10 Ways To Outsmart A Workplace Bully

You don't have to 'play nice' any longer.

workplace coworkers nomadsoulphotos, Yan Krukau / Canva

So many stories are emerging in our news media about unwanted advances and sexual harassment in the workplace. In fact, according to a study from 2008, 75% of workers report being affected by bullying at work. Bullies are horrible, but they are even worse when you're put in a professional setting with one.

No one wants their workplace to turn into a school nightmare situation. A workplace bully can make it so.


What is a workplace bully?

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) defines workplace bullying as "repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is: threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, or work-interference, i.e. sabotage, which prevents work from getting done.”

If you think workplace bullies don't exist because we've "grown up," you would be wrong. According to a 2021 National Survey by the WBI, around 30% of American employees experience workplace bullying in some form ranging from non-verbal to outright sabotage.


RELATED: 5 Things Successful People Do When They're Sick Of Being Passed Over For Promotions At Work

Examples of workplace bullying include:

  • Messages containing sexist or discriminatory remarks
  • Embarrassing social media posts
  • Threatening messages or emails
  • Demeaning, belittling, or talking over someone
  • Micromanaging
  • Spreading gossip or rumors
  • Taking credit for someone else's work
  • Withholding the necessary resources for someone to do their job
  • Yelling at an employee in front of others
  • Gaslighting

If this sounds like what you're experiencing at the office, it's important that you understand the best ways to address — and stop — this kind of negative treatment once and for all.


How To Deal With Workplace Bullies

1. Be the bigger person.

You don't have to stay in a conversation if you feel intimidated, threatened, or unsafe, nor do you need to respond when the conduct of the other person makes you feel disrespected.

It is perfectly acceptable to remove yourself from any toxic situation. Go to the other room, the bathroom, or say you have another meeting (even if you don't). You do not need to sit there and continue to receive poor treatment.

2. Surround yourself with a good tribe.

You're as good as your best support system. Make sure you have people you can turn to — preferably at work or close by — so you can rely on them for support when needed.

Send a funny meme or text to your friend to reconnect in the middle of a stressful day. Remind yourself that it is okay to "need" other people; we are social creatures and rely on others at times for support.


RELATED: Why Having A Work Frenemy Is Actually A Good Thing, According To Research

3. Don't take it personally.

Try not to beat yourself up over what bullies may say or do to you. Try to think about whether or not their conduct was driven by something you said or did, or merely an issue that is their own that they might need to work on with a professional.

As a therapist, I teach people that bullies often bully others because they feel insecure about themselves. Nine times out of 10, a person scowling or giving you a mean look doesn't have anything to do with you; rather, it's because they are having a bad day.

Think of it this way: When you walk down the street and are thinking about your to-do list, your thoughts are based on what your needs are rather than another person's. A bully is no different — they are lashing out and often don't even realize the hurt and havoc they are causing others.


4. Be nice to yourself and get out of the office.

Schedule a self-care activity (it doesn't have to cost a ton of money), take a workout class, go on a nature hike, pet your dog or cat, schedule a massage, or do something that is pleasurable.

There is also such a thing as "nature therapy"; people were not meant to sit in buildings all day without getting back to their roots. Time in nature, for example, can have lasting effects on rewiring your attitude so that you don't take what a bully does to heart.

5. Seek professional assistance when needed.

Reach out and advocate for yourself — whether it be contacting your company's HR person or even consulting a mental health professional when needed for extra support.

By learning these necessary tools for dealing with bullies in the workplace, you'll be better equipped to handle such situations in the future — and you can teach your children to use these strategies if they encounter bullying at school, too.


6. Keep the receipts.

Get yourself a journal and keep it filled with the five Ws: who, what, when, where, and why, for literally everything. Get into the habit of printing out questionable and troublesome emails and keep those in your journal as well. Make sure to keep quantifiable analytics to show your good work and the efforts you put into it.

This is all to equip yourself with tangible evidence to support your claims while also shielding yourself from any gaslighting attempts by your bully. They can't say anything when you have cold, hard proof against them.

RELATED: 12 Ways To Handle A Narcissistic Boss (And Get Ahead In Spite Of Them)

7. Understand your company's HR policies.

Most companies have policies in place to deal with bullies. Be sure to chat with your HR representative to understand the ins and outs of their procedures.


This can help you evaluate the situation and the process you may need to take to get results. Even better, bring up your concerns with HR and (if they are good at their job) they will start the process for you.

8. Take a breath.

If you suspect you're being bullied in the workplace, it's worth taking a step back to pause and fully inspect the situation. Point out things you see as suspicious or that are plain bullying tactics. Evaluate what is being done and if you can come up with a reason.

Are you doing anything to instigate this behavior? Most likely you aren't, but it's always best to check the bases. Once you understand what's really going on, take action.


9. Confront them directly.

Though this isn't anyone's favorite path to go, it's the most straightforward one. If you have a bully at work, speak up.

Try to keep emotions out of it, and be very calm and collected while you confront them, so as to not make a scene or escalate the conversation. If you want, bring a coworker along with you as a witness.

10. Leave.

Sometimes the best thing to do with a bully is to leave. This could be because the bully simply won't change, your workplace won't do anything to rectify the bullying, or you don't have time to deal with them and would rather find another job.

This isn't running away; this is self-care in the simplest form. You're putting yourself first. So go find a better job that doesn't tolerate bullying in the first place.


RELATED: How Forgiveness Can Help Us Address Bullying & Build A Safer Society

Maxine Langdon Starr, Ph.D., LMFT is a marriage and family therapist specializing in adolescents and young adults, partner/owner of Sunflower Therapies, professor of psychology at Brandman University, and motivational speaker on self-esteem.