Bullies on the dance floor

Some leaders are beautiful to dance with – their lead is clear, direct and yet comfortable and soft.  Other leaders are rigid with tension and move harshly in ways that can damage the follower.

I have seen leaders berate their follower (unbelievable but true) for failing to do what they ‘lead’, and I have watched beautiful leaders bemused as followers blithely ignored their lead and did their own thing.

In the workplace we think of bullying as a personality driven behaviour.    Bullying personalities exist, but  the majority of ‘bullies’ are situational bullies.  They are fine in one context, but demonstrate inappropriate behaviours in another.

This also is true on the dance floor.  Some men are fine and relaxed until the dance floor gets busy, when the

y get overwhelmed with information and choices.  In order not to bump their partner into anyone, they become rigid with tension and start ‘bossing’ their partner around.

  • to the follower this feels like bullying
  • to the leader this feels like ‘getting the job done’

– in this case ‘the job’ being to get round the dance floor without colliding with anyone else.When the leader is overwhelmed, ‘getting the job done’ tends to have a very narrow definition.  Normally in tango the ‘job’ might be something like:  making a good connection with my partner and dancing in harmony with the music, my partner and the other dancers on the floor.  Just focussing on “avoiding a collision” is a very limited part of that experience – though an important one.

On the dance floor we try to teach leaders to relax their muscles, to breathe (yes, they can forget even that when ‘getting the job done’ has narrowed their focus), and to keep it simple when the dance floor is chaotic.

In the workplace, we tend to place escalating demands on the leader under pressure, giving them less time to relax an

d breathe.   For the follower in the workplace, this means an escalation of tension and demands which, even if not directed at them, feel like bullying and indeed can have that effect whatever the intention of the leader.Occasionally on the tango dancefloor you will see a couple ’dance it out’, as they use the explosive energy of anger or passion to dance.  When this is done by two skilled dancers, it can be thrilling and exhilarating if both feel this is the way to go.  If one partner is just marching the other round the dance floor because they are in a bad mood, this is an entirely different thing.

It is extremely hard to have followers in the workplace who can ‘dance it out’ with you.    Bosses often imagine they have such followers at work – mistaking compliance under pressure for consent.  If they had ever danced with a passionate tanguera who knew how to ‘dance it out’, they would never confuse their workplace tantrums with something that is good and clears the air!

Our bosses need to realise that a frantic ‘always on’ kind of life, or kind of tango, creates something monstrous that is unable to respond appropriately to another person.   When things get frantic and chaotic, It is time to relax the shoulders, do a few exercises, breathe, and focus on keeping it simple and keeping our followers safe.  This is no moment for grandiose plans or complex choreography.

“As on the dance floor so in life”.

Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.   Tel: 08452 303050  Fax: 08452 303060  Website : www.irenicon.co.uk.  You can follow Annabel on twitter – http://twitter.com/AnnabelKaye

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Filed under bullying at work, employment law

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