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How do you deal with a coworker who tries to intimidate you?

What is workplace intimidation?

Workplace intimidation refers to bullying, aggressive, or threatening behavior by a coworker. This can include making verbal threats, shouting, using profanity, spreading rumors, withholding information, belittling you in front of others, taking credit for your work, and making unreasonable demands. Intimidation is often used as a power play to control and manipulate you. It creates a hostile work environment and can negatively impact your performance and well-being. No one should have to put up with intimidation at work.

Common intimidation tactics

Here are some common tactics used to intimidate coworkers:

  • Yelling, shouting, losing one’s temper
  • Cursing, using foul language
  • Making personal or derogatory comments
  • Public humiliation or belittling
  • Spreading false rumors or gossip
  • Sabotaging work performance
  • Withholding pertinent information
  • Taking credit for your work
  • Invading personal space
  • Damaging or stealing property
  • Making unreasonable demands
  • Threatening job loss or demotion
  • Making threats of physical harm

These tactics create a hostile work environment where you feel disrespected, powerless, and mistreated. Left unchecked, the intimidation will likely escalate. You deserve to work in an environment free from this type of behavior.

Why do some coworkers try to intimidate others?

There are a few possible reasons why a coworker may try to intimidate you:

  • They feel threatened by you in some way. Perhaps you are more skilled, popular, or up for the same promotion. Their bullying stems from feelings of insecurity or inadequacy.
  • They have an aggressive personality and need to exert power over others. Intimidation gives them a sense of control.
  • They lack empathy and don’t care how their behavior impacts you. They are selfishly advancing their own interests.
  • They learned this behavior at a previous job and think it’s an effective way to get ahead. No one has taught them proper workplace conduct.
  • They have poor anger management or communication skills. They don’t know how to express frustration appropriately.
  • They are under extreme pressure or stress themselves. Unfortunately, they are taking it out on you instead of managing it properly.

Of course, their reasons don’t excuse their unacceptable conduct. But understanding potential motivations can help you craft an effective response.

How does workplace intimidation impact you?

Being the target of frequent intimidation tactics can negatively impact you both professionally and personally, including:

  • Difficulty concentrating at work, declining performance
  • Increased stress, anxiety, depression
  • Dread and fear of going to work
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches, insomnia
  • Diminished self-esteem and self-worth
  • Isolation from colleagues due to rumor spreading
  • Deteriorating relationships outside of work
  • PTSD in severe cases of prolonged intimidation

No one deserves to work in an environment of fear and mistreatment. The mental toll can be severe. Make self-care a priority and don’t hesitate to seek professional counseling if needed.

Steps to dealing with an intimidating coworker

If you find yourself the target of workplace intimidation, here are some steps to take:

  1. Keep records – Note each incident’s date, time, location, what was said or done, and any witnesses present. Documentation creates a record of the problem.
  2. Set boundaries – Have a frank talk with the coworker. Say you won’t tolerate intimidation or disrespect. List specific unwanted behaviors. State consequences if it continues.
  3. Report them – Notify your manager or HR about the coworker’s conduct and impact on you and the work environment. Follow up any verbal reports in writing.
  4. Distance yourself – Minimize contact with the intimidator. Communicate only what’s essential via email. Avoid being alone with them.
  5. Don’t retaliate – As satisfying as it may feel, retaliating or sinking to their level won’t help. Take the high road.
  6. Build a support system – Lean on trusted colleagues who can back you up and be witnesses. Friends and family can also provide emotional support.
  7. Practice self-care – Make your physical and mental well-being a priority. Exercise, eat healthy, vent to loved ones, and treat yourself kindly.

Standing up to workplace intimidation takes courage but know that you have rights. Employers have a duty to provide a safe environment free from harassment.

When to involve human resources

If confronting your coworker doesn’t stop their behavior, it’s time to get HR involved. HR plays an important role in investigating claims of workplace bullying and enforcing policies. Follow your company’s reporting procedures whether it’s an online form, hotline, or complaint made in person.

Document all incidents thoroughly before meeting with HR to demonstrate a pattern of intimidation. Present any evidence you have like emails, voicemails, or witness accounts. Stick to just the facts without getting overly emotional.

HR will likely meet with both of you and any witnesses. If your allegations are substantiated, they’ll discipline the coworker accordingly based on company policy and severity of the conduct. Strict no bullying policies may result in termination.

HR’s role is to be impartial so avoid any impression you’re just holding a grudge. Frame it as wanting a more respectful workplace. If HR seems dismissive or inactive, you can try reporting to a higher level supervisor.

What if HR doesn’t help?

Ideally HR will resolve the situation appropriately, but that doesn’t always happen. If HR seems unresponsive, consider:

  • Reporting to a higher level HR manager if the intimidation continues
  • Consulting an employment attorney if you have grounds for a lawsuit
  • Filing a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or your country’s equivalent agency
  • As a last resort, finding a new job with an employer committed to respect in the workplace

Keeping a paper trail supports these options. You have a right to work without fear.

Tips for dealing with an intimidating coworker

Beyond formal reporting, here are some other tips for coping with workplace bullying:

  • Don’t take it personally – The bully’s behavior says more about them than you. Try not to let it undermine your self-worth.
  • Stay professional – Always take the high road and avoid gossiping or retaliating.
  • Be confident – Use a strong, steady voice. Make direct eye contact. Practice power poses before interactions.
  • Use empathy – Consider saying “I sense you’re under a lot of pressure lately. How can I help?”
  • Humor disarms – Respond to hostility with wit and humor when you can.
  • Own your space – Avoid cowering. Stand tall with your head held high.
  • Buddy up – Have a colleague accompany you when engaging the bully.
  • Limit interactions – Communicate only what’s essential for the work. Avoid unnecessary exchanges.
  • Relax after – Do deep breathing, meditation, or listen to calming music after tense interactions.

Bullies want to make you feel powerless, so do what you can to regain control and confidence. And remember—their behavior reflects poorly on them, not you.

When is it time to leave your job?

If all efforts through HR fail to curb the intimidation, you may need to leave your job as a last resort. Before quitting consider:

  • How badly is your health and well-being suffering?
  • Are you starting to dread and hate going to work each day?
  • Is the bullying impeding your ability to be productive?
  • Does the environment seem unlikely to improve anytime soon?
  • Do you have another job offer or the financial means to be unemployed for a bit?

Leaving a job you once liked due to a bully co-worker is unfortunate. But protecting your mental and physical health has to be the priority. A fresh start at an organization with zero tolerance for intimidation can be the best thing.

Preventing intimidation in the workplace

While individual employees can take steps to combat bullying, organizations also play a key role in prevention by:

  • Establishing and enforcing clear anti-bullying policies
  • Training managers to identify and address inappropriate conduct
  • Implementing reporting procedures employees feel comfortable using
  • Maintaining a respectful, ethical culture from the top down
  • Intervening at the first sign, not allowing things to escalate
  • Conducting staff surveys to monitor workplace climate
  • Celebrating positive team behavior and collaboration

A psychologically healthy culture of mutual respect benefits employees, management, and the organization’s bottom line. We all deserve to work in an environment free from harassment and abuse.


Dealing with an intimidating co-worker can be an emotional rollercoaster. Seek support from trusted colleagues, HR, and loved ones. Don’t suffer in silence—you have rights and there are steps you can take to stop workplace bullying. Employers should reinforce conduct policies and intervene early. In the end, protecting your safety and well-being has to be the priority, even if that ultimately means leaving your job. But with the right strategies, you can regain your sense of confidence and control.