Intellectual Abuse: A New Problem in the Workplace
Guest Post by Malcolm Peart (first posted on CERM ® RISK INSIGHTS – reposted here with permission)
In the workplace we have identified and attempted to eradicate racial and gender discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying. We now battle age discrimination in our aging society in a (supposedly) increasingly politically correct world. However, our intellects are also being abused as individuals find increasing ways to breach of the bounds of reasonable behavior and put our sanity and dignity at risk.
You may ask yourself “what is intellectual abuse?” We have all seen it at various levels but, inevitably shirk it off without taking positive action and put it down to a character defect, stupidity, or just an unpleasant, annoying person who feels they are ‘superior’. But why should the abused be subjected to humiliation through insults to their intelligence or belittling their experience or knowledge
For example, take the narrow-fielded specialists who believe they are experts, or even have an appointment title of ‘Expert’. This makes themselves, and possibly others, believe that they have been endowed with a superior intellect and encyclopedic knowledge making them a giant amongst us lesser beings. These experts think that they should only converse with a similarly titled person and, whilst not recognizing lesser mortals, force their opinions upon us and, just as readily, cast aside contrary opinions as trivia. However, and all too often, they will not, or cannot, provide a meaningful or reasoned explanation as to why they are ‘right’. Instead they revert to that silent, self-centred look that says… “’cos I said so; I’m an Expert” and scurry off to complain and hide behind the aprons of their managers.
We can also take the once reasonable professional who, when given the opportunity and privilege to captain and steer a project, suddenly assumes a superior attitude as he or she is elevated above us mere mortals. But, is such self-assumed superiority merely a combination of arrogance and inflated ego that the incumbent believes is necessary to fill the shoes that they have been privileged to wear. Alternatively, those shoes can be filled with confidence coupled with some humility and sense of service rather than the bluster of arrogance.
And then there are the opinionated views of those people who, for whatever reason, have been promoted above, and oftentimes beyond, their level of incompetence. These new ‘giants’ among us believe their own bullshit (and this will almost certainly pile up over time) and their reign will be characterized by intellectual abuse and bullying manifested through threats and harassment as they demand, rather than earn, respect.
There are three choices in dealing with these ‘intellectual abusers’: (1) tolerate or ignore them but they won’t go away, only grow; (2) pander to them through ceremonial kowtowing, genuflection and hat doffing, which also will promote their growth, or (3) challenge them.
Owners, real leaders, and sponsors alike need to be aware that, although they may need specialists and project managers, they need to recognize that intellectual abuse occurs and realize the risks that this involves. The inflated egos of specialists who bully rather than coach, or managers who wield their opinions and power with impunity need to be kept in check.
The inflated egos in an organization are akin to the bad apple that can spoil the whole barrel. And when the barrel is spoiled, and the good apples have gone, it is then you realize that you need another expert/manager. Unfortunately, the risk of further abuse has manifested itself…and the cycle may well start again, hopefully with an upward spiral.
MBA, MSc DIC, BSc; Chartered Engineer, Chartered Geologist, PMP
Over thirty years’ experience on large multidisciplinary infrastructure projects including rail, metro systems, airports, roads, marine works and reclamation, hydropower, tunnels and underground excavations.
Project management; design & construction management; and contract administration in all project phases from feasibility, planning & design, procurement, implementation, execution and completion on Engineer’s Design and Design & Build schemes.