Dealing with personal attacks at work is not always easy. Any workplace already has enough tensions with compensation packages, reviews, promotions, delayed projects, and funding problems. However, when personal attacks and needless criticisms are thrown into the mix, it can become an extremely stressful environment to work in.
Hostile work environments will make you less productive and more defensive. In addition, it will change your dynamics with your coworkers, leading to trust issues with your colleagues. However, learning to tackle personal attacks is also an important life skill. You need to know how and when to respond to certain negative comments so that you can keep on working confidently.
At times, personal attacks based on race, gender, color, religion, or physical disability can become extreme that you might consider changing jobs. However, why would you want to quit a well-paying, otherwise satisfactory job because of other people?
You have as much a right to work there as they do, and learning how to stand up for yourself and deal with the issues will only make you a more confident person in the long run.
Recognizing Personal Attacks
The first thing to do while dealing with personal attacks at work is to recognize the attacks. Your boss might be trying to criticize you constructively, but it might be coming out all wrong. You need to filter out criticisms based on your work and what is directed to you with the motive to undermine your self-worth.
When this becomes more vicious, then you might be facing personal attacks. For example, while an oversight on your colleague’s part was met with a warning, you could be facing suspension for something similar. When personal attacks happen, you will get the feeling that you have been singled out. In addition, any comments made that do not show you how to improve your work but are made to hurt you are also personal attacks.
On the other hand, it is equally true that you also have to be in your best frame of mind to understand personal attacks. For example, if you are disturbed for some reason, then even constructive criticism could be misconstrued as personal attacks. Hence, before you react, you must consider every aspect before concluding that you have been personally attacked at work.
Ways in Which you can Handle Personal Attacks at Work
Any untoward situation can arise at your workplace and, at extreme length, become bitter to work. There may be instances where you may have to handle the situation on your own in both diplomatic ways and straightforward. You should have your presence of mind to handle those situations. Here we list out the ways in which you can tackle/avoid personal attacks at the workplace in a defensive way.
#1. Stay Composed and Calm
It is very challenging to stay calm and composed under pressure. Still, you have to master it while dealing with personal attacks. Losing your calm will also make you lose your confidence, and you are your biggest strength in the workplace. When you are calm, you also tend to listen more. When the person attacking you makes any comment, please give them your complete attention so that you can be clear about their intentions.
#2. Ask Questions
This might seem like a challenge at first, but asking questions gives you the best opportunity to understand where the attack is coming from. Ask them questions like what they want you to do better so that the criticism stops.
Most negative criticisms and personal attacks come from people who have no idea how to deal with the problem themselves and try to throw the onus on another person. Unfortunately, throwing the ball in their court and asking them to provide you with concrete answers will often make them curtail their hurtful remarks. They won’t be able to justify why they are saying and what they are saying.
#3. Develop a Perspective
It would be best if you tried to develop a point of view and understand why the attacker is targeting you. Sometimes, the personal attacks are nothing but silent requests for help, as they get too overwhelmed to manage everything on their own. They try to make sure that everything is going well, and when they become unhappy with something, their manner of expressing displeasure comes out negatively.
Suppose you manage to understand the underlying concern plaguing the individual. You might understand the reason behind the personal attacks and gain a perspective that they are not perhaps directed towards you. In fact, for them, you are merely a vessel on whom they wish to relieve their frustration.
#4. Admitting Errors
Sometimes personal attacks might result from some error that you might have committed. Many consider apologizing as a sign of weakness when in fact, it could be your greatest show of strength. When you apologize for making a mistake, it also shows that you are willing to improve upon yourself and fix whatever went wrong.
If your attacker sees this, they might become more open to carrying on a more meaningful discussion than simply criticizing you. But, again, this would be a more productive approach that will work for the benefit of the entire organization.
#5. Enough is Enough!
Even after gaining a perspective, if you feel that for whatever reason, the only reason that someone has made you a target for personal attack is malice, then there would come a point where you have to put your foot down. You have to tell the person to stop, and you need to communicate that firmly.
It would be best if you also made it clear that you would not be entertaining any more remarks or entering into any conversation or correspondence with them until the attacks stop. However, it is also crucial to make them understand that you are not rejecting the person but rather the malicious personal attacks of the person.
It can be difficult to get this point across as the attacker is sometimes too caught up in being hurtful and is not in a position to rationally think about anything beyond expressing their grievances. When you reject this behavior and stop communicating with them, they are often forced to reevaluate their position.
#6. Look for Allies
For every personal attack you receive, you are sure to get a lot of support from your other colleagues as well. Some attacks can be outright demeaning, and they could directly impact how you think or feel. It will also require a great deal of confidence and a sense of self-worth to stand your ground, and having some allies at the workplace at this point would be an added advantage.
Not only would you have a support system, but you would also have some witnesses on your side if the attacks do not stop and you have to file a formal complaint with HR. Moreover, the support of your coworkers would establish not only solidarity but also presents a neutral point of view.
How to Make Your Case Stronger Against Personal Attacks at Work?
Suppose you see that there has been no reduction in the intensity or frequency of attacks even after repeated requests, and you feel that the matter has to go to HR. In that case, it is time you think of making your case stronger. Here is how you can do that.
#1. Do Not Overreact
While responding to personal attacks, it is crucial that you do not overreact. If there is an investigation, you will be scrutinized as well, and you do not want anything you might have said to be used against you. Therefore, no matter what the personal attacker says, refrain from hurling insults or indulging in any activity that might cast a shadow on the authenticity of your complaint.
#2. Documenting the Attacks
Your workplace will demand a lot of your attention, and dealing with personal attacks in the midst of it all can be stressful. Trying to remember everything at this point will only make things more difficult. Hence, try documenting the facts as they occur. When and first did the attacks start? Who saw the remarks being made?
Do you think it has affected your work and ultimately affects your promotion? Has your reputation in the workplace been damaged in any way? Again, the facts and details would help if matters go out of hand and you have to ultimately file a lawsuit for defamation of character.
#3. Plan your Response
While answering personal attacks, plan your responses. First, try to look for a pattern in the attacks. For example, is your superior or colleague making remarks on any aspect? Are the attacks directed to personal aspects like sexual orientation, race, or religion? Even if you ignore the comments for the first couple of times, if they keep coming back, you need to take action and make it formal, rather than making impromptu remarks that might only instigate the attacker even further.
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When you want to take a stand against personal attacks directed towards you; you need to make sure that it does not jeopardize your relationship with other coworkers or the management. Sometimes, if the person attacking you is in a position of power within the organization. In that case, others might not stand up against him, or they could have a string of followers ready to turn a blind eye to their faults.
You have to consider all these factors before you think of making a stand and raising a formal complaint. However, if you handle the situation deftly, then the personal attacks are bound to stop.