In author Jabari Asim's fictionalized St. Louis -- the 'Gateway City' first introduced in his short story collection 'A Taste of Honey' –- characters come to grips with the fallout of the civil rights era in surprising ways. We talk with Asim about the fictional world he created and examine the realities of how we deal with race in America today.
Guest Host: Christina Bellantoni
The allegation that a senior member of the Miami Dolphins football team bullied a newer player is prompting a national debate about workplace culture, diversity and what constitutes inappropriate behavior among colleagues. According to one survey, one in three people say they’re bullied at work. We examine bullying on the job and what to do about it.
- Howard Ross Author, "Reinventing Diversity: Transforming Organizational Community to Strengthen People, Purpose, and Performance" (Rowman & Littlefield); also Principal, Cook Ross
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. I'm Christina Bellantoni of the "PBS News Hour," sitting in for Kojo. Coming up this hour, both men weigh more than 300 pounds and stand more than six feet tall. They play football together on the Miami Dolphins offensive line, but Jonathan Martin says when they're off the field, Richie Incognito taunts and bullies him.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIMartin left the team last month. Incognito was suspended and filed a grievance against the Dolphins. He says he never meant any harm. Sports writers aren't the only ones weighing in on the dispute. The issue of workplace bullying is prompting a nationwide debate about workplace culture, diversity and the norms in professional sports. Incognito supporters say the interaction in question was typical locker room banter, not something you'd want your kids to hear, but not unusual among NFL players.
MS. CHRISTINA BELLANTONIThe critics lining up behind Martin say Incognito's remarks were unacceptable and are calling for heads to roll. As the NFL and the Dolphins owner try to sort out what happened, the controversy is sparking discussions about what constitutes bullying in the workplace and what to do about it. So, joining us here to discuss is Howard Ross. He is a Diversity Consultant and a Principal at Cook Ross. He worked with the Atlanta Braves, following a 2000 scandal involving John Rocker. Thanks so much for being here, Howard.
MR. HOWARD ROSSHi Christina.
BELLANTONISo, this is very interesting. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, one in three people it surveyed, said they'd been bullied on the job. Do you think there are more workplace bullies today, or are more people just stepping forward to report what's happening?
ROSSWell, I think it's probably more of the latter. I mean, I think that what's happening is that we're beginning to set standards for very different senses of what's acceptable and what's not acceptable. I mean, if you look at what's happening in sports, for example, some of the things that have happened with these coaches of late. You know, it's not that long ago. I grew up when people would put people like Vince Lombardi on a pedestal because he was rough with people and tough with people and didn't take anything. And, you know, sort of this military drill sergeant kind of way of approaching. And now those same kinds of behaviors often cross that line into bullying.
ROSSAnd so, I do think we're setting different standards, and I think that as is often the case in our society, we set the standards at one level differently, but then the behaviors that we've been engaging in for generations, in a lot of cases, take a while before we catch up to those new standards.
BELLANTONISure. So, let's look at this specific case here, and the alleged harassment involving these two Dolphins players on the offensive line. The question seems to be, what is acceptable locker room antics? You've got a lot of men, a lot of ego and energy going on there, and harassment. So, what's the individual perception versus sort of the cultural perception?
ROSSWell, it's challenging. I mean, first of all, we wanna be really clear. You know, I don't know exactly what happened between these two players, you know, and that will come out as investigation goes on. And even then, it'll be all interpretation. But I think there's no question that when you look at certain environments, and locker room environments in sports are sort of the extreme, in that not only do you have an all male environment, for one thing, but you also have an all male environment in which testosterone is king.
ROSSAnd the more testosterone you have, the better. And, in fact, in a lot of cases, sports teams, and particularly football, are designed, in a way, to increase the testosterone of people. I mean, the notion that somebody said to Richie Incognito, you should toughen this guy up, for example, is not an unusual thing to happen, in my experience of sports. You know, they're going out onto the field. They're going out to be gladiators in a profession where somebody's trying to kill you, literally take your head off.
ROSSAnd might do any number of things to try to get under your skin. I think it was Warren Sapp, the former all-star for the Tampa Bay team who talked about the fact that, you know, people say any number of things to you on the field. And so in that environment, this notion of calling people names and using whatever names you have to motivate people, or just getting into that kind of a mindset is very normal. And then what often happens, as in this case, is that something pops up to the surface because it goes, you know, X number of degrees over.
ROSSAnd we could get into a debate about how many degrees, because even as you watch the players talk about it on the air, you'll see some of them say, well, this is actually normal behavior. And somebody else says, no, that went over the top. So, they can't even disguise themselves. And this becomes the problem, but it avoids, sometimes, having us look at the bigger issue, which is what's the culture that's creating incidents like this to happen?
BELLANTONIAnd getting specifically at what you were just saying, I mean, would we be having this same conversation if we weren't talking about an alleged racial slur here?
ROSSYeah, that's a very good point. And I think that that's obviously another point, because we have a touchstone, you know, these certain things that are hot buttons for our culture, and as soon as a racial slur is used, it does take it to another level. For good reason, because there's a lot of history behind that, but once again, that can obscure the bigger issue that's at play here, which is a culture that really foments this kind of behavior. You know, my son spent about 10 years working in baseball. He was -- ended up the Assistant General Manager for the Sacramento River Cats, which is the Oakland A's minor league team.
ROSSAnd he spent 10 years in that environment. And I could see, even in him, in his language and the kinds of things, you know? You live in that environment -- I mean, never to this extent, of course. But my point is that you live in an environment that's very different than your normal everyday environment.
