28 October 2018

How do we decide who is to blame?

We still love a bully, whose bullying advances our own interests. But this romance has consequences - and COSTS.

By Agnes Foy

Law firms up their business intelligence strategies Docstockmedia

The targeting of individual perpetrators of bully behaviour is becoming an increasingly popular spectator sport. 

Bullying generates an abundance of legal business opportunities and revenues. This reality is likely to change, not least because the adversarial approach of lawyers is increasingly perceived as unpalatatble and money wasting. 

Society confers a labyrinth of privileges and rewards on bullies. It follows that selectively trying to teach individual bullies to see their world differently has almost zero personal impact.  Lawyers are viewed as an integral part of the bully problem. So alternative solutions are actively being sought now. 

Bully myths

The notion that bullies are anxious and insecure is a myth. Habitual bullying behaviour is self-reinforcing. Whenever putting others down earns peer sanction - implicit or explicit - the bully is being licensed for repeat performances. Bullies thus grow in psychological strength.  


How we make moral judgments about bullying often eludes us. To the extent that we perceive the various bullying modes of a business, political or religious leader as advancing our own personal interests we usually have scant objection to the organisational governance style of that leader. All of us tend to contentedly define our champions of choice as a ‘strong leader’, rather a bully. Tacitly shooting a messenger who states the obvious works, for bystanders. It's the easiest option. All the bully requires from bystanders is their silence. 

Value judgments

As observers, as colluders and as participants in bullying, we often have only limited information. Whenever we are privy to a bullying episode, we tend to make a judgment call about whether the bullying - and consequential ostracism - is justified or not. If the ostracism appears unjustified to us, we are likely to blame the bully and sympathise with the target; if it appears justified, we are likely to applaud the bully and blame and devalue the target. Targets are easily devalued. They get classified as 'dangerous', 'difficult' or 'troubled'. These labels gratify. They enable the colluders in bullying to feel good about themselves.  

Reputational risk.

The ability to juggle irreconcilable self-image traits plays into our moral decision-making.  Recent research from the Kellogg School of Management indicates that how we think of ourselves affects our moral behaviour. The research findings of Toure-Tillery and Light reveal that individuals who view themselves as different people when in different roles, such as being an aggressive lawyer but a gentle husband, are less likely to behave ethically.  This is so because having the same sense of self across identities makes it harder to compartmentalise bad behaviour. There are obvious reasons why all organisations should take note of this. 

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