Coping With The Workplace Bully – Part 2

Bullies want to abuse you. Instead of allowing that, you can use them as your personal motivators. Power up and let the bully eat your dust. ~ Nick Vujicic

The last two entries, Scoping Out the Political Landscape and Coping With The Workplace Bully – Part 1, addressed the related topics of workplace politics and bullying and focused on background and statistics on bullying as well as current efforts to eliminate bullying.  According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, here are a few more insights:

  • Most workplace bullies are men rather than women (69% – 31%)
  • Male bullies target women over men (57% – 43%)
  • Female bullies target women over men (68% – 32%)
  • Victims of bullying tend to be very kind people who shy away from confrontation.

These are pretty telling statistics. Further, they can also apply roughly to schools, campuses and communities as well as the workplace. Remember, whichever approach a bully takes, their goals are the same. They want to diminish you for their own gain.

There are ways to deal with bullies, but it’s important to understand that your intent is not to change their behavior — that likely would require professional intervention and years of therapy! Rather, your goal is to learn how to cope successfully with workplace bullies that cross your path.

Based on my shockingly long career in business and numerous encounters with bullies of various stripes, combined with research and extensive anecdotal information, here are some formulas that are generally effective in dealing with the three main types of bullies, male or female:

The Bulldozer

This is the guy who is in your face, obvious, insulting and offensive in his behavior, remarks and body language.


  • Remain calm.
  • Meet him at eye level and make eye contract.
  • Interrupt his harangue by stating that you disagree with him.
  • Invite him to sit down and discuss the situation privately.
  • Tell him that you would like to hear his position, and then listen carefully and respectfully.  If he begins to misbehave, politely but firmly interrupt him to get the conversation back on course. Tell him exactly what it is that bothers you and ask him to stop.
  • If this approach does not resolve the problem, make an appointment to speak with him again and reiterate the issues you have with his behavior.


  • Respond with the same lack of civility; that will only escalate the situation. Many bullies enjoy public scenes and fights; don’t give them that satisfaction or leverage.
  • Tell him that he’s wrong; that will inflame the situation.
  • Allow him to interrupt you when it’s your turn to speak. Instead, every time the bully interrupts you, calmly say “Hank, you interrupted me,” and continue to speak.

The Backbiter

Unlike the bulldozer, the backbiter is sneaky. She’s friendly to your face, but makes jokes at your expense and unkind remarks behind your back. Meet the backbiter head on to stop her cold.


  • Be pleasant, but firm and serious. Again, remain calm and reasonable, which is a better approach than an emotional outburst.
  • Ask to have a private conversation. If possible and appropriate, tell her who tipped you off to the remarks she made behind your back. At best, this may force the backbiter to own up to her statements and lay her cards on the table. But at least she will know that you are on to her. As the backbiter usually likes to work in the shadows, shining such a light on her activity might be enough to curtail further attacks. If not, continue to the next step.
  • Listen to the backbiter’s criticisms of your behavior. If there’s a behavior that you need to correct, even if it’s minor, say you will and do so.  If her complaint is not legitimate, tell her you disagree and state the reason(s).
  • Ask the backbiter to speak with you directly about such issues in the future, instead of making jokes at your expense or complaining to others behind your back.


  • Allow jokes to pass; such “jokes” are really thinly veiled criticisms or mockery. Instead, ask the backbiter if she intended to mock you.
  • Laugh at the backbiter’s jokes, whether they are about you or someone else.  In doing so, you become the backbiter’s ally, and also very possibly her next victim.
  • Allow yourself to be the brunt of jokes.
  • Allow something that the backbiter has said behind your back to pass without taking action.
  • Put anything in writing when you are angry or upset, or it will come back to bite you even harder.

The Blaster

The blasters yells and “pitches a fit” to intimidate and get his way. Sometimes, however, a blaster is not necessarily a bully, but merely a nice guy who cannot articulate, becomes frustrated easily and resorts to yelling – or blasting you — to make his point. Either way, the result is unpleasant and hurtful, and the following formula applies:


  • Remain calm – natch! Wait until the blaster has stopped yelling before saying anything.
  • Meet the blaster at eye level, look him directly in the eye, and say his name.
  • Tell the blaster that you would like to discuss the problem or issue, but in a calm way.
  • Discuss the issue with the blaster privately.
  • Repeat back to the blaster what you think he said to avoid any misunderstanding; wait patiently for his response. Ensure that he knows that you understand what he is saying.
  • Agree on a resolution, and keep up your end of the agreement. You might have to repeat this process a few times, reminding the blaster of the agreement before you see positive results.