BELLANTONIWell, and you always the adopt the terms of what you're working in, for sure. And how much of it is these are, you know, two big football players? When you think of bullying, you might think of kids on a schoolyard, and the bigger kid picking on the smaller kid. I mean, does that go into the cultural norm, as well?
ROSSWell, I think that's true. You know, we have a very narrow view of what bullying is. We do tend to think of bullying as, like you said, the kid on the schoolyard who's, you know, pulling the lunch box from the hand of the little kid, or something like that. But most bullying that occurs on a daily basis, both in organizations and in society, is emotional bullying, which has nothing to do with the physical size of somebody.
BELLANTONIYou can join our conversation here, as well. I'm talking with Howard Ross, who's a Diversity Consultant and a Principal at Cook Ross. And we're going to talk about how this transitions to bullying in the workplace and what that means. So, tell us, do you think there's an increase in workplace bullying? Give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. You can send an email to email@example.com or send us a tweet to @kojoshow.
BELLANTONISo, how does this controversy reflect the changing norms in the world, when we look at whether you're tolerating bullying, or how much is being reported these days?
ROSSWell, you know, I think that we are looking at an interesting time in that we've got, on one hand, some of the typical behavior that we've always had. And it's fed by -- and it is somewhat dependent upon certain industries and certain circumstances, in that if you look at a football team or people in firehouses, or other kinds of enclosed environments like that where you've got people who not only work together, but live together. And they're together for extended periods of time with relatively little contact with their family.
ROSSAnd relatively little contact with the outside world. Relative to most of us. It's not like when you're traveling with a football team, you go home at night and hang out with your friends. You know, usually you hang out with the kinds of people who you are used to being with on a daily basis. And so the culture that you're a part of becomes completely enclosing. And inside of that culture, all of a sudden, what seems normal outside no longer makes a lot of sense.
ROSSI know when I worked with the Braves, it was really striking to me, the bubble that they live in. And this fish bowl that they're in, where people are watching them and everything that they do is, you know, if you forget to nod to a kid, all of a sudden you're a horrible person. Or, you know, any little behavior. You pick your nose in public and it's gonna be in the newspaper. I mean, and so these kinds of things begins to create this sort of insularity, and then it becomes a club that we're in. And inside of that club, we have our own rules. And, of course, when we measure those rules based on the rules that are outside of that club, it's very difficult, sometimes, to sync those up.
BELLANTONIWell, let's talk a little bit about your experience with the Braves.
BELLANTONIThis was in 2000. You had the pitcher John Rocker. What was the allegation there and then what did they bring you in to do?
ROSSWell, Rocker was interviewed by Jeff Pearlman, who is a Sports Illustrated writer, and in the process of this interview, he basically insulted everybody on the planet who didn't look like him. I mean, he made racial comments and heterosexist comments. He made comments about welfare mothers in New York, and, I mean, I don't even remember it all. It was just this whole litany. And he was suspended almost immediately by Major League Baseball. Later, the suspension was shortened. I think it ended up being a month long suspension.
ROSSBut the big challenge was that the team was facing, of course Atlanta, being a highly racialized city already, the team was facing a lot of flack from the community, particularly the African American and Latino communities in Atlanta. And also that the ownership and leadership of the Atlanta Braves were really class acts. I mean, Stan Kasten, who later came here to head up the Nationals, when we came here, and John Schuerholz, who's now still the President of the team, really have tried, over a long period of time, had tried to create a certain sense of professionalism among the Braves.
ROSSAnd so, it was particularly difficult for them and embarrassing for them, not just because it made them look bad, but because it was completely inconsistent with who they were trying to have their organization be. And so, you know, Rocker wasn't even the biggest issue that we dealt with. He was gone by the time we got down there, but what we did is we actually worked with the players and conducted the first diversity training ever for a major league baseball team.
ROSSI brought in Mike Singletary, who is a former, of course, all pro football player who I knew and had developed a friendship with, because he was doing a lot of leadership work at the time. And we worked with the players. Although, I have to tell you, Christina, being a baseball fan my whole life, I felt kind of halfway between being a professional and an 11-year-old. I would have these conversations like, do you know what I mean? Good, now can I have your autograph? I mean, it was, you know, almost that bad.
ROSSBut it ended up being very insightful, I think, and I think they got a lot of value out of it. Because of the very reason I was talking about before. I mean, here you have, and particularly baseball is so multi-cultural now.
ROSSI mean, you've got Asian players, you've got lots of Latin players, and they're living in this enclosed environment, and May really did step up and take it on as a cultural aspect of the team. And even when he came back, confronted him with some of the issues that came up and worked through some of those.
BELLANTONIAnd what, when you talk about diversity training, you know, what specifically are you talking to people about? Just enforcing cultural understanding, or these are the types of things that are okay to say and these aren't?
ROSSWell, I think that one of the things, and that's a good point. Because I take a term like diversity training, and, of course, on the street, for a lot of people, they think that that means putting people into a circle and having them sing "Kumbaya."
ROSSThat's right. Either that, or beating white guys over the head with a two by four, and it was neither of those. It was really helping the players understand some of the dynamics that were at play here. And how, not only for their own relationships with each other, but also for their public image and how they were seen in public throughout the rest of their careers, and even post-career. That their behavior was important to keep in mind, and that people do have sensitivities about these issues.
ROSSAnd particularly in the Atlanta community and other communities where these are highly visible issues. And really trying to have the players become more conscious of representing themselves and the team in a way that was consistent with the values that they wanted to be depicting.
