Targets of persistent workplace aggression experience a great deal of emotions and stress at their place of employment. They are regularly the victim of vicious attacks by one or more of their colleagues. This is very demeaning and disparaging. They have more than likely complained about the persistent workplace aggression without avail. Thus, leaving the target feeling more disempowered.  As such, there is a great temptation for targets to participate in workplace aggression themselves. To “get back” at the aggressors and bystanders by being aggressive is in fact very empowering. At times, this behavior feels good to targets because all other course of action has been unsuccessful in stopping the persistent workplace aggression.

As a target, I fell prey to this temptation and did display workplace aggression in response to being targeted by my co-workers and supervisor. I would occasionally send an unprofessional email, make a snide remark, or roll my eyes when the aggressor or a bystander was talking. It certainly did not resolve the issue, but in the moment, I felt I had some power and control. Although it gave me temporary satisfaction, it certainly did not work in my favor or improve the situation. I may in fact have made it worse by allowing myself to stoop to their level. This made it harder for me to justify my grievances about the persistent workplace aggression that I was experiencing since now the aggressor could also point to my own bad behavior.

I strongly encourage targets to resist the temptation at all costs to participate in workplace aggression. Targets should not lower themselves to the level of the aggressor. This type of behavior can and will be used against the target by the aggressor(s) and/or bystanders. Given the dynamic of the work culture, this type of behavior puts the target at greater risk for retaliation, increased aggression, and supervisory discipline. Targets need to develop strategies or scripts that they can immediately use when the temptation to react aggressively occurs.

Targets do not have to react in the moment.  There is power in maintaining a high quality of professional behavior and doing what is right in the workplace.

If you or someone you know is experiencing persistent workplace aggression, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com or (320) 309-2360. You can also visit my website at jankircher.com. Help is out there.

In a work environment where persistent workplace aggression is happening, confronting the aggressor is always part of the conversation.  This can be difficult and often done in a manner that is not productive.  This is because being part of an aggressive work culture tends to have increased tension and emotions run high. Targets feel victimized and are frequently kept on the defensive which makes them vulnerable to being reactionary.  Witnesses may also be on the defensive but they are more likely to fall underneath the radar.  They are emotionally involved, but are not as likely to get as emotionally charged in response to the aggressor.

No matter if you are a witness or a target, identifying and calling out bad behavior is part of coping and dealing with persistent workplace aggression.  It is a necessary step in changing the overall culture. 

It is vital that all emotion is taken out of any conversation with the aggressor, especially when you are identifying aggressive behavior.  For an aggressor, emotion is a sign of vulnerability and can be used to manipulate any situation against the witness or target.  Use “I” statements and stick to the facts. 

For example, “I received an email from you on May 1, 2015.  The email stated that I had not completed my work and it was carbon copied to the entire department.  On April 29, 2015, I submitted the paperwork you mentioned to you as well as to your supervisor.  I have a dated copy of the paperwork if you need it.  In the future, please note that our email policy strongly discourages carbon copying the entire department.  I will be available for a face-to-face conversation if follow up is needed.  Thank you.” 

This response is clear, factual, and void of emotions.  The response also identifies the behavior that is unacceptable, the reason the email was in appropriate, and also allows for face-to-face follow up if needed.

Aggressors will almost always respond back to any sort of confrontation with more aggression.  This should be expected.  Witnesses and targets should develop neutral responses in an effort to continue to try to defuse the situation.  Neutral responses can include statements, such as restating what the aggressor said, or “I hear what you are saying,” or “I will take that into consideration.” 

For more information, please contact me at jankircher@jankircher.com

No matter what type of organization you are working in, leadership matters. Leaders are the faces of an organization and should be solving and preventing organizational problems, not creating them.

The role of a leader is crucial the overall organizational functioning.  Leadership frequently overlooks the subtle messages that they send their workers which sets the stage for a work culture where persistent workplace aggression can start, flourish, or even be prevented.

Workers look to their leader to determine what is and is not acceptable workplace behavior. As such, leaders need to be aware of both the verbal and non-verbal messages that they are sending out. Leadership always comes with a role-modeling responsibility. Leaders should ask themselves on a regular basis these questions:

  • Is the behavior I am portraying consistent with the organizational mission?
  • Is the behavior I am portraying the behavior I want mimicked by my workers?
If the answer is no to either of these questions, most likely some action should be taken.

If a leader wants policy and procedures followed, then it is important for the leader to respect policy and procedures. If a leader is participating in persistent workplace aggression, then it is likely that the workers mirror this type of behavior.

I consulted with a group where the leader complained that their workers were not following policy. In my conversations with the workers, they reported that they heard their leader consistently saying things, such as, “I would rather ask forgiveness than permission” or “Rules don’t apply to me. I just do my own thing.” The leader repeatedly made decisions that were outside the scope of the organization’s mission and policies. Workers were under the assumption that this type of behavior was not only acceptable, but also expected based on their leader’s behavior. As such, it should not have been a shock for the leader to see that workers replicated their behavior.  However, it totally blinded-sided the leader due to their own unawareness of the impact of their behavior had on determining the culture of the workplace.

It is essential that leaders remember the importance of their role. They are not only the lead of the organization, but also are mentors, role models, and managers of the organization. Good leadership involves active listening and critical self-reflection.

Active listening is a vital skill in leadership that gets a great deal of lip service, but little true listening happens in organizations. Leaders typically express a strong desire for workers to come to them, but do not necessarily want to hear what workers are saying.  In short, leaders struggle with active listening because it can be a double-edged sword. If I hear what workers are saying, then what do I do? Active listening does improve leadership and the overall organizational culture.  It is worth the leader to invest in the development of active listening skills. 

Leaders also need to develop critical self-reflection skills to ensure that their own behavior is sending the messages that they want their workers to implement. Understanding our behavior and the influence it has on others is part of self-reflection. Another key part is modifying and changing the behavior that may be influencing the workers and the organization negatively. 

Active listening and critical self-reflection for leaders are skills that can prevent and stop persistent workplace aggression improving the workplace environment for everyone.

If you are struggling in your organization with persistent workplace aggression, I can help. Please contact me directly at jankircher@jankircher.com or (320)-309-2360.