Loraleigh Keashly and Branda L. Nowell
In their review of the workplace bullying literature, Hoel et al. (1999) argued for the importance of taking a conflict perspective on the problem of bullying. They suggested that the dyadic conflict literature was rich in insights on conflict development and escalation as well as the various procedures and processes for resolving conflicts. Their belief is premised on an implicit connection between conflict and bullying where severe bullying is likened to 'destructive conflicts going beyond the point of no return' (p. 221). Zapf and Gross (2001) concur, describing bullying situations as 'long-lasting and badly managed conflicts' (p. 499). Einarsen and Skogstad (1996) have also made a connection between bullying and conflict, but as distinctive constructs hinging on the ability of the involved parties to respond or defend against hostile actions. A key feature of bullying is the inability to defend oneself. If the parties involved are equally able to defend themselves, then the situation may well be a serious conflict, but it is not bullying. Einarsen (1999) further refines his earlier distinction by proposing that there are at least two types of bullying: predatory and dispute-related. Predatory bullying occurs when the victim has done nothing provocative that would reasonably invoke or justify the bully's behaviour. Dispute-related bullying, however, develops out of grievances between two or more parties and involves retaliatory reactions to some perceived harm or wrong-doing. If one of the parties becomes 'disadvantaged' during the dispute, he/she may become a victim of bullying. So a dispute may trigger bullying. In making this argument, Einarsen supports the idea that conflict and bullying are distinct yet related constructs.
Thus, while it is clear various authors consider conflict in their writings and research on bullying, the connection between these two constructs is unclear. In order to assess the value of a conflict perspective on bullying, we need to clarify what is the relationship between bullying and conflict. Thus, in the first section of this chapter, we will compare definitions of conflict and bullying in an effort to articulate their connection. We will then present and discuss several concepts from the conflict literature that