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Tag: bullying

Help your fellow noobe – or shush up. Some of us see right through you!

Yesterday, I was looking at my Alexa Rankings and was pleased, as ever, that people spend time on my blog.  My style of writing is on the heavy-side; so that is pleasing. I am not frightening people off all together!

Noobes!  Find a richer set of questions than whether the big, cool kids like you

Alexa Rankings have also taught me an important lesson about being a noobe generally.  We have to find a rich mix of questions to guide our adaptation in a new place.

The general question, “How am I getting on?” won’t help us at all.  It only draws us into a cul-de-sac of a pecking order.  Do the big, cool kids like me?

It’s a funny thing. The big, cool kids will never like a noobe. But they have a good thing going making you think you should be liked by them.  This is how it works.

Noobe Fail #1

Big, cool kids stop being big and cool when they hang out with noobes.  So they will never hang out with noobes.  Big, cool kids are going to ignore me anyway.  Their reputations depend on that

Noobe Fail #2

The other noobes probably don’t get point #1 and they think I am cool if they think the big, cool kids like me.  That tempts me to pretend that the big, cool kids like me. Instant path to fame and glory? Or a total waste of time?

Noobe Fail #3

If this is how the world works, why do we care?  Can we all be fooled so easily? Surely, everyone can’t be wrong.

The sociologists have a big word to described what is going on : hegemony.  Hegemony is when the big, cool kids have persuaded us

  • they are big and cool
  • we can’t define something else or some one else as big and cool
  • we all go along with it

AND we don’t benefit, even though we go along with it.

Hegemony.  Genius.  You believe you are right and I am wrong.  And you persuade me of that too!

Yup, we can be fooled. The world works like that.

Noobe Fail #4

The difficulty with challenging the hegemony is that we take on a lot of people.  We are going to cut in to the ‘bigness and coolness’ of  the big, cool kids.  And they are going to sort us out!

It is a bit like telling the Emperor he has no clothes on. The only person who will shout that out is a three year old boy. Anyone older is wiser – not because the Emperor will get mad. He is only one person after all. We don’t say anything because the mob will get mad. They will look pretty foolish too and they aren’t going to like it.

That is how the whole system works. The big, cool kids, the emperor’s with no clothes, don’t have to do their own dirty work.  They will have many willing helpers who will get suckered into it.  Yet, the noobes who beat us up won’t gain any respect from the big, cool kids – far from it.  They’ll be seen as suckers.  But there will always be plenty of volunteers hoping for a quick ascent up the pecking order.

Another term sociologists use to describe this system is “masculine culture“.  Now we all know girls and women who play this game much better than guys.  It is not a guy thing. It’s a label. When the culture is all pecking order, when the Emperor has no clothes and no one is going to say anything, we say it is a masculine culture. It is just like teenage playgrounds that have nothing going for them except the pecking order.

So how do we break out of senseless pecking orders?

#1 Solution One.  Go along with it, if it is worth it.

Join up to playground which has such attractive toys that you can be bothered with the pecking order antics.  Most of us feel that way about good schools, good universities and good workplaces.

But choose wisely.  Don’t forget the pecking order game is a con trick.  Don’t join a queue just because it is there.  Ask people in the queue how long they have been there and what they have got out of it!

# Solution Two.  Go round it.

Spend more time learning the rules that lead to gain than worrying whether you are in with the big, cool kids.  They’ve done a fine job persuading you that they control the goodies.  The truth is they have done a find job persuading you . . .  the rest of the sentence is in our imagination.

But you will have to control your panic.  We are scared of being excluded or beaten up.  Rightly so.  That’s how pecking orders are maintained.  Fear.  Justified fear of getting beaten up. It’s your job to learn how can you get around the fear.

Learn the rules by asking richer questions

In the blogging world, the rich information of Alexa Rankings helps us learn what the rules really are. I am not as big as the A-listers who have been around much longer. But people spend 5x times a much time on my site and my bounce rate is 1/3 of theirs. I have points of leverage that go beyond begging them for attention.

But where can we find rich information in other worlds?

I thought I would test myself by writing down the rules of networking.


Let’s imagine ourselves at a networking event and let’s compare the typical networking tactics, which I can The Fail Method, with tactics that acknowledge the power dynamics between the ‘big, cool kids’ and the ‘noobes’, which I’ll call The Tortoise Method.

The Fail Method:  Most people at the networking event are judging us by whether we can lead them to the ‘big, cool kids’.  The big cool kids aren’t going to speak to them anyway; but they are convinced there is some magic to it.  So what do they do?

#1 Stand with a bunch of cool looking people

Fail:  No one is going anywhere!  Yep, it looks momentarily as it this group has cracked the code.  But hang on.  The same guys have been talking together for a good half-an-hour.  They are just too scared to talk to anyone else.

#2  Have a great looking card and a great elevator speech that is recited no matter what

Fail:  I am going to ask you whether you know someone who can help me and what are you going to say or do?   I am going to find you out in 5 seconds.

#3  Tell everyone how successful you have been

Fail:  How come you are in the noobe corner?  If you were successful, you would be in the successful corner.  You’ve no more idea of what is going on than I have!

