Calling out coercive control

In light of recent findings regarding a state level Australian public service department, I am deviating from my current narrative to share something important. I wrote this piece for another blog. In fact, it first appeared on linkedin, before I got banned for my ideological opposition to corporate culture…after being reported by my ex-boss…you can probably guess why he hated this article.

As more women speak out more women are realising that they are experiencing it too. Coercive control is a manipulative type of bullying that can be subtle and insidious or obvious and abusive. It is experienced on a daily basis by millions of women, junior employees and men who are less dominant than their manager or partner. It happens in the home and it happens at work. In fact, I would argue that the patriarchy relies on coercive control to maintain power.

I’m sharing the piece here again in case someone needs to know that what they are experiencing is not ok. Everyone needs to know what coercive control is, and you are not alone, either as the person being controlled, or the controller. So many people who use these tactics don’t even know what they are doing, they have learnt from a parent, or a boss.

It’s not ok. If you feel controlled or manipulated, you probably are. And if you would prefer to feel free, you have a right to experience that. Talk. Tell someone. It is their secret, not yours. My boss wasn’t happy when his secret got out, but since his early ‘retirement’, I guess he now has plenty of time to think about it.

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It’s time to call out coercive control in the workplace.

Coercive control in the home is not acceptable and neither should it be tolerated in the workplace.

According to Laura Richards, a UK-based criminal behaviour analyst, “coercive control is a strategic pattern of behaviour designed to exploit, control, create dependency and dominate. The victim’s every day existence is micro managed and her space for action as well as potential as a human being is limited and controlled by the abuser.”

This form of abusive approach to management is alive and thriving in Australian workplaces, including many where you would expect there to be enough institutional checks and balances to ensure it can’t happen. The problem is, the abusers know exactly how to work the system in their favour. They artfully refrain from putting anything incriminating in writing, they use loopholes in HR processes to punish people, they impose restrictive yet legal working conditions, they separate people who work well together, ensuring they don’t get a chance to swap stories or form bonds, and they establish conditions where people who would otherwise support each other are forced into competition.

Managers who use coercive control may be all charm when you first start a role, singing your praises and showing off all the fabulous things about your new workplace. You might be made to feel special and even paraded around in front of your new colleagues, touted as the newest star on the team. This is all designed to woo you and ensure that existing staff aren’t too keen to get to know you. But then you start noticing the cracks and the fear, the fear of speaking up, the fear of stepping out of line, the fear of being different. You start to hear the whispers of stories about people who have been ‘managed out’ or left because management made it too hard for them to stay. Your suggestions for improvement of any sort are either ignored or attract reprimand. You’re taken off the big jobs, assigned work that leads you nowhere, but keeps you busy and out of the way. And if you learn your lesson you might slowly be allowed back into the ‘playground’.

But for those of us who do not tolerate being treated with such disrespect and barley hidden contempt, there is a whole minefield of mind games waiting. Divide and conquer is a favourite strategy used by coercive managers, even if you don’t report directly to them, having made it onto their radar of ‘difficult people’, you will find yourself without support from either your direct manager or your peers (who are understandably busy covering their own butts). They will punish you by withdrawing anything they think will bring you joy, including opportunities for professional development or exciting new projects; and they don’t even care that it’s bad for business, they have their sights set on containing and controlling you. These managers are also masters at contradiction, confusion and inducing fear. They have no answers, no direction and are often covering for a lack of ability, they prevail because very few have the courage to stand up to them.

At this point your self-esteem and confidence may well be in tatters, you are probably feeling used and possibly discarded, and left with a sense of worthlessness. But it is at this point that somehow, you must find a way to share your story. Find others who are suffering and take collective action. Find strength in wanting to stop this from happening to others and if possible, become a champion for change. Tell anyone who will listen to what is happening to you, it is very unlikely you are the only one and your silence, if not compliance, is exactly what your abuser is hoping for. Abusive managers are often so good at their ‘craft’ that many people don’t even realise that their autonomy has been eroded and their connections outside of their work-group have been all but severed. This is not something you need to keep secret, it is something the abuser is trying to keep hidden from those who have the power to stop them.

Domestic violence in Australia (and around the world) is a very real problem. Workplace abuse is just as real and just as much of a problem. Reach out, speak up. Coercive control in the workplace should never be tolerated, work can be a place where we can come together with people who share our sense of purpose and meaning in the world, to create value and help make the world a better place for all.

Call out coercive control in the workplace. Join your union, share your story, you deserve a compassionate and respectful working environment.

With love and light, in hope of a more compassionate world,

Shari (aka Simone B’Free).

2 responses to “Calling out coercive control”

  1. Hi Shari! It has happened to me in most of the jobs I’ve had over the years before I retired. It took some time but I learned to expect it and roll with the punches, biding my time before I retaliated. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.” I left it all behind me when I retired. I think everybody should go to yoga classes at sometime in their career. It really makes a difference in your life.
    Love, Dave

  2. I have a dear friend who I believe is experiencing this from her husband of 40 years but she doesn’t seem to realize this.

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