EAP Corner

Dealing with a Workplace Bully

If you are a target of someone at work, you may not have the power to change the situation, but you can take some steps to manage the situation.

As the targeted person of the bully, here are steps you should consider: 

1. Act on it as soon as it starts. Don’t wait until it escalates as bullying takes a toll on your mental and physical health. Work on being emotionally neutral.

2. Bullies like to see a reaction. Stay calm, ground yourself, put on your game face. Realize that you have control over what you say and do, but you have no control over what the bully does. You did not cause it. You are not responsible for it. But you can control how you handle the situation, which is critical for your well-being. (Moran, 2016)

3. Set boundaries. Talk directly to the person who is bullying and let him/her know what you do not like about the behaviors. Describe the behaviors factually. Also, let the person know you will be reporting it. Your work is to stay neutral and non-emotional about it as you set this in motion. Do have clear documentation regarding the incidents so that if you have to report things, you have kept clear records. Keep things factual. Document who might have witnessed the offense. (Morin, 2015)

4. Turn the tables. Call on the bully to indicate what he/she would have done differently if he had done what you are being criticized for by asking for specific behaviors and steps that would have been better. (Moran, 2016)

As a leader or supervisor of the bully or the targeted person, here are steps to consider:

1. Continue to foster the values of working together as a team, encouraging support of one another, blocking gossip and rumors, and addressing incidents immediately to the person who is being inappropriate.

2. Either report it to HR or if there is no HR department, then the supervisor would talk to the person about his/her actions. Document the incident in the employee’s file. This would include the details about the incident, information about the meeting as well as dates, times and witnesses so you have the information if the employee should bully the same person again or a different person. Also let the offending employee know what could happen if he/she continues to bully others. (Morin, 2015)

3. As a supervisor, it is not appropriate to pull the targeted person into a meeting with the bully. The victim often is already intimidated. Talk separately to each employee. Follow up to see if the situation has been resolved or if it continues to occur. As a supervisor you may have to monitor this situation for a significant time because bullies are often reluctant to change because they have found their actions get them what they want (e.g. no punishment for the behaviors, raises, promotions, more power in the office). (Morin, 2015)

Bullies do exist in the workplace, and as we become more aware of how subtle the bullying is, we also need to become aware of how to empower employers and employees to take action.

Works Cited:

Heathfield, S. M. (2017, September 30). How to deal with a bully at work. Retrieved from The Balance.
Workplace Bullying Institute. (2017, Sept 30). Retrieved from http://www.workplacebullying. org/individuals/problem/definition/.

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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