The Passive Bully Boss … PART THREE – How to deal with it


Passive bullying … How to deal with it?

Chances are …it’s happening in your workplace, right?  So, I’m curious. What are you doing about flushing out and stopping this insidious behaviour?

In my two previous Passive Bully Boss articles – PART ONE – Is that your management style?, and  PART TWO – Recognising the behaviour drivers; I provided an overview of what passive bullying is, particularly naming and shaming this sinister behaviour; and an outline of the more common behaviour types and motivators of the serial perpetrators. If you haven’t read these, may I suggest that’s a good place to start, as it provides an important ‘WHAT’ backdrop for this subsequent ‘HOW to’ article.

Warning: this is straight shooting, serious stuff. Disappointingly, it needs to be so; especially when it sits at the top of many organisations as a seemingly protected society. Perhaps a remnant of the ‘old boys club’, or simply a sign of the economic times that drives self-preservation over social ethics; passive bullying divides teams and leads to the demise of valued employees and indeed, whole organisations.

Now, getting right to the point; urgent action is needed. In some industries, passive bullying is reaching epidemic status, due to general acceptance of ‘just the way it is’.  The Australian [read: Ocker] anti-wowser response of ‘suck it up, princess’ also doesn’t help matters on the local scene.  Ignoring this type of passive bullying [or any bullying behaviour] is not a valid option.

LEADERS: If you are a Leader, Board Member, CEO, Director, HR Manager or anyone who has leadership influence in your organisation, it’s time for you to step up and put a stop to this madness. If you continue to bury your head in the sand and hope it goes away; let me tell you – you’re kidding yourself. Hope is never a strategy.

From personal experience and observation of numerous workplaces in my HR consulting role; one thing I know for sure – what you continue to allow, will absolutely get worseSeriously, please sit up and take notice.

The devastating effects the sinister behaviours of bully bosses can have on others, ranges from: hypertension, sleep deprivation, severe mood swings, anxiety and panic attacks, ulcers, migraine headaches, depression, even post-traumatic stress disorder. When nothing is done, or it seems like nothing can be done, extreme cases of workplace bullying can lead to suicide.

Warning: stopping this behaviour is not going to be an easy path, but it’s not about doing what’s easy.  It’s about doing what’s right.

 Wrong is always wrong, even if others are doing it …                                                                                      right is always right, even if not enough are doing it.

Bullying is an act of cruelty, based on weakness. The perpetrator is a coward, who lacks courage of his or her own convictions. As a leader in your organisation, you need to be the opposite of thatbe brave, stand up and stop it.

VICTIMS:  Firstly my heart goes out to you. No one wants to be a victim, no one asks for it, no one deserves it.  But, when the bully is your boss, that is one of the most challenging situations to deal with. You are going to need to source some help and support [hopefully from other leading influencers in your workplace and community].

Let’s start with the obvious:  there are two really tricky issues about having to deal with a passive bully boss: One is: they are in a power position over you, and if you stand up to them or put in a complaint about them; they will likely make your work life even harder than it already is.  Think push back on steriods. Not fair, but it’s a reality that you need to be prepared for.

The second one is: they are inclined to use tactics that are less noticeable to others [refer to passive bullying definitions in Part ONE], or a series of trivial things that continually chip away to undermine you.  These things on their own – may seem insignificant, but collectively – shows a concerning pattern.

So, what CAN you do?  Here’s 5 things I recommend:

1.  Start a WTF File – document E V E R Y T H I N G. This is an absolute must. Documented proof is the best way to stand up against ‘he said / she said’ counter arguments.

If you are dealing with an experienced perpetrator, they will be very good at deliberately doing things with no paper trail.  Lots of verbal remarks, often behind closed doors, less likely in email.  Even if you send an email for clarification, they will often respond verbally or ignore it all together. Denying conversations occurred is their default response. Ignoring your requests and excluding you is part of their game.

Just keep note of everything you can. Incidents, emails and texts, diarise quotes of what was said as accurately as you can, dates, times, tone, body language, who else was in ear-shot, and importantly, how it made you feel.

Yes, this will take lots of time and energy. It’s not easy, but it will be the best way to show a consistent pattern of bullying behaviour.

 2.    Go to your HR Manager or representative – share your detailed file with them and follow the workplace health and safety – bullying complaints procedure in your workplace. Hopefully, your HR support person is also brave enough to stand up and stop this.  Sadly, I know that is not always the case.

