Dealing with a bully

Question: I report directly to the director and I also supervise the receptionist/secretary in our agency. The problem is dealing with the assistant director (AD), who is a bully. I have tried to let the bullying slide, but the receptionist/secretary has submitted a complaint to me on how uncomfortable it makes her feel when the AD screams at me.

The AD gets mad about things I have no control over. She also makes verbal changes on procedures and when we make the changes, she comes back and states she didn’t say that. I handle payroll and she will come in and make changes on payroll day. Then she comes into my office and hollers and screams at me because I had to add information into the payroll system. I have tried to speak to her. I have apologized to her. But she is a bully, and I am at the point that I may need to look for another position. The director speaks to her and she gets upset and hollers at him, too. He allows it, and then I get it even worse. — Anonymous


Do you have an HR department you can advance this to? And does the director’s boss have someone he reports to as well? I would escalate this to whomever that is and let them know that they could lose several good employees, rather than one miserable director if someone does not deal with this bully. Good luck, I feel for you (I’ve been there).

I hate to say it but if you have a Director that does not have a backbone, you will have to find another position. The only other option you have available at this time is to go above the Director’s head if there is anyone. These situations are hard when you don’t have anyone to stand behind you and help when you need it. It sounds like you have tried everything.

I would first take it to the director, if you haven’t already, and inform him that you are in a “hostile work environment” because of this AD. That phrase usually gets attention where indirect hints won’t.

If he’s unable to help you, inform him that you will be speaking to someone higher up about the situation. I wouldn’t go over his head without informing him first. That way, you won’t catch him off guard and he may do something about the situation if only to avoid bringing in his boss.

May I suggest you file a grievance. I have dealt with a bully before but she worked in the corporate office in another state. I gave notice (3) times because of her, but my direct boss finally stuck up for me. Its (6) months later and she is gone now.

I agree with trying formal channels, however, remember that all bullies are cowards. The best way I have found to deal with a bully is to make it clear that their screaming and hollering doesn’t impress you in the slightest. Apologizing or “talking to them” only feeds the fire. Reacting with feigned, condescending tolerance and/or disgust is the best way I have found to disarm a bully. Also, there’s no paper trail and no real way for them to fight back.

Bullies ARE cowards. If the bully is screaming at your superior too, and if you both simply DISREGARD the bully, that seems like the best strategy. And it seems like it would be good to talk with the director and let him know that’s how you plan to deal with it unless he has a better solution. Also, I would ask the receptionist/secretary to refer HER complaint to the director as there is nothing you can do about it.

We have a similar situation in our office. I communicate with email. “Let me understand what you are saying…..” When I recieve the reply I print it off and have a file for such. Then they can not deny. Best to you!

Ignoring this unprofessional behavior never works. I’ve worked with one or two people like this in the past and find that the best way to deal with them is to calmly but firmly say “Until you can calm yourself and address me as a professional, I’ll have to ask you to leave my office.” If necessary repeat this same phrase and turn your back to them. I’ve never had this not work and, fortunately, it usually results in a better working relationship now that they know you will not tolerate that type of behavior.

I would give a written detailed complaint to the Director and also the Executive Director. Also mention the verbal changes and insist that any change be in written form. If you have a human resource department, that would be my first route.

I agree with Sharon. Life is too short to put up with that kind of crap in the workplace. The bully is not going to change her personality to suit you and, I imagine the director won’t either – no matter how many talks you have or how much HR intervenes. They might promise to make changes, but human nature is what it is and a workplace that tolerates screaming is not one to put up with. Some of the above suggestions on handling bullies are good ones, but why bother if you have alternatives?

I think you should find another position ASAP and resign immediately afterwards. Don’t tell them you are looking to leave because things WILL get even worse and don’t quit without a new job.

Best of luck.

Maisy is correct in her post. Since an employee has expressed their discomfort with the environment it MUST be addressed or could potentially be a legal issue.

I have to go along with what Judi said. If this bully tells you to change something, email her verifying the change before doing it.
It’s hard to stand up to these people but as Sharri said apologizing only feeds the fire. That just gives her more power and reinforces the way she does things.
I know it’s hard to not back off in cases like this, but it can be done. I used to be a very timid person. I once had a purchasing director snap at me (he was known for this sort of thing), and I just snapped right back because I knew I was right. However, from that moment on, he had a lot more respect for me and was much easier to deal with.
I’m also wondering if this person is mentally ill…
Anyway, be strong and good luck!

Apologize to a bully? Never.

In the beginning, it might have worked to deal directly with the bully by stating,
“When you do (action), I feel (feeling). If you continue to do (action) I will (action).

However, it looks like this is far beyond confronting the bully. I’d be concerned about legal consequences since the the receptionist/secretary has submitted a complaint. This must be addressed with director. And, if the director is reluctant, let the director know you are required to report to the director’s manager.

Hang in there.

I am in a similar situation, but what do you do if the bully is the HR Manager? I work for her boss, the president/ceo of the company.

I must agree with Maisy & Tami that you and the Receptionist/Secretary are working in a “Hostile Work Environment.” It’s obvious to me that you already have a legal issue on your hands! No one has to tolerate a “Hostile Work Environment.” I would be checking out your State employment laws.
I wish you the best!

