How to tell the difference between bullying and incivility

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While bullying is more intentional and harmful, incivility can be just as damaging, especially when repeated

Faith Wood knows how to resolve conflict. Her years in front-line law enforcement taught her how to effectively de-escalate any situation to a successful conclusion. Faith uses her knowledge of conflict management to guide you through the often stressful experiences you may encounter in your personal or professional life.

Faith WoodQ: Dear Conflict Coach, I’m having an issue with a co-worker who is constantly interrupting me and talking over me in meetings. It’s making me feel disrespected and undervalued. I’m not sure if this is an example of bullying or just incivility. Before I report to HR, can you help me understand the difference?

A: The difference between bullying and incivility can sometimes be difficult to discern, but there are a few key factors to consider.

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First, bullying is characterized by repeated behaviours that are intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate another person. It often involves a power imbalance, where the bully has more social or physical power than the victim. So, if your co-worker is repeatedly interrupting and talking over you with the intention of making you feel small or powerless, that could be considered bullying.

On the other hand, incivility is a behaviour that is rude, disrespectful, or impolite. It may not be intended to harm, but it can still have a negative impact on the person who experiences it. In your case, if your co-worker is interrupting and talking over you in a way that’s simply disrespectful or impolite, that would be an example of incivility.

Regardless of whether it’s bullying or incivility, it’s important to address the behaviour professionally and respectfully. You could try having a one-on-one conversation with your co-worker to express how their behaviour is impacting you and suggest ways that they could communicate with you more effectively. If the behaviour persists, you could also try bringing the issue to your supervisor or HR department.

Remember, it’s always important to communicate assertively and respectfully, even when you’re feeling frustrated or disrespected. Doing so can create a more respectful and productive work environment for yourself and your colleagues.

While bullying is more intentional and harmful, incivility can also be damaging, especially when repeated over time. It’s also important to remember that we all have the power to create a more respectful and inclusive environment. By treating others with kindness and respect, speaking up when we witness bullying or incivility, and seeking to understand and appreciate differences, we can create a culture of civility and kindness, where everyone feels valued and supported.

Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications.

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