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Dealing with a Bully at Work

An Office based scenario has been used as an example in the following suggestions, but they can be adjusted to any work environment.

Set Limits on What You Will Tolerate From a Bully:

Most importantly, once you have set the limit in your mind, exercise your right to tell the bully to stop the behaviour. You might want to rehearse these steps with a friend so that you are more comfortable responding when the bully attacks.

  • Describe the behaviour you see the bully exhibiting – don’t editorialize or offer opinions, just describe what you see. (You regularly enter my cubicle, lean over my shoulder, and read my personal correspondence on my computer screen.)

  • Tell the bully exactly how their behaviour is impacting your work. (Because much of my work is confidential, these actions make me feel as if I need to hide what I am working on from you, or change screens which is a waste of my time.)

  • Tell the bully what behaviour you will not put up with in the future. (In the future, you are not to enter my cubicle unless I invite you to come in. This is my private work space and your actions are unwelcome.)

  • Stick with your statement and if the bully violates your space, move on to confrontation.

Confront the Bully With Their Own Behaviour:

Confronting a bully is scary and hard. But bullies are only effective when they’re on solid ground. Ground that you can take away. Next time he/she swears or heaves a phone book, call it out. Point out that they are swearing or yelling, and leave the room. Or end the call.

Remember: You’re the adult dealing with a tantrum. No wise parent gives in to a child’s fit because it just leads to more fits.

You’re wrapping Bulldozer’s fury with tough love. By making statements about their conduct, you’re putting them on notice. Keep up your game and by the second or third attempt, Bulldozer will tire of spinning their treads in the sand.

This confrontational approach works in meetings, too. If the bully is talking over you with complaints and criticisms, ask them a direct question about what he recommends instead. If that doesn’t work ask them to leave the meeting until you finish your discussion. If they refuse, end the meeting and reschedule the meeting without them.

You need to call out the bully on your terms.

Document the Bully’s Actions:

Any time you are feeling bullied or experiencing bullying behaviour, document the date, time and details of the incident. Note if another employee witnessed the incident. If you eventually seek help from Human Resources, documentation, especially documentation of the bully's impact on business results and success, gives HR information to work with on your behalf. The bully is not just hurting your feelings; the bully is sabotaging business success.

If the bullying occurs in email or correspondence, maintain a hard copy of the trail of emails and file them in a folder in your computer.

Your Coworkers Are Targets of the Bully, Too:

Note whether the bully pulls the same behaviour with your coworkers. Ask your coworkers to document the bully’s behaviour and any scenes they witness when the bully targets any coworker. If five of you experience the bullying, and five of you document, then you build a case to which HR and your management can respond on solid ground. They need evidence and witnesses, even if everyone knows, that the bully is a bully.

Also, if you decide to press charges in the future, you need witnesses and documentation.

Tell Management and HR About the Bully:

You’ve tried to implement these recommendations, but they aren’t working to stop the bully. It's time to get help. Go to HR or your manager with your evidence, especially the evidence that demonstrates the impact of the bully on the business, and file a formal complaint. Most employee handbooks describe the HR investigation process that your complaint sets in motion.

Hope for the best resolution but be prepared to explore other options so you have less contact with the bully. You may even need to find a new job. You may never know what HR did about the bully; you can assess the impact by how they now treat you.

You can address the behaviour of a bully in your workplace. With persistence and personal courage, you can neutralize the bully behaviour and regain your conflict-free workplace.

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