Home > Abusive relationships, bullying, office politics > How to Avoid Bullying and Mobbing at Work

How to Avoid Bullying and Mobbing at Work


bullseye painted on my foreheadBullying and mobbing are forms of workplace emotional abuse and psychological violence. These behaviors are more than a case of harmless personality differences; bullying and mobbing are purposeful and malicious.

Bullying, whether perpetrated by an individual or a group, entails victimization of a target with the goal of demeaning, discrediting, alienating, excluding, humiliating, undermining, and isolating him or her. It often manifests itself in petty harassment and bureaucratic hassles.

Bullying doesn’t stop unless someone with authority steps in or the bully is able to manipulate the target into quitting or being fired. The bully’s  ultimate goal is to force the target out of the organization.

7 Steps to avoid becoming a target for mobbing and other workplace bullying:

1) Heighten your awareness. Be aware of changes in management and possible differences between your values and organizational values. A power shift or change in management structure can create an environment conducive to bullying and mobbing and/or trigger bullies who already exist within the system.

New managers typically want their own people in place who are loyal to them and share their beliefs and values. If they don’t have legitimate grounds to fire you, they may try to eliminate you through bullying tactics by making the workplace as unpleasant as possible for you.

Alternately, new managers often inherit bullies from the old manager. They’re difficult to initially spot as most bullies put on a charming face in front of authority figures. If the bully enjoyed a position of power before the new manager arrived, they’ll try to undermine and derail the new boss to exert their dominance, maintain their power base, and perhaps try to get rid of the new boss. If this occurs, give the bully a warning and terminate them when they violate the agreement post haste. It shouldn’t take very long; bullies are repeat offenders. They cannot not bully.

2) Can’t we all just get along? More often than not, the answer is a resounding, “No.” If the change in management is big enough, it may warrant transferring to another department or finding a position at another company. Sometimes, you can’t “just get along,” which means you have to move on. It’s unfair, but that’s how it goes. Some differences are too great to resolve. Create a strategic career plan to begin this process.

3) On the down low. If you decide to stay at your current job due to financial restrictions or because an alternate job isn’t readily available, find ways to protect yourself and keep a low profile. It’s more difficult to become a target if you stay off the radar.

Don’t openly disagree with or challenge the bully. Don’t offer suggestions that differ from their agenda. Don’t offer constructive criticism. Become a “yes” man or woman or stay silent when you disagree. Get assignments done on time, smile, and don’t go above and beyond.

If you do outstanding or highly creative work, bullies will find that threatening. It seems counter-intuitive, but if you do something that makes you look good, bullies believe they look bad in comparison and turn on you. If you can find a better or comparable job opportunity, please do so as quickly as possible. This strategy should be a temporary solution, not a long-term one. Over time, it can become just as stressful and demoralizing as being bullied.

4) Play it cool. If you’re prone to anxiety, try to mask it as best as possible. For example, minimize anxiety behavioral signals like fidgeting, leg bouncing, nail biting, constantly apologizing, and nervous laughter. Predatory bullies pick up on fear, so “never let them see you sweat.” Exude quiet confidence, even if you have to fake it at first.

5) Look ‘em in the eye. This is related to keeping your emotions in check. While it doesn’t pay to directly confront or challenge a bully, don’t make the mistake of backing down or running away when they verbally attack you. Look them in the eye, remain calm, and politely state your case, being sure to stick to the facts. This is easier said than done. Bullies are masters of baiting people into losing their cool.

6) Develop and practice conflict management skills to minimize the tension. A hallmark of bullying and/or mobbing is continuous conflict. Finding ways to manage conflict and anger before it becomes a problem will be to your benefit. Practice deflection with humor. Learn how to detach yourself from the emotionality of tense situations. Try to remain unflappable. If bullies see you flinch, they’ll move in for the kill.

