Dealing with Bullies
By Mike Martin
Workplace bullying is not new and most of us have experienced a boss or supervisor who has treated us with disdain, contempt or worse. Some of us have been verbally attacked and even threatened with physical violence at our place of work.
Few of us had the willingness to complain or report these activities and simply remained silent in the face of these attacks because we wanted to keep our job. So the bullies kept up their behavior until we quit or asked for another assignment.
What’s different about the situation today is that more employers are taking steps to eliminate workplace bullying and to sensitize all of the employees, especially supervisors and managers, about the impact of their actions on the morale and productivity of their staff. But what is workplace bullying?
In 1999 the International Labour Organization (ILO) produced a report on workplace violence that stated that physical and emotional violence is one of the most serious problems facing the workplace in the new millennium. The ILO definition of workplace violence includes bullying as:
“any incident in which a person is abused, threatened or assaulted in circumstances relating to their work. These behaviors would originate from customers, co-workers at any level of the organization. This definition would include all forms or harassment, bullying, intimidation, physical threats/assaults, robbery and other intrusive behaviors.”
The bully uses aggression and violent behavior to compensate for feelings of inadequacy. It seems that bullies just don’t like other people who are good at their job and have an ability to get along in a non-confrontational manner. They feel threatened by these people and need to diminish them in order to feel better about themselves.
Peer on peer bullying is often disguised as “healthy competition” between workers and will manifest itself by acts of sabotage, undercutting, and spreading gossips and rumors. There is nothing healthy about such a situation. If the bully is a boss or superior they may try and set the employee up for failure by setting unrealistic deadlines, not providing the necessary information and resources; or either taking away work or just piling it on. In both situations this underhanded behavior is designed to embarrass and harass the employee and is almost always accompanied by verbal assaults and threats.
So what can be done about workplace bullying? Most experts say that it needs to be treated like any other disease. You need to treat its impact as soon as you become aware of it, identify the symptoms early, and eliminate or reduce the risk through prevention.
Define the behavior that you feel is bullying
You have to clearly define the actions, words, or gestures that you feel are bullying. If the person yelled at you or called you names then name those behaviors. Make a list so that you can refer to it when you talk to the person.
Tell the person that you think it is inappropriate behavior
After you define the behavior tell the person that you think that this is inappropriate behavior and that you consider it to be bullying. Do not engage in any discussion about the behavior or any attempts to talk about anything else.
Tell them you don’t like it
You need to make a clear, strong statement that says, “I don’t like that behavior.” Resist the urge to water this statement down and make sure that they hear it directly from you.
Ask them to stop
Near the end of your conversation you need to ask them to stop this behavior, firmly, but politely. They need to know what you expect from them and that is that they will stop this behavior.
It’s not easy to carry out this process with someone who is aggressive or intimidating, especially a difficult person, but you need to follow these steps in order to try and change the bullying behavior. But remember nobody has to put up with bullying behavior in the workplace.
Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of “Change the Things You Can” (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit: