Chapter 14: The Dark Side of Interpersonal Communication

In this chapter, we will explore the dark side of interpersonal communication. Communication often results in positive outcomes, but communication may also result in hurt, conflict, psychological damage, and relationship termination. The dark side of interpersonal communication generally refers to communication that results in negative outcomes. Some types of communication that are considered to be on the “dark side” are: verbal aggression, deception, psychological abuse, bullying, and infidelity, to name a few. For many years, communication scholars failed to focus on the more negative aspects of communication, but in doing so, overlooked opportunities to create solutions for those who are on the receiving end of this type of communication and for those who are the source. This chapter will explore destructive behaviors in relationships and negative communication strategies. Awareness of these negative communication strategies may be the first step in preventing these strategies.

14.1 Destructive Relationship Behaviors

Learning Objectives

  1. Familiarize yourself with the concept of secret testing.
  2. Understand the effects of empty apologies.
  3. Discuss the challenge of identifying Internet infidelity and emotional infidelity.
  4. Explain hurtful messages and reactions to hurtful messages.

Secret Testing

Very often, in relationships, individuals seek to understand the nature or state of their relationship. The most direct way to understand a relationship is to talk about it, but sometimes the timing doesn’t seem right. Perhaps it’s too soon, or maybe the relational partner is squeamish about talking. Regardless, individuals experience a great deal of uncertainty about the nature of the relationship. Uncertainty also exists when relationships seem to be headed toward termination.

Humans engage in intrapersonal communication in which we think about how our dating partner feels about us or about whether the individual wishes to continue in the relationship. A great deal of time may be spent thinking about how the relationship partner feels. If you have ever called a friend to ask your friend’s opinion about how your boyfriend or girlfriend feels about you, then you are engaging in information seeking about your relationship. In the early stages of relationships, the relational partners may not share the same definition of the relationship.1 As a result, one or both relational partners experience uncertainty. Research demonstrates that individuals experiencing uncertainty will work to reduce uncertainty.2 As research continued, it was determined that it is taboo to talk directly with a relationship partner about the state-of-the-relationship.3 Consider your own experiences with dating and whether it is comfortable to ask or be asked, “so, where are we? Are we dating exclusively, seeing other people…?” Because of the discomfort of such direct questions, individuals tend to use indirect strategies.

There are seven indirect strategies individuals use to assess the state of their relationship. These indirect strategies are referred to as secret tests. Some secret tests actually invoke negative relational strategies such as provoking jealousy, deliberately behaving negatively toward a partner, being overly demanding, intentionally creating distance, and testing a partner through a third party “fidelity check.” Many secret tests may result in relational hurt or even relationship termination.

Secret tests are labeled directness, endurance, indirect suggestions, public presentation, separation, third party, and triangle test.

Directness Test

Directness is the least secretive of the strategies and involves asking the relational partner about his/her feelings toward the relationship and commitment to the relationship. Alternatively, an individual might disclose their feelings about the relationship with the hope that the relationship partner will reciprocate. Although this “test” may not feel comfortable at first, it can have positive outcomes and involves open communication. Though employing this test may lead to answers that one may not want to hear, at least information is obtained directly from the relationship partner. Research conducted by Melanie Booth-Butterfield and Rebecca Chory-Assad4 indicates that individuals in more stable relationships are more likely to use this overt strategy.

Endurance Test

Endurance test is another form of secret testing in which the partner is tested by engaging in actions that the partner might perceive to be a cost in the relationship. If the partner remains in the relationship, then it is presumed that the partner is committed to the relationship. Research revealed three types of endurance tests: behaving negatively toward the partner, criticizing oneself to the point of being annoying, and making a request that required the partner to exert a great deal of effort. Because the endurance test involves introducing cost into the relationship, individuals risk tipping the scales, i.e., creating more costs than rewards which social exchange theory tells us may result in relationship dissolution. Melanie Booth-Butterfield and Rebecca Chory-Assad explored secret test use in deteriorating relationships.5 Their research revealed that in unstable relationships, any secret test involving behaviors that deviated from what one would normally do in a relationship was associated with a desire for relationship disengagement.

Indirect Suggestions Test

The third form of secret testing is indirect suggestions. Indirect suggestions involve joking or hinting about more serious stages of relationships such as marriage or having children. If joking about more serious stages in a relationship is met with laughter, flirting, or intimate touching, then it might be assumed that the partner is interested in pursuing a more serious relationship. Another indirect suggestion comes in the form of increasingly more intimate touch. If the intimate touch is received positively or reciprocated, then it is also assumed that there is a commitment to the relationship.

Presenting the Relationship to Outsiders Test

The fourth form of secret testing involves presenting the relationship to outsiders as a relationship in which a mutual commitment is involved. This public presentation is meant to gauge the partner’s response. For example, you might change your Facebook status to “in a relationship” to gauge your partner’s reaction. Another example is introducing your relationship partner as girlfriend/boyfriend and observing the reaction. This secret test is particularly risky because it may result in a public rejection. The advantage is that it might result in public acceptance.

Separation Test

A fifth secret test is the separation test. Have you ever been in the beginning stages of a relationship and found it necessary to travel and hoped that your new relationship would survive the physical distance? At times, individuals intentionally create physical distance to test the strength of the relationship. If the relationship survives a few days of separation, then this is an affirmation that the partner is committed. If the relationship partner does not attempt to make contact during the physical separation, then this may be a sign that there is a less than desirable level of interest.

Third-Party Test

The sixth form of secret testing is third-party testing. In this case, one might seek the opinion or insight from the partner’s friends, family members, or coworkers.

Triangle Test

The final form of secret testing is the triangle test. This test involves the manipulation of a third person to obtain information about the relationship. A common form of triangle testing is to induce a jealous reaction by mentioning an interested third party. For example, a relationship partner might be told that a classmate was making flirtatious advances in class. The partner’s reaction to this information is presumed to be an indicator of the partner’s commitment. A “fidelity check” is another form of triangle testing in which a situation is created to allow the partner to “cheat.” The partner’s reaction is then observed.

In more recent research, Rebecca Chory-Assad and Melanie Booth-Butterfied determined that relationship partners use different strategies when attempting to maintain a relationship than when attempting to end a relationship.6 These researchers determined that relationship partners who wish to maintain a relationship when the relationship seems to be coming to an end will use the direct secret test in which the partner is approached directly. On the other hand, individuals who wish to end a relationship will do so by utilizing a secret test such as jealousy. Still, these individuals also report having low self-esteem. They concluded that individuals with low self-esteem might use secret testing as a means to “break up” because they do not have the confidence to talk with the partner directly.

