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February 2017

Illegitimi non carborundum – How to Deal with a Bully in the Workplace

At some point in our lives I’m sure that most of us have encountered a bully in one form or another. What we’re not taught as kids, however, is that bullying doesn’t generally stop when you step out of the school gates for the last time. For some, it carries on into the workplace sometimes with destructive consequences.

To further complicate matters, there is no legal definition of workplace bullying; however, experts believe that bullying involves negative behaviour being targeted at an individual, or individuals, repeatedly and persistently over time.

This means that each case is different and, as such, needs to be judged individually. In addition, people’s perception of acceptable behaviour varies so much that it makes any questionable conduct disputable by the offending party.

So, what is generally the best way to handle an aggressive or passive aggressive workplace bully and how do you protect yourself from falling victim to the sort of cerebrally challenged individual that finds it acceptable to make somebody’s professional life miserable?

Neutralise confrontation

If you find yourself in a direct confrontation with your bully, calmly asking them to slow down and help you to understand the problem is a good way to neutralise the situation. It’s hard for somebody to remain angry at somebody who is being so reasonable. If they’re continuing to raise their voice, however, simply state that you’re not willing to continue with the conversation until they’ve calmed down and are willing to discuss the issue respectfully and remove yourself from the situation.

Stay calm and assess the situation

Quite often the bully is looking to get a rise out of you or see that their actions are affecting you. Remaining calm in a situation of high stress will remove any opportunity for any blame to be apportioned to you if senior management are made aware of what’s going on. In the event of an investigation, don’t give any excuse for the offending party to blame you for their actions.

Seek advice and document

Is it just you that feels the way you do about the bully? Are there other people within the business who have fallen victim to their harassment?

If so, speak with them and gather your evidence and diarise and note every single incident. Before undertaking any course of action, get some guidance.

You can also seek advice from the Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) helpline;

Telephone: 0300 123 1100 / Textphone: 18001 0300 123 1100
Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, 8am to 8pm
Tuesday and Friday, 8am to 6pm
Saturday, 9am to 1pm

Confront the perpetrator

You’d like to think that most people wouldn’t bully if they realised that they were actually doing it or the effect it was having. Actually asking somebody to explain why they feel it’s appropriate or acceptable to speak to you the way that they do is enough to stop it from happening again. Sometimes, it’s not a conscious thing that people do so actually taking that person to one side with the evidence to hand and explaining the effect their actions are having, how it’s making you feel and what the ramifications are if they persist is enough.

Use your Human Resources department

If what you’ve done so far is having no impact, it’s time to speak with HR and your Line Manager. There is a strict code of confidentiality about these discussions and HR are trained to support you through situations like this. Up until this point you’ve done everything you can to resolve it yourself, you have the evidence and you’ve taken reasonable steps. Sometimes the only way to deal with people like this is through formal channels.

Back up plan

It seems defeatist to even be writing about this but what happens if this isn’t resolved? Sometimes, it’s just time to move on to pastures new. If you’re unable to rectify it or you feel that the process of formally complaining about a colleague for workplace bullying seems too stressful, it might be time to prime your CV and give another business the benefit of your expertise.

If you’ve seen a workplace bully meet their match, feel free to let us know in the comments section below.

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