How to handle an office bully

Practicing what you will say with another person can help when confronting a bully at work.  Credit: THINKSTOCK
Practicing with another person what you plan to say to a bully can help.
Credit: Thinkstock

Maybe they swiped your papers from the copy machine. Or “accidentally” left you off the email about a super-productive lunch meeting — for the third time. Or perhaps you avoid their cubicle, knowing every interaction turns aggressive.

File all these scenarios under workplace bullying.

“Bullying, actually, many times is considered legal, believe it or not,” says Mike Dreiblatt, president of Stand Up to Bullying.

Unlike harassment, often covered in human resources handbooks as behavior toward employees because of race, religion or ethnicity, bullying brings grayer edges.

One complicating factor? Ambition and being assertive are part of a cocktail that usually equals success in cities, Dreiblatt says.

But when assertive melds into aggressive, a bully sprouts.

“When you assert, you assert yourself,” Dreiblatt says. “When you’re aggressive, you’re aggressive to someone else.”

Bullies often target multiple people, he says, but even just one person’s awful cubicle experience can affect company morale – for example, turnover.

“Sometimes that aggressive individual does bring in more money for the company,” he explains.

But his caution for employers? “They bring down the productivity of everyone else in the end. There’s a net loss, not a net gain.”

Dreiblatt suggests first finding out your company’s policy on bullying, if it has one.

Then, if you confront an aggressive person, have another person present, he advises.

“Make sure someone else is there who is able to witness the confrontation,” he says.

And document, document, document. Write down each encounter: when it happened, what happened, who witnessed it.

Many might be tempted to attempt to kill bullying with kindness. Good luck with that, Dreiblatt says.

“The idea that you’re going to somehow buy them a pound cake and they’re going to be nice to you probably isn’t going to happen,” he says. “This person has already shown themself to be aggressive.”

Tips on how to handle a bully

• Find out your office’s policy on bullying.
• Document everything.
• Have a witness if you choose to confront the bully.
• Practice what you will say to the person.
• Create a script for yourself.
• Practice with the person you will have in the room.
• Keep it short. “Less is more,” he says.
• Describe the behavior you find unacceptable, say it is not acceptable to you and how you request that they act in the future. Also say what you will do if it persists, such as meet with a manager.

Follow Alison Bowen on Twitter @reporteralison


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