Workplace Bullying: How To Deal With Bullies At Work

/

,
Workplace Bullying: How To Deal With Bullies At Work

Trying to deal with workplace bullying day in and day out is not an easy thing to go through. If leaving your job is not the solution for you, a few research-based strategies might help you deal with the bullies at work.

Key Points

  • Toxic cultures are the top reason employees give for abandoning their employment.
  • Less than 25% of workplace bullies suffer negative repercussions for their bad behavior.
  • The best thing to do in response to workplace bullying is to leave. If that’s impossible, maintaining physical distance from the bully can help.

For many of us, work is not simply a place we go to secure insurance and collect a paycheck; it is a community in which we seek belonging and purpose. Unfortunately, for targets of workplace abuse, that employer that once nourished our spirit transforms into the primary source of our anxieties.

In fact, during this time aptly dubbed The Great Resignation, toxic cultures are the top reason employees give for abandoning their employment, a construct far outpacing concerns over wage gaps, flexible work hours, and opportunities for advancement (Sull, Sull, & Zweig, 2022).

Related: Toxic Work Culture: 10 Alarming Signs You Are Stuck In A Toxic Workplace

Advice For Targets Of Workplace Abuse

As a researcher who studies workplace bullying, I am often asked what strategies targets can use to escape the abuse. My first answer is not a particularly popular one, though I still stand by it.

Leave! For if you study the numbers, close to 70% of victims of workplace bullying eventually lose their job through firing, constructive discharge, transfer, or voluntary separation; whereas, less than 25% of bullies suffer negative repercussions for their bad behavior (WBI, 2021).

Moreover, bullying, at its core, is a cultural problem, more than an individual problem, and work cultures that bleed toxicity, are highly unlikely to change.

However, for a myriad of reasons, many employees don’t have the option to run; therefore, below I offer six research-driven strategies for navigating the warzone of workplace abuse.

workplace bullying
Workplace Bullying: How To Deal With Bullies At Work

6 Ways You Can Deal With Workplace Abuse And Adult Bullies

1. Allow Yourself To Grieve

In a capitalistic society, our identities as humans are often enmeshed with our job titles. What we do is how we define who we are. When a bully boss or peer steals that identity, it is quite jarring. At that moment, our assumptions about kindness and fair play are shattered, forcing us to reconstruct our views of the world at work (Janoff-Bulman, 1992).

This forced reconfiguring creates a great sense of loss. In order to mourn what was, we need to push back the walls to make space to grieve. Writing in a journal, engaging in meditative practice, and seeking the consultation of a therapist are all avenues for working through the loss (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2008).

Related: How To Deal With Adult Bullies: How To Effectively Resolve Conflicts In The Workplace

2. Create Temporal Distance

Bullies are a raucous bunch, hard to contain or direct. Victims of workplace abuse, however, can reclaim their power by retraining their thoughts and reducing their reactivity.

To create “temporal distance,” we ask ourselves: Will this bully’s egregious behavior matter to me and my career tomorrow, next week, or next year? If not, perhaps we place the pain she is causing up on a shelf and refuse to take the bait.

By disengaging and putting up emotional barriers between us and the bully, we provide ourselves with a reprieve from the hurt, allowing us to leave work and enjoy our son’s soccer game or an afternoon walk with a friend who truly has our back (Bruehlman-Senecal & Ayduk, 2015; Foulk, Woolum, & Erez, 2016; Moreno-Jiménez, Rodríguez-Muñoz, Pastor, Sanz-Vergel, & Garrosa, 2009).

3. Create Physical Distance

Like a virus, bullying spreads. In fact, studies show that rudeness is actually contagious. When a co-worker speaks with disdain, those around him are more likely to adopt his aggressive demeanor. When you are in close proximity to a toxic boss or co-worker, the emotional harm done is intensified.

By creating physical distance between you and the aggressor, you create a barrier to the potential hurt. Possible strategies for distance making include moving your office, finding a quiet room where you can escape, or setting out each day for a walk around campus to rejuvenate.

As you get to know your bully’s schedule, you can also begin to make a concerted effort to be gone when she is present, thus avoiding being injured by the shrapnel of her intermittent explosions (Foulk, Woolum, & Erez, 2016; White, 2004).

4. Use Friendship As A Buffer

Standing alone in the aftermath of workplace abuse is demoralizing and harm-inducing. Studies show that a friend on the job can act as a bulletproof vest, shielding you from the onslaught of attacks.

In fact, the friend does not even need to be a co-worker. Simply having people in your larger social circle you can confide in and trust significantly decreases trauma levels, degrees of depression, and physical illnesses typically associated with workplace abuse (Cuadros & Berger, 2016).

