Most people outgrow bad habits with maturity. But when it comes to bullying, no workplace is immune and many teams have at least one person who builds himself up by putting others down.
Being bullied at work can be overt — your ideas being ridiculed, other people dumping their work on your plate. It can also be subtle — you’re excluded from important meetings or repeatedly given menial tasks.
More than the negative effects on your self-esteem, our career coaches point out that workplace bullying can actually be detrimental to your career. Being bullied can hold you back from promotions, keep you out of the loop on important projects or relegate you to grunt work.
In addition to the negative impact on your career, being subjected to a hostile work environment can cause serious work-related stress, which can be harmful to your physical and mental health.
Bullies are often assertive, powerful people and, in many cases, they are leaders in both title and perception. Unfortunately, people often believe the loudest voice in the room, and if a bully is leading the conversation, her negative perception about you could gain momentum. It’s essential that you craft the story about who you are and what you can do.
4 career coach strategies to manage a workplace bully
If you are dealing with bullying at work, here are four ways to handle it.
- Refuse to internalize the negativity. Bullies aim to make us feel small. Don’t let your self-worth be compromised by a bully. As we often remind our career coaching clients: If a bully’s ideas about who you are and what you can offer the company are seeping into your consciousness, take a step back and self-assess. It’s very likely that the bullying has little to do with your actual performance.
- Toot your own horn. If bullying at work takes the form of you being given less important tasks or being left out of projects, speak up. Go into meetings prepared to explain how your past accomplishments make you the ideal person to work on an important part of a project. Often, a bully will imply that by not doing what he tells you to, you’re not a team player. Don’t let that happen. If you are in a group setting, pause and think about what you have been asked to do and then say, “While I recognize that someone needs to handle that aspect of the project, I don’t think that is the best way for me to add value,” then hit them with the information about your past experience.
- Avoid being passive aggressive. While no one likes a bully, passive-aggressive people aren’t good co-workers, either. Don’t just complain to friends — face your bully head-on. Set up a time to grab coffee outside of the office so you are in a neutral space. Avoid using the word “bully,” as it will put the person on the defensive, or worse, give her the impression that she has power over you. Start by saying you feel that if she knew more about your skills, the two of you could work together more effectively. If that isn’t working, use a recent example and ask her to explain why she acted as she did. Ask the question and then stop talking. Listen to the response to assess your next steps.
- Talk to your manager or HR. If you cannot handle the bullying on your own, go to your manager — or to HR if your manager is the bully. Frame the conversation as a way for you to gain the ability to offer more value to the team or the company. To get the support you need, try to keep emotions out of it — don’t get personal and avoid becoming negative. Go into the meeting knowing what you want this person to do. Are you asking for your manager or HR representative to talk to this person for you? Are you hoping that the person can allow you to report to someone else? Knowing your goal and going in with clear expectations will keep you on track and make it clear that you are not just coming in to complain or to tattle; rather, you are seeking a solution to a real problem.
It isn’t always easy to stand up for yourself, but you can’t count on someone else to do it for you. You have advanced to this point in your career because you are a valuable asset, and it is always your right to be treated with respect. While workplace bullying may be an unfortunate reality, facing the issue is the only way to start working toward a more productive, peaceful work environment.
How have you handled bullying at work?