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How to Handle the Workplace Bully

How to Handle the Workplace Bully

How to Handle the Workplace Bully.

Bullying is intended to intimidate the victim in an attempt to achieve compliance, deterrence, dominance, status or ego.

Bullying is a destructive form of communication and it needs to be dealt with quickly.

If you are the victim of workplace bullying, remember:

1. To survive, bullies need a "submissive response" from their victims. Do not give the bully the submissive response they seek.

2. Look the bully the eye and say "No".

3. You always have a choice; to submit to the bully or not.

4. With every choice comes a consequence. The consequence of submitting to bullies is that they are rewarded for bullying, which reinforces the bullying behaviour.

5. The consequence of submitting to the bully, may mean they will intensify their bullying tactics and try to break your will to resist.

6. Eventually, if you do not comply they will find an easier target; someone who will not give them so much resistance and trouble.

How to Manage Bullying in the Workplace

Bullying in the workplace can be categorised into three broad types:

  1. Physical bullying.
  2. Verbal bullying
  3. Positional bullying.

1. How to Manage Physical Bullying.

The physical bully uses, or threatens to use, physical force on another. This is not mere bullying, it is an offence contrary to the Public Order Act, 1986. "A person is guilty of an offence of affray if he uses or threatens unlawful violence towards another and his conduct is such as would cause a person of reasonable firmness present at the scene to fear for his personal safety".

Since no employee has the right to commit crimes, you can insist that the bully desist, or you may source a legal remedy.

2. How to Manage Verbal Bullying.

Verbal bullying is the use of language to undermine, insult or degrade another.

This type of bullying is psychological, social or emotional in its effects.

Verbal bullying divides into two sub-types.

  • Explicit verbal bullying: This is the use of insulting or derogatory language that is likely to upset, or disturb the other, psychologically, socially, or emotionally
  • Implicit verbal bullying: This takes the form of sarcastic comments or "jokes" at another person's expense, that is also likely to disturb the other psychologically, socially, or emotionally.

Deal with verbal bullying in the following way:

1. Record the alleged incident, taking careful written notes of exactly what is said, to whom, when and how the words affected the victim.

2. Wait until the bully does it again. Again, you should take careful written notes of exactly what the bully said, to whom, when and how the words used by the bully effected the victim.

3. Wait until the bully does it for the third time. Make the same notes as listed above.

4. Now you now have three distinct, well documented examples, that give you with sufficient evidence to summon the accused bully to a meeting.

5. The meeting must be professional and polite.

6. Lay out your evidence, detailing the three instances.

7. Tell them these instances are categorised as verbal bullying.

8. Ask them to respond to the allegations, and record their response, in writing, exactly.

9. Tell them to desist. If you think it prudent, detail the consequences that will follow if it occurs again.

10. Gain their agreement that they will desist and record that in writing, too.

11. If they fail to agree or if the person denies the evidence you have presented, then write the fact of their denial in your notes too, using their exact words.

12. Have them sign your notes to affirm that they represent a correct written record of your meeting.

3. How to Manage Positional Bullying.

This is the most difficult for a manager to handle, since this type of bullying is often a matter of subjective opinion.

For example, if a more senior person makes a decision, or delegates a task to a subordinate, and that task negatively affects the subordinate, then the subordinate may perceive that as an act of bullying. Whereas, the higher-ranking person would perceive it as making a "tough decision, but one that was fully justified". Such a situation is a matter of opinion and context of the individual case.

If you are in receipt of a complaint of alleged, positional bullying, the complaint must be taken seriously, and all the evidence recorded.

If you feel that the weight of evidence is such that you judge the senior person is bullying, then take the steps as listed above.

If you feel that the evidence does not support the charge of bullying, but rather constitutes the rough-and-tumble of workplace life, take no further action, until such times as the weight of evidence changes your view.

In addition, you may want to counsel the complainant on how some people have the authority to make decisions that they don't like, but that does not constitute bullying.

How to Deal With a Bully

In general, bullying can only be defeated by challenge, you cannot stop bullying by giving concessions.

1. Refuse to offer a submissive response.

2. Gather your courage and learn to say "No".

3. Tell them that they must talk to you appropriately.

4. Tell them that if they continue their behaviour, you will report the matter.

5. Do not tell a bully how they make you feel, ie intimidated, upset or frightened.

6. Look at the bully directly in the eye and hold their gaze resolutely when talking to them.

7. Keep your voice volume slightly louder than your normal, but don't shout.

Once the bully understands you are not ever going to submit, they will move on to someone else.

Dealing With Difficult People Training

Handling bullies is covered in our Dealing with Difficult People training course.

About the Author: Chris Farmer


Chris Farmer is the founder of the Corporate Coach Group and has many years’ experience in training leaders and managers, in both the public and private sectors, to achieve their organisational goals, especially during tough economic times. He is also well aware of the disciplines and problems associated with running a business.

Over the years, Chris has designed and delivered thousands of training programmes and has coached and motivated many management teams, groups and individuals. His training programmes are both structured and clear, designed to help delegates organise their thinking and, wherever necessary, to improve their techniques and skills.

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