Learn and Lead

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Dealing with Office Bully

I recently received an email seeking my advice on how to deal with an office bully.

Hi Manish,

It has been a long time since I interacted with you. The project that I am on is beginning to gain momentum and it seems it's going to be a rugged and enjoyable ride throughout the year.

Today I write seeking your guidance. A guy in the office who has been in the company for not more than 5 or 6 months has developed a tendency somehow for irritating me.

He does this by -

a. Interrupting me when I am saying something.

b. Calling me with funny names in front of other people and in meetings and trainings.

c. Interrupting me when I am talking to a colleague about some project related work.

d. Suddenly slapping my back when I am involved in work calling me with a different name and then walking away.

I have once retorted back and also confronted him to no avail.

He has a known problem with behavior. During an office trip, he got drunk and started making fun of everyone and started cracking vulgar jokes in front of the ladies.

I am a little vexed about how to approach this problem. I don't want to be a part of a formal complaint because it could be seen as manipulation. I am on contract and I don't want to be tainted on account of a jerk. But I have been dealing with his crap everyday for some months now. This affects my work many times because I feel insulted and humiliated.

I have informally discussed this with a colleague who suggested that I should talk to the senior PM but then the project is just gearing up, it needs people and I run the risk of being labeled as someone who is bringing up problems.

Kindly guide me.

Here’s how I responded.

It is unfortunate to hear your plight. I am quite sure there is no one way to deal with what you are going through. You’ll need to figure out for yourself what works best for you. Given the limited knowledge I have of the situation and the persons involved, the options that come to mind are:

  • Ignore him, environment will take care of him. If you say that he has a known problem with behavior, he will probably get marginalized in time anyway. If he doesn’t improve his behavior, your boss will ease him out of the team and in all likelihood out the company. Unless of course, this person is really good at what he does, like a real genius. In which, I guess you should learn to live with his banter and try and learn from him. Hard to do I know, but geniuses are known to come with their idiosyncrasies.
  • Ignore him, don’t feed his behavior. He is probably doing all that to gain attention. If you don’t give him the attention he is trying to get, perhaps he will stop doing what he is doing.
  • Be friends with him. After all, he is probably doing all that just to get attention. It is possible he doesn’t have many friends. Take some time to actually know him. Perhaps his behavior will change if he finds you friendly. Perhaps you won’t find him so irritating if you get to know him better.
  • Confront him, one on one. Talk to him one on one. Be open and try to understand his situation. Then explain that you are uncomfortable with his behavior.
  • Confront him, take him on. Start calling him names, start paying him back with the same coin. Okay, perhaps not the best idea. May lead to more adversaries and therefore avoidable.
  • Talk to your boss, or even HR perhaps. It need not be a formal complaint. Just as you are asking me for advice, you could ask your boss for advice for handling this situation. It’s a good way of letting your boss know of things without complaining.

I believe that if you approach the situation with the openness of understanding the other person better, you will usually find a solution that will work for you. I know it is a lot of words, but I hope you are able to derive something out of that I have written. All the best.

I am not sure if this is all that he could do. What would you suggest?


Anonymous said...

I like the idea of letting the environment take care of him. If it's possible make sure that enough people - especially people further up the food chain who will disapprove strongly - if that's possibly. If his behavior is truly detrimental to your or others ability to work, then document the occurances so you can relate or at least explain them to the right people. Personally I don't understand why this individual wasn't put on report because of both the drunken conduct and vulgar behavior. Good luck.

Taruna Goel said...

Interesting situation - but not so uncommon. I think it is a good idea to have a conversation with HR/Boss. Documenting instances of inappropriate behaviour can put the conversation with his boss into a better perspective. Data always helps! Perhaps they are hearing similar stories from other employees since his poor conduct is already known. On another note, here's a post on how to manage difficult people - http://liquidlearn.com/?p=130
Might be useful!

Learning Collage- By Sonia Sant said...

With the limited information about the situation, I have the following to say:
1. At work place, this is a clear case of work place harrasment.
2. Probably, this organization does not make their employees aware of what such gestures can be taken as. That they may disturb someonelse, while the does may feel they are being friendly.

I am training to be a life and work coach. I can offer to coach this individual for free [12 sessions]. In the meantime, I'd leave with some questions:
1. What will happen if you let this person know that his gestures are disturbing you?
2. I hear you say, that u r on contract, do feel this is in some way a hurdle to solving this issue?
3. If yes, why do you feel that way.
You can write to me at learningcollage@gmail.com
Sonia Sant

eBossWatch said...

My advice:
1. Find a new job ASAP.
2. Report the bully boss to eBossWatch (www.ebosswatch.com) so that others can avoid working with the jerk.

Anonymous said...

I agree that there cannot be one possible solution that will apply for this problem. You must look at a mix of the ways suggested:
1. Do discuss the problem with your boss; however, seek for advice and do not complaint.
2. Talk to the person concerned (in a friendly manner) about your discomfort. This might be that person's normal behavior and you might not be a specific target. The person may not behave that ways with you if you express your discomfort frankly.
3. In a worst case scenario, keep the data handy if you may have to talk to the HR or escalate. Also, keep in mind that the data should not be subjective.

I strongly feel that leaving the job and running away from this problem may not be the right decision if you are happy with the work. Rather handle this situation as you may face this situation anywhere you go.

All the best!! :)

chitra said...

I am a little confused. Is this guy in your team? Do you have to work with him?
If this guy is someone you have to take along, say a team member, you need to be careful. Also, assuming that his behaviour is known to all, people must be watching how you tackle him. So do your best. You seem to be doing that.
If he is just another irritating colleague, why don't you ask him to take a walk?

Neeraj Agarwal (on Buzz) said...

WoW! A whole range of options! What more can one ask for?
I could probably add a couple of questions for the person facing the problem to ask himself/herself to help choose from amongst the many options:
1. Do I feel smaller or incompetent not being able to respond wittily to his interruptions? This evaluation is important as our feelings/belief of ourselves feed the other's behaviour towards us.
2. Can I spot any goodness or quality in the other person? Each person has a value they contribute or can bring to the table -- sometimes its just hard to see. The moment we can understand the value - the equation changes.

Anonymous said...

Great comments.

I have some things to add. The person may not always feel smaller or incompetent in not being able to respond wittily in such situations. Sometimes people do not want to waste their time in responding to vulgar, silly interruptions. Sometimes people have other things on their minds. Sometimes they are ready to forget and forgive if the bullying behaviour is stopped.

All people are shades of gray. No one is perfect but goodness does not give you a license to humiliate others.

People generally retort back and successfully control non-bullying interruptions either through words or body language. Bullying is different than that. Bullying is deliberate. A bully does not want to understand. A bully does not want friendship or even respect. A person who wants respect will respect others. A bully gets his or her pleasure from seeing people irritated by him or her.

Mono said...

I have been looking for a comprehensive blog post on this topic since last week. Thank you for this one.

I have experienced corporate bullying about three years ago and I have to say that it often happens in a working environment where competition is tough.

This is an issue that the HR must not neglect since it could affect people's performance and deliverables. They can also use cost effective training solutions to help address this issue in a more thorough manner.

Unknown said...

Excellent post. Nobody needs to deal with an office bully. Our data center infrastructure management business develops software to help data center managers better run their operations. We have certain policies in place that protects our workplace from any type of bullying. We have never had any issues.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my employers and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my employers.

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