How to Spot a Bully in the Workplace and What to Do About It

Do any of these things sound familiar?

  • Someone falsely accuses you or one of your coworkers of making errors
  • You have been subjected to stares, glares and other nonverbal intimidation tactics
  • Someone at work refuses to speak to you
  • A coworker exhibits a wide-range of mood swings, including yelling and throwing tantrums
  • A coworker thinks the rules don’t apply to him
  • Someone at work is harshly and constantly criticizing you, disregarding any satisfactory or exemplary work you do

If you have witnessed or been subjected to any of these behaviors, then you have a bully in your workplace.

Jacket.aspxAccording to Gary and Ruth Namie, authors of The Bully-Free Workplace, bullying in the workplace is fairly common. Nearly half of all Americans have either witnessed bullying at work or been the target of a workplace bully.

The big question, the Namies assert, is not why bullying happens (the reasons are many) but what can be done about it. And the answer is fairly simple: There must be consequences for those who are bullies.

Turning the other cheek does not work. Mediation does not work. Anger management does not work. These traditional methods of dealing with workplace conflict are not effective because bullies thrive on exploiting any perceived weaknesses in their targets.

Walking away makes the bully think you fear him. Forcing a target of bullying to sit across the table from his tormentor in a mediation session gives the bully power because he is usually able to make it seem that the target is the problem. The target is portrayed by the bully as being too sensitive, or incompetent, or having no sense of humor. The mediation is actually a reward for the bully, who gets to portray his target as weak before their supervisors. And anger management presupposes that the bully is likely and able to change his behaviors, something not borne out by numerous studies on the subject.

So, what can you do? The authors of the Bully-Free Workplace suggest:

If you are an employee:

  • Confront the bully the very first time he attempts to target you. To quote the Namies, “To turn one’s back to walk away to fight another day proves very costly for targets.” Waking away is perceived by bullies as weakness, making them go after you all the more.
  • Don’t be an enabler. This means if you witness a coworker being bullied, either speak up or take the target by the arm saying, “I need to speak with you” and then lead them away from the bully.
  • Report the bullying, whether you are the target or the witness.
  • Stop rumors. Rumors about other employees are a form of bullying. If you hear them, tell the gossiper you don’t want to listen to negative talk. If you are spreading rumors, even if you are not the bully, you are enabling the bully. Shut up. Seriously.

If you are a manager:

  • Be willing to recognize bullying. Bullies often present their best faces to management. They agree with you, they praise you, they “always have your back.” Thus, when managers hear complaints, they cannot associate the talk with the picture they have of the accused bully. Take a step back and assess the situation as objectively as possible.
  • If you hear a report of bullying, investigate with the assumption that the report is true. This is especially important if the bully is in management. Studies show that other managers are usually reluctant to believe one of their upper-level coworkers is a bully, since, as noted above, the bully will often not show that side of his nature to equals or superiors in the workplace hierarchy.
  • Intervene when you see bullying or hear about it. An intervention from management will often stop a bully in his tracks.
  • Create an explicit policy against bullying because policies are enforceable and vague values statements are not.

And, oh yes… Warning signs that YOU are the bully:

  • In meetings, you are rarely ever challenged.
  • The final decision, even after getting input from others, is yours because it is more expedient.
  • Others do not understand or appreciate your management/teamwork style.
  • If a decision you made was a failure it was because you received incomplete or inaccurate information from someone else.
  • It takes a special type of person to work with you. Your staff changes often. Coworkers seem reluctant to work with you.
  • You believe fear motivates staff to optimal performance.
  • You believe leaders must demonstrate resolute certainty and unwavering principles.
  • You are surprised when other staff do not have the same high standards you have.

In addition to The Bully-Free Workplace, there are several other titles that can help you deal with workplace bullies:

suttonbookThe no asshole rule : building a civilized workplace and surviving one that isn’t / Robert I. Sutton, PhD.
A gem. I may write another post just about this book.


Jacket.aspxBullies : from the playground to the boardroom : strategies for survival / Jane Middelton-Moz, Mary Lee Zawadski
Follows bullying from childhood through adulthood and analyzes what works and what doesn’t when dealing with a bully.


