One of the key factors in being happy at work is the relationship you strike up with your colleagues. A good, supportive team creates a harmonious workplace, one where you and everyone in it thrives. However, put one small thorn among the roses and suddenly, you can find yourself in a very different situation. An employee who doesn’t toe the line, who goes out of their way to cause problems, soon infects the whole environment and causes division, fear and stress.
Bullying in the workplace can come in many forms. Perhaps you have a colleague who always takes credit for your ideas, who puts you down in meetings or blames you for the failure of tasks when it clearly wasn’t your fault. Perhaps you’ve been the subject of malicious rumours or you’ve been excluded from meetings, lunches or after-work drinks. Bullies operate in so many ways, from the seemingly innocuous to full-on fury but it still amounts to the same thing – leaving you feeling wretched, miserable and dreading coming into the office.
So how you should handle a tricky colleague like this? Should you ignore them, hoping they might turn their attentions to some other poor individual before too long? Should you play them at their own game and try to get equal? Or should you report them to your manager? Relationships expert Sarah Abell has been at the receiving end of a bullying boss herself, and has written a book, Authentic – Relationships From the Inside Out, that includes a chapter on how to manage bullying colleagues. Her advice is to try to address it as soon as possible by talking. “I am not going to pretend that having a conversation with your colleague will be easy,” she says, “but if you can do it, you will not only be helping your own situation, you will be helping others who are suffering as a result of their behaviour.”
Bullying colleagues are often feeling vulnerable and inadequate themselves. This doesn’t excuse their behaviour but by standing up to them in a professional manner you show them that you are in control of the situation, that you are not afraid of them and that you want their behaviour to change. Here are Sarah’s tips on how to take control of the situation:
- First of all, be prepared. Keep a diary of things that they have said or done, gather a group of friends and family around you to bolster you with encouragement and support, and then take a deep breath and get ready to meet, preferably on your own and face-to-face.
- Second, choose a moment when you are feeling calm and have time to talk properly. Be clear with them about what they have done and why you find their behaviour unacceptable. Give them an opportunity to explain or apologise (but be prepared that this might not happen).
- Third, explain how you want things to be different and what the consequence will be if things don’t change. (For example, you could say something like: “I would appreciate it if we could work more productively together as colleagues rather than as adversaries. I hope after this conversation things will improve but if you continue to belittle me in meetings, I will have no choice but to refer the matter to our boss and to consider making a formal complaint.”)
- Fourth, follow through on your consequences. If their behaviour does change for the better, respond positively. But if there isn’t a change, do what you threatened to do and go to your boss. If your boss doesn’t do anything, then file a formal complaint. Remember, bullies are a bit like the wizard in The Wizard of Oz; they dread being exposed or revealed as frauds. They don’t want anyone drawing back the curtain and seeing the insecure little person behind it.