BELLANTONISure. So, we're gonna take some callers now. You can also weigh in on our conversation. It's 1-800-433-8850. And tell us, have you been bullied at work? Give us a call. We're gonna hear from Corey, who played high school and college football. Hi Corey.
COREYI just wanted to actually weigh in on the whole Incognito issue, in that coming from -- I played a lot of sports. I had a lot of friends who played sports, and there is that sense of what can easily be seen as bullying, but in a lot of ways, it's team building and building relationships with your fellow players. I do have to say, though, the Incognito issue did kind of go a bit too far. And it just kind of surprised me that, you know, those are grown men on a professional level where the paychecks are really what defines more what they do than just trying to get there. They're already at the professional level.
COREYSo, I just want to know, I mean, should tolerance, in your opinion, be greater at the adult level, or more laid back because they've all been through it for so long?
BELLANTONIGood question. So, Howard Ross.
ROSSYeah, I mean, that is a good question. I mean, I guess human decency is human decency at one level, so we would say that we want it to be clear for everybody. I mean, I do think that there's no question, that depending upon the relationships we have and the kind of environment we're in, what is seen outside as wrong might be seen inside as intimacy. So, let me give you an example of what I'm talking about.
ROSSI had, a number of years ago, towards the beginning of my career, an African American man -- I'm white, for those listeners who don't know that -- African American man who I used to work with a lot. We used to do a lot of team teaching together. I mean, we're very dear friends. He's since retired, but we're still very, very dear friends, and, you know, traveled together, did all kinds of things, and one day, we were flying home from St. Louis. We'd been leading a course there. And this was before the whole TSA process was installed, so we got on the plane the last few minutes.
MS. PEG MERZBACHERYou had your shoes on.
BELLANTONIThat's right. Exactly.
BELLANTONIPlenty of liquids.
ROSSWe threw our bags in the same bin and just grabbed empty seats in different places, and flew to National Airport, where we landed. It was a completely packed airplane, and we get out of our seats at National and reach up to the bin to get our bags and my hand accidentally bumps his hand out of the way. So in the middle of this packed airplane he puts his hands on his hips and he looks at me and he says, you white boys are always pushing me out of the way. Now, this was the kind of joke that he and I would tell, you know, inside of our relationship, but in the middle of this packed airplane, all of a sudden everybody went silent and started to back up.
ROSSAnd he looked at me and I looked at him and he throws his arms around me. He says, don't worry, we're feeling the love, and he gives me a big hug, you know. But the point is that the kinds of behavior that occurs, as Cory was saying, inside of a locker room that might be seen as, you know, just, you know, busting each other, giving each other a hard time, that sort of a thing, becomes -- at some point something can happen. It can escalate to a particular point. It's somewhat like ice, I mean, water. It gets colder and colder and colder and at some point it turns to ice. And I think that this is the kind of circumstance that kind of calls for that.
ROSSNow, the challenge with it is, I think, if you call this out as if it's only an individual circumstance and you chop off Richie Incognito's heads or you fire the general manager or whatever, the challenge is it doesn’t deal with the root issue, which is what's the culture that generates behaviors like this, because Incognito's not the first one who's done this. And Jonathon Martin's not the first person who's been pushed out to the side because of behavior like this either.
BELLANTONIRight. Well, we're going to talk definitely a lot more about sort of what should be done, but for now we're going to hear from Lee, who has a question. Hi, Lee. Thanks for calling.
LEEHi. Yeah, no, actually I don't have a question. I have two things. One about the testosterone issue and if there's time, something about how a very good teacher taught me to overcome bullying. I don't know if I'll have time for that one. But anyway, I recently read about a study in which they talked about how if people are on a team and it's a winning team, their actually -- their testosterone levels go up, but the losing team, testosterone levels go down.
LEEAnd I could see that there would be a need to do a certain amount of toughening up of everybody within the team, but if it becomes too consistent and too prolonged, then I would imagine the person who's the victim is going to have lower testosterone levels and not be as good a player. So there really has to be a balance in the sense and overall you're all there together. So I suspect that's part of what the problem was here, that it was just too prolonged. Now, is there time for me to tell about how I was taught to overcome bullying?
LEEOkay. I had a young fellow in my class -- he was actually put ahead a grade. We were the two brightest people in the class. And he always used to torment me and he would say thing about my breasts and a lot of other nasty stuff. And one day -- this was I guess in the 10th grade -- my teacher pulled me aside. He said, you know, you shouldn't let so and so bother you so much because he's got a pretty sad situation.
LEEHis father's in a wheelchair. He has to come home and kind of look after the situation while his mother's at work. And so the next day this boy said something very ugly to me. And I just looked at him with sort of pity in my eyes. You know, I didn't say anything. He never, ever said another word.
BELLANTONIInteresting story. Thank you for sharing, Lee. Appreciate your call. We're going to take a short break and we'll continue our conversation about workplace bullying in the wake of the Miami Dolphins situation. Stay tuned.
BELLANTONIWelcome back. I'm Christina Bellantoni of the "PBS News Hour," sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. We're talking about workplace bullying and what happened with the Miami Dolphins and Jonathan Martin, Richie Incognito. And I'm joined by Howard Ross, who's a Diversity Consultant and a Principal at Cook Ross, who also worked with the Atlanta Braves in a 2000 scandal after the John Rocker incident. So thank you so much for being here, Howard. Let's turn a little bit back to the professional football question, then we're going to talk a little bit more about workplace bullying.