Empty Apologies

Apologies are a necessary part of everyday interactions and important to correcting either intentional or unintentional hurt created in others. Despite the positive aspect of apologizing, it is often difficult to do. If your parents/guardians ever required you to apologize to a sibling, then you may recall the difficulty of uttering the words, “I apologize.” Conversely, some individuals use apologies so frequently that the apology becomes meaningless. An apology implies acknowledgment of wrongdoing.7

Acknowledgment includes expression of responsibility, conveyance of remorse and direct request for forgiveness. Acknowledgment of wrongdoing should imply that there will be an effort to avoid repeated occurrences of the same behavior. Regardless of the difficulties presented by the need to apologize, the positive aspects must be considered. Apologies have positive benefits such as increased feelings of empathy for the offender8 and reducing the consequences for an offender.9 Individuals who offer more elaborate apologies receive more favorable evaluation, are blamed less, forgiven more, and liked more by the individuals to whom an apology is made. Apology Sincerity influences how the victim feels after the negative event.10 Apology sincerity may alleviate strong negative emotions, including anger. Sincere apologies may also lead victims to think about conflict less negatively and be less vengeful.

Internet Infidelity

The amount of time spent online by a wide range of people makes the Internet an adequate “meeting place” for relationships of all types. The Internet shrinks our world and enables individuals to find others with similar interests, desirable knowledge (health information, how to clean, the best campgrounds, etc.), and attractive qualities. We might consider that the Internet provides privacy, the ability to interact frequently, and enables close proximity. Research shows that when it comes to Internet infidelity, partners perceive their infidelity to be more acceptable than their partner’s infidelity. Also, males find involving/goal-directed acts (making plans, expressing love) as more acceptable than women.11 Because of the murky nature of what constitutes infidelity via the Internet, researchers have worked to define it accurately. Internet infidelity is defined as using “sexual energy of any sort—thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—outside of a committed sexual relationship in such a way that it damages the relationship, and then pretending that this drain in energy will affect neither partner nor the relationship as long as it remains undiscovered.”12 Partners take a harsher approach to Internet infidelity with their partners than themselves.13 Specifically, the researchers concluded that there is a double standard in Internet infidelity. Individuals find the Internet infidelity of their partner to be worse than their Internet infidelity. Also, relational partners use self-motivated rules regarding Internet infidelity and have different expectations for self than for the relationship partner. Internet infidelity led to the murder of Google executive Forrest Hayes who was described as a loving father and husband. Hayes made an unfortunate decision to make contact with Alix Tichelman on After meeting with Tichelman several times, she injected him with an overdose of heroin, and he was found dead on his yacht in Santa Cruz’s Craft Harbor the next day. According to the Washington Post, the woman coldly injected him with heroin and simply walked away. Her actions were caught on camera and she is now on trial for.14

Internet Characteristics Fostering Online Infidelity

Contributing to the ease of forming relationships via the Internet are several characteristics identified through research.15,16,17 First, the Internet increases the speed with which messages are sent. Consider the difference in sending messages today in comparison to the early 1990s. Mail and landline phones were the primary means of communicating “quickly.” Widespread use of emails and instant messaging increased the speed with which people could communicate. Reach is another characteristic of the Internet, which enables individuals to establish many more relationships than in the past. Relationships were previously established by those in our immediate vicinity including our hometown, workplace, places for social gatherings, and churches. Now, our computer/smartphone puts us in touch with people all over the world without ever leaving our home. Anonymity (revelation of identity or lack thereof) also opens up opportunities for relationships. Consider the case of Manti Te’o in which anonymity allowed him to be fooled into believing that he had a girlfriend and that she died as the result of leukemia.18

Finally, interactivity, defined as the ability to send and receive messages and react to these messages, makes the Internet a breeding ground for infidelity. An additional characteristic of the Internet that may deceive individuals into thinking that they are not engaged in infidelity is the lack of physical presence, which makes the issue of infidelity ambiguous. After all, if one is not physically present, how can one cheat?

Research Spotlight


Tony Docan-Morgan and Carol A. Docan set out to examine how men and women view Internet infidelity in a 2007 study. The researchers started by having 43 undergraduates list what they thought could be Internet infidelity. The researchers reviewed the open-ended responses and paired down the list to the following:

  • having cybersex (engaging in sexually explicit conversations with someone online)
  • flirtatious behavior (flirting with someone they met online)
  • emotional (developing an emotional connection with someone online)
  • seeking another (posting a personal ad online)
  • conversing with another (having a conversation with someone online)
  • exchanging information (giving personal information about yourself online – e.g., email address, cellphone number, etc.).
  • other (engaging in casual conversational topics, not relational or emotional ones)

Based on these six categories and other literature on the subject, the researchers developed a measure and narrowed it down to 27 items. The measure ultimately discovered two different patterns of Internet infidelity superficial/informal acts (e.g., chatting about sports, talking about current events, joking, etc.) and involving/goal-directed (e.g., disclosing love, viewing personal ads, making plans to meet someone, etc.).

The researchers found that superficial/informal acts were rated as less severe than involving/goal-directed ones. When it came to the severity of superficial/informal acts, there were no differences between females and males in this study. However, females did find involving/goal-directed Internet infidelity as more severe than did men. Lastly, the researchers found that people tended to rate their Internet infidelity as less severe than they rated their partner’s infidelity on both involving/goal-directed and superficial/informal acts.

Docan-Morgan, T., & Docan, C. (2007). Internet infidelity: Double standards and the differing views of women and men. Communication Quarterly, 55(3), 317-342.

Emotional vs. Sexual Infidelity

The lack of physical presence in online relationships drives the need to differentiate between sexual infidelity and emotional infidelity. It seems clear that physical interaction with another individual constitutes sexual infidelity. Still, some individuals might say that as long as there is no sexual intercourse, then there has been no infidelity. If we can’t all agree on when cheating has occurred after physical contact, then it is easy to see why there tends to be a great deal of disagreement as to what constitutes emotional infidelity. One might even question whether emotional attachment to an infidel outside of one’s primary relationship constitutes infidelity at all. Sexual infidelity involves sexual intimacy and physical involvement. In contrast, emotional infidelity includes “emotional involvement with another person, which leads one’s partner to channel emotional resources such as romantic love, time, and attention to someone else.”19 For example, if you receive a promotion at work, it might be assumed that the first person you would tell would be your relational partner. However, if emotional resources have been directed toward another individual, then this individual may be the first individual you might call. The relationship partner might view this as a betrayal or a dependence on another individual at the very least.

It was initially proposed that women would perceive emotional infidelity as worse than sexual infidelity and that men would perceive sexual infidelity in their partners as worse than emotional infidelity. This proposal developed from the evolutionary psychology perspective. In summary, this perspective indicates that males would be concerned with sexual infidelity because they had no way of knowing whether their mate was carrying their child and thus carrying on their genetic material. On the other hand, women were more concerned with emotional infidelity because women feared that their male counterparts would become attached to another female and that his resources (e.g., money, time, etc.) would be directed toward the other. Although this perspective provides insight into the basic differences between perspectives that might be held by females and males, research consistently shows that both females and males find sexual infidelity to be worse than emotional infidelity.20

Researchers reported that sexual infidelity occurred in 30% to 40% of relationships.21 When sexual infidelity occurs, research shows that how infidelity is discovered determines relational outcomes.22 Voluntary admission seems to result in increased forgiveness, less likelihood of dissolution, and was the least damaging to relational quality.

