Work Life: Dealing with Workplace Bullies

(Originally published on Sunday, July 11, 2010)


Workplace bullies come in all shapes, forms and sizes. You’ve most likely encountered bullies at some point in your life, maybe at work or way back when you were still in school.

Remember the screaming boss that everyone in your office feared? Or the terror professor who gave everyone low grades when he had a bad day? What about the office gossip who spreads malicious rumors about co-workers. Then there’s that customer who curses. And let’s not forget that smooth-talking colleague of yours who acts friendly but continuously puts down people with well-camouflaged words that actually cut your heart into pieces.

These are just some of the typical bullies that walk among us. But because of the many types of personalities and situations we encounter at work, it’s not always easy to identify bullies. For instance, if your boss gets angry and raises his voice at you for an error you’ve committed repeatedly, is that considered bullying? If an irate customer screams out of exasperation for being passed around, can you say that the customer is a bully? No, not exactly.

So who are workplace bullies? And when can we say that a person is a bully?

Workplace bullies use direct and indirect methods to coerce, intimidate, and get their way. They repeatedly use subtle or overt manipulation tactics which give their victims feelings of powerlessness, stress, inferiority, and fear. Basically, bullies make you feel like a loser.

The Art of Dealing with Workplace Bullies

The truth is, almost everyone will experience being bullied, but not everyone will be bullied. Here are some practical ways to help you deal with bullies:

A Protector

Though I’m demure and all, my family actually prepared me well for handling bullies. Before I started school, I remember my mother specifically tell me, “Pag may manakit sa iyo o may nagtangka, sumbong mo sa titser (If someone hurts or threatens you, tell the teacher).”

True enough, on my first day at nursery school, a scary classmate of mine was playing “teacher”. She was ordering people around and lining them up. If someone broke the line, she put them in ‘jail’—a small table where some of my poor classmates already were. Well, I broke the line and so she wanted me to go under the jail-table. Flashback: I remembered what my mom said, then cried my heart out.  My real teacher came to the rescue. After consoling me, she scolded my scary classmate and released her victims. And the silly game ended.

This episode became a powerful lesson for me. It showed me the power of “telling the teacher” or finding a protector who will guard you against bullies. In the course of my schooling, career, and life, I find that I don’t get bullied much.  That’s because people know that I have someone backing me up: a boss, a teacher, a mentor, an influential person at the office, a courageous mother, or a strong husband who will fend off any perceived threat.

So your first line of defense against bullies is finding a protector. 


This is the technique I use for malicious office gossips. You pretty much know who the office gossips are. They will befriend you at first and bring you in the loop. They seem to know a lot about other people’s dirty little secrets. Unsuspectingly, you’ll enjoy the “information” they are feeding you and you begin to bond with them. Then things progress into backbiting and before you know it, it turns into people-bashing.

Whenever a gossip tells me other people’s dirty little secrets, my self-preservation instinct immediately steps in. I know they can easily turn against me. If they can do it to other people, who’s to say that they won’t do it to me?

So when faced with a bully who uses gossip to attack people, I just listen and keep quiet…and slowly, inch by inch, step away from that type of bully.

Protect yourself by avoiding these types of bullies.

Find the Bully’s Soft Spot

Bullies are often insecure people. They are obviously hurting inside, so they tend to take it out on other people. When I taught public speaking to a bunch of high school students during one summer, I noticed a boy who was acting in an obnoxious manner. He made his classmates feel bad with his snickering and side comments.

So what I did was get to know him. I found out that his OFW dad was settling permanently in the Philippines. Since they hadn’t bonded as father and son due to the years of distance, they were having difficulty adjusting and his father was quite harsh in correcting him. This made him feel bad, so he made others feel bad. To help him, I made him the leader for a class project where he needed to be responsible for his classmates. This simple act changed him instantly.  Instead of being a bully, he became a protector.

Bullies are tough on the outside but tender in the inside. Find out what their soft spots are and you’ll be able to help them change. If you befriend the bully, the bully may even become your protector.

Secret Power

But the most important lesson I have learned about dealing with bullies is best captured in the words of a very wise woman, Eleanor Roosevelt. She says, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

Wow!  Read it again and again until you get it.

The real secret is finding the power within you. If you let this guide you in your everyday life, you will soon realize that you can become your own protector. If there are things that hurt or bother you at the office, you will know how to calmly speak up and assert your rights. You will know how to say “No” politely to bullies and people with other types of toxic behavior. You will not become a victim and you won’t allow yourself to act like a martyr…because you own your self worth.

About the Author: Jhoanna O. Gan-So is president of Businessmaker Academy and the managing director for HR Club Philippines.  Her company conducts seminars on Human Resource Management and Corporate Skills Development.  They have also recently launched the Instant HR Toolkit, a service that provides HR practitioners with over 100 ready-to-use downloadable, customizable and printable HR manuals, contract, letters forms and templates.  To know more about HR seminars that they offer, you may visit or call (632)6874645.  To know more about the Instant HR Toolkit, you may visit  You may email your comments and questions to:   mbworklife AT (replace the AT with @).

(All rights reserved. Copyright Manila Bulletin and Jhoanna Gan-So. May not be reproduced or copied without express written permission of the copyright holders.)


Posted on July 11, 2010, in Business Agenda Classifieds Columns, Work Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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