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Bullies Are Not Family
By Robert Mueller, JD
Author of “Bullying Bosses: A Survivor’s Guide.”

Sure, the bullies at work have problems, but they’re not ours to fix. They’re managements’. They can go to a shrink, but it probably won’t do any good. Not for the real bullies. For them, it’s war on the rest of us rather than just friends not getting along. It’s office politics gone bad and over the top.

A workplace bully is a special case. Bullies are serial abusers, similar in character to perpetrators of domestic violence, except they are not “family.” Treating work as if it were family, some therapists urge bully targets to recognize that human relationships are two-way streets. These therapists tell their clients that they must accept responsibility for at least part of the problem. But things are different if a boss is truly a bully. Then these streets are one-way with all the traffic coming head on toward the targeted employee. None of it is good. When employees are stuck on the centerline, they know the difference between one-way and two-way streets.

To understand the bully, it’s best to factor out altogether the currently targeted employee. It is not in the least about her. That individual is so utterly irrelevant to the abuse syndrome that when she removes herself from the workplace by quitting, taking her supposedly emotional difficulties with her, the bulling continues serially with each newly targeted employee. It’s a bully thing, and not an employee one.

Few therapists can see any of that, because they can’t see any of the previous or subsequent targets. Most managers are able to see the abuse but generally choose not to. They already have plenty of problems of their own. Besides, there is a long-standing managerial tradition of disinterest. “Let the employees settle it.” But employees don’t have either the tools or the authority.
Most employees come to work with some understanding of the dynamics of the family and community that raised them, but the workplace is altogether different. Families are specifically about personal relationships generated by nature and seemingly are never-ending. Work is a consciously constructed organization that pursues mostly short-term goals. The particular persons that pursue those goals, the personal aspects of relations between them, and sometimes even the means they use to meet those goals are secondary at best. "Friends and money are like oil and water." Employees shouldn't take it all personally because ultimately, it's not personal. It's business. It's about production and paychecks, not personalities. Employees shouldn't take it all personally because ultimately, it's not personal. It's business. It's about production and paychecks, not personalities.

In business, managers concern themselves with the work they themselves are responsible for. Smart employees do the same. They are well advised to either escape bullies as soon a practically possible, or take advantage of an obviously unstable situation.

Incoming supervisors and, in special cases, smart employees may replace their bully officially, but that’s not enough. They must assert competent and specially compassionate leadership where abuse used to be. In no case is bullying the employees’ fault. It’s a system’s failure.
b. My Therapist Says To Confront…

Robert Mueller JD is an organizer, a former labor lawyer and the author of “Bullying Bosses: A Survivor’s Guide.” BullyingBosses.com. Mueller now coaches employees and consults with employers. BullyingBosses.com.

Copyright © 2007 Bullying Bosses: A Survivor’s Guide