Catherine's Career Corner

April 26th, 2011
How to Deal with a Bully at Work: 7 Tips

  • Apr 26, 2011
  • Catherine Adenle
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Want to know how to deal with a bully at work? Explore these 7 tips to know how to deal with a bully at work. It is important that you know how to deal with a bully at work because bullies are part of the workplace. Although, most adults are civilized at work and they make up the majority of the work population, unfortunately,  bullies are at work too and are in the minority in the workplace, so because they still exist, bullying exists. Regardless, it is imperative that you know how to deal with a bully at work.  

How to deal with a bully at workBy Catherine Adenle

Whether you feel bullied or not, it is important to know how to deal with a bully at work. I am sure that you will agree with me that bullying is a delicate situation for anyone to deal with whenever it rears its ugly head anywhere. When bullying happens, it is a situation that the person being bullied must handle with care. As a professional, it is important that you know how to deal with a bully at work.

To know how to deal with a bully at work, first, let’s start by defining the word, ‘bullying.’

What’s bullying?

Bullying as I see it is a deliberate attempt to belittle, control or undermine someone. It typically happens over a prolonged period of time and it can severely damage anyone’s self esteem and confidence. Bullying can be obvious or it can be subtle. It can take place in private or in front of others. Also, the circumstances can vary greatly from person to person. However, bullying is a problem that causes a lot of stress to the person being bullied.

When you find yourself the victim of one of the few bullies in your workplace, you have to do something about it. Why? Well, if you spend more hours at work than you spend at home or anywhere, there is no reason to feel abused or feel like you are always standing on egg shells at work. Knowing how to deal with a bully at work will greatly allow you to enjoy your work and be part of a team.

Bully’s behaviour

A bully will usually combine various types of behaviour. Following are some of the typical types of behaviour that occur when someone is bullying you:

Obvious bullying might consist of:

  • labelling you in front of the others
  • calling you names
  • hauling abuse at you or ridiculing you directly and openly
  • being sarcastic towards you or your ideas
  • damaging your reputation at any given opportunity
  • using physical or verbal violence towards you
  • instant rages over trivial matters
  • humiliating you in front of colleagues
  • constantly undervaluing your efforts
  • persistently criticising you
  • blaming you whenever things go wrong.

Bullying can sometimes be unconscious. The bully may be unaware of their actions or the full effects of their behaviour. On the other hand, a bully that is your manager may be aware of causing you offence, but they may see it as strong management or positive hands-on supervision.

The bully hides his or her own inadequacies, while making out that other people are at fault. If you are being bullied, perhaps the bully has seen you as more capable, successful, popular, or attractive than they are.

It’s not your fault, it’s them.

Although it is important that you know how to deal with a bully at work, there is no reason for bullying to occur at work, home, school or anywhere. Remember, you don’t deserve to be bullied, because no one does. Do not in any way think that you caused the bullying. Bullies are people with issues of their own and they feel a great need to control other people, either openly or indirectly. Usually, at work, bullies are in positions of authority, they could be managers or supervisors. Their actions may be driven by envy, fear of inadequacy and insecurity about their own competence, and the bullying behaviour may emerge in their desire to keep any possible rivals down.

To be honest, bullying is essentially cowardly. The bully hides his or her own inadequacies, while making out that other people are at fault. If you are being bullied, perhaps the bully has seen you as more capable, successful, popular, or attractive than they are. In most cases, the targets of bullying are usually above average performers, much more efficient and better at what they do than the bully. Less common reasons for bullying include race, vulnerability, timidity, gender or disability.

Remember, you are not alone.

The good news is that you are not alone and bullies exist in all workplaces and offices. For instance, the Zogby study, in conjunction with the Workplace Bullying and Trauma Institute (WBTI), found that:

  • 45% of Americans have not experienced or witnessed bullying, but 37% have been bullied; 12% have witnessed bullying.
  • Bosses comprise 72% of bullies.
  • More men (60%) are bullies, but women bullies target other women (71%).
  • 62% of employers ignore the problem; 40% of employees targeted by a bully never tell their employer.
  • 45% of people targeted by a bully experience stress-related health problems including debilitating anxiety, panic attacks, and clinical depression (39%).

