Managing hostility in the workplace

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The workplace is a melting pot for all sorts of personalities with different backgrounds, education levels, cultural orientation etc., which makes it inevitable for clashes to arise from time to time. While this is expected, having to deal with hostile coworkers can make life at work a miserable and frustrating experience.

Several studies have raised concerns about the increased hostile behaviour experienced at the workplace. These behaviours are expressed in various ways like impoliteness, physical violence, verbal abuse, harsh criticism, non-cooperation among co-workers, hiding information, all of which makes the workplace inhospitable, which can negatively impact on organizational performance (Huchinson & Jackson 2013).[2]

The instructive material of the committee of equivalent work opportunities in 1980 was the first manual to coin the term “hostile work environment” and as indicated in that report, employees have the right to work in an environment without hostility, irrespective of their age, gender, race, religious beliefs, or disability.[3]

The criminal law of Lagos state has a provision against harassment in the workplace. It particularly focuses on sexual harassment and describes it as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favours, visual and other verbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature to which when submitted to or rejected affect the person’s employment opportunities, interferes with an employee’s performance, or creates an intimidating and offensive work environment. Anyone found guilty will be liable to imprisonment for three years.[4]

A hostile workplace environment is a workspace where unsavory comments or behaviors based on gender, nationality, race, religion, disability etc., affects a worker’s performance or creates an unfavorable work environment for the person being harassed. This behaviour can hamper the worker’s productivity and self-esteem (Robert Half 2021).[5]

Other distasteful acts like bullying are common in the workplace. Naime (2003) argued that workplace bullying is three times more prevalent than more illegal acts such as sexual harassment, discrimination, and rudeness, but it is not declared illegal.[6]

The aim of this article is to recommend ways hostilities in the workplace can be managed because every worker deserves a healthy, positive work environment each day.

Managing workplace hostilities

Work is usually stressful enough without having to deal with hostile co-workers who can make an employee’s work experience depressing and unfulfilling. Dealing with hostilities is one of those difficult tasks to resolve or manage at the workplace, but the following pointers can be useful:

  1. Be Thoughtful

It is advisable to take a step back and reflect on a proposed course of conduct to be sure you are not doing anything to aggravate issues while taking into cognizance your personal work culture. For example, if you are the kind of person that likes to express your mind freely on issues, it may be advisable in some circumstances to seek calm opportune moments to present your views. (Rober Half 2021).

  1. Put the Colleague on Notice

The initial step to take is to communicate directly with the aggressor about the conduct that you are uncomfortable with. In instances where an employee does not want to face the aggressor directly, the worker can ask for the assistance of a manager, supervisor, or Human Resources officer. They can also serve as verifiers that you have asked the erring colleague to stop the offensive act.

  1. An escape route might be needed

It is important to protect yourself from constant negativity from a hostile work environment. Taking a break from the environment can be helpful, avoiding the toxic coworker(s), controlling your immediate environment also helps the victim to decompress.

  1. Resolving the issues

Try finding possible agreeable solutions to whatever issue(s) may be causing, creating, or enabling the hostile work environment. The parties involved can be invited by a manager or Human Resource staff to find a lasting solution that works for all the parties involved.

  1. Tackling the issues as quickly as possible

It is advisable to address issues as quickly as possible before they escalate into bigger problems. Handling hostilities as they surface is crucial to maintaining a functional working environment.

  1. Remain Polite but firm

As much as possible, avoid using aggressive and insulting words that will heighten the conflict. The worst thing a victim can do is to respond with hostility, and at the very least you cannot be accused of losing your temper. You will, however, need to state your opinion with firmness so that the employer knows you are serious about tackling the issues.

  1. Try making a peace offering

Try offering little gestures that can win over your colleagues, going the extra mile sometimes can show sincerity in establishing a good working relationship. This can help to turn hostile coworkers into friendly colleagues.

  1. Changing your work environment

Having done all you can to resolve the issues and the work environment remains hostile, it is advisable to seek another work environment or alternative employment to protect yourself from physical, mental and health complications. Taking yourself out of the toxic environment completely might be best.

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For further information on this article and area of law, please contact Temitope Fadare at:

S. P.A. Ajibade & Co., Lagos by telephone (+234 1 472 9890), fax (+234 1 4605092) mobile (+234 7055084677) or email (

[1] Temitope Fadare, Personal Assistant to the Managing Partner, SPA Ajibade & Co., Lagos, NIGERIA.

[2] Hutchinson, Jackson (2013). “Five years of scholarship on violence, bullying, aggression toward nurses in the workplace: what we learned?” Journal of Clinical Nursing 22(2) 7.

[3] Equality Legislation (1980). Striking women: Rights and Responsibilities, available at: Last accessed 20th May 2021.

[4] S 262 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011.

[5] Robert Half (2021), How to deal with hostile coworkers- the smart way. Available at: Last accessed 20th May 2021.

[6] Namie, G. (2003). “Workplace bullying: Escalated incivility”, Ivey Business Journal, available at:

http: Last accessed 16th June

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