5 Tips for Addressing a Bully in the Workplace

Posted on October 19, 2016 by VITAL WorkLife

a caucasian male interviewer looking skeptical while listening to an asian female interviewee.The major difference between childhood and adult bullying is in the workplace, bullying is often an admirable behavior. In a competitive marketplace, who better to make tough decisions, fire up performance and crunch numbers than a bully?

Five tips to consider before you take on a workplace bully:

Contrary to popular myth, bullies have a very high self-esteem, to the point of arrogance. They see nothing wrong with their behavior, and why should they if it’s been rewarded and promoted? Be prepared to have your reaction minimized as being “too sensitive,” or told you need to “grow a thicker skin.” In the bully’s mind, you are definitely the one with the problem.

1. Prepare for Battle 

A workplace bully’s weapons of mass destruction include blaming others for errors (real or not), making unreasonable or inconsistent demands, criticism, belittling, exclusion, withholding information, sabotage and stealing credit. They don’t play fair, but avoid making this your argument.

2. Talk the Right Game 

Bullies value power and status while victims value feelings and fairness. A signature bully characteristic is a lack of empathy. The biggest mistake victims make is telling a bully how he or she is affecting them emotionally or that the treatment is unfair. A bully does not care.

3. Build a Business Case 

To successfully confront a workplace bully, you must build a case showing how he or she is hurting the bottom line. Quantify the costs of lowered productivity, stalled career advancement, turnover, healthcare costs due to stress, sick days and absences. Document evidence and gather willing witnesses. Exhaust the system in place before seeking legal counsel.

4. Weigh Your Options 

In a tight economy, more employees are willing to endure bullying out of fear of unemployment. The reality is, just because you make a case, it doesn’t mean the work culture that promoted your nemesis will change. At least 50% of victims end up leaving their jobs. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak up, but you need a Plan B. Prepare yourself emotionally; most likely you are already drained and vulnerable. Seek the support of peers, friends, family and outside counseling.

5. Questions for Reflection

  • What behaviors are rewarded in your business culture? Do bullies get promoted?
  • Have you used bullying behavior like fear and intimidation to advance your own career?
  • If a co-worker was being bullied, how would you react?

Action Step:

If you are a victim of workplace bullying, consider the real costs and document how this behavior hurts the bottom line.

We Can Help

VITAL WorkLife has a wide variety of solutions aimed at addressing bullying in the workplace. Our approach can include everything from training on how to address conflict, understanding personality styles, one-on-one coaching with individuals to correct the problem and more. Call us to discuss your office jerk and we will work with you to customize a solution.

Call VITAL WorkLife any time, day or night, for the support you and your family need.


EAP members: 800.383.1908
Physician Well Being Resources members: 877.731.3949

Source: Fee, S. (2010, November). Communication tip sheet: Taming workplace bullies. Retrieved February 9, 2011 from Workplace Options.

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