Other surveys (by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, TUC, UMIST, Staffordshire University Business School) suggest that bullying is happening to between 3 and 14 million employees in the UK, and from extensive feedback, pro rata in other countries. See case histories for the similarities between your case and those of others.

How do you know if you are being bullied?

For you to know how to deal with a bully at work, you must know when you are being bullied. If you regularly try and avoid a particular person at work, if you regularly feel intimidated by them, afraid to work near them or you get yelled at, criticised, put down, insulted or frowned upon by them, then, you might be at the receiving end of bullying.

Am I working with a bully?

You may be working with a bully if your mistakes are constantly brought up or if your work is sabotaged. If you wake up in the mornings and dread going to work, you may have a bully as a co-worker or boss. If you feel as described above, these are the actions to take to defeat the bully. See Are You Being Bullied at Work?
12 Tell-tale Signs and What to Do About It
. If you know the tell-tale signs of bullying, then be sure to know how to deal with a bully at work.

7 Tips on how to deal with a bully at work:

1. First, assess the situation
When it comes to feeling bullied, you have to trust your instincts. If you feel bullied, then, you are probably a victim. Keep a close eye on what is happening around the situation between you and the person in question.

  • Is everyone afraid of the person or is it just you?
  • Has the person in question got the reputation for bullying other co-workers?
  • Are others experiencing the same situation with the perceived bully?

If others are experiencing this bullying behaviour and it is not just you then, get together with them and find out how they feel and what the next step should be. There’s power in numbers. If it is just you, go ahead and do something about the situation.

See How to handle a workplace bully

 2. Don’t ignore the situation

Don’t think ignoring the situation will make it go away. Guess what, it is not going to stop the bully. As a matter of fact, you are giving the bully more power by not addressing the situation. There is no need to add fuel to the perceived fire power that the bully has or ignited. So, evaluate the situation carefully.

You cannot ignore bullying; you should not allow yourself to be a victim but rather try and be victorious. If you are being bullied, discuss the situation with a trusted manager at work, contact Human Resources (HR) support manager, a trusted colleagues, speak to your mentor or anyone closest to you. You need to confide in someone so that they are aware and can look out for you.

3. Document the bully’s actions

This is an important aspect of how to deal with a bully at work – any time you experience a bullying behaviour, document the date, time, the name of person(s) present and details of the incident. Note names down if other employees witnessed the incident. Keep a log of every little thing – insults, curses, what’s said, how it’s said and any other back stabbing moves made. If when you eventually seek help from HR, documentation of the bully’s impact on you, the business results and success, gives the HR information to work with on your behalf.

Remember, you cannot work at your best if you are under a lot of stress as a result of bullying. The bully is not just hurting your feelings; the bully is also sabotaging business success. If bullying occurs in an email or in any correspondence, keep the electronic e-mail and file a hard copy.

“If a donkey kicks you and you kick back, you are both donkeys!”

4. Don’t play their game

An African proverb says, “If a donkey kicks you and you kick back, you are both donkeys!” It’s easy to let someone push your buttons and for you to fly off the handle at them. However, you should ensure that this doesn’t happen. You really don’t want to stoop to their level. In a professional environment, you have to show respect for your work and your colleagues. Try your best to ignore the bully and their actions. Don’t be baited for any reasons, you don’t want them to set you up. Good chances are that the bully is looking for a reaction from you. When they don’t get one, they may eventually relent and stop.

5. Set limits and confront the bully

Remember that you could respectively set limits on what you will tolerate and exercise your right to tell the bully to stop the behaviour.

Bullies are “only effective when they’re on solid ground. So, you need to shake their solid ground so that they take notice.

Confronting a bully may be scary and hard. But, as Jonathan Littman and Marc Hershon suggest in I Hate People, bullies are “only effective when they’re on solid ground. So, you need to shake their solid ground so that they take notice.

It could be easier to convey your message better if you find the time to practise the steps with a friend so that you are more in control and comfortable responding when the bully attacks.

