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Workplace aggression is extremely complicated and frequently consumes everyone in the organization.  Bystanders and witnesses often are caught in the cross fire and do not know what to do.  Bystanders may feel powerless to do anything and at the same time, they want to stay neutral with the aggressor.  They do not want to find themselves in the shoes of the target.

However, like any aggressive situation, bystanders are an important part of the solution and ultimately the prevention of workplace aggression.  Just like targets, bystanders need to develop a clear understanding of workplace aggression and acknowledge that it is happening at work.  This knowledge helps them create a plan of action so that they do not become actively involved in the workplace aggression.  Bystanders need to recognize the risk they face for being used as a pawn by the aggressor to harm the target.  This acknowledgement helps the bystander remain nonaligned yet not part of the toxicity of the workplace.

Bystanders can also develop non-threatening intervention techniques that help neutralize difficult situations. 
Bystanders can utilize different tactics in meetings that avert the aggressor away from the target.  For example, if an aggressor is yelling at the target, a bystander can attempt to interrupt the situation by getting up to throw something away or even leave the meeting.  This may help the aggressor refocus their attention back to the meeting. 

Bystanders often are witness to the abuse that a target is subject too.  Bystanders should document information including the facts about what they observe.  This corroborates the experience for the target and is tool that leadership can use to address workplace aggression.  It is also an opportunity for the bystanders to protect themselves.

Bystanders should offer support for the target both in and out of the workplace.
  If they feel comfortable, they can be a sounding board for the target at the workplace and provide appropriate interventions as discussed earlier.  However, they may consider this too risky.  They may not want be seen with the target at work for fear this will subject them to workplace aggression. If this is the case, the bystander can be a support outside the workplace. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent workplace aggression, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com or (320) 309-2360. You can also visit my website at jankircher.com. Help is out there. 


 
 
Forgiveness often comes up in conversations about persistent workplace aggression. Many believe that if workers would engage in forgiveness, the workplace would improve.

Forgiveness is a process of letting go of anger or blame towards another person who has harmed us. (I would like to note that the concept of forgiveness often has religious or spiritual connotations. As such, this may or may not be an appropriate term to be using in the workplace.)

Forgiveness is frequently suggested to the target and they are encouraged to “let go” of past injuries. A human resources director told me on more than one occasion to wipe the slate clean and start fresh with the aggressors in my department. The implication was that I was the one with the problem and if I would just let things go, the work environment would change. This thinking is highly flawed.

Certainly letting go can be important, but by focusing the request for forgiveness on the target, victim blaming happens. The target once again becomes responsible for what is occurring in the work environment. Forgiveness also makes the target in charge of fixing the problem. In a persistent workplace aggressive environment, the target is usually unable to make any significant impact on the overall culture even if they would engage in “forgiveness.”  If forgiveness would change the workplace, all targets would willingly participate. However, their letting go does not stop the aggressor(s) from continuing to perpetuate violence in the workplace. It may help the target personally, but the environment continues to be problematic.

There is another piece that is missing when conversations around forgiveness begin and that is that forgiveness comes because of healing. Forgiveness or letting go without healing is a futile process and will most likely not improve the overall environment. It makes people and leaders feel good, but it does not repair the environment.

Leaders and workers needs to focus their efforts on how they can heal their organizations and workers. The incorporation of letting go into this process helps with healing. However, healing is the key to improving the overall workplace and for stopping persistent workplace aggression, not forgiveness.

 The organizational culture and workers are interdependent and persistent workplace aggression affects everyone either directly or indirectly. As such, healing must involve the entire work environment and incorporate everyone, even those who do not believe aggression does not affect them. An organization that engages in an active healing process can stop persistent workplace aggression, repair worker relationships, and even prevent future violence from occurring in the organization again. Forgiveness without healing will not change the persistent workplace aggressive environment, but forgiveness with healing can make a world of difference.

If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent workplace aggression, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com or (320) 309-2360. You can also visit my website at www.jankircher.com. Help is out there.
 
