8 Types of Workplace Bully and How to Shut Them Down

Irate customers, overtime, staff meetings, and deadlines. Whether you’re slaving away behind a hot stove or slumped over a well worn keyboard (ahem), the workplace can be stressful. I mean, if it wasn’t all that difficult, you wouldn’t be getting paid for it, right? Day-in day-out, occupational stresses are generally unavoidable. Bullies, however, are a different story.

They come in all shapes and sizes, and vary dramatically in attack styles, too. The important thing to remember with these cases is that bullying has very little to do with the actions of the victim. Bullying is a habitual desire for physical or social power. As a general rule, victims of bullying should do their best to ignore it if possible. I realize that we can’t all be zen masters 24/7, 365, so here’s a little Office Bully how-to cheat sheet. Print it off. Laminate it. Pin it up at your desk. Or, you know, just start with clicking that “next” button. Let’s go!

The Prankster

Everybody loves a good gag. A sticky note here, a missing tool there. Tasteful workplace pranks can be a great way to raise morale and liven up a boring day. They can also cross the occasional line too. But it doesn’t take long for the joke to wear thin and the laughter to subside. A few too many off-side acts of mischief to the wrong person, or the same person repeatedly can cause real, unfunny problems.

So, what should you do if the prankster crosses a few too many lines? On the first occurrence, you need to ignore it. If you can’t ignore it, try not to get too upset over the situation. On the second occurrence, talk to them about it. Tell them how the pranks make you feel and politely ask them to stop. On the third occurrence, try and get some backup. Ask another co-worker to politely communicate your issues with the person. That should do the trick.

pathdoc / Shutterstock
pathdoc / Shutterstock

The Saboteur

They sneak around, pull strings, and chop you down at every opportunity. The saboteur bully often takes credit for your ideas or spins tall tales of your incompetence. They’ll keep you close and use their inside information to obstruct, interfere, and even denigrate your hard work.

Got a co-worker that’s constantly trying to sabotage your work? First, cover your butt. Save those e-mails, dot your i’s, and be ready to prove your innocence. Nothing damages a saboteur’s credibility more than getting caught in the act. Kick it in to high gear and outperform them. If that fails, you can talk to them about it, report it to HR, or try your best to ignore them.

Fred Ho / Shutterstock
Fred Ho / Shutterstock

The Criticizer

The dog-eat-dog 9 to 5 world can bring out the worst in people as any level of success comes with its fair share of critics. These bullies’ modus operandi is obstruction through constant nitpicking. They search for flaws and highlight ways in which they would have performed the task better. They aren’t shy about broadcasting your flaws to your other co-workers either. It can be frustrating to say the least.

There are a number of ways to deal with it. First, try your best not to take the slights personally. Second, try and focus on the underlying message. I mean, maybe, their statements have merit. You may learn something. If that doesn’t work, you can always shower them with a little extra kindness. And if all else fails, just ignore them, or avoid them wherever possible.

Ollyy / Shutterstock
Ollyy / Shutterstock

The Boss

Everyone has encountered this one at one point or another. The boss bully abuses their elevated status to intimidate their underlings. Common tactics include putting you on the spot in staff meetings, undermining your work, and generally throwing you off your guard as to establish their dominance.

I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s very important that you don’t take this behaviour personally. It really has nothing to do with you. Other tips? Don’t directly fight back. That’ll just make things worse. An effective bully-busting strategy is, well, ignore it. Act like it doesn’t bother you. I mean, really act it up. Don’t give them the satisfaction of sweating. You’ve got this.

Photographee.eu / Shutterstock
Photographee.eu / Shutterstock

The Gossiper

They’re always at the ready with a dramatic, workplace scandal. Who’s dating whom, what that big secret meeting was all about, and the like. The gossiper uses knowledge as power. Constantly circling around the edges of the latest drama and ready to tell everyone about it. In most cases, the gossiper makes things infinitely worse.

So, how do you deal with them? First, don’t contribute to the tale. If you find yourself trapped in a scandalous water cooler convo, just smile, nod, and move on ASAP. Arming yourself with the facts might help too. If that fails, confront them about it in a friendly, appropriate manner. Also, never participate that just makes things much, much worse.

Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock
Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock

The Schoolyard Bully

The schoolyard bully is an absolute staple in most work places. Their loud, obnoxious, and often physically intimidating. They’re used to getting their way, and being treated with respect. As such, this type of bully can be very confrontational and particularly unpleasant. Their goal is to get a rise out of you. To first get you off balance and then knock you down. This bully is a particularly nasty one.

The key here is to keep calm and carry on. Avoid them where possible, ignore them when you can, and never show them any positive or negative emotion. Remember, laughing along with their jokes is often just as bad as confronting them directly. Just breathe, keep walking, and don’t take it to heart.

John Gomez / Shutterstock
John Gomez / Shutterstock

The Behind the Back Bully

Much like the saboteur, the “behind the back” bully uses information to marginalize your day-to-day accomplishments. They may be friendly to your face, but they aren’t above spreading rumours, snitching to the boss, or telling little white lies. The frustrating part about this bully is that they’re so difficult to catch. Most of the time, their actions are done in secret.

The best way to bust this shadowy bully is to maintain an open and direct relationship with your superior. Now, I’m not telling you that you should fire off an e-mail to your boss every day, or openly brag about your sales figures. Just make sure that your boss is aware of your positive contributions, and that should snuff out any tattle tails fairly quickly.

igorstevanovic / Shutterstock
igorstevanovic / Shutterstock

The Two-Face

Last but not least, the two-faced bully. These inconsistent co-workers are quick to buy you lunch, or offer up a shoulder to cry on. But they’re even quicker to demean you in a board meeting or gossip about you behind your back. The two-face bully is insecure about their place in the company, so they use their charm to gather information. Information that they’ll use to beat you down. They use everything at their disposal to get the best of you. If being your friend helps them move forward, they’ll turn on the charm. But they’re always ready to cut you down as soon as it’s beneficial.

How do you deal with these bullies? Ice them out. Cut them out of your social circle immediately. They aren’t your friends. They’re just pretenders. If the bully tries to demean you in front of others, stand your ground. Be polite and calm, but remain firm. They’ll back down. The two-face bully always does.

Ollyy / Shutterstock
Ollyy / Shutterstock