Organizational Bullying


I’m going to use a sensitive word here and I apologize, but the word is, in many respects, appropriate.  Sometimes organizations, not just people, can be considered a bully.  The Alberta Government has a variety of resources online that talk about bullying, but let’s go back to the definition of bullying:

use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants

We’ve all seen how this works with people:  the comments, the looks, the social media harassment.  But what does this look like from an organizational perspective?

Sometimes it is from a perspective of fear.  “Do it this way or we will never do business with you again.”  This can occur if you are trying to negotiate a contract or get a better rate on something.  One company, usually the larger of the two, tries to use its size to force on the smaller company terms and conditions that may not be economically viable or just don’t make sense.  The fear is that the big guy will make good on his promise and never do work with the little guy again.  Can the smaller company afford to lose the work?

Sometimes it is from an influence perspective, where one organization has “the inside track” on getting something approved.  So, even if it isn’t the best solution because it is the only solution being heard it becomes the path going forward.  Or perhaps both alternatives are being heard, but the voices, the discussions, the feedback is all being given to one making it the de facto standard.

Organizational bullying is found in almost any organization but is particularly prevalent in organizations that have “grown” organically or have a complex structure.  Multi-national companies are prone to internal bullying.  As are governments.  Yup, governments.  This sort of bullying occurs when two or more groups feel that they are the ones responsible for a specific function or program.  Each tries to assert dominance over the other in order to force their perspective on the world.  In the United States this is readily apparent with regard to law enforcement.  There are local police, state police, FBI, CIA, DHS, DOJ, ICE, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Marshalls, etc.  There are so many different layers and different types of law enforcement that they step on each other’s toes constantly and each one insists that they are the ones that should be setting the rules, the guidelines as to how to proceed in any set of circumstances.

The problem is that many people can’t see organizational bullying, they just think of it as the way of doing business or just an internal squabble.  But when it reaches the point where one part of the organization withholds information or is creative in their interpretation of the information that we go beyond mere squabbles into the bullying area.

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