How to Handle Workplace Bullies

#WorkProbsIt’s Monday. You try to be grateful for the new week ahead, but your efforts don’t relieve the nausea you feel. #WorkProbs: Her scowling face is all you see as you drag your feet out of bed and firmly plant them on the floor.

You replay, for the thousandth time, the tirade she directed your way Friday. You had just pitched an idea that required hours of blood, sweat and tears. You remember feeling your face turning red as you tried to maintain composure in front of your peers.

You anticipate potential landmines for the day to come. Maybe she’ll exclude you from an important meeting, leave you out of a critical email chain, or whisper to your peers just loudly enough to intensify your fear. 

Experts say that bullying behavior unnecessarily raises stress levels, demotivates workers and decreases productivity. This information is what prompted us to probe for insights into our most burning questions about how to handle bullying. The answers we uncovered demonstrate that while bullying is disempowering, your response doesn’t have to be. Read on.

What does bullying look like?

Joan Kingsley, psychotherapist and author of “The Fear-Free Organization: Vital Insights from Neuroscience to Transform your Business Culture,” distinguishes a bully from a difficult person. “A difficult person may irritate you but isn’t really bullying you,” Kingsley says. “A bully dictates and antagonizes. It can be being secretive, like whispering. It could also look like being left out of meeting and email chains, or being forced to take notes in a meeting.”

Are there differences between how women and men handle bullying and why?

Dr. A.J. Marsden, assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College in Leesburg, FL, answers this question with a resounding ‘Yes.’ “In general they do respond differently. Women have a tendency to internalize. This creates anxiety and depression. Men are more likely to talk things out and confront their bully. It’s definitely a challenge for women. They do have a tendency to avoid, avoid, avoid.” 

There also tends to be a difference in the way they bully. “Men tend to be more out there,” Kingsley says. “Women tend to be secretly aggressive.

“You tend to feel more powerless when a woman is bullying. There’s an idea that women are nurturing caregivers so it feels cutting and cruel. We have different hormones, and our emotions are much more easily tapped into than men’s. Men develop strategies for how to keep on top of their emotions.”

What should you do if someone publicly bullies you?

There are a few responses you can keep handy when bullies start to direct their wrath your way mid-meeting. Keep in mind, maintaining a calm demeanor and your chutzpah is crucial for an effective delivery. “It’s very difficult,” Kingsley says. “You can say ‘It’s hard to hear what you’re saying when you yell. If you say that in a calm manner I might understand what you’re saying.’

“If you are in a meeting and you are asked to take notes or get coffee, say ‘Maybe John or Tom would be better than I am.’ Don’t allow yourself to be subservient.”

Dr. Nicki Nance, a licensed mental health counselor who teaches human services and counseling at Beacon College, emphasizes the importance of eye contact. “Look (the bully) in the eye. Those who avert eye contact are in the back of the professional herd. Say what you have to say. Count to two.”

“Assess the pluses and deltas that you will take on if you confront the behavior then and there,” says Peggy Klaus, the author of two best-selling books, “Brag! The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It” and “The Hard Truth About Soft Skills,” and President of Berkeley, California-based Klaus & Associates, which coaches executives and organizations. “Say something neutral like ‘Obviously there’s been some misunderstanding. I’ll come talk to you after the meeting.’”

What can you do if you find yourself unable to confront your bully in the moment? 

Kingsley encourages you try to find colleagues who are sympathetic. “See if they’ll give you the opportunity to talk to them and get verification (of your experience).”

Next, consider a one-on-one conversation. Do not express anger, cry or name call. If that seems like an impossible task, get help. “Maybe at home with your spouse, practice and role play,” Marsden says. “It would be ideal to do this with a coworker you can trust.

Avoid bringing anyone else into the meeting if possible. “The more people you bring, the more they will feel like they’re being attacked,” Marsden says.

To help contain your emotions, have a plan. “Have a written list of your talking points so if you start to get emotional you can hold back the tears,” Marsden says. “Take a second and go back to what you’re trying to say.”

What’s the benefit to confronting your bully?

“No one really loves confrontation,” Klaus says. “It’s hard. It’s scary, but avoiding it really costs you. It’s going to wear you down. It will come out in different ways. Really make a point of speaking up when confronted with something uncomfortable and offensive. If you can’t do it immediately, get on their calendar as soon as you can. There are some bullies that just need to be out-escalated. You need to stand up so you are their equal.”

How do I avoid being bullied in a meeting?

Be conscious of where you sit. “Sit on the right hand of the person with the most power,” Nance says.

Take a relaxed, confident stance. “Put down everything you’re holding … relax your shoulders,” Nance says.