Hurtful Messages

“Even in the closest, most satisfying relationships, people sometimes say things that hurt each other.”23 We have all been in the position of having our feelings hurt or hurting the feelings of another. When feelings are hurt, individuals respond in many different ways. Though hurtful messages have existed since humans began interacting, it was in 1994 that Anita L. Vangelisti first developed a typology of hurtful messages. Her work resulted in ten types of messages.24 She furthered her work by exploring reactions to hurtful messages. First, we will discuss her typology of hurtful messages, and then we will address how individuals respond to hurtful messages.

Types of Hurtful Messages


Evaluations are messages that assess value or worth. These messages are a negative assessment of the other individual that result in hurt. One of the coauthors was once riding in a car with a coworker and his wife. He was driving and made an error. She said, “You are the worst driver ever.” The moment was awkward for everyone.


The second type of hurtful message is an accusation. Accusations are an assignment of fault or blame. Any number of topics can be addressed in accusations. A common source of conflict in relationships is money. An example of an accusation that might arise for conflict over money is “You are the reason this family is in constant financial turmoil.”


Directives are the third type of hurtful message, and involve an order or a command. “Go to hell” is a common directive in some relationships depicted in movies and television, but is a more extreme example. In everyday interaction, examples might include, “leave me alone,” “don’t ever call me again,” or “stay away from me.” One of the coauthors remembers a short-lived relationship in which she called her boyfriend’s house. The boyfriend had told his mother that he was out with her. The phone call to his house ultimately resulted in the boyfriend being punished for lying, but he relayed a potentially hurtful message to the coauthor, which was, “Don’t ever call my house unless I ask you to.” As noted, the relationship was short-lived, but the hurtful message indicating a lack of value for the coauthor’s feelings still stings.

Informative Statements

Informative statements are hurtful messages that reveal unwanted information. A supervisor might reveal the following to an employee: “I only hired you because the owner made me.” Siblings might reveal “I never wanted a younger sister” or “When Mother was dying, she told me I was her favorite.” Friends might say something like, “When you got a job at the same place as me, I felt smothered.” Informative messages reveal information that could easily be kept a secret, but are intended to hurt.

Statement of Desire

A statement of desire expresses an individual’s preference. A romantic partner might state, “the night I met you, I was more interested in your friend and really wanted to go out with him.” A friend might say, “Callie has always been a better friend than you.” A parent/guardian with multiple children might state, “God only gives you one good child.”

Advising Statement

An advising statement calls for a course of action such as “you need to get yourself some help.” One of the coauthors inadvertently communicated an advising statement when a friend was talking about going on so many interviews and not getting hired. The coauthor said, “There are courses that offer interview training. You could take a course in interviewing.” The statement hurt the coauthor’s friend as she was only seeking comfort and not advice that seemingly indicated she had poor interview skills.


A question is another type of hurtful message which, when asked, implies something negative. A very direct hurtful question is, “What is wrong with you?” Another subtler question that might be perceived as hurtful is, “You’ve been at the bank for ten years. Have you been promoted yet?”


Threats are messages that indicate a desire to inflict harm. Harm can be physical or psychological. For example, a romantic partner might say, “if you go out with your friends tonight, I’m going to break up with you.” A direct physical threat is a statement directed toward inflicting bodily harm such as, “I’m going to knock the crap out of you if you don’t change out of that outfit.”


Jokes are another type of hurtful message that involves a prank or witticism. For example, a cousin might say to his athletically built female cousin, “what’s up quarterback thighs?” implying that the female’s looks are masculine. In an organization, a coworker could jokingly comment to a supervisor on the supervisor’s relationship with a subordinate, “I can see who’s really in charge here.” A prank can be hurtful if it results in humiliating or embarrassing the object of the prank. Pranks are sometimes carried too far. The Breakfast Club includes a perfect example of a prank carried too far when the jock explains that he and his wrestling buddies duct-taped the butt cheeks of a nerd. It was meant to be funny, but results in physical injury to the nerd. Jokes in the form of witticism are often open to interpretation, but hurt may result if the recipient feels that the sender intended to hurt more so than humor. Pranks that embarrass or cause physical harm often create emotional pain for the recipient.


Lies are deceptive speech acts that result in the hurt of the recipient. In an episode of The King of Queens, Doug tells his wife Carrie that her forehead is too big after she hurt his feelings. He didn’t really feel that way, but his words resulted in Carrie trying to cover her forehead because she was embarrassed that her forehead was “too big.” Lies can range from the mundane such as “I was late for dinner because I was on the phone with my boss.” to “I’m going to San Diego on business.” Lies, when discovered, may result in feelings of being disrespected or betrayal.

Reactions to Hurtful Messages

After exploring the types of hurtful messages that exist, Anita Vangelisti and Linda Crumley investigated the reactions individuals have to hurtful messages.25 The results of Vangelisti’s and Crumley’s investigation revealed three broad categories of reactions: active verbal responses, acquiescent responses, and invulnerable responses.

Active verbal responses involve attacking the other, defending the self, and asking for an explanation. Suppose that you and a romantic partner go to friends for dinner. Upon entering the home, you take off your shoes. Your romantic partner poses a hurtful question, such as “what is wrong with you? What kind of guest takes off their shoes?” An active verbal response that attacks the other is “nothing is wrong with me. What’s wrong with you, you idiot? Everybody knows wearing street shoes bring in germs and allergens.” Alternatively, one might respond by saying, “nothing is wrong with me. It is perfectly normal to take one’s shoes off when entering another person’s home.” Finally, one might ask for an explanation, such as “Why do you think there is something wrong with me?”

Acquiescent responses involve crying, conceding, or apologizing. This type of response demonstrates that the message is hurtful or that the recipient believes they have engaged in some wrongdoing. For example, if a friend says, “I never want to see you again,” a conceding response might be, “that’s fine. I won’t bother you anymore.” Alternatively, an apologetic response is, “I am so sorry. Is there something I can do to change your mind?”

Finally, hurtful messages can result in invulnerable responses. We have all heard the phrase “sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This phrase, while not true, does demonstrate a desire to demonstrate invulnerability. Reactions of invulnerability range from ignoring the message to laughing. Recall the example from the directive message earlier in which one of the coauthors was told not to call the boyfriend’s house. Although the coauthor felt that the message was disrespectful, the response was to laugh. The boyfriend was told that his “directive” was ridiculous and that if she was going to be used as an excuse, then he should be smart enough to let her in on that little secret unless he was lying to her, too.

