How to Handle A Co-Worker Who Is A Bully

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Bullying on the job is so pervasive that 27 percent of those who responded to a 2014 Workplace Bullying Institute survey reported they had current or past direct experience with bullying on the job. Although the survey found bosses constituted the majority of bullies, co-workers can also be guilty of this behavior. In dealing with a co-worker who is a bully, you should take care of yourself, identify and clarify what is happening, document the behavior, confront the bully and take the issue up the chain of command.

Recognize and Name It

  • The Workplace Bullying Institute website says the first step in dealing with the problem is to recognize bullying and name it for what it is. An article in "The Wall Street Journal” by psychologist Meredith Fuller suggests you validate your concerns with a trusted friend or co-worker. Workplace bullying can be subtle or overt. Psychologist Michelle Callahan notes on her website that female bullies, for example, may use techniques such as a glare, turning their backs when you enter a room or ignoring you. The key is a pattern of behavior over a period of time -- not an occasional bad day or a co-worker who is rude to everyone. Bullying tactics can include being given the silent treatment; co-workers refusing to help, ignoring your calls or emails; verbal put-downs; spreading rumors; sabotaging your work, or outright intimidation, threats and physical attacks.

Protect Your Health

  • Bullying can have serious health effects, according to the PBS website This Emotional Life. Among these are panic attacks, clinical depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder and physical problems such as strokes or heart attacks. Assess your health, especially if you already have a problem such as high blood pressure that can be affected by stress related to bullying. You may need medical attention or help from a mental health professional, both to deal with the effects of previous bullying and to help you as you deal with the bully.

Document the Bullying

  • Once you’ve named the problem and identified the tactics, document what’s happening. Be specific as to dates, times, witnesses and similar details. Describe the behavior as neutrally as possible. An article on the AARP website recommends you keep your journal or documentation at home. Although it can be difficult, try not to let your work suffer as you are collecting the data, because it can make it harder to present a case that the behavior is bullying rather than a performance problem on your part.

Confront or Expose the Bully

  • At this point you have two choices: You can confront the bully directly or take it up with human resources and management. Either path has risks. The bully may escalate his tactics. Management in many organizations ignores or condones bullying, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. Whichever tactic you choose, keep to the facts. Explain what is happening and the effect bullying has on the organization. For example, you might note that turnover in the bully’s department is twice the average for the organization. Make suggestions for how the situation can be improved.

When Bullying Is Discriminatory

  • No matter how well you handle yourself or how extensive your documentation, you may lose your job. You could be fired, or you might decide to leave to protect your health. If the bullying was discriminatory, you might consider consulting a lawyer. Bullying someone because of age, gender or other protected characteristics is illegal. General bullying -- such as calling you stupid or incompetent -- is not illegal. However, the AARP notes that bullying can affect morale and increase turnover, which does have an impact on productivity in the organization. Throughout the process, take care of yourself, and remember: You're not the problem -- the bully is.

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