Bullying in the Workplace: Conflict and Negotiation in an Organization


Bullying at the workplace has become one of the main causes of conflicts in organizations. The stress resulting from the act may lead to a loss of jobs. Some of the victims resign from their workplace, while others are incapacitated following health illnesses resulting from the act. Health conditions associated with bullying at the workplace include anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The cause of bullying should be identified and resolved urgently to avoid escalation, which worsens the effects of the act on the victim. Strategies should also be put in place to avoid the occurrence of this conflict in organizations.


Conflict within an organization is viewed by many as a process. It starts when an individual reacts to perceived or real threats to something that is of value to them. Conflicts cannot be avoided (Matthiesen et al., 2003). They tend to occur naturally. Although their occurrence brings tension between parties, they are also considered to be a positive force. They ensure that organizations perform effectively whereby one party is at liberty to question the actions of another. However, the ability of parties in a conflict to negotiate effectively is critical in ensuring the success of an organization. Failure by the parties to reach an understanding will result in unnecessary tension that may eventually affect organizational performance (Matthiesen et al., 2003). It may also result in escalation of the conflict, a situation that can affect the overall performance of the organization. The paper will present a case article touching on bullying at the workplace. The article is written by Matthiesen et al. (2003). Later, a presentation will be made revolving around an actual organization affected by a similar issue.

Case Article Presentation

The article presents a case of bullying within an organization. The victim in this case is a 52 year old lady. She is a nurse by profession. She is highly educated. She also has enormous job experience. Throughout the article, she is referred to as ‘XY’ (Matthiesen et al., 2003). She works for a small organization that has entered into a number of long-term contracts with several corporations to whom it offers services in preventive healthcare. The organization has 45 employees spread over 7 departments. The members of the organization are associated with gossip and slander. The case presented in this article is not an exception (Matthiesen et al., 2003). In most cases, negative outcomes befall victims of bullying. Most of them end up losing their jobs following resignation or numerous sick-leaves.

It is also noted that some of these individuals lose self-respect and self-confidence. Most develop health problems following the harsh treatment they receive at their place of work (Tehrani, 2012). Major health problems associated with this group of persons range from depression and anxiety to mental issues. In fact, 65 percent of people exposed to workplace bullying tend to develop symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) five years after its occurrence. However, the fate of XY is different. She was in a position to fight her bullies. She achieved this by taking her case to court where, thanks to her supportive husband and lawyer, she won. She continues working for the same organization where she interacts with her former bullies on a daily basis. In spite of her tough experience in the hands of her bullies, she maintains her confidence and health.

Diagnosis of the Problem

The nature of the problem discussed in the article is technical. It revolves around the issues of core work processes, organizational structure, and management (Matthiesen et al., 2003). In relation to core work processes, it is noted that XY joined the organization at a time when it was in the initial stages of implementing a number of projects. She had previous experience in similar undertakings. As such, she offered suggestions on how the company should proceed with these projects. She was direct and quick to let those who were around her know when she disagreed with them. She also used a ‘hard’ tone when expressing herself. Many of her coworkers must have disliked her style of self-expression. They felt that she used her work experience to undermine the opinion of others. As such, they engaged in gossip and slander to protest her tough nature.

Diagnosis of the Problem

Following her tough talk, XY is seen to interfere with the structure of the organization. Being a nurse, she is not supposed to make decisions affecting the organization or any of the ongoing projects. Doctors are also considered to be superior to nurses (Matthiesen et al., 2003). As such, it is unusual for a nurse to question the decision of a doctor regardless of her experience. In fact, based on the structure of the organization, a doctor was considered to be XY’s superior. As such, she was warned to adapt or risk leaving the organization. The problem highlighted in the article also revolves around management issues. The management was concerned that XY was taking too many sick-leaves. The management did not have another person to take over some of her responsibilities. As such, they considered her to be an inconvenience.

The Level of the Problem in the Case

There are two levels of problems identified in the article. The problems facing XY occur both at the interpersonal and organizational levels. The interpersonal level of the problem is evident when the victim reports a sick-leave she had obtained following her admission to a hospital after she was involved in a car accident while attending to work related matters (Matthiesen et al., 2003). The chairman of the management board tells her that her services are no longer required in the company. She is directed to return home awaiting for the further directions. She receives her dismissal notice a week later. The chairman of the board also refuses to sign the minutes of a formal negotiation meeting with her and her lawyer. Here, the chairman is viewed to bully XY since she had obtained a sick-leave. As such, he had no grounds to dismiss her.

The problem soon escalates to the organizational level when XY resolves to settle the matter in court.

Following her move, her colleagues in the workplace avoid her (Matthiesen et al., 2003). They also gossip and engage in slander against her. No one at her workplace was willing to engage in a normal conversation with her. As such, she felt neglected. She receives aggressive glances around the company’s facilities, such as the canteen. The management worsened her condition by transferring her to another department without any prior warning. The transfer was a classical example of bullying at the organizational level.

Process Problems in the Case

The issues highlighted in the article are a result of a number of process problems. The problems were inadequate conflict resolution strategies, ineffective group norms and rules, as well as incomplete problem solving (Davidson, 2014). On the part of inadequate conflict resolution strategies, the organization does not support negotiations. The chairman of the management board fails to engage XY and her lawyer in formal negotiations. The negotiations would have put to an end the hostility that existed between XY and the organization. Instead, the chair refuses to sign the minutes of the meeting that she, XY, and her lawyer had held. As a result, XY is prompted to seek help externally in the courts.

