Monday, November 12, 2007

The Intimidation Factor (Part 1)

"Education helps one case cease being intimidated by strange situations." ~ Maya Angelou

The subject of intimidation has been on my mind of late. Intimidation in the work place, to be exact. What is it? Is it a legitimate complaint when one fails to perform a function of their job? Why do people feel intimidated by others they work with? Why do those in positions of authority sometimes feel it necessary to intimidate others in an attempt to control (they would argue I should use the word "manage", rather than "control") their employees? To answer some of these questions I've tried to categorize different types of intimidation. Let's examine intimidation, both in the form of being its victim and in using it as a tool to control other's actions. Keep in mind, I am mainly addressing intimidation in the workplace. I understand there are many different areas where a person can feel intimidated, be intimidated, and even intimidate.

What is intimidation? The word intimidate comes from the Medieval Latin word intimidatus, which is a past participle of intimidare, from the Latin in- + timidus, or timid. Webster defines it as, "to make timid or fearful: frighten; especially: to compel or deter by or as if by threats." and it, "implies inducing fear or a sense of inferiority into another." Before you get too impressed, I promise I am not a man of words, or letters for that matter.

Why do people intimidate? I think we can all recall a time when we came across someone who was threatening or intimidating. Maybe we've even been that person. The question is why would one intimidate in order to get their way, or manage someone? Some think it's a way to gain respect, or to motivate others to perform a task. While in the short term, I do believe that it can cause someone to do what you want, and even feel as if they have a form of respect for you and your authority, it is can ultimately become the source of your downfall. As a manager or supervisor, constantly dishing out threats (verbally or otherwise) may give you the feeling of control, but what it is doing in the long run is exposing you to a mutiny. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say it's exposing you to everyone as a person who is insecure about your own abilities to lead or manage (which I believe to be two entirely different things, but that's another post).

Managers who intimidate their employees are not encouraging them to perform at their highest level. In fact they are often stifling their effectiveness and ability to be creative and bring new ideas to the table. Who wants to come up with new and efficient ways to help the company when the boss is constantly tearing them down? An effective manager is going to come up with creative and motivational ways to encourage their employees to work as a team for the good of their cause (the company's goals and what have you). I'm not talking about forced "Chicken Soup for the Soul" in morning meetings, or ridiculous games that try to see if you're smarter than a fifth grader (both of which I have witnessed). If the only way a manager knows how to motivate is through intimidation, they will have a work force that operates like robots and in constant fear. The most that will ever get done will be just enough to not get into any trouble.

As I mentioned earlier, some believe intimidation is the window to respect. That couldn't be further from the truth. While it is true one may gain some respect out of fear from their employees, it will only be a matter of time before that respect turns into resentment at best. Resentment, left unchecked, eventually will turn into rebellion and before one knows it the entire workplace will be infected with the attitude of mutiny. There will always be employees, who no matter how many times the boss holds the gun to their head, will not be intimidated. They may not say much at first, and they may not even react to the threats when they are made, but they will garner a resentment for their manager and what the company stands for. In truth, they will only be working for their paycheck, and a work force that is only working for their paycheck is usually only going to do just enough to get that check and then go home.

Using intimidation as a tool to lead people is weak and exposes one as insecure in themselves and their ability to motivate others to accomplish goals.

Next time I intend to discuss some of my ideas on what to do when one is trying to intimidate you, and what to do if your being intimidated by someone is a figment of your imagination. Yes, I do believe intimidation can be one's imagination run amok.

No comments: