When we say “grooming”, people don’t always know what we’re referring to — even those who have been groomed themselves. We’re NOT talking about grooming in terms of altering your physical appearance. In this blog, our focus is on grooming in regards to abuse, harassment, bullying, etc., specifically in the workplace. While grooming is often tied specifically to sexual abuse, in the workplace, psychological grooming is more widespread.
So, what does grooming mean, and how does it happen? Let’s break it down.
By definition, grooming is when an individual builds a relationship, trust, and emotional connection with someone so they can manipulate, exploit and/or abuse them. You may think that this could never happen to you, but don’t be so sure. You’ve likely heard more cases of women being the victims, but women are often told they are “too sensitive” or that they are just “overreacting.” Men, women, non-binary, children, adults, and the elderly can all be victims of grooming. No matter how outgoing, aware, and intelligent you are, these offenders are artists of their craft and can manipulate just about anyone they choose.
When grooming takes place it’s tough to pinpoint what exactly is happening. The process of moving from one stage to the next is very gradual. While each experience is different from the next, there are similarities between what happens before, during, and after the grooming process.
1. Identify the Individual
First things first, the offender targets an individual. Since this process is deeply personal, the offender can typically only focus on grooming one person at a time. They learn more about the individual, test the boundaries of vulnerability, and (subconsciously) determine whether or not to follow through. In this first stage, the offender begins to develop an unhealthy attachment to the victim. It’s important to remember that the offender doesn’t believe they are doing anything wrong. They are true narcissists and in their minds, this isn’t a step-by-step process, but instead just the beginning of a professional relationship.
2. Gain Trust and Build a Relationship
Once the individual has been identified, the offender makes an effort to gain their trust and subsequently build a professional relationship. This stage takes time! The offender gets to know their target on a deeper, more personal level. They come off as charming, friendly, empathetic, and approachable. In the workplace, this might look like frequent one-on-one meetings and/or communication about life outside of work. Happy hours, vendor dinners, off-site meetings, etc. are typically harmless. Spending time getting to know your professional colleagues outside of work is usually a sign of a good leader. However, it’s the next few stages that turn the relationship south.
3. Fill a Need
After the relationship foundation is stable and trust has been earned, the manipulation sets in. The offender is well aware of the needs, goals, and desires of their targeted individual.
By this point, the offender is in control. In an effort to control the situation even more, they find a way to isolate their target and turn them away from family, friends, colleagues, etc. They don’t want others to know what’s going on behind the scenes and try their best to keep their target from sharing stories with others. In the workplace, this may look like a superior turning you against your peers.
As a victim, this isolation stage is often the most exhausting and confusing. You think you have complete trust in the person who is building you up and helping you reach your goals, but at the same time something just feels off. You can’t put your finger on WHAT the issue is, and you likely feel like if you shared any odd encounters with outsiders they would think you’re losing it. So, most individuals put their heads down and keep to themselves just the way their offender wishes.
5. Take Advantage
The fifth stage is when grooming is complete, abuse takes place and things take a turn for the worst. The offender takes full advantage of their targeted individual to fill their own needs. The type of abuse or mistreatment can present in many different forms depending on the relationship and underlying desires. For example, an employee may be groomed by a manager or other superior with a desire for complete power. Alternately, an employee may be groomed by another employee on the same level who needs their emotional needs met.
6. Maintain Control
Last but not least, the offender has to figure out a way to keep getting what they want. This may include tactics such as gas-lighting their target, breaking down their self-esteem, continuous push for isolation, etc. In the workplace, maintaining control might come in the form of taking away responsibilities that the victim is completely capable of handling just to stay in control. They will do whatever needs to be done in order to keep their victim from questioning the situation or acting differently.
The moral of the story is that the grooming process is anything but black and white — it looks and feels different for everyone who goes through it. No matter who you are or what your experience is, you know what’s right vs. what’s wrong. You know what feels normal vs. what is uncomfortable. You know when a line has been crossed and don’t let anyone tell you differently.
What every groomed individual has in common is the need for validation and a safe place to turn when they have a feeling that something’s just not right. That’s where Speakfully comes in.
Learn more about how Speakfully makes it easy for employees and other individuals to voice workplace concerns, document experiences, and journal personal issues (just like the ones you’ve just read about) – safely, privately, and discreetly.