  • Interrupt the blaster while he is yelling. That will result in frustrating the blaster further and escalate the tantrum. Wait until you can speak with the blaster privately to address his behavior.
  • Take the blasting as personally as other types of bullying. Some blasters are democratic and yell at everyone. However, whether the blaster is a bona fide bully or not, keep in mind that the only reason to yell at you is to warn you that there is a fire or that a safe is falling, or other emergency.  Even if you have done something to warrant the blaster’s anger, there are reasonable ways to speak with you about a problem.

When the Bully is Your Boss

When the bully is your boss you can still use the above formulas, but understand that the stakes are higher when your tormentor has direct power over you, your job and your career. Tread carefully. It’s never a good idea to complain about the bully behind his or her back, unless it’s with an iron-clad trusted colleague or officially to the proper company authority; this is especially true when dealing with your boss. If the above formulas do not work it could be time to escalate the problem to a more senior official in your company, which might result in a transfer to a less toxic environment. If, however, that means slowing your progress within the company or accepting a less desirable position — or creating a more complex political situation, it is likely time to consider a career move to another company.

Document, Document, Document

When dealing with any type of situation where you might someday have to make a case to your boss, a senior official, Human Resources or in court, your arguments will be stronger if you have documentation to back them up. Keeping a log of bullying incidents, the names and contact information of people involved (including witnesses), dates, times and places and other pertinent data is essential. Jot everything down in a notebook and transfer it to a spreadsheet. Keep a copy at home. There is nothing like a documented timeline to make people sit up and take notice.

You’re Not Alone

Bullies usually do not seek out just one person; bullying is an ongoing practice. Therefore, standing up and speaking up for yourself will be noticed by others who might also be targets, and there’s a good chance that they will feel empowered and encouraged to speak up as well. In addition, your actions may garner respect among coworkers, which will increase your chances of halting the bullying. But giving up on you won’t stop the bully from targeting others.

The Bystander Effect

Workplace bullying thrives for several reasons: managers shy away from dealing with the issue, there is no company policy governing it, targets are afraid to confront bullies and bystanders who witness bullying do nothing to stop or discourage it. According to an article in Psychology Today by Ronald E. Riggio, Ph.D., the latter is known as the “bystander effect.”

If you’re a bystander to bullying, there is plenty that you can do:

  • Cause a diversion when someone is being bullied to her face by interrupting and changing the subject
  • Decline to join in a backbiter’s snide jokes or negative remarks about a target
  • Set the record straight when a target is being maligned
  • Advise a target when a bully is making comments behind her back

It often takes as much courage to be an “upstander” as it does to be the target when confronting bullying.

Avoid Becoming a Target or Victim

Remember the vampiric folklore that a victim must invite the vampire into her or his dwelling in order to empower the vampire to attack? You can avoid inviting the bully in by upping your confidence level in the following ways:

  • Master your job, escalate your professional development and become an expert in a particular area.
  • Build your internal and external network of contacts; there is safety — and popularity — in numbers.
  • Volunteer to sit on internal committees and grow your power base.
  • Join a professional organization to increase your career opportunities.
  • Take care of your health and get enough rest so you feel strong and energetic.
  • Tap into your inner resources and sense of humor and sharpen your wit.
  • Be punctual and prepared, and be a strong and considerate team player.
  • Dress well and pay attention to your grooming; there is nothing like looking great to feel empowered!

You Can Do This

Sometimes you won’t be perfect in following the formulas above or dealing with a bullying situation. But, practice makes perfect; and determination, tenacity and a positive attitude will see you through to the final round to deliver that metaphoric knockout punch to the bully. Channel Rocky and just keep thinking, “getting strong now, won’t be long now…”

Additional Sources & Resources

Coping with Difficult People, by Robert M. Bramson, Ph.D. Audio Production, Simon & Schuster/Nightingale Conant

Dealing with Difficult People by Nanco Pelusi, Psychology Today, September 1, 2006

Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, by Mary Pipher, Ph.D

Boys will be Boys: Breaking The Link Between Masculinity And Violence, by Myriam Miedzian, Ph.D

Next Week

As a transition to my series on business and professional relationships, next week The Three E’s will feature an article entitled, How to Deal with the Silent Treatment, by John J. Daly, Jr., renowned international event planner, job search expert, workplace etiquette trainer and author of The Key Class: The Keys to Job Search Success, reprinted with his permission. Don’t miss it! See you in two weeks.

 Until next time,



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