How to Deal With Workplace Bullies

Yelling or swearing at an employee or verbally abusing him or her.
Having your contributions or work purposefully ignored.
Singling out an employee for unjustified criticism or blame.

These are just some examples of workplace bullying.

A bully torments, frightens and intimidates other people. Bullies can be disruptive, insulting and create violence at the workplace. Bullies become bullies when they find that they can get away with it and bullies are bullies because they have no other management skills.

How can you deal with workplace bullies?

Let’s start with some actions that will not work with bullies:

Engage in an aggressive defence mode.

Do not try to match the bullies in terms of their voice or body language. Most bullies welcome the opportunity to engage in verbal combat and make an effort to win.

Make excuses or finger pointing.

Bullies think that people have the power to make things happen. Hence, if you avoid responsibility or do not own up to your mistakes, it further aggravates bullies.

Give details of how things went wrong.

Bullies do not care about the long story of how the problem occurred. They want a quick and short understanding of the issue followed by a few suggestions or solutions from which they could choose from to direct the follow-up action.

Now, let us take a look at 2 types of common bullying behaviour and how to handle them.

1. Unacceptable behaviour

Melvin is rattling some information in a meeting. A colleague Lydia has doubts. “Melvin, based on the statistics I have, the figures for this quarter show thrice the numbers you quoted”. Melvin pounds the conference table angrily and shouted “How dare you question me? You are merely a fresh graduate with no background in accounting”. The rest of the employees were looking away and shaking their heads in unison. After the meeting, Melvin went to Lydia’s work cubicle and warned her in a low voice “If you know what’s good for you, you don’t do that again!” Lydia looked visibly shaken.

What’s the harm?

If employees fear intimidation, they will not be forthcoming when they discover perceived errors or speak up in a discussion. Company standards, safety and quality control are some of the things at risk.


Deliver a warning. 

As a manager, you need to tell Melvin that his behavior towards Lydia was out of line. Remind him of the company policy’s pertaining to code of conduct at work. Highlight to the employee that you will issue a verbal warning on record and let the employee be aware that failure to improve on his behavior will lead to corrective and disciplinary action.

 Use the power of group influence. 

There is strength in numbers and a bully might not act like one when you have other employees as backup. Talk to Melvin about how his actions made Lydia and the rest of the employees feel, so that Melvin will know the negative impact of his behavior on his colleagues. “The way you treated Lydia made us all feel uncomfortable and we are not okay with that”, “You did not ask Lydia where she got her figures or discuss with her why there is a discrepancy.”

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 2. Sneaky and manipulative

When the other colleague is still talking to Joanna, Joanna turns on her heel and walks away. She does not return her colleagues phone calls. Whenever she feels like it, she will just barge in whilst others are in the midst of a conversation and interrupts them with no apology. She behaves as though its everyone’s fault that she is unhappy. 

What’s the harm?

People at the workplace who deal with Joanna walk on eggshells. They spend a lot of time and energy that should be spent on work, hence productivity may suffer.

It is also unlikely that anyone would ask Joanna for help or support given her attitude, hence Joanna would not be seen as a team player and her value to the company will be diminished.


Question rude behavior. 

As the manager, you will have to arrange a private talk Joanna to uncover the reasons behind her behavior. If her job performance is not substandard, advise her to develop people skills. Make suggestions on how she can improve.

Acknowledge changes. 

If Joanna show signs of improvement, acknowledge the change by saying “I appreciate how you waited for Lionel to finish his section before you gave your input on the matter” or “I liked how you handled the customer today even though he was rude to you”. When people get feedback on their behaviour, they are more likely to continue with their good behaviour.

We hope that this article is helpful. Do you have any tips you would like to add?

Let us know in the comments and please share this post with a friend/colleague if you enjoyed it!

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