Your Office Coach: Stand ground with domineering coworker

 

I teach at an international school in Thailand that employs
people from Europe, Asia and the Americas. I myself am from
India.
Q:

I teach at an international school in Thailand that employs people from Europe, Asia and the Americas. I myself am from India. Despite our cultural differences, everyone works well together except for one teacher from Ireland. “Owen” likes to create friction and is especially rude to the Asian staff members.

Although Owen is just a teacher, he tries to boss us around because he is in charge of an important project. He refuses to let us take concerns about this project to our director and says that all information must go through him, which is a lie. If anyone tries to bypass him, Owen gets angry and starts yelling.

Some good teachers have left because of Owen, yet no action is ever taken action against him. Our director dislikes conflict, so Owen takes advantage of his peaceful nature. Whenever Owen goes back to Ireland, we are like one big happy family. But as soon as he returns, the tension starts again. What can we do?

A:

Owen has no official management position, so there are only two ways for him to acquire power. The director can delegate authority to him or the staff can simply allow him to dominate. To address this issue, you must first clarify how much formal authority he actually has.

Since Owen can’t legitimately block your communication with management, gather some well-respected colleagues and meet with your director as a group. Explain that you’re confused about Owen’s leadership role and that his behavior is alienating the staff.

For example: “We know that Owen is the official leader of the Literacy Project. However, many people find him difficult to work with because he is insulting and overbearing. He has also told us that we can’t talk with you about project problems. We need to clearly understand Owen’s level of responsibility.”

After clarifying Owen’s role, ask the director to speak with him about his inappropriate behavior. This might solve the problem. But if Owen continues his domineering ways, then the staff needs to grow a collective spine.

When you comply with Owen’s demands and cower before his wrath, you are only reinforcing his aggressive work style. So if he becomes insulting, tell him to stop. If he exceeds his authority, remind him of his limits. If he starts to yell, ignore him and go about your business. The best way to neutralize a bully is to stop being a wimp.

Q:

In meetings, my supervisor touches her boss in front of everyone, and I don’t mean just a light tap on the arm. She will actually pick stuff out of his hair. This makes me uncomfortable, but he doesn’t stop her. Am I overreacting?

A:

Well, that’s just gross. But since these touchy-feely managers are your bosses, giving them feedback could be risky. Unless you have a way to convey your concerns anonymously, your best option may be to literally look the other way.

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