I remember being bullied as a child for being overweight.
The effects of the name-calling, exclusion, and isolation stayed with me well into my teenage years and even into young adulthood. It shaped how I viewed myself and the world around me.
When I became an adult, earned an education, and entered the workforce, my confidence grew. I felt empowered and ready to face the world. More importantly, I had also developed a relationship with God in my early 20s that provided the foundation I needed to start living life.
I didn’t think I’d ever have to endure bullying again. I was wrong.
What Is Workplace Bullying?
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, workplace bullying is:
Repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (targets) by one or more perpetrators.
It includes threatening, humiliation, intimidation, verbal abuse, and prevents work from getting done.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute 2017 national survey report:
19% of Americans are bullied, another 19% witness it
60.4 million Americans are affected by it
70% of perpetrators are men; 60% of targets are women
Women bully other women in 67% of cases
To stop it, 65% of targets of bullying leave their jobs
Through my experiences with workplace bullying, I have learned that there are right and wrong ways to handle it. If you are dealing with being bullied at work, here are six practical and actionable tips that may help you deal with it.
1. Don’t Blame Yourself
I struggled a lot with self-blame when I was being bullied at work. I would beat myself up for making mistakes, or being new and asking too many questions.
Often times, I even criticized myself for the way I responded to the bullying, telling myself I should have a thicker skin. I guess I somehow forgot that I was a human being with feelings.
Eventually, I wised up and realized that the bullying wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t about me. It was about the bully’s own issues and warped perception.
Bullying often stems from jealousy, insecurity, and a scarcity mindset.
If a bully perceives you as more attractive, more educated, more skilled, or more successful, their fear of you taking something from them – recognition, influence, position, etc. – can cause them to attack.
Please know that you are not to blame for another person’s insecurities. No one has the right to make you feel small to feel better about themselves.
Believe me, I totally understand that it is difficult to not take the bullying personal. After all, the bully is making it personal. But, remember: you were hired for your skills, talents, and what you bring to the job. Keeping that in mind should help you see that it really isn’t about you.
2. Confront Without Being Confrontational
It is human nature to become defensive when someone is insulting or condescending, especially if you have done nothing to provoke them.
However, when it comes to confronting a workplace bully, keeping your composure is very important.
First, one of the bully’s goals is to provoke you to respond in a negative way. Whether you become flustered and make mistakes, lash out at them, or quit your job – their goal is to get a reaction out of you.
Second, you want to avoid being seen in the same way as the bully by responding angrily or unprofessional. Even though you were provoked, your employer will see you as the problem if you go off on your coworker.
Tips For Confronting Your Bully:
Address it when it happens; don’t let it slide
You’ll likely be thrown off by it because you aren’t expecting it. That’s OK. Compose yourself, gather your thoughts, then say something. Keep it short and to-the-point. Here’s an example:
I would like to address the comment you made earlier (state comment, being specific), and am asking you not to speak to me in that tone or with that language.
Remove the audience, if possible
Bullies will often try to humiliate you in front of others. That’s part of the humiliation – being put down in front of your colleagues is embarrassing.
When you speak up (see above), consider waiting until no one is around, or even pulling them to the side. Don’t worry about trying to save face in front of coworkers by publicly denouncing your bully. It’s not about them, so it doesn’t matter what they think.
Know when not to confront
There may be times when your bully’s behavior is extreme, i.e., they are in your face or threatening you. If this happens, avoid confrontation and report immediately. You are dealing with an unstable individual and there is likely nothing you can say that will help the situation.
3. Document Everything
I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but I cannot stress enough the importance of documenting your encounters with the bully by writing them down.
It’s kind of like the saying that goes, if you didn’t document it, it didn’t happen. If you end up having to report workplace bullying, having a detailed record of the abuse will be important. Your manager and/or HR is going to ask for specifics about the encounters with your bully. Trust me, you won’t be able to remember every detail of what happened.
- Write down exactly what was said, who said it, dates, times, and location.
- Record who was there, including other coworkers, managers, etc.
- Include how you responded verbally to the bully.
- Stick to the facts. Avoid including your feelings and assumptions about the person.
- Document immediately or soon after so that you’ll be able to remember the details.
- If you report (see below), document every time you reported, to whom, and how they responded.
- Use a paper or electronic record, but keep it secured. Don’t leave it lying around for people to find.
4. Avoid Gossip
When we are being treated unfairly in any situation, one of the first things we want to do is tell someone.
You want to be heard. Validated. Understood.
This is how I felt when I chose to tell other people at work that I was being mistreated by a coworker. Even though I didn’t say the person’s name, everyone knew who I was talking about. I had no real reason to tell them other than to satisfy my need to be heard. People were sympathetic, but there was nothing they could do about it. It wasn’t their problem.
Talking about your bully with anyone who will listen is seen as gossiping. It makes you look unprofessional and immature, and may hurt your credibility if you choose to report the bullying.
If you need someone to confide in for support, talk to a trusted coworker or friend, someone you know won’t go back and share what you’ve said with the bully or anyone else.
5. Report It: Follow The Chain Of Command
If the bullying does not stop despite your attempts to resolve it yourself, begins to affect your health, and threatens your job performance, you may need to report it.
Start with your immediate supervisor. If your supervisor is the bully, consider speaking to their boss first. If you fear retaliation from management, you may choose to go straight to Human Resources.
Also, focus on how the behavior is affecting your performance at work. Although the effects on your mental and physical health are very real, your employer is more concerned about the bottom line – how the bullying is affecting your productivity and ability to do your job.
Remember, HR is neutral. They work for the same company you work for, so they are not your ally. Stick to the facts, keeping in mind that you are there to report the bullying, not to gain their sympathy.
Avoid thinking that following the chain of command and reporting to HR is a waste of time. Regardless of the outcome, you are creating a paper trail.
If you have to take the issue higher by going to your labor agency or seeking legal counsel, you’ll want evidence that you did everything you could to address it. If you never reported the bullying to anyone, you’ll have a difficult time convincing others that it happened.
6. Plan Your Exit Strategy & Know When To Use It
The unfortunate reality is that many workplace environments perpetuate the bullying cycle because leadership does nothing to stop it. These are toxic environments with systemic issues that you alone cannot solve.
If you find yourself in a situation where the bullying does not end, despite all of your efforts to stop a coworker from mistreating you, it is time to consider leaving.
Choosing to leave does not make you weak. Knowing that you deserve to work in an environment where you are respected and your skills are valued is a strength.
Tips For Planning Your Exit
- If you’re not already budgeting, start immediately. You need to know how much money you need to pay your bills.
- Build your emergency fund.
- Take on an extra job to offset lost income if you have to leave abruptly.
- Start networking. Call former colleagues to let them know you are on the job market again.
- Complete all tasks and get caught up on your work before you leave.
Trying to tough it out in a toxic work environment will eventually take a toll on you emotionally, physically and professionally. There is no shame in moving on to a better environment where you can share your gifts and talents with people who appreciate them.
You Are Not Alone
If you have experienced bullying at work, I want you to know that you are not alone. I have been where you are and can tell you that there is hope. Feel free to share your experiences with workplace bullying and how you dealt with (or are dealing with) it.