Bullying is something that we all hear, witness or even experience one time or the other. Bullying can come in many forms – from heavy-handed antics and right out violent rough handling on school playgrounds, to much more subtle verbal and emotional abuse in the office environment.

Thing is, the bullies from the school ground often turn out to become adult bullies in the workplace and as adults, although we might be more mature and perhaps better equipped to deal with them, the situation is pretty much the same, minus the physical violence hopefully! Think about it, children are in school because they need to get an education and don’t really have a choice in the matter. As adults, we are screwed in a similar way.

We often are at work because of limited choices in terms of putting food on the table, or we are looking to achieve and be fulfilled, doing something we love. School bullies are often physically bigger, more popular, stronger and therefore more intimidating and powerful to influence others, whereas the office bully could be more senior, in a position of power or more connected and resourced than those reporting to them. So as adults we tend to deal with experienced bullies, with a sprinkle of power on the side, and that does not bode well for anybody.

Bullying is a serious issue, especially on the playground and needs to be dealt with as a matter of urgency. There are few experiences that holds the type of destructive power that bullying causes, but in this post I will be talking about the office bully, probably equally destructive and dangerous.

When one spends most of your time exposed to an office bully life can be one prolonged hell-hole of constant anguish and sheer despair. But standing up against the bully could be severely career limiting. What to do? Here are some ideas you can try to manage the situation better.

Recognise the bully for who and what they are. Its them  –  and possibly not you, and quite likely a case of the kettle calling the pot black, but take the time to make sure what you are dealing with. What is the history of this person? Anyone else feels the same? Then take it where it comes from and try and not lose too much sleep.

Point out and acknowledge, but don’t yell back. The worst thing you possibly can do is joining the screaming fit or move to the opposite spectrum of keeping quiet… all of the time. Yes, I know we all knew exactly what we should have said the minute you walk away but pointing out destructive negative behaviour and its effect in a mature, fact-based manner is a good way to draw attention to what is happening.

It is about balance. Next time ask: “Is there a specific reason that you do…say…. choose to react in this manner? Could there be a different way for us to address this? In this way, the bully will have to think as well instead of reacting while justifying their behaviour, while you remain the calm one.

Yelling back is a bad idea. Much better to leave and tell the bully to find you in an hour when they are calm and ready to talk. In an interesting article on how to overcome bullies, the author suggest asking the bully to talk more slowly.


Ask for help/advice and avoid one on one situations. Bullies seldom have only one victim. Ask around for assistance, advice or next steps. It might be a good idea to avoid one on one contact with a bully as far as possible. Their backbone and “brave-o-meter” are often missing in a crowd and groups tends to sort out unacceptable behaviour quickly.

Play the ego card. This might sound insincere but anyone who has ever had to deal with a narcissist (and chances are you might at this point be dealing with a bullying narcissist!) will value its effectiveness. Narcissist and bullies hate to lose, they hate it even more to look bad. A subtle hint in the bully’s direction on how bad this might look to others might be enough to make them rethink and behave!

Stop playing along. There comes a time when situations can be so severe that it is just not worth it. I have witnessed situations, experienced tactics and survived many bad office characters and managers. Direct superiors, bosses and those in power can be super a-holes! Sometimes they are hell-bend on pushing an agenda. One that might have little to do with your true capability or real circumstances.

I have seen managers and business partners playing dirty to get their way, using tactics to make people resign so that they do not have to follow procedure, pay retrenchment packages or keep to their word.  Sometimes it is corporate jealousy, jockeying for power and strategic warfare. But getting home every day in a bad mood, loathing getting up the moment you open your eyes or living only for the weekend is a wasted life that steals your joy. It is not sustainable and it is not good for your health or other personal relationships.

Do what you have to do, get legal advice if you have to, look for new opportunities or take time out to rethink your options but turn the tables in your favour by doing what is best for you. Not allowing bullying to go by unnoticed and calling your truth. Underhandedness, lies and stepping on others are not good policy for progress. If that is your environment and the general behaviour of the people around you – getting out might not be such a bad idea after all.

It might not be immediate, but bad corporate culture and poor leadership have been the reason for many a corporate demise. It hardly ever gets better. Go to where leadership knows how to lead and leave the battleship to the warlords!

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