6 Simple Ways to Deal With a Workplace Bully

No one tells you this, but an office can feel a bit like a school playground sometimes. You just want to get on with your job, but there are people who want to gossip, speculate and worse, cause trouble. Bullies exist everywhere, and this can be especially true in a toxic, dog eat dog workplace.

Your success and accomplishments can be viewed as a threat to people who want to climb the corporate ladder ahead of you. To them, it makes sense to bully and intimidate their way to a promotion rather than to work hard and be collegial.

Sadly, these people love to target the individuals who they assume are weak. They think that you’ll never respond and that they’ll get away with it, which is correct if you don’t act. Here are some constructive methods to keep in mind the next time the local bully turns up.

#1: Assess The Situation

As a rule, there is a problem to address if you feel like a victim. Even if it’s because of a breakdown in communication, the situation needs dealing with quickly. However, the type of circumstance may differ to what you originally think. For example, it may not be bullying per se but an attempt at humour. Whilst I am not excusing this behaviour, some people have a sense of humour that is (in their mind) harmless, yet is actually hurtful and insensitive.

With this in mind, take a look around and assess the atmosphere in the workplace. Is it only you who feels victimised? Are there others? Is everyone scared of this person? Should you answer yes, it’s clear that the individual’s behaviour has crossed the line. If you are the only one, give that person the benefit of a conversation with you that allows them to understand the impact their behaviour is having on you.

#2: Don’t Ignore It

There are times when a situation isn’t what it seems in the beginning. Tip #1 has addressed this scenario already, but there is an important point to make: never ignore it. Whether it’s direct or accidental, it is impacting your happiness at work and eroding your productivity in the workplace. Considering work is a huge part of your life, unhappiness is likely to begin to permeate into the other areas of your life too.

You may not wish to confront your tormentor directly. So there are alternatives. A workplace bully should be reported to HR as soon as possible. HR support services exist for this reason, among others, and often bullies won’t stop until they are called out.

Alternatively, you may choose talk to your boss or a trusted friend and colleague. Managers have influence and power, while peers can offer a shoulder and independent advice.

#3: Collect Evidence

When HR gets involved, they may ask you for evidence regarding your allegation. To assist your situation, prepare the facts. Assemble the times, dates, and notes of incidents that occurred. This will assist your HR partner to make an independent assessment of the situation and be able to put the allegations to the perpetrator.

Keep notes (with backups) and make an effort to retain emails, text and instant messages which demonstrate the poor behaviour of the bully.

#4: Confront Them

This is a difficult path to take. Confront the bully in a safe space and let them know, in no uncertain terms, without being aggressive, that you will not allow the behaviour to continue. Outline the impact they are having on you and the consequences if they continue.

Clearly if your bully is in a senior, rather than peer, position, this is a very difficult option to take. You may dish to consider involving a trusted senior manager or peer of the bully to seek advice about how to approach this scenario.

You may also consider having an independent observer at the meeting.

Photo from vandenberg

#5: Consider Moving

If all else fails, the only other option is to think about changing departments or employer. Sure, it may feel like you are admitting defeat. However, this isn’t about the sociopath who has the desk next to yours; it’s about you as a person. Are you unhappy? Is your life, work and personal, being affected? Is there another option on the table? Ask and answer these questions and then come to an informed decision.

But, something to consider is this: don’t let your pride win. Okay, you may want to prove a point by staying, but at what cost? Over time, a change of scenery could breathe new life back into your career and the opportunity for reinvention and career rejuvenation can be a great thing.

#6: Never Stoop

Anger can make anything seem like a good idea, at the time. However what is said cannot be unsaid. What is done can rarely be undone. Take the high moral road and don’t lower yourself to fighting back by belittling or demeaning or dehumanising others. Do not become your tormentor.

Workplace bullying is a horrible, insidious thing to deal with. I hope after reading these tips, you feel more confident to take action.

I advise sporting and industry leaders about how to create inclusive and diverse workplaces. Workplaces where women & men can be the best version of themselves and flourish.  Contact me for a complimentary, no obligation discussion about moving your inclusion strategy from conversation to action.

Michelle Redfern Advancing Women


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