July 21, 2017
July 2017: Goliath wielded his mighty power, crushing David into a thousand tiny pieces: such was the outcome of the battle between Chanel 7 and ex-employee Amber Harrison. Her epic legal battle has caused her the loss of her career, reputation, income and perhaps even her sanity, leaving her on the verge of bankruptcy.
This is the ultimate outcome that targets of workplace bullying dread, which is why so many far more horrendous cases never make it to the justice system. That justice is only for those who can afford it, is made abundantly clear by the sheer volume of media articles citing Channel 7’s deep pockets, capacity and lust for “lawfare.”
In this article, I argue that Amber Harrison made 5 crucial mistakes she could have avoided by taking certain preventative actions. My aim is to help the reader head disaster off at the pass and redirect her towards a beneficial outcome instead.
Firstly, from the media reports, we have the following information:
From the reports, we get the sense that Amber was in a state of deep distress. Outrage, hurt, disappointment, perhaps even despair seemed to be the fuel that spurred her on. We’ve read about her desire for revenge and satisfaction in the possibility of “getting even.”
Unfortunately, taking action from a place of emotional reactivity is highly unlikely to generate a beneficial outcome. We want that person to “feel as terrible as s/he “made” us feel.” However, what someone else thinks or feels is outside of our control, so any attempts to change another person in the way we desire won’t have the effect we seek.
In addition, when under duress we’re “not in our right minds.” The stress response creates tunnel vision, focusing our attention only on the immediate threat, meaning we miss the important information available in our peripheral awareness.
It’s impossible to fashion a reasoned argument with intelligence, stealth and intellectual dexterity in a state of emotional reactivity. Only a relaxed state of mind is capable of defeating the enemy. From there we can access the intuition and creativity we need to defeat Goliath.
Amber needed to have the right kinds of evidence to defeat a Goliath as mighty as Channel 7. The judge said she didn’t have that – so what is the right kind of evidence?
When documenting evidence, it’s important to just stick to the facts of: what, when, how and whom. Then, using descriptive language in a neutral tone, state what happened as if you were describing the scene to a director who will shoot a film of the events.
Avoid adjectives that overlay events with your personal judgements or outrage, or that serve as “shorthand” because you can’t be bothered stating in detail what actually happened.
For example: “On 13/12/2106 at 1pm, I saw Tim Worner take out a small plastic bag of white powder from his top pocket, spread it on his desk and cut it into lines with his credit card before snorting two lines in each nostril.”
Vs: “Worner started the afternoon shift as high as a kite, in a disgraceful state and totally incoherent; he couldn’t even get it together by evening.”
You see how both examples ostensibly describe the same thing, but the first one paints a vivid picture in your mind which you’d have no difficulties shooting as a film director, whereas the second could be interpreted in so many different ways, all inaccurate.
In addition to your written account, make sure to supplement with additional documentation, such as emails, photographs, videos, voice recordings, financial statements and witness accounts wherever possible.
Amber Harrison probably made the mistake nearly everyone bullied at work makes, which is expecting HR or management to care about what happened to her. Then, finding out they don’t care, she plotted the best way to exact revenge.
However, like most individuals, the corporation only cares about their own self-interests. Therefore, you need to appeal to this base self-interest in your official correspondence with them.
How could Amber have done this? By using leverage, not reactivity. If she’d collected enough of the right kind of damning evidence, she could have pointed out the ways in which Channel 7:
1) Violated their own policies and procedures
2) Contravened their stated ethical standards and
3) Broken the law
In a short, sharp letter written in the style of “Psychopathic Legalise” (a term I’ve coined to describe the kind of leverage this letter gives), would have delivered Channel 7 the strong message that it would be in their best interests to negotiate a fair and swift settlement.
Further, having some success with this strategy would have grown Amber’s confidence in her own power to effect an outcome on her terms and not to be intimidated by the “boy’s club.”
Do you think Amber set out to experience bankruptcy? Probably not. I’m guessing that beyond her simple desire for revenge, to humiliate the bully corporation, she hadn’t spent much time specifying the exact outcome she wanted.
