In their article Nightmares, Demons, and Slaves: Exploring the Painful Metaphors of Workplace Bullying, Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, and Alberts (2006) describe survivors of workplace abuse.

They revealed the profound impact that uncivil behavior can have on recipients, and the lasting effect on firms which experience (1) employee exit; (2) compartmentalized communication; (3) lawsuits; (4) tarnished image; and (5) reduced productivity. No one arrives at the job anticipating playground behavior. This is why victims so often feel confused, overwhelmed, and at times concerned as to whether they themselves instigated the attack.

In the movie “Men of Honor,” the character portrayed by Cuba Gooding was forced to walk twelve steps (in a two hundred ninety pound diving suit) to prove his fitness. Saddled with the weight of verbal scourgings, disrespect, divisive behavior, and outright aggression, people find it burdensome to complete their assigned tasks. The mental equivalent of a leaden body suit, bullying acts as an anchor around our psyche – drowning us in a sea of disaffirming thought. Corrosive conduct saps initiative from what could have been productive pursuits.

At the end of their article, Tracy et al. (2006) offer a ray of hope – suggesting that maltreatment may spur some people to action. Their self-focus is then transformed to inclusion, in which the betterment of others is what’s important. Targeted workers can thus choose to portray themselves more positively: “…perhaps as survivors of a shipwreck, revolutionaries, war veterans, or ‘the resistance.’”

Nonviolent resistance in the form of education, activism, involvement in grassroots movements, and speaking out (in a respectful fashion) can produce dramatic results.

A masterful demonstration occurred when a Sikh Woman (Balpreet Kaur) chose to combat cyber bullying by explaining (1) the reasons for her appearance; and (2) the tenets of her faith. Her response sparked empathy, understanding, and a deeper awareness of other religions (not to mention an apology from the perpetrator).

Bullying education can be more formal, such as efforts to partner between collegiate and secondary institutions. Projects in the Middle Tennessee State University EXL (Experiential Learning) section of Principles of Management included presentations on cyber bullying, stalking, mobbing, bullying in the school system, and corporate bullying at a local high school. This semester, students are crafting brochures on similar topics to present to campus student groups.

In the civility/anti-bullying movement, you are either part of the solution or you are part of the problem.

Problem persons remain silent, do nothing, join in the taunting, or spearhead spiteful acts.

Revenge is however never the correct response. It diverts our energy in a way that submerges our spirit (and doesn’t solve the problem). Choose to stake your claim for a gentler society. Eschew hate speech in any form (e.g., cyber, verbal, or written) and make proactive efforts to engage in the positive. When we raise awareness to a raised fist is when ignorance will disintegrate. It is then that we can assemble the building blocks of community.

To combat incivility within your personal sphere, try the following:

  • Post an opposing comment when you see someone has been cyber smeared.
  • Practice persistence, courage, and the willingness to take a stand. Stick to your guns when pressured to be uncivil. Taking a stand against bullying often times entails telling bullies where they stand.
  • Become a State Coordinator or a citizen lobbyist for The Healthy Workplace Bill.  Gary Namie (co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute), has created a repository of informative blog posts, articles, videos, and personal stories describing the toll of workplace bullying.
  •  Volunteer to enact positive change.

People make the mistake of trying to settle a score, when they should be sharing their message on a larger stage. Bernard Lafayette explains “the war of non-violence uses different weapons, and its objective is to win people over.” From the film We Were Warriors:

“You cannot wait some for someone else to do it, for government to do it…you must make it happen by your own efforts and action and vision.” 


Jacqueline A. Gilbert

Jackie Gilbert is a Professor of Management in the Middle Tennessee State University College of Business.  She received her BBA in management from the University of Texas at Austin, and her MBA and Ph.D. degrees in Management from the University of Houston. 

Her research interests include cross-cultural studies, human resource management, diversity, gender issues, and bullying.  She has presented her research at national and international conferences, and has published in journals such as the Academy of Management Executive, Sex Roles, Journal of Applied Social Psychology, Human Resource Planning Journal, Journal of Business Ethics, Group and Organization Management, and Business Horizons

She is a 2002 recipient of the TBR Innovator’s Award for Excellence in Instructional Technology, a recipient of the MTSU 2002 Outstanding Achievement in Instructional Technology award, and winner of the 2004 MTSU Award for Innovative Excellence in Teaching, Learning, and Technology.  She is also a recipient of the 2006-2007 State Farm Excellence Professorship.  Dr. Gilbert currently serves on the MTSU Non-violence Committee.

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