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What you need to know when a workplace bully takes you on

  • Author: Lynne Curry
    | Alaska Workplace
  • Updated: August 5
  • Published August 5

You’ve met bullies who play a win/lose game, even as you aim for a win/win solution. Guess who loses when they take you on? You do.

Would you like to win, or at least not lose? Here’s what you need to know:

Fail the bully’s test

We believe or like to believe the best of everyone. When a bully first tests us with a demeaning slam, we often think “he’s having a bad day, let it go” or “I don’t want to make too much of this.”

That’s the wrong move. Bullies test to see who may be easy prey. Watch out for “Maybe I can let it go” or “This isn’t really so bad” thinking. You ignore a bully’s initial test at your peril. As documented in “Beating the Workplace Bully,” bullies escalate when they see opportunity and operate according to a risk/benefit ratio. If they test you and you stand up to them, they often back off. If you allow them an inch, they aim to become your ruler.

You can run but you can’t hide

Does a bully in your workplace make you nervous or uncomfortable? Do you avoid her as a result? As just one example, what if you walk up to a gathering of co-workers in breakroom and a bully co-worker gives you a frosty stare, making you feel unwelcome? How do you respond?

If you’re like many, you feel awkward and walk away. Unfortunately, this plays right into the bully’s hands. Bullies love isolating their targets, much as a wolf steers a calf away from the herd. If you allow a bully to push you away from situations or others, you leave the bully free to manipulate opinion against you.

Giving the bully power

Have you planned to ask your bully to change his ways or thought of appealing to his best nature? If your bully values a relationship with you, you have a slim chance of success, comparable to the success you have when rolling a boulder up a steep hill. Bullying works for the bully — why should he change? Worse, you give your bully the sense he has the upper hand.

Your best option: Approach your bully as an equal, reminding yourself and him that you too have decision-making power. You can’t afford the price of nice. Rather than making an appeal, show your bully what he wins or loses by treating you differently.

Letting the bully get to you

Bullies excel at the shame/blame game. Never collude with a bully by accepting the insults he showers on you. Whenever you allow a bully to shape how you see yourself, you become the bully’s accomplice in a true crime, that of tearing into your self-worth. Let his garbage remain his garbage.

Playing the bully’s nasty game

Bullies have years of experience slinging mud and fighting dirty. Never let a bully push you into bad behavior. When you walk into the ring with a “give back as good as I get” attitude, you risk appearing as much of a problem as the bully — even as you get flattened. You can be firm, strong and professional, allowing others to see who plays rough and who they can respect.

Would you like to win or at least not lose a confrontation with a bully? Realize bullies test and if you don’t play the bully’s game, you can win.

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