Stand Up Against Bullying: A blog to help stop workplace bullying
Workplace Bullying Leadership Mental Health Professionals

Workplace Bullying and Conflict are NOT the Same.

two people sitting in front of computer
Original Post Published on February 2, 2017; Edited and Republished October 13, 2020

Workplace bullying is a unique problem that happens in workplaces that is often viewed as normal workplace conflict. This is understandable as most people do not know what workplace bullying is or that bullying can happen to them at work. Those who do know about workplace bullying often do not have a clear understanding of what it is and how it is different from conflict. It is imperative for workers and organizations to differentiate between workplace bullying and normal conflict to effectively manage, stop, and prevent it.

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 regular weekly meeting at a time in which I could not attend. It might even be more in-depth. With normal workplace conflict, there is a rise in tension but eventually, the conflict is dealt with or forgotten. Most workers are able to work through it, let it go, and move on.

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. It is normal and inevitable in the workplace. In many cases, it makes the organizational environment and worker relationships stronger.

Workplace bullying, on the other hand, is a series of incidents over time often without a triggering event. Workplace bullying is about consistent and continual attacks sabotage another person’s reputation and professional standing using unprofessional behavior. Workplace bullying is targeted aggression done on purpose by one worker towards another to harm another. It is intentional aggression that damages the person and the work environment.

 Workplace bullying will intensify over time, rather than improving. If it is not managed or dealt with, workplace aggression will not end. But rather, it will consume an environment creating a culture of bullying where aggression is normalized and encouraged. This makes the workplace unbearable for everyone involved and harms the bottom line for organizations.

Organizations and workers needs to understand how workplace bullying differ from normal conflict. If organizations manage bullying in the same manner as conflict, they will only be intensifying the bullying and making it work for the targets of bullying.

For conflict, standard conflict resolution techniques can be applied. However, if these are used to manage workplace bullying, the culture will deteriorate. Retaliation against the target will occur and the target will experience more bullying. In most cases, the bullying will get worse.