War and bullying. Do they have anything in common?

Workplace bullying and war do not have a lot in common. 

But one thing they do have in common is dehumanization: our failure (willful or not) to see the humanity of others. 

The targets of workplace bullying will tell you how like a non-human they feel they are treated. It is highly traumatic. 

But we also do the same to abrasive leaders. 

When I tell people I coach abrasive leaders there is almost always an eye roll of some kind. “Really, aren’t they just irredeemable bastards? They’re not coachable, that’s just the way they are” is the underlying tone of the response. 

Another coach said to me just the other day: “But aren’t they just narcissists?” 

To which I responded “They’re assumed to be narcissists.” 

Some of course are. Most are not. And even when they are, they are still human beings. Doing hurtful, unhelpful and harmful things, yes, but still human beings. 

More and more we seem to be failing to see each other. Abrasive leaders just see objects, machines, to be made to work to their unrealistic and exacting standards. Targets see evil bastards. Neither moves us forward. 

In my coaching I try to embody the Stockdale Paradox: “Never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

I bring abrasive leaders face to face with the brutal facts of the impact of their actions. And I try to do so with compassion. I still see their humanity. Flawed, imperfect, hurt…and human. 

In these times, with war raging and autocracies rising, more than ever I think we need to hold that paradox: the resilience and anti-fragility that comes from facing brutal reality (just how thin the crust of civilization is), with an openness of heart, a willingness to see, an enduring hope. 

This article by David Brooks speaks to this exact paradox, how necessary it is – and how ancient and enduring it is. 

Top Image: NeuroscienceNews.com. In the Brain, Dislike and Dehumanization Are Not the Same Thing

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