Projecting confidence: 10 tips for dealing with bullies in the workplace

January 7, 2019
Oriana D. Scislowicz, LVT, PHR
Oriana D. Scislowicz, LVT, PHR

Oriana Scislowicz, LVT, PHR, was a veterinary practice manager for many years before becoming senior HR specialist at Pharmaceutical Product Development.

One negative person can make an otherwise great workplace a nightmare. Heres how to combat the bully in your veterinary practice.

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If going into your workplace gives you flashbacks to the elementary school playground, and not in a good way, there's a good chance you're not alone. One bully can turn an otherwise pleasant veterinary practice into a toxic environment, but with these tips, you can turn the situation around.

1. Make notes of the details

Unfortunately, managers cannot do much to address bullying behaviors without the necessary details. It may seem tedious, but it's important to write down the dates and times of these events, exactly what is being said or done and the circumstances around the event (what was being discussed/what was happening), along with any witnesses.

2. Assume an assertive, confident presence

Bullies are much more likely to prey on individuals who appear meek and unsure of themselves. Keep an upright posture-back straight, shoulders back, chin up. Do not shy away from direct eye contact when speaking with coworkers. Try to eliminate passive, hesitant language such as “Do you think…”, “Maybe…” or “Is it okay if…”. Of course, sometimes it's appropriate to use these phrases, but if every sentence starts that way, it's time to take a more authoritative tone.

3. Try not to get emotional

Bullies tend to enjoy getting a reaction out of others, so try to not be visibly emotional. If you feel like you're about to break, stay calm and simply walk away from the situation if needed.

4. Push back, and do so publicly

When a bully makes a negative comment or tries to humiliate you in front of others, address the behavior directly. The worst thing you can do in this scenario is to be silent. Be quick and to the point, and put the bully in his or her place. You may start your response with “That's odd, I'm certain what actually happened was…” or “I'm sorry you feel it went that way, but…”, and explain the reason you are not at fault. If the behavior is particularly rude, you should address the tone and attitude above all else, and explain you will not tolerate being spoken to that way. Let the bully know they can come back to you when they are ready to speak in a calm, constructive and professional manner.

5. Request mediation if needed

If you have tried to directly address the individual with little success, it may be time to request a manager sit in on the conversation and help mediate. You should still be involved in the discussion, but a manager can help identify problematic, unacceptable behavior on the bully's side and bring this to their attention.

6. Don't give any ammunition

Come into work, do your job and do it well. Try not to speak poorly of other coworkers, the management, owners and clients. Your mistakes and any negative comments you have made in the past create the perfect fuel to get a bully going. This also could weaken your argument if you bring their negative behavior up for discussion.

7. Do not internalize

This is not your problem or a reflection of your abilities. Typically, bullies prey on those who are more skilled or more popular than themselves. These individuals are usually insecure and try to take credit for others' work whenever possible.

8. Know you are not alone

Unfortunately, bullying in the workplace has become more and more prevalent, with some studies reporting up to 75 percent of surveyed employees feeling they have been a target or witness to workplace bullying. Do not be afraid to reach out for support or counseling if needed.

9. Do not try to change the bully

Trying to change people takes a lot of time and patience. Not only is this a huge undertaking, it's not your responsibility. While you can bring the issue to the attention of the bully and your manager, you have no control over the bully's ability to recognize and accept the problem or attempt to work on it.

10. Build a support network

Focus on building relationships with your co-workers, rather than allowing the bully to force you out of the social circle and feel alone. If you have the support of others within the workplace, it will be more difficult for the bully to ostracize you in their presence.

While deciding to tackle a bullying problem head on can be overwhelming and take time, these steps should help provide you with basic behaviors you can implement on your own to try to improve the situation. Ultimately, you cannot control whether or not a bully will be willing to change themselves and if your manager will decide to address the situation (and be willing to get rid of the problem employee if needed). You have to decide what is best for your health and mental well-being, and unfortunately sometimes that may mean making a break from the toxic environment and starting fresh in a work environment where bullying will not be tolerated.

Oriana Scislowicz, BS, LVT, aPHR is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at CVCA Cardiac Care for Pets in Richmond, Virginia.