Dealing with the Workplace Bully
black devil with curly hair and angel on background

He acts like he’s your boss even though he’s a peer. He passes jobs to you that he should be doing himself. He accompanies the request with sweet talk about how you’re in a team together, and teammates should help each other. He knows it’s not right to dump his work on you, but he hopes to get away with it.

Meet the workplace bully. (Actually, we hope you never do.) He comes in many forms. He could be a sales executive, an accounts assistant, or an office supplies custodian. He could be in a marketing company, an advertising agency, or one of those construction jobs in Singapore. Whatever his position, his goal is to take advantage of any coworker he thinks he can push around. Don’t let yourself be his target. Follow these tips for dealing with the workplace bully.

Just say no. The workplace bully targets anyone he thinks will say yes to his unreasonable requests. The moment you give a firm no, you derail him on the spot. Whether you’re swamped with work or not, you don’t deserve to be saddled with tasks that aren’t yours. Refuse outright, but be as polite as you can be. Tell him that you regret having to turn him down because you have other projects to work on.

Keep your cool. When you say no, the bully might not give up right away. If he insists that you help him out, stay firm. If the situation turns ugly and he starts raising his voice at you or using abusive language, stay calm and composed. By not allowing yourself to get into a shouting match, you demonstrate your maturity and professionalism. Once you do that, you’ve won the battle, not to mention the respect of colleagues who happen to witness the incident.

Invoke your rights. Your contract stipulates that you are to report to your boss, not any of your peers. You have a right to turn down requests for help from anyone other than your immediate supervisor. When the workplace bully asks you to do something, you can tell him in no uncertain terms that your job description states that you don’t answer to him.

Guard your space. It’s not unusual for the workplace bully to invade the personal space of his target coworker. It’s one of his intimidation tactics. He’ll stand really close to you to make you feel uncomfortable and cow you into submission. When you experience this, at first step back to indicate that you want to maintain a respectable distance between the two of you. If he again moves into your space, that’s when you have to tell him, “Excuse me, but you’re invading my personal space. I’d appreciate it if you could move back a bit.” This will let him know that you’re not going to allow him to intimidate you.

Don’t feel guilty. One of the strategies of the bully is to lay a guilt-trip on you when you refuse his request for help. He’ll say things like, “If you don’t do this for me, I’ll have to stay up until midnight to finish it.” Don’t let these tactics work on you. As stated earlier, you don’t answer to him. If he has to work overtime to get his job done, that’s his problem, not yours.

Report the abuse. In extreme cases, bullying can take the form of verbal abuse, threats, extortion, or blackmailing, especially after you’ve repeatedly refused his requests for help. When the situation gets to this point, your only recourse is to file a complaint against the bully. First tell your boss. If needed, the case can be elevated to the HR Manager. Evidence for your complaint shouldn’t be difficult to gather. Workplace bullies quickly gain a reputation. You’ll have no trouble getting testimonials from your officemates, especially the others he targeted. If ever you encounter a workplace bully, remember that just like the playground bully, he’s nothing more than an insecure kid. The only difference is, he’s a grownup version. Once you realize that, it’s actually not difficult to deal with him. All you have to do is show him that in the workplace, immaturity doesn’t stand a chance against professionalism.

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