Mediator Education Program

What If Your Supervisor is a Bully?

by | Sep 3, 2013 | Harassment and Bullying

In many workplaces, the beginning of September brings back-from- vacation freshness, a welcome feeling of getting back to routine afterthe summer.   If you have concerns about your supervisor, the return of routine may put those thoughts back at the topof your list of what’s keeping you awake at night.  What can you do to manage that delicate relationshipwith your supervisor and be able to sleep at night?

Is it bullying?

Look at the bullying and harassment policies of your employer. Try to be objective in assessing whether the behaviour of your supervisor falls within the employer’s policies.   The courts have decided that supervisory authority includes the right to assign work, evaluate performance, allocate discipline, and perform other supervisory functions.  As an example, a supervisor has the right to provide performance feedback but a supervisor's behaviour might cross the line when the performance feedback is not constructive, or when  negative  feedback is provided within the hearing of other employees. 

Even if the behaviour of your supervisor is not within the definition of bullying, if it is upsetting, you might decide to take action at least to seek advice from a mentor or senior employee with whom you have rapport.  

Action Steps:

Keep records.  Do not rely on your memory.  Record dates, times, and details including quotes and witnesses as close as possible to the time of the event.  Keep all notes, voice messages, and emails.

Is the supervisor aware that you are not comfortable with the behaviour?  Use your skills of assertion.   See below for more details about this.  If you decide that your supervisor’s behaviour is within the definition of bullying or harassment in the employer’s policy, follow the steps outlined in youremployer’s policy.

If you are not comfortable approaching your manager, Human Resources staff, or other person named in the policy, you could approach a mentor or senior employee with whom you have rapport to help you decide what steps to take.  Remember to ask that person to keep the information confidential.  That person can help you assess whether your supervisor’s behaviour contravenes the employer’s policies and what steps to take even if you decide the behaviour is not within the definition in the policies.   

Even if you decide not to report the supervisor’s behaviour  through the process in your employer's policy, is there a way to suggest ideas to improve the company or department, for example to your supervisor’s boss without specifically denouncing the supervisor?  You might be able to influence change which could help. 

If you decide to talk to your supervisor,  here are some tips for assertion skills in this challenging conversation.

  1. Arrange a time and location when you and the supervisor will not to be interrupted and
    can focus on the discussion. Describe what you want to discuss in a neutral, non-judgmental way.  Depending on your workplace, you may be able to choose to have a union rep or othersupport person present.  As an alternative you may be able to provide your concerns to your supervisor in writing rather than in a face-to-face meeting.
  2. Don’t have this conversation when you are angry. Those movie scenes with the hero  shouting at her or his supervisor during a meeting or across the office cubicles are not recommended for career enhancement.  Before the meeting,  prepare what you are going to say, think about various ways your supervisor may respond, and how you will react to each
    of these.   You cannot control the supervisor’s behaviour; you can control only your own behaviour.  Make sure you communicate clearly and effectively. 
  3. Describe the supervisor’s behaviour neutrally and objectively.  Give specific examples.  Use the pronoun “I” to talk about your point of view in a way that is not blaming or attacking.
  4. Describe your feelings or thoughts about the effect of the behaviour for you.  Keep
    this objective and not a judgment of the supervisor.
  5. Describe what you need in the situation, the way you expect to be treated. 


I've been thinking about your comments in yesterday's staff meeting about me not getting my work done.  I've been uncomfortable because I have several concerns about my workload that I would like to discuss with you.  I feel that I got my work done as it was assigned  when the project was planned.  In the example you mentioned yesterday, the task  assigned to me was changed at the last minute.  I would like to discuss with you a way that we can work together so that we can both plan our work to minimize the possibility of errors and accomplish what we need  to finish the budget for our department.

  Be prepared to listen to the supervisor’s response and,  if appropriate, work out a resolution with the supervisor  that is acceptable for both of you.











Mediator Education Program