Dear Orna: My BOSSY co-worker is driving me crazy. She doesn't give suggestions; she gives orders! How can I cope?
~ Signed: Not a Chump
Dear NOT A CHUMP: You are right to be annoyed. Coping with a bossy co-worker not only interferes with your job, it can also erode your self-esteem and embarrass you in front of others. And the longer it goes on, the less control you have!
Becoming defensive or emotional is the exact response you want to avoid. You don't start a fight or an argument; you simply want to set the record straight. So start with a polite tone, it denotes confidence. And try your best to be assertive. A good way to show assertive behavior is by asking questions. 'Why does it need to be done this way?' 'Why is that the only way?' 'Why now?' 'Who said?' Why? Why? Why? Asking questions in the right way will often make the bossy person take a step back. It might also give you some insight into what they were thinking --- so you won't take their comments personally.
Never Lose Your Temper
I once had a dog trainer who explained to me that there were Alpha dogs and Beta dogs. Alpha dogs took command, while my poor Beta dog would cower in the corner. And it's no different at work. The alpha employees naturally sniff weakness and try to take advantage where ever they can. So the rest of the co-workers need to learn how to best deal with these people. Another suggestion is look around and see who deals with them the best way and try to model their behavior. The key is to stop being a target as soon as possible so the Alpha employees modifies their behavior.
Bossy, But Smart
It's even more frustrating when the bossy person is actually smart. But as annoying as it is, you have to admit, sometimes you can learn something from a jerk. So before you completely dismiss the bossy co-worker, take a moment to see if there is actually merit in their ideas. Learn . . . . but proceed on your own terms.
Show a Little Compassion
Sometimes bossy people really can't help themselves; it's simply a character flaw. In fact, many people who appear bossy actually lack self confidence. They are simply afraid they won't be respected if they don't speak up; or that others will let them down if they don't assert control. Be wary. Show compassion . . . but don't be taken in.
And remember, you can't change them. The only person you can control is yourself. So control your reaction, push back just enough and keep a smile on your face.