While the schoolyard bully may have pushed you down at recess or threatened to beat you up after school, workplace bullies operate a bit differently.
A workplace bully's tactics might range from saying your ideas are stupid to taking credit for your work. That type of behavior may not attract the attention of supervisors.
And in the worst case scenarios, it may be your supervisor who is doing the bullying.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, bullying is repeated health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons. It's not an isolated incident. Bullying is persistent and prolonged.
The Toll Bullying Takes on Individuals and Companies
I've seen many individuals in my therapy office who were struggling with a workplace bully. The associated stress caused issues like difficulty sleeping, trouble concentrating, anxiety, and sadness.
Many of them reported that a workplace bully affected them beyond the workplace. Their family was affected too because they came home from work in a bad mood or they took their stress out on their families.
Some of them experienced health problems too, such as migraines or high blood pressure. And many of them felt as though it was affecting their careers. They weren't performing as well and some of them thought the bully was sabotaging their chances of achievement.
How to Deal With a Workplace Bully
Whether your boss intimidates you or your co-worker torments you, you have choices in the way you respond. Here are seven healthy ways to respond to a bully:
- Focus on your reaction. Lashing out, melting down, or screaming back at a bully isn't likely to be helpful. Take some deep breaths and manage your response carefully. Commit to controlling your reaction in a healthy way.
- Limit the power the bully has over your life. Complaining about the bully to your partner or devoting countless hours to thinking about how to get revenge, allows a bully to take up more of your time and energy. Don't give negative or toxic people more space in your life.
- Develop healthy coping skills. It can be tempting to turn to unhealthy coping strategies, like alcohol or food, to soothe your emotions. But these coping strategies create more problems than they solve. Exercising, reading, spending time with friends, or meditating are just a few healthier ways to deal with your emotions.
- Confront the bully. Sometimes, saying, "I'm not going to put up with this anymore," can stop bullies in their tracks. You might also consider calling a bully out in a meeting by saying, "I saw you rolled your eyes when I shared my idea. Did you have something you wanted to say about that?"
- Document each incident. Keep a paper trail that clearly shows what's happening. Write down the date, what happened, and who was there to witness the incident. Maintaining those records can help you show a pattern of bullying behavior in the event you decide to take the issue to the next level.
- Gather support. It's unlikely that a bully is singling you out (even though it may feel that way). Talk to other co-workers to learn who else might be feeling like they're affected by a workplace bully. Identifying how widespread the issue is could motivate your employer to address the issue.
- Tell someone. Depending on your situation, you might decide to tell HR or you might want to go to a supervisor first. Think carefully about who is most likely to help you get the most results.
Should You Quit Your Job?
No one wants to quit their job over a bully. That can feel like the bully wins.
But, if your employer isn't interested in taking action, you should really consider whether your job is worth the toll it is taking on your life. Working in a toxic environment isn't worth the money.
If you do quit, remind yourself the bully didn't force you to get out. You chose to find a new position because you respect yourself and are not interested in tolerating an abusive environment. That subtle change in mindset can make a big difference between feeling like a winner and thinking you're a loser.