Normal workplace conflict is based on differences that people have. Conflict is usually about disagreements over a particular issue or issues in the workplace. For example, I might have conflict with another social worker because they scheduled a weekly meeting at a time in which I could not attend. Eventually, we would work it out, let it go, and move on. Conflict is normal and inevitable. In many cases, it makes the organization stronger.
Workplace bullying, on the other hand, is a series of incidents over time often without a triggering event. Workplace bullying does not really have anything to do with conflict. Rather, it is about attacks by a worker to sabotage another person’s reputation and professional standing using unprofessional behavior.
When workers have conflict at their jobs, they may temporarily behave unprofessionally. It may even last for a period of time. Workers in conflict can almost always identify the event that started the problems. For the most part, the conflict gets resolved and the workers continue do their jobs. Normal conflict has a beginning and an end.
This is not the case with workplace bullying. Targets often report they have no idea why the bullying started nor are they able to give you a specific incident or incidences that may have sparked persistent workplace aggression.
Workplace bullying also goes on and on. It intensifies over time, rather than improving. So, for the target, there is no reason for the aggression and usually there is no end. Workplace aggression does not make the environment better, but it deteriorates the culture, making it unbearable for everyone involved.
Bullies begin using aggression for lots of different reasons. Some start because the bully is jealous of the target or the target has qualities that the aggressor resents. Often bullies use aggression to mask their own insecurities, lack of self-esteem, or to empower themselves. Persistent workplace aggressors use bad behavior to get ahead, for self-promotion, and to secure their work relationships. Many times, because they do not have the professional skills to do so in any way other than bullying.
Persistent workplace aggression manifests out of the personal issues of the bully rather than differences between two workers. As such, it must be handled in differently. Understanding the variances allows organizations and leadership to cope with aggression effectively rather than treating it like normal conflict which ends up perpetuating bullying and re-victimizing the target.
If you or your organization is experiencing persistent workplace aggression or you need training on this issue, please contact me at email@example.com or (320) 309-2360. You can also visit my website at www.jankircher.com. Help is out there.