Joe, Serena and Lateral Violence

Last Wednesday night, I was driving from the west shore of Michigan to Midland for the lateral violence conference. I was listening to President Obama speak to the joint session of Congress and actually heard Representative Joe Wilson’s outburst-heard-around-the-world and the subsequent booing and groaning. In subsequent days, I was amazed that everyone I talked to, no matter which side of the fence they were on regarding health care reform, was aghast that someone would heckle the President during a joint session of Congress.

Then, watching the news this weekend, I see Serena Williams leaping down the throat of a line judge during the U.S. Open.

The comments from the perpretators were amazingly alike:

“This evening I let my emotions get the best of me when listening to the president’s remarks regarding the coverage of illegal immigrants in the health care bill. While I disagree with the president’s statement, my comments were inappropriate and regrettable. I extend sincere apologies to the president for this lack of civility.” (Rep. Wilson)

“Last night, everyone could truly see the passion I have for my job. Now that I have had time to gain my composure, I can see that while I don’t agree with the unfair line call, in the heat of battle I let my passion and emotion get the better of me, and as result handled the situation poorly.” (Serena Williams)

Now, because I was doing a lot of presenting on lateral violence last week to nurses, I couldn’t help compare the two situations to some of our lateral violence teaching. First, both Rep. Williams and Ms. Williams were shining examples of the second most common form of lateral violence – the verbal affront. And, they both ran roughshod over one of the expected behaviors of those who call themselves professionals – don’t criticize publicly.

The fallout from these two episodes is impressive. According to CNN, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee reported that Wilson’s 2010 challenger for his seat, Rob Miller, raised $100,000 overnight from 3,000 individual donors after the outburst. For Ms. Wilson, it’s already cost her $10,000 for unsportsmanlike conduct and $500 for racket abuse (who knew you could get charged for racket abuse?). However, an investigation has been opened into the incident and if she is found guilty of a major infraction of the rules, she could lose all of her winnings from the tournament and be suspended.

One of the things we stress is that lateral violence is an emotional attack, designed to wrestle power and control at the expense of one person and give it to another person. For Rep. Wilson and Ms. Williams, it backfired. Emotion that got the better of them is costing them dearly.

Lessons learned for the workplace . . .


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