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I have a member on my team who acts like a boorish pig. He "borrows" my belongings without asking, almost as if he's entitled to it. Last time, I had some snack on my desk and he just took it to his desk and started eating it. People around me were in such a shock and I didn't want to start an argument so I jokingly said, "Oh yes, I saved it just for you. Please enjoy it and you are welcome." He simply says "Thanks" and finished eating it and left the garbage on my desk.

This guy is our office's "all star", very popular, loves attention, and frequently likes to boss people around even when he's only a developer. Today, a project manager got very angry with him for shifting his resources around without asking.

What can I do? It's hard to deal with him since he's so friendly and likes to laugh things off.

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"Hey guys, who wants a pizza? [Charlie] has took my snack recently and now he owes me one. I have already ordered it, but I guess I can't have a 28-inch monster alone." –  bytebuster Sep 19 '12 at 9:49
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Your problem is that you said "Oh yes, I saved it just for you. Please enjoy it and you are welcome." Instead of "You stole from me, go to the shop and buy me a new snack". –  user1708 Sep 19 '12 at 16:01
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ask him not to eat your food, instead of just making a weird joke when you were in fact annoyed –  NimChimpsky Sep 19 '12 at 16:15
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Report to management that you have this issue that your things are constantly been taken away without your permission. If someone takes your food, do not let it go. This is wrong by all means. We had an incidence like that once and they put a sign next to refrigerator that do not take someone else food. Honestly this can lead to termination or serious disciplinary action. –  enthusiast Sep 19 '12 at 16:52
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@lukas - It was a broken window that set the wrong tone. The name calling is a bit immature. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Sep 19 '12 at 19:45

10 Answers 10

I'm not convinced this is a bully, nor that it is someone with Asperger's.

But it's not OK. I'd probably do a couple things simultaneously:

  • Lock up personal stuff - It's better than feeling like work has degraded to kindergarten where you have to fight for your snack. Don't get psychotic. If you feel like you have to cower over your stuff just to keep it from getting stolen, it's time for a talk with management about office theft.

  • Don't let humor be a deflection - Clearly the guy has learned "be funny = get away with being a jerk" - so change the rules. Don't respond to his joking, but don't lose your cool. If you try to be the funny guy, you can risk the impression that the whole situation is OK with you. Unfortunately, you can end up feeling like an elementary school substitute teacher, but I think you're going to have to go the route of "why did you take my snack?", "didn't you learn in kindergarten not to touch people's stuff?", and "no seriously, you owe me $5 so I can go get something to eat" and literally stand there next to him (calmly!) until he caves. Someone in the office has to say "this class clown isn't funny anymore" - Side note: making it clear that this isn't funny also points out to the other folks at your office that this guy isn't a comedic master, he's a jerk. And it may help others stand up for themselves as well. I've seen several cases of herd mentality where people go with the loudest voice until they are forced to think about what's actually happening. Don't think of yourself as fighting the team, think of yourself as providing a needed clue.

  • 3 strikes you're out - Generally, in any system, you should be able to express your displeasure at someone's behavior, clearly and respectfully, and have a reasonable belief that they will either desist or work on finding a compromise with you. Really, one go-around is enough - if the person doesn't listen, it does qualify as harassment. However, I always feel better, myself, to give them two warnings, and on the third strike they are out - I don't bother with the warning at that point, just take it to management. It makes a very strong case if you can say "I said clearly and succintly not to touch my stuff, and he did it. I clarified and asked again, and he did it anyway. What is the next step?"

  • Management is confused too and it sounds like there are other disciplinary problems. Chances are good that management isn't doing any better than you are. In a perfect world, you pointing out that he's harassing other employees would be a good kick in the pants for a written warning and escalation of the termination process. There are plenty of cases where a top performer is fired because his behavior is so detrimental to the team that his good work input can't possibly mitigate the fact that 4-10 other people are non-productive when he's around. To say nothing of the cost of lawsuits. But sometimes management can see it as not a big deal - in which case, take it out of the chain - use your HR's hotline (some offices have lines for out of band issue remediation), or your groups HR representative.

