5 Effective Strategies for Confronting Team Bullying

Bullying in teams can be toxic. When one member of a team starts to bully another, the target experiences distress, the team dynamic alters, and established relationships become strained. Whether you are unfortunate enough to be a target of team bullying, or are a non-targeted member of the team, it makes sense to confront the team bullying safely and effectively.

Go to the profile of Aryanne Oade
Oct 11, 2017
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A team bully doesn't only want to remove power from you, their target, and retain that control for themselves. A team bully also wants to remove power from non-targeted team colleagues so that they can retain as much control as possible over the entire team. A true team bully uses behaviour in 1-2-1 encounters with you, and in wider team meetings, which limits the choices available to you at the time of the attack in order to create a bullying dynamic between you.  Importantly, the team bully also wants to alter the wider team dynamic from one characterised by co-operation and goodwill towards one in which relationships become strained, team members defer to them, refuse to confront them, fail to support you, and regard the bullying as ‘normal’ and not noteworthy. Under these circumstances, the team bully will be able to continue their campaign without hindrance, disempowering you and the entire team.

Here are three effective ways for you, the target, to confront a team bully: 

  1. Recognize bullying remarks for what they are: tactics designed to undermine you.  A true team bully wants to make you 'the problem'.  Their bullying remarks highlight what they regard as your deficiencies or errors, issues which they focus on to undermine your self-confidence and to sully your reputation. But as soon as you recognize these comments for what they are - devices through which the bully tries to impugn your credibility in the eyes of colleagues and injure your self-belief - the remarks cease to have the same impact. They are not the truth about you. They are not valid comments about you or your performance. Seen from this standpoint, you can mentally take a step back from a bullying remark and use your energy to formulate an effective rejoinder.
  2. Clarify truth from fabrication.  Many bullying remarks contain a kernel of truth dressed up in fabrications and slanders. The bully takes a fact about you but then embellishes it with a cobweb of deceit before relating these 'facts' to colleagues in your hearing in the hope of undermining your self-esteem and impugning your reputation. The bully hopes that your colleagues will recognize the kernel of truth and swallow the falsehoods whole without questioning them.  Should you find yourself on the receiving end of this tactic, your primary task is to clarify the truth from the lies. Repeat back to the bully what you heard them say, before clarifying the truth from the falsehood. A bully who recognizes that you know your own mind, can stand up for yourself, and are not rendered vulnerable by their slanderous attack is likely to back down, at least for that encounter.
  3. Create a consequence for the bully to deal with.  A team bully wants to keep the spotlight on you, their target, and often does this by highlighting what they regard as your shortcomings both as a person and as an employee.  Their aim in doing this is to intimidate you and put you on the back foot. Creating consequences for the bully to deal with in the moment of an attack means putting the issues back to them, requiring them to give account for their behavior. Switching the conversation away from your supposed shortcomings back to the bully interrupts the bullying dynamic the bully wants to create, and puts them onto the back foot.  A pithy well-directed question from you to the bully can derail an attack, and send back the message to the bully that you will not be a straightforward person for them to target.

However, it is vital that non-targeted members of the team confront the team bully as well to prevent them from giving their power away to the bully. Here are a couple of effective ways a non-targeted team member can draw the line when they hear a bullying remark in a team meeting:

  1. Tell the bully that their remarks are out of step with the tone of the meeting, and invite them to re-phrase them.
  2. Remind the bully of the business purpose of the meeting, and tell them to restrict their remarks to relevant work topics only.

Learning how to use the influence available to you to combat team bullying is a key learned skill. Upgrade your toolkit by:






Go to the profile of Aryanne Oade

Aryanne Oade

chartered psychologist, executive coach and best selling author, Oade Associates Ltd

I have over twenty five years experience working as a business psychologist and executive coach. I am passionate about enabling clients to find greater levels of self-confidence, to discover inner resources they didn't know they had, and to locate the self-belief they need to build a future they are passionate about. I coach clients debilitated by workplace bullying to re-discover their energy and enthusiasm, and clients who work in complex political and adversarial environments to build influence and protect themselves despite these challenges. I work with clients in leadership roles to develop the emotional intelligence and people-handling skills they need to succeed. Clients on my year-long Bespoke Coaching Programme transform their lives, learn to use influential behaviour every day, and turn areas in which they feel underpowered into areas of skill. My programmes combine business psychology and professional acting, a combination which enables clients to make rapid progress against their coaching goals and demonstrate sustained behaviour change. I have written a suite of six easy-to-read, insightful books on handling complex workplace dynamics, plus a niche book for coaches. My last book was 'Free Yourself from Workplace Bullying: Become Bully-Proof and Regain Control of Your Life' (Flourish 2015) which was a best-seller and won awards. Since setting up my coaching and development business in 1994, I have worked with over forty-five client organisations in fourteen sectors based in the UK, Europe and North America. I hope you find these posts and pdfs useful. For instant access to additional valuable written and audio downloads visit www.oadeassociates.com/downloads
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