Raise your seat so you’re at eye level with the person in power.

Wear power colors like black white and blue.

If you witness one of your colleagues being bullied, what should you do?

“I don’t think you should directly confront the bully if you’re not being bullied,” Marsden says. “What you should do is talk to your own manager, or that other person’s manager. That behavior shouldn’t be tolerated.

“… Some will turn a blind eye to it and say ‘This isn’t directly impacting me. I shouldn’t get involved.’ Maybe you can say to them ‘What if it was happening to you?’ Unfortunately, corporate America is very individualistic and we do a lot to get ahead. Sometimes that includes bullying others and turning blind eyes when you see that behavior.”

When should you think about getting a new job?

Marsden has a ‘Three strikes and you’re out’ policy. “If you’ve had a one-one-one conversation, gone to your manager or someone else like a mentor for help, and then HR, you don’t get any help and you did everything you could it’s time to look someplace else. Ultimately, that’s what I ended up doing. If you have go to work and actively try to avoid someone, it’s not a way to have a good, healthy work life.”

Kingsley adds that another option before you leave the company might be asking for a transfer.

What are your experiences with battling bullies? Share your war stories and your advice here.

Lauren Bittner is an award-winning freelance writer who focuses on women’s issues. She is a self-titled Giveaway Girl.

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The Most Effective Tool In Calming Anxiety Is …


Self-acceptance and self-love can help calm your anxiety.

I have a problem with the word “self-love.” I don’t know. It just sounds gushy and weird. I know it’s simple: to nurture and treat yourself with kindness and affection.

Anxiety is a rough feeling. When I feel anxious, I see it as the No. 1 most annoying thing in my life. After all, what is the point in worrying and feeling nervous when you don’t have any control over outcomes anyway? Ugh! Yet, we often feel this way.

When I feel anxious, it’s bizarre. It’s usually not about what’s going on in my life. It starts with a burning sensation in my face, a terrible feeling and a disinterest in things I love, like binge-watching Better Call Saul on Netflix. When I don’t want to tune in to Netflix, I know something big is brewing. Then it progresses to a bad feeling inside and nervousness.

I have learned that a major way to counter anxiety is to focus on self-acceptance and self-nurturing. Here are some ways to do this:

  1. Accept yourself as you are. People are built the way they are built. I love this article in The New York Times that my therapist gave me, about how anxiety genes have been identified. They probably served a good purpose during evolution. On a Saturday when you are trying to get laundry done, ehhhh, not so much.
  2. Nurture yourself more during these times, through action and positive self-talk. When you start feeling bad, it is easy to mentally beat up on yourself with stuff like, “What the h*&&! Why am I nervous about _________. I know it is going to work out. WTF.” Instead of that, treat yourself better by telling yourself, “Looks like you are having a difficult time. It makes sense because there is a lot going on in your life. That’s just who you are. You will be fine. This uneasiness is temporary.”
  3. Go easy on yourself for slip-ups or mistakes. When someone is having anxiety, their mind will be pre-occupied, so they may lose track of things like keys and important dates. Try to keep organized and if you mess up, be kind to yourself. Buy yourself a pretty pink flower or do your nails on nights where you might have “dropped the ball” a little. Pretend you are your best friend, because you are.
  4. Talk about it with others. If you have supportive friends, colleagues, mentors, a 12-step group, or a clinician that understands anxiety, it is good to share. Do NOT share with people who don’t understand anxiety because they will look at you like you have lobsters crawling out of your ears. No biggie, I am sure they have something they struggle with at times.

If your anxiety is bad enough to keep you from sleeping, or if you are having major difficulties in your daily life, you need to consult with a licensed professional and/or your doctor. However, the above advice is to be used along with an already engaged treatment plan, or if your anxiety isn’t so bad that it is making you depressed.

Anxiety isn’t all bad. It usually helps us to pay attention to powerful things going on in our life. Sometimes, we ignore important feelings and they are telling us RED LIGHT, RED LIGHT. However, sometimes anxiety is just there. It is only helpful and useful to do the above things while you are struggling. It is my hope that you can find peace in the midst of your anxiety. Thanks for checking in.

Tell us about how you have dealt successfully with your anxiety in the comments section.

And, as always, take care.


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Valentine’s Day: The Power of Love and “We” vs. Expectations and “Me”

valentinescookiesSpeaking for myself, and many of the other women in my life, sometimes the expectations are so high for the power of love on Valentine’s Day that no matter what happens and regardless of their “status” (single, coupled, married), the reality of the day/evening bites.

