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There is a group of people at work I call the Pack. Every few months or so the Pack targets a victim and starts a whisper campaign. Sometimes the victim is forced out of the company sometimes they weather the storm. I have been the target a few times but I have been able to ignore them as I used to be bullet proof. I don't know how long I can stay bullet proof though. My stocks in the company have fallen.

Recently a key member of the Pack has been giving me the purest look of loathing I have ever seen every time I walk past their desk. It is fairly blatant, not subtle at all.

Should I confront them? Should I ask them if I have offended them in some way? How likely are they to answer truthfully? Past confrontations by previous victims of the Pack have not gone well.

Over the years I have tried to talk to management about the over abundance of drama in the workplace, but I have been shot down before I can get started. I try to point out the effect on staff turn over. They say that turn over is average for the industry (its not) and they can't do anything about it (they can).

The problem is the Pack's behavior is a direct consequence of management attitudes. Management encourages competition, rivalry and conflict between their underlings in order to encourage more effort by the combatants. I would call it an unstated rule or unspoken policy except the managers talk about it all the time. They are quite open about it.

Any time there is any tension between co-workers the Pack picks a side praising one person and bad mouthing the other, fanning the flames and treating it as a spectator sport. I jump in trying to mediate offering a sensible compromise earning gratitude of some and the hostility of others. The grateful parties promptly leave the company which does not say much about my abilities as a mediator. However I have been able to put a stop to some distasteful behavior and I have a string of ex-co-workers who can not sing my praises loud enough, they give me glowing references and two even offered me a job although one of those was at a game startup so I am not sure if I should count that one. The Pack isn't a great fan of my meddling however I have not meddled lately so I am not sure about the cause of the sudden flare up.

So is a dirty look enough of an issue to risk poking the bear? Or if I ignore it is it only going to fester?

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    Sounds like you should be looking for a new job, as this is clearly not an environment for you. Why not do that? – Tymoteusz Paul Sep 25 '20 at 15:37
  • The pay is good and I have been able to ignore the Pact for a long time as they could not touch me. It would be nice to work in a place that was less emotionally charged. – Rhys Edwards Sep 25 '20 at 15:44
  • My answer below is essentially just a longer version o what @Matt said. I agree wholehearted. – dan.m was user2321368 Sep 25 '20 at 16:35
  • I am not sure why of all the things that they have pulled over the years that a simple dirty look would bother me the most, but it does annoy me. – Rhys Edwards Sep 25 '20 at 16:53
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    The grateful parties promptly leave the company which does not say much about my abilities as a mediator. Why do you think this is a reflection of your mediator skills and not the harassment they suffered from their other coworkers? – BSMP Sep 25 '20 at 20:11
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So is a dirty look enough of an issue to risk poking the bear?

It wouldn't be for me. And if The Pack group is as evil, powerful, and as management-supported as you express, you'd be doomed anyway.

Apparently, you've put up with this for years, but I wouldn't want to work in that sort of company. And I would see no benefit to confronting this "key member of The Pack" on my way out. I'd be talking to all these ex-coworkers who give you glowing references and offered you a job.

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Calmly ignore it. Be a boring victim who doesn't get it.

Bullying is only fun when the victim gives a reaction. If you run to HR - they got a reaction so they think they win. If you quit - they got a reaction so they think they win. If you take sick / vacation leave - they got a reaction so they think they win. If you run to your boss - they got a reaction so they think they win.

What you're seeing is probably legitimate bullying, but it's very hard to prove that certain looks are meant as hostile, even if captured on a hidden camera. It's very hard to prove that gossip is malicious. It's very hard to prove that their support for one person over another is collusion and isn't based on merit.

So - bore them out of it. When Susan glares at you with eyes that say she'll eat your soul, you say "Morning Susan!". When she doesn't respond in turn just act like she's really busy. Pretend to be blissfully ignorant to their subtle bullying of you. One of two things will happen:

  1. They'll get bored, they'll seek elsewhere to create interesting drama.
  2. They'll escalate to something which is clearly bullying and can be actionable by HR.

In either way you win, and the more people who act like you do, the weaker they become.

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Given that you've been there long enough to know how this will play out (management will do nothing, you'll likely end up leaving the roll), you have nothing to lose by politely, coolly, unemotionally, but directly standing up for yourself.

Next time you receive the "purest look of loathing" when you walk by that person's desk, stop, look directly at them and say "is everything okay, because you are giving me the nastiest look I've ever received". No need to ask "have I offended you" (maybe you have, and now you'll find out, but it seems like you know the answer is no), no need to somehow make it seem like there is some honest misunderstanding.

It is very important that your approach is such that you cannot be accused of wrong doing: Do not raise your voice, do not get baited into an argument, don't discuss history. Just a cool, calm statement of the facts at hand.

Bullies have a tendency to stop bullying those who stand up for themselves - they move on and pick an easier target. This will not end bullying at your firm, but it will make the next few months as you prepare your departure a bit more pleasant.

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  • You’re more polite than I would be 🙂 – Matt Sep 25 '20 at 16:37
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Management and the Pack seem to be encouraging and reenacting roles on the Drama Triangle (Persecutor, Victim, Rescuer) where so far you play Rescuer of Victims. Most likely management and the Pack will not easily transcend these patterns. The culture is attracting people who are attracted to drama. People who do not fit in that culture exit via higher than average turnover. Consider how likely you are to change the drama there, or how likely you are to learn something of value by staying in the drama with more awareness of these social games, or how likely you are to feel better after getting away to a potentially less emotionally charged culture.

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You're expendable. You're basically the defense attorney in a kangaroo court system. Literally anybody could play the role of that attorney and get the exact same results that you've achieved.

You say you don't like drama but the only outcome of confronting them will be more drama. Time to get another job.

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In this case your location is a paramount, in countries like USA all this is a perfect ground for hostile workplace claim.

But, regardless of the location, i can suggest you to look for a new position as soon as possible.

This type of mental stress at work considerably changes people and takes toll on personal life as well.

Read these when you get the chance and run as fast as you can

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4382139/

https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/the-physical-toll-of-workplace-bullying-is-a-silent-killer-1.3841808

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  • It would be preferable to include the essential parts of the linked web pages here, and provide the links for reference. Links can and do change overtime and eventually this answer may become less useful for future readers. – Draken Sep 25 '20 at 15:55
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    I could make a lot of trouble for them if I wanted. My contact list is full of people who would love to testify to a persistent and and ongoing pattern of harassment and bullying over a number of years. I might wait until I get another job and I am not into the drama of the court. Trading in the soap opera of my present workplace for a circus of lawyers, maybe not. – Rhys Edwards Sep 25 '20 at 17:07
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One VERY effective attack in bullying is to create a conditioned response in the victim.

If they can set you off by giving you a look, you've already lost, and it's time to update your resume and get out ASAP.

If you want to fight them, you need to leave your paranoia at the door, and show them you are completely immune to their tactics. If they give you a hateful stare, give them a friendly one, if they start whispering behind your back, talk to them to their faces. If they shut up when you walk in, ask them questions directly.

It's a game to them, make it a game for you.

I've done this, and it drives them crazy when they know they can't get to you. What happens is they tend to up their game to the point where the antics get obvious, once that's the case, they'll go through what is called "extinction behavior" and make it obvious to management.

They can pull their games on the side, but once it becomes obvious, nope.

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