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3.2 I think I may have been bullying or undermining, what should I do now?

This realisation can be a difficult one, particularly as most people in this situation do not realise the negative impact that their behaviour may have had.

Rest assured that you are not alone and many people, including some of those that you work with, will have gone through this same process at some point in their career.  There are lots of resources for accessing advice and wellbeing support.

Remember that feedback about negative behviours does not mean that you are not good at your job or that colleagues don’t like working with you.  It does mean that an element of your behaviour has been perceived negatively and addressing it necessary.

Misunderstandings will occur.  Addressing them promptly and effectively will help restore your working relationships and help feed a positive and effective workplace culture.

An individualised approach is needed to deal with these situations. The National Bullying network has an excellent document on 'What to do if you are accused of being a bully' (PDF).  Here we provide a shorter guide to some of the steps you can take to understand and improve your behaviours.

1. Resist the automatic response to deny there is a problem and remain calm

  • It is human nature to instinctively deny that there is a problem, particularly when most poor workplace behviours are unintentional. 
  • However, try to remain calm and professional.
  • Take the brave step to remain open minded and curious.

2. Take time to reflect

  • Reflect on your behaviour and consider if and how it may have upset your colleague(s).  You could try using the questions in Question 1 or our self reflection template (Word document)
  • Are external factors affecting you? Consider work related pressures, your work environment and issues in your personal life.
  • If you are experiencing significant difficulties that may be having an impact on your work then it is usually appropriate to discuss this with your supervisor or manager. You may need additional support.

3. Write it down

  • It is often useful to begin to record what has happened, who else was there, what you have done, who you spoke to and when.  With time these records may be useful to allow you to have objective discussions
  • If later down the line formal actions are pursued, then written notes will also be of use.

4. Take action

Remember that actions need to be individualised depending on the nature of the perceived bullying event(s).  Some possible actions include:


  • Gather information.  Try to explore reasons for the accusation and determine whether it has come from an individual or a number of staff.
  • In some situations an informal meeting with the accuser may be all that is needed. It may be appropriate to meet in the presence of a neutral third party. Allow them to express their viewpoint and facilitate a discussion to clear up any misunderstandings or misconceptions. Offer an apology if your behaviour upset them, even if it was unintentional.  This sort of action may be appropriate if they approach you directly or if you are informed informally by a colleague and agree this is the right course of action. Tips on holding such a meeting can be found on the ACAS website.
  • Offer to make reasonable changes if required. If the problem has arisen due to departmental culture or excessive workload, discuss this with your line manager and try to make positive changes to the working environment for both you and the accuser. This may need a department wide approach – see Module 4 "I am responsible for a department that has a problem with bullying or undermining"


  • If you are involved in more formal proceedings such a mediation or are in receipt of a formal complaint, then we recommend that you are in touch with your Human Resources Department and an external organisation, such as your union or ACAS, that can support you through the process and explain the procedure as well as your rights.

5. Seek advice and support

6. Explore ways that you can strengthen your positive behaviours at work

Positive and effective culture in your workplace are important for you, your team and your patients. There are always ways we can all improve. 

Explore ways that you can improve future interactions. Were there specific areas identified in your feedback or self-reflection? Why not explore Question 4?

This can be a real force for change within a whole department and can have a positive effect on staff wellbeing and patient care despite the challenging and upsetting nature of the experience at the time.