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Etiquette at Work

Be aware that workplace bully may have protector

By Peter Post
December 12, 2010

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Q: My friend works in a legal office as an administrative assistant and has much experience and excellent reviews. Occasionally, she must give coverage to an attorney. This woman “goes off’’ frequently — at every real or imagined “wrong’’ that this assistant does. She “scolds’’ in a loud, belittling, and sarcastic way. Several people in the office have over the years left, supposedly because of this woman’s rude behavior. My friend gets incredibly stressed over this, but because she is nearing retirement age, worries that she will be the one reprimanded. She has been told to deal with it by other workers.

What can be done?

Anonymous

A: Unfortunately, because your friend is close to retirement and doesn’t want to take an action that will possibly jeopardize her job, her best option may be to deal with it. Here’s why: In American business, the bully, who is statistically likely to be a person of a higher status, is also likely to have a protector, a person or people of equal or higher status.

Understandably, your friend may be hesitant to report the incidents. Other possible courses of action include:

■Talking to the bully. Don’t have the conversation when the bullying is occurring and focus on discovering the underlying issue and how to get past it.

■ Persuading the other workers to bring the issue up as a group with management. There is strength in numbers and, short of leaving her job, this approach may have the best chance of success.

■Trying to identify and talk to a person in management who is not a protector of the bully. Remember, more often than not, the bully is the person who is protected.

If she chooses to address the issue in these ways, she needs to do so with her eyes wide open that the result may not be good for her. Only she can decide whether she is willing to risk her job to expose the issue, and that even in risking her job, the bully may not be thwarted.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com.