It ain’t pretty but it’s true: when people velcro themselves onto en experience where they feel they were treated in an uncivil manner, they often seek revenge. They engage in getting-even actions that are intended to balance an imaginary ledger.
Remember my last blog entry, “why bother saying hello?”. It examined how people get reactive when someone skips a greeting.
In reality, this dynamic goes quite a bit deeper.
When a person is upset by someone’s incivility, his or her getting-even activities will tend to be in proportion to how serious they think the other person’s ‘offence’ was. So when a colleague doesn’t say hello, they begin by exacting a punishment that is similar in intensity to the original offence. (“You didn’t say hello? Well, I won’t say hello either!”).
But over time, if the first person continues to be a greeting-offender, the affected person will up the ante – – they’ll add supplementary getting-even tactics to their original actions. In addition to not saying hello to that no-good person, they might throw a bit of gossip into the mix, or perhaps even the occasional little work-related sabotage. In other words, a chronic offence will require an elevated getting-even response that will satisfy the affected person’s sense that they are adequately balancing those invisible justice scales.
There’s no shortage of creative strategies, but good old tried-and-true revenge strategies can always be relied upon to give one that sweet sense that precious justice is being adequately served: spreading the word about the person’s inconsiderate ways, ‘forgetting’ something just when someone needs it, sabotage (the kind that’s juicy enough to make an impact but subtle enough not to get you into trouble), ignoring requests, or ‘working to rule’.
Meanwhile – have you too noticed this? – the person who is engaging in executing justice via these even-the-ledger activities is utterly blind to the fact that his or her own behaviour is itself a form of min-aggression that constitutes workplace incivility. They say that ‘justice is blind’ – indeed it is.
if you are part of a spiralling cycle such as this, you find yourself having tremendous difficulty freeing yourself of the entanglement of feelings and actions involved in its dynamics. And if you are in management, it is practically impossible to sort out who started what, when, why and where. You might get better results by avoiding getting into the history of events and just stepping up to the plate and holding people accountable for professional and civil behavior going forward.
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