Key Takeaways

  • Because it is considered taboo to ask one’s relational partner about the nature of the relationship, one or both relational partners may use secret tests.
  • Inherent characteristics of the Internet may facilitate infidelity.
  • Emotional infidelity is particularly challenging because relationship partners may not agree on what constitutes infidelity.
  • Hurtful messages are a part of the human experience, but they can be avoided by becoming aware of the types of messages that exist.


  • Review the types of secret tests. For each type, provide an example from your own life in which you have engaged in the secret test or observed a friend doing so. For each example, state whether you believe the secret test was helpful or harmful and why.
  • Create your definition of emotional infidelity. Ask three friends to come up with their definition of emotional infidelity. Compare and contrast the four definitions.
  • After reading the section on Internet infidelity and Internet characteristics, find your example in the popular media that relates to one of the characteristics of the Internet that seems to facilitate infidelity. For example, you might choose the characteristic “speed.” Find an article in the popular media in which speed played a role in an individual’s ability to “cheat” in the virtual environment.
  • Working in a group, create an example of each type of hurtful message from your own life that you have experienced or witnessed. What was the reaction? Label the reaction according to Vangelisti and Crumley’s Reaction Types.

14.2 The Dark Side of Relationships: Aggression

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain relational aggression.
  2. Explore relational aggression among women.
  3. Define and explain the term “verbal aggression.”
  4. Describe bullying and bullying in the workplace.
  5. Explain basic strategies for handling the dark side of interpersonal communication.

Relational Aggression

Relational aggression is defined as behaviors that harm others.26 Harm is created through damaging social relationships or feelings of acceptance. Research on relational aggression indicates that it involves both confrontational and nonconfrontational behaviors. Specific behaviors associated with confrontation, or direct behavior, include name-calling, cruel teasing, ridicule, and verbal rejection directed at the target. Nonconfrontational or indirect behaviors include spreading rumors, gossiping, and social manipulation.27,28 Adolescents use indirect aggression more than direct aggression to harm relationships.

Relationally Aggressive Categories

When researching 11 to 13-year-olds, five categories of relationally aggressive behaviors were identified.29 The categories are labeled inconsistent friendships, rumors/gossip, excluding/ditching friends, social intimidation, and notes/technological aggression. Additional research identified seven types of relationally aggressive behaviors among high school girls.30 Based on open-ended descriptions from high school girls, the following categories of relational aggression were found: the physical threat/physical attack, rejection, humiliation, betrayal, personal attack, boy manipulation, and relational depreciation. In addition to the categories of relationship aggression, it is essential to note that gossiping and spreading rumors were the most common forms of relational aggression across age groups.31,32

Relational Aggression in College: Bad and Normal

Current research indicates that relational aggression begins in childhood and extends into the workplace. Maintaining an awareness of this tendency may help to avoid this situation in the future. A challenge with relational aggression among women is that it is known to be negative and yet labeled as normal.33,34,35,36,37 Evidence of this dual perspective on relational aggression among women is found within the media in movies such as Mean Girls (also a Broadway musical). Because of the acceptance of this behavior as negative and normal, conversations were held with women to understand their explanation for engaging in negative behavior. Through these conversations, several themes emerged. These themes included (a) girls will be girls; (b) relational aggression as venting; (c) blaming the victim; (d) minimizing their role; and (e) regret. The “girls will be girls” theme is especially problematic because it indicates that women know that relational aggression has negative consequences, but they accept it as normal. Researchers report that college-aged women when discussing relational aggression made such statements as ‘‘something you expect [among women], drama and gossip and cattiness’’ and ‘‘typical girl stuff.’’ They concluded that women continue to engage in relational aggression because it is perceived to be normal. In other words, it is acceptable because everyone is doing it.38

The second theme that emerged in discussions of relational aggression among college-aged women was relational aggression as venting. Women regularly described gossiping, name-calling and talking behind someone’s back as cathartic in nature. It was described as a form of stress relief. It was concluded that women view this form of communication as acceptable because it is beneficial. This “excuse” makes it okay to vent to other women even if it might be harmful if discovered by the target.39

The third theme among women discussing relational aggression was “blaming the victim.” The majority of women reported that the targets were to blame for the relationally aggressive behavior because they were either “crazy” or engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior. Other reasons given were that the target was either mean to them first or “different.” For example, one girl reported targeting her roommate, whom she knew to be mentally ill. She blamed the girl by stating that the girl should have taken her medicine more regularly to control her behavior better. Additionally, the majority of women in their study stated that they engage in relational aggression because the target engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior.

A fourth theme related to relational aggression emerged in which women attempted to minimize their role. Study participants mainly reported that they were simply going along with the actual perpetrator and acted as an audience member. Individuals described themselves as listeners rather than being the real aggressor. Another way in which women attempted to minimize their role was to compare their behaviors to others. This comparison served to demonstrate that their behavior was not as aggressive as that of others.

Finally, women discussed feeling regret for having behaved in a relationally aggressive manner. Though the women did express regret, their regret was generally paired with blaming the victim. For example, participants acknowledged that they felt bad for behaving as they did even though the target was crazy.

Verbal Aggression

Defining Verbal Aggression

Verbal aggression is defined as communication that attacks an individual’s self-concept intending to create psychological pain. If you have ever had an argument and been called a name or been putdown, then you have been the target of verbal aggression.40 Verbal aggression is considered a destructive form of communication. Because verbal aggression is regarded as a negative form of communication, researchers have worked to determine characteristics that may increase the likelihood of individuals behaving in an aggressive manner. Researchers found that six dimensions of self-esteem (defensive self-enhancement, moral self-approval, lovability, likability, self-control, and identity integration) were significantly and negatively related to trait verbal aggressiveness.41 History of familial verbal aggression was positively associated with the perceived acceptability of verbal aggression against a romantic partner, and this association was stronger for individuals with higher behavioral inhibition system scores. Individuals with high behavioral inhibition are more likely to be anxious and react nervously when facing punishment. In other words, people who have been exposed to verbal aggression are more likely to find it acceptable to engage in verbal aggression against a relational partner, especially when the individual also scores high in behavioral inhibition. Also, individuals who score high in behavioral inhibition are more likely to find verbal aggression to be acceptable regardless of whether they have been exposed to verbal aggression in the past.42

Perceptions of Verbal Aggression

If your parents/guardians ever told you that it wasn’t what you said, it was the way you said it, then they were offering you sage advice. Research shows that when engaged in interpersonal disputes, smaller amounts of verbal aggression were perceived when the affirming communicator style (relaxed, friendly, and attentive) was used.43 Thus the communicator’s style of communication impacted the perception of the message. Table 14.1 provides a list of the ten most common examples of verbally aggressive messages.44

