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

by Ashley Miller

Dealing with insults and humiliation is never easy, but it can be particularly challenging when it happens at work. Perhaps a co-worker makes fun of your ideas or doesn't take your contributions to team efforts seriously. Or maybe it's more personal -- perhaps your co-worker directly insults your intelligence or even puts down your appearance. People spend most of their waking hours at work -- you shouldn't have to suffer from put-downs or fear of being humiliated at work.

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, 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, says Valerie Cade, founder of the Bully Free at Work organization. Cade suggests using a variety of confrontation techniques. For example, try asking him direct questions when he insults you, such as "What makes you think that?" or asking him to be more specific. Calm confrontation may throw him off his game and cause him to cease his annoying and destructive behavior.

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. In some cases, you may wish to file a formal complaint or even take legal action if your employer fails to address the problem.

About the Author

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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