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How to deal with workplace bullies

Whether on Zoom or in-person, there is always a coworker or two who get under our skin. Tessa West is an associate professor of psychology at New York University, and she joins host Krys Boyd to discuss the different personality types that tend to make work miserable and the methods of social psychology you can employ to neutralize them. Her book is called “Jerks at Work: Toxic Coworkers and What to Do About Them.

This episode originally aired on March 29, 2022

Bonus Blog: What to do when you have a difficult “bulldozer” colleague 

When you’ve worked several jobs, chances are you have come across a colleague who interrupts others and takes over conversations. This is the kind of workplace bully that Professor Tessa West calls a “bulldozer.” 

Bulldozers are more than just Chatty Cathys who takes over a meeting. They create competitive work environments that are under their control. 

“The kind of more dangerous ones we deal with at work are the ones who go behind the scenes to pull levers of power, power to get what they want,” West explains. “For example, if you work with someone who has a certain person that they want to hire for a job that no one else is on board with, they’ll do things like go to the boss and complain that there wasn’t a clear process.” 

When this happens, bulldozers disrupt processes and make it feel impossible for your team to get work done. So, when a bulldozer starts taking over a meeting, why can’t we simply mute them on our Zoom call? 

“It’s a bad strategy for dealing with them because it feels good in the moment… but it signals to them that they can keep on doing it,” says West. “I think what we end up happening in this era of Zoom, as we disengage, when we encounter a bulldozer, we don’t actually deal with the problem. And so, they keep doing this over and over again.” 

There are ways to break the cycle. Prof. West suggests picking your battles wisely when dealing with a colleague who exhibits bulldozer habits. You can even redirect them away from disrupting meetings and processes by giving them specific jobs to do. 

You might ask your bulldozing colleague if they could be in charge of keeping notes during a meeting or make it their mission to circle back to colleagues who get interrupted during meetings. 

Sometimes, bulldozers just want to have the spotlight on them for a moment. Carving out a specific time for them to voice their opinions can help keep their interruptions to a minimum. 

“Cut out a certain window of time for them to bulldoze the last 10 minutes or something like that, that way we can keep it kind of contained and then it just makes our lives much easier,” West suggests.

Click the play button above to listen to our full conversation with Prof. Tessa West.

— Cristin Espinosa