How To Gracefully Deal With A Workplace Bully

How To Gracefully Deal With A Workplace Bully
Carly Jacobs

had a reader email me a few weeks ago with a problem. Let’s call her Jane. Jane works with a women who is subtly bullying her at work. It’s typical enough stuff. They both have positions on the same level but the bully always acts like Jane has to answer to her. She’s snarky, she’s sneaky and just generally unpleasant to be around. She also takes credit for Jane’s work and Jane’s worried that if she comes forward  she’ll look like a tattle tale. She needs some advice because she loves her job but this woman is a nightmare. Here’s my two cents worth how to deal with a workplace bully but I would love to hear your opinion in the comments.

how to deal with workplace bullies

Be Super Duper Nice to Her

Not because you want to be her friend but because you want to piss her off.  My mother always told me that nothing annoys bullies more than when you’re absolutely lovely to them and she’s totally right. Greet your bully every day with a giant smile, compliment her on her outfit, tell her the idea she had for that project was genius and even bring her a coffee to work sometimes. It will totally throw her off guard and completely shift the ownership of power. She’ll be confused and probably annoyed and that’s when bullies are at their weakest. Just keep wearing her down with your charm.

Never Ever Talk About Her Behind Her Back

It doesn’t matter how upset you are by an incident with your bully at work, you must never talk to another colleague about it. It might be tempting but you should really be talking to your partner, a friend who’s not associated with your work place, a parent or even a counsellor. If your bully finds out that you’ve been taking about her, there will be hell to pay. Also don’t try to get other people on side. That’s primary school stuff. When the shit hits the fan and she gets called on her awful behaviour, you want to be squeaky clean.

Be Professional

If she’s done something underhanded or you believe her conduct is detrimental to the company, then you need to go to your boss. If nothing happens there, then you need to go to HR. Just make sure your claims are professionally valid. ‘She hurt my feelings.’ is not a good enough reason to officially log a complaint. You need facts and ones that aren’t fuelled by emotion. You need to prove that her behaviour is affecting your ability to do your job.

Call Her Bluff

If your bully is swanning around pretending to be in charge, simply call her bluff. It’s tempting to put a wall up and fight back by deliberately keeping her out of the loop of projects but the best thing you can do is actively show her what you’re working on and ask for advice. Bullies like to lord over people because that makes them feel important but deep down they don’t give a shit what you do. They just want to make you feel nervous. After a few weeks of you running everything by her, she’ll most likely get bored and stop caring.

Consider The Fact That You May Be Misunderstanding Her

I used to work in a newsagent with a woman who I thought was pretty awful. She was very brusque, would make accurate but not terribly flattering comments about my appearance and whenever I made a mistake she would make me feel like an idiot. I figured out after 6 months of hating every shift with her that she was actually just a very direct person and she would have been gutted if she thought she’d offended me. Also English was her second language so it took me a while to become accustomed to her intonation. Once I adjusted my own attitude, we became great friends. Sometimes there’s just a crossing of wires and you might have to wear the bigger boots and uncross them yourself.

Always Have A Witness

If someones keeps stealing your ideas… stop telling them your ideas. If this is unavoidable then always, always have a witness to your conversations. If you’re emailing, CC another colleague in on the thread. If you’re talking make sure you include someone else in the conversation. Bullies love secrets so make sure you never give them any.

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What do you guys think? Have you been bullied at work? How did you deal with it?


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P.S Oh by the way I’ve been writing over at Origin again. This time it’s about saving on energy when you work from home. Click here…


  1. KezUnprepared 2 years ago

    Fantastic tips! I would never have thought of these! I’m currently working for my parents so luckily no bullying there, but in the past I’ve experienced some doozies! I wish I’d read this back then! It all makes so much sense, and yet sometimes those things are the last things you’d think of instinctually (is that a word?).

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 2 years ago

      It’s absolutely a word! It’s lovely that you have such a great work environment. It’s makes a huge difference to the way you start your day.

  2. Claire Chadwick: Mum's Closet Blog 2 years ago

    I love this post. Especially tip number one – I do that – it pisses people off – but completely throws them off guard with how they should treat me!
    You da Bomb Carly!

