Surviving a Workplace Bully

Protecting your peace while figuring out your next steps

What is workplace bullying?

The Workplace Bullying Institute defines workplace bullying as the

“…repeated, health-harming mistreatment of one or more persons (the targets) by one or more perpetrators. It is abusive conduct that is threatening, humiliating, or intimidating, interferes with the ability to get work done and/or is verbally abusive.”

There are many different perspectives on how to deal with a workplace bully. There are coping mechanisms, exit strategies and step by step guides on how to diffuse the situation. But outside of all of the guidance, what if you’re unable to leave? What if God has you planted in that spot for a reason and a season? What if in your heart, he’s whispering to you to “be still”? What then? How do you cope with a workplace bully? How do you protect yourself? How do you hop, skip and jump through a literal minefield?

Well firstly, it isn’t easy. It’s hard. Very hard. It can be debilitating. You can feel like you’re going insane. When I worked in a toxic environment with a workplace bully, I tried to leave. I applied and interviewed for roles. I networked. I reported them. I prayed some more. I went back to school, interviewed for more roles and prayed even harder. For two roles that I interviewed for, I was a final candidate and funding for the role was swept for both…in the same year. Lol. Looking back during the times when I tried to leave, I noticed a pattern, my God NEVER left me. When I felt like I couldn’t deal with the toxicity another moment, another day, another second, he relieved my anxiety, he healed my pain, he removed the pressure even for that moment which allowed me to press on.

At the end of the day, your goal should be to leave the environment. Your health and wellness is more important than a paycheck. In the interim as you assess your options, I would like to provide to you a few things to think about that will help protect your sanity and strengthen your resolve to move through this season.

1. Limit interaction– Wherever possible, I would limit my interaction with the bully. I would assess my responses to see if it’s necessary to engage. Out of habit, or fearing assumed incompetence, you may feel like you need to say something in their presence but if you don’t then don’t. By no means should you dim your light or feign ignorance; just don’t invite conversation. If speaking, keep it brief, being very deliberate with your words and non verbal cues.

2. Learn my Bully – This step directly contradicts me wanting to limit my interaction with my bully, however, when forced to interact, I took advantage of the situation. I would observe their behaviors, how they projected themselves, how they interacted with others. I would study them to gauge reactions to things said or not said. I would document their preferences, pick up on their social cues, and notice how they interact with others. My goal was to educate myself to be able to better plan for interactions with them.

3. Document, Document, & Report – I was very hesitant on adding this step because speaking up under the wrong conditions could provoke retaliation from your bully. It all depends on the type and size of the company, the reach of your bully’s influence, and how egregious the behavior is that they’re displaying. However, I strongly encourage documenting each encounter to have for your records to create a paper trail for your case. Before moving on from this point, I want to leave you with this bit of information, Human Resources (HR) works to protect the interests of the organization so keep that in mind.

3. Stay guarded– I would stay guarded at all times during my limited interactions with my bully. Regardless of the event, whether it be in the office or at a happy hour, I would always ensure that my words and actions were deliberate, clear, concise and grounded in positive intent. When I felt pressured or caught off guard, I would excuse myself from the interaction and regroup.

4. Stay prayed up – I prayed before every meeting and I thanked God after every interaction. I spoke feverishly to my God, sometimes taking advantage of the meditation rooms provided by my organization. I had a prayer partner at work, someone who knew my situation, could be trusted to maintain discretion, and knew what to specifically pray for on my behalf. I asked for protection and guidance from God, touching on my desire to be free from this bully but understanding that there is a lesson and a reason for this assignment.

5. STAY ready so you won’t have to GET ready – God will move you on his time but you still have a part to play. Take ownership of your career development. Invest in a new skill set. Meet new people with like interests. Go back to school. Get involved with a non profit to hone in on your skills you’re unable to flex in your work environment. Working on another development lane not only helps you to mature your skills but it’ll also help you to expel the toxicity of your workplace.

During my season of dealing with a workplace bully, I gained the most invaluable experience that helped me mature in my vocation. New doors opened that I couldn’t dream of that helped increase my exposure, credibility and knowledge. Even through this storm, God provided me with the people, resources and space to continue to progress and I know that he will do the same for you.