Unfortunately, bullying doesn’t always end in high school. Over the course of your career, you’re bound to encounter some workplace conflicts, whether they’re between you and an office frenemy or an outright nemesis. While some love-hate workplace relationships aren’t the worst thing in the world, full-on enemies are a whole different story.
Mean girl (or guy) behavior in the office can include anything from taking credit for your work, making you the center of office gossip and excluding you from work-related social activities to just going out of their way to make it difficult for you to do your job. No matter what the specifics of the situation are, it’s crucial to take the high road and deal with the problem in a responsible way, rather than retaliating on their level. While some stress can actually be good for your career, too much can have a negative impact on your productivity and sanity. We tapped Vicki Salemi, career expert for Monster, to find out the five best tactics for dealing with your own personal Regina George.
1. Don’t take it personally. One of the most important things to realize is that it’s probably not about you. Look at your own behavior, Vicki says. Did you really do anything to deserve being treated this way? If you did, make sure you address it, but most likely you didn’t. The other person may have deep-rooted, unresolved issues with something completely unrelated, and they’re taking it out on you. Maybe they’re jealous or miserable in their personal life or didn’t get that big promotion at work. Whatever the reason is, you’re unfortunately the target of their bitterness, and you shouldn’t have to be!
2. Establish boundaries each time it happens. Workplace bullying can be just like it was in school: As soon as a bully knows they can get away with something, they’ll likely continue. This means it’s important to establish strong boundaries from the start. Vicki suggests making it clear if you feel certain behavior is not tolerable (AKA call them out!) — be firm, yet professional. If possible, try to say something in the moment. “You can actually stop the person in their tracks and ask them to repeat what they just said, and use that moment to have a constructive conversation,” she says.
3. Try to resolve the issue with neutral help. Whether the cause of your colleague’s behavior is rooted in professional or personal issues, it’s important to make an attempt to reach a resolution and hopefully spur them to change their actions toward you. Vicki notes, “If the behavior is a recurring problem, it’s in your best interest to have a mediator like your boss or HR (or both) in attendance. If your mean colleague seems to irrationally have it out for you, it could be frustrating to attempt to speak your mind if someone else isn’t there to make sure any perspective other than theirs is heard.”
Involving HR also means the whole process will be well-documented, in case at some point you want to file an official complaint (we know that can be a hard leap to take, but bullying is NOT okay). HR’s role differs depending on company culture, but in some cases there may be someone who is actually in charge of handling these types of interpersonal situations. “Above all,” says Vicki, “having your boss and an HR professional on board will help you feel like you’re not in this alone.”
4. Stay productive and focus on your career. At the end of the day, it’s likely that you’ll still have to deal with your mean coworker, even after involving HR. Unless they’ve done something really awful, they’re probably going to walk away with some kind of warning (UGH). In the meantime, it’s important to stay productive and prioritize yourself and your success at work over this stressful situation. Vicki suggests focusing on small tasks you can complete towards a larger project goal and rewarding yourself with a short break or latte from your fave coffee shop after you finish each one. Also, prioritize your own career development by eliciting positive feedback from clients, colleagues and vendors to show your boss during your next performance review, or as talking points for your next job interview.
5. Know there’s a way out. Navigating this kind of situation really isn’t fun, and you should give yourself credit for trying, but Vicki emphasizes that you should know that you DON’T have to take it. “When you’ve tried dealing with an issue multiple times and nothing has changed, you should definitely start searching for a new job — one where you don’t feel like you’re constantly watching your back,” she says. “And just think, when employers ask you the stereotypical ‘tell me about how you dealt with a difficult situation at work,’ you’ll have an answer at the ready!”
Have you been bullied at work? How did you deal with it? Tell us @BritandCo.
(Photo via Getty)