How Toxic Workplaces Can Lead to a Bullied Childhood


When bullying is all you know as a child, it tragically becomes your foundation; escaping these patterns becomes your biggest struggle and a lifelong challenge. While some familial bullying is the result of generational programming, a fair share of it arises from what I call “the continuum of bullying” – a parent bringing home reactive stress from a toxic workplace where bullying is the culture.  

A recent article in The Globe and Mail by Dave McGinn discussed emotional abuse in childhood and how a therapist can often help by bringing to light, for the child and the parent, just how insidious and long-lasting a pattern of emotional abuse can be. Even with this type of professional support, divorcing oneself from abusive parent(s) is frequently the best solution.

In my book, From Bully to Bull’s Eye – Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I discuss the continuum of bullying: The shareholder bullies the board; the board bullies the CEO, the CEO bullies the executive committee, the executive committee bullies the managers, the manager bullies their employees, and the employees bully their families. This is a toxic dynamic. I assert that creating psychologically safe, healthy, fair and productive workplaces will go a long way in curtailing this horrible chain reaction.

Organizations must become aware that bullying is a present danger and threat to their sustainability. If this does not begin with the CEO, often the chief bullying officer, the required systemic change cannot occur. Sadly, because many employees live in a state of fear as the result of bullying and emotional childhood abuse, they are resistant to speaking up, fearing retribution.  And the cycle continues.

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When it Comes to Doing Right By Your Coworker, Forget HR

What does it mean to be a bystander in a toxic workplace? Sometimes it means being forced to decide between doing what you know is right and protecting your job. In this excellent installment of The Ethicist in the New York Times Magazine, Kwame Anthony Appiah discusses the quandary of an office worker who knows a young coworker was unjustly fired. The advice given is very sound and reflects the situation that many people face at work. In a perfect world, the correspondent should have been able to go to human resources with her problem. However, as I discuss in From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, in toxic cultures human resources is part of the problem, rather than being part of the solution—which is what makes Appiah’s advice in the column so on target.

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Roger Ailes Built an Empire by Bullying Monica Lewinsky

Long before women on Fox News came forward to reveal the systemic sexism and sexual harassment encouraged, and inflicted, by Chairman Roger Ailes, there was Monica Lewinsky. If you remember her as the coed temptress who inspired the hanky-panky of a horndog president, there’s a reason for that. It was a narrative Ailes created to drive ratings.

Ailes recognized Bill Clinton’s lies about his involvement with Lewinsky as a ripe opportunity to exploit the situation to bring new viewers to Fox News. He cared little about the truth and even less about the individuals involved. What he did care about was a ratings bonanza and he relentlessly pushed the story creating the beginning of the disinformation age—what Stephen Colbert would later call, “truthiness.” Ailes bullied Lewinsky in prime time and got rich off her misery.

It’s no surprise then that Lewinsky just wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled, “Roger Ailes Dream was My Nightmare.” She reiterated what I’ve been discussing for weeks—that Ailes created a culture at Fox News that was so toxic that women had nowhere to go to report abuse. No surprise when you realize that his network’s success was created by disparaging a woman. I say “Brava!” to Lewinsky for having the courage to give the most appropriate eulogy to a bully.

Hopefully, there are some lessons on bullying for the rest of us from this debacle. We must learn not to vilify women for their proximity to powerful men assuming that they, and not the man, must be to blame. That goes equally for interns and former first ladies. Imagine if we had held Ailes accountable for what he did to Lewinsky? We might have prevented the very atmosphere that castigated Hillary Clinton and promoted the rise of Donald Trump. We can only hope history will forgive us.  

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From Canada’s National Symbol to Canada’s National Shame: The RCMP

There comes a time when a dysfunctional police force puts the very people they have sworn to serve and protect in danger. For the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, it’s gone beyond even that—the officers in the ranks and their support staff are suffering from decades of bullying, abuse, harassment and reprisals against whistleblowers. Under this regime, the very notion of upholding the law has become a national disgrace—and a danger to national security. It’s time to completely remake the RCMP.

I’ve been following the toxic culture at the RCMP for more than a decade. In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I discuss how the RCMP typifies a dictatorial culture and the damage they are doing to their officers and the public. I’m not alone in my concerns. CBC News ran a report today calling for civilian governance of the police force. The sad truth is that the millions of dollars spent thus far settling harassment suits, and on evaluations and investigations, haven’t changed the dictatorial culture of the RCMP one iota. In fact, things have actually gotten worse. This brings little hope to people working in toxic workplaces. If the full force of the Canadian government, independent commissions and academic scholars can’t improve things—what hope does the average person have when it comes to bullying in the workplace?

As I’ve written before, in order to reform the police the force needs to be taken apart and rebuilt. The recommendations to the RCMP to add civilian governance is a good start, but it requires nothing less than a total transformation from A to Z. Adding a civilian police commissioner is nothing more than applying a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. It might shield our eyes from the ugliness for a time, but it does nothing to save the patient.

Illustration credit: Greg Perry/Toronto Star

The Bully-in-Chief Strikes Again—Very Predictable!