BELLANTONISo we've talked about how people are sort of paid to be bullies. There's this mindset within the locker room. But what is the responsibility of coaches, leaders within the team to act out when something like this is happening?
ROSSWell, I think that it's huge. And I think that the responsibility of leadership at any level -- I think that includes the, you know, the coaches, the general managers and the, sort of, the administrative management of the team, but it also includes the players who are the leaders of the team, and that is to create a container of safety in which people can function effectively. If that's missing, if there's no leadership to create a container, than basically you're dealing with "Lord of the Flies." Then everybody does whatever they get away with or whatever feels appropriate to them.
ROSSAnd often people do -- and like I said, I've never talked to Richie Incognito -- but when I listen to him talk about he didn't realize that he crossed the line in the interviews that I've heard, while some people might say, well, that's ridiculous, how can you say that. I know that I've seen hundreds of circumstances where people have been in various different business environments or organizational environments who had that very thing happen, where somebody said something and didn't realize that that joke was a little too much over the line or a little bit different from this joke.
ROSSAnd in their mind it wasn't that much different at all. And I think that that is a real challenge, unless you have leadership that clearly delineates it. But, of course, you know, this is a very fine line because, as I said before, I mean, it appears as though the coaches said to him, you need to toughen this guy out. If the guy's going to make it he needs to be tougher. That could be said for his own benefit, as well as for the team's benefit, as strange as it seems to us.
ROSSIncognito goes to what he things toughening up means and that includes, among other things, racial epithets and then all of a sudden turns around and says, what did I do wrong?
ROSSAnd it's that lack of clarity often that ends up resulting in things like that happening.
BELLANTONIAnd in fact, you know, when we thing about the concept of a team and all the other players on it and what they're seeing, so we actually, in fact, have audio of Richie Incognito talking recently about this. And his sort of explanation for what he and his teammates might have heard from them. So let's take a listen.
MR. RICHIE INCOGNITOIf John would have came to me once, or if one of our other teammates would have come to me once and said, listen, lay off John, he's had enough of it. It's been too much. I would have been the first person, not only to change myself, but to change people around me.
BELLANTONIThat was an interview with Fox Sports, Richie Incognito kind of talking about the team needing to really say something there. So let's transition to talk about the non-professional sports workplace because one in three people are saying that they're being bullied. There are all kinds of different definitions of that, but I was reading through last night's top ten list of signs you're being bullied at work. You know, maybe a boss is making you feel embarrassed or purposely trying to put you on the spot on something. How do you work with people to help identify these signs? And what should people be doing about it if they're experiencing it?
ROSSRight. You know I think it is true that this does happen on, kind of, a regular basis is various different ways. And I also think it's important for us to recognize that even in our culture we sort of accept this. You know, I was watching "Parks and Recreation" the other night, and, you know, with Amy Poehler's show.
ROSSAnd there's a character -- I don't know if you watch it, but there's a character in the show, his name is Jerry, I think. And he is the butt of jokes in their whole department. And it's constantly people laughing at him and making fun of him and doing kinds of things. You know, this is the kind of thing that if it were not a comedy TV show, we would call bullying, workplace bullying.
ROSSSomebody's being picked on. They're being excluded sometimes from various different activities, and maybe being held to a different standard, maybe being the butt of jokes, that sort of thing that happens. And this does happen often in environments where people sort of gather around that, the kind of cliquishness that can occur at any level. It starts when we're in school, you know, we know that cliques get formed. And unless we're creating an environment where we address those, those kinds of behaviors are going to happen. So it doesn't surprise me at all that a third of people would say that they've been bullied at one point or another.
ROSSNow, one of the things that's important about statistics like that, of course, when you say to people have you been bullied? And a third of the people say yes, it doesn’t mean that one third of the people we're working with on a daily basis are being bullied in our environments, but nonetheless, for it to happen to anybody is still problematic. It's problematic, not just in terms of the human cost in that particular individual, but it's also horrendously bad for workplace productivity. Because if you've got somebody who's living in fear and a concern about how they're going to show up, they're just simply not going to do their best work.
ROSSSo I was just going to say it's a responsibility for the leader in that case, for the manger of a department, for the supervisor of a particular team of people, for a person who's the boss or the CEO of a company, all the way up, to create an environment where those kinds of things don't happen, both for the individual benefit for all the particular people there, but also for the overall benefit of team function.
BELLANTONIAnd morale within the company, as well.
ROSSAbsolutely, which plays out in team functioning. Right.
BELLANTONIAbsolutely. So you can join our conversation. Tell us if you're a boss or a supervisor, how would you deal with an office bully? Give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. Send and email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send a tweet to @kojoshow. We're going to take a few more callers now. So Nicholas has a question about the actual terms that we're using here. Go ahead, Nicholas. Thanks for calling.
NICHOLASYes. The question is -- well, comment, first of all. I don't understand why the term bully is being used in every single conversation about this particular incident. Bullying in grade school is one thing. I mean that's bad. But its use in this case, it looks like it's calling him a sissy because he can't take bullying. I don't in any way condone what goes on at school, but in this particular case, in a football team, we're talking about harassment.
NICHOLASAnd that can be against the law. I mean, nowhere have I seen, in my years in the workplace, any reference to bullying. Certainly we have had sessions about harassment and what connotes harassment. But bullying, I just don’t get why this particular case, that word is used every single time there's a discussion or an article.
