Face off: how to beat the office bully

Every workplace has them, but it’s hard to deal with bullies at work because more often than not, they are in positions of power.

It may be the boss, or someone who has been there for a long time and is just part of the system.

My mate, consultant Rowan Manahan says bullying has become worse in a tough economy because everyone is under more pressure.

What makes it even more complicated is that the issue of bullying is a rather murky area. What might be considered normal behaviour for some is considered bullying by others.

If you are any doubt over what constitutes bullying behaviour, the CareerBuilder site identifies some common examples: your comments are dismissed or not acknowledged, you are falsely accused of mistakes you didn’t make, you are forced to do work that isn’t your job, there are double standards for you and other workers, you are given looks that should be in a scabbard, people gossip about you, your boss runs you down in front of other workers, belittling comments are made about you at meetings and people steal credit for your work.

According to a Career Builder survey, women reported a higher incidence of being treated unfairly at the office - 34 per cent of women said they had felt bullied in the workplace compared to 22 percent of men. And age also plays a part with 29 percent of workers aged 55 or older and 29 percent of workers aged 24 or younger, reporting they had been bullied on the job.

For most, telling people in HR is no solution. They are unlikely to help because HR units are usually pretty political and won't rock the boat. Besides, HR tends not to be that high up the chain of command in many organisations.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, HR hardly ever fixes the problem, and only manages it correctly about 3 per cent of the time. I haven’t heard of any case where HR actually resolved the problem.

Laurie Tarkan at BNet recommends you take things into your own hands, first by identifying what you’re experiencing and giving it a name. Emotional bullying, harassment, abuse - it’s all important because that tells you it’s not your fault. She also recommends getting some help. It could include everything from talking to a counsellor to seeking advice from a doctor to make sure you are not suffering symptoms of stress like hypertension.

Research your legal options. That includes reading the company’s internal policies, particularly on areas like harassment, just to see if there are any violations you can report. She recommends documenting what economic impact the bully has had on the company, citing what it has cost the company in terms of lost productivity and absenteeism. If you report the bully, report the person to the highest level in the company, which immediately eliminates HR.

Start a job search and be prepared to leave if management sides with the bully.

Psychologist Michelle Callahan has a number of suggestions that include: not getting emotional about the situation, building a support network, seeking some help, and most importantly, not expecting you’ll be able to change the bully. In most cases they simply won’t accept that they have a problem.

The Human Resources Degree blog has several good ideas. One includes confronting the bully based on the assumption that most bullies deep down are cowards and can’t handle confrontation. The other thing it suggests is to ignore them because when they see they’re not getting under your skin, they won’t derive as much pleasure from the bullying.

Cy Wakeman in Fast Company has a completely left of field approach. He recommends getting inside the bully’s head instead of wasting time and energy resisting them. This involves making some connection but not too much - just enough to neutralise them.

“To remain in a peaceful place and not be rattled by another co-worker, regardless of their assumed motive, is to assure them that you care about them, but you are unable to participate in the conversation or grant their request,’’ Wakeman says.

“Repeat yourself often and diffuse the manipulative co-worker. So stop wasting time hovering in the corner and stand up for yourself. You’ll feel better, and the office bully may turn into a co-worker you'll want on your team.”

Have you had to deal with a bully and if so, how did you fare?