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+1 Excellent answer on how to deal with this in a strong yet non-confrontational way. –  maple_shaft Sep 19 '12 at 14:43
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"you pointing out that he's harassing other employees would be a good kick in the pants for a written warning and escalation of the termination process" - Think so? Office all-star, very popular. If you're the only one complaining, it might be you out of the door. –  pdr Sep 19 '12 at 15:22
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@pdr - I honestly don't think so - not when "Today, a project manager got very angry with him for shifting his resources around without asking" - doesn't sound like he's everyone's favorite guy. And "People around me were in such a shock" - sounds like others notice, too. Yeah - if it was 1 on 1, I might agree, but with no talks with management, I don't think you can assert the outcome. –  bethlakshmi Sep 19 '12 at 18:13
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@АртёмЦарионов Yes it did? #2 Confront him and tell him that his behaviour is not acceptable. #3 Talk to the management. How is that not practical advice? –  AndSoYouCode Sep 20 '12 at 6:06
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Many people use the excuse of "humor" to camouflage acts of aggression and hostility. –  Tangurena Sep 23 '12 at 2:17

Stop being so "politically correct" and tell him to knock it off! Is this some office culture that I don't know about where you have to allow ANYONE to be a jerk? You and everyone else doing nothing about his behavior allow him to act like a jerk. You know it is not right, so do something about it immediately, the very first time.

Don't be nice to him when he does something like that...it just encourages him to continue. If you had a dog that nipped you, then you patted him nicely on the head and speak softly to the dog? Do you think the dog would stop nipping you? NO!

If this happens again with the snack, yell "HEY, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING!" AND take it back.

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This is just as likely to cause more problems than it is to solve them. Getting aggressive with a bully (especially the star player) ends up with you getting the short end of the stick one way or the other. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Sep 19 '12 at 19:20
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Tell him that it's a $1.00 candy bar, but your distribution services are $4.00, making the total $5.00 Then every time you meet him, "Hey where's my five bucks?" At first it will start as a joke, but it's the kind of joke that gets old fast. Just never let him know that the joke is old for you too. He'll eventually avoid you thinking that you're lame, which is probably the best you can hope for if management has a love / hate relationship (and an opinion that they need to keep him). –  Edwin Buck Sep 20 '12 at 14:11
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I don't think political correctness is what is going on here (Sorry, I just think the term is overused.); this person is an ass that needs to be yelled at. +1 –  JeffO Sep 24 '12 at 2:13
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The trouble with yelling is that to someone coming in later, (like management or HR) you look like you are just as much the problem as he is. It's much better to stay calm but keep insisting on your rights - then it's clear to everyone who is being rational and who is acting like a jerk. –  DJClayworth Oct 23 '12 at 20:34

Although this may seem trivial, it is still theft:

In common usage, theft is the taking of another person's property without that person's permission or consent with the intent to deprive the rightful owner of it.

Theft of any kind would usually be considered Gross misconduct and grounds for summary dismissal.

If this is the case where you work then you might want to print out a copy of the company policy, highlight the section on theft and leave it somewhere prominently in view.

Even though the theft of a snack is probably not worth reporting, it does provide a concrete example of a pattern of disruptive, dishonest and bullying behaviour that could be used as corroborating evidence when a bully does step over the line (the proverbial straw that broke the camels back).

You may also want to look up company procedures on harassment and what your company expects you to do in this situation. You may actually be breaking company rules by not reporting harassing behaviour.

Once a company gets to a hundred employees, it really should have an employee handbook, but it very much depends where in the world you are. I have worked for both multinational corporations and companies as small as 10 employees and they have all had an employee handbook, detailing grievance procedure and general responsibilities.

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it's around 100 employees, and call themselves a startup. I really don't know what policy if any exists around theft. –  joepa Sep 19 '12 at 11:01
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+1 on this is theft. i bet you can file a police report –  Yuck Sep 19 '12 at 17:05
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@MarkBooth I didn't downvote, but contemplated it, then saw your comment. My problem with this answer is that every case that could be covered under any given law falls on a continuum. You're not going to get far with a police report on "he stole my snack". Execute the complaint wrong (i.e. if you don't show adequately that it is not an isolated incident) and people in the company, maybe even management, will think you are ridiculous. –  NickC Sep 19 '12 at 18:25
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definitely take this matter to the police immediately, snack stealing is clearly against the law! –  Evan Sep 20 '12 at 22:11

This behavior reminds me of several people I know, including my brother. Humoring such people only enables (in the AA sense of the word) them to continue their unacceptable behavior. I've found shame to be ineffective as a deterrant.

Last time, I had some snack on my desk and he just took it to his desk and started eating it.

The last time one bully did this to me, I walked over to him and slapped the food out of his hands and onto the floor: "that's my food, not yours, and if I can't eat it, neither will you". It made a stink (meetings! were! held!) that was big enough that he didn't pick on me again - just the folks who he could continue to intimidate and bully. He later left as he started to run out of prey.