BELLANTONIYeah, thank you very much for calling. Appreciate it. So those terms, do they matter?
ROSSThey are new terms. I mean, I think that Nicholas is right, that the use of bullying as a term in the workplace has been something that's emerged over the last few years. And I think for a lot of people, as the legal distinctions of harassment have come into play, calling something harassment has a particular legal definition to it, which the cases like this may or may not meet. And so as a result of that I think there's been much more interest in the whole bullying aspect. I think the other thing is that it ties into some of the things that people have seen in terms of power differential and other areas of life. And we know that there are all kinds of patterns.
ROSSAnd certainly we see this with young gay teenagers, you know. It contributes dramatically to the fact that four times as many gay teenagers commit suicide as straight teenagers. And we know that a lot of that has to do with both subtle and overt forms of bullying that occur. The Tyler Clementi case at Rutgers was, of course, a classic example of that.
BELLANTONIAnd the technology that sort of opens that up as well. I mean there's been so many conversations about cyber bullying that we could devote a whole two hours of this show to this topic.
ROSSExactly, exactly right.
BELLANTONINo doubt. And going at these terms, this sort of reminds us of the Florida A&M Marching Band case, where this was, you know, maybe defined as a hazing incident aboard a band bus where they were doing a sort of ritual and it ended really badly. Talk about that situation, sort of where that line is, particularly when it comes to college.
ROSSWell, and, Christina, this really points exactly what I'm saying. You know, you look hazing in fraternities or in, you know, sports teams, I mean, this was part of the culture and has been part of the culture forever in these kinds of teams, that people have to be forced to do silly things or stupid things or embarrassing things or physically difficult things in order to become a member of the tribe. And this goes back, you know, we could date this back anthropologically thousands of years to initiation ceremonies, where somebody would have to have their tooth knocked out or be scarred by a particular marking on them or go out and face a quest.
ROSSWe have movies about it. Right? We have Luke Skywalker who goes and, you know, meets Yoda and has to confront his demons. Or the move "300," where, you know, he's got to -- you know what I mean? All of this is part of our culture. And it is part of -- it's predominately come out of the formulation of the masculine in our culture, although we certainly know -- as in the case of cyber bullying -- that there's lots of cases or what was it, "Nasty Girls" or whatever the movie, "Mean Girls."
BELLANTONI"Mean Girls," yeah.
ROSSYou know, we know that these are there. But for the most part, in our literature, in our background, it's built around this whole thing. You know, how do we toughen up to be a man? You know, we confront these challenges so that we can toughen up to be the man. So that we can lead the world of women, where we've been raised as children, and now go out with the hunters and the gatherers and the warriors and take our rightful place. And that involves, you know, toughening us up in some way.
ROSSAnd I think that that, in the case of sports, it's very much a part of the culture. That somebody who's thoughtful -- Jonathan Martin is intelligent. He was -- he comes out of a home of professionals. He was a good student. All this kind of stuff doesn't necessarily fit into the locker room with a lot of guys that grunt all the time, you know.
ROSSYou know, and I don't mean to diminish the athletes and say that there are not lots of intelligent athletes, but the environment there is not designed to feed on that. The environment that's there is designed to feed on the other. And so as soon as he gets seen as one of those kinds, then toughening him up becomes the natural sort of reaction to that.
BELLANTONIWe're going to go back to the phones. We actually have a call from a woman named Tina, who is responding to Lee, who called earlier about what she learned and what she was told to deal with a bully when she was young. So Tina has some thoughts in response to that. Hello, Tina.
TINAHi. Yeah, I was very disappointed in Lee's response that, you know, when that other top two student in her class, you know, made comments about her breasts or whatnot, and she turned the other cheek and did the sympathetic look. Although I agree that that's a good, you know, non-violent response, I think the first problem was if the teacher had that information about the student the teacher should have pulled the student, saying, look, I know you have some issues at home. Don't take it out on the other student.
TINAI don't think, number one, the burden should have been placed on Lee. The second thing is, if this teacher did tell Lee to do that, then I think Lee should have really responded and confronted, you know the bully to -- whether in front of everybody or on the side -- just to nip that in the bud because that sort of tacit consent that that's okay, it sends a signal that -- and even though it did stop the problem, you don't know three years later he just tried it on somebody else.
TINASo I just, you know, having grown up and been bullied all my life for various reasons, I just found that, you know, it's really incumbent upon the leaders -- you've mentioned before -- and it's not. If it's you doing it, you do need to confront it and confront it publicly and confront it quickly to nip it in the bud.
BELLANTONIThank you, Tina. I appreciate your perspective. So perhaps we think about bullying in a certain way because we've all experienced it as kids and maybe if you ask 10 different parents you get 10 different answers for how to deal with a bully if you're in the second grade. But we've got an email from Cecilia in Wheaton, Md., getting back at this term question, you know. She says, "I really prefer to call this workplace harassment. I worked for a small CPA firm in the early 1990s. The managing partner must have been a kid who pulled the wings off of butterflies because he once almost ran me down as I was crossing the driveway into the parking garage."
BELLANTONI"He cut me off, looked back, smirked at me. There were many other incidents, but this is the one that could have resulted in physical injury just to satisfy his mean spirited ego." There are all kinds of stories like this. And, you know, I'd be curious if Cecilia wants to write us back and tell us if she reported it to anyone. Because that's part of the question, you know. What do you recommend for someone who is being bullied at work or if something like this happens? You know, what is the process for getting something done?
