Saturday 30 July 2016

The Bullying Business

Prince William seems to have thrown himself into National Stand Up To Bullying Day (sic), "warning that unrelenting torment isn't just confined to the playground".  It's an odd one, isn't it?  Aside from places like prison or street-life in various unsalubrious neighbourhoods where the threat of physical violence is real, or in sordid workplaces where the threat of instant loss of livelihood is a serious prospect, how could grown adults be susceptible to bullying?  Well they are, and it's a striking phenomenon.

I suffered very little from bullying at school: we were a rugby-playing outfit, and everyone knew that however big a 16-year old would-be tyrant thought he was, there were any number of First-XV prefects who could mallet him effortlessly if he overstepped the mark.  Being beasted at Sandhurst was tough, but never personal.  It came as a shock, therefore, to find myself suffering under a bully in my first regimental posting: it was the CO, a petty tyrant whom I rapidly learned to avoid.  (It was because he was thick, had never been to university or Staff College, knew he was never going any higher, and had a mile-wide inferiority complex.)  I learned just how easily heavy-duty brow-beating comes to a certain type of overbearing individual, and how effective it can be even with people who are not of a particularly nervous disposition, and who'd ordinarily reckon to be able to fend for themselves without difficulty.

Having come under the thumb of this bastard, I vowed there and then never again to succumb.  One knows perfectly well that in most everyday environments there is absolutely no prospect of physical violence; and while you can perhaps be threatened with the sack etc, in reality it's almost always just bluster, however genuinely unpleasant.

This resolution has served me just fine, in the military and as a civvy: indeed the issue never seemed to arise again.  That was until in business I ran into a well-known commmercial negotiator from another oil company, we'll call him Jim (because it's just possible he hasn't succumbed to the ulcers he was obviously due).  His reputation went before him - "nobody ever stands up to Jim" - but somehow our paths hadn't crossed: until one day in a new job I found myself across the table from him.  Our two companies had a minor commercial tiff and Jim, contemptuous of the efforts of his underlings in the dispute, had decided to take the matter into his own hands.  I invited them to our offices, and there they were, six of them under Jim's glowering leadership.

Only Jim spoke (the rest - all grown adults, of course, lawyers and negotiators alike - looked utterly in thrall to him).  He started softly:  there must, he presumed, have been a fundamental misunderstanding on my part, obviously I was new etc etc; but I had thwarted him which was completely unacceptable.  He was here to have me reverse my position on the spot, publicly.  I politely demurred:  the exchange of correspondence between us that I had on the table in front of me clearly supported chapter-and-verse my position, which I proposed to maintain.

He raised his voice, his face blackened, and I could see his people sinking into their chairs.  Those who dared to flash a glance in my direction were clearly imploring me to concede in my own best interests.  He thumped the table, told me my company had once been good to do business with but was now beyond the pale; that it was entirely my fault; and that he would be taking the matter directly to my CEO.

I stood up and told him I was leaving, but that he and his crew were welcome to continue using the conference room if they wished.  I said that the CEO's office was on the second floor, if he'd like to call in afterwards; and bad them good afternoon.

Needless to say, a couple of days later a written apology arrived in the post; the misunderstanding was his & he hoped we could move forward etc etc.  And so we did.

But Jim generally prevailed, and made a lot of mileage for his company and himself using the bullying tactic elsewhere, before and since.  When one reads about the behaviour of the Fred Goodwins ("he manufactured fear") and the Bernie Madoffs ("people were afraid of Bernie"), one is in no doubt that they rose to great pinnacles in their respective callings by the same means.

Bullying adults?  It's real, right enough.



Anonymous said...

Do we have to guess the rest of the title?

Electro-Kevin said...

I was bullied throughout childhood and so learned how to fight. I'm afraid my approach to bullies in adulthood has been less subtle and intelligent than yours, Nick. I deal with it more legalistically now and I'd be a lot wealthier had I learned to be more restrained earlier in life.

Electro-Kevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

My girlfriend had a HR position where she was told (directly, and with no interpretation) that the point of her role was for people to blow steam off at her.

Whilst it was not openly said except to her, people were often blunt and rude in public and so it spread (made me think of the The Stanford Prison Experiment).

She left rather than do anything about it, probably could have wiped the floor legally with them in today's climate if she was so inclined.

Electro-Kevin said...

BTW. My new inset photo is my pooch. He sees 'em off on my behalf now.

dearieme said...

I once had a boss who, I think, would like to have bullied me but wasn't confident enough to try.

He blurted out the reason when I went to see him about his latest decision-making blunder. He refused to listen to me: "You are one of those clever people who will persuade me to do what I don't want to do".

At least it showed that he was only a plonker, not a psychopath. It almost made me sorry for him; at least he knew he was out of his depth.

Anonymous said...

Interesting.....I've experienced bullying at work and as all my jobs were just that ie jobs not a career I just left and moved to the next one. I too never experienced bullying at school.

Recently though it has been a lot closer to home as my neighbour seems to have developed a dislike towards me to the point that I even sold my house and was all set to move when the buyer pulled out. Within those few months where the solicitors were doing their stuff I decided to put up a subtle fight.

