How to Deal with a Workplace Bully – Part 1

A client came to me with a complaint. One of the partners in their company was dumping onerous assignments on them with very little time to do them, trashing their work so that it is unrecognizable, taking credit for their ideas, and worst of all, embarrassing and humiliating them in team meetings. Complaints to the other partners resulted in platitudes, excusing the bullying behaviour, being told that the bully was under a lot of stress, was really busy, was facing tight client deadlines, and any number of other, similar excuses. It was well known in the firm that this particular partner was a nightmare with many staff refusing to work with them. This partner, however, was responsible for a sizable amount of government-contract revenue each year. There was no chance that they were going anywhere.


How do you deal with a powerful and protected bully when you become the target of their abuse? Here’s the guidance I gave to my client.


First, make sure you have a recording of all future interactions, let’s say for “training and quality control purposes.”


Next, call or speak to the bully without scheduling a meeting beforehand. You want to catch them unprepared and in their natural state of behaviour.


Then say these words: “Yesterday at the meeting, when you did [whatever they did,] here’s how I experienced that interaction. The effect you had when you did [whatever]: …

…was to humiliate and embarrass me in front of other colleagues,

…was to denigrate my work,

…was to minimize and invalidate my opinions after you specifically asked for them,

…was to devalue my experience in the industry.

Was this indeed your intention? Did you actually intend to have these effects?”


The bully, when confronted like this, will usually splutter and mumble-de-fuzz and often make some sort of excuses for their behaviour. Make sure you always come back to, “Did you actually intend to have these effect?” This is key.


When they finally admit that it wasn’t their intention to behave like a bully, you respond, “Good. I’m glad to hear that you did not intend to act that way. And, yet that was the effect of what you did in the meeting. So, what’s missing that would help you not to behave like that so that we all can be more effective for our clients? How can I help you to improve?’

For what happens after this, see part 2.


@dr.mark.reinvention Have you been trying to cope with a workplace bully? #bully #bullying #workplace #coaching #career #takingcharge ♬ original sound – Mark "Reinvention Project" PhD

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