A Complementary Introduction to Mobbing (Video)

Mobbing in the workplace or other organizations is phenomenon affecting adults in their places of activity.

This article is intended to accompany a video of the same title located at the video channel entitled: vid.me/The_Mobbing_Stop.  The direct link to this particular video is:

https://vid.me/0W9Gu

Workplace/organizational mobbing (WOM) is not synonymous with bullying.  The latter generally involves severe, persistent, rude or harassing, peer-to-peer or boss-subordinate behavior.  Bullying, can involve a single bully or a spontaneous group of peers.

Mobbing is a systematic, generally progressive pattern of unjust behavior that targets one (or, rarely, a few) individuals and, as a distinguishing feature, it is vertically or hierarchically organized.  That is, mobbing typically is developed–or even initiated by–superiors, managers or other directing authorities.  Mobbing may actually begin with cases of bullying by a boss who is seriously mistreating an employee.  Peer-to-peer bullying that involves a group usually escalates quickly into mobbing because groups possess inherent, social organization with informal dominant (boss-like) figures or leaders.  Thus, such groups achieve the requisite verticality and organizational features by which harassment is accomplished, thereby qualifying such harassment as mobbing.  In formal organizations the hierarchy can misuse of otherwise generally legitimate rules and structures–neutral, good and necessary in themselves–that empower superiors and authorities to act unilaterally and with significant powers to reward, punish, define environments for the group and individuals, as well as to exclude (e.g., terminate) in extreme instances.  Circumventing the intent of any structure intended to protect the member or employee, when the leaders of an organization are intent on doing so, is difficult to counteract.  The asymmetry of the power, information and knowledge relations vis-à-vis the target in a bureaucratic organization–usually a workplace–can be overwhelming.

Because of the unjust nature of mobbing, it is appropriate to classify the agents and actors involved in creating or participating in mobbing activity, that is, the mobbers, as  perpetrators.  The mistreated individual is the target individual, or victim.  In more vicious situations, stonger analogies apply: the target individual is in the role of a prey animal and the perpetrators and their subordinate allies are the predators acting in a hunting pack.

The term perpetrator is indeed apt because mobbing is always wrong.  Means should exist whereby members or employees of organizations that are truly not performing or acting according to formally expressed standards can be corrected, disciplined or terminated. There is never a legitimate reason for managers or leaders to create, foster or even implicitly foster conditions of mobbing.

In the current Wikipedia entry, where “workplace mobbing” directs to, it is stated: “When it occurs as emotional abuse in the workplace, such as “ganging up” by co-workers, subordinates or superiors, to force someone out of the workplace through rumor, innuendo, intimidation, humiliation, discrediting, and isolation, it is also referred to as malicious, nonsexual, nonracial / racial, general harassment.” [1] 

Two books that are worthwhile are those of Dr. Janice Harper (2016) entitled, Mobbed! [2], as well as that of Dr. Noa Davenport, et al. (1999), Mobbing. [3]   See references below for complete citations.

Hopefully, people will not interpret every slight or unpatterned, happenstance offense as either mobbing or bullying.  Not only does this undermine of the significance and general appreciation of the malicious practice of genuine harassment, it also signals a failure of the claimed victim to exercise personal agency in managing random, interpersonal conflicts between parties inclined to exercising goodwill.  False claims of mobbing or bullying, unrelated to substantial evidence, can themselves be elements of a bullying or mobbing attack when the accused “bully” is unjustly characterized.  In fact, the accusation that someone is a “bully” when they have no such intention and their actions are inappropriately characterized, is one of the most insidious and potent wildcard accusations that a mobbing group can make.

Similarly, nothing in this document or associated videos or references should be misunderstood so as to promote the careless or deliberate misidentification of mobbing where it does not exist. Worst of all, this does a grave disservice to people who are genuinely mobbed.  All members of groups and employees need to regularly examine their own performance and behavior for areas needing improvement, correction or realigned understanding of the goals and practices of an organization.  It is unimaginable that any of us can act with perfect innocence, execution or intention.

Mobbing is less easy to perceive by the targeted individual from its inception precisely because the perpetrators tend to act “behind the back” of the targets.  It is not prudent for targets to immediately suspect nefarious causes for events.  To do so would be counterproductive to both performance and one’s peace of mind.  Reacting early would most likely entail reacting to faint and ambiguous signals, even spurious signals and events, thereby exposing the target to the criticism of being “paranoid,” “difficult to work with,” and “prone to cause trouble.”  This is a phase when superiors who are engaged in crafting a mobbing situation slowly aggregate confederates to their cause.

Crafty mobbers, especially as they are constructing the mobbing environment, may even accelerate or reduce (lay low) on mobbing attacks.  This may depend on how opportunistic they are in their modus operandi, or how shrewdly they camouflage their actions with ambiguity in order to enhance the possibilities of plausible deniability.  In particularly devious cases, such as those constituting gaslighting, the perpetrator or mobbing group may take delight in creating a torturing environment for the target.   The target will  be caused to doubt their own psychological capacity for stable perceptual activity.

Most confederates in mobbing groups will participate unwittingly, but simply through motives of self-preservation will realize that distancing themselves from the targeted individual will be progressively better for their own security and potential for rewards from the mob leader. more active participation occurs once they engage in piling on, gossip, false accusations, rude behavior, or overt ostracism.  Some allies of the mobbing leader will be recruited an held in greater confidence.  These individuals, inappropriately, will be given sensitive information about the target and will be invited to participate in fully collusive actions against the target.  A clue that mobbing is occurring is if particular subordinates, beyond their rank or pay grade, spend unusual amounts of time behind closed doors with the superior.  Untoward facial expressions, “the evil eye,” winks, hand gestures, are intended to signal to the target that they are not wanted and to make them uncomfortable, but they are extremely difficult for a target to verify and document.  Indeed, doing so can be intentionally misconstrued to further mischaracterize the target as “unstable,” “paranoid,” or “ready to blow.”

