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How to Handle the Workplace Bully

The Office Grump

In today’s post, we discuss the behaviours of the office bully. We discuss how to recognize such behaviors, possible causes and how you can handle these difficult coworkers.

Before we go any further, let’s start with a short clip from the office to set the tone.

Signs and Symptoms

The office grump, you know the person in your office for whom everyday at work is a bad day. We all have had tough days at work every now and then, sometimes even hating our jobs. Despite these occasional feelings of career disengagement, most of us are able to remain professional and courteous to our co-workers. For the office grump, it is different, he or she is almost always unhappy and directs this unhappiness towards others. In short, they are not able to “play nice with others”.

So who can you spot the office grump? It’s the person who never says greets others in the morning. They are irritable almost every day, they lack manners and are sharp when speaking to others. Frequently these office employees are like loose canons that over react to normal work situations and “fly off the handle”. They don’t trust your ability to do your job and believe that they can do your job better than you can. Worst of all they criticize your work openly.

Other signs include frequent absenteeism or “sick days”, tardiness, an increase in accidents and errors, and lack of decisiveness, enthusiasm and productivity.

Modus Operandi

The office bully often employs bullying tactics in the workplace to meet their objectives. Other tactics include but are not limited to throwing temper tantrums, belittling, threatening, undermining authority, spreading rumors and even physical violence and abuse.

Why Are There Bullies

boxingWorkplace bullying can come from many placesSome bullies are insecure individuals seeking to reassure their weak sense of self-esteem by intimidating and belittling others. Others have an inflated sense of superiority and entitlement, and bully others to reinforce this.

Impact of Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullies create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation. When employees are scared of making mistakes decision making becomes paralyzed. Instead, they will involve managers more frequently for what would be routine decisions. Another effect of a culture of fear is less risk taking. A risk aversive atmosphere can hurt a company greatly especially in those industries that depend on innovation (i.e. 3M, Google, IBM, MAC, etc.) In addition, if left unchecked, there are also human resource impacts such as stress leaves, turnovers, absenteeism and even legal action.

Here is a clip from the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin plays Blake who gives a sales team a “pep talk”. After you watch this clip, I would like to know if you think this is harassment or a good pep talk?

How to Handle Bullies In The Workplace

It is not easy to handle a bully at work. While it may be difficult, resist the reflex to sling mud back and don’t be baited into an insult match. Reacting by employing the same bullying tactics can give an opportunity for the situation to be spun when it inevitably gets escalated jeopardizing your career. The risk to you is that you may appear to not be able to get along with others. Stooping to this level will not make you look professional.

A more effective approach would be to address the behavior directly with the individual and if need be with your manager. Again the key here is to separate the people with the issues, take the personalities out of it and address the behaviors. Describe the behaviour, explain the impact on your work and make a request for a behavior change. Here it is important that you describe the desired behavior that you would like. Lastly, you need to explain what you will do if the behavior does not change. Example:

“I feel uncomfortable when call me an idiot in front of others. I am not able to relax and perform my job when this happens.

In the future, I do not wish to be yelled at from you or belittled in front of others. Instead, speak to me in a calmly and do not insult me.

If the behaviour does persist, I will speak with my manager about the yelling and belittling and that I have asked you to stop.”

Also document all the negative interactions and resulting conversations with such an individual. This could really be helpful later down the road if you are asked to recall the details.

Lastly, be aware of any policies in place that prevent workplace bullying and harassment. Many employers have anti-harassment and respectful workplace policies. These policies include helpful suggestions and a dispute resolution process. If you are not aware of these consult with the human resources department or your manager. If you are in a unionized setting, you may also consider touching base with your shop steward or local union rep.

Photo by BC Gov Photos