Communicating with a BULLY

Written by Karine Rayson

Written by Karine Rayson

Karine has a Bachelor of Social Science in Organisational Psychology and Psychology, Postgraduate Diploma in Counselling from the Australian College of Applied Psychology and a Postgraduatein Collective Entrepreneurship from Torrens University. She helps Crew become confident leaders, master their own mental health and access a powerful network of industry leaders.

Sadly, bullying behaviour is rife in our industry. I would say that comes down to the fact that there is no mandatory leadership training besides HELM (which is under review) and no real consequences for poor leadership. Common bullying behaviours encountered onboard can include micro-managing, ignoring crew, derogatory comments and so forth. I would love to see leadership courses that focus on self-leadership so that unique learning gaps can be addressed but, in the meantime, this month I share some options for dealing with a Bully. 

Understand their motivations. 

There are many reasons why a person might be a bully. Sometimes they’re threatened by your success; other times, they are power-hungry and want to suppress others to feel superior and in control. Or maybe there’s something else going on in their life that is causing them so much unhappiness that they project their distress onto others. From my experience, understanding their motivations will help you understand how best to deal with them and guide you in making a decision on the future of the relationship. 

To get inside the mind of your tormentor, think about what makes them tick; when do they become a bully? Ask yourself: What do they want? What motivates them? Why do they act the way that they do? By taking off your hat for just a moment and putting theirs on, you’ll gain some perspective on what’s behind their behaviour – and perhaps learn ways to respond more effectively than before. 

Confront them on the issue. 

You must be assertive when dealing with a bully. It is important to remember that you do not have to take their mistreatment, but you should be careful not to become confrontational or aggressive yourself. It is also worth noting that they may be projecting their issues onto you, so try to focus on the issues at hand using the assertive communication technique.  

I had a client who recently confronted a bully in a polite and fair manner, and she was immediately dismissed and told not to come out from her cabin for the rest of the day. This is a prime example of an abuse of power and leadership done badly. The stewardess was brave to stand by her values and share how she felt; we all have a right to. If the bully responds negatively and is not receptive to feedback, then it may be worth reconsidering your options.  

When confronting the bully remember: 

  • Don’t be a passive aggressor. You may feel like there’s no way to stand up to your bully directly; however, there are other ways of expressing your feelings than just letting everything build until one day you explode! Think carefully before saying something like, “I’m really feeling attacked by this comment.” 
  • Be firm and direct in your stance against bullying behaviour. You should not feel guilty when saying “no” or standing up for yourself; this will help prevent them from using guilt as leverage against you later. 
  • Don’t apologize for having feelings about being bullied – that just gives away power and encourages further mistreatment from them! Instead, stand up for yourself calmly and firmly without making it personal (even if it feels like it). 
  • If you can have a witness present when you have the conversation, it will help if you need to make a report to DPA. 

Take a step back and try not to take it personally, if you can. 

Bullies do a great job of making you doubt yourself and your ability. If you can, try not to take it personally. The bully is the problem; it is not a reflection of you who you are as a person or your capabilities. If anything, remember that bullies often feel threatened by those around them and need to bring others down to feel better about themselves. 

Don’t let their behaviour get under your skin. Instead of focusing on their negativity and aggression, focus on what is in your control. Remember, you have the option of terminating the relationship. If you are not valued or respected, then remove yourself from the situation. 

Acknowledge your feelings. 

  • Don’t let them hook you. Bullies aren’t interested in anything but power, so don’t let them rule your emotions. If you tend to get upset or angry, then learn how to calm yourself down before the bully notices that it’s getting under your skin. 
  • Stand up for yourself when necessary. This can mean anything from calmly stating your opinion on a matter (which requires real confidence) all the way up to refusing unreasonable requests. 

Don’t take on too much. 

  • While it’s natural to want to help out and be a team player, you should never take on more than you can handle. If you’re working with a bully, they may try to guilt or pressure you into doing more than your job description asks. Be assertive if this happens and explain that the workload is already too much for one person, so adding extra responsibilities would only make things worse in the long run. 
  • Ask for help when needed and lean on your crew members for support.  


The key is to 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. If you want to learn more about what bullying behaviour includes contact karine@thecrewcoach for your free download.  


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