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Recognizing and Confronting Workplace Bullying

Recognizing and Confronting Workplace Bullying (by Donna M. L. Heretick, PhD, Good Company, October 19, 2011)

Workplace satisfaction often comes from a good match between our expectations, goals, style and talents with the realities of our work environment (Edwards, Cable, Williamson, Lambert, & Shipp, 2006). We enter the workplace with belongingness needs (Herschcovis & Barling, 2010) and expectations regarding trust (Montes & Irving, 2008), fairness and justice (Cohen-Charash & Spector, 2001) in our interchanges with our employer and others in the work environment. However, each year many of these expectations are violated in the workplace through incidences of bullying, incivility, mobbing or harassment, or relational or social aggression.

Characteristics of Interpersonal Aggression in the Workplace

Workplace bullying, incivility and harassment are generally characterized by the use of interpersonal tactics to harm another’s status, reputation, confidence and/or ability to function productively. These actions are more than occasional rudeness, unintentional oversight or healthy competition.

The actions may be direct or indirect. Examples of direct tactics may be overloading with heavy or conflicting work assignments, unfair evaluations, intrusive micromanaging, or verbal, nonverbal or physical acts directed toward the victim, such as sarcastic remarks, nonverbal gestures (e.g., grimaces, eye-rolling), misinformation, harsh criticisms/withholding praise, ignoring and physical distancing, withholding resources and other behaviors to thwart, embarrass or devalue the victim.

Indirect tactics often involve manipulating others’ beliefs and behaviors towards the victim. The clandestine nature of indirect maneuvers often makes them more difficult to observe and understand (Forrest, Eatogh, & Shevlin, 2005). For example, negative comments about the victim may occur in private meetings or conversations where impressions about the employee’s performance, integrity and prospects can have unfair impact on decisions regarding the victim’s work status and relationships. In addition, while some may dismiss gossip as idle entertainment, with a “just kidding” air, it may be used to exert power for self and/or do harm to others. Sadly, gossip can become a self-reinforcing process which can change the very norms of interpersonal behaviors in the workplace towards more acceptance of interpersonal aggression (Kurland & Pelled, 2000).

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