Some books I've recommended before, which I believe will help you to recognize future similar situations and develop your own coping strategies for them include:

  • To Be or Not to Be Intimidated.
  • Looking out for number one.
  • Million Dollar Habits. I feel that these 3 by Robert Ringer are very important. If you think his first book was about to intimidate others, you only read the press coverage. If you think his books are about real estate, then you only skimmed them. There are a lot of people in the world who will try to intimidate you into giving up what is yours, and he shows you what some of them are like, and what countermeasures you can use. The first book was originally published as "Winning Through Intimidation" but the bad perceptions of what the title appeared to be suggesting lead the author to waste far too much time defending his "clever" choice of words.
  • Snakes in Suits. There are some evil people out there. You'll work for some of them.
  • Bullies, Tyrants, and Impossible People. One book on office politics and dealing with some of the worse sort.
  • The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense at Work. Some folks are very good with verbal manipulation, this book and the others in the series, cover how to deal with such people. The author of this book wrote about 20+ other books in this series, all with "gentle art of verbal self defense" in the title. One of the most common verbal attacks you'll encounter can be epitomized in the question: "did you stop beating your wife?" One of the first steps in avoiding a trap is to recognize a trap.

Other thread.

This guy is our office's "all star", very popular, loves attention, and frequently likes to boss people around even when he's only a developer. Today, a project manager got very angry with him for shifting his resources around without asking.

This sounds like Snakes in Suits should be the first one of the above list to read.

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In the US this would likely be considered a hostile work environment. You have a right to a work environment where you are not subjected to workplace bulling. How ever that does not mean that you have the right to take action into your own hands. If you do you could end up being the one who gets in trouble. Often bullies are not able to handle having it dished back to them and will file a complaint.

First make a complaint to your HR department (or Union rep if you are union). If this is a regular occurrence I would demand that it be entered as a formal complaint immediately. Your company should have procedures in place for handling this. You should find out what they are and how the company expects you to deal with it going forward. If there is any part of it you are uncomfortable with communicate that with HR, they may be able to offer an alternative, or will let you know that is required.

If at any point you feel that the problem is not being addressed, or the company is trying to make it difficult on you, consult an attorney. They will be able to help protect you. I am not a fan of aggressive legal maneuvering but you have to protect yourself first. If you wait until they let you go then the lawyer has less that they can do to protect you, at that point it would be just about getting compensation. If a lawyer is going to have to be involved then it is usually best to get them in as early as possible. Most lawyers would take this type of case on contingency so you should have minimal up front cost.

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For those that didn't click through: Note that in the US, the phrase "hostile work environment" has a specific definition given by the EEOC. Official use of it is restricted to "protected classes," meaning the hostility is coming about because of prejudice against race/religion/gender/etc. Workplace bullying alone is not considered generating a "hostile work environment" according to the EEOC. This doesn't mean that going to HR isn't the correct thing to do, it just means that those three magic words aren't going to be as forceful here. –  Charles Sep 19 '12 at 18:30
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Also, you need to say No/warn the person that you feel their behavior is inappropriate. If you never voice these concerns then you undermine your own case both with management and HR. He could be a total jerk and know what he's doing is wrong or just clueless, but until you warn him off once you will not have ammo to go up against him. I'd also keep a record with date and time off what happens and what is said as well has having 1-2 people to verify your story if this gets serious. –  Joshua Aslan Smith Sep 19 '12 at 18:35
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@Charles - I am not a lawyer you need to consult an attorney for that informatation. But the attorney is most likely going to tell you to just tell HR what is happening and that it is making you feel unsafe at work. It is HR's job to know what they are supposed to do. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Sep 20 '12 at 11:37

First thing to understand is that this guy isn't a pig, he's a bully.

Bullies are very difficult to challenge. Take him on directly and you'd better be confident in something you can do better than him. Be tough, be smart, be eloquent, be funny or just be more indispensable. But be confident in whatever it is. Because that's what he has working for him -- confidence.

Challenge a bully directly and get it wrong and you just become a target. Problem is that everyone else in the room knows this as well.

A bully is empowered by the reactions of others. Sadly, everyone gives them positive reinforcement because they don't want to be the bully's target. It's just human nature. The path of least resistance.

Bullies are about the only people I would ever suggest taking a passive-aggressive approach to. Don't laugh at his jokes. Share looks of mutual disdain with other people. Talk about what an pain the guy is behind his back. Make it clear that you think people who aren't part of the solution are part of the problem. Give other people the confidence to stop feeding his need for reinforcement. Make compliance the path of most resistance.

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@maple_shaft: No one's stopping you downvoting if you don't agree. But I have never seen returning a bully's behaviour "do the trick" -- that just escalates the behaviour. Unless, as I say, you can be very sure you're better at bullying than he is. –  pdr Sep 19 '12 at 11:50
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-1: I think pdr may have correctly identified him as a bully, but I agree with @maple_shaft - A passive aggressive approach won't work. It might even add gasoline to the fire. Somebody needs to stand up to the bully. –  Jim G. Sep 19 '12 at 11:50
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@pdr Well maybe I am just going from personal experience but I have found that bullies leave you alone once you start giving them a hard time. If they escalate the situation then you have no choice but to take it to the next level. The alternative is not an option that I will tolerate. –  maple_shaft Sep 19 '12 at 12:11
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@maple_shaft: It's not like that at all. If you don't climb a ladder, you're no better off than if you try to and fail. There is no long-term cost to giving it a go. A ladder does not need a victim to exist. It will not mercilessly abuse you for challenging it and losing your confidence. –  pdr Sep 19 '12 at 12:41
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-1 While I'm not sure of what would be a better answer, I know this is not it. Passive aggressive behavior is wrong behavior for many reasons which I will not delve into here. –  Phil Sep 19 '12 at 13:44

"Popular, loves attention, boss around, takes you snack", sounds like you have a bully in your office. He's not friendly, he just act so he seems so.

Make sure that you explicitly told him that he cross the line with you, then send him a email to summarize what you said about that. If things continue, then report to your manager. Because it starts with a snack, and ends with moral harassment.

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Why not just approach him and ask him to lay off? Find a suitable time and get his attention with a "can I talk to you alone" kind of thing, and then explain what's bothering you. You can of course use some softer language, such as:

"Hey man, I know you have a sense of humour and whatnot, but X, Y, and Z are not working for me. I don't think a big deal needs to be made, just please don't do X, Y, and Z in the future. I know it probably wasn't your intention to upset me, so I'm letting you know now so that it doesn't become a problem."

If that doesn't work, then talk with management / HR. Being passive-aggressive is definitely not a good solution. You're an adult in a workplace, not a kid in gradeschool - act like it.

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+1 for You're an adult in a workplace, not a kid in gradeschool - act like it. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Sep 19 '12 at 19:06

Hide your snacks for a start!

If he starts throwing his weight around, be assertive but polite. Remember there is a very thin line between assertive and just plain rude.

For instance, in the snack scenario, you could say something like "dude, that's mine! Now I'll have to go hungry" Keep your tone light but not too playful so he knows that you mean it.

If all else fails, just be blunt and tell him straight before you start to hate going to work.

Good luck!

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Why keep the tone light? If you make a huge deal about it and you yell then he won't take your cookies anymore. Nobody else will steal from you ever again. You are at work to do your job, not make friends. –  maple_shaft Sep 19 '12 at 11:30
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I agree but shouting and screaming will only yield short term results. You could be the best at the job, but if no-one likes you, you won't be there for long –  fasheikh Sep 19 '12 at 11:45
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-1: You're worried about minding you manners with a bully? –  Jim G. Sep 19 '12 at 11:53
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Perhaps it is cultural differences that determine the best way to deal with a bully. Western culture glorifies independence and free thinking, and this mindset includes attacking bullies even if the outcome would be confrontational. I can understand that certain cultures that value non-confrontational approaches to problems would find it wise to handle the situation differently. –  maple_shaft Sep 19 '12 at 11:58
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I don't think it is all just culture, it depends on people too. But in my opinion, don't let a person bully you but there is no dignity in screaming and shouting. Eventually, you'll end up looking like a bully. Remember you are in an office and not a school playground. It's best to be mature. –  fasheikh Sep 19 '12 at 12:01

I'm sure you aren't the only one noticing this behavior, and aren't the only one who doesn't like it. He probably thinks he's invincible, and if given enough rope he will probably hang himself. The route I'd take is to outlast him. Be patient, and don't give him any ammunition.

One thing I wouldn't do is confront him. As you say he loves attention, and if you confront him you'll give him a chance to "show his stuff". Chances are he's better then you at manipulating a situation. Instead, complain to HR about his behavior so they have a record of it. The more complaints there are the easier it will be for management to axe him.

Don't give him any ammo. Bring in snacks that you like and he hates. Be polite, but never help with with anything. Put a raw egg on your desk and let him grab it and make a mess all over himself. He won't be able to laugh that one off.

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This is supposed to be answers in a professional work environment. Whilst the egg idea would be entertaining it paints a bad picture of the company when he later greets the clients covered in raw egg –  RWY Apr 15 '13 at 15:04

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