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Posted by on Apr 5, 2013 in Personal Growth | 19 comments

Are You Being Bullied By Your Boss? Bully Back!

02-bullying420-420x0During our careers we all come across them; bosses that are difficult to deal with or worse, bosses that are simple bullies. They push you into a corner, don’t listen, don’t give you an opportunity and are only driving their own agenda. I don’t have to explain the impact that these bosses have on the workplace. Disastrous!

All our defense mechanisms go up to ‘survive’ a bullying boss and all the conversations between employees center around ‘did you see what he / she did today?!’. Not particularly the signs of a healthy and high performing workplace.

I had my fair share of bullying bosses and overtime I have become more adept in dealing with such people. The turnaround came, when after months of being bullied by the boss of my boss, I was against the ropes and had basically given up. I was unable to do my job and didn’t want to be part of the organization any more as it had such a negative effect on my happiness and performance. That is when I decided to move on and move past his behavior.

A funny thing happens when you make such a decision, your attitude completely changes and what first impacted you negatively suddenly is not important anymore. The same happened with me, I simply didn’t care what his problem was and whenever my bully boss started to deploy his abrasive techniques, they no longer had the intended impact. You know what happened… the bullying boss stopped bullying me. He had realized that his technique didn’t work anymore and I didn’t have to quit the job that I loved.

I had gained a valuable lesson, the best way to deal with a bullying boss is to bully back with maturity. Two things happen: by having a mindset that you will not be affected by actions of others, the impact of their actions will disappear. Secondly, the one thing that a bullying boss respects is a person that stands their ground.

Of course you have to stand your ground and push back in the right way, you don’t want to stoop as low as your bullying boss. Psychology Today published a number of strategies on how to deal with a difficult or bullying boss:

1. Be Pro-active: Anticipate how your boss might react to a certain proposal and have an action plan if he behaves the way you anticipate.

2. Be Prepared: Prepare your different responses beforehand, think about how he might come back and prepare yourself for those as well

3. Be Professional: Never lower yourself to the level of the bullying boss. Keep the moral high ground, follow proper procedures

4. Be Persistent: Keep in it for the long run, your boss and his behavior are not going to change overnight, don’t let your guard down and continue to be prepared at any turn.

If you have tried everything and you continue to be at the receiving end of a bullying boss you do have the opportunity to follow a formal complaint procedure within the organization. A good friend of mine, who after trying different techniques to stop his bullying boss (and having seen two of his colleagues quit), decided to take his problem to the companies ethics committee. He was courageous enough to go through the procedure despite significant pressure from his peers and other line managers to let it go. At the end, the company decided that the bullying boss was not acting in line with the company values and decided to let him go. My friend is still working at the organization and is doing a wonderful job. The bully has moved on, hopefully he has learned from this experience and has changed his approach. Maybe, but not likely though…

Bullies often remain bullies and the best way to deal with them is to have the courage to stand up against them. Do so, without turning into the thing you hate, and watch your workplace experience drastically change.

How many of you have encountered such issues in your organizations?

– Paul Keijzer


  1. Well I am presently facing this situation, my boss is well connected and well placed so any complaint against him is turned down. Infact the employee who lodged complaint has to quit job as all the blame is put on him/her.
    My boss blatantly asking me to quit job, I am resisting my level best too keep going with the job.
    Every organization has got such rogue elements, it’s our sheer bad luck that we are made to work under them!

  2. What happens when things become personal because of some old family feud?

  3. I almost didn’t read the article because of the title. To even imply that bullying back is the right answer is wrong on so many levels (that kid punched you? punch him back!). However, the content is good – and is NOT bullying back! Rename the article and you would probably get some traction with it.

  4. I agree, employee should not at any level take bullying and should contact HR immediately.

  5. I would humbly disagree Paul, from my personal experience its not possible to bully back because Pakistani bosses have very big egos and any challenge to their absolute authority results in a power struggle that inevitably results in the subordinate leaving the company.

    • Understand where you are coming from Adnan. I choose the title deliberately to create a bit of controversy.

      As you read the blog you see that it is more about persistently and professionally holding your ground. If that doesn’t work and you decide not to follow a complaint procedure but to leave the company then at least you can leave with your head held high.

  6. I partially agree with Paul and Partially with Adnan , If you are working for an MNC , you can address the bulliness of Boss but If you are working for a small or mid size firm ,where your boss is the only decision maker , you are left with no chioce then leaving the company !

  7. This may happens in any organization, but if one thinks positively these challenges / possibilities can increase the mental and physical abilities of the person facing

  8. I have gone through all the comments and have gone through the article once again. I found it very relevant and useful. In our careers, we encounter such situation, once in a while. Yes, organization processes and culture make the difference. There may be slightly higher risk associated in bullying back in local companies.Further one has to be very objective in analyzing the situation whether the boss is really bullying or there is some other situations. Once it is established, the process laid down in the article would work exactly. Regarding Bakht’s comments of increasing physical and mental abilities in such tiring situations, yes, there may be, but at times cost would over-weigh advantage in such situation. However, one lesson, one would exactly learn how to bully back professionally. Thanks Paul for this wonderful article.

  9. Good Day All,

    Me too facing this problem now-a-days, and its i guess its more common in Pakistani Scoiety (most particuarly with females). Anyhow i employed the Paul exlpained technique few weeks ago(before i read that article) and i really worked as he started thinking that i am ignoring him. This article of Paul gave me much confidence to be persistent (if am good at work but not good at pleasing the boss). Meanwhile Mr. Matraf Rasul’s comment was also very much enlightening for me.

