How conflict at work can morph into outright abuse

Tuesday September 11 2018

Ms Terry  Ramadhani is a senior manager in the

Ms Terry  Ramadhani is a senior manager in the Human Resources Department, East Africa Aga Khan University 

By Terry Ramadhani

We have heard a lot about the view that people leave bosses not jobs. Most people I think subscribe to this view but one might ask, how comes many others seem to stay put even when it is painfully obvious that they have a toxic boss?

Indeed statistics show that we have a sizeable representation of toxic or near toxic leaders, and I am certain that we can all come up with a long list of specific examples of behaviors that these type of leaders model.

Often the issue is between a team or a member of the team and their team leader. But sometimes while the toxins may be coming from one person the abuse is from many aimed at the same person. This type of phenomenon is systematic and often deliberate, it may well be that some of the aggressors are not entirely complicit, they may have been co-opted without their knowledge through manipulations by the main aggressor, for sure a few words here and there can create a powerful narrative that people can buy into seldom realizing they are being used to mete abuse on another. Usually, this type of phenomenon will have been triggered by a conflict or misunderstanding between two people. One party may try to make things right, whilst the other party may choose to escalate by focusing on sustained actions that influence and make others treat their “enemy” in a cold, humiliating, disrespectful and minimizing manner. This type of workplace bullying has a name – it is called mobbing.

It is a phenomenon that is difficult to resolve and gnaws at the victim slowly and painfully. Often it paralyses into inaction as the mind freezes and curls up in agony.

Our workplaces are full of people who have multiple agendas, multiple personalities and abilities. It is expected that our finest displays of our failures as humans come to bear only too well. We may never have all the answers on how best to deal with tough abusive relations at work but it serves us well to recognize it as a problem and name it. It is in the ability to see and understand the issue, that we are able to bring forth our best solutions to our problems.

Mobbing has a lot of similar characteristics with the other form of mobbing that we are more familiar with – mob justice. One such characteristic is that just like in the crowd when all are busy stoning the ‘evil’ person, a good number of those that throw stones or kick the person on the ground, are just passersby. They weren’t there when the accusation and pursuant altercation happened, but they are throwing stones too. In our offices when abuse is directed at one person, it doesn’t come only from those that feel they have cause, it comes even from those that had zero to do with you, and it will rain from people who do not even know how you look like, they may only know of you and maybe have your email address. It is our shortcomings on show; for we are all but human, totally fallible. In the face of abuses such as;

• Emotional abuse

• Economic abuse

• Physical abuse

• Verbal abuse

• Harassment and

• All other forms of oppressive and abusive acts that go on;

We must never forget that we have a role to play in that story; here are three ideas of how to deal with things should you find yourself in such circumstances;

1. Determine if it is safe to confront the aggressor and make it known you do not appreciate their behaviour and it must stop!

2. Assuming they exist, use the formal internal structures that deal with grievances

3. Seek a way out of the job should you find that the organization’s culture and systems enable abusive acts to persist unchecked nor untamed.

Certainly, it is complex and sometimes the path to the light may seem so dark and bleak, fraught with many sacrifices and dangers, but research shows the impact of being subjected to abusive acts leads to a myriad of health concerns. It is also said that it takes 22 months to recover your confidence and positivity after a sustained period of abuse. Bottom line, no bully or mob is worth your mojo and your peace. If you are in that space right now, find peace in the prayer of Francis of Asisi;

O Master, let me not seek as much

to be consoled as to console,

to be understood as to understand,

to be loved as to love,

for it is in giving that one receives,

it is in self-forgetting that one finds,

it is in pardoning that one is pardoned

Let it go, smile, and don’t you ever forget your worth!