Type of Message Example
Character Attacks You’re a lying jerk!
Competence Attacks You’re too stupid to manage our finances.
Background Attacks You don’t even have a college degree!
Physical Appearance You are as fat as a pig!
Maledictions I wish you were dead.
Teasing Your hair color makes you look like a clown.
Ridicule Your nose looks like a beak.
Threats I’ll leave you and you won’t have a dime to your name.
Swearing Go to _____!
Nonverbal Emblems shaking fists, “flipping off”

Table 14.1 Verbally Aggressive Messages


Bullying is a form of communication in which an aggressive individual targets an individual who is perceived to be weaker. Bullying is a form of aggressive behavior in which a person of greater power attempts to inflict harm or discomfort on individuals. This definition also indicates that the behavior is repeated over time.45 For example, a child might call his friend an idiot on the playground one day. A single incident of name-calling would not be considered bullying, but if it happened day after day, then the name-calling would be considered bullying. You may have been bullied or known someone who was bullied. It is also possible that you bullied someone. Bullies use their authority, size or power to create fear in others. Bullying is known to have negative consequences, such as dropping out of school. It was found that the actions of bullies leave their victims feeling helpless, anxious, and depressed.46 Other researchers report three types of bullying: physical, verbal, and relational. 47

Physical Bullying

Physical bullying involves hitting, kicking, pulling hair, strapping a female’s bra strap or giving a “wedgie.” Witnesses easily observe this type of bully. You may recall being the victim of these behaviors, engaging in these behaviors, or watching others engage in these behaviors. Physical bullying can be prevented by observers, such as teachers or even peers. There are several Public Service Campaigns directed toward bystanders to let the bystander know that they can help prevent or stop bullying. However, bullies may corner their victims in a more private setting, knowing that the weaker individual will not be able to defend themselves.

Relational Bullying

The second type of bullying is indirect or relational bullying. This form of bullying is the manipulation of social relationships to inflict hurt upon another individual.48 This type of bullying includes either withholding friendship or excluding. Relational bullying often increases as children age because physical bullying decreases. Relational bullying is particularly problematic because it is very painful for victims, but cannot be readily observed. One might wonder what a teacher or parent/guardian might do when two friends suddenly begin to exclude a third friend. The rejection is so painful, but it seems nearly impossible to require adolescents to continue liking and including the rejected child. An interesting finding in relation to this type of bullying is that females are more likely to engage in this form of bullying.49

Verbal Bullying

The third type of bullying is verbal bullying and includes threats, degrading comments, teasing, name-calling, putdown, or sarcastic comments.50 This form of bullying is easily observed as well and can be prevented by authorities and peers. The effects of this form of bullying are similar to the impact of physical and relational bullying.

the words depression, low self-esteem, poor attendance, attempted suicide, loss of concentration, eating disorders around two crouched individuals.
Figure 14.6 Consequences of Bullying

The negative consequences of childhood bullying have driven communication scholars to develop educational tools to provide to teachers and other authority figures. Researchers developed a model to assist teachers in discerning playful, prosocial teasing from destructive bullying.51 The Teasing Totter Model outlines behaviors that range from prosocial teasing to bullying and offers recommendations for responding to each. Teasing in a prosocial manner is usually done among friends, laughter is involved and even affection. Bullying, on the other hand, is a repeated negative behavior in which the victim is visibly distressed. There is a clear power difference in size, age, or ability.


The inherent ease of using the Internet and communicating via the Internet has created an excellent and convenient venue for bullying. Cyberbullying is intentional harm inflicted through the medium of electronics that is repeated over time.52 Cyberbullying affects victims academically and socially with 20% of victims reporting Internet avoidance.53 When using electronic communication technologies, young people are exposed to interpersonal violence, social aggression, harassment, and mistreatment.54 Cyberbullying includes behaviors such as flaming, which involves posting provocative or abusive posts, and outing where personal information is posted.55 Cyberbullying is so prevalent that social media such as Facebook have policies to help users avoid this phenomenon. Consider how often you engage with your peers through social media versus your counterparts who were teenagers/young adults in the 1980s. Opportunities for communicating with peers were limited to FtF or via landline phones. Thus opportunities for bullying could be confined to school or landline phones such that bullying was limited to eight hour school days and phone calls that could be ended immediately upon becoming uncomfortable. Now, there is no end to when bullying can take place. Cyberbullying can take place 24/7, and the only way to avoid it is to cut off a major from of staying connected with one’s world via cell phone or Internet. Researchers are just now beginning to understand the impact of cyberbullying, and some speculate that cyberbullying is worse than traditional bullying, but research shows mixed results on this assertion.

Discovering Self-Concept – Who are you?

What should I do if I’m being bullied, harassed or attacked by someone on Facebook?

Facebook offers these tools to help you deal with bullying and harassment. Depending on the seriousness of the situation:

  • Unfriend — Only your Facebook friends can contact you through Facebook chat or post messages on your Timeline.
  • Block — This will prevent the person from starting chats and messages with you, adding you as a friend and viewing things you share on your Timeline.
  • Report the person or any abusive things they post.
  • The best protection against bullying is to learn how to recognize it and how to stop it. Here are some tips about what you should — and shouldn’t — do:
  • Don’t respond. Typically, bullies want to get a response — don’t give them one.
  • Don’t keep it a secret. Use Facebook’s Trusted Friend tool to send a copy of the abusive content to someone you trust who can help you deal with the bullying. This will also generate a report to Facebook.
  • Document and save. If the attacks persist, you may need to report the activity to an ISP and they will want to see the messages.

Visit Facebook’s Family Safety Center for more information, tools and resources.

Research Spotlight


In 2013, Anke Görzig and Kjartan Ólafsson set out to determine what makes a bully a cyberbully. They recruited 1,000 Internet-using children aged 9–16 in 25 European countries. The researchers also interviewed at least one of the children’s parents for the study. The total sample size was 25,142.

The questionnaire the researchers used was translated into 25 different languages. The interviews took place in the children’s home. Any sensitive questions were asked on a private questionnaire. As you can see, this project was a massive undertaking.

Of the 25,142 participants, 2,821 admitted to engaging in behaviors either online or FtF that could be labeled as bullying.

The researchers found that “cyberbullies (all else being equal) were at least four times as likely to engage in risky online activities and twice as likely to spend more time online as well as finding it easier to be themselves online.”56 Furthermore, the researchers found that girls were more likely to engage in cyberbullying than FtF bullying when compared to their male counterparts.

Görzig, A., & Ólafsson, K. (2013). What makes a bully a cyberbully? Unravelling the characteristics of cyberbullies across 25 European countries. Journal of Children & Media, 7(1), 9-27.

