What to do when you work with a bully

It’s not often I turn my attention to politics on this blog. But there have just been too many stories in recent months (in the UK and US) which are just too interesting for a psychologist to ignore.

The most recent story relates to the piece by Kate Perrior, in The Times. 

For those who aren’t aware, Kate was the director of communications for Number 10. And in The Times piece she gives a blistering attack on the, now former, chiefs of staff, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill.

Long story short, what Perrior describes is outright bullying and intimidation. And what she describes shows that bullying doesn’t just happen down the hierarchical chain (i.e. manager to employee) but can happen the other way round too.

In fact, I’ve worked with a lot of managers who have experienced bullying of some kind by one or more of their staff.

So, what can you do if you work for or with a bully (or bullies)?

Recognise that what is happening is bullying (and it’s not ok)

I’ve worked with lots of people who haven’t realised that what is happening is bullying. Or, they haven’t wanted to say the word “bully” for fear of the path it takes them down. Or the person has got so used to the situation that the behaviour has become normalised and so “it’s just x’s way of speaking” becomes the excuse given for the bully’s behaviour.

If you’re unsure if what is happening is bullying, then check out this helpful summary of the signs to look for.

Speak to someone in your HR team

This works for those of you who are in an organisation big enough to have human resources support of some kind. Key is that you feel assured that what you say is held in confidence, unless you determine otherwise i.e. you decide to make a formal complaint.

If you work in a small organisation that has little or no HR support then there are organisations you can speak to. I’ve provided a list at the end of this post (Note: The list is UK in focus but some of the sites recommended have excellent resources that those in other countries might find useful).

Talk to someone outside the organisation

If you don’t feel comfortable or safe talking to anyone inside your organisation, then it can help to talk to a friend. Sometimes just voicing what is going on and getting someone else’s perspective can help you realise that you’re not being paranoid.

Document what’s going on

Whether you keep notes on a laptop or a paper diary, key is that you make note of specific things that happen. Be as specific as possible – what happened? When? Where? Who else was there?

Confront the individual concerned

Whether you do this on your own, or whether you get some support (such as a mediator) then doing this at the right time, right place and with the right mindset is key. Check out this post for advice on handling difficult conversations.

When I’ve mediated between one or more individuals, where there are accusations of bullying, more often than not the protagonist is blissfully unaware. Because no-one has ever confronted them, they’ve not realised what they’re doing is wrong. By confronting them, it’s bringing their blind spot in to sharp focus.

Recognise you only have control over you, not them

The only person you have control over is you. That means understanding your reactions to the bully’s behaviour. List out the specific things the bully does or says that gets to you the most. You can then start to think about tactics for managing the situation.

There are some bullies who get off on the emotional reaction they elicit from the people they’re bullying. By understanding more about how you react to the different things you will be a better position to pre-empt the next situation.

Realise you are not alone

When a person is being bullied at work, it can be isolating. It’s no surprise then that some people I’ve helped have talked about how alone they’ve felt. They can also feel embarrassed and ashamed. This is particularly the case, I’ve found, with managers – where in quite macho work cultures one just has to ‘man up’ and get on with it.

No. This is old-fashioned, outdated thinking.

You are not alone. There are others who have gone through what you’re going through – and have come out the other side. And, there are people for you to talk to, whether that’s inside or outside of the organisation.

So, don’t suffer in silence. You most likely spend more time at work than you do with friends or family. That’s a long time to be miserable, isn’t it?

Useful resources

If you or someone you know is being bullied, then these websites provide helpful advice and guidance:







Did you find this post helpful? I’d love to know, so Tweet me, or drop me a note on LinkedIn. If you have any colleagues that you feel should read this, too, please share it with them. I’d really appreciate it.

I also have a monthly newsletter which is a compilation of blog posts, helpful research, and reviews of books and podcasts – all aimed at helping managers and leaders become more confident in handling a range of workplace issues. You can subscribe here -> SUBSCRIBE

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