Bullies aren’t just on the playground. They grow up to be adult-size, pains in the you-know-what. They come in all shapes and sizes, and at all levels of seniority. So, what’s an employee or co-worker to do when faced with the office bully?
My first encounter with an office bully came when I was a college student working a part-time job. My manager was someone who oozed the need for control from every pore on her body. This wasn’t a misunderstanding or a lack of openness for constructive criticism on my part. This person was just plain mean. She nitpicked and chided, and her condescending tendencies knew no bounds. Cold, callous and volatile were always in her arsenal. I knew I was an easy target; I was low on the totem pole. When one of the owners decided to train me to do additional administrative tasks, she nearly waged war. I soon realized that she saw me as a threat. I was younger, college-educated and eager to learn. She was fearful that I was after her job, which couldn’t be the furthest thing from the truth. I was there to help subsidized my college education and knew my career would take me elsewhere. She wasn’t convinced. I think the first time I saw her smile was the my last day on the job.
All kidding aside, I had to set clear limits on what I was willing to tolerate. I could have attempted to ignore her behavior, but I knew that wouldn’t help my cause. When she’d leave a nasty note for me, I’d respond to each of her bullet points with succinct detail that included my perspective. I knew she wouldn’t be the last bully I faced at work or in life. I chose to not let her intimidate me. She made for some stressful days at work, but I learned how to take it with a grain of salt.
If you're having a problem with the office bully, here are three steps to handle your less than satisfactory experience.
1. You have to face this head on.
When this bully starts in on you, ask if there’s something that you did to offend them. See if you can talk it out in a rational, adult manner. Be the bigger person and rise above the situation. Give examples of things they are doing or saying that are negatively impacting you without being combative. See how you can change your approach to working with one another. Now, this doesn’t mean walk on eggshells or jump to their every command. It just means analyze your actions as well as theirs. Are you putting forth your best effort or contributing to a bigger problem?
2. Depending on seniority levels between parties, you may want to ask a fellow employee or supervisor to help mediate the situation.
3. If push really comes to shove, figuratively speaking, consider looking for other employment.
If this individual is really making for a hostile work environment, it is not worth your mental well-being to continue to subject yourself to this. You will be able to find a work environment where bullies – and the damage they do – are taken seriously.
It will take some time to get comfortable sticking up for yourself. In the meantime, hang in there. You got this!