Mobbing - What Leaders Must Know About It [May 24 2017]

Last Friday I had the privilege to participate in Eva Sylvie Rossi's training on mobbing in Budapest. I had to realize how comprehensive this topic is. Based on the information I collected (1) at the training, (2) through my relevant reading of the literature and (3) working on my nonverbal behaviour model (called Multimodal Messaging Inventory) I developed a tool that can be used by leaders at any companies. It is called the RAFI model. Here you can download the One Pager of the model.

With Eva Sylvie Rossi (TSTA, Psychotherapist, Organizational Counselling Psychologist) from Rome, Italy

In this post I will write about the four steps you can take as a leader when you have the perception that mobbing is happening in your organization. Step one is to Recognize the signs of it. Step two is to Act upon it. Do something to intervene it. Step three is Follow Up. Make sure constructive changes are really happening. And step four is to Integrate. In other words arrive to a closure of the case instead of leaving any space for what we call "unfinished business". My goal is to make you more sensitive about the topic. Let us warm-up. Look at the picture below and describe it on your own words.


R - Recognize

First, you need to be aware of that something unusual is going on. Just like in the picture above, there is somebody who is not very happy about what is going on. Once you can see the symptoms, described later, related to a person (or yourself), ask the following questions. How much stress is the person experiencing? How intensive is the stress? How often does it occur? Is immediate help needed? What is happening in the system (later I will describe the systemic view that has three levels: macro-social level, micro-organizational level and individual level)?


A - Act Upon It

If you perceive you should do something, consider your options. As a leader, what resources do you have to utilize? What if the target denies everything (like in the GIF above)? To whom should you turn for more information or help? How should you communicate with the target of mobbing? Do you need to immediately separate the person from the context and seek professional help? What are the possible consequences of doing nothing? How can you get more information from different points of observation related to the case?

F - Follow Up


Once you did the necessary steps, make sure the things are going the right way. Regularly check the person and the circumstances. It is a sensitive period. This is where incongruence (when the overt messages don't match the covert, nonverbal behavior) may occure so you need to be sensitive for it (see the GIF above). Know what your role is in the case. Notice if your help is not needed any more. Also, recognize if more is needed to be done. Finally do not become a Rescuer. Set up clear boundaries and if the person is fine, exercise your listening skills. Act when you are asked. A well-established communication system can guarantee it works in a healthy way.


I - Integrate

The final step is very important. It helps to turn the page over, to close one chapter and move to the next one. As a leader, you might be emotionally involved in the personal lives of your team members. Certain life changes they face might mean challenges, especially emotionally, to you too. It's because you are a human being. You simply resonate. You might even take your job (and this burden) home to your family (see the GIF above). If you have the perception you also need support related to what you experienced while helping someone, it is your responsibility to recognize this and ask for help. Talking about the case, even without mentioning the person's name you helped, can help you put the events into perspective and get over it. Take good care of yourself.

Features of Mobbing

Finally let me summarize the 21 pieces of information I have collected about mobbing.

(1) Mobbing is a human bullying behaviour.

(2) The target is an individual who is bullied by a group of people.

(3) It is happening in a well-defined context such as a family, peer group, school, workplace or a community. (Most frequently the term is used for the workplace)

(4) Though we see it as a human collective aggressive behaviour, its roots can be found among birds and other animals.

(5) The symptoms of mobbing are fully comparable with the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) so it can easily be misdiagnosed. It leaves the target in a constant state of alarm. We might see alcoholism, substance abuse, somatic symptoms, tremors, paranoid symptoms, selective mutism and even suicide.

(6) People being involved in mobbing don't need to be vicious or pathological. Under certain circumstances group dynamics can lead to this phenomenon so anyone can engage in mobbing (the "innocent bystanders"). For example in different team developmental stages (forming, storming, norming, performing, adjourning) you can face different aspects and intensities of it.

(7) Mobbing can continue and intensify if the target does not leave the context.

(8) Mobbing can be very subtle. It is not as apparent and visible as other physical or verbal aggressive behaviours.

(9) The target is receiving disrespectful and harmful messages (many times with physical behavior) from the subjects.

(10) The observable symptoms of mobbing are public humiliation, general harassment, emotional abuse or discrediting of the target, hostile one to one verbal or physical behavior towards the target and rumours, gossips and unfounded accusations in the environment target also belongs to.

(11) Others from the environment can willingly or unwillingly become the part of the continuous malevolent actions against the target.

(12) The goal of the actions is to get the target out of the community, workplace or group. Mobbing is often initiated by a person in a position of power (or influence). It is best characterized by a desperate urge to crush and eliminate the target.

(13) Poorly organized work environment and inattentive management can contribute the formation of mobbing. When the boundaries and responsibilities are not clear, a rigid, authoritative (vicious) system can be formed. If someone overqualified or whose job role does not match the person's attitude, he or she becomes vulnerable (and maybe the target of mobbing).

(14) When the target cannot easily leave the context (for example due to strict elements of the system or contract; geographical or financial characteristics), mobbing may occur more easily.

(15) Mobbing can be executed in three directions. The leader can mob the worker. The worker can mob the leader. A worker can mob another worker. Then others join the more frequently happening malevolent behavior toward the target (or victim).

(16) While people involved in mobbing using strategies such as gossips, innuendo, humiliating, isolating and intimidating the target, they make it look like as if the target is responsible for what is happening. With this others can join and blame and victimize the target. As a result of this, the target can feel guilt ("It is because of me.")

(17) It is a circular phenomenon. When the symptoms above are present for at least six months, on a continuous basis (at least once a week), we consider it mobbing. If they happen occasionally, it is not mobbing.

(18) The attacks in mobbing can be divided into several areas against the target. Attacking the (a) possibility of communication; (2) the social relations; (3) the social or personal status; (4) the quality of professional and/or personal life of the target and (5) the health of the target.

(19) Mobbing is a self-maintaining mechanism. Systemic approach can help us see it more clearly and then deal with it. First, we can investigate the macro-social system. This is the big organization level. It may mean different locations and even countries where global changes are happening. These changes can arrive to the conditions I described at point 13. Second, we can have a look at the micro-organizational system. It can be a concrete facility with different departments where people physically work together. Teams can have conflicts and co-operations here. Maybe the boundaries are not clear between to units so the processes can cause frictions between the people. Third, it is the individual level. A person can have conflicts with another person (in the same team or in an another one) and we can investigate this interpersonal level. See point 15 for the three directions where mobbing can occur. See the picture below to understand the connections.

(20) There is higher risk to become a target of mobbing at the beginning of the career and right before retirement.

(21) To help the target of mobbing, we need to provide them with three types of support. First, make sure there is a supporting social network around them that can help recover and decrease the pressure. This is giving the necessary emotional support. Second, medical support might be needed. It helps the person get the necessary self-regulation back in the physical and psychological levels. This might mean going to the GP, a counsellor or a life coach. Finally, legal support can help the person understand his or her rights in the situation and the consequences the situation generated. HR business partners and company lawyers can give information and support here.

If you have any questions, comments or stories, share them with me via email. We can publish them here.



by Bali Polyanki

(c) All Rights Reserved 2017