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How to Deal With Insults & Humiliation From a Co-Worker

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Dealing with insults and humiliation is never easy, but it can be particularly challenging when it happens at work. Whether the insults are work-related or personal, the best way to deal with a bullying co-worker is to remain calm, confront the problem and involve management if the behavior continues. Remaining professional and following the appropriate steps will resolve the problem more quickly and ensure you have a more pleasant work environment.

Step Back

It's often tempting to respond in the heat of the moment when dealing with humiliation or insults. But acting out of rage or anger isn't the answer to your co-worker's immature and belittling behavior. Responding in kind brings you down to his level and doesn't really accomplish anything in the end. According to psychiatrist Neel Burton, in an article for "Psychology Today," responding out of anger is the weakest response because it shows your co-worker that you accept his insults, he causes you pain and shows that there is some truth in what he is saying. Step back, take a deep breath and physically remove yourself from the situation before you say something you may regret.

Change Your Viewpoint

Almost everyone has experienced or witnessed taunts and threats from a bully during school days. The difference between you and your co-worker is that he lives his life as though the workplace is a replacement for the schoolyard. View and treat your co-worker like a schoolyard bully and you'll be better equipped to deal with his insults and humiliations. According to Dr. Burton, if you don't think he is worthy of consideration, there's no real reason to take offense. Imagine that your co-worker is an annoying fly or barking dog, and you may even start to see humor in the situation.

Confront the Bully

Despite your best efforts, it's not always easy to ignore a co-worker who persists in insulting and humiliating you. In such cases, it may be appropriate to directly confront your co-worker. According to a 2008 study by the Workplace Bullying Institute, the longer that bullying goes on, the more likely that the behavior will become entrenched in the culture of the organization, and the more likely that your co-workers will align with the bully and allow their belittling behavior to continue. If asking your co-worker to stop insulting you doesn't work, consultant Baron Christopher Hanson recommends bringing together a diverse group of professionals from the organization to discuss the bullying behavior with the bully, the victim, and other witnesses and enablers, to get to the bottom of the problem. In many cases, simply exposing the bullying behavior will end it, but if that doesn't work, confrontation allows your leaders to develop a course of action.

Talk to Your Supervisor

When you're actively focused on work and not on playing your co-worker's game, you show him that his insults and humiliations aren't producing the desired effect. But if his behavior persists, you may want to address the issue with your supervisor, a human resource manager or your union representative, says an article on the health website NHS Choices. You don't want to come across as a tattletale, but you also don't have to put up with a hostile work environment.

Filing a Formal Complaint

If all else fails, you can file a formal complaint with your company's HR department. If they fail to address the issue, you can speak with an attorney. If the bullying is illegal, that is, it's harassment based on protected characteristics such as race, religion, sex, age, disability or national origin, then you cannot take legal action until you have filed a formal complaint with your employer and the appropriate government agency. In addition, in cases of illegal harassment, you only have a limited amount of time to file your lawsuit. Regardless of whether the bullying is legal or not, keep detailed notes about the bullying incidents, including the date, time, what was said, and the names of any witnesses, to support your claims against your co-worker.


Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.

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