Related: How To Deal With Workplace Bullies: 10 Tips For Dealing With Negative Colleagues

5. Engage In Cognitive Rehearsal

Victims of workplace abuse tend to be generous with their time and forgiving of bad behavior. This graciousness, however, can come with a cost when dealing with workplace bullies.

In order to ward off unexpected attacks, cognitive rehearsal, or practicing responses to inappropriate questions, requests, and side comments helps to equip victims with a framework for dealing with intense interactions. Practicing these conversations in front of a mirror or with a trusted confidant enables victims to prepare in advance for confrontations.

Some of my favorite responses to cruel, inaccurate, or manipulative questions and comments include:

  • “I will need to think about that before responding.”
  • “Thank you for that insight but that is not my experience.”
  • “I am not able to respond to gossip or anonymous complaints. If you would like to talk with me about concerns people are expressing to you, please share who said it, in what context, and on what date. Then I will circle back with those people directly. Without that information, it is simply gossip or hearsay, and I don’t respond to gossip or hearsay.”

These rebuttals create a pause and a space for victims of workplace abuse to reclaim their power, as they refuse to engage the bully’s poor behavior (Cuadros & Berger, 2016; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006).

Engage In Cognitive Rehearsal
Workplace Bullying: How To Deal With Bullies At Work

6. Enact Forms Of Resistance

When someone falls prey to workplace abuse, well-meaning advice-givers often suggest hitting back harder. Such behavior and response, however, are not in keeping with the gentle, kind, and highly ethical nature of the targets.

Fortunately, there are other ways to resist.

First, find a place to tell your story (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006). As a researcher of workplace bullying, I have collected the stories of over 200 victims across states and countries. Inside those anonymous sharings, victims confide they felt empowered by telling the truth of what happened to them.

Second, embrace the pejorative labels. When victims of workplace bullying are called disruptors, whistleblowers, or problem employees, there can be great power in claiming the title with honor.

When that label is lobbed your way, think to yourself:

  • “My innovative mind charges me to disrupt the circumstances contributing to long-standing, institutional problems.”
  • “I called out bad behavior because my moral compass demands I speak out against injustices done to my students, patients, or clients.”
  • “Change agents by nature are problematic because positive community transformation doesn’t happen by operating in the confines of the status quo.”

Third, document everything. Keep a running log of comments said, work sabotaged, and manipulative interactions aimed at derailing your career. Such documentation allows you to speak in specifics when reporting the abuse.

Related: Dealing With Adult Bullies: How To Deal With The 7 Most Dangerous Work Personalities

Therefore, instead of telling the aggressor’s boss or human resources that you are being bullied, you say, “Let me share with you the following 10 things that happened over the last month. I am interested to hear your interpretation and response to what I share” (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2006).

In closing, since at its core, bullying is a work cultural problem more than an individual problem, when possible, leave a toxic environment. You deserve to work in a community that feeds your spirit and invites you to do the good work you were called to do.

However, when such a departure is not possible, give yourself time to grieve the abuse, create temporal and physical distance between you and the bully, allow your close friends to serve as a buffer, take time to rehearse responses to toxic encounters, and enact forms of resistance in order to reclaim your personal power.

Want to know more about how you can deal with workplace bullying? Check this video out below!

How to deal with workplace bullies

References:

Bruehlman-Senecal, E., & Ayduk, O. (2015). This too shall pass: Temporal distance and the regulation of emotional distress. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108(2), 356–75.

Cuadros, O., & Berger, C. (2016). The protective role of friendship quality on the wellbeing of adolescents victimized by peers. Journal of Youth and Adolescence: A Multidisciplinary Research Publication, 45(9), 1877–1888.

Foulk, T., Woolum, A., & Erez, A. (2016). Catching rudeness is like catching a cold: The contagion effects of low-intensity negative behaviors. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(1), 50–67.

Janoff-Bulman, R. (1992). Shattered Assumptions: Towards a new psychology of trauma. Free Press.

Lutgen-Sandvik, P. (2008). Intensive remedial identity work: Responses to workplace bullying trauma and stigmatization. Organization, 15(1), 97–119.

Lutgen-Sandvik, P. (2006). Take this job and …: Quitting and other forms of resistance to workplace bullying. Communication Monographs, 73(4), 406–433.

Meisenbach, R. (2010). Stigma management communication: A theory and agenda for applied research on how individuals manage moments of stigmatized identity. Journal of Applied Communication Research, 38(3), 268–292.

