3 Ways To Shut Up The Bully At Work

I’ll never forget how shocked I was when one colleague berated another so badly in a meeting that she ran out of the room crying. Eventually she had to leave work because she suffered a nervous breakdown.

No one ever confronted the bully.  Instead, others said, “she [the person who was berated] was so weak.” Huh?

The same guy eventually got on my case too.  I didn’t know what to say so I just ignored what he said and for some reason he stopped.  Maybe it was because I couldn’t understand his Japanese.

Sometimes saying nothing is the best policy.  But not always.  To some bullies, no response is a red flag that encourages them to attack again.

That particular bully left, but as is often the case, another one rose up to take his place.  This one was worse, and he was sexist to boot.

When someone comes at you and says something insulting, don’t just sit there and take it.

Try these  three strategies. They really do  work.  I like short responses that shut the bully up and catch him or her off guard.  I’m not looking to engage them in a conversation about any disagreement.  At this point, I want one thing and that is to get them to back off.

Whatever method you choose, start with a low level response rather than attacking back.  Escalate your response if the bullying continues. ] Let HR know what is going on if the bullying continues. Sometimes they help, but not always.  They don’t like to be bullied either.

1.  Say: “huh”?  Say it loud and clear, as if you didn’t hear or understand what they said.  Another version of this:  “I don’t understand what you mean.”

2.  “That’s an inappropriate /inacceptable comment.”  Put the bully on notice that what he or she said is not acceptable or appropriate.

3.  “That’s not helpful”. I call this the Laurie method since I learned it from my friend Laurie Saunders when we worked with tough  consulting clients in Boston.  It doesn’t matter that the person never  meant  to be helpful.  This response catches them by surprise. A longer version of the same response goes like this: “I’m not sure why you would think that kind of comment is helpful.”

Whatever you do, don’t run out of the room crying, or complain to your friends or family at home. It’s a good idea to get a coalition of people at work to say something, but don’t be surprised if others act like nothing is wrong.  The burden is on you to take action at work that will put the bully in his or her place.  And this will enhance your standing in the group as well.

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  1. P.G. says:

    A few years ago I had a client who was a young man with disabilities. He worked for a retail location in a janitorial role. He loved his job and everyone he worked with. Unfortunately he was the victim of workplace bullying and was made to work obscene hours tirelessly. He did so with a smile because he truly loved the company.

    Unfortunately this led him to neglect warning signs about his own health and when he brought them to the attention of his shift supervisors he was told to go back to work.

    Later he ended up passing out on the floor, being hospitalized, and later passing away. All this because bully supervisors took advantage of him.

  2. bobtobin says:

    Thanks so much for writing about this. It’s a serious problem and the picture you paint is indeed a tragic one. Thanks again. BT