Psychological Warfare in the Workplace

October 1, 2018



A survey completed by Workplace Bullying Organization, proved that 60.4 million Americans are affected by workplace torture within the workplace (Namie, 2017). This infers that psychological warfare is common, and many times may be overlooked. Under the conditions of subjective torture, one’s workplace may start to become a place they dread going 40 hours or more a week. In many instances, the aggressor may or may not believe they are exhibiting aggressive behaviors, and the victim may be oblivious to the fact that they are indeed being bullied. There are many ways to categorize aggression, such as intentional and unintentional aggression. It can be reactive-expressive (focusing on more verbalized emotions), reactive-inexpressive (creating hostile environments), and proactive-relational (creating a negative culture and relationships among others).  



Employees affected by psychological warfare may suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other forms of stress which may lead to worsened health conditions. Psychological warfare should not be taken lightly, as it often times leads to deepened psychological and physical harm of the victim. As a corporate structure this can lead to a polluted organizational culture and disengaged team members, which can be costly.


What are some common strategies aggressors use in the workplace?


Passive aggressiveness. Aggressors may use subtle hostile hints such as sighing or refusing to acknowledge the target of aggression when they may be speaking or addressing an issue. This form of aggression is the most ambiguous form of aggression used within the workplace, often causing confusion.


Malicious “he say/ she say”, otherwise known as gossip. This tactic is used to demean the target of aggression. In many instances the aggressor will seek allies to speak negatively against the target in hopes to confirm their negative agenda. The rumors eventually spread within the workplace working against the target to tarnish the reputation they have built for themselves.


Destruction of property and ideas by one person to another without good cause or merit. This can be categorized as the literal vandalizing of the target’s work in hopes to deter their goals and objectives. Aggressors may even steal the victim’s ideas and reconstruct them into their own in hopes to gain acceptance from their supervisor or boss.  


The usage of suggestion. This strategy constitutes the unintentional aggression category. Aggressors may not know they are being aggressive in suggesting the victim do things their way or a different way. Imagine you are presented with the opportunity to present your grandeur ideas to a panel of your supervisors in hopes to gain a pay raise if they like your idea. A coworker, who you consider to be one you take a liking to, discourages you and suggests that you use less ostentatious ideas and take the safe route when presenting your ideas. As a result, you now are second guessing your marketing scheme and have been disheartened from your ultimate goal.


When faced with psychological warfare, the victim may take many routes to fight against aggression.


It is important first to document each and every time you have felt uncomfortable. Documentation is vital, especially if things go to a corporate level. A detailed record of who, what, when, and where would suffice, but should never be the only way you handle this type of issue. If you are a victim of psychological abuse, and feel comfortable enough to have a civil and expressive conversation of what you feel is taking place, it may be smart to have a conference between you and the aggressor. If you do not feel comfortable doing this alone, you may request a mediator to be present, and this is highly suggested.


File a formal complaint within the company or organization you work for. This is where that detailed documentation comes in handy. If you have addressed your aggressor and the abuse continues, it may be time to file an authoritative compliant to involve the supervisors and bosses necessary to ensure that your best interest and health remain intact when working for the organization you are employed at.


Talk about it. The most important thing the victim of psychological warfare must remember is to be expressive, because change cannot happen without your input of your feelings. Only you can describe your experience at your workplace. Psychological warfare is subjective, and should be approached as such when questioning the victim and providing solutions to the aggression they have suffered. Victims can be successful in the workplace by understanding that undergoing psychological warfare will never amount to a quid pro quo situation. One should never settle with going through aggressive behaviors to obtain higher status such as promotion, pay raises, vacation days, or even incentives. We are responsible for our own happiness and it should never be a compromise to your morals or personal values.  





Namie, G. (2018). An Introduction to the Psychodynamics of Workplace Bullying. Workplace Bullying Institute



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