Moreno-Jiménez, B., Rodríguez-Muñoz, A., Pastor, J. C., Sanz-Vergel, A. I., & Garrosa, E. (2009). The moderating effects of psychological detachment and thoughts of revenge in workplace bullying. Personality & Individual Differences, 46(3), 359-364.

Sull, D., Sull, C., & Zweig, B. (2022). Toxic culture is driving the great resignation. MIT Sloan Management Review.

White, S. (2004). A psychodynamic perspective of workplace bullying: Containment, boundaries and a futile search for recognition. British Journal of Guidance & Counseling, 32(3), 269–280.

The Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) /Zogby International. (2017). U.S. workplace bullying survey. Retrieved from the Workplace Bullying Institute’s website.

Written By Dorothy Suskind Ph.D
Originally Appeared On Psychology Today
How To Deal With Bullies At Work pin
Workplace Bullying: How To Deal With Bullies At Work

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

  • Lack Of Individuation: From Codependent Chameleon To True Self
  • The Rise in Armchair Psychologists on Social Media
  • 30+ Inspiring Quotes About Forgiveness To Let Go Of The Painful Past
  • When You Are Your Own Abuser: 7 Ugly Signs Of Self Abuse That You Ignore
Up Next

Quiet Quitting: A Mental Health Movement Or An Anti-Work Movement?

quiet quitting

Are you burnt out and barely getting through the workday? Are you searching for a deeper meaning for your job role? Are you sick and tired of the lack of a work-life balance? Welcome to the new trend - quiet quitting. 

When you are exhausted from all the deadlines, work stress and overwork, but are unable to or can’t afford to resign from your role, quiet quitting your job can be the solution you’re looking for. However, it can lead to dire consequences for both the employees and the organizations in the long run. 

To put it simply, quiet quitting means deciding not to kill yourself for your job. It’s about not taking your work too seriously and defying the age old belief that work should completely reign over your personal life. Emerging from a latest viral TikTok


READ FULL ARTICLE ⇲
Up Next

10 Alarming Signs You Are Stuck In A Toxic Workplace

Signs You Stuck In Toxic Workplace

Does the thought of going to work make you sick in the pit of your stomach? Then watch out for these signs of a toxic workplace and learn how to cope with one.

Let’s face it; unless you are a workaholic or one of those lucky few who get immense satisfaction by doing what they do, going to work every day is not something you would enjoy or look forward to.

Work is a requirement for being a functioning adult that most of us begrudgingly do. To have a professional life in the present times means stiff competition, tight deadlines, long working hours, and continuous pressure to outperform yourself and others.

So, yes, work comes with some sort of stress for each one of us. But what you need to understand is that a toxic workplace is more than just Monday Morning Blue, poor pay, slogging, unattainable target


READ FULL ARTICLE ⇲
Up Next

10 Proven Ways to Balance Work and Family Life

Ways Balance Work Family Life

Having a work life balance is one of the most essential things in our daily lives. Not being able to give time to your family or being productive at work can be overwhelming or a matter of stress. Here are some ways to balance work and family without interference from the two.

Successful couples work at it.

Researchers at Colorado State University studied 47 middle-class, dual-earner couples with children to identify key strategies for successfully managing family and work balance. Here are the 10 ways that these couples found to balance family and work in a committed relationship. These are the kinds of choices successful couples make to have the kind of marriage they want, described in their own words.


READ FULL ARTICLE ⇲
Up Next

What Is Your Attachment Style At Work? QUIZ

your attachment style

Do you have incredible time-management skills? Are you able to maintain a work-life balance? If no, then it’s time to find your attachment style at work! Take this free 1-minute quiz to know how your attachment style sabotages your work-life balance.

According to Attachment Theory, human beings develop attachment styles during early childhood. The style of attachment evolves out of relationship bonding and experiences with family members and caregivers. And it will influence personal relationships throughout our lives as well as work, social life, time management skills, satisfaction, and happiness.

Up Next

10 Common Leadership Myths And How To Overcome Them

Common Leadership Myths

Are you an aspiring leader and ready to hold a leadership position? Before you start your journey as a leader, check out common leadership myths and how they can result in undesired outcomes.

Before we start exploring leadership myths, let’s take a moment to examine these three “truth or myth” questions:

Truth or myth? Caffeine and its effects are addictive.

Answer: We can hear it now, “I can’t start my day without it, I’m addicted!” We even feel what some call withdrawal symptoms when we don’t get our morning brew on. This is a myth! By accepted definitions of “addictive,” caffeine is not addictive.

Truth or myth? I need less sleep as I get o