Editor’s blog: Bullying? Listen up, you dozy dolts

I’m going to tell you a few home truths about bullying, so you’d better listen and listen good.

Look, just pay attention, will you. Yes, you – sitting there at your keyboard. You know full well who I mean. That headline alone should have made even dozy dolts like you start to concentrate. And I’m warning you now: by the time you’ve finished reading this article, I’m going to test you on its contents. Woe betide you if you haven’t been concentrating. Yes, I’m going to come right through this screen and clip you round the earhole.

Nasty, aren’t I? Unattractive, and unlikely to to influence you, or win your admiration and friendship. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you never returned to this blog ever again if I carried on in that vein.

And that’s the biggest problem with bullying: it simply doesn’t work as a tool for motivating people to do what you want them to do. Bullies may get quick wins in which they exert their will over others. But in the long term, this method of managing others and running organisations is completely self-defeating. The most dysfunctional systems are those run by fear and coercion. It doesn’t work because fear doesn’t bring out the best in people – whether they be working a till in a supermarket or playing central defence for Manchester United. It just makes them tell those above them in the pecking order what they think they wish to hear. You don’t have to be a dictator to be decisive.

The Daily Mail yesterday did its best to portray Christine Pratt, disgraced founder of the National Bullying helpline, as a serial whinger, cashing in on the victim culture. This kind of story really is meat and drink for that newspaper – particularly since it gets to bash Brown at the same time. Quoting Truman’s ‘If you can’t stand the heat…’ opinion, it went on to attack the Human Rights Act of 1998: ‘Its critics have seen it as a charter for ambulance chasing, petty litigation and the growth of the health and safety leviathan. Now it is Mr Brown’s turn to feel its clammy grip.’

But what is it about politics that seems to attract the thuggish, and foster the ‘bullying culture?’ Is it the power, the desperation, the sense of self-importance? Because, in case you have any residual doubt, politics really is pretty nasty. ‘The Thick Of It’ isn’t just the figment of some comedian’s imagination. It’s a muscle and whip game. A game in which you get your henchmen to tell vile off-the–record tales about those with whom you are supposed to stand shoulder to shoulder (ask Alistair Darling).

Having said all this, and having made my liberal and enlightened stance clear… There are always going to be those more sensitive souls, around whom you must tread as if you were tiptoeing on eggs. Those for whom energetic encouragement is interpreted as unreasonable coercion. Many blameless businesses, both large and small, have found themselves on the end of disastrous litigation by put-upon shrinking violets who rise up to conduct a bit of passive-aggression of their own – often with calamitous results.

  • Point well made Matthew – unfortunately politics does appear to attract this kind of behaviour (although it certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on them!) as it’s an environment where people are (often publically) competing for the trust and support of others, As such, rather than compete with strong competitors on the real issues, swift results can be achieved through the effective use of ‘spoiling tactics’ and ‘guerrilla warfare’ to push competitors on to their back foot where they are forced to defend themselves and their reputation before being able to move back to proactive, front foot issues. This is one form of aggressive behaviour where ‘big prizes’ are at stake, but there is also a secondary issue at play, whereby politicians have to be ever ready for these tactics, and as result can become over-cautious and paranoid with their staff, living in fear of being left exposed or vulnerable to political attack. As with many things in life the sweet spot lies in the middle ground. For example – if one were to imagine a line with submissive behaviour at one end of the scale and aggressive behaviour at the other – effective, sustainable trust and leadership is borne out by the ‘assertive behaviour’ in the middle.

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    it does definitely feel like politics has got worse in this regard in the last ten years or so – but maybe it’s just that it gets more constant coverage these days – not sure…