We need to focus on bullying elimination and not just prevention

To what extent should anti bullying campaigns in school be helpful in armoring individuals and preparing them to handle workplace bullying

little changes

Well – the anti-bullying campaigns in schools aren’t necessarily all that effective. So – that’s a problem. They are well meaning, but they don’t seem to change behavior much. http://www.vocativ.com/culture/health-culture/bullying/

The problem – as I see it – is that we are focused on the wrong thing. We try to teach bullies not to bully. And that doesn’t work because – it works for them. The Evolution Institute showed pretty clearly in their research that bullies gain quite a bit from their behavior. Yes, there is a cost, but that cost is minimal compared to the benefits. In order to get them to stop, we need to change their cost/benefit experience so that we actual disincentive bullying. That’s easier said than done.

Anti-bullying programs target bystanders. Because they are the ones with the power to provide a real cost to the bully for their behavior. The problem is – by and large – bystanders aren’t motivated to speak up because the cost to do so is high and the benefit is quite low. So – the challenge becomes – how to make speaking up benefit the bystander better.

The only people we haven’t really tried to help are the victims of bullying. We tell them, ignore it and it will go away – which doesn’t work because its incomplete information and short hand for what we really are trying to teach them. And, we tell them to report it – but that doesn’t work either because then they get in trouble for reporting too much and again, aren’t told what to expect – which is that when a bully stops getting away with it – they are going to cycle though an extinction burst. So victims try to do what they are taught, they trigger the extinction burst – but since no one told them that was going to happen, they conclude – this doesn’t work and give up – so the bullying cycle continues.

What we need to do is take a behavioral approach and ensure that we are a) teaching the right people (who are most motivated to change the dynamic) (b) the information they need to actually get the behavior being directed against them to stop. It turns out when you do this – you automatically create bystanders/upstanders because once you know how to stop a bully, you experience less costs when you stand up to them – and more benefit. All of these changes increase costs and decrease benefits to the bullies and so the dynamic is changed and the problem better controlled.

When we move this into the workplace – we see that a big part of the problem is that existing harassment training doesn’t teach the behavioral techniques required to extinguish bullying behavior – because they are focused on the law. AB 1825 in CA for example – has 11 topics that have to be covered in a 2 hour period – and only 1/2 of 1 of those topics addresses the behavioral aspect of what is going on. They have just passed AB 2053 – which now requires that bullying prevention be taught as well. But there are so few programs that actually teach how to stop a bully.

Finally – the other problem is that the emphasis for all of this training is on prevention. This is good because it is easier to prevent a behavior from becoming established than it is to extinguish a behavior. The problem is that prevention doesn’t help the people who are currently being victimized. It’s too late to prevent that from happening. It’s already happening. What they need is a bullying elimination strategy. So, our focus needs to be on elimination. This will help us both prevent new cases of bullying from happening AND help people stop the chronic bullying they are being exposed to. Plus, if you don’t understand how to extinguish a behavior then you can’t prevent it.

We need to teach elimination and stop ignoring the victim’s needs. They are the most motivated to learn and just because this is a very difficult technique to teach doesn’t’ mean we shouldn’t be teaching it.