ROSSWell, I think that one thing -- I'll get to that in just a moment. But the one thing that Christina points to is that the bullying like harassment is a function of power. And it's important that we understand that about sexual harassment. Now, we know that sexual harassment is not a sexual issue. It's a power issue. And bullying is the same thing.
ROSSAnd most power issues that people have, when people feel the need to dominate people with power, whether it's through bullying or harassment, is usually a function of a loss of power in themselves. In other words, we take that internalized sense of not feeling very powerful. And we have to prove ourselves by lording over somebody else.
ROSSAnd so the challenge in circumstances like that is if somebody reacts it feeds that because now I've gotten under their skin. I know if I upset them that I've had the power to affect them. And that's a real challenge. I'm not advocating, by the way, that we not react, but I'm just saying that is something that can cause that cycle. And I think that that can be a real problem in this kind of circumstance.
ROSSI mean, I think that the challenge in knowing how to deal with any particular circumstance of bullying is that they're not all the same and they may be coming, innocently at times, from behavior that seems like kind of good old boy behavior, where we just kind of bust each other. And then all of a sudden you have somebody who's sensitive and their feelings do get hurt by that and they do internalize it.
ROSSOr it touches a wound in us. I mean, if you look at Jonathan Martin's circumstance, for example, and I don't want to get into over psychoanalyzing him or something, but this is a guy who's played football for a long time. He knows what football locker rooms are like. And he's also a big guy, who, like you say, could take care of himself physically. His reaction was not necessarily the same reaction anybody in that circumstance would have had. They might have reacted differently.
ROSSSo each person is coming from a particular place of sensitivity to certain things. One thing rolls off the back of one person and it bothers someone else. I mean, we see this in relationships between men and women all the time in the workplace. A guy makes a joke that one woman laughs at and another woman is offended by. And so we have to be sensitive to not only what we're saying, but what's the listening out there that's hearing what we're saying.
BELLANTONIAbsolutely. So we had an emailer tell us their story, saying, "As one of the small boys in school I feared the locker room. It was the crystallization of fear. One is truly exposed in every sense, with nowhere to hide. Just like in the NFL, tough behavior's rewarded. It is rewarded by peers and by the former high school jocks who typically control such environments-- even P.E. coaches, not just sports teams. So what the Miami incident shows to me is how an attitude and a set of behaviors is allowed to grow like a cancer until it's professionalized. That attitude is a model for behavior of children completing the cycle."
BELLANTONI"We have problems with (unintelligible) behaviors by unrepentant bullies, taught from a young age, that antisocial behavior is not only okay, but rewarded." So very interesting. We also have an email from Bill, who says, "The obvious question is how the coaching staff could have been so unaware that the person they asked to toughen up a member of the team has a history of carrying such behavior too far. I believe news reports say this was the case with Incognito." And obviously, we don't know all the situations, as we've been pointing out.
ROSSAnd in a way, you know, the first one you read just there really points to how it is because these coaches -- almost all of them are ex-football players. You know, they're people who've grown up in that environment. Most of them have probably been in that environment from the time that they were eight years old, until -- if they're now in their 50s, you know, 45 years or whatever or more -- who knows. This is the world that they live in. It is an encapsulated world in which this is the way people treat each other. And so…
BELLANTONIOf paying their dues sort of thing.
ROSSThat's right. And it may not even be rationalized in that sense. It's more that it gets concealed by its obviousness, so to speak. You know what I mean? It's so much a part of the fabric of how we operate that somebody, you know, giving somebody that kind of crap in their language, whatever I might call it, you know, it's just the way it is around here. And somebody comes to me, oh, it'll just happen. Don't worry about it. Jonathan Martin, let's say, comes to me as a coach and says, hey, this is getting a little overboard. Oh, you know, just don't worry about it. Let it roll off your back. It'll pass. Somebody else will be the target next week, you know.
ROSSThis is sort of the mindset that gets played. And then all of a sudden something happens. Jonathan Martin leaves the team one day and people say, wait, wait, what happened here? Well, what happened here was the same thing that happens every other day, except that something about this case took it sometimes one or two degrees more, that's all. And the water changes to ice and all of a sudden we have a real problem. And now, we look back at that circumstance, when in fact, that circumstance is only the result of a whole lot of other things that are going on at a daily basis.
BELLANTONIYou, too, can join our conversation. Tell us, is there a bully in your workplace? Give us a call at 1-800-433-8850, email email@example.com or send at tweet to @kojoshow. We will be back after a very short break. We're going to continue our conversation about workplace bullying.
BELLANTONIWelcome back. I'm Christina Bellantoni of the "PBS News Hour," sitting in for Kojo Nnamdi. I'm talking with Howard Ross, a Diversity Consultant, about the issue of workplace bullying and the situation that happened with the Miami Dolphins that has really captivated the nation and started a little bit of a new debate here. You can join our conversation. Give us a call at 1-800-433-8850. So, Howard Ross, what can people do to prepare their children for this?
BELLANTONIYou know we've heard a lot of stories from people saying, well, I remember this from when I was a kid or I came up through this or maybe we know that people came up through this environment. So what is the best practice there?
ROSSWell, I think this is a really important question because we are dealing with the reality we're dealing with now as adults, but a lot of us have children or grandchildren and we want to also prepare them to deal with this circumstance. And I think that there a couple things. I mean, one is to watch our own behavior as adults and watch how we may reinforce children's behavior in not knowing how to deal with these things. You know, your kid goes off and is at the football team, you know, when they're seven or eight years old and they come back and he says that the coach yelled at me or the players yelled at me.
ROSSAnd, you know, then you kick in to, potentially, as a father -- I'm speaking now just because I am a father. You might kick into your own sort of reaction from your own past, which is well, you know, they're just trying to toughen you up. Just don't worry about it, ignore it, don't let them get to you, you know. Meanwhile, what I say to my child is suffer in silence.
ROSSBecause how many times are they going to come to me and I'm not going to listen before they're going to stop coming to me. And that's what happens often, of course, with a lot of gay teenagers is that they feel so isolated because they don't feel comfortable coming to their parents because they haven't even come out yet.
ROSSThey're getting this kind of harassment and so the isolation is what contributes to the real pain that happens in this case. So I think that there are a number of things that we need to do. One is that we have to listen carefully, as parents, and try to determine whether what we're dealing with is appropriate or inappropriate behavior and figure out whether, in fact, there is something that's over the line here.
ROSSAnd that may require some investigation. It doesn't mean jumping in, necessarily, and rescuing our children. Because teaching our children how to deal with these kinds of things is part of growing up. And if they just find out that every time something happens their parents swoop in and save the day, then that's problematic.
ROSSNow, I'm not saying that we shouldn't, at some point, intervene if we believe that nothing's being dealt with. I mean I had a circumstance with one of my sons when he was probably in about second or third grade, where an older boy was actually bullying him. And we said something to the class and nothing happened, we said something to the class and nothing happened, and then finally I took him in one day and I was on the playground with him and the kid was there and I said, it stops today.
ROSSI said to the kid, it -- I didn't touch him. I didn't hurt him. I didn't even yell at him. But I said I know what's going on and it stops today. And I thought if it's not then I'll be talking to your parents about it. And it did stop in that particular case.
ROSSNow, being 6'5" helps in that particular case. (laugh) But I do think that we need to at least trust at the beginning the people who are professionals, who are more and more being trained how to deal with that. That means the teachers, the school administrators. Like, if we feel like the teacher isn't getting us satisfaction, then it's appropriate to talk to the administrator and say that there's a challenge here. Now, of course, as parents, we may find out that our child is playing more of a role in this.
ROSSWhich is fine. Then we should know that as well. The other thing is to begin to teach children ways to engage in constructive conflict resolution, find ways to make a request, to set boundaries for themselves. I mean I had a conversation with my 10-year-old granddaughter about this recently because she was in one of these triad kinds of things, where the two girls who were friends of hers where she was the odd one out.
ROSSAnd we had a whole conversation about, you know, how she could begin to deal with that. I think that finding ways to help kids think about the way they deal with conflict, to be thoughtful and conscious about the way they deal with conflict is very important.
BELLANTONIAnd externalize it by communicating instead of internalize it, of course.
ROSSExactly right, exactly right.
BELLANTONISo maybe fast-forwarding, I guess, to when we're in the workplace, as opposed to being children in school, we have a reply back from Cecilia who told us about this situation with a supervisor who nearly ran her over in the parking lot. She responds to us saying, "No. I didn't report him. There was an HR department in Baltimore, but I would have been viewed as a whiner. I would have signed my own pink slip and at the time I really needed the job." Now, that's, I'm sure, a lot of people have that same circumstance. They're afraid to go to their supervisor to say something, particularly if it is the supervisor.
ROSSWell, and this is very important. Cecilia's point is very important. And that is we have got to create environments in which there is a place to listen to people. And even if sometimes you're going to get people who make everything a complaint and that's true -- we live in a culture of complaint. To a certain degree that happens, but the danger is exactly what Cecilia is talking about. We see this a lot of times around diversity issues, that the woman who complains about sexism is seen as one of those "feminists." That sort of reaction. And so the very fact that she's complained about something makes her even more of a target and more separate.
ROSSAnd it's important when we recognize that in the research that we have around power dynamics, that the more different we feel from somebody, the more likely we are to exercise power in inappropriate ways. The less -- from a technical standpoint, our mirror neurons do not associate with that person as well.
BELLANTONISo the part of us that's sort of programmed for empathy gets diminished when I see you as the other. And so any time we're dealing with diversity issues, whether it's race or gender or anything else, my tendency will be to not inherently be as empathetic, unless I, you know, spend a lot of time with people from that group. I've embodied somewhat of a sense of what that culture's about.
BELLANTONIAnd so that's one of the reasons why harassment and bullying tends to occur so much around difference. It's because the power dynamic then comes up even greater when that person is the other.
BELLANTONIOh, that's very interesting. And getting at the sort of male/female dynamics we were talking about. We have Sandra on the line, who wants to talk about what happens when we're talking about a situation with men. So, hi, Sandra, from Silver Spring. Thanks for joining us.
SANDRAHi. Thanks for this very important conversation. And I’m thrilled to hear the discussion turn towards helping people to evolve conflict resolution skills. I am a cultural anthropologist and was very interested in this. It's a culture-wide perspective that it's natural -- you use the word, it's natural for men to start to respond this way to somebody who doesn't fit in with the culture within the football scenario. It's not natural. It's one of many possible choices. It might be natural for an unevolved middle school student. And there are many men who have chosen to evolve beyond that realm of choice for how they're going to deal with someone.
SANDRAAnd are they unnatural? No. They've done some work to evolve. And the danger with this is the suggestion that it's encapsulated. It's misleading. People who are encouraged and allowed to continue with unevolved behavior -- it doesn't stay inside the football team. They treat other people in the organization, they may treat their own children, their own neighbors, their own wives, their own mothers that way. And so it's a very -- it's a really big issue. You know, this whole suggestion that it's natural for men to behave that way.
