Nav: Home

In organizations, bullying begets whining, study finds

June 21, 2017

DeKalb, Ill.--It has been said that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Now new research suggests that such a dynamic can play out in organizations, where bullying within decision-making groups appears to go hand in hand with whining.

Northern Illinois University researchers surveyed 234 study participants, whose jobs included team decision-making, about their perceptions of the personal dynamics within groups. The researchers found a significant and positive correlation between bullying and whining.

"There's a tendency for bullying and whining to be used in conjunction with one another," says researcher David Henningsen, an NIU professor of communication who studies idiosyncratic forms of persuasion within organizations. "In other words, when some people act dominant by bullying, others respond by being submissive and whining."

Neither bullying nor whining was perceived by the study participants as being frequently used to exert influence, but when present, the tactics appear to feed off each other.

"The higher the perception of bullying within a group, the higher the perception of whining," Henningsen said.

Henningsen and his wife, NIU communication professor Mary Lynn Miller Henningsen, teamed up on the study, published recently in the International Journal of Business Communication.

Study participants filled out online questionnaires measuring their perceptions of dynamics in decision-making groups at their jobs. On a six-point scale, they rated statements such as, "People act aggressively to try to force others to accept their position," and "People often pout to try to get others to agree with them."

The researchers also found that both reported bullying and whining behaviors negatively impacted group perceptions of cohesiveness and decision-making effectiveness.

While little research has been done on the use of whining as a social-influence tactic, the researchers say it should be considered an aggressive tactic.

"We liken the whiners to the Eeyores of a group," Mary Lynn Miller Henningsen said, referencing the gloomy donkey in Winnie-the-Pooh stories. "When he needs help, Eeyore likes to express his emotions to friends in a way that evokes pity and spurs them to help.

"Likewise, whining can be used to sway members of a group," she added. "Whiners attempt to gain influence by positioning themselves as deserving of consideration because their positions have been denied in the past. So they try to leverage weakness into pity to induce compliance. The assumption is that regardless of whether the whiners supported their positions in the past, the fact that they have a pattern of losing suggests they should be allowed to win."

Conversely, Lucy Van Pelt from Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" comic strip demonstrates classic bullying behavior.

"In decision-making groups, bullying occurs when someone uses a loud, aggressive or critical tone to intimidate or coerce others," David Henningsen said.

The positive correlation found between bullying and whining indicates the behaviors might be inter-related through a process known as "dominance complementarity," whereby dominant behaviors by one individual lead to corresponding submissive behaviors by another.

"This is important research because group decision-making is by far the most common way decisions are made in organizations," David Henningsen said. "And these types of behaviors can derail group meetings and lead to suboptimal decisions."

Henningsen suggests three ways to deal with or prevent bullying and whining:
    1) Focus on facts, logic and data that speak to the problem and its solution.

    2) Recognize that both bullying and whining are aggressive and non-productive behaviors. "Many people bully or whine without realizing it," Henningsen said. "Self-recognition of a negative behavior is the first step toward correcting it."

    3) Don't let the behaviors spiral and escalate.
-end-


Northern Illinois University

Related Bullying Articles:

Bullying gets worse as children with autism get older
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are more likely to experience bullying than children without ASD and this bullying gets worse with age, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University of New York.
Does obesity increase risk of being a bullying victim, perpetrator, or both?
A new study has shown that obese adolescents are not only significantly more likely to experience bullying, but they are also more likely to be both victims and perpetrators of bullying compared to their healthy weight peers.
Study examines consequences of workplace bullying
New research reveals how frequently being the target of workplace bullying not only leads to health-related problems but can also cause victims to behave badly themselves.
Bullying linked to student's pain medication use
In a school-based survey study of all students in grades 6, 8, and 10 in Iceland, the use of pain medications was significantly higher among bullied students even when controlling for the amount of pain they felt, as well as age, gender, and socioeconomic status.
Teen girls more vulnerable to bullying than boys
Girls are more often bullied than boys and are more likely to consider, plan, or attempt suicide, according to research led by a Rutgers University-Camden nursing scholar.
Bullying among adolescents hurts both the victims and the perpetrators
About a tenth of adolescents across the globe have been the victim of psychological or physical violence from their classmates.
Bullying evolves with age and proves difficult to escape from
An international team from the Universities of Cordoba, Cambridge and Zurich conducted a study on bullying roles among peers.
The more the merrier? Children with multiple siblings more susceptible to bullying
A child with more than one brother or sister is more likely to be the victim of sibling bullying than those with only one sibling, and firstborn children and older brothers tend to be the perpetrators, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.
How bullying affects the brain
The effects of constantly being bullied are more than just psychological.
Bias-based bullying does more harm, is harder to protect against
A new study finds that bias-based bullying does more harm to students than generalized bullying, particularly for students who are targeted because of multiple identities, such as race and gender.
More Bullying News and Bullying Current Events

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2019.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Risk
Why do we revere risk-takers, even when their actions terrify us? Why are some better at taking risks than others? This hour, TED speakers explore the alluring, dangerous, and calculated sides of risk. Guests include professional rock climber Alex Honnold, economist Mariana Mazzucato, psychology researcher Kashfia Rahman, structural engineer and bridge designer Ian Firth, and risk intelligence expert Dylan Evans.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#540 Specialize? Or Generalize?
Ever been called a "jack of all trades, master of none"? The world loves to elevate specialists, people who drill deep into a single topic. Those people are great. But there's a place for generalists too, argues David Epstein. Jacks of all trades are often more successful than specialists. And he's got science to back it up. We talk with Epstein about his latest book, "Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World".
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dolly Parton's America: Neon Moss
Today on Radiolab, we're bringing you the fourth episode of Jad's special series, Dolly Parton's America. In this episode, Jad goes back up the mountain to visit Dolly's actual Tennessee mountain home, where she tells stories about her first trips out of the holler. Back on the mountaintop, standing under the rain by the Little Pigeon River, the trip triggers memories of Jad's first visit to his father's childhood home, and opens the gateway to dizzying stories of music and migration. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.