  • Inform the bully that you want to speak to them in private but with a trusted third party present.
  • Calmly illustrate the behaviour you see the bully exhibiting –describe what you see precisely. For instance, you can say, ‘You regularly sneak up and lean over my cubicle, yell my name out aloud, and read what’s on my screen aloud. Twice, you called me a loser in the middle of the office.’
  • Tell the bully exactly how their actions are impacting your work – I am not comfortable in my cubicle, I always have to look up, your actions make me feel as if I need to hide from you and also hide what is on my screen, or change the position of my screen.
  • Tell the bully what behaviours you will not put up with in the future – In the future, I would appreciate it if you don’t sneak up and lean on my cubicle unless you ask me first. My cubicle is my private work space and your actions make me uncomfortable there. In addition, I will not tolerate any name calling from you.
  • Stick with your statement and if the bully tries to violate your space, don’t move, rather, stand your ground, and maintain eye contact and confront if necessary.

By making statements about the bully’s conduct directly to the bully, you’re putting them on notice. Keep up your game, don’t lose your temper or composure, but calmly let them know that you are serious about not allowing them to walk all over you. By the second or third attempt, the bully will know that their game is up and change their bullying behaviour. You can address the bullying behaviour of a bully towards you in your workplace with persistence and personal courage.

Deal with a bully at work

This confrontational approach works in the middle of the office as well. If the bully is yelling abuse at you, in the presence of everyone, be firm and ask them to stop right there in front of everyone. You can neutralize the bully’s behaviour and regain your clash-free workplace.

See How to confront a bully

6. Put the bully on blast and inform trusted senior authorities

If after you have confronted the bully you haven’t noticed a change, then, it is time for the next step. If you are sure that you’ve done all you feel you can do, take the issue to your Human Resources Manager. Remember to take your documentation with you and be sure to address the issue from a work perspective. Elaborate on how the behaviour is affecting your work. Inform them of how important the issue is and must be sorted out, stressing your desire to continue working in a comfortable, safe environment.

7. Know when to have another plan

Once you’ve asked for help and nothing changes, you may need to consider the possibility of leaving or changing departments if you work in a big organisation. It is important that you think of yourself first. It’s not worth it to stay in a negative environment just to prove a point. If the bullying is causing you a lot of stress, you need to seek professional help. There are also legal steps you can take to help you. Investigate your options thoroughly before making any decisions. And always remember that you deserve a friendly, peaceful environment to work in just like we all do.

 

For more information on bullying, see: 10 Tips on Dealing with Female Bullies at Work and See Dr Suzan’s Guide to Surviving the Bully at Work.

See Infographic: How to Deal with a Bully at Work

Follow @catherineadenle

Now that you have explored 7 tips on how to deal with a bully at work, let’s hear from you about any bullying experience that you have had or witnessed and it was dealt with or how you dealt with it. Leave your comments below.

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Founder, Catherine's Career Corner. The career site empowering and inspiring ambitious candidates of all ages and professions to thrive and work smarter on their careers.

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21 thoughts on “How to Deal with a Bully at Work: 7 Tips

  1. Thank you for writing an article about bullying in the workplace. That is why I read your blog.
    Managers and some people in positions of authority usually pretend as if there is no such thing as bullying in exisistence in their organisations, so they turn a blind eye.
    We should all (staff and managers all over the world) in organisations deal with bullying behaviours at work, that is the only way to stamp out bullying in the work place. BTW, the blog is looking good.
    JJ, NY

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  2. Great article, thanks. I will confront the bully in my office tomorrow morning and put him on blast. He makes me hate going to work. No one deserves to be bullied.

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  3. Its a real pity that society has stooped to the level where articles like this need to be written. Sad!

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  4. Usually I don’t learn article on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to check out and do it! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thank you, quite great post.

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  5. I just don’t know what to do. My supervisor is the worst I’ve ever had. He’s 55 yrs old but acts like a spoiled child. I’m probably the best worker at my job but he’s threatened by that and the fact that my boss and other co workers really liked me and give me compliments all the time. So over the past 8 yrs. He’s taken credit for my work, told people I’m a liar and can’t be trusted, told my boss that I can’t stand him, puts me down, and makes a big deal out of every little mistake I’ve ever made to make it look worse than it really is. So now my boss doesn’t like me and gives this guy a huge paycheck every week and pampers him while I’m stuck going nowhere and doing most of the work. There is no human resources person to talk to and I’ve talked to my boss and he refuses to do anything about it and now my boss screws with me too because of the lies this guy has told him. Can anyone give me some advice? I’m at the end of my rope and I don’t know what to do.

