How to Deal with a Bossy Coworker: A Quick Guide

If your teammate is a bit of a dictator, you might want to read this.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Bossy coworker in a meeting room

We’ve all had that one coworker who just loves to tell us what to do, whether it’s dumping their workload on us or barking orders. They’re the bane of every workplace, and they create a toxic environment for everyone involved.

That said, you’ve probably wound up here because you have your own bossy coworker to deal with — and luckily for you, we’ve compiled a list of the best tactics to get your controlling coworker off your back!

Here’s everything you need to know about dealing with a domineering teammate.

Step 1: Stay calm

Staying calm is easier said than done, especially when you’ve come to the end of your tether with your bossy coworker. But there’s nothing worse than retaliating and blowing up in their face — it won’t only make matters worse but can also cost you your job!

Bossy people often play the victim card and thrive off getting a reaction out of people, so remaining calm is of utmost importance in any workplace saga.

Step 2: Stand your ground

If you feel like your coworker is taking advantage of you, it’s only fair that you stand your ground and stick up for yourself. To do so, you can acknowledge their request and then kindly reject it.

Let’s say that your colleague has asked you to take on part of their duties. You can respond with something like this: “Although that sounds like an interesting project, I won’t be able to help given my current workload”. This simple sentence will get them off your back and may even put them off pestering you for good!

Step 3: Mimic their body language

We often discuss the importance of body language in the workplace — after all, actions are louder than words. And when dealing with a know-it-all in the workplace, it can make or break the controlling cycle.

So, the next time you’re targeted by your bossy teammate, be sure to stand up tall, look them in the eye and exude confidence when you’re engaging in any form of conversation. It will soon show that you’re strong and that you won’t tolerate any unfair behavior.

Step 4: Be assertive

Being assertive goes hand in hand with your body language. Your strong and confident posture needs to be matched with an equally convincing tone.

Now, I’m not telling you to raise your voice and square up to your difficult coworker but rather that you talk to them in a no-nonsense tone. Speak clearly and loud enough for them to understand that you don’t have time to waste on their menial tasks.

By taking control of the situation, you can put an end to the disruption by explaining that you don’t have time to be interrupted when you have your own workload and deadlines to meet.

Step 5: Question them

If none of the subtle hints are working, you may need to be more direct and question your coworker on their behavior. They might not even realize that they’re doing it, and a simple, honest question could put an end to all the drama.

You could ask if there’s a reason they’re acting like the boss, or you could be more direct and focus on the projects by saying: “I thought this was your individual project to work on. While I don’t mind helping out, I have my own tasks to work on first.”

Step 6: Set boundaries

When it comes to the workplace, you often have to set boundaries so people know when they can and can’t disturb you. If you have your own office, the solution is simple: you just need to close your door to signify that you don’t want to be disturbed.

Most of us don’t have a physical door to open and close, though, so we need to be more direct in our approach. A useful method is to put your headphones on to indicate when you don’t want to be disturbed. But if that’s not doing the trick, you might need to be more direct and ask your bossy coworker to not interrupt your conversation or workflow.

Step 7: Remind them who the boss is

Often, bossy people just need to be reminded who the real boss is. As they’re so eager to lead, they get wrapped up in the small responsibilities they have and take it to their advantage.

For example, if you’re new to the company, you’ll often be the target of a bossy coworker. They know that you’ll be keen to make a good impression and be more willing to do their dirty work.

That said, you’ll need to understand their authority, and remind them that they’re not your direct report and that you take instructions from your boss. You can even tell them that if they require your help, they’ll have to consult with your supervisor first.

Step 8: Communicate in writing

To avoid verbal confrontation, it’s best to deal with a bossy coworker in writing. You can take a breather before replying and saying something that’s rude or that you may later regret.

Not only does it avoid high tensions but it also ensures that you have proof of their demands and instructions, which is essential if you’re planning on reporting them to HR.

Step 9: Be honest

If your attempts at deflecting the situation have failed, it’s time to confront your coworker through an honest conversation. Ask if you can have a private chat and talk to them about how their behavior is affecting your working relationship.

It’s likely that your coworker will get defensive during your conversation, so you’ll need to be as diplomatic as possible here. If they’re mature enough, they’ll realize their mistake and stop the bad behavior.

Step 10: Suggest working together

Now that you’ve cleared the air, you can suggest working together on a project. As you’re both looking for a positive result, it only makes sense that you join forces and lead a project together. You might even discover that you have more in common by working together instead of against each other.

Step 11: Try bonding with them

It’s good to get to know your coworkers outside of work. They may seem like they’re bossing you around, but it could just be the way that they speak or carry themselves.

Try to get to know your coworker on a deeper level by going for a drink or for lunch with them. You don’t have to become best friends, but you might find common hobbies or aspirations, and they may stop trying to control you at work in return.

Step 12: Try “I” statements instead of “you” statements

During conflict in any form, it’s always best to stay away from “you” statements, which typically lead to passing blame, and stick with the less attacking “I” statements. For example, try stating things like “I feel like my ideas aren’t being considered” instead of “You aren’t considering my ideas”. This approach will lend to a much more collaborative dialogue.

While this may not completely diffuse any situation, pulling out an “I” statement instead of a “you” statement is a surefire way to stop yourself from passive-aggressively passing blame and it allows for a more open and honest dialogue.

Step 13: Avoid arguing

With a dialogue opening, try your best to avoid arguing. You’ll get nowhere if you argue, especially with a coworker who doesn’t listen to you because they think they’re the boss. Stay focused on finding a resolution, sticking to the facts and leaving out any potential room for argument.

No matter how good it may feel when you win an argument, don’t get defensive. You don’t want to be the one that gets reported to HR because someone can’t stand their coworkers fighting.

Step 14: Lead by example

One of the hardest things in the workplace is working with people who are different from you and ensuring you’re able to collaborate as you achieve your common goal. A bossy coworker is no exception to that; rather, they may continually make this more difficult. A great way to deal with your bossy, difficult coworker is to lead by example.

You can’t change them, but as you become a better leader and show your coworker as well as your other team members how an employee at your organization should act, the hope is that they’ll see and emulate your actions.

Step 15: Seek managerial support

If all else fails, you may have no other option but to seek managerial support. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it, though. You could simply ask your manager what your bossy coworker’s role is and explain that they keep asking you to do a portion of their work.

Alternatively, you can advise them of your interest in leading more projects, but explain that you feel you don’t get the opportunity because you’re often interrupted or not given a chance to speak by your controlling teammate.

Key takeaways

Working with a bossy colleague can often feel like you’re fighting an uphill battle. Entering the office is more like a war zone than a collaborative environment, but by following these useful steps, you can put an end to the destruction and have a happier working environment as a result.

Remember these key points as you deal with a bossy worker:

  • Don’t just sit around and argue so you can win. There’s no winning involved when everyone is arguing.
  • When possible, communicate in writing so you have a paper trail to fall back on.
  • Stay calm. Don’t let them get to you!

Have you ever dealt with a bossy coworker? How did you handle the situation? Let us know in the comments section below.


Originally published on July 3, 2019. Updated by Shalie Reich.