Aug 02, 2015

Abuse and Bullying: The ‘Cichlids’ in Your Company


There are species of the Cichlid (pronounced Sick-lid) fish that are very aggressive and constantly threatening. I had the opportunity many years ago to witness their ferocity and aggressiveness. A co-worker, Russ, had an aquarium in his office with about 30 fish. One day he brought in three beautiful new fish and they were all cichlids. He dropped them into the tank and we watched these beautiful fish swim with grace and ease through the water with the other fish. The next morning, I went to Russ’ office to observe the fish before our morning meeting with the president of the company. To our surprise, two fish were floating upside down with bites taken out of them. This same scenario of carnage played out morning after morning until only the three cichlids were left. The next morning, one of the cichlids was dead and the next morning only the largest cichlid was there to be the lone survivor. Russ did research and found that cichlids behave in the following manner; they choose a victim and begin by one of them bumping against that fish, then another, then another, and then another, taking turns bumping into and weakening the fish with each bump. Eventually, the fish dies and they begin eating it. They will kill off all the other fish in the tank and then turn on each other with the strongest cichlid being the lone survivor.

Sometimes people take on characteristics and behaviors that mirror those of cichlids, would you agree? It may be a few individuals, a clique, a team, a department, etc. For whatever reason, they choose a person as a ‘target’ of their dislike, abuse, bigotry, racism, hatred, bullying, etc. Maybe one person has chosen to hold ill feelings for the person, so the rest of their group they belong to feels the need to ‘support’ them. First may come the nasty looks, then the negative remarks begin, then outright confrontation. Day-after-day, week-after-week, the stress builds and grows for the person being ‘attacked’. They become emotionally and then physically ill. They begin to dread the thought of going to work and they get anxious when they have to be in the same room with one, or more, of the ‘cichlids’. Even venturing into the hallway or going to the restroom my create a great sense of anxiety. The person feels beat-up, like the fish being constantly bumped in the aquarium.

Have you ever experienced something similar where you work, or have worked in the past? Please share your story and please include how you survived so that others can benefit from your experience!

Dr. Edward Lewellen is a Master Executive Coach, leadership and sales expert, and keynote speaker for some of the largest global organizations.

Author of The 90-Second Mind Manager