Dealing with Bossy Co-Workers

By Affiliate Bev Rosen, owner of Work Wonders

You have read article after article about how to deal with a difficult boss or how to deal with difficult people. How about dealing with Bossy Co-workers? How do you know you have a bossy co-worker? Let’s see the criteria. He is domineering, gives himself an “invisible promotion” and acts as if he’s your boss. He’s constantly telling you what to do and giving you feedback on how you can improve. In short, he drives you crazy with his bossiness.

Most of us have had to work with an overly controlling colleague in the past. You might even be working with one right now! Bossy or domineering co-workers not only create additional stress and tension in the workplace, but they also lower morale, reduce productivity and increase employee turnover. How can you defuse this situation and assert yourself with over-dominant co-workers?

When others exhibit bossy behavior, it often brings out the worst in us. No one likes to be controlled, and when the person doing it isn’t our boss, we may feel stress, anger, frustration, annoyance and even fear. But it’s important to realize that we have a choice in how we react to other people’s behavior. A bossy co-worker only angers us because we allow him to do so.

Here are some useful strategies for overbearing colleagues.

  1. Clarify the Other Person’s Power. Is she truly being bossy, or does she have the right, as part of her role, to tell you what to do. Every organization has different forms of power. They may support “expert power” and feel that she has the right to tell you what to do because she knows more about a particular topic or has been there in your role a long time.
  2. Try to Understand Their Behavior. Colleagues might be domineering because they want to see work done well, and this may make them feel that they have to micromanage the work around them. Others might want to feel important, respected and act in a dominant way to hide their fear or insecurity. Try to use empathy. If you suspect that your colleague’s bossiness is a coping behavior, than a little compassion on your part could go a long way in stopping the behavior.
  3. Stand Your Ground. You need to confront the problem assertively, by standing your ground and setting boundaries. Make sure the other person knows that their behavior is upsetting you. For example, “Susan, I appreciate your desire to make sure all of the work gets done. However, I can’t work on projects unless our boss gives me the go-ahead. Do you want me to talk to her about these assignments? Often a conversation like this will serve as a reality check for your colleague, by reminding her that she isn’t the boss and that your real boss might not appreciate her interference.
  4. Consult Your Real Boss. If you speak to your colleague with no improved results, it may be worth going to your boss for advice. If you explain the situation by demonstrating how your colleague’s bossiness is affecting your behavior, you might inspire your boss to take action. But not all bosses can deal with confrontation themselves. Ultimately, you may be better able to be assertive, stand your ground, and deal with boundary problems as well as conflict resolution.
  5. Manage Your Emotions. Working with bossy co-workers can be a real challenge if they refuse to change their behavior. Be aware of how you’re feeling and manage your emotions so they don’t affect your work. Such techniques as positive thinking, keeping a stress diary, meditation, exercise or any other stress reduction healthy habit you have may be needed. If your organization has an Employee Assistance Program which provides free clinical confidential counseling on work-related problems, accessing this benefit could be most helpful.

I hope that the joy of your job or the positive feeling about working with your other-coworkers, your boss, or your organization, can help you overcome dealing with a bossy colleague.

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