How to Handle a Problematic Co-worker
At some point in your life, you have probably dealt with a bully. Unfortunately, the bullies we face in life sometimes go beyond the playground as they make their way into our professional lives.
Problematic coworkers can pester us for several reasons. They can be verbally abusive, they can obstruct our workflow, they can sexually harass us and they can physically harm us.
What is important is how we face this issue. The last thing you want to do is make the situation worse, so make sure you follow these steps to help make your work environment less toxic.
1. Stay Calm
If you have an office bully, your first thought might be to act rashly. If you fight back by giving them a taste of their own medicine, the repercussions can be catastrophic. You don’t want to lose your job or worse because you were defending yourself from a bully.
Take a deep breath, collect yourself, and move forward with the following steps.
2. Keep a Paper Trail of What is Happening
If things get to a point where the two of you are sitting in your boss’s office discussing what happened, you don’t want it to turn into a “he said, she said.”
Keep a paper trail of the abusive behavior. This means keep screenshots of messages, emails, and audio recordings of conversations if you have them.
If you can show that what they said was a pattern of abusive behavior rather than a one-time lapse in judgment, your supervisor will be more inclined to do more to remedy the situation.
Even if things don’t get to the point where you need to talk to your supervisor, you will want to keep this paper trail in case problems arise with this coworker once again.
3. Speak With a Coworker That You Trust
If there is another coworker that is close to the situation and that you trust, it is important that they are an ally in this situation. Confide with them about what happened. There is a chance that they have also experienced this behavior from the coworker in question and are willing to come with you to talk to your supervisor.
4. Speak With The Person in Question
Before you confront the supervisor with this issue, you should first talk it out with the bully in question.
There is always a chance that this was a misunderstanding that can be settled with an apology and a handshake. Tell them what they did that upset you and how it upset you.
Please note that if this person has been abusive toward you, you should go directly to your supervisor rather than trying to talk it out with them.
5. Speak With Your Supervisor if Things Are Beyond Your Control
Situations with workplace bullies fall into two groups: situations that require intervention from your supervisor, and situations that don’t.
You should talk with your supervisor about the problematic coworker if their behavior is abusive, dangerous, disrupts workflow or if you tried to handle it with the person in question privately, but the problem persists.
Your supervisor will appreciate you trying to handle the matter yourself, but they also want you to come to them if there is a problem that requires their intervention.
6. What to Do if The Person in Question is Your Supervisor
Sometimes the workplace bully is your boss. With that come several other fears such as losing your job or being chastised by the entire office. However, this same step-by-step plan still works even for supervisors, but with one exception.
If you speak with your supervisor, but the problem persists, then you should talk to your boss’s boss. Yes, more than likely your boss has a boss. Your supervisor more than likely has a supervisor the looks over their district. Do some research to find out who they report to, and come to them with the issue.
If you are struggling to find out where to start, here are ways to file a formal complaint.
For example, when I was 16 I had a problematic boss. He was verbally abusive, his behavior kept me from doing my job, and his negative behavior affected the entire business.
After speaking with several other employees who had issues with the person in question, we took the issue to the CEO of the company who terminated our supervisor. It turns out that the CEO was well aware of the supervisor’s behavior, and our collective testimony was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Sure, reporting your supervisor might seem daunting, but the worst thing that can happen is that you end up leaving a job at a company where you were harassed and abused. Although not optimal, it is still better than continuing to work alongside a bully.
What if Someone Accuses Me of Being a Bully?
If you are accused of being an office bully, your first reaction might be to respond with anger.
Don’t do that.
Getting mad and retaliating is an almost definite way to get yourself fired or at least penalized in some way.
Listen to why you have been accused of being a bully, and think back on the instance(s) with a different perspective. Ask yourself if you could see why that behavior could be considered toxic or hurtful. Talk about the problem with the person in question and try to constructively forge a new work environment with them.
Remember, this could all be a misunderstanding, and you can shake hands and walk away. If you were in the wrong, this is an opportunity to grow as a worker and as a person. If you were in the wrong, apologize and thank them for bringing this to your attention after assuring that you won’t behave like that again.