Beyond Bullying

Peace building at work, school, and home

Christie, the Workplace and the Culture of Retaliation

Governor Chris Christie is not the only one who presides over a workplace that engages in retaliation and awards abuse. Retaliation has become a common practice at work and in our daily lives, viewed as deserved punishment for what are often petty offenses. It's time we look to our own lives to recognize the many ways we engage in it ourselves, and excuse it in others. Read More

Obama Admin is worse at retaliation

The President is so much worse than Chris Christie. He retaliated against the Tea Party by unleashing the IRS on them. Where was your article about that when it was going on?

The article is not about who

The article is not about who was worse, the Republican or the Democrat. It's about looking at your own behaviors. Start from there.


I worked for 23 years at a company from which I was fired in 2012. I had excellent performance reviews, was very well compensated, had deep institutional knowledge (reported directly to the current CEO for 12 years), and what I thought were real relationships. I was fired in retaliation by a raging narcissist for walking out (quietly) from a "town hall" meeting...I was screamed and cursed at by him right after the incident, then ultimately fired a few months later with the only explanation being i had an "attitude problem". I lost almost all of my relationships immediately. I was shocked and devastated, and was unemployed for 49 weeks. I am just starting to recover.....

Oh and

When I was screamed and cursed at, the HR "business partner" was in the room, stared straight at the lunatic, and said NOT. ONE. WORD. And she totally supported him when I was fired (she was the messenger of that).

I'm so sorry you have been

I'm so sorry you have been subjected to such abuse and I don't doubt it for a minute. Careers are destroyed over absurdities every day; but being on the receiving end is god awful.

Janice, I liked this piece

Most of us are upset about the abuse of power, either Republican or Democrat.
And, I think you are right in pointing out that it is growing standard in American life.

Bullying has no place. I agree.

But, I have a serious question for you.
How does a person like Christie redeem himself?

We can write off any remarks as politically motivated.
But, people can - and do - learn from their mistakes.

If he is to be Presidential material (and I am not endorsing him), then how is Christie to learn from this crisis an become a better man.

We can condemn people. But, some take their mistakes as an opportunity to grow.

It's what the Judeo-Christian tradition is all about.

What do you need to see?
What advice would you give Mr. Christie?
How can he lead us as a better leader and statesman?

Thank You,

Mark Banschick, MD
Child and Adult Psychiatry
Katonah, New York

"Moral Code"

Another excellent column with many layers deserving of discussion. Thank you.

Janice, you wrote: "No one ever exacts retaliation, after all, without believing someone transgressed a moral code. They see it as punishment, and inflict it on those who have crossed them personally or merely injured their pride."

What "moral code" has been transgressed when someone's pride has been injured? For that employee who might raise concerns (respectfully) in a meeting, making comments perceived as challenging status quo or those in power, what is the "moral code" that may be transgressed to the point that employee could be bullied out of the organization?

Maybe I do not understand what constitutes "moral code." I still believe that many people (co-workers) know - in their hearts and minds - there is something wrong with direct or indirect retaliation of employees who are trying to do what is right (e.g., addressing safety concerns in a workplace). Is this recognition of 'right' and 'wrong' not important to the overall moral code? Or is there no 'overall' in what constitutes moral code and, as such, it can be determined by a few select people in a group because of their real or perceived power?

Again, thank you.

You ask a good question about

You ask a good question about what constitutes a moral code. While it varies for each of us, we all tend to persuade ourselves that our own behavior is in accordance with that code, and rearrange the facts to fit it.

So, for example, when a person acts badly toward someone, they convince themselves that it is the other person who brought it on themselves. They persuade themselves that the other person transgressed a moral code.

If the action is a whistleblower at work, for example, the workforce may initially back the whistleblower. But as management begins to retaliate, workers become fearful for themselves. In short order, they convince themselves that the whistleblower transgressed a moral code by putting them in danger. As the whistleblower becomes increasingly subjected to retaliation, they become enraged, demoralized, fearful and confused--and the workforce in turn views these symptoms of retaliation as signs of mental instability and/or violence. The moral code transgressed is viewed as "making threats," or even making false accusations--even if the allegations of the whistleblower are factual and once shared by the workforce.

Being a "tattle-tale" or failing to back someone can be viewed as "disloyalty," even if there was never any intent of disloyalty involved. While it is typically leadership which frames the conflict in such terms, in no time at all those under their power begin to see it in the same way, because it is in their self-interest to share the viewpoint of leadership, and a threat to their survival to go against the interests of leadership. This is true whether or not a person previously did not like leadership and/or has a political viewpoint or attitude of resistance to authority.

When our survival is under threat, humans tend to act like the primates that we are, which means we behave in our self interest first and foremost, then cognitively realign our thinking to persuade us that we did the right thing, no matter how much it wronged another. It's cognitive dissonance, and we all engage in it, which is one reason that the greater a human wrongs another, the less likely they will apologize once the damage they've caused becomes known. Just take a look at the popular media and you'll see how much more readily they'll point fingers, and how reluctantly comes the self-reflection.

I hope this clarifies, and doesn't further muddy, my point!

Dr. Harper, your explanation

Dr. Harper, your explanation and examples are helpful. Thank you.

I see how people don't really see there is a viable choice between doing what they think is 'right' for the situation and doing what they feel they need to do in order to maintain safety for themselves and/or their families. I have seen co-workers attack (behind their back) management for certain actions, but then will turn around and do the same as management - or worse.

I have to believe, though, (and maybe this is just one of my personal needs when considering these issues) that there still are some people who, even when jumping on the bandwagon of work abuse, know they are not in alignment with what they believe is bottom-line right. Yes, they may rationalize ('rational' 'lies') but they know what is happening is not right. They feel the stress - at some level. I can't help but think the 5:00 happy hours serve, in part, to relieve this kind of stress. I suppose, most often, these watering holes just serve to further solidify the rationalizations.

Thank you, Dr. Harper, for all of your efforts in helping us to understand that change is really an inside-out process.

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Janice Harper, Ph.D., is a cultural anthropologist specializing in conflict and organizational cultures.


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