4 Ways to Stop a Workplace Bully from Bullying You

workplace bully

What to Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

John slammed his fist down on the office table. His face was red as he glowered at Marcus and me.

“This is not the analysis I asked for! Just give me the two-sentence version on why I should buy into your recommendation. And get rid of these spreadsheets. I hate spreadsheets with nonsense like this!”

Marcus hesitated a moment and reached for the notebook with the spreadsheets.

John hit the top of the notebook with his flat hand before Marcus could take the notebook, and yelled, “What part didn’t you understand? Leave the notebook alone. I said just give me the two-sentence version, and now!”

Marcus quickly summarized our position, I added my points, and we left John’s office, with John still glowering.

Had that really happened? Did he really speak to us like that?

Yes, it really happened. It was painfully clear we were dealing with a workplace bully. John was “further up the ladder” than us, but did he have any right to act that way?


If I knew then what I know now about handling workplace bullying, that would have been an entirely different scenario.

In that situation, Marcus and I were both caught off guard. We wanted to say something, but didn’t know what to say, or do, for that matter.

Here are some pointers that the more experienced me would have given to us back then, and I offer to you now. These are four immediately effective ways to stop a workplace bully from bullying you.

1. “Do the You.”

In essence, this means turn the tables on the bully.

We’ve been taught to “own our feelings” and say, “I don’t like it when you speak to me that way.” A bully will likely perceive that as weakness or you being emotional, and probably doesn’t care how you feel anyway. Instead, turn the tables and put the behavior spotlight back on them.

Instead of using the word “I,” use the word “you.”

In our example, Marcus or I could have said, “Are you really talking to us that way?” or “Are you really going to solve this by yelling?”

“Doing the You” calls the bully’s behavior into account. Say something that moves the focus directly on to their behavior so they are the one on the defensive, not you.

Also Read: Does Your Employee Engagement Need a Lifeline?

2. Disrupt by interrupting

If a person persists in mistreating you, if they are blaming or name calling, it’s time to stop the argument right there. Author Jack Canfield says, “People treat us the way we teach them to treat us.”

First, say their name to get their attention and to cause a pause.

Then you can use body language and gestures. Put up your hand like a traffic cop and INTERRUPT a tirade from a bully! Don’t suffer in silence and give unscrupulous people an undeserved bully pulpit.

Just hold up your hand about shoulder height, with the flat of your hand to them, (not in their face) and say, “John, stop!” or “Mikayla, enough!” That is a universal gesture that everyone understands and it adds visual clarification to your words.

3. De-escalate by rising

You might be at your desk when the workplace bully arrives to impose herself upon you. You find yourself in the uncomfortable position of being seated, while she is in the “commanding” position, towering over you.

You can de-escalate the tension, and the perceived imbalance of power, by simply rising from your chair. You don’t cower; you tower as well. Push your chair back and stand to meet the bully. This doesn’t mean you are trying to be the Incredible Hulk. You are simply showing with your body language, and it will immediately be clear, “I am not taking what you are saying sitting down.”

It’s another way to use body language in a productive and expressive way to send a message to the bully.

Also Read: This One Action Promises Increased Employee Retention

4. Deter by documenting

Oftentimes you can unsettle a bully who is verbally attacking you by simply saying, “Please wait a minute while I get a pen and paper, I want to write down what you’re saying so I don’t miss anything.” This is certain to throw a bully off course.

Who wants their unprofessional and unnecessary ranting to be written down in black and white?

Not only is it a break in the bully’s energy flow, it raises the question in their mind, “Could that be kept as legitimate documentation against me at some point?” And indeed it could be. Written documentation is always a good practice when you are being bullied.

You can use these few methods right away in your workplace. They are time tested TongueFu®* principles, or “martial arts for the mind and mouth,” and will take you far in dealing with any bully who crosses your path.

For more insights on how to overcome workplace bullying, please check out the interview I did with girlboss.com

Note: When I work with mentors and mentees, workplace communication and handling bullies is at the top of the urgent topics of interest list. My next few blogs will deal with this timely and pressing issue, so you can be prepared to stand up, hold your ground, and communicate with confidence!

*Horn, Sam, TongueFu®, St. Martin’s Griffin, New York, 1996

15 thoughts on “4 Ways to Stop a Workplace Bully from Bullying You

  • February 13, 2018 at 11:09 pm

    Outstanding and useful insights. Great thoughts and very useful in daily encounters at work and other places.

  • February 20, 2018 at 3:30 am

    Very useful information for each incidence we have or may experience. Thank you

  • February 23, 2018 at 1:57 am

    Tip – another option to No.4. Say “Please wait a minute while I get my mobile phone.I want to record what you’re saying so I don’t miss anything.”

    If you are unable to record the conversation as it occurs, do so as soon as the altercation has ended.

    • May 25, 2018 at 4:51 am

      Linda, the mobile phone is another good idea that is sure to catch a bully’s attention. Thank you!

  • April 19, 2018 at 8:35 am

    That was a good read. Workplace bullying can be demotivating to employees. Hiring the right staffing agency can help identify such bullies early on.

    • May 25, 2018 at 4:52 am

      That’s right, Ravi, so important to try to stop it before it starts. Thanks for your comment!

  • April 27, 2018 at 7:18 am

    That was a great and very insightful article!
    Its so unfortunate bullying at the workplace keeps on happening at all levels; you will find even a junior member of staff bullying new inductees who are very eager to get into the system; sometimes even among team members who are working on a group assignment and the worst of all when the boss decides to use his/her position of power/authority to make the subordinates miserable at every opportune moment. I would actually want some tips on how to deal with that kind of boss who never sees anything good his/her team is doing, always criticizing and the more the staff works hard the more the criticism… its very demoralizing and I have witnessed some people quit their jobs because of such bosses.. any pointers out there on how to professionally handle such bosses?

    • July 26, 2018 at 5:53 pm

      Ann, thanks for your note. I will give this some thought and perhaps blog about it in the near future. I’ve had several comments like yours, requests for a blog specifically directed towards the “bully boss” or the very senior level bully. So thanks for engaging and adding some good ideas into the conversation!

  • June 8, 2018 at 1:23 pm

    Hi very good article
    Thanks for sharing, keep it up the good work..
    Thanks again.


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Lori Bachman created The MentorShift Group to equip mentors and mentees with a practical and powerful mentoring system. The system is designed to equip those who use it to, not only flourish in their own mentoring relationships, but to be able to transfer its success to others as well.