 
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More often than not, workers exhibit early warning signs before they erupt into a full-blown persistent workplace aggressor.  Leaders need to be aware of the red flags so they can address the issues before they get out of control.
Multiple indicators determine whether a worker could be transforming into a persistent workplace aggressor.  Leaders need to observe the behavior of their workers in meetings and with their interactions with others workers on a consistent basis.  This allows them to develop a perspective on every worker’s individual behavior and the impact it has on the overall workplace environment.

Leaders have responsibilities to the overall culture in the workplace and therefore, must scrutinize the behavior of every worker.  Leaders should examine both the verbal and non-verbal behavior and interactions to determine whether they may have a potential persistent workplace aggressor in their midst.

Leaders should ask the following:  Does the worker engage in some or all of these behaviors listed below?  Who are these behaviors directed towards?  How frequently are these behaviors occurring in the workplace?

  • Interrupts in meetings
  • Tattles to the boss or co-workers
  • Defensiveness –defending behavior of other workers that are clearly inept but these workers support the      potential aggressor
  • Lies about relevant and irrelevant issues
  • Gossips regularly including making up blatant lies about others
  • Talks over people in meetings or in other interactions
  • Brings up issues or concerns that that have been dealt with and/or are irrelevant to the current situation at hand
  • Responds inappropriate to others including but not limited too—tone of voice, non-verbal behaviors, such as rolling eyes or raising eye brows, talks down to others, and their overall behavior in meetings and interactions with others is not suitable
  • Lacks the ability to accept any feedback from others
  • Lacks the ability to accept any responsibility for their own actions and has a tendency to blame others
  • Muddies the waters with irrelevant information in an effort to confuse and take the focus away from real issues including themselves
  • Prods others workers in an attempt to gain a reaction
  • Always blow their own horn in order to show how great they are and to specify their own expertise
  • Demands that their own decisions should be followed and their actions are superior

If you can answer yes to some or all of these, you could have a problem worker on your hands.  It is, therefore, vital to be proactive and address these immediately to prevent your workplace from becoming one of persistent workplace aggression. For more information, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com or 320-309-2360


 
 
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In an ideal world, everyone would work in an organization where the boss was wonderful.  We would never have a boss that participated in persistent workplace aggression.  This unfortunately, is not always the case.  Many times, the boss is the persistent workplace aggressor, which makes the work environment even more problematic.

Having a boss who is a workplace aggressor complicates matters for the target and bystanders.  A boss who is a persistent workplace aggressor likely struggles with power, control, self-esteem, and professional boundaries.  Being involved in persistent workplace aggression is how the boss has learned to manage and/or control those they are supervising.

Since your boss does in fact have a great deal of power and control over you, what can you do?  

As in all situations of persistent workplace aggression, documentation is vital.  It may be even more important when the boss is the aggressor.  It is a means of protection for the target and must become part of the daily work day for the target.

Targets should attempt to develop allies.  The target should try to find allies who will willingly advocate or stand up for the target.  Allies can be used as witnesses if a situation calls for this.  This is again another strategy of protection for the target.

A target that is being mistreated by their boss needs to give serious consideration about whether they confront their boss about the persistent workplace aggression.  The answer will be different depending on the target’s situation. 

Confrontation may not always be in the best interest of the target.

Several factors should be considered before targets talk to their boss.  Some of these are as follows: 

  • What is the severity of the workplace aggression? 
  • What is the likelihood of change?
  • How has the boss dealt with feedback in the past?
  • Does your boss have the ability or capacity to self-reflect on negative feedback?
  • What are the chances of retaliation?
  • Are there allies that exist for the target?
  • If the target does confront their boss, is there another level of the hierarchical structure that they can utilize?

Targets must do a thorough assessment of both the positive and negative effects that a confrontation may have.  There is no right or wrong answer whether it is best to confront the boss or not.  The target and their safety are always the most important factors.  No matter what option a target chooses, they must be prepared to deal with the consequences.

If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent workplace aggression, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com or (320) 309-2360. You can also visit my website at jankircher.com. Help is out there.


