If you’re lucky, the last bully you encountered hit you up for your lunch money—but not everyone leaves their bullies back in high school. Some people work with them.
But these bullies have moved on to bigger and more nefarious schemes. “An office bully,” says millennial career expert Jill Jacinto, is someone who “consistently puts others down and lives for people’s failures. They use fear to get what they want.”
Even worse, though? Office bullies’ intimidation tactics aren’t always overt. So, here are six signs you’re dealing with an office bully—and what you can do about it, too.
1. They cling to you like glue.
Hear that buzzing? It’s the office bully, calling you for the tenth time that day. Jacinto says that when an office bully needs your help. “they will incessantly message you to make sure they have your attention. Email, IM, call, text, carrier pigeon—anything to pressure you to respond to them.” Why? “Office bullies thrive by others doing their work for them,” Jacinto explains, adding she once worked with a client who had to formally block an office bully from an internal messaging system to get her to stop.
2. They act like your boss.
According to career coach Hallie Crawford, “office bullies want ultimate control.” So, while they may seem nice in the beginning, it’s usually in an effort to gain trust and control. “They may later start to push a certain personal agenda or tell others what they can and can’t do in a work project,” Crawford warns. They may also begin to act like a boss, says Jacinto. “Office bullies tend to have a self-righteous attitude and they are not afraid to demonstrate their fictitious superiority,” Jacinto warns. “They see no problem with bossing their peers around—even if they are on the same level.”
3. When you need help, they’re nowhere to be found.
Need help from an office bully? Good luck, says Jacinto. “Forget asking this person,” she says. “They’ll refuse to assist you at all costs—even if you just helped them with their project. They’ll suddenly disappear from IM, email, or say they are too busy to help.” Worse, Jacinto warns, an office bully might tell you that you should be able to do you own job without anyone’s help—loud enough for the whole office to hear it.
4. They don’t like anything you do.
When it comes to work, we all have to be prepared for a little criticism. But, “while there is nothing wrong with constructive criticism now and then,” Crawford says, “an office bully will constantly criticize everything and everyone. They will try to crush confidence and damage reputations to make others look bad or inferior.”
5. They need constant attention.
Much like children, office bullies want—or even need—to be the center of attention at the office. “They will be nice while they are getting the amount of attention they want,” Crawford says, but once they don’t, “they’ll use what they know against you.”
6. They think they’re hot stuff.
Just like a high school bully who thinks he’s hot stuff, an office bully thinks he’s very cool too. “They think too highly of themselves,” Crawford describes. “They think that they are better than everyone else, even if they aren’t.” Because they see themselves as the best in the business, “they might try to sabotage others who do their jobs better [than them],” Crawford warns. “Since this type of bully thinks their way is the best way, they are against trying new ways of doing things or listening to others.”
If you think you’re dealing with an office bully, first, “do your best to avoid giving the office bully a reaction,” instructs Crawford. That’s because “if you avoid reacting after several attempts, they may determine that you aren’t worth trying to control.”
Also, try to remember “at the crux of it, this person is bullying you because they are unhappy with their life,” Jacinto explains. “It was nothing to do with you. Bullies don’t stop at one person—so know that other people have been there before.”
If the bullying continues, “keep a record of each time it happens,” Crawford says. Then, “find out if the company you work for has a process for dealing with office bullies by going to HR confidentially and asking them for assistance if the bullying is bad enough to warrant that. If not, it may be necessary to get a superior involved. Find someone who you trust who will help you to get the office bully to back down.”