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 2 years ago

      Thank you! It’s totally my favourite thing to do is be sickly sweet and nice to people who I know don’t like me. 🙂

  3. Dee 2 years ago

    I personally don’t get bullied, but I see someone in authority in our workplace at the moment do it to others – usually people who won’t/don’t have the confidence to stand up for themselves. I’ve had other issues with this person and I’ve gone direct to her boss to discuss the issue. I try to have clear dot points about my complaints so it doesn’t look personal. I also try to deal with it head-on in our private meetings with each other – try to ‘correct’ behaviour with suggestions of how she could do things better without delaying it too long (nobody wants to be that person dredging up old things like a couple in a bad relationship).

    I like your first point, but I’m not very good at pretending to be nice to people who I don’t like, so I try to just keep it professional and address the issues as they arise so I can’t complain that nothing has changed when I haven’t even told the person the issue I have with them. It’s not really fair to expect them to change when they might not know what the issue is.

    Bullies will usually back down if you go toe-to-toe with them.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 2 years ago

      Definitely! Bullies are actually really insecure and if you push back against them they often back down. I worked at a school for a term a few years ago and I worked with an awesome assistant who was being bullied by everyone, including the principal. It all started because of another assistant who spread rumours about her and everyone just decided they hated her. We had a really awful incident in the classroom and everyone blamed her and I stuck up for her and they were shocked. They also totally believed me and immediately turned on the woman who had spreading the rumours. It was really weird. I got that lovely girl out of there and mentored her into a new job and she’s so much happier now. 🙂

  4. In today’s world this is an extremely helpful post Carly. I don’t have a bully at work, but if I do ever have one, I will be trying these suggestions, especially calling them on their bluff, as then you have a fallback if something happens. You just say that the other person agreed to it/ told you to do it 🙂

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 2 years ago

      Yes! A lot of bullying comes from one person trying to get ahead of the other person so if you just invite your bully on to your life boat they won’t have much choice but to join you or sink!

  5. Emily 2 years ago

    I had an awful workplace bully. It all came to a head when something happened in a meeting in front of other people. They all went to HR to report it. I actually didn’t go to HR, but they came to me to make sure I was all right and come up with a plan. We actually all believed this person was acting out because they were being bullied by their boss in the first place. Horrible stuff.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 2 years ago

      Oh that’s so nasty and it breaks my heart because you’re so lovely! Unfortunately bullies tend to target lovely happy people because it annoys them other people are happy and lovely. I’m glad it all worked out. x

  6. Vanessa 2 years ago

    I was bullied earlier this year. I got the f%^* out of there after I had multiple meetings with HR & learned on the grapevine that this happened to everyone who came through the position I was in.
    These tips are fine but I’ve seen a few posts recently about staying & putting up with it – and while you may have to put up with it for a while as you look for a new job or see if it improves – then very honestly get the f%^* out of there if management isn’t helping.
    I quit. I’m the sole income earner. You can’t get unemployment if you quit. I had no backup. But it messed with my health so badly – I had a chest infection for months, had situational depression & anxiety. It was worth the leap to leave. I now work with fantastic people.
    I know whoever this helps won’t be a person who comments – because people don’t talk about this stuff much. But I hope whoever is reading this knows that you can empower yourself to get out & do it for the sake of your physical & mental health.

    • Author
      Carly Jacobs 2 years ago

      Definitely! I wrote in another comment above about a girl I worked with and I helped her quit her and job and get a new one. Some work places are just so toxic and have years of awful behaviour ingrained in them that you’ve got not choice but to get the hell out. Good on you! Sometimes the best thing to do is to get out of there.

  7. Tamsin Howse 2 years ago

    These are fantastic tips! I would also add that being politely assertive can be quite helpful and sometimes, just sometimes, you need to call them on their behaviour. They may not always know they’re doing it!

    If it’s rife in your organisation, as it was in a place I once worked, then quit! It’s not worth your time.

  8. nadia 2 years ago

    Bulleys are bad especially if you want to be nice to them they are still bad especially men women can be controlled if they are bulleys but difficult to control men even you avoid them be good to them they are bad to stop them you have to report it to the senior who has not teamed up with the bulley, or avoid him or tell someone outside the workplace who has higher authority over your senior

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