5 Unavoidable Office Bullies (And How To Shut Them Down)

5 Unavoidable Office Bullies (And How To Shut Them Down)
by Megan Denneny
February 01, 2016
NO MATTER HOW SAVVY YOU ARE AT OFFICE POLITICS, SOMETIMES UNDUE COMPETITION AND UNFAIR TREATMENT FLARE UP. CONSIDER THESE COMMON ABRASIVE PERSONALITIES AND HOW TO COUNTERACT THEM.
All bullies have one goal in common: to tear you down in order to make themselves feel better. We all know this, probably thanks to encountering one at some point in our youth. The depressing thing is, bullying continues long after we leave the high school halls.

We strive daily to be the best possible versions of ourselves, but let’s face it, the workplace can often make us feel like we’re teenagers again. The cliques, gossip, and overall negativity come streaming back into our lives just when we think that door had shut for good. 

The upshot of adulthood is that we've gleaned some political savvy along the way so dealing with bullies no longer means going into hiding.

And so, we're breaking down five of the most common office bullies and what you can do to proactively prevent them from undermining everything from morning meetings to a good night's sleep. 

THE GREEN MONSTER

We all know this bully because we've shared similar feelings at some point. It's human nature to feel inferior and threatened by appearance, education, status, personality, or really anything that makes us feel self-conscious. This bully specializes in making you feel guilty about your "luck" at work and/or bad for them because of their own experiences. It's a relationship entirely based on unfair comparison. 

How to Disarm

When dealing with a colleague's unfair confrontation, it can be easy to want to respond by arguing or to rebuff them like they do you, but as your mother always said: be the bigger person. Do your best to eliminate any feelings of animosity. Instead of feeding into the resentment, offer a genuine compliment about their work or share a tough moment you encountered that day to prove you're human, too. Most people lighten up when they realize they can relate to you more than they thought.

THE CONTROL FREAK

These bullies have been around since grade school. They often mean well, but definitely don't play well with others. Their OCD tendencies mean they tend to steamroll projects, taking their leadership roles to an impractical level, offending coworkers, and ignoring team dynamics. And whether you work in a creative agency or a technology firm, they're impossible to avoid.

How to Disarm

Getting assignments and responsibility taken away from you repeatedly can feel intimidating and disheartening. Ironically, feeling like you're voice goes unheard is all the more reason to speak up.

Because the Control Freak is used to taking charge at meetings, it's often better to request a private conversation where you can guarantee his or her full attention. When you meet, explain to your coworker (or manager) politely but honestly how their tendencies are affecting your work. Communicating the issue often solves it. Sometimes people are unaware of their behavior and just need someone to call their attention to it—it never hurts to speak up.

When all else fails, use our favorite buzzword: productivity. For the Control Freak, running projects as successfully as possible is their end goal. If you point out that you feel like you could be contributing more on a project than you are, you've got their attention. Say you're concerned you're being "underutilized." You may find they quickly take you up on your request to get more involved. 

THE DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE

There is nothing worse than thinking you know someone, only to find they turn out to be the complete opposite. Maybe it's a coworker who tells you one thing, but doesn't follow suit behind your back or a boss who acknowledges your great idea, then presents it as his own in a meeting. Regardless, these bullies are all too common in the workplace. 

How to Disarm

This two-faced bully is tricky because they seem authentic and heartfelt when you have direct contact, but then take to IM or the break room to put you down. To stop the behavior, always try talking to them in person. Even though it may feel uncomfortable, making the first move can go a long way. Try hashing it out by actively listening and remaining calm—don’t feed into the drama and take what they say with a grain of salt. For this particular bully, sometimes one-on-one dialog won't solve the ongoing issue. If the behavior continues, address it with your boss or HR. They can potentially set up a mediated meeting to get to the root of the problem. 

THE NEGATIVE NANCY

Possibly the most hurtful bully is the constant critic. Nothing's more annoying than unsolicited feedback. When it happens non-stop and gravitates toward the mundane and inane—like how you eat your salad—that’s when it becomes a problem.

How to Disarm

We should all encourage constructive criticism to become more efficient employees and better people, but when it seems like everything you do is just plain wrong, address the issue. Share your feelings and tell them that you're grateful for their advice, but would appreciate a different approach, preferably with some positivity and less nitpicking.

Do they refuse to quit? Say thanks and accept their judgment openly—failure to get a rise out of you may just make them stop.

THE ICE QUEEN (OR KING)

Many of us are still trying to find our footing in the workplace. At entry-level jobs or new positions, the idea of waltzing into a company with full confidence often feels impossible. And figuring out office dynamics with your new team often feeds that anxiety. Occasionally, you'll meet a colleague unwilling to answer a question or even acknowledge our existence. This negative attitude can be especially distressing if you are in a new place, feeling unsure, and searching for someone to connect with.

How to Disarm

Keep in mind that you don't know the person's story. Perhaps you were hired into the job they wanted or you're filling a position that belonged to their closest office friend. Strive to get to know them on their own terms. While their past may have caused them to be a bit cautious and guarded toward newbies, time and communication will mellow them. Invite them to lunch or offer to assist with a stressful project they are working on, but don't go overboard. It may take longer than you think to convince them to let down some walls. Still, taking the initiative to be compassionate could be the key to unlocking a new work buddy.

* * *

These are just a few examples of workplace bullies that can ruin our 9-to-5. Usually speaking up, taking a stand, or just letting go is the best way to handle tough situations. However, some circumstances are too extreme to deal with personally. If so, please don’t be afraid to ask for help from management, HR, or anyone else that can mediate. We all work hard on a daily basis to follow our dreams and deserve to do so in a comfortable environment. There's no reason you should "tolerate" consistently bad behavior, and it should be put to rest immediately. After all, we have to spend 40+ hours a week with these people so it’s imperative to solve tough matters before they escalate.

Ever been bullied in the office? Any advice for handling it?