Donald Trump’s behavior and beliefs constantly befuddle everyone—the news media, pundits, academic experts and the average person are constantly trying to decode what he’s really saying and what he really believes. There’s a good reason that this is impossible, which David Roberts makes crystal clear on Vox in his insightful article, “The question of what Donald Trump ‘really believes’ has no answer.”

According to Roberts, there’s a simple reason that Trump defies logic—he doesn’t believe anything.  Roberts writes:

The question presumes that Trump has beliefs, “views” that reflect his assessment of the facts, “positions” that remain stable over time, woven into some sort of coherent worldview. There is no evidence that Trump has such things. That is not how he uses language.

He goes on to explain that when Trump speaks, it’s to position himself as dominant in the culture’s social hierarchy.  He has no interest in, or ability to share, an exchange of ideas; he only uses language to assert his superiority. “This essential distinction explains why Trump has so flummoxed the media and its fact-checkers; it’s as though they are critiquing the color choices of someone who is colorblind,” Roberts writes.

This is also why Trump is so very predictable. There are no deeper traits; he fits the bully archetype to a T, never digressing for a moment from this persona. This is why, as I wrote on Monday in my post, “Donald Trump: Bully, Coward and Traitor,” you don’t need to be an oracle or an expert to figure out what he will do next. This is why I dedicated an entire chapter of my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, to Trump as the very definition of what it means to be a bully.  And this is why I’ve been such a vocal advocate for psychological evaluation of senior executives before putting them in positions of power. That’s just as true for the C-suite as it is for the highest executive office in the land. Any company thinking of doing less should ask itself this—could you really afford to have a Donald Trump run your company?

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Liar, Liar, Bridge on Fire

One of the traits that mark an adult bully is his tireless efforts to deflect blame onto others, most frequently subordinates and coworkers. That is certainly the case with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie whose former deputy chief of staff, Bridget Kelly, and former ally, Port Authority executive Bill Baroni, have been sentenced to prison for their roles in the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closures that led to days of traffic gridlock.

Christie, an early supporter of Donald Trump who at one time seemed poised for a position in the new cabinet, appears to be back in the administration’s good graces. It is a bitter irony that at the same time his scapegoats were convicted of public corruption thanks to a mission of political revenge on Christie’s behalf against Mayor Mark Sokolich of Fort Lee for not backing the governor’s reelection.  Christie showed his support by being in Washington while the pair was sentenced.

While Christie may have escaped unscathed, others aren’t fooled. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Judge Susan Wigenton said, “It’s very clear to me that the environment in Trenton created a culture of either you’re with us, or you’re against us.”

The response from a Christie spokesman wasn’t surprising. He tried to explain away the judge’s comment by saying that her “ill-advised remark is based on the perjurious testimony of three convicted felons.”

Not unlike the case with the executives at Wells Fargo, Christie feigned ignorance and threw others under the bus. There is no scenario in which this conviction exonerates Christie; either he was lying and corrupt, or he was inept and refused to hear what was going on around him. Either way, he reveals himself as the worst type of bully boss. It amazing it took this long for him to get back into favor with the Bully-in-Chief.

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The Art of the Bully

All the king’s threats and all the king’s ultimatums couldn’t put this humpty-dumpty of a healthcare bill back together again. As of 4 p.m. Friday afternoon House Republicans scrapped the American Health Care Act, aka Trumpcare, after House Speaker Paul Ryan made a hasty trip to the White House to inform Donald Trump that they just didn’t have the votes.

It looks like endless threats and ultimatums weren’t enough to overcome poor planning, the evisceration of medical benefits, and the steadfast determination of an electorate that called, wrote, emailed and even faxed their pleas to save the Affordable Care Act to their elected officials. In the end, the Republicans decided to save themselves from embarrassment, and save members in divided districts from losing re-election, by not allowing the bill go to a vote.

The magnitude of the bullying involved with the ACHA has been mind boggling. Trump’s last-minute visit yesterday to the conservative Freedom Caucus included forcing chair Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) to stand and declaring, “I’m going to come after you” because “honestly, a loss is not acceptable.” This is how bullies—not talented businesspeople—cut deals: through threats and false promises.

The Republicans tried to make excuses for Trump’s behavior or laugh it off, but the Democrats weren’t having it. U.S. News & World Report quoted House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer as saying, "When Trump threatens people, he usually means it. I see no reason to believe he was kidding… that was a threat, not a wink and a nod."

In the end, credit goes to Americans who are resisting Trump. In my book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire, I devoted a chapter to how people can fight back against bullying in the workplace. The most important thing to know is not to try to do it alone. You need allies who will support you and back you up. Today the American people and the caring members of Congress teamed up to resist the gutting of the ACA. None of the bullying made a difference.  Perhaps Press Secretary Sean Spicer put it best when he told the press, “At the end of the day, you can’t force somebody to do something. At the end of the day, this isn’t a dictatorship.”

Let’s hold him to that. This is just one victory, but resisting tyranny is never a race—it’s a marathon. Rest up. We have a lot more work to do.

