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How to Stop an Adult Bully

When people think of bullies, they usually think of schoolchildren on the playground, but bullying doesn't go away when you become an adult. According to the Campaign Against Workplace Bullying, as many as one out of every six American workers has been bullied on the job by a boss or co-worker 1. Bullying can shake your confidence and make you stressed about activities you'd normally enjoy, so knowing how to stop an adult bully is an important skill.

Watch for patterns and plan accordingly. If your boss is always a bully right before the monthly sales meeting or the school secretary can't stop sniping on Friday, try to avoid crossing paths with the bully more than necessary during those times 2.

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Speak up for yourself. If someone is yelling at you or belittling you, it's hard to shake off the shock and speak up, but you should. Calmly and clearly say, "It's really difficult for me to process what you're saying when you're talking to me like this. Let's cool off, and talk about it in a few minutes." Then walk away.

Confront the bully privately. Bullies tend to play to an audience, so if you try to talk to them in front of someone else, you might not get the results you want. The exception: If you're worried that the situation could escalate to physical violence, always make sure you have a witness present.

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Be specific about what the bully is doing. Don't just say "Stop bullying me," because that's easy to dismiss. Say "I don't appreciate you interrupting me at every meeting" or "It's not OK for you to shout at me and insult me in front of the people who work with me."

Enlist help if you need it. If your efforts to encourage change don't work and the bully's behavior is obvious to other people, recruit some of them to join you in talking to the bully about the problem.

Don't take it personally. If nothing works and the person continues to bully you, remind yourself that the bully is just a bully and ignore the insults. If you can drop the activity or project, do it. If you can't, focus on the task at hand and tune out as much as you can.


If your boss or co-worker is a bully, consider talking to your company's human resources department.

Learn assertiveness skills to make it easier for you to confront the adult bully in your life.