Fearless – Taking on the Workplace Bully

You’ve had a great weekend and getting back to work doesn’t seem so bad this week. Traffic is heavy yet it’s moving at a steady pace. You make a few calls on the way to work. You pull into the office parking lot and your ready to go.

As you make your way to your desk, your boss (or co-worker) approaches you and says in a loud and condescending way, “You seem to be pretty relaxed for someone who dropped the ball on our most important deadline!”

Change “project” to any of your responsibilities at work. Change “deadline” to any thing else important that is fitting for you job. One thing we can’t change is the unprovoked attack by a person who has no sense of the impact of their actions on us. They have no sense of the impact on morale around us. Or, they do understand the consequences of this behavior and choose not to care in that moment.

Bully in the Workplace?

While bullying behavior is derailing for most, it doesn’t have to be. Over the next few months we will be talking about resolving conflicts with difficult people.

Today we’ll start with mindset. We take can charge of any situation if we’re prepared. In this particular situation there are two important start points:

    1. We need to assess the situation. Is our boss or co-worker’s behavior one incident or is it chronic behavior?If it’s one episode over a significant period of time, we may be able to reasonably discuss the person’s actions. Usually, they’re embarrassed about their behavior and will keep it in check in the future. We also may be able to forgive the behavior more readily.If it is chronic behavior, we need to be more strategic. The strategic mindset starts with our self-talk. When bullying, aggressive behavior occurs, we need to take space and think about what happened. To be effective and appropriate in our response, it’s vital to say to ourselves, “this is not about me.” Depersonalizing the incident will make it easier to respond to and let go of the attack.  Next, we need to plan our response to the bully about their behavior. If we go underground and avoid it, it will only happen again. (more on this next time)


    1. Practice: Rehearsing our response and the potential excuses, blame and minimization by the bully are important for two reasons. We are specific and to the point about how this person’s behavior is inappropriate.And two, we know what potential responses to expect. Becoming fearless when it comes to conflict helps create a more effective workplace as problems are addressed as they arise.Also, bullying behavior that is not addressed opens up the door for a cascade of problems down the line.

    Please send your responses and thoughts. We would like to hear about your most challenging work situation with a difficult person and may use it as an example in our next newsletter.


    3 Replies to “Fearless – Taking on the Workplace Bully”

    1. Not addressing the bullying behavior and how it cascades and becomes accepted is a key point for all managers and HR professionals to understand. I started at a company where a senior technical person (the bully) would erupt verbally in a very quiet cubicle environment – usually at a more junior person in a learning mode. I was in an office and couldn’t believe that everyone in the area got quiet – either afraid to diffuse the situation or wanting to listen in. I was amazed how many people came to talk to me about it privately – yet no one was talking to the bully or concerned about the impact on morale. I was told this was “normal” and how she operated and everyone – including the CEO – brushed it off because she was so “valuable”. So important to address these situations head on.

      1. When companies have to deal with short tempered “valuable” resources they mostly shy away from addressing the problem.
        What companies need to realize is that such behavior can be addressed in a constructive way without insulting or demeaning the perpetrator. They need to realize that such behavior has a cascading effect, like you said, and does way more harm than they think.

    2. Thanks for the responses to workplace bullying. Jana, your statement to address the situation “head-on” is vital in the workplace. Otherwise, individuals and companies suffer the consequences you mention above. Bullying entails many “worst-case-scenarios” ranging from low employee morale, lack of productivity, fear and in a some cases – violence.
      I’ve been asked to consult with some companies who respond too late out of fear. They have a technically brilliant or high performing bully client so entrenched in their product development and execution, they panic when the bully’s behavior, once again, derails those around them. They know the negative impact of the bully, yet they fear retaliation either through legal channels or production issues. When bullying issues are resolved, the workplace almost immediately transforms. It’s helping companies and individuals see that this transformation is possible as long as bullying, as you said, is addressed “head-on.”

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