Is There a Bully Where You Work?

Is there a jerk where you work? Have you ever worked with an honors graduate from Bully Bootcamp who intimidated, threatened, humiliated, or dominated other people?


Yes . . . and no. Although it’s true you need to protect yourself from potential negative actions, the key to your freedom from bullies is to understand who’s hiding underneath their frightening facade.

Myth #1. Bullies are powerful. Victims are wimps.

Truth: Bullies are wimps.

Bullies appear to flex mighty muscles, but it’s not because they feel powerful. Bullies feel so insecure, even when they are in high-level managerial positions, that they generally use undercover control tactics. Examples include spreading rumors or publicly discrediting a coworker in an effort to gather group support.

Myth #2. Bullies target the most vulnerable (the weakest) workers.

Truth: Bullies generally target very competent employees.

Bullies feel incapable of successfully competing with talented people. Therefore, they almost always try to sabotage the mental health and performance of those they think threaten them the most — the most capable employees. These targets are often also the most popular workers.


Reframe your perception of reality

If you are being bullied at work, instead of feeling like a wimp, understand that you are perceived as being so competent and well-liked that the bully is intimidated. Really let this truth sink in because this is one of your best defenses: Bullies are more afraid of you than you are of them. Otherwise, they would relate to you in a direct, collaborative manner.

Since bullies target competent people who are well-respected, you are perfectly capable of building your own advocacy network. Support is important because bullies try to isolate their targets. Build a solid support system of coworkers, friends, and family. As long as you are being proactive instead of whining, it may also serve you to develop an alliance by bonding with other workers who have been bullied by the same person.

Take steps to ensure your well-being

Bullies are shape-shifters. They will play the role of victim to anyone who will indulge their cover up. Although some bullies become explosive, most act in passive-aggressive ways. Either way, you need to take care of yourself.

Own your personal power in a safe and constructive way. Since you are not a wimp, don’t act afraid of a bully. Avoid unnecessary interactions without being submissive. Don’t let bullies know their behavior disturbs you. Since a bully’s goal is control and power, if you refuse to be a target, most will seek another more cooperative prey.

If you work in a company, carefully document situations in which you are bullied — preferably with witnesses. Talk to your Human Resources manager. If you do not receive the support you need, continue to document abusive situations until you gain a good listener. Always speak in a factual, non-emotional way.

If you are an entrepreneur, disengage from customers who bully. Say “No thank you” when business doesn’t feel right. At a minimum, significantly raise your rates for the extra problems caused by working with a person who could cheat you out of happiness at work.


Once you understand the reality of the bully who is hiding beneath a scary mask, you will get in touch with your personal power. You deserve personal AND professional environments that support your happiness and peak performance.

Asking for help when you feel stuck is a sign of high self-esteem. (You’re saying to yourself, “I deserve a better life!”) Would you like to work with a compassionate coach who helps you overcome the blocks to your happiness and success? Sign up for a FREE laser coaching session. Discover how quickly you can move into the fast lane and achieve your dreams. Email: today.

Visit and claim your free ebooks & podcasts, including “Get the Respect & Appreciation You Deserve Now,” “Thrive in a Wobbly World” & “Secrets of Happiness.” Doris Helge, Ph.D., “The Joy Coach” is author of “Joy on the Job” and “Transforming Pain Into Power.” Discover more at

© 2009. Permission to reprint this article if it is in tact, with proper credit given. All reprints must state, “Reprinted with permission by Doris Helge, Ph.D. Originally published at in 2009.

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Leave A Reply (6 comments so far)


  1. Dave Meyer
    8 years ago

    Hi Doris,

    This is really great advice. Living in Colorado, I tend to be more sensitive than most to the bullying issue.

    But in my work I’ve also discovered another type of bully.

    The unintentional bully.

    With the unintentional bully the pain is just as real, but the intent of the bully is quite different. We’ve run across this type of bully quite often on “executive row” in an organization. These bullies don’t pick out special victims. Instead, everyone is subjected equally to their abuse. And they don’t view their words as bullying at all. Instead, they are just “telling it like it is”. Sometimes they will hide behind their hurtful words by saying things like, “with me, what you see is what you get”.

    The bad news is that these bullies are plentiful in the workplace. The good news is that there is a cure. When this issue is brought to their attention by a friend, mentor, or even through a 360 assessment, they can learn new behaviors.

    Thanks for brining up this very serious issue.


  2. Doris
    8 years ago

    Dave, thanks so much for your wisdom. I do value your perspective and experience about difficult workplace issues. Thanks for reminding readers that anyone can change with awareness and conscious intentions.

  3. John Agno
    8 years ago

    When the bully is your boss, you are certain to be in trouble.

    Be prepared to look for another job if you cannot agree with your narcissistic boss. Remember, the company is betting on his vision of the future — not yours.

    With the dramatic discontinuities in today’s world, more large corporations are getting into bed with narcissists. They are finding there’s no substitute for narcissistic leaders in an age that requires out-of-the-box innovation and fearless risk-taking.

    But narcissistic leaders can self-destruct and lead their organizations terribly astray. Most of the major corporate scandals of the last 10 years were committed by narcissistic leaders who abused their power.

  4. Renee Barnow
    8 years ago

    Terrific and necessary to keep putting out the watch for bullying behavior and the corresponding need for self-care.

    Especially important to watch bank leaders as they justify bonuses as being part of the culture without any sensitivity to possibility for culture change. Bank leaders assert they without bonuses they will be unable to hire. This assertion and lack of sensitivity is bullying the government, the public and consumers.

    • Doris
      8 years ago

      What an insightful comment! No wonder I love reading your blog and talking with you!

  5. Elaine Lockard
    8 years ago

    Very useful info. Thank you Doris. I remember a time when there was a bully in the office I worked who liked to bully the clerical workers. I had to step in on a couple of occasions to put a damper on his actions. And, as you said, he was not match for me since he was the one who was a wimp.
    I agree that a person must take care and protect themselves. It can be a sticky situation.

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