Last year, Miami Dolphins player Richie Incognito took what was once thought of as only the playground pranks of youngsters into the mainstream of the adult world. Along with his antics of bullying toward his fellow teammate, tackle Jonathan Martin has come the realization that this behavior is more widespread than most people think and bullying occurs quite frequently in the office boardroom along with the locker room and still on the playground. Just last week another Miami Dolphins player, defensive back Don Jones was fined and suspended for his comments on Twitter regarding newly drafted NFL player Michael Sam kissing his male partner on television.

It begs the question: Can’t we all just get along?  Obviously not. According to the Workplace Bullying Institute:

“Blaming oneself for horrific incidents foisted on us by others is a characteristic common to individuals bullied at work. Although witnesses see clearly that it is the bully who controls all incidents and assaults the target without invitation. Nevertheless, the typical scenario involves the target thinking that something about them is flawed and discoverable by the bully, a form of self-blame or guilt.”

The article goes on to cite that 39% of bullied targets have been diagnosed with clinical depression. Research by others links the trait of self-blame to a cognitive vulnerability and also to a major depression.

The effects of bullying in the workplace

In close proximity to the negative effects of bullying are the characteristics of what happens to our brains, our feelings, our sense of self-worth and productivity when we are in this environment of bullying and disrespect.

Not only do people feel physically upset when being bullied or in a barrage of disrespectful behavior, but studies in neuroscience indicate that the brain and the chemicals in the brain are adversely affected.

At the University of Manchester (England) and in Brazil, neuroscientists found that moral feelings like guilt or anger trigger social meanings, which activate the right superior anterior temporal lobe area of the brain (ATL).

In healthy participants, guilt also activates two other brain areas — the subgenual cingulate cortex and adjacent septal region (SCSR). The SCSR is associated with social conceptual knowledge. When others are blamed, the ATL is disconnected (decoupled) from the SCSR. That is, only the ATL neurons fire and not those in the SCSR.

Talking about the value of respect and not bullying, Dr. Ellen Weber, director, MITA Brain Based Center has stated:

“Social fairness and respect help employees learn. When we show interest in others, support them and praise them genuinely, we “squirt” a chemical mix of serotonin and oxytocin into their brains. These neurotransmitters encourage trust, open others’ minds to our ideas, and create desire to get to know us better and to help with whatever we need done.”

Respect is powerful in that this behavior creates an environment and a synergy between individuals that lays the foundation to do the very best work we are capable for our organizations.

From all the media reports, it is fairly reasonable to assume that bullying in professional sports and in the work environment have been well-kept secrets. Now that we are finding out that it is much more prevalent, we need to address bullying by not tolerating this behavior and replacing it with respect on every level.

Creating a respectful workplace culture

As with most worthy pursuits, the journey to creating a respectful work culture takes deliberateness driven by the belief that such a pursuit is in the best long-term interest of the enterprise. It also takes time, attention to detail and perseverance. To do it properly requires a long-range methodology for aligning and leveraging the discrete disciplines of business strategy, organizational development, psychology and neuroscience.

By adding respect, will it mean that the Miami Dolphins might have a stellar season? Will boardrooms across the globe experience record sales numbers? The answer is that perhaps the reality will be that when respect is added to the business or sports strategy environment, the results have the opportunity to be both transformational and transcendent with culture and values becoming the bedrock of all future business activity.