Governor Christie's behavior brings to the forefront of our nation's consciousness an issue that is widely known yet under-addressed: workplace bullying.
Some will argue that Christie's behaviors embody the American ideals in the workplace, lauding his assertiveness, straight-talk and get-it-done attitude. And yes, those are qualities that are to be admired.
But a person is the sum of his actions, and Christie's behaviors also include ruthlessness, threats, retaliation, and heavy reliance on power imbalances. These are the qualities found in bullies, and when combined with Christie's access to resources, it is a recipe for extreme workplace bullying.
Defenders of bullies try to say that it is a subjective experience and that the targets are overreacting or too sensitive. The best way to assess a situation is to simply break it down and look at it as compared to the definition of bullying.
True bullying require three conditions to all be met:
• Unwanted aggression
• Occurring in the context of a power imbalance
If all three of the above conditions are met, a fourth condition develops, and that is fear. The targets fear the bully, and they fear speaking out against the bully due to the threat of retaliation.
In looking at Christie, we can check off all the characteristics. Yes, his behaviors are repetitive. Yes, he lashes out with unwanted aggression towards his targets, often in retribution for refusing to support his political agenda. Yes, his actions occur in the context of a power imbalance, given that he is able to remove resources from others at will. Finally, we see that others fear him. They are afraid to cross him for fear of retaliation. This is the hallmark of a bully.
It is not subjective at all. It is simple. Christie acts like a bully. Worse, he hides behind the actions of those who work for him. He creates a culture that condones aggressiveness and retaliation, but when others cry foul, he removes himself from the very people who work for him and throws them under the bus.
Can a bully change? Yes. Sometimes people get a little heady under their own power, and they lose touch with empathy and with how their actions affect others. It is entirely possible for Christie to reach out and try to restore the relationships that have been damaged. He can work to consider others and change the way he wields his power. He can repair the damage by being more humble and more empathetic. The choice is in his hands. Will he listen to what the people have said?