6 tips for dealing with the office bully

bullying

When you're the target of a bully, you'll need to take steps to deal with this situation while maintaining your poise and professionalism.

It'd be great if everyone at the office got along, but that's not reality. One toxic employee, such as an office bully, can bring down workplace morale and hinder productivity. And intimidation is not uncommon: More than a quarter (27 percent) of U.S. adults surveyed by the Workplace Bullying Institute are currently or have been victims of abusive conduct at work, and 21 percent have witnessed it. Furthermore, in 48 percent of the bullying cases, the perpetrator was one or more higher-ranking managers.

There's no quick or easy way to deal with an office bully. Still, when you're the target, you'll need to take steps to deal with this situation while maintaining your poise and professionalism. Here are six suggestions:

1. Practice avoidance
Your first course of action should be defensive. Minimize opportunities for conflict by changing your routine to avoid meeting the office bully in the elevator, restroom or hallway. When forced to work together or attend a group meeting, be professional but distant.

2. There's strength in numbers
Some workplaces are like the plains of Africa. An office bully preys on the weak loner, so victims should stick together to show strength. Finding allies and others in the same situation can help you bear the situation and even discourage the predator from attacking.

3. Speak up
Explain to the office bully how the negative treatment makes you feel, and ask him or her to stop. In the best-case scenario, the perpetrator has not been aware of his or her actions, and a frank and firm confrontation may be the catalyst that causes the bully to reconsider his or her behavior. This strategy works even better if all the victims band together and present a united front.

4. Write it down
Document every negative interaction between you and the office bully. Include dates, times, locations and other relevant details. Keep these notes in a safe, private place, and use them if you need to show this pattern of abuse to a manager or the human resources department.

5. Escalate the situation wisely
The rank of the office bully will determine to whom you escalate the situation. If it's a peer, then have a one-on-one with your boss. If it's your supervisor, then you should speak with your HR rep.

However, know whom you're up against. Bullies are not always the social misfits portrayed in movies and comic strips. Research published in the Journal of Managerial Psychology found that many bullies at work have astute political skills and high job performance and that they "often leverage the fear and intimidation of their behavior to achieve their personal goals and improve their job performance." In other words, if you encounter a bully who is a well-regarded star employee, you may have a more difficult go of it.

6. Preserve your mental health
The stress of being bullied day after day can cause real physical symptoms, such as anxiety attacks and heart disease. Your first priority is to take care of yourself. Work trauma is real, and no job is worth risking your health and sanity. In extreme cases, you should remove yourself from the harmful situation: Take time off, and carefully consider your next steps, including a potential job change.

Don't suffer in silence. You can and should do something about the office bully. But while beating a bully at his or her own game is the happy ending of many a Hollywood movie, the best tack in real life is work with your supervisor or HR representative.

Robert Half is the world's first and largest specialized staffing firm with a global network of more than 400 staffing and consulting locations worldwide. For more information about our professional services, visit roberthalf.com. For additional career advice, read our blog at blog.roberthalf.com or follow us on social media at roberthalf.com/follow-us.