Gossiping, bullying, backstabbing—no, this isn’t high school. It’s the workplace. Half of workers say they're treated rudely at their job at least once a week, up from just a quarter in 1998, according to a recent article published in the Harvard Business Review.
Researchers polled 800 managers and employees in 17 industries. They found that being the victim of office rudeness led to decreased effort, quality of work, and time spent on the job. And even more shocking: 12 percent of people said that they left their jobs because of it.
“People don’t tend to report it, mainly out of a sense of hopelessness or fear of potential repercussions,” says study co-author Christine Porath, associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business.
But your work won’t be the only thing to suffer. These stressful situations can affect mental and physical health, too. Instead of ending this in an office brawl or your two-weeks’ notice, use these expert tips to shut it down:
The Situation: Your judgmental cubemate says “Oh, leaving early again today?” even though it’s long past time to head home.
The Fix: Respond in a way that ends the conversation and shows her that you’re totally unfazed.
“They want a reaction, but you don’t want to give it to them,” says Marie McIntyre, author of Secrets to Winning at Office Politics. Keep your response polite and abrupt—like, “Yes, I’m all finished up here. Good night!” It ends the discussion and shows that you’re not letting her concerns affect you.
The Situation: Your colleague suddenly acts like you don’t exist.
The Fix: Ask twice if they’re upset with you, then move on. “It’s a passive-aggressive response. They want to let you know they’re mad, but they’re not comfortable talking about it,” McIntyre says.
Her solution: Give them two chances to tell you what’s up, then pretend to believe that they’re “fine.” You can even say without a hint of sarcasm, “Great, I’m so happy to hear that!” Like a child throwing a tantrum, they’ll eventually quit when they don’t get what they want.
The Situation: A coworker is badmouthing you behind your back.
The Fix: Confront her, but don’t start an interrogation. It’s tempting to immediately storm into someone’s office demanding an apology, but you run the risk of causing even more drama.
Instead, wait until you catch them alone and tell them what you heard, without being accusatory. “Don’t make assumptions, state the facts, and use ‘I’ statements, like ‘I heard you may have said that…,’” McIntyre advises. Even if they deny it, you’re letting them know that the gossip is getting back to you and that you’re not having it.
The Situation: Your coworker thinks office life is The Hunger Games, and she’ll do anything to get an edge.
The Fix: Create some distance between the two of you. If someone has set her sights on your job, you don’t want to give her an advantage. That might mean not telling her about a new project you’re working on, or not swapping stories at happy hour. “If someone has an agenda, you can still be a pleasant colleague while not letting them gain an advantage over you,” McIntyre says.
The Situation: Your boss is trying to make your life miserable, and quitting isn’t an option.
The Fix: Focus on your work, but pull back in other areas. “Hold off on attending optional social functions and limit your work to normal office hours,” Porath recommends. And most importantly, don’t let the rudeness follow you home. “Leave your laptop at the office, and don’t be plugged in 24/7,” Porath says.
You’ll reduce stress from a toxic boss and show them that you’re there for one reason: to work your butt off. If that doesn’t impress them, at least you’ve bulked up your resume.