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Beat the Workplace Bully: Steps to Take & Fight Back

Workplace or corporate bullying is one of the most problematic aspects of the modern corporate world. 

I've seen bullying in every single company that I've worked in, to varying degrees. Sometimes it's subtle and relatively mild, whereas other times it can be as a result of a calculated and deliberate drive to make someone's life a misery or damage their career. At its worst, bullying can have serious health implications for the victim, and can wreck careers.

According to employment authority, ACAS in the UKworkplace bullying is behaviour from a person or group that is unwanted and makes you feel uncomfortable. Examples may include feeling frightened, intimidated, less respected or put down, made fun of and made to feel uncomfortable or humiliated, upset or insulted - but can be a combination of all.

So if you suspect or know that you're on the receiving end of this kind of treatment, then here are a number of things you can do.

Firstly - What NOT to do.

Beat the Workplace Bully: Steps to Take & Fight Back

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Don't blame yourself

This is vital. Being a victim of a bullying situation is NEVER the fault of the victim. And you'd be amazed how many people think that they're getting this treatment because of something they've done themselves. 

So always remember that no-one deserves to be bullied. Either at home, at school or at work. 

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Don't immediately go to HR

This is a no no. At least not straightaway. HR have an obligation to the company, not to you. They're also likely to pass the complaint on to the person themselves, which may well inflame or complicate the situation. I've seen people go to HR with bullying complaints on several occasions, and they've never once helped drive a successful resolution. 

So keep that HR escalation in your pocket until later. 

Don't confront the bully immediately

This may seem tempting, but it's not a good idea to confront a bully immediately. 

Confrontation without a full assessment of the situation runs the risk of further antagonising the bully, and leaving you unprepared and ripe for being accused of acting on emotion or being paranoid. 

You'll be up against it even more, before you've had time to assess, think and plan your strategy for beating the bully. That'll put you at a big disadvantage. 

If you're getting bullied then there are a number of things you need to do BEFORE considering a confrontation. We'll talk about them in the next section. 

How to beat the bully - things you SHOULD do

And there are two approaches here. You can either look to fix things by using your company process, or you can look to employ your own psychology so that you become a less attractive target for the bully and they leave you alone. 

So let's discuss what to do if you want to follow the process. 

Do document everything

The very first step is to gather evidence that you can use in your defence. That means documenting everything possible. Keep copies of emails and messages, document conversations, ensure you take minutes of any one to one meetings that you might have with the bully. 

And remember to ensure your evidence is not on your work systems. That puts them at the mercy of your IT dept. I've seen it where critical evidence has vanished just when it was needed most. Bullies can have influence and friends in IT. 

Remember that you're looking for specific facts and actions, not emotions and speculations. Keep it as factual as possible. 

Do find a confidant

Next, find someone that you can talk to about the situation. Ideally a trusted associate at work that might be able to offer an opinion or watch out for specific situations and offer their own appraisal. 

This can be a very useful way of having your situation confirmed, to validate that yes this really is an inappropriate or bullying situation. 

Your associate might also be able to validate if anyone else is on the receiving end of the bully. Bullies often have multiple victims and if you can find someone else in the same situation, then they can become a powerful ally in the effort to fight back.

Having an internal confidant that is familiar with the issue is also useful should the situation come to a HR or disciplinary end. They may well be asked for their opinion or to assist with the process - so it's useful to have this as well as the mental support that they will give. 

Do confront the bully

This is a tricky one as it doesn't suit everyone. If you're a very confident person then this could be a useful step. Take your bully into a meeting room and lay out the evidence for their behaviour. Make it very clear that you won't accept it. 

Many people struggle with this, and there's no guarantee it will work. And it can make things worse. But in my personal experience, taking a bully head on has usually worked for me. At the very least it lets them know that you're onto their little game and many times they'll go looking for another target. 

This might not be advisable when the bully happens to be your boss though. 

Do go to HR

Now that you have solid evidence that you're being bullied, plus validation and support from another co-worker it's time to take your case to HR. 

Make sure you've consulted your employee handbook so you understand the process flow and take some time to steel yourself for a battle. It can get quite nasty and be very stressful, but if you have solid evidence then you're most likely to at least scare the bully enough for them to stop, even if HR don't take any disciplinary action. 

Unfortunately there's no guarantee of a successful outcome. A lot depends on the integrity of the HR department or how rigorous your company is with regards to bullying. Some companies say the right things, but lack action especially against senior bullies. Other companies have a zero tolerance policy and are more likely to take action. 

Be prepared that it could go either way. 

OK - so you don't want to go to HR or take it through the official process? What can you do to alter the situation so that the bully leaves you alone?

Understand the reason

Try and work out WHY the bully is preying on you. Bullies usually have a reason for their actions. This is often career related, or to get some advantage or benefit in the workplace. It's not generally going to be worth their efforts because of a personality clash, the bully is always looking for some tangible advantage that they can get. 

Get proximity to power

The more you can establish solid relationships with senior people, the less attractive a target you'll be for a bully. This is down to the potential that the senior person rumbles them and can then take their own action against the bully. 

If you can work with other senior influencers and respected people in your organisation then that'll strengthen your position greatly. Get yourself onto some forums, boards, advisory groups or committees. There are many available and they'll all get you into a solid and respected position of influence. All of which makes you a much less attractive target for any bully. 

So most bullies will think twice if you've got some good senior relationships, it means they've got more chance of being sussed and therefore more to lose from the situation.

Infiltrate the inner circle

A similar technique is to develop relationships and partnerships with friends or associates of the bully. That allows you to get good visibility with the inner circle that the bully operates in. 

Impress them, and the bully's negative opinion of you will seem very out of place when they try to spread bad vibes about you. 

If the bully gets a questioning reaction from their colleagues when they disparage you, then they'll soon stop, knowing that they're not getting anywhere.

So that's a few techniques for beating the bully. Don't suffer in silence. Bullying is a serious issue and needs to be stopped.

Thanks for reading. 

You can also check out my online courses here.

Paul Banoub
Featured Uplyrn Expert
Paul Banoub
Technologist, Leadership & Productivity Expert, EntrepreneurNOW Network
Subjects of Expertise: People Management, Productivity, Leadership
Featured Uplyrn Expert
Paul Banoub
Technologist
Leadership & Productivity Expert
EntrepreneurNOW Network

Subjects of Expertise

People Management
Productivity
Leadership

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