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Beat the office bitch

Date

The Big Idea

Big ideas are what successful business is all about. Each week, Alexandra Cain takes a look at anything and everything to help your business shoot the lights out.

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Sometimes the office bitch is a bloke...

Sometimes the office bitch is a bloke...

I don’t know why it is, but every office has someone, usually a woman but sometimes a man, who’s just plain nasty. It’s usually because he or she feels threatened and the only way this person knows how to deal with their emotions is by being a pain to everyone around them. Often, the individual has been working in the business for many years and for some reason the managers let him or her get away with this behaviour.

A number of years ago I worked in an office where one of the female staff took delight in making me feel as unwelcome as possible. My arrival at the business had intimidated her and she would exclude me from office events and belittle me in front of other staff and managers.

I was shocked and hurt by her behaviour. I considered confronting her about what amounted to bullying. But then I worked out there was a much smarter way to go about dealing with her. As they say, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. So here are my top tips for dealing with the office cow.

1. Don’t fight fire with fire

Responding to verbal barbs validates them, so if someone is sniping at you, never engage in crossfire or demean yourself by throwing word grenades in their direction. If you do that, you’re just lowering yourself to their standards.

2. Kill her with kindness

    Always maintain a friendly demeanour instead of adopting a defensive stance when someone is beastly to you. Not fake friendly, real friendly. If you’re always courteous to someone in the face of rudeness, it can be hard for the other party to continue their attacks. In my experience, if you’re consistently nice to someone, you can turn them into an ally after a while. 

    3. Raise it with management

    If the nice assault doesn’t work, it might be an idea to directly address the issue. It’s best to do this with the support of your manager or HR. That way you have a witness to everything that happens. First, talk to your manager about what’s been happening, listing specific incidences in which the other party has behaved unreasonably. You can’t go to your manager with a general complaint. You have to be able to cite real examples.

    Then, book a meeting with all involved. This should be a chance for you to tell the other party how you feel, again citing real examples. She should also be given a chance to air her feelings. This process usually takes the agro out of the situation, forces your opponent to consider the effect her behaviour has had on you and prevents her from acting this way again. 

    4. Don’t take it to heart

    When someone is being awful to you and you have done nothing to warrant it, it can play havoc with your self-esteem. You start to wonder if you’ve done something to deserve their ire. But it’s pointless doing that unless you have wronged this person in some way. Hold your head high, maintain your strength of character and carry on as normal.

    5. Look at your own behaviour

    We’ve all got insecurities, and at some stage most of us have probably been a bitch – at the office, school, with friends or at home. Have a look at why you behaved like that. I remember freezing out a colleague when I was in my early years at work. Back then I didn’t understand that doing that is bullying, although I do now. The reason I did it was because I was projecting blame for something I actually did wrong onto her.

    My actions gave me insights into the behaviour of bitches I have encountered through my career. They’re probably ashamed of themselves for some reason and are taking it out on you. You don’t have to put up with this behaviour, but at least you know where it’s coming from.

    So next time someone’s a cow to you, don’t retaliate and don’t internalise it. Take steps to turn the situation around.

    How have you dealt with the bitch in your office?

    96 comments so far

    • My response to the suggestions is yes...and no. Office bullies [which is what they are] don't like people to stand up for themselves. As a manager, if placed in that situation you need to stand up for yourself and your team against by being assertive, not aggressive and certainly trying some of the recommended strategies. In reality though, management in some companies is so weak that they tend to avoid the situation or confrontation, and the bully/bitch constantly gets away with poor behavior and it's laughed off as his/her 'style'. It's bad for overall morale and organisation culture. After trying a number of strategies and seeing that management was not going to act, I accepted a job offer from another company and couldn't be happier. Staff turnover at the old company continues to grow, the bully retains his position, and management remains weak and wonder why their performance remain below market trend.

