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The Silent Treatment And Workplace Bullying

The silent treatment and workplace bullyingSondra was tasked to work on the vice president’s objectives.

She was leading a team of customer service representatives who needed training and who also were juggling their contact time with clientele.  At the kick off meeting, everyone was engaged and excited.  A time line for completion was set for three weeks later.  Sondra’s staff had rearranged their schedules to include 20 hours of online training.  Success seemed inevitable.

Later the same day, Sondra received word that Information Tech was upgrading the computer lab. In turn, the lab would be offline for more than half of the training schedule.  Her customer service staff was unsure of how to proceed. Would they get an extension? Did this mean staying late to get the training done? Was there overtime? Sondra had more questions than answers.

To facilitate this new information, Sondra wrote the Vice President.  No answer.  She gave him the benefit of the doubt and waited another three days- despite her staff becoming irritated.  No answer.  Sondra then walked over to visit with the Vice President’s assistant, who had no answer.  Mean time, her staff had become disengaged, and disinterested in the project, as they were locked out of the lab.

The silent treatment may often mean that people are left alone and without information. For the target of a bullying, silence can be a wonderful thing.  However, more Americans are in knowledge-based jobs. Information is critical to making sound decisions and managing subordinates.  Lacking communication only hurts team commitment and morale.

A few things to keep in mind about the silent treatment:

  1. Refusing to respond to requests for information can degenerate in to a bullying situation. The requester, without the proper information to do his or her job is in an inferior position.  One way to combat this is reply to emails and phone messages within 24- 48 hours. If there is no answer or new information, reply with an acknowledgement and when information will be available.
  2. The target or person requesting information may try to manage the situation by finding another way to meet the objective.  While Sondra may be frustrated, and understandably so, perhaps there is a local regional office where she can take staff, or give staff flex time to take training at home. This strategy may not be optimal, but may get the job done.
  3. For all parties, don’t lose composure.  Sondra could easily zip the vice president a nasty message, which would be forever in his/her in box.  The vice president could get nasty, but then all parties will know he or she isn’t a team player.
  4.  To resolve the silent treatment conflict, Sondra could pose her message politely, “We want to meet your objectives, but please know we need information from you to comply with your timeline.” Clearly stating the need and the rationale may get a response.

At times, people like to avoid conflict by not talking it out.  But resolving conflict, even the silent kind, requires civility from all parties, a composed approach, and perhaps a clear statement of why the response is needed.  Silence is not always golden.

Read more posts by Leah Hollis, Ed.D. here. Leah is a contributing blogger for JenningsWire.


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