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How to Disarm the Bully at Work in 9 Steps

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According to an American Psychological Association (APA) poll, three-quarters of those surveyed list work issues as the source of the most stress in their life. My practice certainly reflects this. More specifically, clients report difficult situations with a colleague as magnifying their stress.

These vicious work relationships, if left unchecked, can spiral out of control and lead to tremendous tension, wreaking havoc on a person that goes beyond their work life. By taking a few steps you can learn to squelch such relationships you might have with a colleague.

The most difficult people to work with are narcissists who are just teeming with ego and are bullies. This type of employee is ego-centric, thinks the world resolved around him/her, and as a result, lacks the ability to view things from anyone's point of view but their own. There's also a persistent need to always be right. This employee has a reckless disregard for others, and uses intimidation to get what he or she wants.

Here's how to deal with the workplace bully:

  1. Evaluate the situation. Is the person being mean and nasty towards everyone, or is it targeted towards you only? If the person is generally unpleasant and simply not a nice person to be around, that's one thing so try not to personalize it. As a group, you and your colleagues may want to bring it to the attention of human resources and let them handle it. If though the actions are geared towards you alone then the situation should be handled differently. Take a step back and look at what's going on.

  • Keep your emotions in check. Bullies can detect if emotions are getting the best of you and will take advantage of that. By remaining calm and rational, you won't feed the bully's ego.
  • Don't stoop to his or her level. One of the most common pitfalls when dealing with difficult people is to engage their antics. Doing so only encourages and perpetuates the bad behavior. Stay above it all.
  • Document any incidents that occur. Keep them on your personal computer or private notes rather than your work computer. The latter does not ensure privacy while the former does.
  • Set your limits and boundaries. Practice with a friend or family member how you might respond to the bully. This preparation will provide you with the confidence you'll need next time something happens. Keep it simple and be clear. For example, "Please don't speak to me in that tone. It is disrespectful and unprofessional."
  • Be consistent with your message. Doing so will ensure that the bully's behavior is not reinforced. He won't get what he wants and will eventually cease his strategy and move on.
  • Don't blame yourself. This isn't about you as much as it's about the bully and their unhealthy ways. Underlying the bully's behavior is insecurity. He/she might feel inadequate and thus projects it onto others or he/she may fear losing his/her job so they assert himself or herself to appear dominant.
  • Build positive relationships with coworkers. The better connected you are to healthy and supportive colleagues, the less chance the bully will attack you and the less impact it will have on you if he attempts to.
  • Be strong and be fearless. Don't be an easy target. If you shy away and cave to the bullying then this sends a message that the behavior is OK as there is no consequence. Instead, stand strong.
  • For more tips on fearless living check out my book Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days.