Workplace bullying: how to get the upper hand on a toxic co-worker

October 8th 2015 / Ayesha Muttucumaru Google+ Workplace bullying: how to get the upper hand on a toxic co-worker


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Tricky co-worker or horrible boss? Here’s how to stop workplace bullying in its tracks before you wind up loathing rather than loving your job

“A bully is always the least self-aware individual in the office. They generally inhabit the role of persecutor and their purpose is to degrade, embarrass and humiliate,” says psychologist and Get The Gloss Expert Elaine Slater. Sound familiar? Considering how much time we spend in the office nowadays, a toxic co-worker’s antics can more often than not prove to be the difference between loving and loathing our jobs.

Calculating, duplicitous and cunning, the workplace bully is a breed of colleague or worse, boss, that can be hard to stop from getting underneath our skin. Whether passive aggressive, just all out aggressive or a sheep in wolf’s clothing, how do we put a lid on the office drama in as professional and mature a way as possible?

We asked Elaine and Master Life Coach and Clinical Hypnotherapist Jacqueline Hurst for their top tips when it comes to getting the psychological and behavioural upper hand on a tricky cohort and an effective action plan for ensuring you look forward to going into work in the mornings again.

Suss their psyche

“A bully attempts to rid themselves of the self-loathing or self-disgust they feel about themselves by displacing those unbearable feelings onto someone else,” explains Elaine Slater. “Psychologists call this splitting and projection.”

A person’s actions - whether at work or otherwise - are usually an indicator of what might be happening behind closed doors. What might seem as an overly confident, brash and overbearing workplace presence on the surface, may quite easily crumble within the confines of their own home due to personal circumstances. “Remember bullying is a mind game, it is not about you, it is not personal – it is their ‘stuff,’” Elaine adds. Keeping this at the forefront of your mind will definitely go some way to reducing the animosity you’re feeling and humanise the situation to prevent any uncomfortable situations from escalating too quickly.

Don’t be afraid to talk to them first

If the thought of a face to face with your office nemesis fills you with fear, that’s completely understandable. However, you owe it to yourself and your hard work to eliminate the possibility of a misunderstanding or just a ‘bad day’ first. “If the issue is something you find that you’re able to talk about, deal with the confrontation and air it out. Talking it out in the open might prove that it has nothing to do with you. Communication in these areas is so very important,” says Jacqueline.

“Instead of being the person who asks themselves, ‘what’s wrong with me,’ try to change your thinking - it might not be about you, there may be bigger issues going on.

“Even if it’s your boss, remember they’re still a person - still a human who has normal worries like you, hence all the more reason to say, ‘something is wrong here, so how can we do things so things are easier? I love my job and I’m happy here, but how can I help?’ This way, you’re confronting it and being open. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Stand in your space and own it. It’s not about blaming people. It’s about saying something they did or said was off-key.”

MORE GLOSS: 10 top tips for being more assertive

Stay calm

You know what infuriates bullies the most? Not rising to the bait. As applicable in the playground as it is in a place of business, staying calm amidst the chaos will create the firm, unshakeable foundation on which to build your argument upon. “When faced with this inappropriate behaviour don’t get emotional; remain calm, rational, and don’t lose your confidence or your nerve,” advises Elaine. “Avoid escalating the bullying at all costs. Stand up to the inappropriate behaviour with a calm and collected tone of voice and tell the individual to STOP,” she adds. Still not getting through? “Document everything and get witnesses,” Elaine recommends. To make sure events don’t get hazy, write them down as soon as you can to ensure you have your facts straight and evidence to hand should you want to bring it up with your HR department or at your appraisal.

MORE GLOSS: Work-related stress? Here is how to beat it...

Don’t hand over your power

“In my opinion, no one can bully you unless you let them,” says Jacqueline. “You’ll end up handing over a lot of your power otherwise, but if you think about it correctly - wow, what must be going on for them to be acting in that way! Use this power to make yourself feel better about it. Feelings are your choice and no one can take over them other than you.”

Seek support

“Build your confidence, resilience and support network. Develop close friendships and create an inner circle of allies among your co-workers” recommends Elaine. Strength in numbers can certainly help in evidencing the bully’s actions however, be careful to not to talk or gossip about the person in question behind their backs. This could well backfire and give the true villain in this story an excuse to accuse you of the same.

“Seek help by talking to others who can support you in managing the situation,” says Elaine. If you’ve got an appraisal coming up with someone higher in the workplace hierarchy - then discuss it there, but if can’t wait until then, look to colleagues, HR, deputies to a bullying boss or from previous experience, former bosses or mentors within the same company who can provide a valuable perspective.

MORE GLOSS: The top 10 dos and don’ts of working with friends

Use them as a teacher

Yep, you heard us correctly. While at the time, it may seem like your career is crashing in around you, those who have encountered a workplace bully all share one thing in common - an insight into the type of boss or employee they won’t be when they’re in their position. “Use them as a teacher,” says Jacqueline. “They can teach you how to get your mind right, about mind management and how to think correctly - without them, we don’t become bigger people.” Bigger and better people too.

Follow us @getthegloss and Ayesha @Ayesha_Muttu.

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