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How to Deal With Co-Workers Acting Like a Boss

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Bossy colleagues can make the work environment uncomfortable and trying. Such co-workers have the potential to throw you off your game if they impede your productivity or otherwise attempt to direct you away from your assigned work-related tasks. Address the problem as soon as it arises so their bossiness doesn't become pervasive.

Find out if the colleague is being directed by a superior to issue instruction or direct your work activity. If you’re part of a work group in which a co-worker is a point person on a project, she may have the authority to act in a boss-like capacity.

Ask your immediate supervisor to verify your specific job responsibilities and explain the internal chain of command. If the colleague who is bossing you around doesn't have authority to do so, you could veer inadvertently from work you are supposed to be doing.

Have a frank, private conversation with the offending colleague. Say, “It feels as though you’re trying to supervise me.” The colleague may recognize her error and apologize or defend her actions as trying to help or benefit the company. If she justifies her bossiness, calmly tell her that you appreciate her interest in your work but that you will take instruction only from your immediate supervisor.

Ignore the colleague. Office busybodies may take it upon themselves to break up water cooler discussions, reprimand co-workers for arriving late or make snide comments about productivity. If this person has no authority over you, dismiss the comments.

Thank the colleague for her input in a genuine way. Sometimes, bossy people just want to be heard. Other times, they might have good advice you can learn from.

Think about whether the bossy colleague is making valid points. If one or more colleagues takes it upon themselves to regularly reprimand you, warn you against certain behaviors or otherwise critique your work, a self-evaluation of your professional skills might be in order.

Use light humor to handle the situation. Sometimes, bossy people don’t realize they’re being overbearing. With a smile, ask, “Did you get promoted and not tell me?” This is a gentle way to get across the point that you notice the behavior, do not appreciate it but are willing to use a light touch to stop future bossy behavior.


Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.

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