In a recent workshop someone asked how to deal with bullies. It was a great question because bullies create havoc in the workplace. There are two kinds. The first has one or two very specific targets and saves their worst behavior for these unfortunate souls. The second tries to bully anyone and everyone.
The second, while typically louder and nastier, is actually easier to deal with. The reason is that you have lots of people who don’t appreciate the behavior. There is strength in numbers. If collectively the group provides the bully with unpleasant consequences, the person may decide that the bullying behaviors aren’t working and try something new (and hopefully less nasty).
The first is the bigger problem. If you are on the receiving end and are the sole target for the bad behavior, you may feel more vulnerable to attack. In these cases, you have three actions you can take in the following sequence.
1. Talk to the bully
Be direct and respectful. Describe the behavior. State clearly that you don’t like it and that you want the behavior to stop. Hopefully for many people who weren’t completely aware how their actions were affecting you, this conversation might be enough to stop the behavior.
As an option, you could add a final component to your message. And this would be stating what action you will take next if it doesn’t stop.
2. Report the behavior
If the person is too scary to confront or you have already done so without a positive result, it’s time to tell someone who can help you.
In most cases, discussing the matter with your supervisor is the logical first step. Alternatives include an HR rep, union rep, or another trusted manager.
It usually helps to have details about the behavior: What, when, how often, impacts, etc. This sort of documentation makes it easier for them to take action on your behalf.
3. Remove yourself from the situation
Sometimes the person just won’t stop the bullying. And in some of those cases, people aren’t able or willing to help you. It’s then that finding a way out becomes a viable last resort.
This could mean asking for another assignment or to be physically moved to a work location that’s farther from the bully. It could mean transferring to another department. If all else fails, it could mean looking for work in another organization.
Bullies do a tremendous amount of damage. Typically they won’t change their behavior without some sort of intervention. If you are on the receiving end of this bad behavior, it’s up to you to get the ball rolling.