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Dealing With A Workplace Bully

Photo by Daniel Reche

This article was based on episode 050 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, and Stitcher.

Most of us haven’t experienced or witnessed bullying since our playground days. But sadly, it doesn’t always end there. One of the major contributors to a toxic workplace is bullying.

In episode 50 of The Modern Manager, I speak with Matt Paknis, author of Successful Leaders Aren’t Bullies and senior management consultant who focuses on lessening bullying in the workplace. Matt has six years of experience coaching college football, ten years of playing football, and five championship seasons. He was a former assistant coach at Penn State under Joe Paterno and has spoken publicly about being abused as a child. Matt Paknis transcended childhood bullying and the death of his mother with teamwork and leadership. He has dedicated over twenty-five years of consulting to help global clients embrace healthy management practices.

According to Matt bullying is repetitive, intentional, negative, and derogatory acts toward another person. These are behaviors or comments that undermine motivation and trust, two critical factors for successful teamwork.


Just like when we were younger, a person bullies another person when they feel insecure or threatened. In the workplace, bullies often perceive a threat to their competence or are unsure of how to gain control other than through fear.

The target of a bully is usually either extremely talented or is somehow different from everyone else. In either case, the acts of bullying are meant to belittle the victim while lifting up the perpetrator.


Bullies can come in different shapes and sizes, from bosses and colleagues alike. Keep a look out for the following behaviors which vary from egregious to subtle:

  • Spreading malicious rumors, gossip, or innuendo.

  • Excluding or isolating someone socially.

  • Intimidating a person.

  • Undermining or deliberately impeding a person's work.

  • Physically abusing or threatening abuse.

  • Removing areas of responsibilities without cause.

  • Constantly changing work guidelines.

  • Establishing impossible deadlines that set up the individual to fail.

  • Withholding necessary information or purposefully giving the wrong information.

  • Making jokes that are “obviously offensive” by spoken word or e-mail.

  • Intruding on a person's privacy by pestering, spying or stalking.

  • Assigning unreasonable duties or workload which are unfavorable to one person (in a way that creates unnecessary pressure).

  • Devaluing someone’s work or creating a feeling of uselessness.

  • Yelling or using profanity.

  • Criticizing a person persistently or constantly.

  • Belittling a person's opinions.

  • Unwarranted (or undeserved) punishment.

  • Blocking applications for training, leave or promotion.

  • Tampering with a person's personal belongings or work equipment.


A great manager will have extremely high expectations, but will ensure each person has the tools to be successful. They will work just as hard as everyone else on the team to achieve the goals.

When working for a great manager, you always know they “got your back” 100% of the time.

They're willing to go to bat for you, rather than throw you under the bus because you threaten them. They push and challenge you to grow and be your best self.


If You’re The Target

If you are being bullied, report it directly to HR. If the bullying persists and/or HR does not take steps to address the situation, go to a labor attorney if you trust them or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the human rights commission. They should refer you to a reputable attorney in your area.

In most states, recording harassment is legal with one party consent. That means if you're being bullied, you can consent to recording a conversation to gather evidence to bring to your attorney.

If Someone Else Is The Target

As a manager, it’s important to also support the person being attacked. Let your team members know you have a zero tolerance policy for bullying. Encourage an open dialogue with each of them during which they can share if they’re experiencing bullying from a colleague.

If you notice another manager bullying, check in with the victim and encourage them to report it. Do not be a silent bystander.

Join the Modern Manager community on Patreon and get 10% off a consulting or speaking engagement with Matt plus episode guides and additional guest bonuses, to support your journey to rockstar manager.

This article was based on episode 050 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


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