Workplace Bullying Typology

Though it is hard to imagine among adults, bullying continues in the work environment. Bully can lead to loss of employment, poor attendance and depression. There are several typologies of bullying. In research conducted with nurses, a typology of bullying was created that is particularly comprehensive.57 The typology of these researchers includes the bullying behavior and related tactics. Workplace bullying behaviors involve those seen in Table 14.2. As you can see, workplace bullying behaviors involve a wide range of tactics.

Behaviors Tactics
Isolation and exclusion Being ignored
Being excluded from conversation
Being isolated from supportive peers
Being excluded from activities
Intimidation and threats Raised voices or raised hands
Being stared at, watched and followed
Tampering with or destroying personal belongings
Compromising or obstructing patient care
Verbal threats Being singled out, scrutinized and monitored
Being yelled at or verbally abused
Being stood over, pushed or shoved
Belittlement and humiliation
Verbal put-downs, insults or humiliation
Spreading gossip
Being given a denigrating nickname
Blamed, made to feel stupid or incompetent
Suggestions of madness and mental instability
Mistakes highlighted publicly
Damaging professional identity Public denigration of ability or achievements
Questioning skills and ability
Being given demeaning work
Unsubstantiated negative performance claims
Spreading rumors, slander, and character slurs
Questioning competence or credentials
Limiting career opportunities Denial of opportunities that lead to promotion
Being overlooked for promotion
Excluded from committees and activities
Exclusion from educational opportunities
Rostered to erode specialist skills
Obstructing work or making work-life difficult Relocation to make job difficult
Removal of administrative support
Excluded from routine information
Work organized to isolate
Removal of necessary equipment
Given excessive or unreasonable workload
Sabotaging or hampering work
Varying targets and deadlines
Excessive scrutiny of work
Denial of due process and natural justice Denial of due process in meetings
Denial of meal breaks
Compiling unsubstantiated written records
Denial of sick, study or conference leave
Unfair rostering practices
Economic sanctions
Rostering to lower-paid shift work
Limiting the opportunity to work
Dismissal from position
Reclassifying position to lower status

Table 14.2 Bullying in the Workplace: Behaviors and Tactics

Communicating Effectively

Relationships involve work! Media portrays relationships as romantic endeavors, and the darker side of relationships remains buried. In real-life, individuals may be inclined to hide relationship difficulties, which further perpetuates the notion that relationships simply happen and that everyone lives happily ever after.

Communicating Anger

Research repeatedly demonstrates that how emotion is communicated will affect the outcome of the communication situation. Relationship partners are more satisfied when positive emotions are communicated rather than negative emotions. Four forms of anger expression have been identified.58 The four forms of anger expression range from direct and nonthreatening to avoidance and denial of angry feelings. Anger expression is more productive when the emotion is communicated directly and in a nonthreatening manner. In most circumstances, direct communication is more constructive.

Form of Expression Explanation of Form
Assertion Direct statements, nonthreatening, explaining anger
Aggression Direct and threatening, may involve criticism
Passive Aggression Indirectly communicate negative affect in a destructive manner – “the silent treatment”
Avoidance Avoiding the issue, denying angry feelings, pretending not to feel anything

Table 14.3 Forms of Anger Expression

Affirming Communicator Style

When communicating with one’s relational partner, adopting an affirming communicator style may lead to positive outcomes. The affirming communicator style was initially conceptualized to involve friendly, relaxed, and attentive behaviors.59 The friendly communicator style involves encouraging others, acknowledging others’ contributions, and being tactful in communication with others. The relaxed style involves being calm and collected while avoiding nervous mannerisms that indicate that one is tense. Being attentive involves listening carefully to others and demonstrating an empathic approach to others. Research has demonstrated that the affirming communicator style causes receivers to perceive that there is less verbal aggression.60


One final aspect of the dark side of interpersonal communication to be considered is deceptive communication. We are all familiar with the concept of lying and deception. We are taught from a young age that we should not lie, but we often witness the very people instructing us not to lie engaging in “little white lies” or socially acceptable lies. As communication scholars, we must distinguish between a lie that is told for the benefit of the receiver and a lie that is told with more malicious intent. Lies told with more malicious intent are referred to as deception and are the focus of this section. Judee Burgoon and David Buller define deception as, ‘‘a deliberate act perpetuated by a sender to engender in a receiver beliefs contrary to what the sender believes is true to put the receiver at a disadvantage.”61 Deceptive communication can exist in any type of relationship and in any context. H. Dan O’Hair and Michael Cody discuss deception as a common message strategy that is used in a manner similar to other forms of communication.62 They state that deception is often purposeful, goal-directed, and can be used as a relational control device. We will begin our discussion of deception by exploring three types of deception. This discussion will be followed by exploring the work of Jennifer Guthrie and Adrianne Kunkel, who discussed why romantic partners use deception and how often.63

Types of Deception

Three types of deception are discussed in the field of communication: falsification, concealment, and equivocation.64 Falsification is when a source deliberately presents information that is false or fraudulent. For example, the source of deception may state, “I did not drink when I went out last night,” even though the source did drink. Researchers have found that falsification is the most common form of deception.

Concealment is another form of deception in which the source deliberately withholds information. For example, if two partners are living in two different states and one partner is offered a job in the same state as the other partner, but the job offer is not revealed to the other partner, then concealment has occurred. Consider the consequences of concealment in this situation. By failing to reveal the job offer, the source is preventing the receiver from operating with all of the known facts. For example, a decision to remain in a long-distance relationship might be affected if one partner is not willing to take a job that will mean living in the same state.

The third form of deception is referred to as equivocation. This form of deception represents a moral grey area for some because some see equivocation as a clear lie. Equivocation is a statement that could be interpreted as having more than one meaning. For example, you ask your romantic partner if she talked to her ex-boyfriend last night, and she says, “no, I didn’t talk to him,” but she did text with him, then an equivocation has occurred. Technically, the statement, “I did not talk to him” is true, but only technically because communication did occur in a different form. Consider how the answer may have been changed if the question was, “Did you communicate with your ex-boyfriend last night?” Now that we have discussed what deception is and several types of deception, we can examine how deception functions in romantic relationships.

Lies in Romantic Relationships

Jennifer Guthrie and Adrianne Kunkel explored the reasons why romantic partners engage in deception in their article titled “Tell Me Sweet (And Not-So-Sweet) Little Lies: Deception in Romantic Relationships.”65 The researchers asked 67 college students to record their deceptive communication in diaries for seven days. At the end of seven days, the students returned their diaries. The researchers counted the deceptive communication acts in all of the diaries and determined that the 67 students produced 327 deceptive acts in a seven-day period. The results of this part of their study showed that 147 of the deceptive acts were lies, 61 were exaggerations, half-truths accounted for 56 of the deceptive acts, 35 of the deceptive acts were diversionary responses, 26 were secrets, and two uses of deception were not able to be categorized due to lack of detail in the diary. On average, each participant engaged in 4.88 deceptive acts in seven days.

