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Build Your Career Office Life

Got Bullies at Work? Whining Isn't Far Behind

Got Bullies at Work? Whining Isn't Far Behind
Credit: Inez Bezdar/Shutterstock

The more bullying that takes place in your office, the more whining there likely is, new research suggests.

A study recently published in the International Journal of Business Communication discovered that bullying and whining appear to go hand in hand in the workplace.

"There's a tendency for bullying and whining to be used in conjunction with one another," said David Henningsen, one of the study's authors and a professor at Northern Illinois University, in a statement. "In other words, when some people act dominant by bullying, others respond by being submissive and whining."
For the study, researchers surveyed 234 study participants, whose jobs included team decision-making, about their perceptions of the personal dynamics within groups. 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 research revealed that bullying and whining among employees tend to feed off each other.

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

The researchers also found that both behaviors have a negative impact on a group's cohesiveness and decision-making effectiveness. The study's authors said that, similarly to bullying, whining should be considered an aggressive tactic to get what you want. [Want to protect your employees? Create a bully policy]

Mary Lynn Miller Henningsen, one of the study's authors and a professor at Northern Illinois University, said whining can be used to sway members of a group. "Whiners attempt to gain influence by positioning themselves as deserving of consideration because their positions have been denied in the past," she said. "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."

David Henningsen believes the research's results are important because of how often groups are used to come to a decision at work.

"And these types of behaviors can derail group meetings and lead to suboptimal decisions," he said.

To prevent both types of behaviors, David Henningsen suggests that besides focusing on facts, logic and data that speak to the problem and its solution, professionals should also recognize that both bullying and whining are aggressive and nonproductive behaviors.

"Many people bully or whine without realizing it," he said. "Self-recognition of a negative behavior is the first step toward correcting it."

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.