How to Deal With Office Bullies

By: Kristin Clarke

Tap into martial arts to defend yourself in the workplace. [Titled "Office Bullies" in the print edition.]

Joe Corley can afford to be soft-spoken in the workplace. As a ninth-degree black belt in martial arts, three-time U.S. karate champion, tae kwon do world champion, and president of the Professional Karate Association, people rarely mess with him.

But that's not true for everyone. According to Corley, many workers enter his classes eager to use martial arts elements such as self-control and patience to repel office bullies.

"The workplace has a different dynamic than a school yard," says Corley, who also helped organize the Southeast Karate Association and North American Sport Karate Association. "Bullying is not always [a matter] of physical power. It's much more subtle, but [adults] will experience very similar physical reactions to what kids do. The problem definitely screams for attention, although I don't think approaches to it can be handled as simply as at school."

A likely challenge is lack of training in how to handle office bullying, although Corley assumes human resources departments are called in when situations escalate.

He notes that young professionals are particularly vulnerable because of their lack of workplace experience, as are employees who are eager to please everyone and want to be liked and accepted.

"When we talk about self-defense measures on the physical level, there's a sense of creating space that one must understand in the beginning," Corley says. "Understanding that space gives people time and options. There's a body language that goes with it and a choice of words, too."

Some tips from the master? Set early physical and verbal boundaries and confide in a third party. If bullying continues, kick it up to HR.

Contributed by Kristin Clarke, a business journalist and writer for ASAE. Email: [email protected]

Learn More

Joe Corley will present "Martial Arts in the Workplace: Defending Yourself Against Bullies, Gossips, and Passive Aggressives" at ASAE's 2013 Annual Meeting & Exposition in August. For more information or to register, visit

Kristin Clarke

Kristin Clarke is books editor for Associations Now and a business journalist and sustainability director for ASAE.