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Bullies in the workplace: why they won’t apologise

Bullies, like other ‘toxic’ people, will lie, deny, intimidate and seek to undermine before apologising.


To apologise, would be to acknowledge wrongdoing and be held accountable for their inappropriate behaviour. Toxic people would rather display destructive behaviour that is not subject to scrutiny.

Bullies usually abuse their power. They are often in a position of authority and take advantage of the power imbalance - individuals in the workplace given positions within the hierarchical structure bully junior colleagues to boost their self-esteem and confidence. This bullying behaviour within the power imbalance could be as a result of the effect a dominant person within a family, social circle or team sport had on the bully.

If you’re struggling with bullying and want to seek help, contact a local therapist today.

Passive aggressive bullies

It’s common that bullies can also be passive aggressive as opposed to the playground bully who is often physical. This is when their behaviour is an indirect expression of hostility. There is much dispute about what causes passive aggressive behaviour: it could be seen as resulting from childhood factors such as a dysfunctional family environment where it wasn’t safe to express frustration or anger.

In the workplace, often people at the head of organisations, whether in the private sector, government or charity sector, mirror their dysfunctional early life in the way the organisation is run and managed.

There is little benefit in arguing with toxic people as they will be intent on twisting the story, misrepresenting what took place and will often do this so passionately that they end up actually believing their own lies.

Challenging a bully

The key is not to adopt the ‘victim mode’ when dealing with bullies. Bullies are essentially cowards who will not challenge their match. They will generally target people who they suspect will not hold them to account or return the behaviour.

Stick to the facts when confronting bullies in the workplace and try not to get emotional: bullies like to feel that they have control over your emotions. Keep accurate notes of the inappropriate behaviour; these notes will be more useful the more extensive they are. Think of recording the bullying episodes the way a camera would and seek the help of a trusted colleague.  

By responding in a quick manner to the early signs of bullying behaviour, you’re demonstrating to the bully that this is not acceptable to be treated in this way. There is some evidence to show that adopting this approach can help to stop bullying behaviour over time.

Standing up to a bully might seem a daunting task when the perpetrators are very senior members of staff, but try and remind yourself that bullying is deliberately intended to dominate, cause distress and to instil fear. If you approach the situation as calmly and factually as possible, you’re signally to the bully that no-one accepts their behaviour in any shape.

If the perpetrator is your immediate supervisor, and they don’t respond positively when confronted, try going to their manager. It’s completely understandable that you don’t want to be viewed as a trouble maker, but you may not be the only one suffering in silence as a result of their actions. It’s important to remind yourself that you have every right to work in a respectful work environment, free from this kind of abuse. Seek the support of employee support services within the organisation and enlist the support of advocates.

Therapy for bullying

Therapy can help you to find the qualities to empower yourself so that you'll be less at risk of being bullied. Bullies will no longer see the sign over your head that says ‘I am afraid of being bullied’. You can develop skills to gain a stronger awareness of your own boundaries and learn how to display a confident presence in situations that once induced anxiety and fear.

If you’re worried or think you could be a workplace bully, read our tips for improving workplace culture on Happiful.com.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP

Noel Bell is a counsellor/psychotherapist based in London who has spent the past 20 years exploring and studying personal growth, recovery from addictions and inner transformation. Noel draws upon the most effective tools and techniques from the psychodynamic, cognitive behavioural (CBT), humanist, existential and transpersonal schools.… Read more

Written by Noel Bell MA, PG Dip Psych, UKCP

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