Defeating the Workplace Bully

04/01/2014 05:24pm ET | Updated June 1, 2014
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According to the American Psychological Association (APA), a national survey by the Workplace Bullying Institute indicated that 35 percent of American adults reported that they have experienced bullying behaviors at work and another 15 percent said they have witnessed others being bullied. My practice certainly reflects this. Clients report difficult situations with a colleague as magnifying their stress. These vicious work relationships, if left unchecked, can spiral out of control and lead to tremendous tension, wreaking havoc on a person that goes beyond their work life. By taking a few steps you can learn to squelch such relationships you might have with a colleague.

The most difficult people to work with are narcissists who are just teeming with ego and are bullies. This type of employee is ego centric and lacks the ability to view things from anyone's point of view but their own. There's also a persistent need to always be right. This employee has a reckless disregard for others, and uses intimidation to get what he or she wants.

Here's how to deal with the workplace bully:

  • Evaluate the situation. Is the person being mean and nasty towards everyone, or is it targeted towards you only? If the person is generally unpleasant and simply not a nice person to be around, that's one thing, so try not to personalize it. If, though, the actions are geared towards you alone, then the situation should be handled differently. Take a step back and look at what's going on.

  • Keep your emotions in check. Bullies can detect if emotions are getting the best of you and take advantage of that. By remaining calm and rational, you won't feed the bully's ego.
  • Don't stoop to their level. One of the most common pitfalls when dealing with difficult people is to engage their antics. Doing so only encourages and perpetuates the bad behavior. Stay above it all.
  • Be strong and be fearless. Don't be an easy target. If you shy away and cave to the bullying then this sends a message that the behavior is OK as there is no consequence.
  • Set your limits and boundaries. Practice with a friend or family member how you might respond to the bully. This preparation will provide you with the confidence you'll need next time something happens. Keep it simple and be clear. For example, "Please don't speak to me in that tone. It is disrespectful and unprofessional."
  • Be consistent with your message. Doing so will ensure that the bully's behavior is not reinforced. He won't get what he wants and will eventually cease his strategy and move on.
  • Don't blame yourself. This isn't about you as much as it's about the bullies and their unhealthy ways. Underlying the bully's behavior is insecurity. He might feel inadequate and thus projects it onto others or he may fear losing his job so he asserts himself to appear dominant.
  • Build positive relationships with coworkers. The better connected you are to healthy and supportive colleagues, the less chance the bully will attack you and the less impact it will have on you if he attempts to.
  • Document any incidents that occur. Keep them on your personal computer or private notes rather than your work computer. The latter does not ensure privacy while the former does.
  • For more tips on dealing with difficult situations check out my book BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days.