Are You Committing Lateral Violence?

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 on 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.

Related Content


Stop Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying comes in many forms, and most managers don’t know what to do. Watch our archived webinar to learn how managers, coworkers, targets, and bullies can stop this behavior.

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.

Respect you, Respect the Other Person

It’s not and is never acceptable to be rude or discourteous, let alone abusive, to anyone at any time. And it must not be tolerated. Respect is the foundation of all relationships. Without respect, there is no trust and without trust there is little productivity. Without respect, we will not communicate effectively and there will be little we can accomplish together.

All too often, things occur at work and you do nothing to address it. Management tolerates it. Often people can be purposefully intimidating. Bullying occurs. People don’t know how to be assertive and speak up for themselves so they lash out or shrink and become silent. It eats away at them. They may become sick from being in so much pain or they may become depressed.

Everyone is responsible for making the relationship work. Each of us is responsible for creating a healthy work environment. It all starts with you- do the best you can to treat others with respect. Acknowledge when you make a mistake, apologize, forgive yourself, and do better. Treat yourself and others with respect.

1. Awareness is first: become aware of yourself and your behavior, the impact you have on others, and how they feel when they are with you. This is a key quality of a leader. If you go around smacking people in the face with your emotions and words, then this explains why everyone runs when they see you coming and they don’t want to work with you. Stop being the last to know and start caring about your people, your family and how you show up in the world.

    • Learn to manage your emotions appropriately and assert yourself professionally. A coach or personal development training can help.

    • When you receive feedback, take care to listen attentively even though it may feel awkward and you may feel embarrassed. Feedback is the only way we learn to become better than we are. You cannot make other people feel; but you are responsible for your behavior and if you are disrespectful, then you need to take responsibility for that.

    • You also want to become aware of how others treat you so you can stop putting up with the poor behavior of others and start asserting yourself and teaching others how you want to be treated.

2. Stop making excuses or rationalizing poor behavior – yours or others! Whatever feels bad needs to be addressed. If you say nothing, it gives the behavior permission to continue. If you need to change, then make the necessary changes.

3. Treat everyone with the utmost respect. People do the very best they know how to do at any given moment. If their best isn’t meeting your standards, then tell them gently. Forgive them, rather than getting angry. We all make mistakes. Instead of complaining, develop your people skills; focus on what you can do to improve your relationships. It’s easy to point the finger; it’s hard to do your own work.

We only are able to mistreat others to the extent we mistreat ourselves. If you feel good about and are respectful toward yourself, you will not be disrespectful of others because it is disrespectful to you.

Julie Fuimano-Donley is president & CEO of Nurturing Your Success, Inc. Visit her website and sign up for her e-newsletter. Call Julie at 610-277-2726 or write to [email protected]. Subscribe to her blog at