Five Ways to Deal With Workplace Bullies (Conflict Management)


I’ll put it bluntly: getting bullied by others sucks. There are lots of different ways to handle it, but I want to acknowledge off-the-bat that it’s incredibly difficult to respond to bullies. Say nothing and you risk letting them walk all over you. Stand up for yourself and you risk being overly defensive and reactive. Sometimes it seems nearly impossible to find the ideal response to cruel people. With that said, there are proven strategies you can implement to make these situations manageable. Sadly, bullying happens not only in schools, but also in the workplace and other organizations. Some people never grow up.

Here are five simple, practical ways to deal with bullies in the workplace:

  1. Find someone at your workplace to become friends with and talk about the experience with. If you feel a little shy when it comes to making new friends, I understand the feeling. But it’s worth reaching out to people and striking up a friendship. Bullies want to make you feel isolated and alone. The truth is the bully’s comments come from one person — it’s only their opinion. The bully’s opinion doesn’t define you and it’s not how most people feel about you. You don’t need to tell the world you’re getting bullied, but talking about the experience with your workplace friends over lunch can be incredibly cathartic. They may provide you with ideas and solutions you didn’t think of yourself.
  2. Go to your boss about the bully. Going to your boss about the bully doesn’t mean you are afraid of confronting the bully directly. It means you are seeking to find a peaceful and professional solution. Bullies are usually not the kinds of people who are capable of having a normal, rational, and civil conversation. If your boss is a bully, go to your boss’s boss. If your boss’s boss is a bully, go to the CEO. If your CEO is a bully, leave the company and find a new job. You deserve better and must not tolerate bullying.
  3. Always do your best. Bullies want to make you think there is something wrong with you. The truth is there is nothing wrong with you, and they’re the ones with the problem. Deep down inside they feel scared and unworthy, and they believe the only way to build themselves up is to tear someone else down. When you do your best, the bully will have less ammo against you. Regardless of how the bully treats you, you can know you are giving it your all.
  4. Don’t overreact to the bully. Bullies are trying to feed off of your defensiveness. When you stay nonreactive, you’ll be seen at your company as the bigger person.
  5. Assert yourself. This is not a contradiction to point four, and this does not mean you are going to yell, get angry, and/or become overly defensive. Asserting yourself comes after all the other tips haven’t worked. You’ve remained nonreactive and the bully has decided to continue acting in dysfunctional ways. You may need to go up to them directly, and tell them in a professional and respectful way that you will not tolerate their actions. Let them know their behavior is unacceptable.

Dealing with bullies is not easy and often complex. The tips in this article are the tip of the iceberg as far as finding a solution, but they’re a good start. For a deeper dive, check out this article called Dealing with Bullies: How to Cope When People Are Cruel.

Jeff Davis is the author of The Power of Authentic Leadership. This post first appeared on on December 28th, 2017.

Jeff Davis
Jeff Davis is a professional speaker and the author of several books. He has done keynote speeches internationally and is a sought-after expert on self-leadership, anti-bullying, and overcoming adversity. Jeff frequently speaks to high schools, colleges, nonprofits, organizations, associations, conferences, and businesses. He’s been to five different continents and has a Master’s degree from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. He also did a well-received TEDx talk in New York City.