How to Handle an Adult Bully

Yes, you are out of basic education. No, you have not escaped bullying. Here are 8 steps to take when dealing with a less than ideal social situation in a workplace.

1.Tell Someone 

If you find yourself in a situation that you are uncomfortable with, it is best to reach out for help and not try and take it all on yourself. Tell someone you trust about how you are feeling and ask them to keep an eye out for you. Sometimes people can witness bullying and not realize the severity of it. Having someone on the outside of a disagreement is important when you’re trying to problem solve.

2. Stay Safe

Assess the situation. Is this person going to harm you in any way? If at any point you feel like you are in over your head, remove yourself from the situation. If the person is acting unpredictably, contact a non-emergency line or your building’s security. They will document whatever has been happening and make sure that you feel safe and are able to continue work.

3. Avoid Further Altercations 

Do not engage. You are only able to control yourself, you are an adult. The bully may continue to provoke the situation, but this will do nothing unless you respond. It may be counterintuitive, but just let the bully do their thing. If you are in the right, your silence should be able to prove that.

4. Utilize Resources

You aren’t in elementary school anymore (even though people may be acting that way). The school councillor can’t go to the principal and there are no letters being sent home to parents. If you are in a workplace, speak with Human Resources. If you are part of a union, speak to your representative. Colleges often have student associations and advocates to help navigate tough problems like these. If the bully is making you fear for your safety, contact the police and see if you can get a Protection Order to limit or eliminate any interactions with that person.

5. Know Your Rights

As long as you do not retaliate in any way that is harmful, you cannot be sued. You will not be hearing from their lawyer, this is a power play that bullies of all ages often use when they are running out of ammunition. The RCMP defines criminal bullying and harassment as acts that threaten the direct safety of anyone involved, and it has to be said to one’s fac or names have to be used. Defamatory Libel involves spreading rumors, but once again, direct naming of the target has to be mentioned. If you feel that these things may be happening to you, contact the police and they will assess whether or not action needs to be taken.

6. Be Proactive

If you sense the tension rising, leave. Take a walk, grab a coffee, get some space. If you know certain topics or actions trigger your bully, avoid them. This isn’t fun for anyone, no one with any amount of empathy wants this type of behaviour to continue.

7. Document it

Screenshot those subtweets, save those texts. If they start yelling at you, subtly record it. File harassment reports, get witness statements. There is no such thing as too much evidence

8. Respect

Understand that the bully is probably going through some stuff and that this is how they are choosing to handle it. This doesn’t mean be a doormat, but take a step back and look at the situation as a whole. Understanding is key.

Other Resources:


Have you ever been put in a rough situation during post-secondary or in the workplace? What advice do you have for those going through it right now?

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