How to Handle the Workplace Bully

November 13, 2017

How to handle the workplace bully, as a boss.

Why do bullies exist in the workplace?

LinkedIn Learning Instructor Todd Dewett has a simple answer – because you, as a leader, enable them.

“First and foremost, (bullies) exist because you allow them to exist,” Dewett said in his course, Management Tips Weekly. “I want to ask you to make a decision right now to not look the other way, thus enabling bad behavior.”

Why do leaders look the other way in the first place? Generally, it’s because the bully is good at their job.

“The most common reason people allow the existence of bullies is great talent,” Dewett said. “I've heard many managers justify bad attitudes, bad personalities and bad behaviors because they deem the person indispensable.”

Well, nobody is indispensable. Regardless of how talented a person is, if they bully their colleagues by dominating conversations and ignoring their input, you will have a toxic culture. And, long-term, all the talent in the world can’t overcome a toxic culture.

What’s the solution? Dewett said there are five progressive actions you can take to stop bullying behavior. Hopefully, the first action listed will stop the behavior. But if it doesn’t, move on to the next step, and so on.

    1. Take away their “microphone.”

Bullies tend to dominate meetings and will criticize other people’s ideas in those meetings that conflict with their own. When this happens, the first step is to take away their proverbial microphone, Dewett said.

For example, say an employee named Jordan is dominating a meeting or is criticizing someone else’s ideas in a meeting. When they do that, simply say to them, “Jordan, I hear you. Stephanie, what do you think?”.

This empowers other people to talk and gives the hint to the employee to take a step back. Often, simple tactics like this will curb the behavior.

    2. Talk with the person after the meeting if they refuse to give up their microphone.

Let’s say you tried the method above and the person doesn’t get the hint. They continue to dominate the meeting and act as judge-and-jury for all ideas.

The next step is talking with them one-on-one directly after the meeting. Explain why you tried to pass the microphone to someone else and ask them if they know how they are being perceived. Many times they aren’t, and again that awareness will often lead to a behavior change.

    3. If it continues, start pointing out the behavior in the middle of the meeting.

Sometimes, even following the first two steps won’t work, or the person will need a reminder.

At this point, it’s okay to point out the bullying behavior right in the moment, in front of others, Dewett said. If they are again dominating the conversation and acting as judge-and-jury on ideas, briefly ask them for a more positive or constructive contribution.

Hopefully, this should end the behavior.

    4. Meet with them again if necessary, and hand out consequences.

Let’s say even the third step doesn’t work. It’s time to get serious, and that means handing out consequences.

If the bullying behavior continues, meet with them directly after the meeting. State the behavior and describe how it hurts the group. And then, hand out a consequence.

Maybe they are no longer invited to the meeting anymore, they lose some other responsibility or they receive a formal comment about the behavior in their file. Let them know if it continues, the consequences will get more severe.

    5. If all else fails, it’s time to let them go.

Hopefully, this step never happens. But, if you hand out consequences and the bullying behavior still continues, it’s time to let the person go. Your team deserves better and all your options at this point have been exhausted.

The bigger point – bullying will exist only to the extent you, as the leader, allow it to exist. So, if bullying is an issue on your team, don’t blame the bully. Blame yourself.

By following these five steps, you will remove bullying from your team and build a culture where people feel comfortable at work.

*Image from Fox

Want to learn more? Watch Dewett’s full course, Management Tips Weekly.

Other videos in his course cover: