Dealing with a Team Bully: Why Walking Away is the Strongest Decision

Filed under Leadership | Posted by MMeloni

“He that fights and runs away, May turn and fight another day; But he that is in battle slain, Will never rise to fight again.” – Tacitus

The above quote is not meant to imply that you will be engaging in warfare at the office. It is a very old quote and yes it was aimed at those who did battle. The takeaway for you and me is about being strategic in our interactions with our colleagues. And some of your colleagues are not worthy of your time and energy.

My first and favorite approach when faced with a bully on the team is to refuse to engage with him or her.  It is the simplest and quickest approach.  When people come to me and ask how to deal with the team or office bully, the first thing I ask is, “Do you absolutely have to be around this person?”

Frequently the response I receive will be something along the lines of, ”Well of course I have to deal with her we work together.”  But often further questioning indicates otherwise.

Just because you are in the same office or part of the same organization does not mean you have to engage with someone, at least not on a regular basis. If your work does not require you to be in regular contact with the team or office bully, then stay away. When you do have the need to interact with him or her, make it as brief as possible. If he or she begins to bully you (and I am assuming that we are discussing this verbally), do not respond, simply hang up or do not answer that email or text, or walk away. As the quote above suggests, do this the first time and do this every time.

“The way to work with a bully is to take the ball and go home. The first time, every time. When there’s no ball, there’s no game. Bullies hate that. So, they’ll either behave so they can play with you, or they’ll go bully someone else.” Seth Godin

If the bully is on your team and you are the project manager consider making a resource change. Perhaps there is another resource that can fill this role? Do what you can to minimize his or her involvement in the project.

It’s not that you want the bully to pick on someone else. But given that you probably cannot completely change a bully, what you can do is refuse to be bullied. And who knows? Perhaps if everyone takes this approach your bully will change or move on.

This is a very good example of when avoidance is the best approach to a conflict.

Your thoughts?