the organization.

Social hierarchies also happen outside organizations and in more informal organizations.  You see the childhood version of this in cliques at school.  One of the boys or girls in the clique is in the top position, as tenuous as that is, and leads the others.  Bullying behaviors are often used to maintain such a position.  These behaviors also can continue into the adult world, depending on the social situations you choose to involve yourself in.  It can happen in families as well.

Bullying for the sake of power—either to gain more power or to secure the power one has—can be found in any such social hierarchy, and all of us are touched by these hierarchies.  Addressing this dynamic depends less on where it occurs, or even why, but depends more on how it occurs, from the bullies’ perspectives, which I will cover in more detail in my next post.