#4  Tick off your successes loudly

Fail:  Some of the people listening have done some of the things you mention and know how they work.  They ‘suss’ your inexperience in a flash and tell others.  Try some genuine conversation.  They they might give you the answers you desperately need!

The Tortoise Method of networking

The Tortoise Method:  I’ll call this the tortoise method because the tortoise really does win the race.  Yes, the hares look down on the tortoise, initially, but that is a good thing.  Because if they realized the tortoise would win, they would get a bit mean and nasty.

#1  When someone is snooty or domineering with their elevator speech  or other bragging, cool.  Find out what they know.

Once you have your bearings, you can loop back and include them on your team in roles they can perform.  But can they perform any at all? The trouble is all the noobes are swanking about hoping to be taken for a ‘big, cool’ kid.  The only thing to do is to be kind and notice they don’t really understand power dynamics.

That is the thing to notice. Those who swank and swagger are going to need management.  A lot of of it.  They don’t have skills and they don’t have smarts.

#2  Figure out the essentials of being a noobe.

The things we need to know right now are rather basic. Where are the ‘loos’?  Where is the food?  What is everyone’s name?  Who are the bullies to be circumvented?   What are the rules and which much be followed and which can be ignored?  What are the signals (bells, notices, etc) that mean something?  What are the hacks?

Make a list of the essential questions. Ask them. When someone can answer them, say thank you, trade some information you have, and remember them as a person whose feet are on the ground.  They are your future team-mates.

#3  Listen to the stories that non-noobes tell

The stories are probably about pecking order – take that for granted.  The stories might not even  be untrue. That’s doesn’t matter. What matters is who are they trying to impress and how they understand (or misunderstand the rules).

By the way: Maybe you are only meeting noobes. Open our eyes.  Listen to bartender, the room cleaner, the door man.  Stop looking past people who aren’t the ‘big cool’ kids! Listen up to the people who have something to offer.  Swagger is only intended to defraud.

#4  Who is really successful in the system?

They probably won’t talk to you, but watch them closely. How do they spend their time?  And are they telling?

In pecking order systems, successful people often do their work behind closed doors.

  • First, they don’t want to say who helped them.
  • Second, they don’t want to admit who didn’t help them.
  • Third, they don’t want to admit in public that working hard is more important than the people who are throwing their weight around.
  • Fourth, many would rather tell you to do the wrong thing so they don’t have too much competition.

Paranoid – am I?  We just joined a system based on pecking order.  There is no generosity here -this is peck or get pecked!

Watch closely and take any opportunity to get behind the closed doors to see what is happening. Fetch the coffee. Become a “gopher”. Do the printing and photocopying. Keep your eyes and ears open, and your mouth shut. Firmly shut.  ‘

#5 Don’t ask people to introduce you to the ‘big cool kids”

In asking for that favor, you show you don’t understand anything at all! Don’t follow the big, cool kids around. You perpetuate the system. You learn nothing. AND YOU SHOW EVERYONE THAT YOU DON’T GET IT!

Do your own thing, with other noobes. I am not contradicting #4. You help a big cool kid, if and only if, you get behind close doors – if you see him in his underpants so to speak. If you get to see how things really work. If you get to see the action not the polished, spun version of the action. Otherwise, don’t follow them. Stop being such a burke! Do your own thing.

Does The Tortoise method work?

Well, not fast. But you weren’t going any where very fast anyway. That was just in your imagination! You were going along with the con job. Remember, what is too good to be true, is too good to be true.

The tortoise is a wise animal. They look dumb but

  • They know which race they are running, where it ends, and whether they want the prize
  • They know the route
  • They know what to look for along the route
  • They put one foot ahead of the other, quite calmly
  • They ignore the hares hopping along (and sleeping along the way).

Of course, if you are hare by nature, then this story is not for you! If you like the rough-and-tumble of the pecking order, go for it.

But get out of the noobe corner. Showing off to noobes is taking you nowhere.  If you stay, help your fellow noobe with something concrete. Or shush up. Some of us see right through you!

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Eureka! Why bad treatment rattles me so much.

I think I get unreasonably distressed when big companies treat me badly. I take it badly. And I take it personally. Which has to be unreasonable. After all they don’t give a jot about me!


Being bullied by people in power is called a double-bind. It’s basic structure goes like this.

  • You treat me badly.
  • But I can’t walk away.

So I have to absorb three bad things about myself.

  • You treat me badly.
  • I can’t walk away.
  • I am in a position where I cannot resolve this dilemma or even talk about it someone else. You certainly won’t listen. You will just deny that you are treating me badly.

Side-stepping a double-bind

I understand all this stuff. I am a psychologist after all.

So why do I take bad treatment like a kick in the solar plexus and spit in my face?

I pondered this a few days ago and had this ‘eureka’ moment.

Because suffering humiliation suggests I am investing in the wrong things. Because the petty humiliations hint that I have been horribly mistaken about what is true and good in this world.

If I catch the fleeting hint and look at it squarely, I can ask myself why I continue to pursue this life.

If this life is what I want, then maybe I can find a way to remove the irritant, compensate for the irritant (or pay it back), or simply put it in the irritant box.

