Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Workplace Abuse - Characteristics of the Target

The Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye, a rock pinnacle on the cliffs called the Storr, stands out.  Alone.  Solitary.  Not one of the crowd.  Different.  Noticeable.  Like the Old Man of Storr, the bully target stands out alone in the crowd.  For some reason different from the rest.  But unlike the Old Man of Stor, we are not rocks pinnacles set on a cliff.  We are human beings who feel adrift in a mass of other humans - like us, yet not like us.  We feel different.  We feel alone.  Isolated.  Set apart.

During this time period, I started seeing a counsellor again whom I had a history.  I expressed frustration over and over again as to why "this" (which I could not verbally identify) was happening to me in the workplace.  She would shrug, her face expressionless, and say that it was simply a personality conflict.  A personality conflict?  I totally didn't understand.  Which became another source of frustration to me.

The idea of "this" being nothing more than a "personality conflict" bothered me.  Looking back through years of therapy, research and healing plus the "added benefit" of going through and surviving the second abusive workplace situation, I now realize that it was not simply a "personality conflict." It was much more insidious than that.  It was plain, old-fashioned bullying.  Only with grown-ups, not teenagers.  In a workplace, not a school yard.  With people i.e. my supervisor who were being paid to bully me.

The question kept coming up:  "Why?  Why me?  Why was I such a bad person, a bad employee, to deserve this?"

An on-line article from Psychology Today (click here for the whole article) entitled "Are You An Easy Target for Bullies," succinctly describes the target as being selected because she is (a) different, (b) competent. (c) nice, and (d) not a leader.  Unfortunately, I fit all four categories.

I'm not sure, though, exactly what made me different from the others in the first situation of workplace abuse.  There were many times, however, that my supervisor would treat me differently from the others.  At one point we had a high school co-op student who was "reporting" directly to me, yet gave me tons of attitude on a consistent basis. I finally approached my supervisor when the situation became unmanageable only to be told that I although I too had come into the department as an unpaid, high school co-op (with a adult education program), I was told that I could not compare myself with her as I was "different".

The other three categories fit to a "T".  Anyone who can be described as "amazing" is definitely competent.  I was also known as a "nice guy" ... or rather "nice "girl" ... someone well liked by my co-workers.  I'm not a leader.  I prefer to sit at my desk and get my work done.

Many times during that time period when I would express frustration over what was happening and ask aloud "Why?", others would tell me that I was a threat to her.  That confused me even more.  A threat? How could I be a threat to her - or anyone?  I was in my 50s, on contract and doing an entry level position.  She was a manager who had been employed with the company for several years.  How could I be a threat to a manager just by doing my job to the best of my ability?

I've expressed several times in this on-going narrative frustration that "my best wasn't good enough."  Perhaps the real problem was that "my best was too good."  Perhaps the real issue was that my supervisor was afraid higher ups would notice me and start putting me on the fast track to her job.  Ironically, a job I had no desire for.  Perhaps.

Another on-line article, "Who Is a Workplace Bully's Target?" goes into much greater detail about who is chosen to be bullied and, more importantly, why.  This one describes the target's and to a degree, the bully's, traits in more detail.  I've had to resist the impulse to reproduce it in its entirely; therefore, I highly advise you, my reader, to click on the link and read this article for a better understanding of what workplace bullying is all about.  Why a specific person is chosen while others are left unhindered.

There are some sentences or paragraphs that describe perfectly what was happening to me - and why - in that first situation:

Bullies target people who pose a threat to them in the workplace.  Often the bully target is smart, competent, well-liked and self-assured.  In fact, targets are often the most veteran and skilled person in the workgroup.  "Targets are more technically skilled than their bullies.  They are the 'go to' veteran workers to whom new employees turn for guidance.  

As I read this article last night, I was struck by this paragraph.  Especially in light of what I had written in my last blog entry that others, including managers who were new, would come to me for help.  I was  fast becoming a 'go-to' person.  Did that comprise a threat to my supervisor?  She came to us from the IT department.  Incredibly gifted and knowledgeable in her field of expertise, she came to us with no hands on knowledge of our jobs.  She could not do my job.  Did the fact that I could do things, work with people, in a way that she couldn't threaten her?

Workplace bullies target those for whom meekness, collaboration, compromise, team building and consensus-seeking are second nature, and while such character traits are an important part of a healthy work team, those traits only exacerbate bullying   "The most easily exploited targets are people with personalities founded on a pro-social orientation -- a desire to help, heal, teach, develop nurture others," the Workplace Bullying Institute states.  Bullies view such traits as a drain on their power; they believe that loyalty, compromise and collaboration give credit and power to others.

Oops!  Ouch.  Although, I only accessed this article for the first time last night in preparation for continuing on the theme of why one person is singled out for workplace abuse, the author of this article could well have been describing me.  I plead guilty to all the above traits.

Bullies often target employees who are fair, honest and ethical or have strong morals and integrity, especially if the bully does not possess those traits or if the targets' values conflict with those of the bully.

Again, this is a succinct statement of my values.  The very basis of who I am.  And, from observation - or rather hearing conversations on the other side of the cubicle - the very basis of who my supervisor was not.

The fact that a certain person is selected to be abused by either their boss or their co-workers does, in a sense, reflect on them.  But ironically, not in the sense that they are a bad person deserving of such harsh treatment.  They are targeted because they are a good person, a competent employee.

My husband has often said regarding both abusive workplace situations:  "You were too good for them."

And that is what I will leave you with today, dear reader.  The thought that if you are the one who has been selected to be abused by bullying either by your co-workers or your boss in your workplace, it is not because you are a bad person.

Quite the opposite, it is because you are too good for them.

(Click on the link to read another good on-line article entitled Who Gets Targeted  Why me?  This article reiterates in different wording and style, the concepts described in this blog entry.)

Scotland is known for its Scottish Thistles.  They tend to be found not in a field with other such thistles, but in solitary where they will stand out.  Where their beauty and uniqueness can be admired.  They stand out best against rocks - where they seem to thrive.   I personally prefer a nice, soft, well-tilled ground to be planted in, yet through the rock of adversity, an inner strength which I never knew I possessed shines through.  The bullying:  my rock.  The flower:  my strength.

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