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  6. Hi Jon, I can’t imagine what you are going through. However, if you love your job and plan to remain with your employer, I think it is time to act fast by showing that you feel unsupported. It is a way of showing everyone that you won’t tolerate how they have been treating you lately anymore. The concern is if you don’t pay attention to this bullying behaviour, it might result in a crisis. When issues like this emerge, always handle them immediately. First, ensure that you check your company’s procedures and policies for guidance. Then, ask for an audience with your supervisor. In some companies, you can have a third person present. In any case, talk with supervisor directly in a polite, direct but not confrontational or emotional way. Be specific about the behavior he executes that is making you uncomfortable. 
    After you describe your complaints, ask for your supervisor’s thoughts. Watch him and his words – Does he blame others? Does he get angry? His reactions may tell you a lot about him and whether he can change his attitude towards you or not.
    If this is a pattern for the supervisor, it’s important to communicate with HR in writing and in person before you speak to the supervisor about the way you feel. Do not ask the supervisor to “change” but instead tell him that the behavior itself must stop. “Tell him ‘I feel unsupported (explain why by mentioning instances) and say to him,  ‘Regardless of your motive or the reason, your behaviour towards me as your staff has to stop. I enjoy my work and I want to get on better with you.
    Then, enforce a clear action plan. Ask him how he thinks you can both move on by establishing a better working relationship. Describe the type of behaviour that you will like to see immediately after the meeting from both of you. Ask him to call you aside and have a word if he notices a different behaviour from you and vice versa. 
    You need to patch things up with your direct supervisor first, to get back into his own manager’s good book.
    After the discussion with your supervisor, be sure to demonstrate the actions that you agree to and watch him as well. If the situation persists, you need to go all out and escalate the complaints further. Note every bullish behaviour with dates – you may need the notes later. If all else fail, unfortunately, it may be time to look for another job.

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  7. I don’t really see any solution to bullying but love, and probably Christian love – turn the other cheek. If you retaliate you just become a bully yourself. Learning about assertiveness may help. Forgiveness is at the heart of a good teams, I have read. Bullyingonline.org has comprehensive info on bullying but I don’t think it offers solutions. The Gideons refer us to these passages:

    Bullied
    Psalm 37:7-9
    7 Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. 8 Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret-it leads only to evil. 9 For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land.

    Bullied
    Psalm 91:9-16
    9 If you make the Most High your dwelling-even the LORD, who is my refuge- 10 then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; 12 they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent. 14 “Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. 15 He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. 16 With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

    Bullied
    Joshua 1:9
    9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

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  8. ITS A SHAME YOU CANT BEAT THE HELL OUT OF A BULLY,BUT THEY SO MUCH OF A CHICKEN WHEN THEY GET THEIR BUTT KICKED ,THEY WOULD CALL THE COPS ,JUST LIKE A FEMALES BODY PART (P***Y)………..I LOVE FIGHTING BULLIES TWICE MY SIZE EVER SINCE I WAS LITTLE ,AND I STILL LIKE DOING IT TODAY TOO!!!!

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  10. Jon, agree with Number 7 and 8. It depends on how long have you been there for? etc. Companies tend to turn it around an d look after themselves from legal lawsuits. If it’s that bad and you can’t turn to anyone, you need to look for another job and keep the one you have until then. Bullies intimidate, make inappropriate comments, humiliate people when they can’t cope themselves. They enjoy it. They target someone and it’s not you personally. It’s just an excuse that it happens to be you. If you were not there, they target someone else.

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  11. Im experincing a bully at work im 21the young and thin and she’s 35 or so fat and loud. She is intimidating ive let her walk on me. Ive given her the hall she wants to work on (healthcare )and she repays me by kicking me off the hall in the middle of every one the next day. Im done being nice but im not good at standing up for myself. My boss doesn’t know the issue exists some co workers ate on my side others on hers and the rest ignore it. I dont want tk let her keep doing this to me but i have to keep my job. She wrote on my face today infront of people and i just about cried. I was so upset i didnt know how to stop her. I just sat therr with nothing to ssy til she left.

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    • Hi Hays,
      Sometimes, we teach people how to treat us. I am afraid that you are indirectly telling this bully that it’s OK to continue their bullying without actually verbalizing it. You give people a yard they take a mile. You should not keep quiet about the situation, you have to speak up. Never allow yourself to be treated like this by anyone, anywhere and at anytime! You can find a way to do something about it and still keep your job. Through your Human Resources department, you should have access to your employees’ procedures and policies at work. Seek out the clause on bullying in the workplace there, and then follow the protocol regarding what to do if you feel bullied.

