How To Deal With Bullies In The Workplace

You’d think that by the time you exited the doors of high school you’d be done with bullies, or cliquey drama, power trippers, and that girl who said your skirt was cute but then posted a stolen of pic of you wearing it with a barf emoji next to it. Wait ‘til we tell you that you have to work alongside them some day!

Sure, while not everyone will turn out the way they were in school, some people never grow out of a ‘bully’ mentality; and they only get craftier and pettier with age.

Nylon talked with several women to find out their experiences with workplace bullies, and Katie* reported that she joined a start-up company to hopefully escape the seniority complex that plagues most established work areas, but unfortunately, they did not make her feel welcome from the get-go.

“They always had birthday parties for everyone and ordered all these exciting snacks, and they purposely didn’t do anything for mine. I actually cried about it because they were so exclusionary,” she told Nylon.

Or take the other woman who had a colleague in a non-supervising position actually record the time she came into the office every day for two weeks! What a freak!

So why do some people resort to these intimidation and exclusion tactics?

Nylon writer Ashley Laderer talked with Alicia Henry, LCSW, who said that feelings surrounding worth, self-esteem, and inadequacy can lead to people to ‘act out’ certain behaviors.

“People are often threatened by others’ perceived strengths and successes and this can lead to anxiety. When people are anxious, they act out in various different ways.”

Samantha Levine, LSCW, who also talked with Nylon added that people in the workplace also resort to going in cliques because aside from the numbers, it’s also in us as humans to gravitate “toward a group that we would like to define our identities.”

“People in the ‘in’ group want to emphasize that they are different from the ‘out’ group which creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality,” she said.

While we probably would love a Mean Girls style vindication when we’re the target, Henry and Levine advise to first “depersonalize” the situation.

“You can cope with ‘mean girls’ first by depersonalizing the situation; realize that the targeting behavior isn’t as much about you as it is about what you represent to the individual doing the targeting,” said Henry, while Levine adds, “Take a step back, don’t engage, and come back to it when you are able to deal with it in a professional manner. Try not to engage in gossip or negative bonding because then you are creating a wider gap in the ‘us’ versus ‘them.’”

Take the time to take this particular troublesome co-worker to the side and engage them in a professional manner to find out the cause of their behavior, because you never know, it might be something you had done unintentionally.

“This first step is very important because it gives the offender the opportunity to make amends, it sets an expectation that the behavior will not be ignored, and it helps to maintain appropriate boundaries. If this does not resolve the issue, it may be necessary to escalate the issue within the hierarchy of management or HR,” said Henry.

And probably the most common sense, don’t take it out on a newbie just because it was done to you.

Give someone a genuine compliment, take the time to be kind to someone, invite the new employees out for coffee, share a snack; anything you could think of! While the negative actions of others can stay with us for a time, people are also most likely to remember the kindness you’ve shown them and reciprocate it to others.

“Be the nice person you want to see in the workplace—and world,” writes Laderer.


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