There is quite a lot of evidence to suggest that the greater the power imbalance in any organisation, group or country, the more abuse takes place. If abusive behaviour is not challenged then it continues.

Needless to say, in a company, this abusive behaviour takes a heavy toll on productivity. People get demotivated, they spend their time and effort on minimising the damage and not on getting the job done. Now, obviously there needs to be some hierarchy within an organisation so that the organisation has direction. A clear hierarchy is not a problem. The problem comes when the relative gap between the upper and lower levels is large. If anyone can act with impunity, it probably won’t be long before they start abusing that power.

So what does this mean for your group?
It means that if you are in charge you might need to relinquish some of your power and if you are an underling you need to learn how to robustly defend yourself.

I’m certainly not saying fight all the time or go around starting fights. I’m just saying be ready to defend yourself when you need to. It is not just “OK” to defend yourself – it is that you are pretty much crazy if you don’t. Many nice people are used to self-regulation and so expect others to do it too but they very often don’t self-regulate. The nice people need to resist the abusive behaviour.

You get what you settle for.
Nice people often feel bad about making the waves that a robust defence entails but they shouldn’t. The tendency towards abuse of power was neatly encapsulated by Lord Acton when he said “Power corrupts”. Unfortunately he was right. Every time you don’t robustly defend yourself, you teach someone who is abusive that it is OK to be abusive to you and to others.

Just a bit of clarification here: I am not talking about when someone attacks your ideas. Those attacks just need to be defended with facts, logic and discussion. I am talking about when the attacks are personal. This includes rudeness, unfair treatment or making you feel bad about yourself. Basically any part of an interaction that leaves you thinking “What an @$$#0L€”.

If you allow this treatment to continue, it will.

How you defend yourself depends on your situation. Whether you defend yourself shouldn’t really be in question.