Stop Bullying in the Workplace!

By Kathy Marlor

Workplace bullies have been around since the beginning of the workplace. The bullies may be the boss him/herself, or a supervisor or co-worker. No matter who the workplace bully is, the negative effects go far past harming the recipient’s self-esteem.

Workplace bullying can create a hostile, stressful work environment for everyone.

Workplace bullying can create a hostile, stressful work environment for everyone.

When there is bullying in the workplace, people go into “protective” mode. They may spend their valuable energy fearing the next interaction with the offender, rather than finding ways to improve their performance in the company. In turn, if a worker dreads interacting with someone else at work, think about the stress that they may feel, the additional sick days they may take and their overall outlook on the company. A workplace environment with employees in protective mode, is less productive, may have a high turnover of employees and may have employees withholding valuable information or purposely trying to damage the company because of the way they have been treated. Worse yet, a few “snap” and return to the workplace to vandalize it, or even with weapons to harm co-workers or kill offenders.

Bullying behavior in the workplace can take place in many forms. It could be the use of unfair criticism, snide remarks, micro-managing, (this one is familiar to me, lol), verbal abuse, exploitation, or humiliation in front of others.

I once had a boss that was a controlling, micro-manager. His behavior was as if he was afraid that any minute someone else would have his job. His bullying weapons of choice were: micro-managing, humiliation in front of others, harsh criticism, and snide, sarcastic remarks. What’s ironic is that all the employees who were subjected to this type of treatment, still spent a good amount of time, trying to please him because they needed the income from their job. Pleasing him was not possible for very long. Only I spoke up, as everyone else was fearful that they’d lose their job. Eventually, I choose to leave the company after having dedicated seven years and receiving a $10,000 raise. To me, no amount of money was worth the stress of being bullied and treated with disrespect, and it started to take a toll on my health.

If you are a boss, or a fellow employee or others and suspect you may bully from time-to-time, consider communicating in positive, tactful ways to get the results you want. If you have a concern and need to bring it into the open, and think it may embarrass someone if it’s done in front of others- don’t have the conversation in public. Have it in private. Think through how to communicate your points tactfully, with the best outcome in mind and choose words that aren’t insulting or bullying in nature.

For example, if you need to tell someone their performance needs to improve, avoid saying: “You know you’ve been screwing up non-stop for a long time.” Instead, lead with something like: “We need to touch-base on your performance and I’d like to see how I can help you _____________.” (improve sales, etc.)

It’s usually not what you say, but how you say it that matters. People remember “how” they were treated. If they really aren’t a good fit for the job, let them go, but don’t belittle them. 

To prevent being bullied in the workplace and anywhere, know and use the ABCs of FAST Self Defense.  The A stands for “awareness“,  the B stands for “boundaries” and the C stands for core-confidence. If a person uses A and B, they general possess C.

Awareness includes understanding your communication style and whether you are passive, assertive or aggressive. Passive people are selected by bullies most often because they figure that they won’t stand up for themselves. Assertive people have far less challenges with others.

Awareness also includes understanding what your hot buttons or personal triggers are, and striving to not allow them to be pushed by others. Staying in control and calm and not “buying” into others stuff, can help take the wind out of the sails of a bully. Learning to set tactful, verbal boundaries, when someone else is behaving inappropriately, or asking you to do something that they really shouldn’t, is a valuable skill to have as an employee and in life.

Workplace bullies are like predators. They are looking for those that are passive, lack confidence and the assertiveness to stand-up to them, or take action to prevent being bullied. Be aware of your body language and tone of voice. They communicate so much more than the words you speak. Practice being confident and  try to tactfully say “No” when you need to or voice your opinions assertively to others. Be aware of how you come across to others.

Learn to set tactful boundaries with others. Whether you’re being asked to do an unfair amount of work that no one else is being asked to do, or if someone is using bullying tactics with you, think through how to use assertive, tactful, verbal boundaries to say “No” or to let the other person know that their behavior is not appropriate. Have the conversation in private if possible, as you don’t want to embarrass the other person either.

Here is an example: “Stan, when you say that my idea is dumb, in front of everyone, you’re encouraging me to not take part in the meetings. I get that not all my ideas will be considered, but I’m only voicing them trying to help the company succeed.”

Add humor and laugh a little if appropriate. You can soften your words and keep the other person from being defensive by using a bit of humor when you speak to them. Using the example above, the person could also say to Stan with a small chuckle: “I know not all of my ideas are crazy brilliant, but hey, I do come up with some awesome ideas once in a while don’t I?”

Give the bully an honorable exit. Let’s assume that the offender doesn’t mean to be hurtful-I know this can be a stretch sometimes, lol. Giving them an “out” or an “honorable exit” will again help keep them from being defensive, and will make it easier for you to tactfully make your point and speak up.

Here’s an example of an honorable exit: “Stan, I know that you didn’t mean to be hurtful, but when you said my idea was dumb and said it in front of the entire company, that was embarrassing. Again, I’m sure you didn’t mean to be hurtful, and I know not all my creative ideas will be considered, but I’d appreciate it if in the future you could let me know politely and in private if one of my ideas isn’t viable and why.”

If you are using assertive, tactful, communication and the offender continues their behavior, then you’ll have to decide if you’d like take it to the next level; that can be going to their boss, your supervisor, HR, or pursuing another career.

The ABCs of FAST Self Defense can help both people in management and employees learn the art of assertive, tactful communication which can make the workplace more productive, less stressful and more fun for everyone. How awesome would a place like that be to work?

If you’d like a Stop Bullying workshop, the ABCs of FAST Self Defense or a custom workshop taught in the workplace or at your location, please contact me at: