Helping You Cope With & Stop



How To Detect Bullying Behavior From a Co-Worker

Ever have a situation at work where another co-worker you do not have authority over is bullying you? Do you try and let it not bother you?  Do you find yourself bothered anyway?  Take a read over this helpful scenario:

Here’s The Scenario:

Judy works for a company where Michelle is the receptionist.  Michelle does not directly report to Judy, but Judy does have a higher position in the company.  When Judy comes to work, Michelle ignores Judy when Judy says hello. In addition, Michelle forgets to handle tasks Judy has asked her to do, and does not include Judy in important emails, thereby holding information back from Judy that she needs in order to get her job done effectively.

What Happened:

Judy went to her own boss first and her boss told her to be nice to Michelle and buy her coffee in the mornings – to reach out.  Judy did this, and nothing changed.  In fact, Michelle said she didn’t even like ‘that brand of coffee’.

(Note: If this has happened to you, it is not the issue of the right coffee; it is about being gracious and saying thank you!  If someone complains when someone is reaching out like this, it is disrespectful behavior!)


Judy attempted to try and influence Michelle by talking directly with her in order to hopefully come to an agreement.  Judy said:

  • “When you ignore me by not saying hi or looking at me when I come in the door in the mornings, but you say hi to others…
  • “I feel hurt and left out…
  • “What I’d like is for you to acknowledge me with a hello or nod when I come into work.”
  • And the key statement Judy asked at the end: “Can you do this – Yes or No?”

Michelle replied with, “Well, if I wasn’t so overloaded…”

(Note: This is a deflection, as Michelle did not directly answer the question…)

So, Judy persisted and said, “I can see, but is that a Yes or a No?”

Note: Judy kept on task and didn’t get thrown off by Michelle’s tactic of deflection).

Michelle said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about – you’re so sensitive”.

(Note: Now, Michelle’s response is discounting and minimizing Judy’s feelings, and is a classic technique used to avoid a healthy dialogue for win-win resolution.  Some people don’t want resolution; they want control over you).

This is when Judy knew for sure that Michelle’s behavior was disrespectful behavior, in fact bullying behavior:

  • It was repeated; – Judy noted a number of behaviors Michelle performed toward her that she felt was disrespectful.
  • It was disrespectful and harmed Judy – thus holding Judy back from a healthy synergistic relationship which co-workers should have with each another.
  • Michelle denied the olive branch and failed the test – she chose ‘power over’ by trying to discount and minimize Judy’s requests.
  • It was deliberate; – no one else was treated this way

(Note: In respectful relationships, one seeks win-win resolution. In bullying situations, it is disrespectful behavior toward one and not others repeated over time without change after given feedback).

Now What Should Judy Do?

  1. Stop buying coffee and trying to rationalize – no more fantasizing “Maybe if I bought Michelle another kind of coffee, or brought in homemade cookies…”.  Stop.  Stopping this outreach is key to bully-proofing yourself.
  2. Document exactly what happened in detail, and ask for a quiet meeting with Michelle’s boss.
  3. Have a Crucial Conversation (check out page 168 of Bully Free at Work) with Michelle’s boss, who has authoritative power over Michelle.  Ask specifically for what you want, using the Crucial Conversation planner, and don’t let the boss brush you off – you can bring the boss a coffee, if you want!

Key: The authoritative power is part of your intervention tool kit.  You need this help to deal with a manipulative, “not going to change” bully.


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14 responses to “How To Detect Bullying Behavior From a Co-Worker”

  1. MaShee says:

    When Bullying turns into Mobbing it is very hard to stay courageous and strong.It is your words against management.They would do things I would never thought such a big corporation and has a reputation to protect failed to see whats going on.The policy is in place but not monitored and implemented.There was a cover up among leaders.How would you go about it when quitting is not an option?

  2. Sherry says:

    what if all the higher management try to ignore your concern and tells you it is a serious allegation and unfounded after 3rd investigation..I found out no investigation was done but it was an interview between me and them and management and them (Sr.Employee Relation) Occupational Health and Safety Manager and even HR Sr.Mgr joins them.I am all alone.What should I do..quitting is not an option for me for if no one will speak up or stand up against them how can we make a change on the working environment.I know we cannot change them..How can I bully proof or protect myself…My STD was denied for stress and burnout I was told it is not short term ,My doctor note says 8 weeks,I cant stay off work without pay…so I went back to work but then they also ignore my doctors instruction of doing modified work I was doing the same work that make my right wrist swollen from repetitive over clicking of the mouse when my computer malfunction and the kind of task im doing which should be divided by 4 but it was only me doing it… This is a serious bullying behavior coming from my superiors where should I go for help…

  3. jenni says:

    I agree with Ron entirely. Tasks for Michelle should be funnelled through whoever she reports to, not a co-worker. When employees take it upon themselves to start delegating, it’s a recipe for disaster, especially when combined with a weak management style. This happened to me by a co-worker. We both reported to the partners of the firm, but because she had been at the firm years longer than me, she felt she had the right to delegate part of her duties. She would leave the task with a post it note on it telling me what to do, even though it was clearly part of her job. I would just put it back on her desk, however this didn’t stop her. She would ignore me and continue her delegating without ever speaking to me about it. In the end I wrote her a long email outlining how her behaviour was a form of harassment and that only the partners who we reported to directly, had the right to assign work. She ended up in tears and complained to the boss, who was the real bully in this story. She had been treated like a doormat by the boss well before I started working there and perhaps passing on the bullying behaviour was her way of dealing with her own misery. It’s amazing how a serial bully psychopath employer can infect an entire workplace. When she realised that I was also being bullied by the boss, amazingly her behaviour improved. She eventually resigned and I also left not much longer after, joining the long list of workers forced to leave by the psychopath.

  4. took the high road says:

    wow, this article reminded me so much of a previous workplace. I took this type of behaviour from a few staff members for almost 3 years. Despite numerous talks, and going to the boss, and the boss’s boss, nothing changed. So I left. And over a year later, I still have anxiety thinking about how horrible that environment was, and how I’ve let their behaviour change me. Thank you so much for this post.

  5. non says:

    I work in a high risk environment and on a long swing.Reading how bullying is done really surprises me people can be like that, but when everything is going well only one stands out of the crew until it turns the other way. Then it is someone else problem, it’s mush be hard to apart of a good working team. It’s take a lot to understand that a company operation runs people, not just one clown.

  6. Colette says:

    Excellent article. Loaded with lots of insight. There may be instances where speaking to someones boss may help but a real bully will find a way to comply to saying ‘good morning’ to keep their job and still find other ways to subtly say ‘I can’t stand you’. One may ultimately need to just ignore the bully.

  7. Shirley says:

    Great article. This is the type of bullying I always think of when people mention bullying. It is clever and subtle and hard to prove. Problem is, when a target complains about this happening, especially if they raise the issue repeatedly, then others seem to call them the target the bully. I prefer people who are openly aggressive because at least one knows what to expect from them, but clever, quiet, manipulative bullies are much harder to out, but hopefully over time they will make a mistake. Thanks.

  8. Magda says:

    This type of bullying is insidious and it is every where. Victims don’t know that they are being bullied and this type of behaviour is seldom addressed by management. It could make the working life of someone hell. Your plan of action is sound. Often employees just resign without raising the issue. That is such a pity because then nothing is learned and nothing gained.

  9. AJ pearson says:

    I the family business I work. I told the woman’s 70 yr old mother to keep her daughter off my back. Has worked for a year so far. None of us talk to each other about anything and wish each other were dead. Maybe that’s just me. U9jmw

  10. ron says:

    You say, in step 3 of Judy’s action plan, that only Michelle’s boss has authoritative power over her, and refer to Judy as a co-worker, yet fault Michelle for not handling tasks assigned to her by Judy. If Judy’s truly a co-worker (regardless of rank), shouldn’t tasks for Michelle be funneled through her boss? Perhaps Michelle is being bullied by a this ranking member of the organization (i.e. Judy), her real boss allows it, and her resentment is fueling the tension.

  11. Andy says:

    I think bullies are born# not made. They made their bullying strategies, but it is best out in the open for all people to see (if they are inclined to*). (* And that is born as well.) Guards! Guards! (#Maybe not born but not a conscious adult choice?)

  12. Christine Stewart says:

    I agree wholeartdly with all that. I was told to “turn the other cheek”. “Not rock the boat by saying anything”. In the end teammates ducked for cover even though they told me I was well liked and I felt I had no option but to leave.

  13. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by eBossWatch. eBossWatch said: How To Handle Workplace Bullying From A Co-Worker: Ever have a situation at work where another co-worker you do … […]

  14. AC says:

    • With your teammates, decide a list of behaviors you want your boss to stop doing. Decide the behaviors you want instead.

    In a team where the boss is the main bully he will set it up so that he has a bully delegate, or two, to keep the rest of the team in line. No one is really sure of anyone else and cannot trust anyone. It becomes difficult to for a coalition to ask bully-in-charge to change his behavior. A bully operates very similar to a dictator.

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Valerie Cade, CSP is a Workplace Bullying Expert, Speaker and Author of "Bully Free at Work: What You Can Do To Stop Workplace Bullying Now!" which has been distributed in over 100 countries worldwide. For presentations and consulting on workplace bullying prevention and respectful workplace implementation, go to

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