I have walked in your shoes for many years now. I know the personal and mental toll this takes on you, but you need to understand that the “bully” has been this way for most of their life. The sad truth is that their supervisors tend to ignore their behavior and focus on your “reaction” to their behavior as being the problem. In the legal dept. of a huge company that I work for, my “bully” has just received her 3rd PROMOTION in less than 3 years (which is basically unheard of). It turns out that the legal VP has the same “bully” traits towards the attorney’s under his supervision and therefore seems to reward her (the bully) for the same behavior. I did read the following books and HIGHLY recommend them to you so you will know how to deal with a “bully” in the future.
The books are: “The Bully at Work” by Gary & Ruth Namie, PH.D. and “Take the Bully by the Horns” by Sam Horn. These 2 books have saved my sanity in my job by teaching me how NOT to react to the “bully”. My advice to you (from first-hand experience) is to read these 2 books so you learn how to shut the bully down and look for another position. My “bully” is a legal admin and was caught last year playing games on her computer for over 6 months……..and as a result she was now given another PROMOTION by the VP. That was the last straw for me, as I am now in the process of finding another position where I now know how NOT to become another “bully’s” target.
Since you cannot change a “bully” you must educate yourself in how to respond to them and shut them down. After all, the “bully” needs a target and if it’s not YOU they will have to find someone else. This is all about the “bully” making someone else feel/look bad so they can feel/look good about themselves because of their low self-esteem. Please read these books, I promise you it will change your life forever!!!!

I too was faced with this situation … a hostile work environment. Management was fully aware of this situation, tried to provide mediation, but failed because no one from Management had the backbone to confront this person directly. Unfortunately, bullying is legal in most states because it’s perceived as “he said, she said”. The end result was that I left to save my sanity and I never regretted it. Remember, if it doesn’t get better, it gets very bitter. Good luck!

Hopefully, when you turn in your notice, they will can the bully AD and offer you a raise! You never know if the grass is greener on the other side…proceed with caution.

Being bullied is unacceptable. However, there are several things you might consider. First, document all communication with her by e-mail, including using the part of your e-mail program that lets you know if the message has been read. Also, the next time this person has a temper tantrum, treat it as such, wait until she stops screaming and they say, “Are you through”. You should also tell your boss that this person is creating a “hostile workplace” and could be providing adverse legal exposure for the company. Make sure you find out what the laws are in your state. You should also tell the boss that you will not allow this person to yeall & scream at you, and the next time she does it, either turn your back and shut the door, or just leave the room entirely. You do not have to take verbal abuse at your workplace, ever! And, just for your own peace of mind, look for another job, just in case you need to leave your present position.

I agree with most of all that has been stated concerning this situation. The Director, and Assistant Director are poor examples of being effective leaders. Integrity and respect has left the room in this case. This is pretty extreme when the Director proves to be so powerless in this scenario.

The Assistant Director’s behavior reveals some psychological problems that should be addressed in anger management counseling. The next step is to leave or stay and fight… if you feel it is worth it. If you stay and fight, watch your step and your back. Be careful of whom you trust with your concerns. Contact your attorney for counsel. I would go so far as to put one on retainer, for ammunition purposes.


If instructions come to you verbally, explain that you will only accept instructions in written form, such as via e-mail, because you want to make sure that you do the project correctly. If the bully refuses to give you written instructions, explain that you will then reply to her via e-mail, explaining how you understand the instructions. In your e-mail, explain that you will expect a reply from her by X time/date, etc., and that if she fails to reply, you will assume that the work should NOT be done and you won’t do it. If she does reply, you will do the work. Also, do NOT let her yell at you. I worked in a place where one individual yelled at everyone and everyone was afraid of her. When she yelled at me, I asked her straight out, “Why are you yelling at me?” It threw her for a loop and she said, “I am not yelling at you. I am explaining what needs to be done.” I replied, “Here is how you can explain this project to me”, and I explained it in a soft, civilized tone. Then I said to her, “If you ever yell at me again, I will leave the room and I will not respond to you until you can work with me in a professional manner.” So, the next time she yelled at me, I simply got up and left the room. As I was leaving, I said, “We can continue this conversation when you can talk with me as one adult to another.” I left the room, and about an hour later, she called me and apologized. I had to do this several times over the course of our working relationship, but it kept me sane and it almost kept her on track. I did, also, document everything in a log, so that I had dates, times, etc. to back me up, if it ever came to that. I also told our HR person what was going on and what I was doing to deal with the situation and I said that I would take matters a step further, if I deemed it necessary. I survived, but thank goodness I was able to get out of that situation. Good luck. Remember – put it in writing; tell her straight out that you won’t accept her behavior; document things; tell HR; and use those magical words – hostile work environment.

My problem isn’t so stark. Does anyone have any feedback for me? I’m under-employed right now (caregiver for dying family member). I’m working as an administrative assistant in a corporate office, and two women who are high in the org chart have a way of calling me “Dear” when they want to let me know they are displeased. It’s annoying, but would be easy to overlook, EXCEPT they tend to use the term in front of others from remote offices, where I might look for employment at a higher level when able.

I’ve considered responding with a comment like, “Be careful. Calling me ‘dear’ might get a sexual harassment complaint,” but am concerned that they’d just get more covertly hostile.

What’s the best way to respond? Any and all pointers will be considered, with gratitude. Thanks in advance. I really enjoy this forum.

On a lighter note…Same topic mind you.
This guy had taken as much as he could take and took matters into his own hands.
This is intended as a light view to dealing with a boss bully at work so please take it as it is meant. He’s a bit quirky and some might say oddly weird but nonetheless he got his own back.

Crazy crazy fool

I have been dealing with a bully co-worker for over a year. But, I only recently became aware that she was doing that. She acted as if she was my friend, and I thought she was too. That is when I realized that she was a sheep in wolf’s clothing. I was sick to my stomach when I went to H.R. with a complaint about her. I thought I was blowing things out of proportion. But since I have researched the subject of workplace bullying, I no longer feel guilty. I feel like the four eyed kid in school who just kicked the captain of the volleyball team’s butt. My main concern was how my colleagues would treat me because of her talking about my back. But that is one of the main signs of bullying and now I am no longer afraid. Mess with the bull, you get the horns.