How To Deal With Workplace Bullies

If you've been dealing with a bully at work, you'll know just how hideous this experience can be. You are not alone and there are ways to cope - and even to stop the harassment.

Don't retaliate

Yes, this is easier said than done. Bullies know exactly which buttons to press and the temptation to respond in kind is a difficult one to overcome. If you feel the red mist descending, walk away. Or if that isn't possible, start counting in your head, calmly, until your anger fades. Remember, if you lose your temper, the bully is getting the reaction they want. Even more importantly, you risk creating new troubles for yourself.

Know thy enemy

Bullies in the workplace are just the same as the ones who used to plague the school playground - only older. It sounds trite, but it is often true that bullies are often victims of mistreatment themselves and are covering up their "weaknesses" by passing on their hurt to others. You don't have to have any sympathy for your bully's psychological issues, but recognising the background to their behaviour can de-mystify them and normalise them. Once you see your tormentor as a damaged soul acting out, they don't seem so powerful, do they? And then you can begin to pinpoint the roots of their insecurities. Do they fixate on your intelligence? Do they try to undermine your work efforts in an attempt to make themselves seem more important? Here you can see their Achilles heels.

Knowing what is bullying

None of us like to admit to being "victims", so bullies often get one step ahead while we're sticking our heads in the sand refusing to admit how bad the situation is becoming. Don't make excuses for bullies, some forms of behaviour are simply unacceptable in the workplace. Common actions by workplace bullies seem much more suited to the school yard -

  • Name-calling
  • Belittling and disrespectful comments
  • Swearing and shouting
  • Nitpicking about work
  • Piling on unmanageable workloads
  • Withholding of essential information
  • Excluding you from normal conversations

Politely requesting the bullying stops

As soon as you have identified bullying behaviour you must make it clear it is unacceptable. Vocal and body language techniques can help with this. Think of the bully as an aggressive dog. Speak in a steady, moderated voice. Straighten up to your full height. Hold your hand out, palm forward (like a traffic policeman signalling "stop"). Keep your sentences short and clear. "Please stop doing that". Keeping a record of sustained bullying Maybe your firmness will encourage the bully to back off, but if the bullying continues, you will need to keep a record of incidents - as is the case with any form of harassment. You could install a hidden camera for added peace of mind. A diary is essential. If any people witness the bullying, make a note of that and ask these people to corroborate your account.

Reporting the bullying

It is essential you follow your company's advice on the correct process. Normally the preference is to report first of all to your immediate line manager. You might prefer to speak to another manager, or HR representative, who you think will be more sympathetic to your case, but going over your line manager's head could be interpreted as a snub and therefore create all sorts of problems. If the problem is escalating, do ask for a witness to accompany you to any meetings. If you are a member of a union, your union rep should be able to provide you with specific advice and personal support.

What if the bully is in a position of power?

Sadly this is all too common. In this instance you will need to tread carefully, with awareness of the office politics in play. So it is even more important not to lose your temper, exaggerate or "play the victim card" too hard, even if you are absolutely justified to be upset or outraged. Try to offer solutions. Request a move to a different department, or some kind of barrier between you and the bully which will protect you and still be a workable solution.

And if none of this works?

If your HR department, superiors and colleagues can't work with you to stop this bullying from happening then you may have to consider leaving. But, before handing in your notice, discuss your situation with an employment law specialist. The Citizen's Advice Bureau will be able to put you in touch with an expert to discuss whether this constitutes Constructive Dismissal, or if you have a good reason to claim for compensation.


Don't blame yourself. The vast majority of us have been victims of bullying at some stage of their lives. Move forward and don't allow the bully to continue to cause you pain.