How to Work under a Bully


“I am new to the industry and have worked under a bully (Chief Stew) for the last five months, and I’m finally at my breaking point. I can’t afford to lose this job because it’s a good one, and I am also new to the industry so I am worried it will look bad on my CV —but I’m so tired of feeling like I have no power.” Of late, I have received many reports of bullying behaviours, some of which have had catastrophic outcomes for the victims. In this article, I’ll give you some direction on how to identify a bully and how to empower yourself in an unfavourable situation.

Identify your bully

  • Identify your bully. To know how to deal with a bully, you must first identify whether or not you are being bullied. This may be difficult to do on your own, as many people who are being bullied don’t realise it until later. However, there are distinct behaviours that are reflective of bullying that will help you confidently determine whether you are being bullied. I have created a free download of these behaviours, which you can find here:


  • Another point of differentiation is to recognise when constructive criticism is not constructive criticism. Receiving constructive feedback is an important form of feedback and is necessary to help individuals learn and grow and meet the overarching objectives of the vessel. However, there is a difference between negative and constructive feedback. Essentially negative feedback offers no value but serves to humiliate, shame, blame or put one down. If you find yourself in this situation, then I would recommend taking an objective stance and asking yourself whether the comments are a plausible critique of my work or if it is a personal attack on my character. 

If someone is criticising your work because they have an issue with you personally rather than simply trying to help guide you in improving their area of concern, then consider using open questions to elicit more understanding around what actions have bothered them and ask them how would they like them to do it differently next time. Remember it is essential to pick the right time and place for this discussion. If the bully becomes aggressive, you have the right to say you will not tolerate being spoken to in that manner and to walk away.

Don’t let them push your buttons

Bullies often try to get under your skin and provoke an emotional response by saying things like, “Why are you so sensitive?”, “harden up” or  ”if you can’t deal with it, then leave” 

To be clear: I’m not suggesting that we repress our emotions or pretend they don’t exist. However, if someone is trying to bait us into anger, hurt feelings or other unpleasant emotions by using rude language or a condescending tone of voice—and we respond passively or aggressively—then we’re allowing that person to trigger us. If this happens often enough, it gets harder and harder for us to feel centred and happy at work (or anywhere else).

Consider the source

To figure out why you are being bullied, you must first consider the source. Is your superior or colleague a narcissist? A control freak? Or perhaps has had no positive role models in their lives so they don’t know how to act prosocially. They themselves may be going through a difficult time and projecting their emotions onto their victims. A combination of some or all of these traits? When I was working onboard the team and I had a chief stew that was abusing her power and treating the interior and deck team very poorly. I felt so angry and upset for the victims who ended up in tears daily. The only way for me to regulate my emotions was to practice compassion. It was very telling that she was lonely and didn’t have a healthy relationship with her fiance. Knowing this, I felt sad for her and her interactions with me didn’t affectct me as much.

If your Head of Department is a narcissist, then he or she needs constant praise and attention from his team members to feel good about himself/herself. If this is true (or even partially true), then it makes sense that they would lash out at others when they don’t get what they need. Another narcissistic trait is that they always win, so negotiating with them and getting them to see your point is virtually impossible.

Bullies do a great job at sewing the seed of self-doubt. You are often left thinking, is it me? Am I incompetent or not good enough? If you are a victim of bullying then I can assure you it is them and their own insecurities. If you find yourself in this circumstance, I would like you to grab a journal and note down the following:

  • Your abilities.
  • Your worth.
  • Your skillset.
  • Your knowledge.
  • Your experience.
  • Your attributes/character strengths.

What you will notice is that, in fact, you are who you think you are, and you have the evidence to support it.


The key is to take a step back and understand that you can’t control other people. You can only control yourself, your actions, and the way you respond to their actions. Following these five steps, you can work for a bully without letting them get the best of you.

Karine Rayson


For more on how The Crew Coach can help you visit


Also read

Get your hard-copy now!

Your advert in The Islander Magazine?

Get your hard-copy now!

Your advert in The Islander Magazine?

and receive your invitation to our events