In addition to studying how often participants lied, Guthrie and Kunkel66 were interested in why the students lied. The students provided 334 reasons for the 327 deceptive acts that they reported. The researchers were able to place the 334 reasons into six overarching motives for lying: engaging in relational maintenance, managing face needs, negotiating dialectical tensions, establishing relational control, continuing previous deception, and unknown. In the table that follows, each motive for deception is broken down further.

Overarching Motives Individual Motives
Managing Face Needs Supporting Positive Face
Supporting own and/or partner’s positive face (protecting partner’s feelings and self-presentation)
Supporting Negative Face
Supporting own and=or partner’s negative face (avoiding unwanted activities and=or imposition)
Negotiating Dialectical Tensions Balancing Autonomy/Connection
Balancing the need for independence versus the need for togetherness
Balancing Openness/Closedness
Balancing the need for open communication versus the need for privacy
Balancing Novelty/Predictability
Balancing the need for spontaneity versus the need for routine or expected behaviors
Establishing Relational Control Acting Coercive
Ensuring partner behaves or feels how partner wants them to
Continuing Previous Deception Participants indicated that they had lied about something in the past and the particular act of deception was a way of continuing or maintaining the lie
Unknown Participants reported that they could not identify their motives for using deception

Table 14.4. Deceptive Acts

Through this exploration of the frequency of lies and motives for doing so, Guthrie and Kunkel uncovered an important finding. The students in the study responded positively to examining their deceptive acts. They also discovered that students held inaccurate perceptions of their use of deception and either under-reported or over-reported how often they engaged in deception. The researchers concluded that reflecting upon deception will allow individuals to understand how deception impacts relationships in both positive and negative ways. Awareness seems to be key to managing deception in romantic relationships.

Domestic Violence or Intimate Partner Violence

“Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, and/or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It includes physical violence, sexual violence, threats, and emotional/psychological abuse.”67 The Center for Disease Control (CDC) expands upon this definition and labels domestic violence as “intimate partner violence.”68 These include sexual violence, stalking, physical violence, and psychological aggression. The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Vioence Survey (NISVS), an intimate partner is described as a romantic or sexual partner and includes spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, people with whom they dated, were seeing, or “hooked up.”

According to the NISVS 2015 Data Brief, one in three were victims of contact sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime.69 One in four (30 million) women and one in ten (12.1 million) men reported intimate partner violence-related impact which includes being fearful, concerned for safety, injury, need for medical care, needed help from law enforcement, missed at least one day of work, missed at least one day of school, any post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, need for housing services, need for victim advocate services, need for legal services and contacting a crisis hotline.

Sexual violence is a specific form of domestic violence that may be experienced by women and men and includes rape, which can consist of being forcibly penetrated (or penetrating) someone else, sexual coercion, and unwanted sexual contact.70

The CDC considers an individual to be a stalking victim if they “experienced multiple stalking tactics or a single stalking tactic multiple times by the same perpetrator and felt very fearful, or believed that they or someone close to them would be harmed or killed as a result of the perpetrator’s behavior.”71

The following behaviors are considered to be stalking by the CDC:

  • Unwanted phone calls, voice or text messages, hang-ups
  • Unwanted emails, instant messages, messages through social media
  • Unwanted cards, letters, flowers, or presents
  • Watching or following from a distance, spying with a listening device, camera, or global positioning system (GPS)
  • Approaching or showing up in places, such as the victim’s home, workplace, or school when it was unwanted
  • Leaving strange or potentially threatening items for the victim to find
  • Sneaking into the victim’s home or car and doing things to scare the victim or let the victim know the perpetrator had been there
  • In follow-up questions, respondents who were identified as possible stalking victims were asked about their experiences with two additional tactics:
  • Damaged personal property or belongings, such as in their home or car
  • Made threats of physical harm

Sally Fiona Kelly explored aggression concerning violent sentiments.72 In her study, she sought to understand why individuals engaged in violent behavior. Her study demonstrates that individuals who have committed violent acts in a relationship believe violence is acceptable and are prepared to use violence. This finding suggests that one approach to reducing violence is to focus on changing beliefs and thoughts associated with violence. Strategic communication scholars can create campaigns to target beliefs related to violence. In a similar study, participants predicted that women would become more aggressive while watching videos of males and females in conflict. When watching videos of “fighting” couples, males predicted the conflict would lead to increasing levels of aggression more often than females. Male participants also recommended the use of more aggressive behaviors during conflict.73 Thus this study underscores the change perceptions of the acceptability of aggressive behavior. This same study assessed participant’s perceptions of the likelihood of conciliatory strategies on the part of the individuals in fights. Participants in the study believe the chance of forgiveness and resolution decreased as conflict increase. In light of this finding, relational partners should apologize and forgive earlier in conflict to reduce escalation that may increase the chance of violence.

Being Mindful

Gaining an awareness of destructive communication behaviors in relationships may help avoid the emotional consequences of destructive communication as well as the loss of a relationship. Individuals engage in information seeking strategies to gain insight into the current state-of-the-relationship. As discussed earlier in this chapter, one such strategy is secret testing. This strategy ranges from the not so secretive “direct” secret test to the entrapping “triangle test.” Other secret tests involve endurance, indirect suggestions, public presentation, separation, and third-party testing. Although secret tests may allow relationship partners to understand their relationship through subtle and sometimes overt information seeking, the direct approach seems to be the one that relationship partners use when they wish to maintain the relationship.

Relational aggression is a harmful form of behavior that serves to either withhold friendship or manipulate the social relationships of another individual. This form of behavior is particularly prevalent among females and begins in early childhood and continues into the workplace. The consequences of relational aggression are emotional pain and withdrawal.

Verbal aggression is a communication strategy in which the self-concept is attacked rather than arguing about the issues of a controversial topic. The impact of verbal aggression can be lessened if the communicator used and affirming style of communication. Bullying is similar to verbal aggression and relational aggression. Bullying is a destructive form of communication in which the aggressor targets an individual who is weaker either in strength, size, or ability. The effects of bullying can range from relatively mild (hurt feelings) to devastating (successful suicide attempts).

One cannot wholly escape the possibility of becoming a victim of the darker side of communication. Still, individuals can work to avoid engaging in the behaviors associated with the dark side of communication. To do so, consider adopting an affirming style of communication, focusing on the topic during arguments rather than the self-concept of others, and working to prevent bullying when it is observed in others. Also, relational aggression can be avoided by refusing to engage in the behavior and refusing to participate when others are doing so. In particular, we should not simply accept that relational aggression is a natural occurrence among females. Finally, talk with your partner about their beliefs concerning aggressive behavior and violence to make sure your partner does not believe violence is an acceptable means of dealing with conflict.

