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We asked Jane Miller, a career development and workplace expert, the author of the forthcoming book Sleep Your Way to the Top (and Other Myths About Business Success) and the CEO of Jane Knows, to share her insights into some of the most common types of workplace bullies.
"Although different bullies may have different motivations and different approaches, they have one thing in common: they use their bullying techniques to exert their power in the workplace," she explains.
1. The boss bully
Bullies thrive on power, so you would think that your boss would be unlikely to be a bully since he or she is already at the top – but the boss bully does exist.
"Amazingly, some bosses like to intimidate in order to keep their team on their toes and therefore never have the team question the boss's inherent power," explains Miller. "A key tactic of a boss bully is to throw you off your guard and see how you react."
This could involve anything from putting you on the spot in a meeting to undermining your work in front of others to making unnecessary negative comments toward you.
How to deal: The key to handling a boss bully is to not take his or her comments or behaviour personally. "It's not about you doing a bad job; instead, it's about him exerting his power," says Miller.
2. The gossip bully
There's always going to be workplace drama and water-cooler gossip (such as who might be dating who, who keeps helping themselves to other people's snacks etc.), but there are people who can and do take gossiping too far.
"This bully maintains her status by always seeming to have insider information and always being willing to share it with those she ‘trusts,'" says Miller. "Her power over you comes from the fear that if you are not one of her buddies, you will be someone she gossips about to others," she explains.
How to deal: Don't be intimidated by the gossip bully's ability to create drama in the workplace. "She may seem powerful at first, but know that this bully has no real influence on management," advises Miller.
3. The in-your-face bully
Miller compares this type of bully to the kind you might find in the schoolyard: "He is always the loudest and the most intimidating, and you will find yourself wanting to avoid him whenever you see him. He is typically very confrontational and doesn't discriminate who he bullies," she explains. "His usual technique will be to challenge you on something that is emotion versus fact based."
The bully's goal here is to upset or anger you, much like a schoolyard bully might make fun of someone's mother or make up a lie about someone and spread it around.
How to deal: This is another case where you can't take what the bully says or does personally, says Miller. "Don't encourage this behaviour by emotionally reacting to his challenge," she says. "Stick to the facts, don't take the bait and walk away."
4. The behind-your-back bully
This person can be one of the most dangerous bullies because you might not even realize at first that you're dealing with a bully.
"Because of their lack of personal confidence, this person will do whatever they can to make sure they marginalize you in the eyes of the boss and others," says Miller. The frustrating part is that they don't do it in front of you because they don't want to deal with a real confrontation.
"This bully's power lies in being a bit of a snitch for the boss with supposed ‘insider' information," she explains.
How to deal: The best way to deal with a bully who works in the shadows is to make sure you have a frequent and direct relationship with your boss.
"If your boss is familiar with your good work, he won't need to rely on this person to inform him about your progress," explains Miller. "This cuts the bully's power off immediately and they will move on to find another victim."
5. The inconsistent bully
If you know someone at work who acts like your best friend one day and then demeans you in front of your peers the next, you're likely dealing with what Miller refers to as the inconsistent bully.
"This guy is totally insecure and doesn't know who he should be in the organization, so he tries whatever tactic works for the situation," she explains. "If he can gain power by befriending you, he will do that. If he can gain power by belittling you in front of others, then he will try that."
How to deal: If this happens, your best bet is to shut this person off from the friend route and shut him down politely, but firmly, if he tries to demean you in front of others.
"Again, don't react emotionally, but instead always fall back on the facts," suggests Miller.
Bullies exist everywhere and their goal is ultimately always the same: to gain and hold onto power. "But you can diffuse their power by not allowing them to emotionally engage you in their game," says Miller.
Stand up for yourself, but don't engage, and don't take anything a bully says or does personally – in the workplace or anywhere else.
It's taxing dealing with bullies and power struggles at work. If you're having a difficult time dealing, check out some simple ways to manage stress in your life. If you're at work and need a quick fix, take a look at our one-minute stress busters.