However, relationship experts, single women and married women powerfully affirm that Valentine’s Day can be a time of joy—if our focus is the right place. The question is, how do we get there? 

From Giveaway Girl to Got It Girl

Robin Moncrieff, a single woman from Chicago who is dating around and interested in a serious relationship, has turned herself from a Giveaway Girl into a Got It Girl when it comes to Valentine’s Day: “I think in the past I had a lot of expectations, both of myself and what I gave or did for other people, and expectations of the person I was dating or in a relationship with.

“When I think about Valentine’s Day now I think about what it really means. I can choose to be sorry for myself because I don’t have a special man as my valentine, or choose it as a celebration of all of the love in my life—my friends, my family, my son and dog—and of one single person I’m going to be with eventually.”

If you struggle with setting high expectations that leave you unfulfilled and disappointed, you may want to seek support in gaining a new perspective like Moncrieff did. “It’s a lot about the fact that I’ve worked on various aspects of my life with the help of God, my friends, many different self-improvement tools I’ve used including therapy. I had to be aware first that I had expectations of other major holidays, and that made me unhappy when they weren’t met. Even one year when I received 2 dozen roses, there were expectations that weren’t met on both sides.”

For Some, One Day Doesn’t Hold Much Weight

Ann Latinovich is a married woman of 20 years from Munster, Indiana. “I can’t remember the last time I received a Valentine’s Day gift,” Latinovich says, laughing. “It might have been 24 years ago.”

Latinovich and her husband, Musa, work hard on staying connected all year long. Consequently, the holiday  doesn’t hold a lot of significance for them. “We text every single morning,” Latinovich says. “We’ll say ‘good morning’ and ‘how did you sleep?’ I heard somewhere that you are supposed to compliment your partner 38 times a day. I wink at him at the dinner table. Every day he leaves, he kisses me. Every time he comes to the door, he kisses me. It’s that kind of stuff that’s the core part of the union in a long-term relationship.”

Furthermore Latinovich makes a practice of relying on herself for her happiness, whether it’s a holiday or not. “I don’t think a woman should even count on a man to make her happy, to make her empowered or to make her okay with her life,” Latinovich says. “I should never assume it’s Musa’s job to make me happy. As a woman you should not count on anyone else for any of that.”

From the Horse’s Mouth

Lou Carlozo, a married man of 20 years from Chicago, and his wife are using the day to work on their relationship, but that took some doing. “We try to plan something together,” Carlozo says. “It gets tricky because with two kids and work schedules being spontaneous is very difficult. That said, we are trying something new this year. We are going away on a couples’ retreat that focuses on improved communication and understanding.

Carlozo suggests that you be gentle with your special someone, even if you’re disappointed.You may not be bowled over by what he has in store for you, but really open your heart,” Lou says. “Try to sense whether he’s doing his very best. On the other hand, a truly compassionate husband should understand if you speak your feelings in terms of what he may have overlooked.”

From Valentine’s Day Victim to Victor

Dr. Nicki Nance, a licensed mental health counselor who teaches human services and counseling at Beacon College in Leesburg, Florida, says there are some hallmarks of healthy ways and non-healthy ways to think of this holiday.

Do: Think of Valentine’s Day as a time to love yourself.

“Singles whose expectations are not getting met are the ones in my office,” Nance says. “I see people looking at old relationships engaging in a lot of negative self-talk like ‘What’s wrong with me?’ ‘Why am I not in a relationship?’ put-downs. If you’re not in a relationship what are you telling yourself about yourself? Some just start making the attribution that men are all jerks. That will not make them relationship-ready. Instead, say to yourself this year ‘I’m on my way.’”

Don’t think of Valentine’s Day as a measure of your worth (or the entire male species).

Do: Remember, it’s just one day.

It’s big picture time. Remember that your relationship is about 365 days of the year, not one. “What are the small things he does for you every day?” asks Sameera Sullivan, CEO and Chief Matchmaker of Lasting Connections, a national matchmaking service. “This is one day—it’s about a spreading love. Valentine’s Day can be every single day. Don’t get up in the commercial aspect. Ask yourself if you laugh every day with this person.”

Don’t use one day to take your relationship’s pulse.

Do: Give your partner guidance.

“Empowerment involves 2 things: taking charge of a situation and assessing realistically what is possible,” Sue Kolod, Ph.D., a New York psychoanalyst, says. “I have noticed that frequently, strong, independent women become passive in romantic relationships. Unless you have a partner who loves to celebrate Valentine’s Day and can anticipate your wishes, tell him/her what you want.