It is important to note that mobbing phenomena can be generated easily within groups.  It does not take “an office full of psychopaths,” as one might be tempted to mutter in the exasperating, early stages of mobbing.  Unfortunately, although the target may temporarily derive some comfort from calling “everybody psychopaths”–thereby reducing the inexplicability and unpredictability of their surroundings by the application of some theoretical explanation–this characterization is likely to be untrue and only impeded effective response as time proceeds.

The naturalness or proclivity of not only humans, but animals–especially mammals and birds–to engage in mobbing is well described.  “Naturalness” is not to be confused with healthy, praiseworthy, noble, legitimate or necessary even legal.  Mobbing behavior can involve legal liabilities for organizations and perpetrators.

Indeed, one or more of the principal mobbers may suffer at least a mild form of clinical or subclinical personality disorder, but this should not be the ready interpretation.  A more helpful understanding of the principal mobbers is their lack of proper, moral formation or maintenance of good character.  Less culpable than the ring leader, the confederates also, ipso facto, are lacking in adequate moral and personality strength to resist enlistment in the mobbing activities of the group.  Nonetheless, precisely, as in the animal world, it is not difficult for a management system that inclined to such poor practices, to conscript–so to speak–compliant individuals into participating in mobbing.  No extra theorizing or presumptions of psychopathology need be sought nor demonstrated.

Kenneth Westhues assembled a list in 2006 of typical clues that mobbing was occurring.[5]  I will attach references and links at the end.  In abbreviated, modified and amplified form: targets are often adequate to superior workers; rumors and gossip are engaged in secretly, the target cannot confront claims or complainants; the target is excluded from meetings; confederates amass evidence satisfying confirmatory biases; there is groupthink agreement that the target deserves punishment; punishments do not match in time or proportionality the cited causes or periodic reviews; defamatory rhetoric is documented in “secret” or double-records systems (“laying behind the log,” often disparaging and defamatory material in unsubstantiated, reckless, general, cryptic and untraceable form) or it resides in “tribal knowledge” liable to drifts in accuracy–usually for the worse;” petitions, meetings, or encouragement of complaint-parties to deal with “problem” people–especially in violation of standard procedures for workplace discipline; complaints kept from targets–in violation of due process, even after disciplinary procedures have been initiated or concluded, excessive secrecy & confidentiality; unspoken prohibitions against defending a target or offering contrary evidence; bundling of the target’s minor flaws or even neutral behaviors, trumped up charges, exaggerations, vague, excessively adjectival and adverbial descriptions of the target’s traits as though these were actual offenses, accusations for which no evidence exists nor is exculpation possible; the target is progressively mischaracterized, demonized and made “radioactive;” mobbers grow bold in deviating from established procedures as a necessity in eliminating the target; and the mobbers insinuate that they fear that the target will harm them: this is either a result of projection, guilt based on awareness of their own acts of injustice, a reflection of their own propensity for retributive–even violent–behavior, or a calculated, Machiavellian scheme to further elicit mobbing sympathies from confederates or potential confederates.

Mobbing is, as stated above, unjust to the target, it is a moral hazard for the perpetrators and allies, and may even–as mentioned–expose the organization and individuals to legal liability.  Mobbing is a poor occupation for the workers and invariably is detrimental to the organizational mission.  For a private, competitive enterprise the costs to the organization in terms of morale, profitability and exposure to risk, as well as the future viability of the company make mobbing as unacceptable as it unjust.  It is never a sign of a competent, mission-oriented team of leaders and workers.

Mobbing is in direct contradistinction to the practice of conversation championed within the The Second Society Project and about you which are likely to read about here at this website.

Mobbing is almost inevitable as tyrannical or totalitarian systems begin to become powerful in a society and, thus, desirous to purge organizations of resistive personalities.  See historical sources for descriptions of the secret, Communist, East-German police, the Stasi, or the SS corps of Adolf Hitler.  See also sources for Stalin’s Communist strong men including, for example, Lavrentii Beria and Vyacheslav Molotov.

Bureaucracies that begin to follow a trajectory towards toxic workplaces that employ weaponized mobbing techniques as a routine means of maintaining systems of internal control, are fertile grounds for the development of tyrannies.

Further articles and videos are planned to educate the public about mobbing, aiding those who are prey targets, empowering those who support mobbing victims, historical perspectives from biology and politics, and encouraging social and legislative reform to discourage the practice of mobbing from becoming a familiar habit, particularly, of governmental agencies.

Please stay tuned!

_________________________________

[1]   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobbing

[2] Harper, Janice, Mobbed!  What To Do When they Really Are Out to Get You, 2016.  Tacoma Washington: Backdoor Press.

[3]  Davenport, Noa, Ruth distlar Schwarz, Gail Pursell Elliot, Mobbing: Emotional Abuse in the American Workplace, 1999.  Ames, Iowa: Civil Society Publishing.

[4]  Gaslighting.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaslighting

[5]  Westhues, Kevin. 2006. “Checklist of Mobbing Indicators.”                                                           http://kwesthues.com/checklist.htm

 


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