Something like “I want to walk away from this company with 12 months’ salary and a reference,” is a specific outcome; in contrast to: “I want to make him pay for what he did to me,” which netted her a possible bankruptcy.
The outcome I’ve outlined is achievable, as long as you have the right kinds of tools and methods to effect it, and the will and discipline to execute the steps (it’s what I teach participants in my “Walk Away From Work Stress” program).
No doubt it would have been a thrill initially to have been chosen as the sexual partner of a powerful man. Amber admitted as much when she said: “It wasn’t about love, it was about power.”
But what kind of power? I’m guessing the sexual power that comes from being an attractive, desirable young woman whereby you’re accorded enormous privileges on the basis of your physical attractiveness, while putting minimal effort into developing a more substantial power base.
There’s also the classic employee mindset, which says: “I’m prepared to put in the minimum of effort to generate the maximum result.” Certainly, Amber experienced the perks of being a Channel 7 employee favoured by its most powerful employee and with a licence to use the company credit cards at her discretion.
However, sexual power is fleeting and Tim Worner had greater power, whereas Amber was his subordinate whose power only lasted while he favoured her.
He came out the winner in this case – with his job and bonus intact; whereas she lost her career, reputation and income, in a repeat of the Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky scandal before her.
I worked with a woman in a position of power whose personal ethics dictated not to abuse that power. When an attractive young man (a subordinate) relentlessly pursued a relationship with her, she rejected him even after leaving the company where they’d worked together.
What of Tim Worner’s abuse of power and his questionable personal ethics? This is something Channel 7 still have to wrestle with and it’ll continue to dog their reputation in years to come.
The right kind of power comes from holding high moral authority and coming from a place of service. The question: “Who do I serve and how?” trumps forceful corporate power any day (yes, I also teach my clients how to wield this kind of power).
Another type of power comes when you’re able to tell your story in a way that generates the kind of attention that benefits you. Even if you’re forced to sign a non-disclosure clause, you can still tell your story. Your story is YOURS – you own it. Plus, telling your story is healing. You can even leverage media coverage to tell your story while getting the outcome you want (yes, I help clients with that too!).
If you want to make a start in implementing the strategies I’ve recommended in this article, download my “Workplace Evidence Gathering Kit” and work through the steps I’ve outlined. Then, if you want to work with me to tackle your unique situation, reply to one of my emails and I’ll invite you to discuss your situation personally with me (at no cost).
In conclusion, Amber Harrison has certainly succeeded in damaging Channel 7’s reputation (their share prices fell by 8% and Australian viewers are outraged by the corporate bully “boy’s club” closing ranks against a female employee) but at what cost to her? What would she respond if we asked her: “Was it worth it, Amber?”
1. Amber Harrison says legal battle with Seven ‘a lesson in how many ways can you screw a girl’ – ABC News 18/7/2017
2. Court Hears Amber Harrison Wanted To “Kill” Seven West Media CEO Tim Worner – B & T Magazine 10/7/2017
3. Amber Harrison Racked Up A “Comical” $534,355 Credit Card Bill – B & T Magazine 29/3/2017
4. Amber Harrison ‘tried to destroy reputation of radio exec’ before Tim Worner affair – Herald Sun 10/7/2017
Dr Sophie Henshaw is a Work Stress Strategist, Author and Doctor of Psychology who also works as a clinical psychologist in private practice in Western Australia. She’s helps mid-career professionals working in toxic workplaces with bully bosses walk away from work stress without losing their career, reputation, income or sanity in her online program, "Walk Away From Work Stress." Dr Sophie is the author of “Stressed, Depressed And Dreading Mondays” and has contributed a chapter in Anton Hout's book: “What Every Target Of Workplace Bullying Needs To Know.” She also writes for her blog at: www.freespiritedme.com and has made media appearances on Channel 10, 6PR, Huffpost Live, WA Today, Ninemsn Health and is a contributor to Huffington post, Women’s Agenda and PsychCentral online magazines. In 2017 she presented at the “No More Harm” conference and in 2016 was a keynote speaker at the "No2Bullying conference," as well as the inaugural HPARA conference.