In Career, Communication

Have you ever worked with a bully? Maybe you have a bully in your life right now? Curious how to deal with a bully at work? Sometimes it’s hard to determine whether a person is difficult to get a long with or just simply a bully.

Workplace bullying is a serious problem. According to Statistics Canada, 19% of women and 13% of men reported that they had experienced harassment in their workplace in the past year. Workplace harassment can include verbal abuse, humiliating behaviour, threats to persons, physical violence and unwanted sexual attention or sexual harassment. Workplace bullying has become a serious problem affecting many people.

If you are experiencing workplace bullying, there are a number of steps you can take. We have included a short list here on how you can proactively deal with a bully at work.

What is Bullying Behaviour?

Workplace bullying has varying manifestations depending on the individual.

What are the Characteristics of a bully?

  • Difficulty managing anger
  • Prone to frustration and feeling annoyed
  • Lacking empathy and consideration of others
  • Passive aggressiveness
  • Views coercion as a tool for approval

It can be downright soul crushing dealing with a bully on a daily basis. The toxic environment that they create can kill a friendship or turn a great job into a draining and exhausting one. What could make someone choose to be a bully?

Why Do People Bully?

Bullying stems from learned behaviour or having been bullied in the past. It can also stem from mental health issues, such as coping with anxiety or certain behaviorial disorders. In some cases, people may also turn to bully tactics after a traumatic experience.

Lack of Power

Most bullies suffer from low-self esteem and a fear of being out of control. Much of their personal anxiety stems from a perceived lack of control in their lives.

Dysfunctional relationships

A bully is often involved in relationships that host power imbalances. They tend to have conditional relationships as they have trust issues.

Enjoy the Attention & Outcome

Many bullies enjoy the attention that their aggression brings them. They like feeling powerful and feared by others. They often assume that the fear they incite is respect.

woman dealing with workplace bullies

How to Talk To a Bully?

When faced with a bully, it can be difficult to know how to engage them. This makes for an especially stressful situation if you must see your bully all the time. Here a few things to consider and apply.

Don’t Get Hooked

Most bullies punch below the belt. They will try to personally hurt you through their actions and language. Always remember that this is not about you. Rather, this is their approach to life. Pause, observe and, if you feel safe, respond to their behaviour.

If you do not feel ready to confront your bully, you should take your time to react and only do so when you are prepared to settle the conflict on your terms. Make sure that you are not merely reacting to them as this is what they are looking for. They are looking for an impulsive response. Rather, you are approaching the situation calmly, intelligently and with conviction.

Safety in Numbers

If you feel unsafe around your bully, try to set up meetings in public and neutral spaces where you can easily close out a conversation and reach out to people in case you need help.

Stick to The Facts

Keep your conversation short and stay focused on the outcome of the conversation, namely putting an end to the bullying behaviour. Try to keep obvious friction to a minimum. Setting a specific timeline for your meeting/conversation is a useful way to stay on task.

What To Do When Working With a Bully?

Working with a bully can make your day to day living very painful and, in some cases, make you question whether the office or company you work for is a good fit for you.  However, do not despair. There is much you can do to deal with this situation.

Create Boundaries

Create strict boundaries about what you are willing and not willing to do. This may include limiting your social interactions with certain of your colleagues or that colleague in particular.

Speak Up

Bullies love to push buttons and see what happens. Staying quiet when being bullied will create a safe place for that bully to continue this toxic behaviour. Always try to advocate for yourself and express your feelings. If necessary, reach out to management to ensure that the bullying is addressed. You are likely not the bully’s only target.

Remember It’s Not About You

Bullies make us question our self worth. When dealing with a bully, it can be shocking to observe what some individuals are capable of when it comes to demeaning others. You might wonder what you did to deserve the treatment. The answer is nothing.

Bullies are troubled people. The way they treat you is not your fault or the result of something you have done. Their behaviour is strictly the result of their own inner conflict. It is about them and how they have chosen to conduct themselves.

Find Support

Whether it is a friend or working with a therapist , sharing your experience with someone else that can support you and empathize with you is critical.

A therapist can help you with strategies and tools to handle difficult situations as well as ensure that you are held accountable for your approach to the problem at hand.

a man speaking with human resources about workplace bullying

Is Your Boss a Bully?

We all want to please our bosses, managers, and clients. Sometimes the line between a tough boss and a bullying boss can seem blurred.

Here are some bullying behaviours that you’ll find in a boss bully:

Destructive Criticism

Instead of giving constructive criticism that you can learn and grow from, they offer destructive criticism attacking your person and demeaning your work.

No Respect for Your Boundaries

They refuse to respect boundaries expecting you to be available at all times of the day and showing contempt if you do not pander to their unreasonable demands.

Undervaluing Your Contribution

A boss bully communicates using diminishing or demeaning language and often does so in front of other colleagues and team members, leaving you feeling ashamed, humiliated, or under valued.

Demanding Loyalty

A boss bully expects that you side with them in public under all circumstances, even if you have communicated a dissenting view because, in the bully’s mind, a contrary opinion is an invalid one.

A Toxic Workplace

They do not make the workplace a safe and supportive environment to develop and grow.

If you have determined that your boss is in fact a bully, here is what to do.  Although the power balance is in their favour, there are steps you can take to support your mental health and career.

What Can You Do If Your Boss Is a Bully?

While there are many situations where you may experience workplace bullying from a co-worker, often times a boss bully is a real concern. It can make simply being at work a very stressful experience.

Here are some tips you should consider if you’re dealing with a workplace bully in a higher position.

Look for help

Consider reaching out to your HR department or other managers. Having the support of other members of your team that hold similar power can exact pressure on your bully to end their toxic bullying behaviour.

Weigh out your options

The truth is your boss will probably not change. They most likely got their position by coercion. If working with this person is negatively impacting your mental health and the quality of your work, then it is imperative that you review your options. Can you move departments? Are there any openings? Is this an opportunity to take an extra course to advance in your career? You can use this as an opportunity for growth. Always keep in mind that this is not your fault.

Invest in Yourself

Being around toxic people that bully can be exhausting – even moreso when it is your boss who is responsible for the behaviour. Focus on taking care of yourself and consider contacting a mental health professional.

Disconnect During Off-Hours

Turn work off when you get home and don’t read emails after hours. This is a great way to trigger anxiety and ruin your personal time.

Prioritize Sleep

Consider improving your sleeping habits. There are many tips you can try, but a few quick ones include reducing your caffeine intake after 12pm, reserving your bedroom for sleep rather than a space to perform more work and unplugging (no screens) an hour before bed. Check out our sleep guide for more tips on getting a restful night’s sleep.

Lean Into Your Positive Network

Bullies can make us feel like the worst version of ourselves. Spend time with people that love you and uplift you.

You’re Not The Problem

Living or working around workplace bullies is hard and can take a real toll on anyone.

Always remember that you are not the cause of their bullying behaviour and you are not a reflection of their words. Learning how to deal with a bully at work can take time. Keep yourself focused on the things that make you happy and reduce the amount of time you give to anyone who exhibits toxic bullying behavior.

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