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How to Handle the Colleague Who Physically Bullies You

You're walking down the hallway at work when a colleague suddenly walks up from behind, elbows you out of the way, and walks on without even looking back.

Whether you're an administrative assistant, a high-powered partner in a firm, a petite person, or the Prime Minister of Montenegro, you've probably dealt with a fellow professional who gets physical in the workplace by grabbing you, moving you, prodding you, and otherwise ignoring your boundaries and invading your personal space.

For clarity, let's stick with physical interactions that are not (1) sexual in nature; or (2) physical altercations involving punching, kicking or (egad!) body slamming. These are separate topics involving inappropriate touch.

No, I'm talking about the co-worker who will bat your arm away to get the first piece of birthday cake, step in front of you to displace you from the copier, block your way in the hallway, use their physical size to muscle ahead of you in line, move your chair to the side (while you're still sitting in it), let an office door shut in your face, and other petty, off-putting workplace offenses too numerous to list here (but please feel free to share them in the comments section).

It's quietly frustrating and upsetting every time it happens, too. Why are these colleagues so physically pushy on the job?

Pushing Back Against Physical Bullying
In sum, they do it because they think they can. When push comes to shove, you need solutions for handling this workplace power play! Here are five tips for dealing with colleagues who physically bully you:

1. Tell this colleague to stop it. You'll need to step up every time this work peer tramples on your personal space. Say, "Please don't grab my arm," and say it assertively. In no uncertain terms, this is not okay with you.

2. Call this colleague on it. Voicing your disapproval as a question -- e.g., "Why did you push me out of the way like that?" -- is another, slightly gentler tactic you might employ. You can ask it in a light, humorous way if that's your style. Of course, you already know the answer (this colleague didn't want to wait to use the copier), but by verbalizing it you are calling attention to it.

3. Minimize contact with this colleague. Give these colleagues a wide berth; don't put yourself in situations where you have to deal with them. If you can avoid interacting with them in person, do so. It's not worth it. Stay away from them as much as possible. These are the colleagues electronic communication is made for!

4. Stand up for your work peers. Stand up for other colleagues, too. Refer to Tips #1 and #2. You are the brave soul willing to say something so your fellow colleagues will finally have the courage to speak up. There is strength in numbers.

5. Tell your manager. Unfortunately, the physically-pushy colleague can be a bully by nature who probably isn't going to stop pushing his or her weight around the workplace. Tell your manager what is going on, share concrete examples of unwanted physical interaction, and say you need it to stop, stat. A good manager will know what to do, as well as what not dealing with this problem could potentially mean for the company. Read this.

Above all, remember that it's most likely a petty power play. It's a way for this work peer to appear, and to feel, powerful. But you don't need to feel powerless in this situation. Good luck.


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