How To Stand Up To A Workplace Bully (2023)

The workplace is full of people who will push you around if you let them.

It might be a boss who will make you feel stupid in meeting. Or a co-worker who will push you down and refuse to celebrate your professional victories. Either way, if you give these people a free pass for too long, you'll end up unsuccessful and on the bottom rung of the workplace food chain.

The longer you stay quiet and let people at work push you around, the more pathetic you’ll feel.

Workplace popularity doesn't make someone right. Social proof isn’t justice. Just because someone is popular at work or holds a more senior position than you, doesn’t mean they have the right to bully you.

Workplace popularity can give power and that power can be abused. It can be used to bully others into submission or servitude. If you don’t stand up to it, you set a precedent that can lock you into a victim mindset.

How To Stand Up To A Workplace Bully (1)

When you allow people to treat you poorly, you teach them that you can be treated poorly. If you let people push you around at work once, they’ll keep doing it and it’ll get worse.

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You might think that “keeping the peace” is the high road – but it’s not. It’s the road to getting stomped on. It's the road to career failure.

American Psychologist published a study that showed the precursor to aggressive bullying was being in a position of dominance and superiority.

People who are popular in the workplace often drift into a mindset of dominance and superiority simply because they are popular. They learn early on that they can use their popularity to get away with bullying. This bullying often continues because it is supported by the hierarchy of the company organizational chart.

Human Relations Journal released a study that showed how many organizations unknowingly reinforce power imbalance and ultimately support bullying power dynamics.

So, how do you fight against workplace bullying? How do you stand up to your manager or a colleague without losing your job? Through a sequential process of identification and action. Here are three steps to help you stand up for yourself against a workplace bully...

1. Identify the bullies at work.

It might be difficult at first to identify a workplace bully. But if you start paying attention, you'll quickly figure out who you never feel good around. You'll figure out who is constantly draining your energy levels.

Odds are, you are working very hard to keep a few bullies at work happy, often without knowing it. You're working overtime to keep your boss happy so he or she doesn’t fire you. You're taking on more than your fair share of work to keep your negative team mates content so you don’t have to have difficult conversations. You compromise on yourself over and over again to avoid uncomfortable conflict. This is no way to work.

(Video) How to Deal With a Bully at Work (How to Handle a Workplace Bully)

Ask yourself, why do you keep wasting all of this energy? Why do you keep trying so hard?

Very often, the reason you're working so hard and taking so much abuse is because you want to be liked. Or, it's because you want someone else who is liked to like you. The underlying need for acceptance and external validation through popularity at work is something every employee has felt. Deep down, you believe that because someone is well-liked at work or holds a position senior to you, they must be right and doing what they say must be worth the effort.


You don't have to do what everyone else at work tells you to do. You don't have to take abuse from a boss or colleague. Start paying attention to who is draining your energy levels and making you feel worse about yourself. Identification is the first step. The second step is taking responsibility for yourself.

2. Take responsibility for yourself.

Once you identify the bullies at your work, it's up to you to take responsibility for yourself. You need to step up and stand up for yourself. Start asking yourself questions like...

What would it be like to stand up for myself? What would it be like to say, “Enough is enough?" What honest conversations do I need to have with my boss or colleagues? Who do I need to disengage from entirely?

Start noticing how much of your energy goes to dealing with workplace bullies. Not just energy when you’re around them, but emotional and mental energy thinking of or talking about them. Stop wasting time feeling lousy by giving these people power over you. Instead, take responsibility for changing the situation you're in.

(Video) How to stand up to workplace bullying

Realize that it’s not other people's job to stop bullying you, it’s your job to stand up for yourself.

Once you make a decision on who to stand up to and how to stand up to them, you need to set some strong boundaries for yourself. Again, your behavior is your responsibility. No amount of complaining or sulking is going to change this for you. The only thing that is going to improve our situation at work is you.

3. Turn your impulses into an action plan.

You need to create an action plan for limiting the amount of emotional and mental energy you give to workplace bullies.

Take stock of all those little inner tantrums you've had over the years. All those times when you've felt slighted or pushed around and held back anger or frustration. Now, channel all of this emotion and energy into productive action.

You don't need to flip over tables in the boardroom to improve your situation. Instead, make a logical plan and set some limits.

Yes, there are people at work whom you want to impress just because they’re well-liked or have power. This is okay. And yes, you’re striving for a certain level of external validation so you can get noticed and promoted. This is okay too. What's not okay is being a people-pleaser and agreeing with everything everyone else says just because you don't want to get into a disagreement.

The best way to stop being a people-pleaser is to start pleasing yourself. Start standing up for yourself. Start putting yourself first.

(Video) DEALING WITH A BULLY AT WORK | Successfully Deal with Workplace Bullying (Career Advice)

Popular people have confidence and charisma… start developing those in yourself. Popular people have power and influence… start developing those in yourself.

The ones that abuse their power, and act like bullies at work by shaming you and putting you down, are toxic and you need to summon the courage to get rid of them. When you start setting limits on bullies and start standing up for yourself, you increase your own power. You start pushing your career forward with confidence.

Stop going home at the end of each day ruminating about your power-hungry boss or your judgmental co-worker. Stop seeking external validation in the first place. Instead, start relying on yourself. Take your career out of the bullies' hands and into your own hands.

How do you deal with workplace bullies? Tell me in a comment below.

I also write for Fast Company and Entrepreneur Magazine:

Check out my book of personal and professional advice, Black Hole Focus: How Intelligent People Create A Powerful Purpose For Their Lives.

How To Stand Up To A Workplace Bully (2)

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