How To Deal With A Bully In The Office (According To Science)

How To Deal With A Bully In The Office (According To Science)

How To Deal With A Bully In The Office (According To Science)—Infographic

Bullying is not just limited to schools; it's a common occurrence in the workplace, too. Have you spotted some bullying at work or been the victim of bullying yourself? In this infographic, we'll show you how to handle a bully in the office, according to science and advice from industry experts.

Workplace bullying is more common and damaging than you might think.

  • 60.4 million Americans are affected by bullying in the workplace.
  • 40% of bullied targets are believed to suffer adverse health effects.
  • 29% of targets remain silent about their experiences.

And it can take many forms.

  • Intimidation
    Threats, social exclusion, spying.
  • Negative work behaviors
    Wrongful blame, work sabotage, stealing credit for ideas.
  • Verbal abuse
    Mockery, jokes, gossip.
  • Physical
    Tripping, pushing, damaging property.
  • Institutional
    Unrealistic goals, forced overtime, abusive emails.
  • Retaliation
    Accusation of lying, further exclusion, refused promotions.

How To Handle A Bully In The Workplace As A Target

Being the target of a workplace bully can make you feel isolated and scared. Luckily, there are proven ways to handle the situation.

Talk About The Bullying With A Friend, Therapist, Coworker, Or Family Member

Matt Lundquist of Tribeca Therapy says, "When things are kept private, they have a way of festering. Victims may think of what happened as their shame, as opposed to the shame of the abuser."

Speak Up For Yourself Immediately

Speaking out early can stop the bullying happening again. Research from Madrid UCM shows that the more stressed a victim becomes, the more likely they are to be targeted.

Pro tip: Try explaining to the bully what happened and why it's a problem. Say, "I notice that you...and when you do that it..."

Document The Bullying

Filing away abusive emails, notes, and messages gives you a much stronger case against your bully, should it come to taking action—legal or otherwise—down the line.

Pro tip: If bullying occurs go back to your desk and write down who witnessed it, what was said and why it was said.

Keep Busy Outside Of Work

A study by Lori and Randy Sansone shows that bullying takes a toll on your body and mind. It can cause mental distress, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and inflammation.

Review Your Company's Policies On Bullying

If your company has a policy in place around bullying, you'll have something concrete to point to when reporting the behavior.

Pro tip: Consult an employment attorney to get a sense of what your options are.

How To Handle A Bully In The Workplace As A Witness

If you witness workplace bullying, it can be uncomfortable. But you don't have to stand by and watch, there are steps you can take to help solve the problem.

Call The Bully Out

Research by Sergey Gavrilets suggests that standing up to bullies is effective on an evilutionary level—it can create conditions for empathy, compassion, cooperation, and egalitarian moral values—for the entire group.

Pro tip: Point out their destructive or aggressive behavior. Say, "Hey, what's going on? Let's not talk to each other that way."

Report It To Your Manager Immediately

According to research published in Science in 2018, if an unfavorable outcome follows an action, then it becomes less likely to be repeated.

Pro tip: State the problem to your manager and if appropriate, offer them a quick solution to the problem. Say, "I've noticed that... Maybe if we..."

Staying Close By

Staying close to the target can help reduce instances of bullying, as seen in a study by Faye Mishna published in Children and Youth Services Review.

Pro tip: Keep an eye on the victim and, if possible, offer to accompany them in situations where bullying might occur.

Alert Your Colleagues

It's possible that the victim is not the only person being bullied. Getting your colleagues on board means you can use your collective power to mobilize as a group to deal with the situation.

Pro tip: Ask colleagues to start documenting the bullying too, so you can present a stronger case to management.

Don't: Gang up and confront the bully. Confrontational behavior is likely to backfire and won't stop the bullying.

How To Handle A Bully In The Workplace As A Manager

People in managerial roles can take certain actions against bullying that others simply cannot. It might not be easy, but it's essential you take action.

Deal With It Directly And Swiftly

A study published in the European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology confirms a relationship between bullying and "laissez-faire" leadership behaviors.

Pro tip: Call a meeting with the accused immediately to discuss the complaint.

Do: Fully document the meeting and ask a representative from Human Resources to attend.

Assume Responsibility For The Issue

Research from UMIST shows that employers' failure to assume responsibility in cases of interpersonal conflict has been identified as a major risk factor for bullying.

Pro tip: If your company doesn't have one, develop a bullying and harassment policy.

Establish Clear Rules And Consequences

Research shows that the threat of punishment has people act more fairly. So having consequences in place for breaking the rules will deter bullying.

Pro tip: Circulate guidelines around how complaints of bullying will be dealt with. State clearly that:

  • A thorough and impartial investigation of all complaints will be conducted.
  • Anyone found guilty will be subject to disciplinary action, including dismissal.

Could You Be A Workplace Bully?

We've discussed how to handle a bully as a target, witness, and manager. But what happens if unbeknownst to are the bully? To find out if you're negatively impacting your coworkers ask yourself these questions.

Do you:

  • Gossip about your coworkers?
  • Exclude coworkers from activities?
  • Joke about your coworkers?
  • Listen in on coworkers' conversations?
  • Single out coworkers who can't keep up?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be a workplace bully.

Whether you're the target of bullying, a witness, the manager, or perhaps even the bully yourself, following the expert tips in this guide will help you stop bullying and minimize its impact on your life.


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