Confronting The Workplace Bully

Last week I discussed how to identify a bully in your workplace.

Many people responded to my post and wanted to know how to address these individuals in their organization. This is a relevant topic as a Forbes article last year shows an increase of almost 20% in the rise of workplace bullying from 2008 to 2019.

So while next week I’ll post about how leaders should deal with bullies on their team, this week we’ll discuss how to confront bullying from a boss or peer.

Workplace bullies exhibit behaviors that seek to manipulate in order to maintain control or advantage over one or more persons. It’s a form of emotional and psychological abuse that keeps the recipient off balance and threatened into submission, therefore keeping a power over those individuals and exercising the perpetrator’s leverage to exalt themselves financially, status-wise, or emotionally, among other rationales.

Toxic behaviors from workplace bullies will always continue to exist in an organization if they are allowed and tolerated. People will generally continue to practice abusive and bullying behaviors, both overt and subversive, as long as they can get their narcissistic supply from those they subjugate.

That’s why it’s imperative to take steps to remedy workplace bullying by confronting it.

  • Recognize It. Christine Hammond at PsychCentral calls this “See It” when confronting an emotionally abusive person. Which is what workplace bullying is, according to the law firm Eisenberg & Baum. Bullying and other forms of psychological abuse tend to make the recipient doubt themselves and if the behavior is actually happening. Look hard at your circumstances to understand what is truly going. Then take the next steps to action.
  • (If comfortable addressing it to the bully, the it’s necessary to approach them to help them Remedy The Behavior. If you’re not comfortable, then going to the steps that start with Record It would be next.)
  • Reveal It To The Bully. If comfortable, this step is really helping the bully understand their actions impact on you as well as helping you establish boundaries for workplace behavior. Let them know what they say and do and ask them what their thoughts are. See if they have an awareness of their actions.
  • Redraw Lines and Expectations. If the conversation seems amenable, inform them how you feel and what you cannot accept. Use the company’s core values to underscore your position if necessary. Here you will need to establish boundaries for co-existing in the workplace and being able to accomplish your respective jobs. Your goal here is to Reclaim Value for yourself by letting the bully know how their actions won’t be tolerated and that you do not deserve and will not allow yourself to be treated in such a manner.
  • (If it continues – more overtly or subtly – or they are in denial of their actions, or if you are not comfortable approaching them, then start to involve other people in the following way to Report It):
  • Record It. You will need to record and journal every incident – verbal, written and observed – to have an objective case to present to your HR department. Emails, texts and written statements from those who have observed what you’ve experienced will be necessary to support what is going on. VeryWellMind emphasizes to keep your records relevant without any embellishment or emotions or assumptions.
  • Reinforce Your Allies. A study by the Workplace Bullying institute in 2017 reveals that 63% of employees are aware of such abusive behavior in their organization. Most likely, one or more of your co-workers have been witness, if not also targeted, to the bullying. If you know someone who has witnessed such actions towards you, ask what they observed and thought of the situation. If they had a similar response to you about it, ask if they would write a statement. You may be surprised at how many other people are also the recipient of the bully’s misdeeds.
  • Report It. MarketWatch talks about how to avoid confrontation and go to HR in this step. Have a discussion with your human resources personnel. Do not go into the meeting expecting the bully to be terminated, as HR will usually get the information and seek to have an individual change their performance with coaching and other assistance. US News and World Report discusses that HR’s role in workplace bully issues is to “cause a change in behavior” first. Your allies may also feel comfortable to reveal their experiences as well. Keep HR informed of any subsequent behaviors, good and bad, that result from your reporting the issue.
  • (If you have done these steps and there is no improvement, or the company ceases to act objectively, then you will need to Resort To the following recourse actions):
  • Remove Yourself. There may be a real chance that you have to separate from the company if the bully did not change, retaliated, or the company has not taken steps to resolve (which is unfortunately and typically the case if the bully is a higher level of leadership or generates great performance metrics, sales or public image). You have already established boundaries in taking these steps to address the issue in the first place. Now you will have to draw those on your own terms by leaving the organization.
  • Retain Legal Counsel. Keep in mind while workplace bullying is not (yet) an illegal and criminal action, if the results violate certain labor laws or rights for protected groups, or if it caused you verified loss to health (physical and mental), professional trajectory, financial loss and reputation, you may be able to seek legal action according to Eisenberg & Baum.
  • Remain Confident That You Did The Right Thing. Someone recovering from being rocked from workplace bullying will go through doubts and cycles of PTSD that will make one naturally question if they did the right thing. The answer is simple: Whenever you confront a legitimate bully or abusive individual and take a stand for what’s right and yourself, you will always do the right thing.

And one other piece of advice, again from Sherri Gordon at VeryWellMindRemember To Take Care Of Yourself. One site’s studies show the enormous physical toll that bullying can take on the recipient. Other studies have likewise shown as much as a 59% increase in heart attacks and stroke from being subject to these actions.

Taking care of yourself in getting a physical exam from a physician, counselling, as well as taking some personal time can go a long ways to restore your health and happiness.

Workplace bullying only continues when it’s tolerated. By confronting it and exposing it for what it is, we can change heads and hearts to respect each other and make our workplaces richer and safer for all.

(image: pixabay)

About Paul LaRue

My goal - To encourage you to lead & influence others with positive impact.

Posted on June.21.2020, in Leadership. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Thank you so much for this post, Paul. I suffered workplace bullying myself when I worked at a nursing home about 10 years ago. Luckily I kept a CYA file and was able to walk away from the job on my own terms and with confidence. Sadly, I saw many other victims who weren’t as lucky as I was. Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you found this helpful! It’s becoming a lather problem across all organizations and impact a wide cross section of people. The awareness and learning how to confront bullying it critical. Thank you, and keep on touch!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was bullied at work by 3 managers and two regular employees a few times. I stood up to one manager who tried to dupe me into cancelling a trip to Boston nearly 2 years ago and then avoided her like the plague. She ultimately got the message and left me alone.


  1. Pingback: FYI October 14, 2020 – Instagatrix

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