In today’s stressful workplace, you are expected to perform perfectly every time. Company numbers must surpass last quarter’s numbers, the market share must improve, and work is expected to be done faster. Furthermore, the advances in technology mean you are reachable 24/7, giving you no rest. This boatload of stress and pressure can badly affect you and co-workers. Consequently, these people might snap at you occasionally, because the pressure gets the better of them in that moment. You need to understand why a co-worker snaps, realize that they, like you, are also probably overworked. But if their behavior is inappropriate, you need to address it quickly by defending yourself. Four tips follow:

  1. Deal with the inappropriate behavior. If you don’t address it, an uncomfortable pattern will arise going forward. Let your co-worker know what they said was wrong, that it offended you. Try to address the person at that moment if possible. But if you can’t speak up in the middle of the confrontation, that’s all right. If you need time to consider what to say, take the time, and then talk to the offender.
  2. Express what you want going forward. Many people feel uncomfortable confronting a person who offended them. But confrontation means there will be a winner and a loser, and this isn’t what you are seeking. You’re aiming for a win-win, where a resolution can be made so both parties will be happy. Say what you believe and express the treatment you want going forward. If you want them to stop interrupting you in meetings, say so; if you want them not to take credit for your work, express that.
  3.  Thank your co-worker. Thank the person for taking time to have the discussion with you. Their speaking with you means they respect you and value your feelings. Thanks also provides closure, indicating that both sides can now put the incident behind them.
  4. Move on. Sometimes a problem will be fixed but sometimes it won’t.  Perhaps the co-worker doesn’t think they’ve done anything wrong. Maybe they don’t care about what’s important to you. This can happen. Even if the issue wasn’t resolved, the main thing is you spoke up. Now, you should move on, because past issues will only hurt your future performance. Believe that most problems will be fixed and don’t think about the ones that aren’t.

However, sometimes snappiness isn’t accidental. Some people at work might like to “play games” with you, attack you with nasty gossip, or physically assault you. These people may be gunning for your job or just plain dislike you. How do you defend yourself against this?

Some of the dirty tricks at work can include:

  1. Creative magpie: overstating involvement in projects and ideas of others or obviously stealing them while covering up the originator’s contribution.
  2. Growth opportunity: motivating somebody to work on an assignment or task that person would sensibly refuse by pretending it’s a growth opportunity.
  3. Email to the gods: using an email to shame or coerce another person. The email is often from a co-worker throwing out accusations, which are also sent to directors, bosses, suppliers, customers, etc. The accusations might be true or false.

How do you deal with this without coming off as whiny, defensive, or paranoid? Here are some strategies:

  1. Be curious and ask questions but not in an accusing way. Make it light and keep asking until you get the answers you need.
  2. Control your emotions. Yes, you might be angry, but if you lose your temper, you will find it harder to cope with the situation.
  3. Work on figuring out what they are doing. There has to be a reason: how do they benefit if you fall for the trick? If you figure out their reasons, you might be able to deflect their next tactic.
  4. Get creative. Once you ask questions and get answers, work on coming up with a solution so you both will win.
  5. Maintain your own integrity. Don’t let yourself be tempted to play tricks back, because the trickster will likely anticipate it.
  6. Keep detailed records of your work. One of the most successful ways to counter an accusation on your professionalism is to keep documentation to prove yourself. You will need to keep important files, notes of meetings and discussions with others, letters of praise from others, important emails, etc.
  7. Welcome the spotlight. A lot of people shy away from spotlight, and while modesty is a commendable attribute, you have to make others see the value of your work. It’s vital that your superiors notice the great work you do. Give regular updates to let the boss know you are up on work. Invite your boss to meetings so he or she can see your ability.
  8. Avoid the office grapevine. The best way to defend yourself is to remain professional. If a co-worker badmouths your work or character, you will just help the co-worker’s reason by throwing back accusations and gossip.
  9. Stay focused. Occasionally, you might want to simply get to your office, complete your work, and ignore what is occurring around you. But disengaging is a bad idea. While you should naturally not want to be in the rumor mill, you have to be aware of how co-workers see you and what they say.
  10. Have an honest discussion with your boss. If a co-worker attacks you, you need to sit down with your boss and calmly explain your situation. This conversation is where your work documentation will be useful if your co-worker is attacking your professionalism and work, because you will be able to prove to your boss otherwise.
  11. Use your company’s resources. The HR department is an important resource for any worker in a company. If you aren’t able to fix the problem by talking to your boss, schedule a meeting with a senior-level HR professional and explain your problem. Be sure to take along your supporting information. Even if the HR department can’t fix the issue, the meeting will be on record.

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