“I know you’ll say ‘If I have to tell him/her what I want, it ruins it.’ Sometimes you need to teach your partner to please you. One of the most common reasons a partner doesn’t plan something special is that he/she is unsure of what you want.”

Don’t expect your partner to read your mind.

Do: Keep it light. Think fun.

Don’t expect the moon and the stars on February 14th if your romance is new. “It can ruin relationships in the beginning when people act out in ways that they wouldn’t act normally,” Sullivan says. “If Valentine’s Day is coming up and you’re not exclusive, don’t worry about it. Only talk to the person you’re dating if you’re comfortable about it. There’s no pressure or set expectations.”

And keep it simple too. A card and flowers are just fine. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment.

What are your plans for Valentine’s Day? Do you love it or dread it?

Share your Valentine’s Day trials, triumphs and tribulations.

Lauren Bittner is an award-winning freelance writer who focuses on women’s issues. She is a self-titled Giveaway Girl.

Stop Giving It Away is a book and a movement aimed at developing a healthier relationship with yourself and other people. Stop Giving It Away recognizes the problem of excessive self-sacrifice and the burden of unnecessary pressure we place on ourselves. The book is a product of 20+ years of social work and counseling individuals and couples.

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Divorcing? Don’t Give It Away

divorcingDivorcing? Don’t give it away.

Many women (and men) struggle to stay empowered during the divorce process. When the pressure is high, they give it away emotionally and financially. This can have long-term disastrous effects on their serenity for years to come.

January has been coined National Divorce Month. It’s when divorce filings surge. Depending on the circumstances, a divorce can take many months to work itself through, with lots of ordeals along the way. To help, we’ve gathered some tips to for how women can stay empowered during what can be a long road.

How to Stay Empowered During a Divorce

Get informed.

“One of the obvious mistakes women make is that they are uninformed.” This is advice from Psychotherapist and Divorce Mediator and Coach Paulette Janus. “They turn over all of their decisions to an attorney or judge. Part of becoming informed is that you want to consult with an attorney to be able to make your own decisions.”

Janus also suggests mediation and collaboration as an alternative to litigation. Benefits? Mediation and collaboration are less costly to your checkbook and your emotions. It’s important to know what the processes are, what the unique situation of the parties is, and decide which process makes the most sense for you. Bottom line? Participate in the decisions you make with the professionals guiding you.

Take care of yourself so your emotions don’t drive your decisions. 

Divorce is a significant life event. “It is the second most traumatic only to death of a loved one,” Janus says. “Being able to take care of yourself through that process, emotionally and physically, is really important. Not losing contact with friends—sometimes we forget about these things.

To make matters worse, “the other party may get under your skin, push your buttons or trigger you emotionally. Then it becomes hard to make logical choices verses emotional ones. It’s helpful to have a divorce coach who helps with emotions and what’s going into your communication patterns.”

Find a qualified attorney.

Joshua Haid, managing partner of the Women’s Divorce and Family Law Group, says it’s best to find a lawyer who specializes in family law.

“Hopefully you can look at references online or personal reviews. Find someone who it really seems will advocate for you. No one should do this on their own because what occurs during the divorce can have a significant impact on how you live your life for many years to come.”

Find an aggressive attorney, one who will do everything possible to avoid going to court.

“From a litigation standpoint too many lawyers are not taking advantage of whatever information they have early on in a case,” Haid says. “The lawyer needs to be aggressive and, most importantly, be willing to be aggressive … willing to sit down and work on a settlement because that is a faster, better and far less expensive way of getting through the divorce than litigating in court.”

Get financial clarity ASAP.

The laws impacting you may vary depending on where you live, but here’s one universal truth: Financial vagueness will not help your cause.

“Unfortunately, a fair settlement varies from one particular county or state to another,” Haid says. “To get a fair settlement, your lawyer needs to get a good picture of your spouse’s assets and debts. Using tools during the discovery phase, your lawyer can verify affidavits and disclosures to make sure you have a full picture of finances. You have to know how big the pie is before you can fairly decide how you can divide the pie.”

Make sure your lawyer uses pressure wisely. Don’t cave in to the pressure you feel.

When the going gets tough, remember you are tough. Rely on your emotional supports and keep going. Too many clients yield to pressure too soon.

“If necessary, a lawyer should use financial pressure against the other side so both sides feel it,” Haid says. “The first person to throw in the towel typically gets the worst end of a financial settlement. If the other side is feeling more pressure, that side is more likely to throw in the towel first.”

Get help with seeking out and enforcing a new dynamic in your relationship.

If you’ve endured dominant behavior from your spouse, Haid encourages you to use this as an opportunity to work on changing that dynamic moving forward.

