Workplace bullying or persistent workplace aggression are commonly thought of as the same as workplace conflict. This is a common misconception because managing workplace bullying as if it is conflict can have devastating effects. The two, of course, are very different, but how so?
Everyone in the workplace experiences some sort of conflict. We all get irritated or upset about something that happens at our jobs. Most of us have made comments to our co-workers or in a meeting that we later regret. However, these are most likely part of normal workplace conflict, because these typically get resolved. We let the issue go and move on.
Persistent workplace aggression is abusive behavior that happens to a target by one or more perpetrators in the work environment on a regular basis. A regular basis means that it occurs daily, weekly, and/or monthly. The aggression is persistent, repeated, and occurs in multiple forms. can be verbal, physical, psychological, and/or cyber. More often than not, aggressors go after the target on several fronts at once. This means they just don't attack via cyber aggression, but they also weave into their abuse verbal, physical, and/or psychological.
For example, a target in a week could receive several inappropriate emails from an aggressor while at the same time, the aggressor is spreading rumors about the target. The next week could consist of the target being yelled at and called names in a meeting while at the same time, the aggressor spreads lies about the target to the supervisor.
For some targets of workplace bullying, they experience aggression on a daily basis. An average day may consist of frequent inappropriate emails, hearing people gossip, refusal of colleagues to speak, and some form of non-verbal abuse. These types of behaviors can happen to targets multi-times a day for months on end without any break and can come from more than one bully at once.
Persistent workplace aggression is often compared to domestic violence. It is certainly abusive behavior. However, workplace aggression rarely, if ever has a honeymoon period. More often the violence continues frequently and unfortunately gets progressively worse. Persistent workplace aggression is so much more than conflict in the workplace which is why we must believe targets and begin to address this issue.