According to the New York Times, the research firm Zogby International last fall conducted a survey showing 37 percent of American workers have experienced bullying on the job. It also concluded that 40 percent of workplace bullies are women.
Of course workplace bullying is not as physical as the playground variety. It relies more on psychological assaults and subtle harassments. Researchers at the University of Manitoba contend its effects often are more severe than sexual harassment. And what’s worse, the bully in many cases may actually be praised by higher-ups for exhibiting a tough management style.
The Times concludes that help may be on the way in the form of legislation, such as an anti-bullying bill before the New York State Legislature and similar measures being considered in New Jersey and Connecticut. Somehow I find it hard to get wildly enthusiastic about the remedial effect of such laws on our insular corporations.
I’m more interested in what writer Amy Sutherland states in her book What Shamu Taught Me About Life, Love, and Marriage. She studied animal trainers skilled at making creatures from whales to monkeys perform tricks and then has applied those tactics to some human situations. She says there are three rules good animal trainers use that can help reform some bad human behaviors:
- Ignore the bad behavior. Go blank. The trainers call it the “least reinforcing scenario.”
- Any interaction should be considered as training. Do not reinforce any of the boss’s bad behaviors at any time.
- Reward the behavior you want. Animal trainers use reward after reward after reward. Punishment doesn’t work nearly as well and can create a whole other set of problems.
As for my own two tormenters. The woman bully boss became so out-of-control she was “encouraged” to get therapy, was put on meds, and was quietly eased out of the corporation. The male was praised for his iron fist (which he literally tried to use on a couple of us one raucus night), was promoted and eventually given a lofty position in the nation’s largest newspaper chain.
To learn more about bully bosses and how to train them, go to Chip and Dan Heath's column in the latest issue of Fast Company. Click here.