The art of neutralization involves addressing the root source of a problem.
When that problem is bullying, harassment, or the mistreatment of another, neutralizing the problem requires an understanding of it.
Specifically, why are some people targeted for this behaviour while others are left alone?
We asked this question to individuals who had participated in 2% behaviors in their workplace.
Now, the answers that I will share with you are NOT politically correct...
...But then again...neither is targeting a person with the intent to cause harm because of them.
GETTING TO THE ROOT SOURCE
If you have read any of our previous articles, you have likely been exposed the term: neutralization.
Neutralization is the idea that a harmful or undesirable behaviour is stopped in its tracks, or neutralized.
It is important NOT to confuse neutralization with the idea of being neutral.
Too often those whose job it is to fix a problem fail to do so in an effort to sit on the fence and stay neutral.
Being neutral often results solutions for bullying such as compromise.
But, when it comes to people being harmed and mistreated, we NEVER use the word compromise.
We don't believe in compromise, which is simply a way to ensure no ones' needs are met and everyone remains unhappy.
Instead, when it comes to bullying, harassment, and the mistreatment of others, we believe in taking a stand.
(In fact, much of our work with clients is showing their employees how to take a stand without creating conflict or confrontation.)
So, regarding bullying, harassment, and the mistreatment of others our stand is this:
These behaviours must stop. Now. Period.
It is this hard stance that our clients come to us.
We take on the elephant in the room and flat out ask bullies why they target specific coworkers.
Here are the most common responses we receive (sometimes somewhat begrudgingly).
1. THEY WON'T FIGHT BACK
The most common response as to how a bully chooses his or her target seems far to simplistic.
"We chose them because they won't fight back."
Yes, this is a very cowardly response.
Yet it is truthful.
Bullies select targets who they believe are unlikely to stand up for themselves and fight back.
Another way of saying this is that bullies choose people they perceive to be weak.
Bullies, whether in the school yard or in the office, don't want a challenge.
They want a sure thing. The weaker the better.
Bullying and harassment are about exerting power and control over another.
The weaker the target is perceived to be, the more powerful the bully feels when trying to exert their control.
What is the solution to this?
When people are equipped with the skills and tools to confidently stand up for themselves, bullies are starved of easy targets.
2. RELIGIOUS OR POLITICAL DOCTRINE
By and large, I respect those who hold strong religious or political convictions.
EXCEPT when their convictions involve the persecution of others.
Whether the prejudice is based on gender, religion, sexuality, race, or any other reason...
It all boils down to one thing:
A misguided belief that certain people have the right to be who they are while others do not.
This doctrine-based mistreatment is driven by the notion that one's religious or political beliefs bestows upon them the right to mistreat those who fall outside of their doctrine's understanding of who is "good", "right", "proper", and even "human".
Of course, no one has the right to decide this.
It doesn't matter what deity you worship or where you sit on the political spectrum.
So, what is the solution?
Holding employees accountable to a code of conduct that clearly states that everyone is to be treated with professional courtesy and respect can go a long way.
3. SOCIAL ANGER (EVERYBODY HATES "THEM")
I can't remember a time when we, as a society, were more angry that we seem today.
Every day the news is full of stories involving social anger.
This is the term used to describe situations where entire social groups feel anger, blame, or even hate towards other social groups.
We saw this after the September 11th, 2001 attacks in New York City when entire segments of society blamed Muslims as a whole for what a very small group of people did.
There are those running for political office right now who deliberately attempt to stir up social anger for their own selfish political ends.
When a bully is consciously (or unconsciously) seeking a target and social anger is high, the bully links into this social anger.
They think it creates an easy target when someone belongs to the social group people are angry at.
They believe that when society as a whole is angry at this group, others will share their anger and support their mistreatment.
At the very least it reduces the likelihood someone else will stand up for the target.
The solution to this is more difficult than the previous two.
It usually requires a strong leader to step up and do the right thing regardless of how unpopular doing so may be with others in the office and event their own social group.
4. PERSONAL REASONS
Sometimes, a person is targeted not for who they are but rather for what they did...
Or are perceived to have done.
We recently dealt with an incident involving an employee making life hell for her coworker because she believed the coworker made her look bad in front of the boss.
More interestingly, she didn't set out to consciously mistreat the coworker or cause her harm.
Rather, her anger, unhappiness, and resentment came out in every interaction she had with this coworker.
It wasn't until she was made aware of how her behaviour was affecting the coworker that the bullying stopped.
Sometimes, when we feel wronged, we feel entitled to harm the person who wronged us.
This isn't justice, however.
It is revenge.
What is the solution?
Holding all employees accountable for how their behaviour is affecting others in conjunction with a clear and simple team charter or code of conduct can be effective...as can promoting self-reflection and awareness.
WHY ME? WHY NOT?
When we speak with those targeted by bullies, they always ask, "why me?"
But the nature of bullying is that there is little any of us can do to ensure we are never bullied...the first time.
However, when strong leadership makes it clear that bullying is NEVER permitted...
And employees have the tools to neutralize the mistreatment by standing up and finding their voice...
Bullies are forced to come to grips with the fact that their target will never become a victim.
They will not stay silent.
They will not simply take it.
And when enough people do this, those who bully, harass, and mistreat are forced to either change their behaviour or move on to another workplace where they can try again.
Either way, it won't be where you work.
Want a more detailed look at what it means to neutralize an employee's behaviour? Download and learn what it means to "NEUTRALIZE" bullying and other harmful behaviour.