Find courage if you’re being bullied at work

These practical tips will help you in the workplace.

Bullying is an unfortunate fact of life. According to research by the TUC in the UK, over a third of workers are bullied at work and if you are a woman that figure is likely to be higher. My own experience of bullying started at a very young age. When I started primary school, I stood out as one of the ‘poorer’ children. I remember some of the girls crowding around me poking me and telling me I looked ugly and dirty. It continued into my first workplace, where I was bullied by a young woman, only a few years older than myself, who felt it was her job to demean and belittle me. Many of my colleagues witnessed the bullying and felt powerless to step in and do anything about it, for fear that they would then attract unwanted attention.

Over time, I learned how to cope with these situations and became more confident in neutralising the impact of bullies around me. Now as a transformation coach, I have the confidence and strength to address bullying for myself and others and my work focuses on anti-bullying and how to create a positive workplace culture.

Breaking the silence

Bullies thrive on silence and the complicity of others. Over months and sometimes years, the bully can behave inappropriately towards their colleagues because nobody else in the workplace feels able to step in. Workplace culture can have a big influence on whether bullying is tolerated and sometimes even encouraged. Having worked around the world in large corporations I have seen both extremes. An organisation which is confident about its success has an open and creative climate is not a breeding ground for bullies. Yet organisations operating in mature markets with dwindling profits and high stakeholders’ expectations tend to be driven by leaders who feel less secure of their position and sometimes this leads to fearful and dominating behaviours.

If you are the victim of a workplace bully it can be very undermining and make you feel isolated, unhappy or force you to leave a job you would otherwise love. But we can find ways to be courageous in the face of bullying, sometimes by little acts of defiance or resilience that helps us to hold our ground and build our confidence.

Try some of the following tips:

Widen your network.

A bully relies on your sense of isolation to hold power over you. The best way to counteract this, is to widen your network. Go out of your way to get to know colleagues in other departments. Reach out to your boss (or if your boss is the bully to your boss’s boss) to garner support.

Email it.

If the bully is blaming you for not doing work that you were never asked to do, or taking credit for work you did do, start to use email more tactically. After every meeting send a note back to confirm what you understood and what you have done. If necessary copy in others who can act as witnesses, should criticism come your way in the future.


This one simple act has an immediate effect on our own sense of well-being and a positive impact on our relationships. For the bully that seeks to belittle or undermine, the smile can be very disarming.

Record the instances when the bullying occurs.

Write out an email to yourself every time you have an issue. Be very specific about date, time and incident. It may come in very handy to build a picture over time or to share with a trusted colleague or with HR.

Speak up.

Bullies get away with their behaviour precisely because people are afraid to speak up; yet you take away their power by doing exactly that. If you cannot address the bully directly, then start by talking to someone you trust. Many organisations have a welfare line to report the incident, or talk to your local HR who often have policies that will help to address the situation.

Say, “Thank you”.

Although this sounds like the very last thing you should do, saying thank you for their feedback and telling them you will bear it in mind, gives the bully and their bluster very few places to go. It’s hard to keep going on at someone who appears to have agreed with you. You have done no such thing, of course, for you have only thanked them for the feedback, not agreed with their comments, but you have used gratitude to stop them in their tracks.

Finding courage is about finding belief in yourself. One of the most undermining things that a bully can do is to infect us with their own lack of belief. Every time you start questioning, ‘Is it me?’, stop that thought taking hold by picturing all the times you have handled the situation perfectly well before the bully came into your life. No matter how strong or well positioned the person appears to be in the company, your self-respect does not have to be compromised for any job or employer. Find your inner courage and get the support to take positive action to stop that bully in his or her tracks.

Mary McGuire holds an MBA and MSc in Human Resources and is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). She is a management consultant in the UK and her book Coming Home to You focuses on how to deal with, among other things, managing conflict at work. It is available on and Amazon.

This article appeared in the January 2018 issue of HR Future magazine.

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