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Standing up to the office bully: Four tips

By Laura Morsch
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( -- In elementary school, the class bully left you with empty pockets. In the corporate world, the bully can cause even more damage -- ranging from severe emotional distress and sluggish work to stalled career progress. What's worse: Despite hoards of office initiatives and formal legislation, bullying is still creeping its way into the workplace.

Nancy Shenker, founder and principal of theONswitch, a marketing company specializing in start-ups, said she was once the victim of a bullying boss who loved to publicly berate her.

"I finally scheduled a private meeting with him and told him quite simply that his behavior was affecting my work performance, that I felt demoralized and embarrassed," she said. "I went so far as to tell him that if I really was so incompetent, we should call human resources into the meeting to work out a severance package or start writing me up," she said.

Her boss admitted he had no intention of firing her, and their relationship improved.

According to the Workplace Bullying Institute's Web site, bullying is more prevalent in today's workplaces than sexual harassment and racial discrimination. Approximately one-in-six U.S. workers have directly experienced destructive bullying in the last year.

Women are most often on the receiving end of the workplace abuse, according to the Workplace Bullying Institute. Although 58 percent of bullies are women, they make up 80 percent of targets. "Targethood hinges on two characteristics: a desire to cooperate and a nonconfrontive interpersonal style," the organization's Web site states.

Standing up to the bully may not be as difficult as it seems, said Kerry Patterson, co-author of the bestselling books "Crucial Conversations" and "Crucial Confrontations."

"If you know what to say and how to say it, you can speak up and keep the risk of retaliation to a minimum," he said. Patterson offered these tips to keep the office bully at bay:

1. Don't be rude in return: Replying with a snide remark means stooping to the bully's level, and the problem could escalate.

2. Assume the best: Instead of assuming your co-worker is intentionally being rude or inconsiderate, assume he is unaware of how his actions are affecting you. For example, when someone cuts in line in front of you at a movie theater, say something like: "I'm sorry, were you aware that we've been standing here in line?" Presuming innocence avoids an accusation and gets the conversation started off right.

3. Separate intentions from outcome: If your co-worker publicly calls you something offensive, before you respond in-kind, ask yourself: "Why would a decent, rational human being say something like that?" Then, approach your co-worker and say, "I'm sure you didn't intend this, but when you call me 'honey' it makes me uncomfortable."

4. Start with the facts: When you feel constantly offended by someone's behavior, it's easy to feel victimized or become convinced the bully is out to get you -- but this could lead to a nasty confrontation.

Before you confront the bully by talking about your feelings or making conclusions, stick to the facts: "Often in our team meetings, you demean my ideas. Today, you called my idea stupid." Then proceed to your conclusion, and ask your co-worker for feedback.

© Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority

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