Updated 2/18/2021. Originally Published 3/5/2020.

Bullying, Microaggressions, Incivility – Has It Happened to You? Some call it bullying. Some call it incivility. Some call it microaggressions. They are all different yet share commonalities.

I suspect that each of us has experienced being the recipient of uncivil, or bully behavior at work by a co-worker or manager – even a customer. Maybe you observed one of the thousands of daily microaggressions that occur daily in the workplace – directed at you or another African American team member that is common, ignored, or overlooked. You may have recognized it, and yet, you did not report it.

Workplace bullying is viewed worldwide in a variety of workplaces in various forms and degrees.  Changing or reducing workplace bullying before it becomes an acceptable, tolerated habit is a goal many organizations and their teams share.

The Pain

The belittling, negative comments, and disparaging tone of voice are enough to ruin anyone’s day. It hurts and discourages us from being the best we can be at work.  If you are African American or a person of color, the received behavior takes on an even darker, sinister impact. Repeated instances cause an impact on workplace output, collaboration, and negative impact on worker health.  Every day that we endure the behavior, we believe that it is the worst day yet – and then – the next occurrence is even worse. This public humiliation is something that no one should experience.

We look to our managers and team leaders for a resolution on bullying. Upon reflection, could the manager be the bully?  Could the manager be committing the bullying actions, or openly tolerating the actions of others within the team without repercussions? This manager’s bully behavior impacts the workers (whether a target or a witness) and sends the message that there are no resources within the company to address the behavior. If we escalate above the manager, we are justifiably concerned about risking retaliation – particularly if you are African American – add being a female… well you know the drill.  Workplace bullying, racism, incivility, and microaggressions in the workplace are painful, embarrassing, and unethical, so let us look at ways to stop and prevent it


You are already dreading tomorrow or the next encounter when the aggression will continue. Working on your response to the abuse can help you cope, prevent, and maybe reduce the behavior.  Workplace bullies want attention, they do not want the attention that makes them feel horrible about what they are doing.

You already know the bullying is going to happen the next time you show up at work, it always does.  Plan your response, have the impression you want to make in mind. Remain calm, polite, and direct, this will take repeated practice.  Remaining calm and polite will show your offender that their actions are having little effect on you. It will also show your other team members that you can keep your composure and the severity of the situation. Ideally, this will help your other victims want to stand up and report the bullying as well.  Planning your response will also help you to remain calm and collected, which is essential in battling a bully and getting them to stop. Responding to their behavior in a manner that makes them think is not always a guarantee that it will improve or discontinue altogether.   

Document carefully

Consider documenting your experiences – preferably consistently and offline, including any encounters and the responses to the unwanted, disruptive behavior. 

Documenting the specifics in a timely and discrete manner provides a detailed history log – should it be needed at a future date.  Another benefit of documentation – it will also help you analyze the responses that get the best result. 

Workplace bullying happens every day, somehow, somewhere, unfortunately, and all too frequently.  It is wrong and there are laws against bullying in several countries. There are not yet laws against microaggressions or uncivil behavior. Daring to have uncomfortable conversations, documenting the circumstances, and taking a stand (if appropriate) allows the recipient of the behavior to act.  At times, the law does not do much to protect us or prevent workplace bullying, so we may need to learn methods to cope, manage, and reduce bullying behavior to protect ourselves – on our own.

Having a well-planned response to a workplace bully is a starting step towards workplace behavior change.




Something went wrong. Please refresh the page and/or try again.

A Curated Collection Dedicated to the Workplace

Leadership, civility, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) and more. All contain inspiration by some of the world’s actionable leaders.