Jacket.aspxBullies, tyrants, and impossible people : how to beat them without joining them / Ronald M. Shapiro & Mark A. Jankowski with James Dale.
A 4-point plan, called the NICE method (neutralize, identify, control, explore) for dealing with bullies.

Jacket.aspxThe bully at work : what you can do to stop the hurt and reclaim your dignity on the job / Gary Namie and Ruth Namie
The prequel to The Bully-Free Workplace.


Jacket.aspxOvercoming mobbing : a recovery guide for workplace aggression and bullying / Maureen Duffy, Len Sperry
Discusses the difference between mobbing ( when individuals, groups, or organizations target a person for ridicule, humiliation, and removal from the workplace) and bullying.

Powerful Fiction Focused on Bullying for Children and Young Adults

Bullying is a topic that is the focus of many fiction and non-fiction books. Partially because of the tragic stories in recent years about both the bullied and the bullies.  Part of the interest is also because just about everyone has felt like they have been bullied or on the outside looking in for at least some point in their lives. Some of the young adult and children’s fiction that focuses on bullying as part of the plot line or the everyday lives of the characters is extremely powerful. Here are five of the children’s and young adult books about bullying that I have found to be the easiest to relate to, or most moving.[Cover]

1. How to Beat the Bully Without Really Trying by Scott Starkey is a children’s chapter book about Rodney, an admitted coward, who moves to Ohio where the middle school bully immediately singles him out, but through accident gains an undeserved reputation as a tough guy.

2. Dear Life, You Suck by Scott Blagden is a young adult novel about seventeen-year-old Cricket Cherpin who lives under the watchful eye of Mother Mary at a Catholic boys’ home in Maine. He has such bleak prospects he is considering suicide when Wynona Bidaban steps into his world.

3. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson is a young adult book in which a traumatic event near the end of the summer has a devastating effect on Melinda’s freshman year in high school.[Cover]

4. Everybody Sees the Ants by Amy Sarig King is a young adult book, and 2014 Nutmeg Award Nominee, about  overburdened fifteen-year-old Lucky Linderman who begins dreaming of being with his grandfather, who went missing during the Vietnam War.

5. Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti is a young adult book about high school junior Noelle who is bullied at school and neglected by her mother at home.  She reaches her breaking point after a classmate commits suicide.

Other fiction about bullying that I recommend are;  Crazy Dangerous by Andrew Klavan(YA), Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli(J), The Other Felix by Keir Graff(J), How I Survived Bullies, Broccoli, and Snake Hill by James Patterson (J),and  The Odd Squad: Bully Bait by Michael Fry (J).

Top 5 Non-Fiction Books about Bullying

Bullying is a huge issue for children of all ages, and in some cases adults. The recent rise in awareness of this problem, and the sometimes tragic results, have made people sit up and take notice. Bullying has always been an issue to those involved, and a constant source of inspiration for authors, therefore there have always been books that discuss bullying on some level. However, in recent years it seems to be a much more prevalent topic in news and literature. Here are some of the non fiction books for children, teens, and the adults in their lives that I have found to be the most useful and moving on the subject.[Cover]

1. Sticks and Stones : Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy by Emily Bazelon defines bullying and what it is not. This includes when intervention is essential and when kids should be given the freedom to fend for themselves.

2. It Gets Better : Coming Out, Overcoming Bullying, and Creating a Life Worth Living by Dan Savage is a collection of essays and testimonials written to teens from celebrities, political leaders, and everyday people in order to show LGBT youth that happiness, potential, and satisfaction is in their future if they can get through the early years.

3. Letters to a Bullied Girl : Messages of Healing and Hope by Olivia Gardner includes letters originally written to Olivia by that can speak to all young people who have been bullied, offer advice and hope to those who suffer, and provide a wake-up call to all who have ever been involved in bullying.

4. We Want You to Know: Kids Talk about Bullying by Deborah Ellis contains more than thirty profiles in which teens honestly and openly talk about bullying and the roles that they played: as victims, perpetrators, or bystanders.[Cover]

5. Bullied : What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know about Ending the Cycle of Fear by Carrie Goldman ties the advice of leading authorities to candid accounts from families that have dealt with peer victimization to offer proven strategies and practical tools for helping children speak up, carry themselves with confidence, call each other out on cruelty, resolve conflict and cope with taunting in the physical, verbal, or cyber format.