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How To Handle Workplace Bullying From A Co-Worker

By Valerie Cade CSP

Ever have a situation at work where another co-worker you do not have authority over is bullying you? Do you try and let it ‘not bother you’?  Do you find yourself bothered anyway?  Take a read over this helpful scenario:

Here’s The Scenario:

Judy works for a company where Michelle is the receptionist.  Michelle does not directly report to Judy, but Judy does have a higher position in the company.  When Judy comes to work, Michelle ignores Judy when Judy says hello. In addition, Michelle “forgets” to handle tasks Judy has asked her to do, and does not include Judy in important emails, thereby holding information back from Judy that she needs in order to get her job done effectively.

What Happened:

Judy went to her own boss first and her boss told her to be nice to Michelle and buy her coffee in the mornings – to reach out.  Judy did this, and nothing changed.  In fact, Michelle said she didn’t even like ‘that brand of coffee’.

(Note: If this has happened to you, it is not the issue of the right coffee; it is about being gracious and saying thank you!  If someone complains when someone is reaching out like this, it is disrespectful behavior!).


Judy attempted to try and influence Michelle by talking directly with her in order to hopefully come to an agreement.  Judy said:

  • “When you ignore me by not saying hi or looking at me when I come in the door in the mornings, but you say hi to others…
  • “I feel hurt and left out…
  • “What I’d like is for you to acknowledge me with a hello or nod when I come into work.”
  • And the key statement Judy asked at the end: “Can you do this – Yes or No?”

Michelle replied with, “Well, if I wasn’t so overloaded…”

(Note: This is a deflection, as Michelle did not directly answer the question…)

So, Judy persisted and said, “I can see, but is that a Yes or a No?”

Note: Judy kept on task and didn’t get thrown off by the bully’s tactic of deflection).

Michelle said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about – you’re so sensitive”.

(Note: Now, Michelle’s response is discounting and minimizing Judy’s feelings, and is a classic technique bullies use to avoid a healthy dialogue for win-win resolution.  Bullies don’t want resolution; they want control over you).

This is when Judy knew for sure that Michelle’s behavior was bullying behavior:

  • It was deliberate; – no one else was treated this way;
  • It was repeated; – Judy noted a number of behaviors Michelle performed toward her that she felt was disrespectful.
  • It was disrespectful and harmed Judy – thus holding Judy back from a healthy synergistic relationship which co-workers should have with each another.
  • Michelle denied the olive branch and failed the test – she chose ‘power over’ by trying to discount and minimize Judy’s requests.

(Note: In respectful relationships, one seeks win-win resolution).

Now What Should Judy Do?

  1. Stop buying coffee and trying to rationalize – no more fantasizing “Maybe if I bought Michelle another kind of coffee, or brought in homemade cookies…”.  Stop.  Stopping this outreach is key to bully-proofing yourself.
  2. Document exactly what happened in detail, and ask for a quiet meeting with Michelle’s boss.
  3. Have a Crucial Conversation (check out page 168 of Bully Free at Work) with Michelle’s boss, who has authoritative power over Michelle.  Ask specifically for what you want, using the Crucial Conversation planner, and don’t let the boss brush you off – you can bring the boss a coffee, if you want!

Key: The authoritative power is part of your intervention tool kit.  You need this help to deal with a manipulative, “out to get you” bully. And – feel free to print this page out and take it with you!

Valerie Cade, CSP is a Workplace Bullying Expert, Speaker and Author of “Bully Free at Work: What You Can Do To Stop Workplace Bullying Now!” which has been distributed in over 100 countries worldwide.  For presentations and consulting on workplace bullying prevention and respectful workplace implementation, go to

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2 Responses to “How To Handle Workplace Bullying From A Co-Worker”

  1. AC Says:
    December 22nd, 2010 at 11:18 pm

    • With your teammates, decide a list of behaviors you want your boss to stop doing. Decide the behaviors you want instead.

    In a team where the boss is the main bully he will set it up so that he has a bully delegate, or two, to keep the rest of the team in line. No one is really sure of anyone else and cannot trust anyone. It becomes difficult to for a coalition to ask bully-in-charge to change his behavior. A bully operates very similar to a dictator.

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    December 24th, 2010 at 9:33 am

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