Three Steps To Tackling The Workplace Bully



Work is stressful enough. But it can be made a whole lot worse if someone you work with is bullying you – and bullying can come in a myriad of forms.

The UK government defines bullying and harassment as “behavior that makes someone feel intimidated or offended”*. Harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010, but bullying as such is not, it’s too slippery a concept to pin down in law.

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But there are a number of tried and trusted ways of coping with bullying and taking back the power. Here are our three first steps towards making that happen.

Before we go any further, the bottom line on this is, if you feel as though someone is repeatedly out to undermine, intimidate or offend you they probably are. It’s in the subtle nuances of day to day interactions that bullies operate. It can be as apparently innocent as someone not lending you a pen or repeatedly telling a particular variety of joke in your presence. But remember, your feelings are a wholly legitimate part of the equation.

That’s step one to countering the bully.

So if it seems to you that you’re consistently being given shorter deadlines, fewer resources or that you’re experiencing a different and more uncomfortable style of interaction than your colleagues, don’t for one second begin to accept that it’s a natural part of your working environment, or that it’s something you have to put up with. It’s not; it’s the thin end of the bullying wedge.

Step two is to share that realization. Bullies work by isolating and intimidating their prey. And typically they do that covertly. It’s a lot harder to do that if their behavior is the talk of the office. So share your concerns with your colleagues. You don’t have to be confrontational about it. Just asking questions will get the word out there. “Does XXX do that with you?” or “is it just me, or is it reasonable for XXX to go on about [your concerns]?” are good examples. After all, ‘unreasonable’ is very close to ‘unprofessional’.

Making your concerns public will do two things: It will make it harder for the bully to get away with treating you unreasonably, and it will make you feel a whole lot better about yourself. Bullying is about undermining people. Friends at work are the key to countering that. Talking to them is a form of taking back control. Make all your dealings with the bully as public as you possibly can – right down to your phone calls and emails.

Garnering that support is also a first step towards expressing your concerns to the bully themselves. But our advice here – and this is step three – is to be careful and to be specific. If you have a complaint, make it absolutely about one clearly identifiable issue. Complaining about ‘bullying’ is too general a charge to carry any weight. It can be shrugged off too easily. But if you can ask someone publicly to stop doing one thing because you find it upsetting, that’s an altogether different matter.

And once you’ve summoned the courage to challenge a bully once, you’ll find it a whole lot easier to do it a second time. And a third if needs be.

Finally, the advice we’re offering here stops short of going nuclear. Registering a formal complaint against a bully is likely to be uncomfortable. If you are going to opt for all out confrontation then make sure you have a bank of evidence and a posse of reliable witnesses on board. It will be messy. Accusing someone of bullying in the workplace is a serious matter and it is not something you should do lightly. But if you have previously aired complaints, have a record of specific evidence to substantiate your case and other people prepared to back you up then you should have nothing to fear. The law is on your side.

The UK government’s anti-bullying website is Leaving that up on your computer screen might be a useful early warning signal that you’re not prepared to be pushed around.


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