Verbal abuse is just another form of bullying. It can be as painful as physical abuse but it doesn't leave scars that people can see. Verbal abuse creates an uncomfortable and unpleasant work environment. It typically consists of sarcastic or belittling remarks, intimidation, loud aggressive anger and toxic language. Verbal abuse, especially if it creates a hostile working environment for protected classes, can be considered harassment under the law and cause for terminating employment.
Verbal abuse itself is not illegal, but it's also not acceptable behavior. When you or a coworker yells at your boss or a coworker, or uses your work associates as dumping grounds for negative emotional energy, this is not responsible adult behavior. Unfortunately, the saying that most people learn in childhood, "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me" is just not true. Abusive words can be more damaging than physical injury to the person who is receiving the verbal blows.
Verbal abuse can be labeled harassment by the person on the receiving end. Besides displaying a lack of emotional control, it also indicates that a person has a serious problem. This kind of behavior immediately identifies the abuser as a troublemaker that puts her under constant scrutiny and threat of termination. Whatever reasons the person has for being verbally abusive, usually not associated with work, the person might need professional help if it continues. Verbal abuse is just not cool at any time or place.
The Work Environment
Verbal abuse undermines the work environment and puts everyone on edge. When someone is abusive with their words, the person typically raises her voice or shouts. This is damaging behavior for any office. It undermines the business culture, office morale, teamwork, and affects the confidence of all employees, not just the associate being abused. When someone goes "postal" at work, it can be a frightening experience for everyone. In most cases, your employer will not tolerate such behavior in the workplace and could fire the abuser on the spot, without warning.
When a person verbally abuses someone with a different religious background, culture, skin color, sexual identity, disability, national origin, age or other protected class, she is creating a potential lawsuit for your employer, as these protected classes are guaranteed hostile-free work environments under equal opportunity employment federal laws. If the abused person complains to a supervisor, the abuser might be lucky to get off with a warning with the threat of termination if it continues.
Dealing with Verbal Abuse
If you are dealing with verbal abuse from a coworker or boss, it's important to recognize that you are not at fault, unless you egged the person on. A verbal abuser is using you to vent her negative emotions, typically not associated with work. This behavior is also used to intimidate or control others. Verbal abuse can be learned behavior for many people, as they might have been or are victims of verbal abuse. It could also happen because a person is under a lot of stress at home or work. Verbal abuse is typically a negative overreaction far exceeding the emotional response called for in the situation. If you are a victim of verbal abuse at work, you need to speak up or talk to someone in the human resources department.
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.