Within organizations, there is inevitably conflict between supervisors and their subordinates and also between team members and peers. However, sometimes there are individuals who are destructive in their behavior because of their leadership style and personality traits (Wright et al., 2017). Workplace bullying is a real problem in organizations and can cause physical and psychological health issues for employees who are being harassed (Branch & Murray, 2015). This blogpost takes insights from research on workplace bullying and CQ Dossiers to introduce a simple step-by-step guideline on how to deal with bullies.
Workplace bullying is a common phenomenon with truly detrimental effects. We have identified five steps to help you deal with bullying, mobbing and harassment at work. It is important to realize that there are some things you can’t control, such as the behavior of the bully. However, you can control your reaction to bullying so the blog focuses on those things of which you have control.
Step 1 – Be assertive!
First, you have control over your reaction to bullying. Bullies prey on individuals who are weak and unassertive. They also enjoy watching victims get angry because this provides them with a rationale for their bullying. Consequently, it is important that you assert yourself in any situation where you are bullied by your supervisor or peer. Being assertive in stating that you are a victim of workplace bullying can compel your employer to take action.
Draw boundaries and speak-up - silence only helps bullies
In terms of strategies to avoid being bullied, it is important that at the first sign of bullying behavior you state that you won’t tolerate this kind of behavior. Secrecy and silence create environments for bullies in which to thrive. Through speaking out and being assertive, the bully will lose their power. This, of course, requires your organization to have a speak-up culture in place.
Example: You work in the IT department of a medium-size organization. You get on well with the people in your group and have been there for just under a year. One of the senior staff who has been in the office for ten years has criticized your work. In fact, since the day you started, the senior staff member has made veiled insults and has never patted you on the back for being a good team member. One day you arrive at work and hear the senior staff member talking about you in the corridor with some of your other colleagues. You say good morning and smile but they continue to talk. You are upset and unsure what to do. It seems that the senior staff member is turning people against you.
Step 2 – Make a formal complaint
Once you have decided to be assertive in the situation, it is important that you report the bullying to your supervisor and the human resources department. Make an appointment with your supervisor and report the incidents. Because workplace bullying takes place over a period of time, one way to deal with the situation is to write down all the incidents of bullying.
Example: You are still upset about the series of incidents escalating in your senior colleague gossiping about you with others. You take a deep breath and send an email to your supervisor asking for a meeting to discuss a personal issue. You don’t include any information in the email about the bullying. Your supervisor emails you straight away and you arrange to meet the following day. You discuss the incidents with your boss. Your boss tells you that she will contact the human resource department to report the bullying.
Step 3 – Engage in self-care!
Being bullied in the workplace is very stressful and can have physical and psychological effects on workers (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2012). It is important that you engage in self-care if you are being bullied. Self-care can include visiting the doctor if you are suffering physical ailments related to stress. This is also a good time to connect with family members and friends who can support you. You can also make an appointment with a therapist or counselor to get help if you are suffering from psychological distress.
Consider an outside opinion through counseling to learn new strategies
Counseling can provide you with an avenue to discuss the effects of the bullying and to also obtain advice form a neutral professional who can suggest other strategies to reduce the stress from bullying.
Example: You go home to your spouse who tells you that they are concerned about your anxiety. Normally, you are a calm person, but the bullying has resulted in you crying and feeling anxious about everyday plans. You talk to your spouse about the bullying and agree that the bullying is the cause of your stress. Your spouse reassures you that they are there to support you. You pick up the phone and call the doctor’s office to an appointment. Later in the week, you see the doctor who provides you with the contact information for a therapist in the area. Later in the day, you call the therapist and set up an appointment.
Step 4: Be an advocate!
Typically, workplace mobbing occurs when a supervisor ‘whips up’ a group of subordinates who engage in harassing an individual employee (Steffgen et al., 2019). If you wish to stay in the organization, then you should alert senior management to workplace mobbing because it can have deleterious effects on a person’s health and well-being.
Make use of formal complaint mechanisms if available
It is important for you to make a formal complaint and for the organization to develop and implement HR policies that negate workplace mobbing or bullying. If organizations discount bullying, then this can change the climate and create toxicity. If this occurs, then you should leave the organization.
Example: After seeing the therapist, you feel much better and you talk to your supervisor about the mobbing that occurred. Your supervisor agrees that this is an important issue. Together, you write a memo to the HR Department and request a training needs assessment to determine the level of mobbing and bullying in the workplace.
Step 5: Stay strong!
If all else fails, confront the person who is bullying you. Being assertive rather than staying silent can impact how the bully treats you. It is important to remember that the bullying is not your fault and it shouldn’t be tolerated. For example, the person might be a narcissist. You can arrange to meet with the bully and confront the problem gently and tactfully (Dubrin, 2012). Explain to the bully that you don’t tolerate bullying behavior and ask the person to stop doing it.
Cope with day-to-day situations using proven methods
If the bullying continues and you can’t leave the organization, then try using The Gray Rock Method. The method requires you to blend into the landscape and lay low through not giving attention to the bully. Eventually, the bully will move onto another target. However, this is by no means a long-term strategy and it is not conducive to the workplace environment overall.
Example: You get on well with your supervisor, who suggests that you also confront the bully and explain that you don’t like the way in which the bully has treated you. You meet with the bully and tell them that you don’t tolerate bullying and want the bullying to stop. You are kind and courteous in your approach and state that you want a professional and cordial relationship with the person. The bully apologizes and you shake hands.
This five-step approach is a good starting point how to deal wth Workplace bullying, mobbing and harassment in practice. However, there are situations that require special expertise and support. CQ Net - Management skills for everyone! can provide you this support with counseling services dedicated to solving your workplace issue. Just drop us a message. We are here to help!
DuBrin, A. J. (2012). Narcissism in the Workplace: Research, Opinion and Practice
Nielsen, M. B., & Einarsen, S (2012) Outcomes of exposure to workplace bullying: A meta-analytic review, Work & Stress, 26, 4, 309-332, DOI: 10.1080/02678373.2012.734709
Steffgen, G., Sischka, P., Schmidt, A.F., Kohl, D & Happ, C. (2019). The Luxembourg Workplace Mobbing Scale. European Journal of Psychological Assessment, 35, 2, 164-71.
Wright, A. G. C., Stepp, S. D., Scott, L. N., Hallquist, M. N., Beeney, J. E., Lazarus, S. A., & Pilkonis, P. A. (2017). The effect of pathological narcissism on interpersonal and affective processes in social interactions. Journal of Abnormal psychology, 126(7), 898- 910.
Annette was born in England and now lives in the United States. She has a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and has taught at several institutions. Annette has published in several journals, including Journal of Applied Psychology, Personnel Psychology, Human Resource Development Quarterly, and Organizational Research Methods. She worked in the public and private sector for many years, primarily as a management trainer.