 
 
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  A toxic work environment takes its toll on a person’s attitudes, thoughts, and feelings as a professional and a person. Being able to separate oneself out from the negativity at work and disengage is so important for the target yet next to impossible because of how the tentacles of the workplace aggression wrap itself around the target.

Targets actively need to pursue emotional disengagement from the turmoil of their workplace. Because targets are often dedicated and hardworking employees who vest in their job and/or profession, this can be extremely problematic for them. However, disengagement from the emotional chaos is the first step for in personal empowerment process.

Emotional disengagement does not mean that the target changes or alters their work ethic, but rather it focuses on de-investing oneself emotionally from the aggression that is happening in the workplace. It is about changing the mindset and the focus of the target from the aggressor, back onto themselves.

Targets need to make a conscious decision to react differently to how they are treated. They can take their power and control back. Targets who make this decision continue to do the work to the best of their ability, but they stop allowing the aggressor to affect how they react or feel. Targets make a choice to de-vest from their work and reinvest in themselves as a professional and a person.

Personal empowerment involves protecting oneself as a target by maintaining strict control of emotions. Workplace aggressors frequently push the buttons of a target that in turn emotional react. These emotional reactions more often than not encourage the aggressor to keep going. Deep breathing and self-talk techniques used in meetings or in conversations with aggressors are vital tools that help target keep their emotions in check and in turn, increase personal empowerment.

Developing escape plans are beneficial when the target feels emotions rising or the environment is too toxic.

One of these I frequently used when I felt cornered in my office was I would begin to pull my things together and I would say, “Hi John, I can see you want to talk to me, but I was just heading to a meeting across campus. Can I come down to your office when I get back in an hour? And, what did you need to talk to me about?” This allowed me to develop an understanding of what the aggressor wanted to talk to me about but also granted me with time to think about my response. On more than one occasion, when I would go down to the aggressor’s office, they were not even interested in talking with me and a potential abuse avoided.

Being able to avoid situations and maintain control reinforces for a target that they have good professional judgment. This is another step in the personal empowerment process.

It is important for a target to re-focus their thoughts on the positive aspects of their work and profession. This is again a difficult task because a persistent workplace aggressive environment is extremely negative and coming to work at times becomes challenging. I suggest developing a system that works for you which may include keeping a list that you add to everyday or putting post it notes around your work space. I often identified one thing each day and would continue to think about this one positive aspect of my job repetitively all day. It at times encompassed small things, such as having a great desk chair, access to a coffee shop, a short commute, or even having an office door that locked. This seems very small. However, in a persistent workplace aggressive environment, the target is regularly consumed with negativity and concentrating on positive work characteristics helps personal empowerment by distancing the target from the negative. It changes their focus to a more positive one and again reinforces their professionalism.

Targets need to take care of themselves by vesting in themselves outside of work and leave work at work.  Developing a self-care system at home prevent the target from obsessing and thinking about work.  It provides them with a much needed break from the hostility.  Targets need to find a hobby that they can do which keeps their thoughts on them and not on work including exercise, yoga, music, and etc. Taking care of you is so important in the personal empowerment process because it once again emphasizes how essential you are no matter what is happening at work.

If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent workplace aggression, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com or (320) 309-2360. You can also visit my website at jankircher.com. Help is out there.


 
 
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There  are several different schools of thoughts about how one becomes a persistent workplace aggressor. Some people believe that aggressors in the workplace have personality disorders or have personalities that hinder their ability to be a collegial and cohesive co-worker; Thus, transforming the workplace into a hostile and toxic environment that is problematic for everyone.The persistent aggressive workplace is also often culpable for creating the aggressors that plague the environment. In this type of culture, both targets and bystanders become significantly at-risk for becoming aggressors themselves because of the lack of effective interventions to stop persistent workplace aggression.

