How to Deal with a Bully at the workplace?

How to Deal with a Bully at the workplace?

Every workplace has people who like to find their way around by bullying people. If you have such a co-worker who is trying to bully you, how do you deal with him? How to you tell him/her that you won’t take any more? There is always the dilemma – should I speak up or should I stay silent? Speaking up means that it would burn the bridges and remaining silent would give the impression to bully that their bullying is acceptable. What do you do in such a situation?

Now, if such a bully is your manager, then the situation becomes even tenser. You need to find a way to deal with him in the short-term (which hopefully this blog will help you with), but long-term you need to start looking for another job/role/company, under another manager.

Here are some ways I have used to handle such situations, and hopefully will help you as well:

Set high standards. First off, remaining silent is never an option in such cases. Remaining silent gives a signal to bully that he can repeat the same behavior not just with you but with other people as well. So, gather the courage to speak up!

Speaking up is not hard, it’s the consequences of it that are hard. But if we speak up in right manner, the risk of consequences can be reduced. So we need to prepare so that we inform the bully in the right manner that we will not take it anymore, but at the same time make the environment/discussion non-attacking.

Having said that, preparation doesn’t guarantee that you will always win or there will be no retaliation. Right preparation just reduced the chances of it. There will be times when you know that you are right and you will still lose. But the failure in one situation shouldn’t result in you losing faith in your values. Fairness is an expensive gift and don’t expect it from cheap people. But you have the responsibility to ensure you do the right things, and quite frankly, this is not always easy to do. It is super important in these hard times to make sure you don’t do anything that is against your values and set a high bar for yourself. Demand yourself of equality, openness, and respect – both for yourself and for others.

Take a deep breath. The first thing to do when such a situation happens is to not respond immediately. Give yourself some time to think and breathe. If you are reading an upsetting email, then lock your computer and move away from your desk. If you have the luxury of space and isolation, do some physical activity, like skipping or jumping. Working out takes the adrenaline rush out of our brain and makes you think clearly.

Try to see thing from far and other’s perspective and then start working on your action plan accordingly!

Courage, unused, diminishes.

Plan what you are going to say, before starting the conversation or hitting the Send button.

Be confident. Either it is a in-person conversation or conversation over email, always state your arguments with confidence. Try not to use words like “Please” for more than once. If you find yourself saying “please” multiple times in your speech, you need to give yourself some pep talk. Demand respect, equality, and openness for yourself and others. It helps to read your response multiple times, especially from a third person’s view to ensure that you don’t come across as either offensive or too soft.

State your side of the story. I would recommend reading “Crucial conversations” book before you get into such a situation. That book has great advice on how you can understand your and other person’s story and phrase your argument such that it is not attacking but the same time conveys the appropriate message. That book has influenced how I approach such difficult conversations in my life.

Lastly, be prepared for the outcome. The decision to speak up or not shouldn’t be based on the potential outcome of the whole process. You may win and the bully may realize the mistake and back off (I have seen that happen many times in my career), or you may lose and the bully tries everything possible to retaliate against you. Irrespective of the outcome, you shouldn’t lose faith in your values. The fact that you spoke up and stood for yourself will give you the confidence and peace, which will be much more valuable than you win/loss in the conversation.


Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that MATTER.

– Martin Luther King, Jr.

Have you ever had such a situation in your workplace? How did you deal with it? Leave your feedback in the comments below.

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A geek, a techie, a daughter, a sister and a wife. Worked at Microsoft for 8 years and currently working at Amazon Web Services (AWS). All opinions expressed here are my own and has no correlation to my employer or ex-employers!

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