Let’s be real here. I am often disappointed with the lack of HR support provided to bullying victims, especially when it comes to passive bullying done by senior officers. Several things are often at play here: one is that it’s difficult to prove [hence the need for your detailed documentation], and secondly, the passive bully boss is often either a colleague of the HR Manager or their boss too.

Where the HR Manager also reports to the perpetrator, another level of trickiness is added to the equation. I’ve recently seen this: a HR Manager who clearly sold her soul to the devil [aka CEO], for her own self-preservation; knowing full well that the bullied victim was being treated unfairly. Wrong on so many levels.

As a HR professional, industry standards and codes of conduct should always be front and centre of decision making. Ethics, both professional and personal, are everything. HR Manager roles should be impartial, stand alone, and all such complaint matters should be conducted in an unbiased way.  People’s lives matter. Trust matters.

3.    Formal complaint – in Australia, this would generally be to the Fair Work Commission. Once again, detailed documentation will be needed to support your complaint, and keep in mind; the perpetrator will also be provided a copy of your allegations for their right of response.

Another dose of reality is warranted here; particularly in relation to passive bullying incidents.  Even though you may have wonderfully detailed documentation, the experienced perpetrator will generally deny the allegations and produce counter documents or diary entries [often fabricated] to dispute your notes. Verbal incidents will be hard to prove, unless you have a first-hand witness [someone who saw and heard the incident].

Remember: it’s called passive bullying for a reason; the perpetrator deliberately tries to keep it ‘under the radar’.  Their argument will always be: no witnesses = didn’t happen. If it can’t be proven, the FWC will find in favour of the respondent; who then proudly swans around telling everyone ‘she’s been cleared’, when in reality she’s just not been caught – yet. You must play a smarter game, which brings me to the next important tip.

4.    Witnesses & Support person – try to never be alone with the passive bully boss. Make a list of those you trust and gain agreement for them to be your witnesses or support person in meetings [even if only by speaker phone]. Be super prepared, and consciously aware of each situation. 

For example: when called to a meeting in a closed-door office with the bully boss – take a witness in with you. Your boss should not refuse your request for a witness or support person.

If ambushed in an unexpected situation, stop the conversation and request a support person, or reschedule for when your support person is available. You have the right to stop a meeting and walk out, if you don’t feel safe.

Yes, this action puts the passive bully boss on notice. You don’t trust them, for good reason. Trust is earned, not given … and certainly can’t be demanded.

5.    Leave the situation – yes, quit – walk away. It’s an obvious choice and in some cases, it’s the only sensible choice.  It is not weak to quit. Just as it takes courage to stand up to bullying, it also takes courage to walk away with your head held high, knowing you deserve to be treated so much better – elsewhere.

So, if your current organisation is ignoring, accepting or even worse – rewarding bullying behaviour, you will be far better off away from there. It is much worse to stick around while your health and well-being is destroyed.

One thing I have learned from personal experience: you can’t change the behaviours of others who are not willing to change. Passive bully bosses demonstrating sociopath behaviours don’t want to change, have no conscience, exist only for themselves and have no interest in others.  Yes, they should not be in leadership roles, and given the prevalence; clearly there is much improvement needed in recruitment processes at senior levels [a whole other topic].

BULLY-BOSSES: Passive or otherwise. I’m aware it is highly likely some of you have been curiously following this series of articles. Good. Perhaps you are scoffing at some of the behavioural descriptions and suggestions made. You’re not ‘that bad’, right? Perhaps you think you are just being clever, in that ‘it’s worked for you’ so far.

Some of you may think that your senior position or role allows you to treat others however the hell you want; that it’s your right to maliciously hire and fire, to rule your subordinates with fear and intimidation, to manipulate to suit your needs, and create massive mistrust within your organisation.

Well, it’s not OK. It’s not acceptable. Your power base does not grow as you destroy others’ lives with your sociopathic tendencies, anti-social behaviours and narcissistic ruthlessness. It diminishes. These behaviours are all signs that you have low self-esteem, low self-awareness, and very poor emotional intelligence levels. Anyone who is unfortunate enough to deal with you on a regular basis, can see that.

Get some help. Stop this insanity. This is not leadership behaviour. You are not a leader. Your organisation and greater community deserves better.

 REAL leaders know the difference between what they have a right to do,                                                                                     and what is the right thing to do.


Written by Jilinda Lee … Leadership Coach, OD Strategist, Writer, Speaker … Founder and CEO of Workforce Vitality and passionate advocate for ethical, fair and inclusive leadership practices.

If you need help to develop better leadership practices in your organisation, or personal development, contact Jilinda for a free 30-minute consultation.


Speak Your Mind