It is just Bullying…or a High Conflict Personality?

Is the Source of Conflict From an Employee a Mystery?
As a manager or boss, you have a lot to handle.  Sometimes when workplace conflicts come up, and the target labels the behavior workplace bullying, it can be difficult for you to determine the cause.  And it is always possible that the root of the problem may be a conflict that evolves from a High Conflict Personality.

Bullying vs. High Conflict Personality
In general workplace bullying is defined as repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators that takes one or more of the following forms:

  • Verbal abuse
  • Offensive conduct/behaviors (including nonverbal) which are threatening, humiliating, or intimidating
  • Work interference — sabotage — which prevents work from getting done

Be that as it may, this definition does not cover conflict that sources from people with a High Conflict Personality. When I refer to High Conflict Personalities, I mean diagnosed disorders*, such as narcissism, bi-polar disorder, or paranoia, to name a few. There are certain signs to watch for to assess whether the employee may have a High Conflict Personality.  The person could be chronically adversarial, inflexible, unreasonable, manipulative, hyper-critical, impossible to please and be unable to take responsibility for conflicts or the consequences of his or own behavior .The behavior might be so unpredictable throughout the day that the only thing you can predict is there will be an explosion, or not, as some point during the day. You and your co-workers might experience such behavior  as harsh or vulgar words, inappropriate threats, and unreasonable demands. From the outside, these employees may seem “out of control” or “irrational”, and such behaviors can easily be labeled bullying. But, is it really bullying because it feels that way?

In What Types of Organizations do High Conflict Personalities Take Place?
Whether in corporations, non-profits or academia, employees with High Conflict Personalities will be found at ANY organization. They will be working at any level, from c-suite to entry level.

Consequences for You, the Employer
A High Conflict Personality within your workplace can have serious consequences for the organization. Generalized fear and anxiety can poison the morale and seriously reduce productivity.  Unpredictable and negative behavior can leave departments in chaos. If left unchecked, key employees could leave. I cannot emphasize enough how the effects of employees with character disorders can impact your bottom line.

What’s the Fix?
Professional counseling must be encouraged for the employee with the High Conflict Personality. This is best left to the guidelines of your ADA policy and in-house professionals. Specialized training and coaching for other employees within the organization might be required. In cases like these, the manager and co-workers of the employee with the character disorder might require specialized training in addition to the other measures you have put into place.

Why it Pays to Deal with High Conflict Personalities
By addressing the problem of a High Conflict Personality in your organization with immediate action and specialized assistance, you can help stabilize departments, reduce the number of complaints, and keep key personnel from leaving the organization. The reduced chaos can only improve your business’ productivity and longevity.

The Five Types of Conflict
There are five types of interpersonal conflict within organizations. High Conflict Personality is one type. Each type requires its own tailored solution. If you treat all workplace conflicts the same way, you have a 1 in 5 chance of success….unless you have the appropriate evaluation.

I’m Kathleen Bartle, a strategic consultant on workplace conflict to executives worldwide for more than 20 years. My work brings individualized solutions to your teams’ lost productivity, loss of key personnel, low morale, and the high costs resulting from bullying, abrasive behaviors and interpersonal workplace conflicts. You can contact me here.

*Only a licensed psychiatric professional can diagnose disorders associated with a High Conflict Personality.