Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant

How to manage childish boss behavior and thrive in your job

How to Tame Difficult, Childish Coworkers

Some Parental Techniques Can Save the Day

Jealousy. Unpredictable behavior. Glory hogs. Is this the latest fictional feature film? Or is it just a non-fictional day in the current workplace? You can prevail with some parental-style techniques...and patience.

Climbing the corporate ladder can be a challenge when one or more of your office folk act as if your success will thwart their own advancement. Some believe that knocking you out of the way or climbing over you is the only route to the top. These terrible office tyrants (a.k.a. TOTs, who can act like children in their Terrible Twos) can sometimes wreck havoc with your career as much - or more than - a bad boss.

Classic Red Flags

TOT coworkers who refuse to "play nice" in the office sandbox may:

  • Try bossing you around
  • Undermine your project behind your back
  • Take credit for your idea
  • Make themselves look good at your expense

Some bad behavior is expected in any workplace; but constantly conniving cohorts are not. Unless you stop them in their tracks, they can create an unexpected detour in your career. Not surprisingly, good old fashioned parenting techniques work like a charm with TOT coworkers of all kinds. Should you leave pacifiers on their desks as a hint? Probably not. Instead, when these office tyrants (be they peers or even subordinates) enter your work life, try these tips:

TOT Types

Sudden Commanders-in-Chief. You're in a meeting and make a helpful suggestion. At first, these coworkers seem genuinely thankful when they respond, "That's a great idea." But then they follow it up with a zinger as if they've suddenly been catapulted to boss status: "Why don't you take the lead on that?"

What just happened? By giving you a task inappropriately, a TOT is born - and the coworker has attempted to elevate his or her position. If you actually did comply, you would ultimately be suckered into working for everyone in the company!

TOT Tip

Sudden Commanders-in-Chief behave as if they exist in a universe created solely for their own career advancement. However, inappropriate or dictatorial actions can be stopped in their tracks. When these TOTs attempt such public or private maneuvers, you might, for example, respond with: "Well, Cindy, I'd be glad to advise someone on your staff on implementing that. Just ask them to stop by."

Bossy Brat. Closely related to Sudden Commanders in Chief is this garden variety of TOT, who can remind you of your old schoolyard days. They are more demonstrative about what they want you to do, without authority. Of course if anyone is acting like a bully, or unlawful in any way, you should report their actions to their supervisor or to Human Resources. But in many cases, you will find this bossiness to be irritating, stressful or unproductive, not necessarily lawsuit-worthy. And so your first effort should be to communicate, especially since this person has no technical authority over you.

TOT Tip

Clarify exactly what it is that the Bossy Brat is asking of you, in-person. If it's inappropriate or his approach is, explain why. Be a role model for the high road. If that doesn't work, respond in writing, and if necessary, copy your boss in the e-mail. If the behavior is persistent, and you must work with this person regularly, consider requesting that your boss be present for the discussion.

You must set limits with badly behaving office employees and let them know that what they did or said is not okay, and why. Most people in the workplace avoid confrontation wherever possible, which only causes problems to fester. Again, if this is an ongoing problem with someone you must interface with often, and the situation is egregious - and/or you've already tried unsuccessfully to communicate - you may be forced to go higher up the organizational chart, or to HR.

Blaming Backstabber. This coworker appears trustworthy, but in reality is saying unflattering things behind your back, or is undermining your work. He tries to get ahead by making you look bad. He's the type who forwards your e-mails to others in an indiscreet manner.

TOT Tip

Try understanding why the Blaming Backstabber has his knife out. By understanding the issue behind the action, you can better resolve the issue. Is he getting revenge for something? Are your mutual roles and responsibilities overlapping? Is there a misunderstanding through the grapevine or otherwise? Indicate a willingness to work together and sort things out.

Keep your tone professional and stick to the facts. If you weren't involved with a certain problem, indicate that you'll be happy to help resolve it. At the same time, be careful about what you share with this TOT in general. And be firm about your boundaries, using the utmost diplomacy.

Glory Hogs. These TOTs take the liberty of delegating their extra workload to you, but take the credit. They make themselves look virtually heroic and can blindside you. They may work as a partner with you, then later act as if you don't exist when it's time for kudos.

TOT Tip

Make sure you give project updates regularly to your supervisor, so that there's no question about your contributions. Stay in the loop and read company and project e-mails. When a Glory Hog TOT strikes, respond sooner versus later. Talk about the experience one-on-one so it doesn't happen again. Always start and end on a positive note with any negative TOT behavior. Sometimes Glory Hogs are insecure about their own position, so this may be an opportunity to reassure them. But remember: you're entitled to protect your own work and get the visibility you've earned.

Solo Flyers. These types of employees aren't there for you - because they're out for their own success, not the company's. They may have feelings of superiority because of their specialized expertise. Increasingly, however, they'll realize that they're trapped without friends in the organization, especially when they most need them.

TOT Tip

Inside these independent souls is usually someone clamoring for praise and recognition. However, they fail to realize that office life requires constant cooperation and teamwork. After all, employees are all building something together for the larger good.

You can show Solo Flyers how this approach benefits them. It will likely benefit you as well. Let them know of successful, team projects you handle real-time, so they see the win-win - up close and personally. Include them in any fun office activities to engage them. And give them highly visible and meaningful positive feedback whenever possible.

Corporate Compassion with a Parental Twist

You may have thought that parenting was left for the home. But some of these same techniques can be used in the workplace as you "tame" TOT coworkers. Human beings, whether two or 52, have the same core instincts, needs and fears no matter where they are. If you first try to understand workplace motives, you'll likely turn a demanding lion of a TOT coworker into a little lamb - making your job (and everyone else's) much more productive.

Lynn Taylor is a workplace expert specializing in boss and employee dynamics; she is the author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant

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