Dealing with Office Bully

I recently received an email seeking my advice on how to deal with an office bully.

Hi Manish,

It has been a long time since I interacted with you. The project that I am on is beginning to gain momentum and it seems it’s going to be a rugged and enjoyable ride throughout the year.

Today I write seeking your guidance. A guy in the office who has been in the company for not more than 5 or 6 months has developed a tendency somehow for irritating me.

He does this by –

a. Interrupting me when I am saying something.

b. Calling me with funny names in front of other people and in meetings and trainings.

c. Interrupting me when I am talking to a colleague about some project related work.

d. Suddenly slapping my back when I am involved in work calling me with a different name and then walking away.

I have once retorted back and also confronted him to no avail.

He has a known problem with behavior. During an office trip, he got drunk and started making fun of everyone and started cracking vulgar jokes in front of the ladies.

I am a little vexed about how to approach this problem. I don’t want to be a part of a formal complaint because it could be seen as manipulation. I am on contract and I don’t want to be tainted on account of a jerk. But I have been dealing with his crap everyday for some months now. This affects my work many times because I feel insulted and humiliated.

I have informally discussed this with a colleague who suggested that I should talk to the senior PM but then the project is just gearing up, it needs people and I run the risk of being labeled as someone who is bringing up problems.

Kindly guide me.

Here’s how I responded.

It is unfortunate to hear your plight. I am quite sure there is no one way to deal with what you are going through. You’ll need to figure out for yourself what works best for you. Given the limited knowledge I have of the situation and the persons involved, the options that come to mind are:

  • Ignore him, environment will take care of him. If you say that he has a known problem with behavior, he will probably get marginalized in time anyway. If he doesn’t improve his behavior, your boss will ease him out of the team and in all likelihood out the company. Unless of course, this person is really good at what he does, like a real genius. In which, I guess you should learn to live with his banter and try and learn from him. Hard to do I know, but geniuses are known to come with their idiosyncrasies.
  • Ignore him, don’t feed his behavior. He is probably doing all that to gain attention. If you don’t give him the attention he is trying to get, perhaps he will stop doing what he is doing.
  • Be friends with him. After all, he is probably doing all that just to get attention. It is possible he doesn’t have many friends. Take some time to actually know him. Perhaps his behavior will change if he finds you friendly. Perhaps you won’t find him so irritating if you get to know him better.
  • Confront him, one on one. Talk to him one on one. Be open and try to understand his situation. Then explain that you are uncomfortable with his behavior.
  • Confront him, take him on. Start calling him names, start paying him back with the same coin. Okay, perhaps not the best idea. May lead to more adversaries and therefore avoidable.
  • Talk to your boss, or even HR perhaps. It need not be a formal complaint. Just as you are asking me for advice, you could ask your boss for advice for handling this situation. It’s a good way of letting your boss know of things without complaining.

I believe that if you approach the situation with the openness of understanding the other person better, you will usually find a solution that will work for you. I know it is a lot of words, but I hope you are able to derive something out of that I have written. All the best.

I am not sure if this is all that he could do. What would you suggest?