SANDRAMany men have done much work to move beyond perhaps, you know, what you might say is a testosterone driven natural response. But we are not out hunting mammoth and there are other expectations for both men and women to move towards conflict resolution within and without of these encapsulated cultures.
BELLANTONIOh, thank you for your perspective, Sandra. We're going to hear from Todd, also in Silver Spring. Hi, Todd. Thanks for joining us.
TODDHi, how are you?
TODDThank you. So how do -- the conversation seems to be dealing more with, you know, sort of incidences of harassment that occur on a one-on-one basis. You know, an individual harasses another individual, it may even be a manager, but it's not sort of part of the organizational culture. What happens when the organizational culture, starting at the CEO level, you know, builds an organization that's based upon harassment, disrespect for a highly trained professional medical staff? I guess the question, you know, then moves to who do you go to, short of leaving the organization, saying, you know, I'm not going to put up with this.
TODDBut then, you know, that you have an organization that operates in a way that potentially affects patient care, you know, certainly creates a lot of turnover. How does one operate within that space? And not only do they not recognize the issue, the take pride in the issue. Their attitude is if you don't like the harassment, get out of here.
BELLANTONIThanks for that question, Todd. Howard Ross?
ROSSYeah, I mean, I think that it's interesting, Todd, because your question and Sandra's reaction kind of both bring me to the same place, which is I want to be really clear. I’m not suggesting that behavior is natural. I'm saying it becomes normative. And when you're in an enclosed environment, when you're in an encapsulated environment where everything around you is operating within a particular structure, we know social primacy is a primary driver of human beings. More than ever we realize that. We're now realizing that Maslow was wrong, that our sense of belonging is not the third level. It's the first level of the pyramid.
ROSSAnd we're fundamentally oriented to belonging to the group around us. And this is why we see normal Germans participating with the Nazis and normal Rwandans participating in the horrors that occurred there and really in every normal Americans ministers going to their churches and preaching about loving one another and then going home and having their slaves serve them at home. It's because normative behavior, at some point, often outweighs our individual perspective on things. And it becomes -- it feels natural in that environment. I'm not saying it's a natural human behavior.
ROSSAnd the kind of environment, Todd, that you're talking about is another example of what we're talking about. My son is a doctor and he went through medical school and through his residency in these environments in which doctors are told to, you know, work 48 hours straight without even stopping, without even resting. Even though we know that that will potentially create danger to patients, it nonetheless is the way we do it around it. It's a badge of honor. I did it and therefore you do it. And that's sort of a good example of how these kinds of things get rewarded and reinforced in the environment, which is, you know, I did it, I survived it, therefore you're going to do it.
ROSSAnd if you challenge it then you're, you know, a wus or something like that. You know, you don't have what it takes because that's what you need around here. Well, do we stop and think consciously, along the lines of what Sandra was saying -- do we stop, consciously say, is that really what it takes around here or are we just doing this because this is the way we've always done it?
ROSSAnd that's a very important question for us to be asking ourselves. Now, when you're in an environment, Todd, where the entire culture, including people in leadership, buy into that way of being and no matter what you do to try to change it, what you get is that's the way we do it around here, then those may be times when you have to say, this is not the place for me.
BELLANTONIAnd oftentimes, we should point out, a lot of workplaces will give you a little pamphlet. You may not even look at it because you're so busy signing your dental insurance form or something, but where you can call and anonymously report things or there's hotlines or ways that you can get around some of these issues, who you can go to.
ROSSRight. Ombuds people or HR people sometimes are very good to go for this and sometimes that's the case, but then again, in an environment like Todd's describing, often the HR people even buy into the culture. I've seen that happen. And they kind of poo-poo the kinds of things that people bring concerned to them. So somebody comes and they say, yeah, you just have to toughen up a little bit. You know, he doesn’t mean anything, it's not personal, he does it to everybody. As if that makes it better, that the person is harassing everybody instead of just harassing me.
BELLANTONISo I guess to close out the conversation, maybe we'll return to the situation with the Dolphins. The coach, general manager, you know, are they really at risk here for losing their jobs in this situation and what do you think should happen?
ROSSWell, I think that we are, in our culture, in a sort of off-with-their-heads mode these days. You know, as soon as something happens, our first thought is, you know, get rid of the person who did it. And that's not necessarily a bad thing if they really contributed to it. And if they were aware that it was going on and they did nothing to stop it.
ROSSBut it only matters if they're then replaced by a conscious attempt to shift the culture of the organization and somebody who comes in leadership, who has an intention to do that. If, in fact, they find that this was more subtle, that people didn't realize it was happening until it happened, then often it's much more valuable to see if those leaders can turn themselves around.
ROSSBecause having been part of the problem, when they become part of the solution it's very powerful. And so, you know, in a lot of circumstances I encourage people, rather than immediately fire the person, see how they respond and react. Did they take it on? Did they take full responsibility? Did they change their own behavior and then become a leader in other people changing their behavior? And that can be very powerful.
BELLANTONIVery interesting conversation. Thank you so much to Diversity Consultant Howard Ross of Cook Ross. And I really appreciated you being here in the studio today.
ROSSMy pleasure, Christina.
BELLANTONIThank you. I'm Christina Bellantoni, sitting in on "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." Thanks for listening. And in the next hour we'll be talking about conflict in the Congo and coverage of the anniversary of the JFK assassination.
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