      Commenter
      dexxter
      Location
      melbourne
      Date and time
      July 18, 2014, 7:22AM
      • We had an office manager like that. The organisation we worked for owned a franchise for a well known personnel agency. The team had been together for a couple of years when the original manager moved on and a much younger woman was hired and put in place.
        She had a real problem with anyone older than her.
        Soon after our first boss left, a couple of key staff resigned and the new manager replaced them with younger women, one of whom, although nice, wasn't up to the challenge. Another of us originals left soon after, also to be replaced with a much younger woman.
        Our manager then decided to change my job description to a junior role, in the high hopes I would move on - which I did. The last remaining member of the team and I resigned independently on the same day.
        The new manager had indeed been placed in a position beyond her competence. She eventually left, but not before leaving a mess for someone else to clean up.

        Commenter
        working girl
        Date and time
        July 19, 2014, 3:56AM
    • Many of these bullies are, unfortunately bullet-proof. I worked in a museum in Canberra for several years and one middle manager in particular was an atrocious bully. Her approach was to "punch down" and "suck up". She terrified and intimidated the staff and management did nothing about it. Of the 11 staff in her area 10 were brought to tears at one time or another by this woman's behaviour. I complained informally to a senior manager in the department and he replied that her behaviour was well known but there was nothing that could be done because the secretary liked her.

      Commenter
      Dilbert
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      July 18, 2014, 8:09AM
      • Unless these people are your boss why would you care about what they think or how you are being excluded from their crappy existences? Boo hoo....aren't we all adults and seriously, unless they are affecting the work output (which will become evident very quickly), they aren't even worth oxygen....Be an early adopter of the attitude I wish I had early in my career which is thinking "f*ck you" and moving on... Be business like, apolitical, do your job and stop caring about what these wastes of space think or do....You don't have to like everyone you work with just treat them in a neutral, unemotional state with respect.....

        Commenter
        Victim
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        July 18, 2014, 8:09AM
        • @Victim: "Unless these people are your boss why would you care about what they think or how you are being excluded from their crappy existences?"

          Firstly and most importantly, there is the issue of actually caring about other people. I hate seeing people get bullied and I'd like to think I'd do something about it, even if I wasn't the target.

          Secondly, there are plenty of ways in which people other than one's supervisor can make one's life hell. In an organisation with which I was acquainted (but in which, fortunately, I never had to work), the villain was the Executive Assistant to the CEO. She'd been hired because she was the CEO's mate and she had a licence to be poisonous to everyone she felt like. Several junior people left because of the way she treated them.

          Eventually, after a number of years, she had turned everyone against her but the CEO. Then the two of them fell out. She left and put in a bullying claim. When the evidence of what she had been doing was presented, the claim was tossed out.

          Commenter
          Greg Platt
          Location
          Brunswick
          Date and time
          July 18, 2014, 9:39PM
        • Yes Greg +1. The fact is they are behaving illegally and it needs to be acted upon.

          Commenter
          Jon
          Location
          Reality
          Date and time
          July 19, 2014, 5:30PM
      • REALLY object to your all too common lumping of women with this behaviour. Your personal experience may have been that this behaviour was engaged in by a woman, but for many many people the behaviour is that of a man. Why is the gender of the person engaging in the offending behaviour even relevant in the context of the remainder of the article?

        Commenter
        Sarah
        Date and time
        July 18, 2014, 8:20AM
        • Agreed! Perhaps the answer is that people are more likely to label certain behaviours as "bitchy" if the perpetrator is a woman than if they're a man?

          Commenter
          Claire
          Date and time
          July 18, 2014, 10:19AM
        • Just what I was going to say. Why couldn't the writer have used the non-gender-specific term 'bully' instead?

          Commenter
          JEM
          Location
          Melb
          Date and time
          July 18, 2014, 11:29AM
        • Claire, did you read the article or just fire off the comment? The author clearly states "every office has someone..." and "...worked in an office where one of the female staff...".
          There's also multiple references to the perpetrator being a man or a woman. If the author has a personal experience to recount, they why not recount it as they experienced it, and not have to conform to your PC agenda? The author is not vilifying all women and certainly not even most women. The author is not presenting a scientific paper that requires objective evidence to support a claim - just let someone tell their own story

          Commenter
          Immal
          Location
          Melbourne
          Date and time
          July 18, 2014, 12:39PM

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