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Bullies, Reputational Hijackings and Corporate Responsibility...

There's been a fair amount of press lately about bullying that happens inside of corporate America, to the point where some draft "anti-bullying" legislation is making the rounds in the states.

The world doesn't need more legislation in the workplace.  The world needs you to stand the hell up and make sure bullying doesn't go unchecked. Biff

Of course, the biggest problem with bullying is that it comes in many different flavors.

Let's talk about one of 100 flavors - something I'll call "reputational hijacking".  Reputational hijacking occurs when a good person finds themselves in the middle of a bad situation.  They've led a good corporate life, performed well, then something bad happens.  Maybe it's their fault, maybe it isn't, but it's nothing so bad that they won't recover based on their reputation and body of work.

Enter the reputational terrorist, who performs a reputational hijacking.

Example: Great manager takes an EEOC suit from a former employee who everyone knows needed to be fired.  Included in the EEOC charge is an email where the manager is pretty insensitive to the problematic employee.  Doesn't look great on paper, but it doesn't make him a racist - in any way.

1st Meeting of the Leadership Team after the EEOC charge appears:  The EEOC suit is discussed (the manager isn't on the Leadership Team), and the reputational terrorist says, "You know, that really doesn't surprise me.  I think he's had some issues related to that for awhile." No one says anything.  No details provided.

Next Meeting of the Leadership Team:  Mistimed joke by the hijacker/terrorist.  "Don't send Rick to the NAACP fund raiser!!"  Ha.   A couple of people laugh nervously.  No one says anything.

Net/Net: The person's reputation gets slowly hammered away at, mainly because no one wants to get any splatter on them.  Think about how easy it would be to stand up against this form of bullying, especially when the person's not there to defend themselves:

"Hey Alice, Rick has a pretty good track record.  If you have something specific to say and share, let's hear it.  Otherwise, you probably need to be neutral, if not supportive.  Next month one of these might be filed against you.  So what's it going to be - you want to dig into the details of what you're alluding to?"

Unfortunately, it never goes that way, does it?  We sit on the sidelines and watch good people get bullied - both in person and when they're not there.

Because we don't want the splatter on us.  Hell, you just bought those slacks.

You don't need laws to prevent workplace bullying.  We just need you to stand the hell up for people who are net positive to your organization.


Lindsey LeVeck

Great article in regards to the workplace! We've all seen this happen...

Stuart Shaw

Hi Kris

Totally agree we don't need more legislation. I can see why some would want it - it gives them a job for one, and a new policy that noone will read won't help either.

My take is that conflict in all forms should be seen as not a HR issue in the first place (first place meaning their domain only). I also don't think line managers should be the front line.

If we are now trusting and empoering empowering employees to recruit and collaborate and lead, surely we can encourage them to intervene and not wait when they see things escalating. Not just as the eyes and ears of HR, though that's fine, but more than that.

Everyone knows conflict when they see it, and noone - not even those involved in it (both sides) want to be in this situation. For me the key is to move employees into thinking and acting like it's their responsibility to act.

We're moving this way now, after having helped conflict situations for 10 yrs in the UK. Would like your thoughts - here are our thoughts in a comic books style -


The reason we have bullying in the workplace? Weak leadership. How many times have you seen the bullies get away with it? When the bullying is confronted and addressed it usually STOPS. However, some leaders will not address it at all. I've had a leader tell me (HR) that it's a "personality conflict" or make other excuses just so they won't have to deal with it. Meanwhile, the persons dealing with (or working for) the bully either suffer in silence or update their resumes.
Great post.

Ginny Conboy

Great article! As business partners we need to take the splatter and turn a situation like this into a learning experience.

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