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Workplace Bullying vs Disrespectful Behavior: What is the Difference in How To Deal With It?

By Valerie Cade CSP

Two of the top questions I receive are:

  1. How do I know if this is bullying or disrespectful behavior?
  2. How do I approach or confront bullying vs “difficult” behavior?

Here’s the difference:

Bullying is repeated, deliberate, disrespectful behavior toward another for the bully’s gratification.

Workplace bullying is deliberate; not accidental.  People with disrespectful behavior may or may not be deliberate; they may be unaware.

Bullies are out for self-gratification.  Someone who is being disrespectful may not be necessarily out to harm another; they are out to protect their own needs.

You can possibly reason and negotiate with a person using disrespectful behavior.  You cannot reason or negotiation with a workplace bully.

  1. Most people/targets want to hold on to the belief that people are basically good, and that they would therefore receive feedback well if approached.  We somehow think “If I just say it this way” or if I bring them a coffee … then… they’ll come around.
  2. Most bosses, in their attempt to help an employee with a bullying situation or disrespectful behavior situation, often offer this advice:  “Treat them the way you want to be treated”; extend the olive branch and they’ll somehow come around.
  3. This influencing strategy can work – but only with minor situations where the person with disrespectful behavior has a healthy enough self image to be able to receive kindness in order to come around.  Let me be clear – influencing works with the good natured but over-worked and perhaps situationally stressed individual whose heart is seeking a win-win.
  4. Now that you know this, you can try this influencing strategy of extending the Olive Branch, but do not expect results when dealing with bullying behavior.
  5. If you face moderate severity of disrespectful behavior, and in some very rare cases of minor bullying, you can approach the person with a Crucial Conversation.  The Crucial Conversation is an attempt to reach out and share what you need/want, with the hope of receiving agreement back.
  6. Note:  Many people get confused here.  If you are certain you are facing a bully, this influencing strategy will not work – you cannot rationalize with a bully, and attempting to open up a dialogue will only expose you.
  7. Also, note that workplace bullying requires an intervention where you are clear; you state what you want as opposed to asking and trying to come to a win-win resolution.  However, if you are not certain you are in a bullying situation and you are hesitant as to your approach to influence or use an intervention, you could:
  8. Try the Crucial Conversation Influencing Strategy – if it works, you have a disrespectful behavior situation.  If it doesn’t work, you may have a bullying situation, where they are only interested in retaliating and aiming to control you once you are exposed.  At least you will know.
  9. If you know this is Bullying Behavior (bullying behavior is deliberate, not accidental, disrespectful, repeated behavior towards an individual that the bully derives pleasure from hurting), then proceed to intervention – do not pass Go, do not collect $200…
  10. Lastly, remember, once you identify the bullying behavior, fully internalize that you cannot reach out and rationalize with a bully.  Period.

Valerie Cade, CSP is a Workplace Bullying Expert, Speaker and Author of “Bully Free at Work:  What You Can Do To Stop Workplace Bullying Now!” which has been distributed in over 100 countries worldwide.  For presentations and consulting on workplace bullying prevention and respectful workplace implementation, go to

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Topics: Tips | 2 Comments »

2 Responses to “Workplace Bullying vs Disrespectful Behavior: What is the Difference in How To Deal With It?”

  1. sharon Says:
    May 15th, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    I am the only person of color at my job and the disrespect has reached a full time high. When I mention it to my director. she finds a reason to switch the situation around to me. As if I am just responding for no reason. I never respond disrespectfully, i just refuse to grin and bare it. and therefore, it is obvious that i am the only one who feels disrespected. everyone else sees nothing wrong with the behavior that is displayed to me. it is so frustrating, i really need help. i hate even coming in to work now.

  2. Clive Says:
    January 31st, 2014 at 1:08 am

    I have read your blog and really like the content, keep up the posts as I will be back.