The key question is not what to do about the irritant.

The key question is in the fleeting hint : is this the life I want? What have I assumed about what is true and good?

Do I still believe I have chosen the right direction in life knowing what I know now?


Hope: how can this touchy-feely stuff help me during the recession?

“I hope so.”

How many times have you said that, and in the true spirit of England meant “I very much doubt it”, or ,”It had better, or someone must watch out.”

Hope was out of bounds

When I studied psychology, we didn’t study phenomena such as hope.  ‘Behaviour’ was ‘in’.  If we couldn’t see it, it didn’t exist.  If it didn’t respond to the experimenters’ manipulation, it was unimportant.

Character, intent, and morality were out.  Be like a rat, or psychologists wouldn’t pay any attention to you.  (Hmm, good idea perhaps?)


Positive psychology, under the leadership of Martin Seligman, has changed all that.  Now we study virtue.  Are you zestful?  Are you prudent?

And we aren’t going to impose a menu on you either.  We’ll help you label the virtues that are dear to you, and have been dear to you for a long time.

Then we’ll help you build your life around them.


Hope is one of these virtues, but it is a tricky one.  It has a double meaning for positive psychologists as it does in lay language.  Some of us ‘specialize’ in hope as others ‘specialize’ courage, humility or love of beauty. If you want to label your ‘specialities’, you can take the virtues test here.

This is how positive psychologists define hope.

Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]
Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about
Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness – You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.

Hope is linked to control

Sadly, this defintion does not distinguish what we can control  from what we cannot.  People who want to control everything are likely to get very frustrated.  Too much hope of this kind is likely to be anything but a strength.

Equally, we know that hope is essential to all of us.  It is not just a ‘speciality’ chosen by some.  When we have hope, we are less stressed, even when conditions, objectively, are bad.  Those of us who design organizations and institutions as part of our professional work know that leaving control in the hands of individuals is the foundation stone of a viable, vital and vibrant collective.

Torturers understand the importance of hope and deliberately take control out of people’s hands. That is the nature of terrorism, whether it is a bomb on the tube, bullying in a school or factory, or threatening to drown someone when we question them for information.  The intent is to break our will by inducing “learned helplessness”, or the collapse of hope.

Hope is not just a virtue; it is as necessary as air

And there we turn the full circle.  If we are living in the shadow of a bully who is intent on removing hope, it is so, so, important not to let them get to you.  They are likely to succeed, at least in part, because we aren’t miracle workers.  But for every glimmer of hope we retain for yourself and others around us, we are winning.  They only win if they remove hope completely.

Positive psychologists often quote a concentration camp survivor who went on to train as a psychiatrist: Vaclev Havel.

“Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out.”

Sometimes life sucks

We have to remember that sometimes life sucks, and sometimes ‘shit happens’.  And sometimes it is big stuff that we didn’t invite and cannot control.  When focus on the randomness of life, we rehearse our sense that life is nonsense.  We deny hope.  And we break our own spirt as surely as a torturer.

But what can we do instead?

How do we nurture hope?

When we start to ‘take inventory’, to ‘start close in’, we express faith that our strengths were given to us to use in the situation we find ourselves in, and that we should use them even if the situation is awful and indeed, because the situation is awful.

Hope is not belief in an end point.  Hope is belief in a beginning point.  Hope is a belief in you and in me.

Come with me

What is your beginning point?  What is the best part of being you? I need to know too.  It strengthens my hope that it will all ‘make sense regardless of the way it turns out’.

UPDATE: For an HR Managers perspective on the Recession, I have written a summary on a new post.

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A masculine culture

Sociologists sometimes write of a masculine culture. Hofstede writes of masculine and feminine cultures.

The ‘prep’ scene in Goodbye Mr Chips illustrates this point. A pupil slams down a books while Mr Chips’ back is turned. This pupil has already challenged Mr Chips successfully on two occasions: mimicking his walk behind his back and disrupting his class spectacularly.

At first, Mr Chips does not know who is making the noise. He cunningly uses the glass of a large picture as a mirror and calls on the boy without giving away how he knows who is the culprit. Then luck would have it that the boy’s name is “collie” and he is able to humiliate the boy by suggesting that is the name of a dog. And so it goes on.

This is a masculine culture. It is based on pecking order, domination and humiliation.

We aren’t being rude about guys. Why should you put up with it either? The story line in Goodbye Mr Chips is that guys were challenging this way of life in 1910, one hundred years ago.

The alternative

If you want the alternative, look at the scene where Mrs Chips challenges the headmaster. The challenge is based on reason, persuasion, and persistence. Not domination and subjugation. The headmaster deftly avoids the challenge. He rejects an unfamiliar idea, which would be alright in its own terms. He rejects it, though, to restore his domination. Later, in the dance scene, being a wise man, he concedes the validity of the new idea (and validates it by including it in the hierarchy!)

Does life has to be a series of battles? Can we not trade visions? Can we not have Eureka moments when we learn something unexpected? Can we not do the equivalent of come up to a crest of a hill and be amazed by the vista in from of us?

If the 21st century will be about anything, it will be about a currency of visions rather than the currency of force.