Sometimes, the workplace can feel a lot like high school: Full of cliques, gossip, and passive-aggressive behavior. Bullying has been a hot topic as of late and sadly, adults are not immune to it. Bullies certainly exist in the workplace, though they aren't quite as obvious as they were in grade school. They don't go around throwing people into trash cans and stealing lunch money. But their torment can be just as destructive.
Whether the bully is criticizing you, conveniently "forgetting" to include you in important conversations, stealing credit for your work, or talking badly about you to others, his goal is always the same: To tear your down (typically in an effort to build himself up).
(Please note: The male pronoun is used here for ease of reading. Bullies can, indeed, be female too.)
As much as your children would like to believe you have all the answers, should you find yourself bullied in the workplace, you may feel as lost as a third grader regarding what to do. Here are a few tried-and-true recommendations.
1. Evaluate the situation. First, look at the situation objectively. What's really happening here? Is this person nasty to everyone, or is it just you? Are you, possibly, giving this person too much power? Maybe this bully just has a bad attitude and it has nothing to do with you. Is there any chance you're being overly sensitive, taking his or her words or actions to heart when they should be simply ignored?
This isn't intended to place the blame on the victim, but remember that the workplace is a professional environment, which means it won't always feel warm and fuzzy. You don't have to be friends with everyone. There are bound to be some people you just don't get along with, and that's OK.
Bullies, on the other hand, engage in persistently aggressive and/or unreasonable behavior against a person. That means you're singled out and the person is being more than just annoying or rude. Various definitions of workplace bullying use the words systematic, hostile, threatening, abusive, humiliating, intimidating, and sabotage. In short, bullies are intentionally trying to harm you and your ability to do your work.
So take a step back and look at what's going on. If the person is simply unpleasant and difficult to work with, you're probably not the only one who sees it, and you're certainly not alone. Practice patience and don't let their bad attitude affect you. If your situation does indeed rise to the level of bullying, keep reading.
2. Stand up for yourself. Don't be an easy target. If you shrink away and allow the behavior to continue without consequence, there's nothing to stop your bully from continuing on. Remember that people treat you the way you teach them to treat you (as Oprah has said about a thousand times). You give people instructions regarding what's acceptable behavior and what's not.
The trick is to remain polite and professional while still setting your limits firmly. Don't let the bully get under your skin—that's what he wants. Practice your response so you're prepared the next time something happens and you can respond swiftly without getting emotional. Keep it simple and straightforward, for example: "I don't think your tone is appropriate."
Don't get in a verbal tit-for-tat with your bully, but look him in the eye, stay calm, and be strong. Set your limits clearly and consistently, and your bully will eventually learn he can't get away with it.
3. Document your situation. Get in the habit of noting what happens with this person and when. Keep a detailed log regarding your interactions—what he says and does, as well as what you say and do. Documentation will be your biggest ally should things take a turn for the worse in the future. And, of course, remember to always act in a way that you can be proud of. Don't let the bully push your buttons and bait you into an emotional reaction.
4. Get superiors involved. Unfortunately, there may only be so much you can do on your own in this situation. Bullies can be stubborn and irrational. Often, when it's gotten to this point, there's no use trying to simply sit down and hash it out with the person. You need to call in the cavalry.
Again, be sure you have your documentation in order and that you've objectively looked at the situation. Then, take the issue to your Human Resources department for help. Describe what is happening in detail and explain how the situation is impacting your ability to do your work. It's important to stress that you want to find a productive, comfortable way of addressing the situation.
In most environments, HR is your best bet for action. If you choose to go to a trusted supervisor instead, he or she may not want to get involved. HR, however, is specifically designed to handle these kinds of complaints. That doesn't mean it will always be addressed as quickly or effectively as you'd like, but they typically have more experience and a greater interest in resolving the issue, as they understand the potential legal ramification if the situation escalates.
5. Move on. Bullying left unchecked can harm your mental, physical, and emotional health. If you've done your best to manage the situation and you've sought assistance from HR but still no improvements have occurred, it's time to consider moving on. No, you're not letting the bully "win." You're simply taking care of yourself. You won't prove a point or teach anyone a lesson by staying in a dangerous situation. Everyone deserves a safe, comfortable work environment. If your current employer is not able to provide that to you, take your skills elsewhere.
Chrissy Scivicque, the founder of EatYourCareer.com, believes work can be a nourishing life experience. As a career coach, corporate trainer, and public speaker, she helps professionals of all levels unlock their true potential and discover long-lasting career fulfillment.