How to Triumph Over the Workplace Bully
If you’re at the receiving end of a coworker’s belittling behavior, use these 5 ways to stop it
Sadly, it seems every office has one — the person who makes snide remarks or belittles others. Just like their immature schoolyard counterparts, workplace bullies inflict emotional stress on their co-workers through frequent intimidation and humiliation.
Catherine Mattice, of Civility Partners in San Diego, California, a consulting firm that specializes in developing solutions for negative behaviors in the workplace, defines workplace bullying as “systematic aggressive communication, humiliation and manipulation aimed at one or more individuals that creates an unhealthy and unprofessional power imbalance between the bully and the target, and results in psychological damage for targets and co-workers.”
If you’ve been the victim of a workplace bully, you aren’t alone. A 2014 survey published by the Workplace Bullying Institute in Bellingham, Washington, found that 65.6 million workers in the United States have been affected by bullying, and many employers fail to fully address reported mistreatment and abusive conduct.
While your first instinct may be to lash out at the bully or to begin searching for another job, Mattice, the author of Back Off: Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying at Work, says there are a number of steps employees can take to prevent and remedy acts of workplace bullying. She offers these five tips to help you reclaim both your sanity and your workplace.
1. Change your mindset. Many victims of workplace bullying suffer in silence, either because they feel intimidated by the bully or because they start feeling demoralized, underappreciated and frustrated, and they believe nothing will change if they speak up.
“Rather than accepting bullying as an inevitable part of work and losing interest in your job, try to view the situation as a challenge you can overcome,” Mattice says. “Start by acknowledging the bullying isn’t your fault and you don’t deserve to be abused at work. This will make it easier for you to assess the situation and determine how to best respond to the bully.”
2. Stand up for yourself. While the thought of a confrontation may make you cringe, Mattice encourages employees to confront bullies if their behavior becomes chronic. “If someone is acting unprofessionally, it’s important to stand up for yourself and to let the bully know their behavior isn’t acceptable and won’t be tolerated,” Mattice says.
Rather than responding with aggression, Mattice suggests calling out the bully on their specific actions, saying something like, “I want you to stop belittling me in meetings. When you behave that way, it disrupts the work environment. I treat you with respect and I expect the same of you. “
Confronting the bully is also important because managers and human resources professionals will be more receptive to your complaint if you demonstrate you’re a problem-solver and tried to address the bullying situation on your own before lodging a formal complaint.
3. Document everything. Mattice stresses that it’s important to keep a factual journal of the bullying behaviors, as well as copies of any memos, emails or other tangible evidence. Document every incident, and note dates, other employees who witnessed the incident, what the bully did and your response.
“Be clear and concise when you file a complaint with your supervisor or human resources manager,” Mattice says. “Focus on the bullying behaviors and the damage they are causing the organization in terms of absenteeism and a less productive staff, rather than how the behavior makes you feel.”
Mattice also recommends determining in advance how you’d like to see the problem resolved. Do you want the manager to take action against the bully, or do you want to transfer to another department? Don’t just complain to your superiors, tell them how you’d like to see the situation resolved.
Related: How to Set Up a Feel-Good Office
4. Seek out support. Workplace bullying doesn’t just create tension in the workplace — it also affects the health of the employees who are being bullied. If you’re on the receiving end of a bully’s behavior, Mattice recommends making an appointment with a counselor or an employee assistance program (EAP) representative to get assistance with stress management and minimize the effects of bullying on your mental and physical health.
According to a survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute, many targets of bullying have reported feeling anxious and suffering from heart palpitations, insomnia, migraines, depression and other health issues.
5. Report the behavior. While there are currently no laws that make workplace bullying illegal, the Workplace Bullying Institute is backing an effort to get a Healthy Workplace Bill introduced and passed in states across the country.
Meanwhile, Mattice recommends filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). An EEOC task force is working to leverage the group's resources in order to have a greater impact on the problem of workplace harassment.
Related: Is Your Teen Being Cyberbullied?