How to Deal With Verbal Abuse in the Workplace

You may laugh at the ridiculous antics of world’s “best” boss Michael Scott, or his titular sidekick Dwight Shrute, on NBC’s “The Office,” but real life workplace abusers are no laughing matter. Whether its coworkers harassing you in the name of “fun”, or an employer choosing to belittle your efforts rather than applaud your successes, the bottom line is it hurts. But, what can you do to handle the situations with these people?

The first thing to know is the difference between verbal abuse, and discrimination. Any sort of negative remark or behavior based on race, age, gender, etc. is considered harassment, and needs to be reported as such immediately. There are, of course, laws that protect employees against this sort of toxic work environment.

Verbal abuse, however, is a little trickier to diagnose. It can be anything from belittling remarks, to constant sarcasm, to just antagonizing fellow employees. And, while it can be hurtful and annoying and make it very difficult to work, there isn’t necessarily anything that can be done about it from a legal standpoint. But, when one begins to ask themselves why they are constantly being picked on, or whether or not they are good enough for whatever reason, it is time to do something.

The first thing you can do is take into consideration anything you might be doing to give the abuser a reason to abuse you. That is never to say that you are to blame for being mistreated, but rather that there is perhaps something about you that attracts the belittler. Do you get more upset than others do? Does the person perceive you as an easy victim because you never stand up for yourself? Do you fight fire with fire? All of these are possibilities that require some introspection into the situation.

Once you have attempted to come up with a better reason why this person might be picking on you and have gained a better grasp of the situation, it is time to speak to the person. And, this can be scary. The prospect of standing up to a bully about their behavior is always terrifying. Even worse, that bully could be your employer. So, obviously, a bit of delicacy in the situation is crucial.

One way to approach the conversation is from a productivity perspective. Try pointing out that the constant ridicule is effecting your ability to help the team, and thereby effecting everyone. Most likely, the abuser is in it to succeed and may be surprised to see this connection. Just make sure you keep calm, and attempt to keep the conversation firm but not threatening.

Another important thing to keep in mind is to set some boundaries between you and the abuser. Tell the person that you aren’t going to put up with it anymore, and see what happens. More likely than not, they will discover there isn’t any gratification in messing with someone who doesn’t get upset, and will move on, or shape up. The key is, start standing up for yourself, and you may make your work environment just a little more bearable.


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