      In addition, if you have a trusted senior member of staff, have a quiet word with him or her in private to get them on your side before you confront the bully. You may have to speak to your boss in the presence of one or two co-workers who supports you. Then, ask for your boss’s opinion of how to deal with the situation. Remember to let your boss know that the situation is affecting how you do your job, your health and self esteem.

      If nothing changes, wait to address the issue if the bully should cross the line in front of your colleagues. Then, you will need to sum up the courage to directly confront the bully in front of everyone by calling her out as a bully and by telling her that as from now on, you will not keep quiet about her appalling bullying behavior toward you. Why would you want to keep your job only to be miserable there? We spend most of our time at work, that’s a long time to be unhappy. So be brave and speak out or speak to anyone who can help you to deal with the situation.

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  12. I was bullied by a co-worker for four years. She was back-stabbing, demeaning, rude, insulting, humiliating in front of others…a severly toxic person.

    I confronted her and she lied and denied everything. I held my ground, and she kept up the behavior. I confronted her again and again every time I learned how she was back-stabbing I confronted it. I had to be rude to her to finally get the message across that she crossed the line one too many times.

    She was impossible to talk to, she would walk away or brush you off with ‘whatever’. I wrote her a letter telling her exactly the treatment I endured from her, and how she’s a bully and a coward…she dishes it out but can’t take it when confronted. She’s a pitiful person.

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  13. for all the victim
    remember that the bully is playing with fire. the victim will use preemptive strike all the time.

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    • Thanks for your comments, Susan. I think you have a generalized view of all HR departments. Asking someone that’s been bullied to just ignore and document is not good advice. Tragically, people like you who tell the victims of bullying to ignore the bullies are offering advice that just does not work. Ignoring bullies does not work, because by ignoring the bully you give your tacit approval of what they are doing. Bullies should not be allowed to get away with their toxic behavior. People who observe bullying in school, on the playground, in the workplace, in the community or on the internet should be aware of the harassment and let the bullies know that their behavior is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.

      Bullies run rampant through the world, causing unnecessary pain and devastation in the lives of people that they choose to victimize. If you have the capacity to ignore a bully and just document, then that is fine but just be aware that ignoring a bully actually gives the bully a permission slip to continue bullying.

      Ignoring a bully sends the signal that you “will take it” and therefore it is acceptable for the bullying to continue. Further, ignoring a bully tells any bystander that is acceptable to bully and inevitably, this becomes embedded in the company’s culture.

      The statistics are staggering and the research is clear.

      • If a bully torments you, call it out as wrong right away.

      • If a bully does it again, let them know via straight talk it is NEVER ACCEPTABLE!

      People commit suicide as a direct result of their victimization by bullies as they feel alone, powerless and don’t feel they can take it anymore. Remember, bullies lack the empathy to understand that they are causing pain to another human being unless they are told directly.

      By being proactive against the bully, as a victim, you do your part first to protect yourself and may even guide the bully into becoming a better person.

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  15. Great article, Catherine. I had to handle a similar conflict with my colleague some time ago. Several times I felt like quitting my job. It made me sick. I didn’t really know how to act and behave. With everything I tried I seemed to worsen the situation. So I decided to get some help to talk to someone and get some professional advice. I came across an online business coach (I can recommend Your24hcoach – it helped me out a lot). My coach handed me some excellent advises, for example how to change my attitude and behavior to my colleague, after asking me some specific questions explaining the situation. What surprise! My attitude changed my colleague’s attitude to me. Through does tips I really got the confidence I needed to transmit the theory explained in this article into real action and proof in daily life! Good luck, everyone!

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    • Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Alisha. It is appreciated and it’s good to know that the situation can be addressed and that in some cases, bullies can change their behaviours and attitudes. Again, thanks for sharing your practical approach of how you dealt with your own situation at work.

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    • Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Alisha. It is appreciated and it’s good to know that the situation can be addressed and that in some cases, bullies can change their behaviour and attitude. Again, thanks for sharing your practical approach of how you dealt with your own situation at work.

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