What? Lateral violence? What's that?
Lateral violence, also known as horizontal abuse or violence, is the disruptive, disrespectful or antagonistic behavior of others on the same hierarchical level within an organization. Lateral violence, in essence, is abusive acts committed against people you work with; people just like you who are making a living doing something they (hopefully) enjoy, and who are doing the best they can.
People use lateral violence as a means to manipulate, dominate, control and diminish others. Bad behavior against anyone is bad behavior. In a professional environment, you should be trying to be, well, professional. And at home with your loved ones, well, you should be loving.
Abusive acts are often committed without awareness. People don't know the impact their behavior has on others. For this reason, you must operate from the perspective that people don't know what they are doing. They don't know better or they would behave better. By adopting this philosophy, it is easier to forgive yourself and others when they - or you - behave badly. It enables you to address the behavior with less stress and accept more easily when others confront you on your stuff.
We are all in this life thing together, after all. We are mirrors for one another and if I do something wrong, I will only know it through the impact it has - IF I pay attention. Sometimes, I won't know the impact until someone tells me. Then I can make adjustments and behave differently in order to achieve different results.
People long to be wonderful and fabulous. They want to be their best. Don't you? I know I do!
But sometimes we do silly things and we don't always know why. When we help each other to be better human beings by sharing with each other what works and what doesn't, we learn ways to improve.
Recognizing Lateral Violence at Work
Lateral violence can show up in a multitude of ways. You could gossip, put people down, make nasty comments, distribute work unfairly, yell or speak in a nasty tone, or ignore the person.
If you are treating people with anything but the upmost respect, you may be committing abuse.
You must learn to recognize these abusive acts when they are committed TO YOU and when YOU are committing them TO OTHERS. Awareness is the precursor for change.
Abusive acts can be subtle; you have a nagging feeling that something isn't right, that how you are being treated isn't fair, and it feels disrespectful. You feel uncomfortable and are left pondering "What's wrong with this picture?" You may wonder if you did something wrong or start to doubt yourself.
Emotional or mental abuse is not always black and white. It requires subjectivity to some degree and is more covert. Attempts can be made to justify behavior or make excuses, and it can turn into a your-word-against-mine kind of situation. However, if a colleague walked up to you and smacked you in the face, it cannot be denied or rationalized. It is fact. Physical violence is easily recognized as such.
For example, a manager reported that when she became angry, she practiced passive aggressive acts including speaking curtly to the person, avoiding them, and generally maintaining an angry attitude with them. She did not address her concerns directly, but rather danced around the issue and treated the person poorly - disrespectfully - and, she admitted, that the person probably had no idea what he/she did to bring about this negative response.
Have you ever done this to anyone at work or at home? Have you ever experienced someone else treating you this way? It feels bad. When there are bad feelings that are left to fester between us, it erodes our relationship and the work environment. Resentment builds. Gossip and negative energy undermines productivity. It increases tension and causes unnecessary stress and anxiety.
It is crucial that instances of abuse or inappropriate or unprofessional behavior be identified. Check in with another person who can be neutral and hear you through. They should not seek to rationalize or justify, but should be using empathetic listening to help you to understand your emotions so you can make sense of them. Your coach, human resources department or supervisor may be helpful.
The bottom line is that if it feels bad, then something isn't right and your emotions need to be acknowledged by YOU first, and then you can decide whether you want to address it with the other person.