Key Takeaways

  • Relational Aggression is a hurtful form of communication which manipulates relationships and social standing.
  • The consequences of bullying range from lowered self-esteem to suicide attempts, which may or may not be successful.
  • Verbal aggression attacks the self-concept of others rather than attacking an issue.
  • Intimate partner violence is pervasive with male and female victims.
  • Know your partner’s beliefs about the acceptability of aggression and violence.
  • There are several ways individuals can attempt to diffuse and downplay the effects of the dark side of interpersonal communication. First, people can learn how to communicate anger effectively. Second, people can develop an affirming communicator style. Lastly, people can learn how to be mindful of their own communicative behavior.


  • Relational aggression results in hurt and lowered self-esteem. Design a plan to help a child who may experience or enact relational aggression.
  • Verbal aggression is a negative form of communication in which the self-concept of another is attacked. Describe a situation in which you engaged in verbal aggression. How will you avoid verbal aggression in future interactions? If you are the target of verbal aggression, how will you approach the perpetrator of this behavior?
  • Once entering the workplace, you may become a manager of people, or you may already manage people. How will you help your colleagues and subordinates avoid bullying? If you discover that bullying has occurred, what will you do to correct the situation?

Key Terms


Form of aggressive behavior in which a person of greater power attempts to inflict harm or discomfort on individuals and the behavior is repeated over time.

confrontational behaviors

Specific behaviors associated with confrontation or direct behaviors, involves name-calling, cruel teasing, ridicule, and verbal rejection directed at the target.


The least secretive of the strategies and involves asking the relational partner about his/her feelings toward the relationship and commitment to the relationship. Alternatively, an individual might disclose their feelings about the relationship with the hope that the relationship partner will reciprocate.

endurance test

Form of secret testing in which the partner is tested by engaging in actions that the partner might perceive to be a cost in the relationship.

indirect suggestions

Joking or hinting about more serious stages of a relationships such as marriage or having children.

intimate partner violence

Includes physical violence, sexual violence, stalking, and psychological aggression.

internet characteristics

Internet characteristic that influence Internet relationships such as speed, reach, interactivity, and anonymity.

internet infidelity

Sexual energy of any sort—thoughts, feelings, and behaviors—outside of a committed sexual relationship in such a way that it damages the relationship, and pretending that this drain in energy will affect neither one’s partner nor the relationship as long as it remains undiscovered.

nonconfrontational behaviors

Behaviors include spreading rumors, gossiping, and social manipulation.

physical bullying

Involves hitting, kicking, pulling hair, strapping a female’s bra strap or giving a “wedgie.”

presenting the relationship to outsiders

Form of secret testing in which the partner publicly declares their relationship status to gauge a partner’s response.

reasons for relational aggression

Women’s explanations for relational aggression: (a) girls will be girls; (b) venting; (c) blaming the victim; (d) minimizing their role; and (e) regret

relational aggression

Behaviors that harm others. Harm is created through damaging social relationship or feelings of acceptance.

relational bullying

The manipulation of social relationships to inflict hurt upon another individual.

secret tests

Indirect strategies individuals use to assess the state of their relationship.

separation test

Creating physical distance to test the strength of the relationship.

third-party testing

Involving a third party such as friend or family to gain insight into the relationship.

triangle test

Manipulating a third party to gain information about the nature of the relationship.

types of workplace bullying

Workplace bullying involves isolation and exclusion, intimidation and threats, verbal threats, damaging professional identity, limiting career opportunities, obstructing work or making work-life difficult, and denial of due process and natural justice.

verbal bullying

Includes threats, degrading comments, teasing, name-calling, putdown or sarcastic comments

Chapter Wrap-Up

“But beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression…the dark side of the Force are they, easily they flow… If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny. Consume you, it will…” ―Yoda

The concept of “the dark side” stems from the struggle between good and evil put forth by George Lucas in Star Wars back in 1977. The metaphor of “the dark side” has been used by communication scholars to look at a range of interpersonal relationship behaviors that are highly problematic and destructive. We started this chapter by examining a few destructive interpersonal behaviors: secret testing, Internet infidelity, and hurtful messages. We then switched our focus to the highly destructive world of interpersonal aggression. We looked at both how interpersonal relationships can be both verbally and physically destructive. If you find yourself in a verbally or physically destructive interpersonal relationship, please seek help. No one deserves to be belittled, demeaned, or assaulted.

14.3 Chapter Exercises

Real-World Case Study

Carrie’s daughter, Diana, had only been at Birmingham School Junior High School a few months when she formed a friendship with three girls: Lisa, Lucy, and Kristen. The girls were great friends, and spent a significant amount of time on the phone and at the mall on the weekends. The girls graduated from 8th grade and moved on to high school. During their freshman year, Diana took a disliking to Lisa and began campaigning against her. At some point, Diana decided that the group should no longer include Lisa. When spending the night with Kristen, Diana asked Kristen to call Lisa to get her to talk about her behind her back. She planned to confront Lisa if she talked about her. She plotted with Lucy and Kristen to get them to ignore Lisa when she came to sit with them at lunch. In a final act to eradicate Lisa from the group, she coaxed Lucy into writing a note Kristen to say that she didn’t want to be friends with Lisa anymore. The plan was for Diana to “find” the note and then give it to Lisa so that she could see how Kristen and Lucy felt about her. The girls moved forward with their plan to write the note and give it to Lisa. After Lisa received the note, she went to Kristen to find out what was going on. She was devastated and crying. Kristen felt terrible for her, but she didn’t betray her friendship with Diana. Later, Lisa’s mom called Carrie to talk about the situation and determine what could be done.

  1. What term describes the behavior demonstrated by the girls in the scenario?
  2. Is it reasonable to expect Kristen and Lucy to stand up to Diana?
  3. What, in your opinion, caused Diana to exclude Lisa?
  4. When Carrie found out about her daughter’s behavior, what was her responsibility?
  5. Was it acceptable for Lisa’s mom to call Carrie?
  6. What would you do in this situation?

End-of-Chapter Assessment

  1. Which form of secret test involves physical distance?
    1. endurance
    2. separation
    3. third party
    4. public presentation
    5. triangle test
  2. Verbal aggression is defined as
    1. attacking the self-concept of others
    2. attacking the topic in an argument
    3. manipulating social relationships of others
    4. using one’s power to intimidate others
    5. isolating the target of communication
  3. Relational aggression is best defined as
    1. manipulating the social relationships of others
    2. attacking the self-concept of others
    3. attacking the topic in an argument
    4. using one’s power to intimidate others
    5. isolating the target
  4. Which of the following is not a form of workplace bullying?
    1. Damaging professional standing
    2. Limiting the ability to complete work
    3. Obstructing due process
    4. Verbal threats
    5. Providing counseling through human resources upon reports of bullying
  5. Which of the following is not included in playful teasing?
    1. Parties are Friends
    2. Repeated occurrences of the same behavior
    3. Signs of affection
    4. Parties smile and laugh
    5. Parties are using teasing to broach difficult topics


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