Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

The Workplace Bully: The Ultimate Silencer

Academic journal article Journal of Organizational Culture, Communications and Conflict

The Workplace Bully: The Ultimate Silencer

Article excerpt


... when people are put in positions ofpower, they start talking more, taking what they want for themselves, ignoring what other people say or want, ignoring how less powerful people react to the behavior, acting more rudely, and generally treating any situation or person as a means for satisfying their own needs ... (Sutton, 2007)

There is a significant body of literature that situates workplace bullying as a significant phenomenon in the American workplace (Lewis, 2006; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006; Sutton, 2007) and provides evidence that it damages organizations, including difficulties implementing organizational change, lowering organizational commitment, decreasing productivity and diminishing organizational performance (Crothers, Lipinski, & Minutolo, 2009; Girardi et al., 2007; Harvey et al., 2006). The National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health deemed workplace bullying to be a form of workplace violence. According to a 2007 Workplace Bullying Institute US Survey, 72% of bullies are bosses, who outrank their targets by at least one level. Similarly, a 2007 Zogby survey of 8,000 adults found that 72% had been abused by a supervisor (Sutton, 2007). Further, organizational communication research has provided evidence via a nationally representative study that in most cases many employees are involved; they range from bullies to silent witness, making the cases that bullying is an organizational problem, and not tied to the pathology of a few bad employees (Namie & Lutgen-Sandvik, 2010).

Bullying is often defined as "prolonged exposure to interpersonal acts of a negative nature ... which make up a highly stressful situation characterized by lack of control" (Hansen, Hogh, & Persson, 2011). The definition also generally includes elements of frequency, intensity, duration and power distance (Einarsen, Hoel, Zapf, & Cooper, 2003; Hoel, Cooper, & Faragher, 2001; Lester, 2009) Most studies argue that workplace bullying, unlike other forms of harassment, are interpersonal in nature and marked by an abuse of power (Lester, 2009). The effects of relational hostility in the workplace are well documented to include decreased mental and physical health (Hansen, Hogh & Persson, 2011; Matthiesen & Einarsen, 2001; Zapf & Einarsen, 2001). The research also provides evidence that workers suffer from "anxiety, depression, burnout, frustration, helplessness ... difficulty concentrating ... lowered self esteem and self efficacy" (Keashly & Neuman, 2005, p. 335). The comments below from an Administrative Assistant, age 48, offer an exemplar of these effects:

"It sucks, because it does cut into your self-esteem and because when you hear all the time that you don't do anything right that you start to wonder, maybe I don't do anything right, you know? Well, at the time, when I was working for her it was horrible on my personal life. It was, not a job that I could go home and forget about, you know. I would be stressed out all evening thinking about going back the next day. It was destructive really to your character and everything and how you thought about yourself, 'cause you heard so much crap all the time about how bad you were doing."

In an effort to expand our understanding of workplace bullying, this paper seeks to explore the rhetorical strategies employed by bullies and the communicative strategies targets employ in response. As is demonstrated in the previous quote, work is integral to employees' lives and identity, so the experiences of those that are bullied affect every aspect of their lives, not simply their work lives. However, their ability to respond to the attacks of the perpetrators is often limited, as they must negotiate responses that allow them to maintain their employment, which limits their responses, and often renders them powerless. While the effects of bullying may infringe on individuals' personal lives, they often do not have the rhetorical strategies available to them in response to bullying that they may have in their personal lives; they are often silenced in the work place, unlike they would be in their personal lives. …

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