It’s disturbing and annoying when a co-worker expresses false statements about you.

It’s frustrating when your immediate supervisor is dismissive of you.

It’s demoralizing when someone tries to bully or intimidate you.

What can you do? I’ve seen many tactics applied to these situations.  The most common reaction is to suffer in silence. That doesn’t solve the problem – it enables it.

We spend a considerable amount of time at work. Do we really want to spend that much of our lives being miserable?

People who intentionally try to undermine others will continue to behave that way and will keep looking for those they consider to be ‘easy targets’. We cannot control what motivates another person to be mean-spirited.  I believe strongly in the expression, “We teach others how to treat us.”   What we can control is what we choose to accept in terms of others’ behaviour towards us.

Most people are afraid of losing their jobs if they speak up. Like any other relationship, if we are afraid to express ourselves, we are telling ourselves that we don’t matter and that is an unhealthy place to be. We lose our self-esteem, we withdraw, and we are disengaged at work.

What does your employer see?  A disengaged employee who is not interested in contributing to the organization. They don’t consider you for special projects and career advancement. Your immediate supervisor is likely giving you a lower rating and little or no salary increase or bonus on your annual performance review.

It doesn’t seem fair because we feel like a victim to someone else’s behaviour. The good news is that we have an opportunity to change our employer’s perception of us.

Some people believe it is best just to quit their job and find another company where they will have a better experience. Unfortunately, mean-spirited people who hurt others to advance themselves exist in almost every workplace.  Why should you suffer because of it? It’s time to stand up for yourself and stop being prey to these less than desirable co-workers or supervisors.

A fantastic resource to help understand these types of people an how to respond is Susan Forward’s book Emotional Blackmail: When the People in Your Life Use Fear, Obligation, and Guilt to Manipulate You.

Use facts, not drama, to advocate for yourself. 

I have had examples of individuals who did not like me or the successes I had, They spread rumours about me that were not true. At first, I was horrified that that just happened and couldn’t believe it. As I gained more experience, I came to realize that this type of behaviour happens to many people in organizations on a far too frequent basis.

In each case, when it happened to me, I applied different responses:

  • I ignored it – but it kept happening. I never used that approach again.
  • I spoke with them privately and defended my position – their behaviour escalated. I never used that approach again.
  • In a group email, I would ‘reply to all’ and thank the sender for sharing their perspective and politely let them know that perhaps they were missing some pertinent information – and then provide the facts. This sometimes stopped them, or they would create new false messages.
  • In all cases, I invited the other party to meet and let them know that I felt there was something not working well between us and asked if they sensed the same. I would then endeavor to understand their position and figured out with them how to address any unresolved issues. In many cases, this approach worked well and together we discovered that we had different perspectives and information.
  • In extreme cases, trying to resolve the matter together didn’t work, they continued to be problematic and showed no interest in working together. I would approach them and ask them to clarify what they meant when they ‘wrote that email’ or ‘made that comment’ about me in a meeting. I assertively suggested that they did not have all the pertinent information, perhaps they should research them before making statements like that and that I have advised those present what the accurate information is. That would usually significantly minimize or stop their behaviour. At times I would need to discuss the matter with the supervisor and advise them of the steps I had already taken to deal with the individual directly.
  • If someone was being a bully or tried to intimidate me, I approached them and asked for clarity on what they just did or said. They tried to backtrack and change their message. I made it very clear that I did not appreciate or tolerate that type of behaviour toward me. I always provided a consequence if they chose to continue it. After trying to work with them first; and their behaviour continued, I made sure the illegal actions were reported to their manager and Human Resources.

I had to advocate for myself and do so in a professional and clear manner. I found that in most cases, the behaviour stopped. In a few cases, the individual was reprimanded by the manager – especially if they violated labour legislation or company policy.

Unfortunately, this happens very often in organizations. Most of it can be stopped or significantly reduced. We do not have to accept it. If the organization does not react to bullying or harassment in the workplace, you can always remind them of the labour legislation. You can file a formal complaint with your local labour board or, in extreme cases, leave the company when they don’t take steps to prevent the unacceptable and illegal behaviour.