Helping You Cope With & Stop



Who Should Decide If Someone Is Being Bullied?

We receive many email questions from all over the world. Here is an excellent question for those who deal with workplace bullying “he says, she says” scenarios:

Who should decide if someone is being bullied at work? 

The question is a valid one.  This has to do with the reality of the target, and the reality of the bully (the bully knowingly and repeatedly targets an individual with disrespectful behavior).

In my book, Bully Free at Work, I ask each target to keep a detailed journal of observed behaviors experienced from a bully, or bullies (i.e.) mobbing.  This is done to demonstrate a pattern, as opposed to one-time occurrences.  In addition, keeping a log can show the intensity of disrespect.

Consider is the impact of the bullying on the target:  Some people who may suffer from lower forms of self esteem may experience bullying as more severe.  However, many individuals with healthy self esteem also experience bullying behavior, and the experience is severe, causing harm to the target.

Separate the experience of the target from the bullying behavior:  For example, you could have a resilient person who handles excessive verbal abuse attacks, is denied promotions ‘without any cause’, and is purposefully left out of meetings in order to decrease the information power necessary to do their job; and yet he or she somehow manages to rise above all this.  Just because the target is able to rise above this does not minimize the behavior of the bully. It is still bullying. A mistake many academics make is determining a bullying situation only if the target is experiencing the harmful effects. Remember, if this resilient target leaves and a new employee starts working with the ever present bully, you are now unfairly putting the new employee in the lion’s den.

Bullying is deliberate, disrespectful and repeated behavior toward another for the bully’s gain.  The word ‘disrespectful’ has to be defined in order for each workplace to have a sense of allowable behaviors and non-allowable behaviors.

There are people who are difficult and who are not targeting anyone; this is not bullying.  There are people who are very sensitive and suffer from lower levels of self esteem and may not take responsibility for their situations at work as well, who are either very sensitive or are victims, so to speak.  Although a victim’s personal experience may feel severe, the behavior directed may not be bullying.  And there are good people working diligently, who are being targeted repeatedly and trying to cope as best as they can.  I will repeat once again:  anyone who is knowingly targeting another in order to cause harm is bullying. Understanding the difference is key.

My best advice? A decision to honour a target’s reality of disrespectful and bullying behaviours is a very important decision to make. Denying a target’s situation only further wounds. Take a sincere interest in what anyone in your organization is trying to say. This is the honourable and right thing to do. At the same time, make sure targets come prepared or can come back to a second meeting prepared by having them be clear and accurate as to what behaviors occurred and what they would like instead. The target’s role should be clarity and the leader’s role should be support and accountability.

Need more help with this? (This is one of the most difficult situations to handle in a leader’s career). Be sure to inquire about our Resources for Leaders and know you are not alone!

Respectful behaviors are best.  Any alternative should be held accountable.

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3 responses to “Who Should Decide If Someone Is Being Bullied?”

  1. Gail Watts says:

    I work for a federal agency that recently downgraded most of the employees on the claim that we were overrated (although no evidence was presented to support that claim or even investigation made — it was a pure assertion). The downrating was done according to a discriminatory pattern — e.g., 57% of the women over 40 were downrated; 0% of the men under 40 were downrated. As a longtime career person (female), I was downrated to a medium (mediocre) rating — 3 on a scale of 1-5 (one rating lower and my job would be in jeopardy). When I filed a greivance, management responded by “congratulating” me on getting a 3 rating (this was as I approached my 30th anniversary). All efforts to work with my supervisor to enhance my performance and get a better rating have been futile — to her, it is not a problem — management’s view is that most employees should get a 3 and be happy with it (although 2/3 are rated higher; and the lower rated tend to be the women over 40 and the few minorities we have). My supervisor is adamant that my work is mediocre although her criticism seem quite nitpicking (e.g., in a 20-page paper, I may include a couple details that she finds not necessary or I may hesitate a couple seconds before answering a ocmplex legal question). Is this adamancy that employees should receive middle ratings and be happy with them work abuse. I am from the working class and through academic success was able to become a lawyer. Management’s adamant insistence that many of us accept this uneducability is incomprehensible to me (how does it benefit my Agency — and how is is not abusive?) I would very much appreciate an answer to this question as it affects not just me but many persons in my Agency who have effectively been put in a box and had the lid nailed shut. Thank you.

  2. Leigh says:

    Yes, we have to love ourselves enough to take care of ourselves and to protect ourselves. I was just laid off from a job I really care about but my boss was a bully. I am trying to focus now on forgiveness of her and myself. There are worse things than not having a job.

  3. Amy says:

    When a competent person logs sufficient evidence of bullying behavior and has tried all possible means to improve the relationship, what is the best plan of action? When bullying comes from an immediate supervisor and the next level of management says “you’re strong – I’m sure you can handle it” because he consistently avoids all conflict situations, where is there left to go? When a board member drops a comment “He’s jealous of your competence and popularity” yet refuses to take action, it all seems so hopeless. Do you have any advice?

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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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