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The Bully-in-Chief Up Against a Wall

In today’s New York Times article “Pause This Presidency,” columnist Charles M. Blow makes a compelling argument for putting the Trump administration on hold when he writes,

“The American people must immediately demand a cessation of all consequential actions by this ‘president’ until we can be assured that Russian efforts to hack our election, in a way that was clearly meant to help him and damage his opponent, did not also include collusion with or coverup by anyone involved in the Trump campaign and now administration.”

As an expert in human dynamics and adult bullying it has been my observation that bullies are masters at manipulation, deception, deceit and denial, and are in many cases—delusional. What we woke to on Saturday morning was all of these and more on public display by the current president as he tweeted his newest conspiracy theory about his predecessor.

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The application of those nefarious traits by the Bully-in-Chief confirms for me the possibility of a cover-up of immense proportions.  In my January 13 post, “Predicting What Trump Will Do Next,” I wrote that bullies are particularly dangerous when their back is against the wall. This is because they will do anything to maintain power and control. Clearly this tweet was a stab in that direction.

But the danger isn’t over. I predict that Trump will willingly abuse the presidency up to, and including, martial law if he feels threatened.  According to a CNN/ORC poll, 65 percent of Americans say an independent special prosecutor should be appointed to investigate Russia’s involvement in the election. This should be heeded—and fast! This is a serious case of obfuscation that will lead to more devastating actions if left uninvestigated. I don’t wish to be an alarmist, but having researched hundreds of cases of adult bullying, I have witnessed how bullies take drastic measures when their backs are against the wall.

Can we really afford to wait any longer?

Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire

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The Dire Consequences of Not Speaking Out

At a time when too many refuse to say what they really think, Steven Goldstein, the fearless and outspoken new executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect in New York isn’t pulling any punches. A self-described social justice advocate and former Rutgers University political science and law professor, Goldstein had a short answer when a conservative commentator on CNN asked him if he believed that Donald Trump was anti-Semitic.

“You bet,” he replied.

The man is willing to point out wrongdoing and bullying where he sees it—that’s why he’s our Revolutionist of the Week. The Anne Frank Center in New York, founded by Anne’s father, Otto Frank, is dedicated to standing up for the equal rights and mutual respect of all people. My mother fought with the Dutch underground during World War II and her deepest regret was that she didn’t do more to save her friends and neighbors during that awful time. I am heartened to know that the Center is fighting on in Anne’s name.

Goldstein, who writes all the press releases and tweets from the organization in plain language has taken Trump to task for his belated expression against anti-Semitism as “too little, too late” and engaged with Sean Spicer on Twitter about it. In a written statement he said, “The President’s sudden acknowledgement is a Band-Aid on the cancer of anti-Semitism that has infected his own administration.”

It’s this kind of revolutionist who inspires and motivates those around him. He is crystal clear about what a revolutionist needs to do in this political climate: “We have no pecking order in which we fight Anti-Semitism first, and Islamophobia and other hatred second,” he said. “We have to save every Anne. Never again must mean never again to anyone. Never again is now.”

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Is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson a Wimp?

Rex Tillerson was known as many things when he was nominated by Donald Trump for Secretary of State: CEO, friend of Vladimir Putin, a strong, pragmatic executive, but right now the only word that seems to describe him is—wimp.

Consider the evidence. When Trump vetoed Tillerson’s hand-picked choice for deputy secretary, foreign policy veteran Elliott Abrams, Tillerson did nothing. This left the new secretary of state running a department void of experienced hands. (There was a mass exodus of experienced staff after the election.) It’s true that Trump nixed Abrams because of his sharp warnings about the former candidate during the election, but as someone who has put dozens of successful senior executives in place, I’m actually stunned that Tillerson didn’t demand being allowed to hand pick his own staff as part of the deal when he accepted the nomination. Trump’s endless need for power stripped Tillerson of the prestige and authority he needs to succeed at his new post.

As Tillerson cowers before the Bully-in-Chief, we begin to wonder if he has any influence. According to Politico, Trump never conferred with Tillerson when he changed his policy about Palestinian statehood or castigated Iran for its ballistic missile test. Tillerson was conspicuously absent when Trump met with the leaders of Israel and Canada and little seen during the visits from Japan and the United Kingdom. Vice President Mike Pence will be touring Europe without Tillerson, and when Tillerson did go to Mexico and Germany he took no questions and gave no official version of his discussions. In fact, most of what we know about any of his interactions have come from foreign governments. Press briefings by the State Department have been put on hold for now. 

It appears that Tillerson, like Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, is bowing to the pressure of his bully boss. DeVos recently tried to stand her ground when she refused to sign off on the repeal of the nondiscrimination laws against transgender students, fearing for the students’ safety. Attorney General Jeff Sessions pressured her, and when she still refused, he went to Trump, who demanded she drop her opposition. Since then she has characterized the nondiscrimination rules as overreach by the Obama administration. So rather than resign, she’s been bullied into toeing the party line.

Clearly Tillerson and DeVos are dealing with a toxic workplace. The ramifications are frightening, which is why the quest for psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplaces is so dire. You can learn more about how toxic workplaces operate and how they can be fixed in my new book, From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire. But until this becomes a priority in the White House, I have no doubt we’ll see more cabinet members being bullied into submission by Trump and his cronies.

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