  10. I totally agree with you, Rhonda. The title seems to imply that bullying in return is an appropriate response. Even calling it, “… bullying back with maturity …” is a misnomer. Standing up to a bully or responding assertively is still not bullying back. As the author implies later i the article, simply not taking the bully on and not letting him/her get to you might stop the bullying but it will likely get worse before it gets better. I would suggest that the bullied employee report him/her to higher management ASAP. Shine the spotlight on the bully and do not be complicit in his/her attempts to keep his/her behaviour hidden.

  11. I like the concept of not letting the bullying affects stick to you. Rise above it … or at least try!

  12. seems like the author has not really experienced real bullying… its best that he / she learns the distinction between BAD BOSS and BULLY BOSS.

    • You or people close to you clearly had bad boss experiences Gina. Can you share how you dealt with it. Thank you

  13. I think there is a small distinction to be made and it may seem like a small one but its necessary. There is a difference between having a bully versus someone harassing you. Both can be disastrous for professional achievement and job satisfaction or productivity. In the case of the bully – this person is indiscriminate in their bully tactics with everyone. In the case of harassment there is a singular target. I was surprised by the title still having experienced this in my career I thought it worth ignoring what sounds like a poor behavioural choice. The article doesn’t support the title in the slightest and I appreciate the insights being shared.

  14. My boss made me experience “ISOLATION”. He would gather everyone into a critical job except me. He would treat everyone for lunch on special days, again, except me. He would also crack nasty jokes about me to my internal clients and my evaluators. Most of them were about my personal life. My clients started detaching from me. I also became the butt of jokes in the management meetings. At the latter stage, my boss started ignoring my existence all together. This was deliberate. It all started when i disagreed with him publicly. I thought he was mature enough to handle opposite ideas. He made my life hell in the most “professional” and “legal” way. He did not scream at me nor did he harass me physically. Though sometimes he would just shoot semi-sarcastic emails cc everyone who may find it amusing. But every other attack was safe. He may have played it really really cool but the damages he made were more impactful. He actually break down my social support. He is a very popular and friendly character in the office. Everyone loves him and reporting his behavior actually makes people think I’m making things up or I’m just “being too sensitive” or worse paranoid. I just had to quit. Afterall, there is nothing significant to report about his behavior and that he indeed never actually broke any rule in the employee handbook.

    • Dear Cheetah, Your ordeal typifies how difficult it is to stand up to the ‘legal’ harassment as you put it of a ‘popular’ boss. And unfortunately resigning seems to have been the only option left. I presume that you brought up your observations on how you were being treated and how it made you feel up with him and that he either denied it or brushed it away. The only thing you might have been able to do was to express how certain acts made you feel and the impact that it had on you. Nobody can deny how certain things make you feel and then it is up to the person you telling it to respond in a manner that he changes his behaviour or continues. If it is the last then you know for sure its better to be out of there.


  15. I’m still at a job 10 months after being targeted by a superior in upper management. My ordeals began when i was noticed by my bosses boss as having the work experience capable of obtaininf results. I believe this resulted in my superior feeling threatened and began to target me. It began with Ostracization from the team, which is still the case now. Then came the gossip and the malicious slander. When you stand your ground, these bullies either stop, or they try harder. The gossiping continues, and my colleagues and fellow teammates are too afraid to talk to me publicly due to intimidation and fear of being made a target. Then comes the leaving me out of important meetings that affect my job, the unfounded critisms, the stealing of credit, the sarcasms, the psychological put downs, and now, openly and defying their own superiors and denying me from working on all tasks related to the role i was hired from. Then the humiliation in front of staff.

    10 months and im still here. Why? Here are some tips:

    2. Get a good external support group or person that keeps on motivating you to stay.
    3. As the article mentioned, i began to realize its not me, its the bully. That will help maintain your self esteem and help fight your anxieties (will always be there when facing a bully).

    Wy i think a bully is the way they are?
    1. Upper management doesn’t reprimand them for their actions. Even if they don’t condone their actions, doing nothing is motivating the bully.
    2. The bully has a tight clique which constantly agrees with everything the bully says, either they too are semi bullies or they dont want to be targeted. This gives the bully fuel to continue their behavior.

    I’ve thought about leaving my job, but as i dislike bullies, one way we have to ‘fight back’ is by exposing their actions. Most bullies are manipulative and are subtle. They tend to be popular and carry weight with their voice, expose their actions, let others see. For the very first time, other upper execs are beginning to witness the behaviour openly, this puts the bully in a tight position. The next is to see how other execs, especially HR handle the situation, this is the position i am in now.

    I don’t want to let a bully have their way anymore. Turnover is too high as it is. If bullying is to end, it has to begin from the top down. Don’t let a poor appraisal, like mine, which attacked my person but praised my work, get you down. We feel like resigning, i do too, but to quit would let them win, hold on a little longer, be there enough to hope for changes, see changes, then move on. If the number 1 doesn’t act, then move on.

  16. I think a distinction needs to be made between a bad co-worker/boss and a bullying co-worker/boss.

    A bad co-worker/boss may have days when they are moody, but they do not consistently take it out on one or two select people at the workplace. They do not sabotage others or say threatening things. They will not retaliate if you complain. Overall, they are manageable, but have certain qualities that bring down the performance of the company. Let me reiterate that we are talking about economics, and not social or psychological abuse or denigration of employees.

    A bullying co-worker/boss denigrates and abuses others through body language, verbal and non-verbal behavior. They blame others and humiliate them, usually in front of other employees. They tend to target others who they perceive as a threat to their position or emotional well being (they resent that this person is a harder worker, a more accomplished person, has higher social status, etc.

    If the latter is the case, it needs to be reported to HR or a higher up. If action fails to be taken, you need to find an exit strategy. I don’t agree with the author that a bully should be tolerated. Bid your health is being affected and action by management is not being taken, you need to find another job. Do not hold out and try to find a solution.


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