Ineffective group norms and rules were also part of the problem in the case. There were no clear rules stipulating the conduct of employees with regards to obtaining sick leaves. As such, XY sees no problem with obtaining sick leaves whenever she is not feeling well (Matthiesen et al., 2003). She is also criticized for using a ‘hard’ tone towards her superiors, yet there are no clear rules prohibiting nurses from expressing themselves within the organization. The issue of incomplete problem solving is also evident in the case. When an external consultant is brought in to assess the company’s work environment, it was determined that the social climate was not satisfactory. However, nothing was done following the report due to a shortage of funds.

Redesigning an Action Plan

A number of changes could be adopted to solve the problems highlighted in the case. One of the components of an action plan that should be adopted is the formation of an internal conflict resolution mechanism. In this case, future conflicts facing members of the organization will be solved without involving the courts (Davidson, 2014). As such, the costs engaged in conflict resolution will be reduced. Through proper negotiation mechanisms, relations will also be maintained. The reason behind this is that the parties involved in a conflict will not feel undermined.

People within an organization should also be sensitized on the effects of their bullying activities. The reason behind this is that majority of the people do not even realize that they are bullying others (Hayes & Herbert, 2011). People should be taught how to relate with others even in times of conflict to avoid cases of escalation. In the process, the effects of workplace bullying will be less severe on the victims. By sensitizing others, cases of conflicts within an organization will reduce since people will tend to avoid confrontations.

Victims of workplace bullying should be encouraged to seek social support. Social support is offered by spouses, friends, and even workmates. As such, one will be in a position to obtain both social and emotional support throughout the conflict and negotiation process (Davidson, 2014). People who receive support are less susceptible to health conditions associated with stress resulting from the conflict. As such, the victim of bullying at the workplace will be protected from anxiety, depression, and mental health issues, such as PTSD.

Parties to a conflict within an organization should also search for the opinion of a third party. The third party should play the role of an arbitrator. They should be impartial to the matter in order to earn the trust of the conflicting parties (Hayes & Herbert, 2011). The third party will give their opinion on the matter and how it should be resolved. As such, a quick solution will be obtained compared to the lengthy and costly court process.

Organization Presentation

A similar case was also witnessed in a legal suit involving Microsoft Corp. and Michael Mercieca. The plaintiff had moved to court for alleged workplace bullying by his supervisor, an ex-girlfriend. Prior to the conflict, he was one of the top executive sales people at the corporation, having served for 17 years. He had been falsely accused of sexual harassment by one of his female colleagues. Upon complaining about the issue, Mercieca was demoted. He had also suffered retribution from his workmates and bosses (Davidson, 2014).

Similar to XY’s case, the problem between Mercieca and Microsoft Corp. was technical in nature. It involved structural, managerial, and core work processes. In structural sense, the problem resulted from the fact that the administrative hierarchy at the corporation made Mercieca’s ex-girlfriend his immediate boss. As such, she had the ability to bully him without having to answer to anyone (Tehrani, 2012). In this case, she could easily criticize his performance. The problem was also managerial in the sense that other officials at the corporation did not take time to investigate Mercieca’s claims. In terms of core work processes, it was difficult for Mercieca to work with his bully. Auld, his ex-girlfriend, would bar him from attending meetings and interfere with his customer accounts at will.

The problem was both at the interpersonal and organizational levels. The same applies to the case presented in the article. In relation to the interpersonal level, Auld took advantage of her position to get back at her ex-boyfriend. She accuses him of sexual harassment in order to make his life difficult (Davidson, 2014). The organization also judges Mercieca without investigating the claims.

Similar to XY’s case, the problem between Mercieca and Microsoft Corp. is as a result of inadequate conflict resolution strategies. The organization fails to look into the conflict between Auld and Mercieca. Therefore, the conflict escalates and finally ends up in court. The plaintiff was awarded $2 million after winning the case. Similar steps would also apply in this case. To begin with, Microsoft Corp. should have sought internal negotiation strategies before considering the court option (Tehrani, 2012). Officials and employees should also have been sensitized on the effects of bullying at the workplace. Mercieca should also have been advised to seek the support of his workmates to reduce stress. A third party should also have been brought in to arbitrate the conflict before its escalation.


The occurrence of conflicts within an organization is normal. Misunderstandings are major sources of conflicts. The altercations can be associated with positive outcomes, such as promoting efficiency within an organization. Bullying at the workplace is one of the main forms of conflicts witnessed in organizations today (Hayes & Herbert, 2011). Bullying can be perpetrated either by a single person or a group of individuals. Whichever the case, negotiations should be initiated to avoid escalation. It is important to sensitize perpetrators about the negative effects of their actions. Internal conflict resolution strategies should also be adopted to avoid lawsuits. An arbitrator should also be sought in times of conflict to enhance fairness.


Davidson, E. (2014). Responsible girls: The specialized politics of feminine success and aspiration in a divided Silicon Valley, USA. Gender, Place & Culture, 12(3), 390-404.

Hayes, R., & Herbert, C. (2011). Rising above bullying: From despair to recovery. London, UK: Jessica Kingsley.

Matthiesen, S., Aasen, E., Holst, G., Wie, K., & Einarsen, S. (2003). The escalation of conflict: A case study of bullying at work. International Journal of Management and Decision Making, 4(1), 96-112.

Tehrani, N. (2012). Workplace bullying: Symptoms and solutions. London, UK: Routledge.

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