Trampling over others to get what you want

Nov 26 2012 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

This year, once again, violence has erupted around the post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy that is Black Friday. In California, crowds at a Kmart pushed one another out of the way to make their way inside. Tensions also flared at an Indianapolis Kmart when shoppers manifested their frustration after missing out on some advertised deals, despite their waiting in line for hours.

There have been a number of violent incidents in recent years, including one man being trampled to death. After that incident, stores beefed up security and some guards even reportedly carry guns.

The ultimate example of "trampling over others to get what you want" occurred in November 2008, at a Wal-Mart store on Long Island, NY, when a 34-year-old Wal-Mart temporary employee was trampled to death in a rush of thousands of early morning shoppers as he attempted to unlock the doors of their store. The employee was reportedly "stepped on by hundreds of people", while video showed as many as a dozen people knocked over in the stampede of people trying to get into the store. Police arrived and as they were giving first aid, they were also jostled and pushed.

The employees' family filed a wrongful-death suit on December 3rd, accusing Wal-Mart of creating an atmosphere of "competition and anxiety". Competition and anxiety. Don't many of our workplaces today reflect a fair amount of internecine, subtle and not-so-subtle "competition and anxiety"? I would suggest they do.

This competition and anxiety manifests itself in an all-out assault on "anybody who gets in my way" by people whose major reason for living appears to be to take care of themselves and work for their own good - blinded by an ego-driven need to succeed at any cost. We might not see manslaughter committed at work, we do witness more subtle crimes of "morale-slaughter", "spirit-slaughter", "satisfaction-slaughter", "passion-slaughter" and "reputation-slaughter", all carried out by individuals happy to mistreat and abuse others in order to achieve their desperate desire to be seen and accepted as a "somebody" rather than derided as a "nobody".


  • Are there distressed groups in your workplace? Are there systems in place to support them If not, why not?
  • Is abuse a reason people leave your workplace?
  • Is bullying behaviour simply accepted as "business as usual"?
  • When matters of abuse are raised, how are they handled?
  • Does performance suffer as a result of emotional distress? Are people passive-aggressive?
  • Do you personally suffer from presenteeism (you show up for work but you're not there 100%) due to workplace bullies, psychopaths or narcissists?
  • How does senior management respond to workplace abuse? Do they respond at all? Do they hold individuals accountable? If not, why not?
  • Do most people feel paralyzed when it comes to dealing with arrogant, abrasive managers and colleagues?
  • Have you ever been accused of being arrogant or bullying? How did that make you feel? Have you ever accused someone else of the same? What happened as a result?
  • Were people in your childhood bullies, narcissists or psychopaths?
  • Have you ever stepped on someone else to get what you want? Are you now?
  • Have you ever been victimized by someone who stepped on you to get ahead? What was that like?

Those who step on others to get what might be bullies, narcissists or psychopaths. But they are all driven by a view of the world (at work and often at home) that is based on a lack of trust in others as well as by emotional issues that lead them to see any relationship in terms of win-lose, domination-subservience. They have to win at call costs because not to means shame or humiliation - two feelings they detest and will do anything to avoid.

If winning means corrupting, manipulating, bullying, gossiping, disrespecting and devaluing others in order to gain praise, power, promotion and influence, so be it. It doesn't matter that these workplace crimes can destroy others' engagement in their life at work and even their will to live. The fact that these "criminal" behaviors cause others mental, physical and emotional anguish is irrelevant to those whose sole raison d'etre is to survive, to be "seen" and to be "somebody".

But what causes individuals to behave in this way? What lies underneath their ruthlessness? Here are three sources:

Upbringing: often they were raised in an abusive environment in which they were referred to as lazy, good for nothing, or stupid - a "nobody". So their workplace interactions are driven by the same process. Their "I'll show you I'm somebody!" mantra drives them to walk over others in order to feel, and to demonstrate to others, they have value and worth.

Compliance: having grown up in an environment that can be likened to a boot camp, these individuals need to intimidate and threaten in order to feel successful. They need others to be compliant and obedient. Walking over them is their "motivational approach" of choice to exact compliance.

Ignorance: they just don't know any other way. Having grown up in an environment where force was king, they have integrated this into their psyches. Force is their default programming. It's all they know.

My question – outside Wal-Mart or everyday in our offices and workplaces - is simple: where is civility?

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.