Phylogenetics is the study of evolutionary relationships among biological entities. It is a term I enthusiastically utilize when discussing the relationship between conflict communication and evolutionary relationships within the workplace; it sounds as complex and intricate as group hierarchy and social conflicts are despite seldom being viewed in this way.

Social conflicts are handled by the limbic system in our brain. Emotionally, this portion of the brain is concerned with social norms, hierarchy, rules, and overall social safety rather than physical safety. Our emotional brain seeks to establish and maintain a hierarchy within the group, as well as enforcing the mores of the group and therefore intricately involved with our workplace culture and relationships with our co-workers. Author Kevin Miller in his book Conflict Communication (a phenomenal read by the way) discusses how any change in personnel, new people, a different person assigned to work with new groups puts the established hierarchies at risk.

It is important to establish that this does not refer to leadership hierarchy, but the social roles within our group i.e. the joker, the advisor, the chaplain or shoulder to cry on, the muscle of the group, the “perfect for a crisis” person etc. Real conflicts that often escalate into disputes and even violence is almost always over status, credit, identity or protocols (mores of the group). A severe example of this is portrayed when profiling all types of criminals (sex offenders, serial killers, arsonists), the one thing they ALL have in common is they all lack a sense of security/place/belonging within a social group. That social group may be gender, sexual orientation, generational and cultural mores. They either threaten the social safety of others, or others threaten their social safety.  This is why cultural development in the workplace must be consistently evaluated. Bullying (by a single member within a group, or the group toward a member) however mild or infrequent, needs to be addressed as one of the first symptoms of an unsafe work culture.

Research indicates that workplace bullying is much more prevalent in chaotic work environments and highly political organizational cultures that lead to decreased employee satisfaction and increase in bullying behaviors. Bullying is not just a function of personality but also the context in which people work. It is a common misconception that bullies are easy to identify and keep away from the workplace altogether. However, literature shows that bullies are often very outgoing, gregarious, assertive, fearless and confident. Corporate environments in particular seek (and reward) these traits because a well-adjusted individual with a high emotional intelligence, job competency and these traits is often the person that will exceed company goals.

Workplace statistics show that 9 percent of workplace fatalities are due to violence. More than 2 million people each year report some type of workplace violence and it is estimated that 25 percent of workplace violence goes unreported. Consider the following recommendations in order to minimize, and even eliminate the seeds that lead to social conflicts within the workplace:

  1. Employee Satisfaction Committee: held quarterly with the goal to monitor consistent recommendations for improvement on things that can improve the work environment.
  2. Raising awareness of workplace bullying: According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, bullying is on the rise and already studies show that 50% of workers have experienced some type of bullying in the workplace.
  3. Encouraging reporting and whistleblowing.
  4. Provide adequate training to identify hazardous situations and appropriate responses in emergency; anything from escape plans to de-escalation of workplace conflict.


Be safe out there!

Ms. Sifontes can be reached at


Arpana Rai, Upasna A. Agarwal, A review of literature on mediators and moderators of workplace bullying, Management Research Review, 10.1108/MRR-05-2016-0111, 41, 7, (822-859), (2018).

Frederick Doe, Bill Buenar Puplampu, Coercive management behaviour causes scale: validation and reliability, International Journal of Organizational Analysis, 10.1108/IJOA-08-2018-1508, (2018).