How to Deal With a Bully Coworker

Over the past year, I've been working in an office on a small team, where it was only me and one other assistant as a pair. We joined the team around the same time, and being as this was my first corporate job, my older coworker with more experience tried to "show me the ropes". Unfortunately, this quickly evolved into them adopting a superiority complex and a deep need to control all aspects of the office, including myself. Rather than working together to become a strong team, this coworker bullied me both on and offline, in front of colleagues and in private group chats. 

While dealing with this particular individual and trying to navigate how to deal with them, I've googled phrases like "What to do when a co-worker crosses your boundaries", "My coworker acts like my boss" and "Coworker puts me down to get ahead". 

As this person is now departing the company, I finally feel solid enough to speak on this and make a blog post for those who may be going through a similar situation, and present tips for how I dealt with this kind of person for an entire year. If you're dealing with someone who is belittling you in the workplace and making it a toxic work environment, just know you are not alone and you have MANY options for how to proceed and protect yourself.

1. If you're working from home dealing with a cyberbully -- avoid chatting and be short. 

One might think that bullying would be less severe when working remotely, but unfortunately in my experience, I've found that when people are in front of a keyboard, they type things they would never actually say to someone's face. Another word for this kind of person is a "keyboard warrior". If you're suffering from a keyboard warrior coworker who's constantly IMing you, emailing you, or harassing you via text, I have a tip for how you can avoid unsavory interactions while maintaining professionalism.  

I recommend that, rather than engaging with this bully and keeping communication open,  you stop reacting. If you provide them the reaction and attention they so desperately want, they will continue to hound you for more attention and validation. Keep your replies short and sweet, polite but brief. If they are messaging you reminding you to "get to work" on a project you're more than capable of handling alone, simply reply with a one-word response. I would keep it to a simple "Thanks" or "Okay", anything just to not engage with this person. 

2. Document everything

If this person is continuously making you feel disrespected and uncomfortable, start documenting your interactions with them in any way possible. Write notes down on a notepad, take screenshots of texts or chats, create an email folder, etc. By building this file, you keep a detailed record for HR if you feel the need to go forward and report this individual. Not only that, but it allows you to step back post-incident and evaluate the interaction with your coworker to see if it was a problematic moment or something that might have been miscommunicated.

3. Rationalize WHY this person is acting this way

Understand that someone who is bullying or targeting you is someone who is deeply insecure and unhappy in their own life. They need to feel power and value by asserting their authority over someone else. If you are someone who is doing well, seemingly thriving, and has many opportunities, they may feel threatened by your success on a subconscious level and thus target you. This is not any fault of your own, but of theirs. 

4. Try to speak with them in a non-confrontational manner

If you feel comfortable addressing the bully, present some non-confrontational points that address their behavior without sounding accusatory. For example, if your coworker keeps reminding you about basic tasks: "I've noticed that you remind me about meetings that we are both cc'ed on, is there something you worry I might be missing?" Calling them out in this way presents the issue with concern that you may be missing something when in reality it's a subtle nudge that this person is over-inquiring. This can help them understand that the way that they've been speaking or presenting something may not have been the best way to communicate it to you. 

5. Make your supervisor aware something is going on

If speaking with the coworker one on one will cause excessive stress or possible harm, I recommend going straight to your boss with your documentation, and let them know how this individual is affecting your work. While they are causing you personal and professional distress, emphasize how this affects your role in the company and the work you produce. Keep a level head and ask them for advice on how to proceed. If the harassment is severe enough, this could be a legal issue for your company and your boss deserves to know.