7) Know your rights. Study your organization’s HR employee handbook and harassment policies. Research your state’s employee’s rights. If you belong to a union, find out what resources are available to you. Good news! Several states are “considering laws that would make workplace bullying an ‘unlawful employment practice’ and give victims the right to sue an employer that fails to prevent it.” About time if you ask me.

If you work for an organization where bullying is tolerated or condoned, it’s only a matter of time before it’s your turn. With every target a bully successfully eliminates, you’re on an ever increasing short list of potential new targets. And, quite frankly, if you participated in making someone else’s life hell at work out of self-preservation, you probably deserve a little karmic payback.

Bullying isn’t just a problem for the targeted individual. If bullying and mobbing are permitted in an organization, it’s everyone’s problem because it means no one is safe. Bullying in the workplace is a form of systemic abuse. It takes more than one person to say, “Enough,” and end a bully’s reign of terror. Start by educating yourself and co-workers. If you see a colleague is being bullied or mobbed, reach out to him or her privately and offer your support.

by Dr Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD

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Bullseye on my forehead on corbis.

  1. January 17, 2012 at 8:14 pm | #1

    I like number five, look them in the eye. Don’t be a victim. Let everyone know that you will fight back, legally, through the courts, or through the media, which many businesses and universities fear even more than litigation. Guerrilla publicity campaigns, letters to the editor, social media networks on the internet, message boards, e-mail, there are many ways to fight back.

  2. Hans
    January 16, 2012 at 6:42 pm | #2

    Thank you for this excellent article. While it deals with the work environment, it can be just as applicable in other situations in which adults interact. I was mobbed out of nursing school early in what would have been my last semester when I was a student, although the problem had begun the previous semester. I did nothing to provoke faculty and maintained a low profile, so that strategy did not work for me. Faculty members I did not even know singled me out and conspired against me with great determination. They were extremely hateful and unrelenting. I was a top student who could not be defeated using objective tests. The mobbers went after me with harassing comments and nonverbal communications and by openly having a far different standard in the subjective parts of the coursework for me than for all other students. The best explanation I have heard for why I was singled out is that at least one of the faculty members had feelings of inferiority and/or jealousy over my great academic record. My great and lengthy efforts at studying and practice were wasted. My money was wasted. The university defrauded me. I experienced a lasting trauma that I will never forget, and for what??? Why???

    I wish to point out that bullies get themselves in positions of control, which makes it very difficult or impossible for their victims to effectively counter the bullying. Bullies thrive where organizational controls are lax or administrators are ineffectual. Bullying and mobbing are easy for the perpetrators to deny and conceal. I think it would likely be difficult to set clear legal definitions and standards of what constitutes bullying, but I doubt that anything short of legislated sanctions will be effective in curtailing bullying. When bullies succeed in forcing their victims out, they win. They thus feel positively rewarded for their bad behavior and have no incentive to stop. It’s on to their next victim. That cycle needs to be broken. Bullying is not only costly for the victims. Cumulatively, bullying costs all of society.

  3. November 19, 2010 at 11:15 am | #3

    Very interesting comments. I often found not so pragmatic instructions, like to fight and protest… this sounds like much more practical. Unfortunately in my world, the academic one, where people are kick out all the time, I see often mobbing happening, and sometimes I was also a victim and I had to leave. But, although I survived, I still do not know exactly how to handle with that.

    I have to admit that, reading your points, I have always done at least 2 or 3 of the mistakes that you talk about. And in fact I noticed that the reaction was the opposite of what I expected.

    Very interesting.

  4. Gina Knight
    March 21, 2009 at 4:03 am | #4

    Thanks for the suggestions. I now have a better idea how to be more successuful in my new job. Again I don’t see how bullying benefits a company. If it costs them money why do they tolerate it? Bad managment is costly!!!!!!!!!

  5. loupsolo
    March 18, 2009 at 8:46 am | #5

    Thank you for this post.

    • shrink4men
      March 18, 2009 at 3:07 pm | #6

      You’re welcome!

  1. March 18, 2009 at 7:25 pm | #1
  2. November 17, 2010 at 2:52 pm | #2

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