Defence strategy against office bullies

Sathya Saran gives you tips to identify and deal with the typical troublemakers at office


Every office or work environment, however casual, has them. They come in many avatars but they all create the same situations… disruptive, disturbing, and distracting. Making those who are serious about getting a job done well, wonder if they are on the right track after all.

In my 15 years as an editor, I have had my fair share of tough ones. And, after initial hand-wringing, learnt to make the most of it.

The trick is to know that there is no one simple solution to handling toughies. Each case is different, and needs handling in its own particular way. Some need kid gloves, others boxing gloves. I am told boxing gloves are the norm in corporate scenarios, but it is good to remember that if you have to work together, and tame the toughies, tantrums are not as effective as a quiet show of strength. The iron fist must be hidden in velvet.

Let me share a few case studies.

The Resenter

This is common when you rise in the ranks and supercede someone who has more years in the job than you, but has not enough spark to merit the place you occupy. Resentment is natural and it can be a canker that can spread. Resentful colleagues watch for a single slip and carry the news to those who matter; they chip away at your authority by getting junior colleagues to believe you are not as efficient as you are said to be.

After trying to cow down the resenter unsuccessfully, I tried another tack. Giving her the responsibility of handling a section, I let her have her rein. Her ego was satisfied, and when she found herself a bit out of her depth, as I knew she would, she had to come to me for help. Of course I gave it graciously. And the problem disappeared. We were never friends, but all the carping stopped. Big relief!

The Trouble Maker

This one makes trouble for trouble’s sake. It helps pass the time, gets the spotlight on her, and keeps the place buzzing. She is likely to be very insidious, not ever coming into the open, but working underground. The fact that she is also quite good at her job, makes her more difficult to spot.

But someone who plays one against the other, will one day be revealed and that is what happened with
this one.

Of course, a chat helps to understand the cause for the behaviour. If it is because she feels under appreciated, that can be set right. If, however, she is a troublemaker because her genes are programmed that way, it is better to let her go. No point in letting her get away with muddying the waters; then no one can drink from it.

The Drama Queen

Every office has one. Something goes wrong all the time, spouses run away, maids don’t turn up, child is a vagrant… sob stories pour out of this sort easier than water from a tap. Eyes are seldom dry, and a host of well wishers are usually there to commiserate or enjoy the sheer drama of her life. Women are not the only drama queens, men too belong to this group, only their dramas are played out differently, and are aimed at the fairer sex, with whom they invariably and serially flirt, fall in love or despair over.

The drama queen may not get into your hair, unless you are the kind who lets her do so, by starting with lending her a shoulder to cry on; but she can seriously spoil the work ethos. Deadlines, projects, everything goes haywire as she holds the floor from coffee time to lunch time and beyond. Pulling her up does not help, it only adds grist to her drama mill and adds to the chaos. Also, you run the risk of being painted as an unfeeling ‘enemy’ boss. One way to set the place straight is to segregate her. Give her an out of office assignment, or a project she needs to handle and complete in a shorter time than usually required. Put her under real pressure, and the taps will run dry. Less stress all around, more smiles.

The Manipulator

Sweet talker, this one would come armed with goodies in her handbag, which got freely distributed. She loves to buy favour, and uses material gifts to buy friendships. Then jobs would get passed on, others covering up for missing hours, and for lies told about half done jobs and missed deadlines.

Not at all trustworthy, beware of giving her responsibility. I suffered seriously when my manipulator vanished one day without a trace, leaving promissory notes and unpaid credit card bills which acted as magnets for phone calls from the banks, half written stories, undelivered letters and a bunch of sweet wrappers in her desk drawer. Moral of the story, beware of anything that comes sugar coated.

The Overreacher

She, or he, has one aim. To get your chair. Does not matter if they are worthy or not, does not matter if the job you do is really the job they want to do… the overreaching ambition is a compulsion. And to get what they want this type will back bite, wheedle, bribe, cringe and work their sly way up.

There is nothing much you can do about this type. If you are sure you are good, and do your job well, it should be good enough to keep her at bay. If you find her breath on your neck despite everything and that she does have blessings from above, well, there are other jobs in the market. Go find one, it cannot but be better than this one.

Of course there are many other types of toughies. Hopefully, you won’t meet any of them. Or any of these, for that matter.

This was first published in the December 2012 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Sathya Saran
Sathya Saran is a renowned journalist. She is best known for her role as Editor of Femina and DNA Me. She is also an author, a columnist and an adjunct professor at NIFT, Mumbai.


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