Targets are often in danger of moving into the role of the aggressor because of the fluidity of the persistent workplace aggressive environment. The role of target(s), aggressor(s), and/or bystander(s) in the workplace may change, particularly as workers come and go. A persistent workplace aggressive environment typically does not heal itself without intervention. As such, despite the fact that people leave, the environment continues to maintain the status quo of aggression by creating and generating new targets, aggressors, and bystanders. Therefore, roles of the persistent workplace aggressive culture change. For example, the target becomes the aggressor or a bystander becomes a target.

How could someone whose been emotionally and/or psychologically abused in a persistent workplace aggressive environment transform into the aggressor? The answer to this, unfortunately, is very simple. It is more beneficial to be the aggressor in the workplace than it is to be the target. As such, given the opportunity, the target may move into this role over time because experiencing workplace aggression is extremely dis-empowering and disheartening. A target’s personal and professional esteem takes major hits on a regular basis.

On the other hand, being an aggressor is extremely empowering and rewarding in the work environment. Over time, the target learns that their professional world is unlikely to change or even improve unless they modify their role into one that is more powerful. They elect, either consciously or unconsciously, to become aggressive because this allows them to get and maintain power in the workplace. This is something they may not have felt or had in a very long time. It feels good and unfortunately, the aggressive behavior may re-energize the target’s work efforts. Therefore, the target transforms into the persistent workplace aggressor to regain control in their professional life.

If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent workplace aggression, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com or (320) 309-2360 for a consultation. You can also visit my website at jankircher.com. Help is out there.


 
 
No matter what type of organization you are working in, leadership matters. Leaders are the faces of an organization and should be solving and preventing organizational problems, not creating them.

The role of a leader is crucial the overall organizational functioning.  Leadership frequently overlooks the subtle messages that they send their workers which sets the stage for a work culture where persistent workplace aggression can start, flourish, or even be prevented.

Workers look to their leader to determine what is and is not acceptable workplace behavior. As such, leaders need to be aware of both the verbal and non-verbal messages that they are sending out. Leadership always comes with a role-modeling responsibility. Leaders should ask themselves on a regular basis these questions:

  • Is the behavior I am portraying consistent with the organizational mission?
  • Is the behavior I am portraying the behavior I want mimicked by my workers?
If the answer is no to either of these questions, most likely some action should be taken.

If a leader wants policy and procedures followed, then it is important for the leader to respect policy and procedures. If a leader is participating in persistent workplace aggression, then it is likely that the workers mirror this type of behavior.

I consulted with a group where the leader complained that their workers were not following policy. In my conversations with the workers, they reported that they heard their leader consistently saying things, such as, “I would rather ask forgiveness than permission” or “Rules don’t apply to me. I just do my own thing.” The leader repeatedly made decisions that were outside the scope of the organization’s mission and policies. Workers were under the assumption that this type of behavior was not only acceptable, but also expected based on their leader’s behavior. As such, it should not have been a shock for the leader to see that workers replicated their behavior.  However, it totally blinded-sided the leader due to their own unawareness of the impact of their behavior had on determining the culture of the workplace.

It is essential that leaders remember the importance of their role. They are not only the lead of the organization, but also are mentors, role models, and managers of the organization. Good leadership involves active listening and critical self-reflection.

Active listening is a vital skill in leadership that gets a great deal of lip service, but little true listening happens in organizations. Leaders typically express a strong desire for workers to come to them, but do not necessarily want to hear what workers are saying.  In short, leaders struggle with active listening because it can be a double-edged sword. If I hear what workers are saying, then what do I do? Active listening does improve leadership and the overall organizational culture.  It is worth the leader to invest in the development of active listening skills. 

Leaders also need to develop critical self-reflection skills to ensure that their own behavior is sending the messages that they want their workers to implement. Understanding our behavior and the influence it has on others is part of self-reflection. Another key part is modifying and changing the behavior that may be influencing the workers and the organization negatively. 

Active listening and critical self-reflection for leaders are skills that can prevent and stop persistent workplace aggression improving the workplace environment for everyone.

If you are struggling in your organization with persistent workplace aggression, I can help. Please contact me directly at jankircher@jankircher.com or (320)-309-2360.