Dealing With Workplace Bullies: Seven Actions to Protect Yourself AND Others

What can you do to protect yourself, and others, from being bullied at work?

We all deal with different, and sometimes difficult, personalities at work.  But what do you do if the personality is a bully?  If you have ever encountered someone who berates you, deliberately excludes you from information, sets you up for failure, mocks you, points out your flaws in public, creates rumors about you at work, or any other deliberate act of negativity toward you…know you are not alone.  Unfortunately, most of us will face at least one workplace bully directed toward us, or someone we know, at some point in our career.  So what can you do to protect yourself, and others, from being bullied at work?

Here Are Seven Actions You Can Take to Protect Yourself AND Others From Workplace Bullies.

ONE – Be reserved when working with someone for the first time.

Bullying often starts silently.  Someone may be very nice to you in order to gain your trust as they gather information about you.  They will then turn on you when they see your vulnerability, using it against you.  If you are aware that this risk exists when you interact with people for the first time, you will stay more reserved and protected.  Always be professional and kind when working with people, but do not let your guard down until you have a continuous flow of interactions with someone who proves to you their intentions and motives are honest.

TWO – Pay attention to how people interact with one another.

Whether it is interaction among peers, managers or employees…you can tell a lot about a person by the consistency, or inconsistency, of their treatment toward others.  When you find individuals that communicate in a consistent and professional manner toward others, proactively work to develop a good rapport with these individuals.  When you find individuals that exhibit inconsistent behavior toward others, keep your interaction limited and strictly on point with getting required work done.

THREE – Establish your professional circle with good people of all levels.

Not just the people you want to be friends with, but people that you can collaborate with, and establish your professional reputation with.  Building a reputation at work is very important to ward off negativity from workplace bullies.  If you are known to be good at your job, a good collaborator, and have a strong professional support system, your vulnerability is reduced.  You should also make an effort to seek out others like you to help them build their reputation as well.  Be sure to include company leadership in your circle, if not your boss, one of his or her colleagues, or someone superior to them in the hierarchy.  Creating a mentor/mentee relationship with these individuals is a good approach.

FOUR – Always stay professional and on point.

If someone tries to bully you, whether it is a boss or co-worker, do not lower yourself to his or her level.  Always take the high road in the discussion and focus the discussion on facts, actions and next steps.  For example: if someone tries to set you up, blaming you for some mistake that has happened because you did not do something that they neglected to tell you about….Focus the dialog on finding a solution to the problem, identifying what went wrong, and trying to work with them to ensure the problem does not happen again.  If they see you are taking the chaos they are creating and trying to bring it back to professionalism and solutions, they will feel a loss of power.  Their power is generated by making you feel chaotic…removing the chaos generates your power.

FIVE – Take responsibility away from bullies.

If you are in a position of power, or in a position of leadership (even without authority), be responsible for fixing the bullying problem in your company.  Do not allow bickering.  Take a breath when someone complains to you about another worker and hear all sides before having any reaction.  If bullies see fair leadership, they will think twice before injecting unfair tactics in the workplace.

SIX – Be vocal about your bully’s behavior.

If you are being bullied, do not let the frustration fester inside you.  Use your professional circle (described in the third point of this article) as your sounding board.  These individuals see your value, and can give you the encouragement you need to know you are not losing your mind.  Be professional, do not use this network to “report” on your bully…instead use them to share your concern about the bully.  You can say things like “I was really shocked by something “John” did today.  If he acted this way toward me, the likelihood of him behaving this way in the future toward others is high, and in my mind unacceptable…have you had any encounters with him that are similar?”  You will probably find out that others are aware of “John” and can offer advice on how to deal with him.  Sometimes just knowing you are not alone can give you the strength you need to keep your professionalism and your head clear.

SEVEN – Know when it is time to seek other employment.

It is never too late to implement the first six actions discussed in this article.  If you are being bullied, these actions are the first steps you can take to make your situation better and give yourself the control you need.  However, if your bully has pushed you to the point of sleepless nights and drained your desire to go to work, then things may have gone too far.  Typically in a work environment where this behavior goes unnoticed, it will most likely go unresolved no matter what you do.  If you have been proactive and nobody is supporting you, it may be time to seek other employment whether it be asking for a new position within your current company or moving to a new company altogether…why would you want to stay in that situation anyway?  Focus on your skills and know that any company that allows workplace bullying is not a place you want to be.  Start fresh and keep these actions in mind as you create new work relationships.

Once you start defending yourself, your bully has won.  Your professionalism, your influence, your reputation and the people you have in your workplace circle, all act as barriers for workplace bullies.  Focus on creating these barriers instead of defending yourself when you are attacked.


Written by Lisa Woods, President Lisa Woods Consulting & Founder of

Lisa is a dynamic business leader & author located in Western New York with more than 20 years experience leading, managing and driving growth in the corporate world. Today she partners with business leaders to understand their vision, identify internal and external roadblocks, define a practical strategic path forward and guide a successful transformation. This work includes strategy definition & goal setting, organizational design, facilitating team buy-in, establishing visual metrics, internal and external research studies, business feasibility assessments, and investor insight into organizational strength, weakness & strategic opportunity. She helps business leaders drive growth & increase profits.

Strategic Consulting ǀ Management Consulting: Strategy Realized

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