What do you think of Lucy Van Pelt? You know her, even if you don’t immediately recognize the name. She’s the “Peanuts” comic strip character who has knack for dominating others.
Communication researchers at Northern Illinois University offer up Lucy as a typical bully, one who uses belligerence, loudness and threats to get others to comply.
Next question: Do you know Eeyore, the “Winnie-the-Pooh” character?
The new academic study by David Dryden Henningsen and Mary Lynn Miller Henningsen suggests that Eeyore is a classic whiner who gains influence by evoking pity.
Last question: Do you have Lucys or Eeyores in your work group?
Henningsen’s study concluded what you probably see: When a work group is saddled with an Eeyore or a Lucy — or both — the group’s effectiveness in making decisions or working well as a team is likely to be hurt.
The “Nuanced Aggression in Group Decision Making” report, published in the International Journal of Business Communication, probed influence-gaining tactics and perceived results by working with 116 men and 118 women, all full-time workers who shared their perceptions of group behavior.
The results led to analysis of “suboptimal” or “nonrational” group decisions when influenced by bullies or whiners. Both are “unpleasant stimuli” that groups sometimes give into simply to get them to go away. Think of the squeaky wheel adage.
It’s no surprise that study participants perceived more cohesive groups when they experienced low levels of bullying or whining. On the matter of group effectiveness in decision-making, though, the research revealed a split between the reactions of men and women.
Women tended to say group effectiveness was harmed when either whining or bullying was present, but not necessarily when both existed together. Perhaps — though not addressed in the study — there was a sense that the two negative influences were counterbalanced.
On the other hand, men tended to say group effectiveness was hurt when both bullying and whining were relatively high. Perhaps — again, not addressed in the study — the “unpleasant stimuli” from both kinds simply injected too much diversion from a straight path to decision-making.
Another interesting difference between the perceptions of women and men emerged when research participants were asked about group cohesiveness. Women saw bullying as damaging, but men didn’t. Think of that.
Here’s another key takeaway from the study: “Our results indicate dominance, in the form of bullying, begets submissiveness, in the form of whining.”
But that whining also can be categorized as aggression, the authors said. They labeled it “dominance complementarity.”
That’s a mouthful, but it simply means that both Lucys and Eeyores may get their way.