Workplace Bullying: Is this HR’s responsibility to control?

The problem with bullying is that it presupposes a bully exhibiting bullying behavior.  This only reacts to bullying, it does not prevent bullying. 


It is only when one realizes that this behavior is in actuality intent-driven “aggressive” behavior; that there is a Continuum of Aggression, and through this continuum one can learn the “precursors” to bullying, through which one actually prevent bullying.  Until we learn the Continuum of Aggression we are relegated to reacting to bullying, not preventing it.


Incidentally, though this Continuum of Aggression, one can also prevent most forms of “aggressive” maladies within the workplace that have direct correlation with “wellbeing, safety and productivity” all issue that are purviews of Human Resource Management. 


First, I propose we distinguish between “assertive behavior,” which is constructive, positive and interpersonally healthy versus “aggressive behavior,” which is destructive, negative and interpersonally unhealthy behavior.


Another bullying issue we experience is the constant references to subjective/qualitative behavior, he or she is “strange, weird or uncaring;” because “caring” by one person can be an invasion of privacy to another. Too often these subjective references use some form of stereotyping, “You know how those union representatives are!” 


What happens when top management calls and declares an employee as “impossible to work with and very upsetting!” You are often forced to address this behavior with a significant investment of human resources, time and now! Wouldn’t be of great value to have everyone using descriptions of “objective” aggressive behavior? It is essential to use objective/quantitative description of aggressive behavior and you can! 


Let me offer a window into this intent-driven Aggression Continuum.  We address aggression as a “threat;” a threat to productive, the wellbeing of an organization and of course a threat to safety. The Aggression Continuum represents aggressive intent and is built upon a three module (Trigger Phase, Escalation Phase and Crisis Phase), a nine level continuum.  Starting with the Trigger Phase, where there may be explosions of anxiety, but individuals are coping with these anxieties and therefore are “under the radar” of scrutiny and do not register as an immediate issue or threat.


Once an individual stops coping with their anxieties, they enter into the Escalation Phase and register on our threat continuum as Mild. Culturally neutral measured observables of body language, behavior and communication indicators are registered objectively as “Hardening”, “Harmful Debate” and “Illustrating Intent through Actions Versus Words.”  These levels illustrate aggressive intent prior to conflict (or bullying), thereby offering the opportunity to prevent conflict versus merely reacting to it.  All other available methodologies use Conflict Resolution, which presupposed conflict, removing any opportunity to prevent conflict. Since there are individuals who express their conflict with violence, if an organization wishes to prevent violence they must first prevent conflict.  The Aggression Continuum is the clearest and easiest methodology that offers pre-conflict indicators.


Moderate threat is illustrated by “Image Destruction” and “Force Loss of Face.” The aggressor has now broached conflict. This is the beginning of verbal aggression. Often the aggressor begins questioning the authority of the person with delegating responsibility. We now must respond and diffuse conflict in the most effective and professional way.  Because we are measuring the emergence of aggression we are now able to maximize our diffusing efforts in a way that permits the accounting of the behavior, our response and the results.  The compilation and analysis of this data allows an organization to make what otherwise is a subjective process, wrought with stereotyping, to a more objective process ultimately permitting Human Resource  Management the opportunity to legally defend their actions taken.


Elevated threat reveals “Threat Strategies” where the aggressor becomes more overt toward their victim(s). Often this level of aggression is about controlling or manipulating a victim or victims; positioning them so that they feel the full impact of the aggressor threat.


Finally, we broach into the Crisis Phase of the Aggression Continuum where an aggressor has identified a target and has committed to its destruction. The Crisis Phase truly represents the most lethal of aggressors.  The highest level of aggressive intent (ninth-level) represents the murder/suicide or terrorist whose goal it is to give up their life for this cause, like Seung-Hui Cho of Virginia Tech. The eight-level represents the aggressor who may be prepared to give up their life for a cause but intend to survive, like the murderer or combatant. The seventh-level of the Aggression Continuum represent the Complicit Tactician, the individual who is complicit with the eighth and ninth-levels of the Aggression Continuum but do not intent to murder or die for their cause, they will inspire others to do so or aid the others in the committing of their violence.  In the domestic sense this individual is an “accomplice.”


I hope this has helped with a better understanding of how intent-driven aggression can be identified, measured, engaged and prevented, helping Human Resource Management prevent behavior that can be unproductive, a threat to an organization’s wellbeing and ultimately a threat to the safety of its employees. If you would like to know more contact us at or 407-718-5637.  If feel free to participate by commenting on this blog or visit our web site at .


  1. I would appreciate you not spamming my blog with your attempts at selling your product.
    You shoot down profiling, yet your own specialty requires it to a point anyway. Let Law Enforcement do it’s job. Stop trying to make money by exploiting terrorism.
    Our aim is to keep America safe, not make a buck. You are part of the problem when you claim that political correctness should stand in the way of profiling.

  2. John D. Byrnes

    I apologize if I have offended you, however, I am presenting only rich content of a new approach and I offered no marketing of my services, book or online workshops.  Blogs are opinion-places and if you read my blog you would see that profiling does not tell us who the next terrorist is and when we rely on this method alone, we miss the terrorist.

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  5. This is certainly a good read; provides me with knowledge of the various types of aggression. But at the end of the day, is it HR’s responsibility to control workplace bullying? Because contrary to your header, I realize that though you listed the variants of aggression, you never really mentioned anything on HR’s role in this matter. Would have been a more informative article if you mentioned a little more on HR too.

  6. John D. Byrnes

    Michiel, the question is rhetorical.  Absolutely, HR is on the front line and is therefore a key partner but the problem continues to be that HR, Security (if there is security), EAP, and management use different approaches, even different languages to relate to “aggression” in their workplace.  Our CAPS program offers a single language and methodology to engage and resolve threatening aggression.   When one realizes that Bullying, Discrimination, Harassment of any kind are simply elements on an Aggression Continuum they will now be able to “prevent” this behavior versus merely reacting to it.

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