5 Steps to Dealing with Bullies at Work


Bullies have always been among us. The sad truth is that most of us have experienced a boss, supervisor, or co-worker who has treated us with disdain, contempt, or worse.

Some of us have been verbally attacked and even threatened with physical violence in our workplaces. Even sadder, perhaps, is the fact that few of us had the willingness to complain or report these activities, and simply remained silent in the face of attacks because we were afraid or just wanted to keep our job.

So, the bullies kept up their behavior until we quit or asked for another assignment. We don’t have to do that anymore, and many employers are adopting safe workplace codes that feature bully-free zones at work.

But we still need to speak out and take action individually when we are faced with bullying in the workplace. For when you need to deal with a situation like this, here is a five step plan that anyone can use to deal with bullies at work.

1. Get Ready to Take On the Bully

Some people say that when you get to the end of your rope, you should put a knot in it and hang on, and in many cases that works. But when it comes to dealing with bullies, just staying silent or hoping they will go away just doesn’t work – there is nothing left to hang on to.

That’s why as soon as you feel you are being bullied you should plan to talk to them about their behavior. The longer you let it go or accept it, the harder it will be to get them to change.

2. Name the Behavior as Bullying

If it feels like you’re being bullied at work, you probably are. If you aren’t then you would have already put an end to any harassment. But you haven’t, because part of bullying behavior is to make you feel afraid of confronting them.

That’s why it’s important to clearly define the actions, words, or gestures that you feel are bullying. Be as specific as you can. If the person yelled at you, or called you names, or threatened you in any way, then describe those behaviors in detail. Make a list so that you can refer to it when you talk them.

3. Tell Them that You Think Their Behavior is Inappropriate

After you define the behavior, tell the person that you think that these are inappropriate actions or behaviors in the workplace, and that you consider it to be bullying.

It doesn’t matter whether they agree with you or not. You have a right to your views and to express them. Do not engage in any discussion about the behavior, or any attempts to talk about anything else or to change the topic under discussion. You want them to clearly understand that you believe they are engaging in bullying behavior.

4. Tell them You Don’t Like It

You need to make a clear, strong statement that says, “I don’t like that behavior.”

Resist the urge to water this statement down, and make sure that they hear it directly from you. This is not a message that can be delivered by proxy.

The bully needs to hear it from you. And once again, you should not engage them in a debate about their behavior or their reasons or excuses for doing so.

5. Ask them to Stop

Near the end of your conversation you need to ask them to stop this behavior, firmly but politely. They need to know what you expect from them, and that is that they will stop.

There’s no need to make threats or anything else at this point. Either they will get the message from you and change their behavior, or they won’t.

If not, then at least you have done everything possible and reasonable as an individual to stop the bullying behavior.

It’s not easy to carry out this five step process with someone who is aggressive or intimidating, but you need to follow these steps in order to try and change the bullying behavior.

If another incident comes up then you should go immediately to your supervisor, your union representative or your Human Resources office to file a complaint. Nobody should have to put up with bullies in the workplace.

Bullying is a problem that exists in the shadows. Once the behavior and the bullies are named publicly, bullying tends to slip back into the darkness.

Bullying only works when those who are being bullied are afraid to report the activities, or where nothing is done about reports of bullying. Be brave and help make your workplace a bully-free zone.


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Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of Change the Things You Can (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit: Change the Things You Can

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