“Too many women settle for the status quo of the same bad relationship they are leaving,” Haid says. “Very often you’ll find husbands used to being in a more dominant position in the relationship; and often you’ll have controlling men who assume the post-divorce relationship is going to be no different.”

Don’t fall into that trap. “The best way to avoid that is to say to your soon to be ex-spouse, ‘Have your lawyer call my lawyer,’ or say to him ‘tell him I’m not interested in that conversation.’ Don’t let your spouse force certain terms just because that’s what he wants.”

Do not, under any circumstances, tolerate physical abuse.

“If there’s any abuse going on, report it immediately to your lawyer,” Haid says. “In cases where there’s any type of physical violence, women should not be afraid to call the police.

Are you going through or have you been through a divorce?

What are your suggestions for staying empowered?

Share your experiences here.

Lauren Bittner is an award-winning freelance writer who focuses on women’s issues. She is a self-titled Giveaway Girl.

Learn more about Stop Giving It Away.

Pushing Forward When You Are Frozen: The Power of Encouragement From Deep In a Cave

Have you ever seen the movie The Descent? It is horribly frightening—a good combo of terror and girl power. I also loved Deep Down Dark, a book about the Chilean miners who were stuck underground for 69 days. Little did I know I would find my own powerful lesson in the dark caves of Kentucky.

Recently, I stopped with my family on a road trip at the infamous Mammoth Caves. One of the world’s largest cave systems was an exciting natural wonder that I did not want to pass up.

Unfortunately, I have claustrophobia. But when a guided cave tour described the “wide, expansive caves,” I figured I could handle it. After all, claustrophobia is about having fear in small, tight, constricted spaces. It is called Mammoth, right? Wrong. Here’s what happened.

We unloaded from the bus with about 100 people and were slowly herded through a cement door in the middle of a mountain. I found myself on a dark, small trail (not good) that led to hundreds of narrow metal stairs and tiny corridors only 4 feet tall and only 2 feet wide. The only light amongst these pure rock walls was a small backlight of red. (Just like the picture!)

My Mammoth hike was scary. With 75 people lined up in front, we slowly walked with an amber glow backlighting our steps (total zombie fest creepy). I started to sweat. My face got hot and the thoughts starting coming at me fast in a panic:

There is no way I can handle this. No way.

Do I squeeze past these people in a panic and tell the park ranger to get me out?! To GET ME OUT!

I can’t freak in front of my kids. Then they will get claustrophobia. I am stuck. No way out, 2 more hours of this!” 

I froze. My 13-year-old snapped, “Mom. Move! You’re holding everyone up. What’s wrong with you?” I was still frozen.

The lady behind me laughed and in a soothing, southern drawl said, “Oh, honey. I have done this cave many times before. This is the worst part. It will open up in a little while. The rest of the cave is open and fine. Just a few more minutes of this. You will love it.” She laughed. Then she said, “My husband is 6’6’’ and he is really freaking out. He’s in the back.” She kept laughing.

All of the sudden, my fear went away. I felt calm. I felt the heat leave my body and I moved forward. I was fine. About that time, the cave opened up, and we had plenty of cool air to breathe.

What a wonder it was. We saw layers of sedimentary rocks that had been there for millions of years. We saw awesome stalagmites and stalactites stacking up from the ceilings and floors. We heard the bubbling of natural springs that come directly from deep in the earth, and we got to hear about the people who discovered the caves 200 years ago. It was a wonderful experience, truly a gift.


After the hike, I thought about how that cute lady’s kind words of encouragement shifted my fear and helped me move forward. It was an important life lesson. All of the fear dissipated with her calm and reassurance. Surround yourself with people that can do this for you and with you.

That sometimes is all we need in life to move forward in our terror and difficulties. I rely on the encouragement and the reassurance of others and my Higher Power in times of trouble. And I have learned to accept and laugh at our humanness.

Are you feeling overwhelmed or fearful of anything in your life?’

Who or what can you turn to for reassurance and encouragement?

Take care,


Cherilynn M. Veland, MSW, LCSW, has worked for more than 20 years as a psychotherapist, counselor and social worker. Cherilynn owns Solutions at Work, LLC, and for over a decade, maintained a thriving private practice known as Lincoln Park Counseling in Chicago, Illinois.

Stop Giving It Away is an important book, representing 20-plus years of counseling individuals, couples and families.

Is there a Giveaway Girl in you?

• Are you a people pleaser?
• Do you feel like others can manipulate you?
• Do you feel like you give more than you get in relationships?
• Do you feel guilty when setting boundaries?
• Does it feel like someone or something else is running your life?

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