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Home > Assessing the organization, Self Scrutiny, Staff relations > Destination Intimidation - The anti-intellectual bully

Destination Intimidation - The anti-intellectual bully

January 6th, 2011

The corrections work world has enough pitfalls and hazards without our adding to it. However, that sentiment does not simply eliminate division in the ranks.  No matter our good intentions, circumstances and a mix of personalities will always produce staff discord.




Unfortunately, we do not always see the signs.  It is sometimes like driving on a smooth road to suddenly encounter very bumpy pavement.  That slows our forward progress and erodes our confidence. Quite simply the ideal of corrections professionalism is not always reflected in the reality of daily operations. 


In the ideal, we all work together to maintain safety.  We keep offenders, staff, and the public from harm.  In reality, we can be our own worst enemy.  Of the many disruptive personality types, the bully is probably the worst.


Bullies use force, posture, psychology, experience, perceptions, and position to    harass and coerce others in order to further their agenda.  Not all school yard bullies mature and shake the coercive manipulation from their daily mode of operation.  And some who were not bullies as children who develop into adult coercers. 


Recently, the idea of the Anti-Intellectual Bully came to me.  I learned of a colleague who voiced an opinion in an eloquent manner.  That was met with derisive statements from another. From the secure confines of anonymity, the critic derided the vocabulary and thought process of the idea person. 


The attack was not pretty. It was like a frustrated, rude and invisible English teacher who seemed to ignore the context and points of an essay.  Instead, the critic tore the suggestions apart with a personal attack on the author. This was not a civil offering of constructive criticism. It was an unprovoked, blind assault.


That tactlessness reminded me of the Obnoxious Bully- one who wears a thorny hide of sarcasm and forceful, tactless, and loud opinions.   When an Obnoxious Bully attacks an intellectual style, rather than assess the points of the statement, an Anti-Intellectual Bully is born.


Granted, this is a very specialized sort of bully that may not be encountered often.  And it may sometimes be a welcome antidote to the Intellectual Bully - one who specializes in condescension. The insecurities of the Intellectual Bully are masked in large words and aloof, arrogant sentences. Their offense consists of a belief that they are smarter than the competition. They enjoy making others feel inferior.  Though less than diplomatic, the Anti-Intellectual Bully’s tactics may be viewed by others as a quick way to halt pomposity in its tracks.


However, the impact of staff division on operations is potentially large. With the Anti-Intellectual Bully in particular, many potentially fresh ideas sources are targeted. Confidence or initiative can be dashed on the rocks of cynicism.  Innovators and idea people may be dissuaded from offering constructive suggestions. It is unfortunate that a safety based innovation can be shouted down from the shadows. Ideas may never develop because of coercion.


With work bullying in general, staff stress levels, already high, are heightened. Sick leave and stress leave are unnecessarily increased.  This necessitates a shifting of personnel to cover vacated posts.  In addition, offenders who would manipulate can easily select targets when staff relations are strained.  This, of course, can lead to the classic set up and introduction of contraband into the facility.  Trust is also a victim when a bully is present and active. Inadvertently sowing seeds of doubt in the minds of colleagues is dangerous for all. All of this has the potential to diminish safety.


Handling an anonymous Anti-Intellectual Bully is not as simple as confrontation.   Quite simply, this is because the bully remains hidden. However, There are tactic that all of us can employ. Genuine humility and respect for other ideas goes a long way in defusing angry sentiments.  We must ask ourselves if our deliveries sound pompous and invite heated criticism. Also, we must realize the difference between questioning a concept and personal attacks. 


As long as there are people, there will always be staff discord.    Corrections staff, due to the dangerous nature of the job, need all of the unity that can be had.  Realistically, I do not believe that staff division and bullying can be eliminated.  However, through professionalism, those negative factors can be mitigated.

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joebouchard Assessing the organization, Self Scrutiny, Staff relations

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