Conflict Resolution With Bullies

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Bullies in the workplace

What Targets Can Expect When Confronting Bullies

When making speaking engagements to professional organizations about Organizational Bullying…A Silent Epidemic, I’m often asked, “What is the best way to confront a bully in the workplace?”  My response, unfortunately, is, “It depends on a number of factors such as: what type of bully behavior the attendee (target) has to contend, does he/she feel strong enough psychologically to face the emotional tactics the bully is going to use, are they prepared for the real possibility of job loss, and can the attendee confront the bully in an impassionate manner?”  For bullies, any confrontation with a subordinate or employee is viewed as “a game” in which they must win for the purpose of stroking their ego.  Consequently, if the target implodes (i.e. crying or whimpering) or explodes (i.e. losing one’s temper) the bully wins the game.  If the answer is “yes” to all the above then they must be prepared to enter into some type of conflict resolution. If the target cannot truly answer “yes” to all of the above questions, then typical avenues of conflict resolution may be ineffective or even counterproductive. instantcashtime.com


“Conflict Resolution” Is Really a Misnomer

For conflict resolution to work it is first assumed that both parties will try to be reasonable and capable of trying to understand the opposing views. This requires a certain level of empathy in order to understand the other party’s views with regards to their needs and intellectual interests. Based on this explanation of  “conflict resolution,” this process of reaching any accord with a bully does not apply.  As Dr. Gary Namie of the Workplace Bully Institute (WBI) points out, in bullying situations only one party is rational.  The bully’s interest is tainted by such factors as his/her insecurities, the need to dominate and control the target, or the irrational need to view themselves as “the winner” of the confrontation. The target’s psychological and emotional states are already compromised.    So neither party is entering the dispute on equal footing.  The goal of meeting halfway to resolve the dispute does not exist.


A survey conducted by WBI in 2011 (with a relatively small pool of approximately 500 participants) helps substantiate this view. When asked what the outcome was for those participants who voluntarily entered (or were browbeaten by superiors into taking the bullying issue into mediation) the findings showed that 52% of the perpetrators (bullies) were able to continue acting with impunity in spite of their aberrant behavior.  With regards to the fate of the bullied victims, the finding showed that at least 33% of the targets either quit their jobs or were fired immediately.


The target can also expect to face more than just the bully in the dispute.  It’s not uncommon for a bully to include a second party in the meeting such as a corporate attorney or perhaps even a representative from the H/R Department.  The attorney’s role is usually one of intimidation while the H/R representative’s role is one of witnessing the dispute.  The goals of the dispute are still the same.  The bully will try to justify his/her abusive behavior toward the victim and prove the victim is the source of the problem.


Mediation is an Inappropriate Alternative

 In cases involving any type of psychological or physical abuse, such as domestic violence, sexual assault, or workplace bullying, mediation is considered an inappropriate alternative. Individuals trying to cope with psychological and physical abuse have been disempowered of their ability to deal effectively with their persecutors.  The mediation process is more inclined to be used with more violent behavior between two parties than that of conflict resolution.  Research has shown similar characteristics between the workplace bullying phenomenon and domestic violence.  The main difference is that organizations have the domestic perpetrator on their payroll.  More targets are beginning to use the metaphor of psychological terrorism to that of workplace bullying due to the long lasting traumatic effects of prolonged exposure to the aberrant behavior of the bully.  The traumatic effects have come to be referred to as PTSD due to the similarities that both leave physical and emotional scars for life.  It’s been shown that major life altering attitudes, fears, and behaviors exist in both types of traumas.


Esque Walker, PhD, a Texas certified and Distinguished Mediator, believes that the mediation process was not designed or structured to deal with the complexities of workplace bullying or other forms of violence.  She listed thirty four reasons why mediation fails.  The most profound reasons are:

  •   Retribution by the perpetrator

  •    Perpetrator’s failure to honor what is decided

  •   Perpetrator fabricating information against the complainant

  •  Inappropriate outbursts and interruptions by the perpetrator to disrupt the process (demonstrating to the target that he/she is in control)

  •   The perpetrator does not see his/her actions as abusive, inappropriate, or psychologically damaging to the target

  •  Fear of the bully


 Gary Namie, PhD, of WPI believes that when targets are mandated to mediate, the employer reinforces the targets’ loss of control over their work lives.  Mediation is not the end of the bullying experience for the target if the target remains with his/her current employer. The bully will view the mediation as an opportunity to validate the effects of the abuse on the target and gather additional ammunition to use against the target.

Both the data collected by the Workplace Bully Institute and the opinion of nationally respected mediator Dr. Esque Walker would strongly support the same position:  that bullied targets should make every effort to avoid exposing themselves to Conflict Resolution or Mediation. The fact that 52% of bullies in mediation are immune from consequences of their behavior and only fewer than 3% are fired, the only conclusion that can be drawn from those percentages is that mediation or conflict resolution are simply nothing more than exercises in futility.


Ron Watkins, CMC
Certified Management Consultant