How to Respond to Workplace Bullying

In my previous article we looked at what does and does not constitute bullying or harassment in the workplace. Today I want to look at how you should respond as team leader if it occurs in your workplace.

So how should you tackle bullying if you detect it or suspect it is happening in a team that you are responsible for?

Any bullying or harassment in the workplace is unacceptable and needs to be addressed immediately. Everyone has a right to feel safe at work and to be treated with respect.

You should never ignore bullying or hope it will just go away. If anyone reports, or if you witness or suspect, an incident that could be bullying, you must respond rapidly. Otherwise, your silence is perceived by the perpetrator and others as collusion in what is happening.

If you are in a leadership role, and you observe any indications that bullying or harassment might be occurring, you have a responsibility to stand up and show that you will not tolerate such actions from anyone in your team or elsewhere.

Listen to all team members and encourage them to work together cooperatively on solutions to the real problems they are experiencing. Use individual coaching to help individuals modify their behavior and motivate them to be productive team members. See details about how to do this here:

Just as some people bring out your best, and other people bring out your worst, you can bring out the best in other people even at their worst. It’s a matter of understanding where they are coming from and what is likely to work with them.

As with most team-related issues, the best way to address a bullying problem will depend on the specific situation, but a sound first step is usually to begin a conversation around the behaviors you have observed, compared to what you expect.

Facilitate an open conversation with your team members about team values like trust, respect and how they relate to working together in a team. This can be a powerful and helpful start to addressing the situation.

By securing team agreement about how your team members will treat each other going forward, you will both minimize the likelihood of the situation being repeated and ensure that in future no one can say they didn’t know bullying or harassing actions might be unacceptable.

Take particular care not to allow the bullying victim to be targeted personally during your discussions. Focus on acceptable and unacceptable actions and behaviors, not on individuals, personalities, or character traits. Stay calm but make it quite clear, as firmly and often as seems to be required, that bullying or harassment are not acceptable in any circumstances and will not be tolerated.

If your organization has a formal code of practice or ethics, a corporate values statement or a relevant workplace policy you might discuss how it applies. If such codes or policies do not yet exist, now might be a good time to begin to develop one, at least within your team.

If you don’t feel able to do this, bring in an external facilitator to help you.

Handling such a situation well can even build a stronger team – the sort of team with a positive commitment to positive shared values, that works together to achieve your vision and goals, and that is the hallmark of a good leader.

For details about how to coach individuals to better behavior see here:

And watch out for my next article where we’ll look at what you can do if you are the one being bullied.


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  • Lesha Tysseling

    April 26, 2011

    Can I just say what relief to find a person that actually knows what they’re referring to online. You actually can bring a worry to light and make it important. Lots more people need to check this out and have this side belonging to the story. I cant believe youre not more popular, you definitely possess the gift.

  • Podsluchy

    December 12, 2011

    This is a great entry! Has fully described the issue. Thx!

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