Sexual Harassment Less Hurtful to Working Women than Relational Aggression

Female bullying, an act of relational aggression, can predict higher job dissatisfaction for working men and women than sexual harassment (Lapierre and colleagues (2005).

With a strong feminist movement one might think women would seek to promote other women in the work place. While this can be true, it has been observed that female bosses are less likely to promote their women subordinates than men. (Applebaum, et al 2002; Eagley et al., 2003)

One last statistic: 31% of workplace bullies are women.  Of that lesser percentage, 68% of the time those women bully other women.  (Workplace Bullying Institute, 2014).

What are the underlying causes of these results?

According to Leonard Sax in his book “Why Gender Matters” girls seek for “sameness” in relationships and they are less likely than men to take risks. Thus, a working woman in conflict with another working woman will approach a third party seeking comradery and validation before approaching the individual involved.

Why? To ensures social inclusion.

To directly confront is to highlight differences when women prefer to highlight similarities. To directly confront risks social isolation by that individual and that individuals associates.

This indirect path of conflict resolution can lead to power struggles and a toxic work environment. Power struggles and toxic work environments lead to lower productivity and thus decrease profits for a business.

Businesses don’t have gossiping on their list of things they need to pay others for. They do take into account inevitable conflict and the necessity for resolution.

The effects of relational aggression are not marginal; they are powerful predictors of work place success.

Yes, the statistics are riveting. Yes, the statistics can and should change.

Part of the problem is ignorance about what relational aggression is and when it is happening.

Here are some ways relational aggression is manifested:

  • Silent Treatment
  • Gossip
  • Regular Nonconstructive Criticism
  • Ignoring
  • Social Isolation
  • Emotional Apathy
  • Exclusion from a group
  • Isolation
  • Assigned meaningless tasks
  • Demotion with out communication
  • Hushed Conversation upon the individuals proximity

(Xie, Swift, Cairns, & Cairns, 2002) (Crothers, Schreiber, Field, & Kolbert, 2009)

Another part of the problem is knowing how to stop relational aggression.

Here are some tips for working women who are approached with relational aggression.

1. Empathy

First, Empathize.

Seek to understand where the individual is coming from by showing attentive listening. Once he/she seems satisfied with what they’ve told you respond with understanding. Refrain from indulging the negativity by remaining as objective as possible.

Say, “I have been noticing that as well,” or “That would be stressful/frustrating.”


To express true empathy consider, and perhaps share, a similar personal experience.

2. Define Fact from Fiction

Second, get the facts.

With continued empathy and an attitude of seeking to understand, try to define the difference between the facts and the assumptions. Helpful information includes: the actual origin of conflict, the actual verbage and the tone used, the actual events leading up to the conflict, and the actual events after the conflict.

Draw a line between what was felt and what happened – known information and filler information. It is wise to choose only a couple of essential questions to ask so that the individual does not feel bombarded or interrogated.

Essential questions could include:

“What else could they have meant by _______”

“Is this pressure coming from this individual or some one above them?”

“What could have changed that caused this to start happening?”


“Why would such and such come after you?”

“What does such and such have to gain by doing this?”

“I can see how that made you feel this way. Could they be unaware that it made you feel that way?”

“If I were to ask them, what do you think there side of the story would sound like?”

Of course, these questions should be tailored to the context and the individual.

From the questions seek to reveal an objective reality. Talk about what information is needed to fully understand what is going on.


3. Evoke Empathy or Sympathy for the Other Side

Work to consider the opposing perspective. Questions can include: “What may have made them feel they needed to do/say that?””Has their life changed recently in a major way?” “What kind of stresses do you think they are dealing with?”.

Again, these are examples and should be tailored to the specific situation and individual.

4. Promote Conflict Resolution instead of Conflict

Fourth, help the individual feel empowered to resolve the conflict. The resolution could be an action the associate can take alone, or it may require collaboration.

Either way, brainstorm peaceful productive actions with (not for) the associate. Consider the who and how effects of the top three or four ideas.

If it requires collaboration, encourage the work associate to speak to the involved individual with a hope for resolution and understanding. Brainstorm with them what they could say, how they could say it, and when.

Express a willingness to mediate, or suggest a potential mediator, as the situation calls for it.

If a need for mediation occurs over many weeks (more than month) seek help from a manager or supervisor that is not emotionally involved in the situation. Advocate for a way in which the individuals can minimize, or remove their dependency on one another.

5. Consider The Big Picture

Fifth, recognize that a basic human need is understanding and acceptance. Always remember that most often there are many ways to achieve the same objective. Promote an acceptance of the efforts of others.

One does not have to agree to understand. One does not have to agree to respect a differing perspective. Accepting opposing or differing ideas is essential to growth at work and in the soul.

ALL Employees want a positive work environment, even the ones who don’t make it that way. ALL Employees want to get a long with their coworkers, even if they talk poorly about them.

Women, assert yourselves.

Stand up for victims of relational aggression.Sit with, talk with, and grow with coworkers with out discrimination.Work to make your presence a place where all feel equally welcome.

Women, risk it.

With love and patience in heart handle work place conflict head on.

Success in work means doing your part to create peace.

Melissa Thurm studied organized communication/conflict management, public relations, and parental/educational psychology at Brigham Young University Idaho and graduated in 2014. She currently works as a public relations specialist and marketing assistant at Mikarose.

Mikarose is a company that sells vintage-inspired modest dresses, tops, skirts and swim. This individual does not represent the official opinions or stances of Mikarose. EMAIL: MIKAROSE SITE:

2 thoughts on “Sexual Harassment Less Hurtful to Working Women than Relational Aggression

  1. Women have the potential create workplaces into awesome designs of communication and productivity when we rely on our strengths instead of our flaws


    1. 100% agreed. As women we undermine ourselves by wasting time on unproductive conversation.Our natural instinct to care about what’s going on around us can be used for good and for bad. We have the ability to use our concern about others to lift them up. As we lift others we can’t help but lift ourselves. It might take a bit of courage to help others to see this truth, but it is a cause worth fighting for!


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