The rules were firstly whatever he did I did not retaliate immediately which required a lot of patience on my part. Second any rubbish in my garden I recycled or binned. Anything else of his which came my way I would put back in his garden without crossing over any boundary. I ignored the overflowing bins parked under my nose and any rubbish in his garden which was placed to cause annoyance. I blocked off my car port so as to block him using it freely to access his own property. Everytime there was unpleasant noise shouting etc I put the radio on Radio 3 fairly loud. I was quiet within my owm 4 walls apart from this.

It seems to have worked to a certain extent and is ongoing as I've decided not to allow him to force me out. He would like nothing better than a fight or a row at least and I'm not going to give him the pleasure. His bins are now kept where they should be. He's stopped littering the place with his fag ends etc. I think he just got bored with it. During this time I've had my phone at easy reach together with the reference no the police gave me at the start when on one particularly nasty occurrence I had cause to phone them. At the start I was quite scared of him and felt intimidated but now I see him as a pathetic bully whose existence must be sad if he gets his kicks by bullying others. I still don't know what caused him to pick on me and I'm hopeful I don't experience anything like it again. One thing I've learnt is I won't be as trusting towards anybody I don't know well again.

Electro-Kevin said...

Anonymous. That sounds awful and I've been there myself.

We had neighbours move in on their second marriage with grown up sons from previous relationships. The sons would come at weekends and the newlywed parents would go off and leave them to it.

Every weekend became a house rave with fights, police called and arrests made. The eldest son would fight incessantly with his girlfriend.

I ended up organising a neighbourhood group who made a joint complaint to the council and to the local home beat officer. The noise abatement route wasn't very effective as the noise wasn't consistent enough. (as well as this was a very yappy dog who was left alone all the time)

The police officer turning up in uniform seemed to have an effect on the parents and I developed good terms with the stepfather, which helped.

Then the lads became more of a permanent feature but were not allowed to stay on their own at weekends.

Unfortunately the eldest took it personally and would try to intimidate me thereafter. He'd block me in our shared drive at every opportunity and took delight in making me ask for him to move his car to go anywhere.

I fronted him out and told him straight when he said "'snot really a problem - is it ?" Well actually, yes, it was. I told him that he was making me ask his permission to go about my business.

Yes. The litter - the fag butts in the garden and in the porch. Been there. Had it all.

The only answer was to move and so we did. And sold at a loss.

I made sure the next place was detached with its own drive.

Of all the bullying this is the worst sort. There is little respite from it even when it is not happening. You're constantly on edge in anticipation of it starting up again and you read into every little thing.

Good luck.

dearieme said...

My parents took a dim view of bullying so sent me to primary school wearing clogs. "Kick 'em on the knee, son".

I don't think I ever needed to. I've believed in deterrence ever since.

Electro-Kevin said...

I expect you were known for being clever too, Dearieme.

Timbo614 said...

@E-K :)

When I started secondary school, I was less than 5' tall (I'm still only 5'6") one guy was already over 6 ft. I became Tiny Tim almost instantly. After a couple of incidents I made a quite simple decision: I made the 6' guy (also named Nick) and his mates my best friends! Powerful friends against the bullies. simples :). I didn't need them often but backup was always good!

Thud said...

I've been a violent self employed shit for most of my life...worked for me as bullying never featured.

Blue Eyes said...

Very interesting post, Nick. When I read something about Wills' involvement I was very pleased to see it.

I have worked with/for people similar to Dearime. Actually several now I think of it.

A student temp job boss was an aggressive shouter. He treated everyone appallingly. He ran his team on temps alone so that he could fire anyone on the spot if he wanted to. And he did. He would bawl at people in front of the whole team, send people home, etc. At first I was thoroughly intimidated by him but as I went on I realised that he could be stood up to in small ways. It helped that I was one of the better workers, and he knew it. in the end he had a grudging respect for me and others who had not wilted.

For years I worked under a very overbearing bloke. He was lacking in confidence and made up for it by being loud and dismissive. Nobody could ever do anything right according to him. I learned to live with it. The partners knew what he was like and occasional intervened but seemed unable to deal with the actual issue. But their acknowledgement that it wasn't personal made a difference.

Now I work elsewhere, and the change has been almost shocking. It's like a noise has been shut off that had been there so long I had stopped noticing.

Blue Eyes said...

In the Met in my experience there was a kind of negative bullying. Certain people found that doors were opened easily for them. I.e. there were those who were more equal. This was the case even in the voluntary side!

I could never see that there were common factors in the chosen ones, so it didn't seem to be discrimination as such. But it seemed very real. I would have hated to have tried to make a real career in that organisation. Some of the most satisfied people were those who did not want to advance - which probably tells you something..!

Electro-Kevin said...

Blue - In the police I had fisticuffs x4 in five years. Two of those occaisioning arrest and two with other coppers in police digs !!!

Timbo - I was quite handy myself but the art to being hard is - first and foremost - LOOKING hard and I look the complete opposite.

I learned to enjoy a good scrap and have been up against toughies but it can get you into a lot of trouble if you work for a company and their employment contract states "Summary dismissal if you bring either this company or YOURSELF into disrepute." So as a remedy for adult bullying one has to think twice.

Graeme said...

If you look at RBS and the latest comments about stress tests, you hve to wonder quite how much of a sh1t Mr Goodwin was. Everytime you think the sewer is clean, something new emerges.