How to deal with co-workers acting like a boss

Updated April 17, 2017

Co-workers come with many different personality traits, some of which you will undoubtedly find irritating if not downright annoying. One of the most stressful problems to deal with is the co-worker who seems to act like the boss. Anecdotal evidence suggests that this bossy colleague is a common feature in many workplaces: organizing team meetings, asking what you're working on, and offering unsolicited advice. As with other problem people, the only way to cope with a bossy co-worker is with calm professionalism.

Bossiness or taking responsibility?

Analyse their behaviour: are they really being bossy or just taking responsibility for getting things done, such as hurrying everyone along to the weekly team meeting? Asking what you are working on may not be trying to control you, but trying to work out how their own activities fit into the work of the team. If this is the case (and even if you suspect it is not), respond politely to their helpfulness. Thank them for reminding you about the team meeting. Tell them what you are working on and then ask what they are working on. Offer to help in some way. Treat every interaction as a polite exchange between equals and eventually that is what it will become.

How to assert yourself

Sometimes the bossy co-worker may not just have an unfortunate bossy manner: they may actually be trying to get ahead by acting like the boss. They may even try giving you work or telling you what to prioritise. If this happens, stay calm and polite but be firm, and invoke the real boss at all times. For example, you might say, "I am sorry I cannot do this task for you as my manager and I agreed that I would be working on something else."

When to complain

If you have tried these strategies and your colleague's behaviour has not changed, you may feel that you need to talk to your manager or to someone in the human resources department. If you do this, stick to the facts and do not label your co-worker. For example, do not say, "She thinks she's the boss." But you could say, "She has given me this work to do, which I cannot do as I have already agreed my work plan with you."

What you can learn

Taking on additional responsibilities and acting as if you are already in the role that you are aiming for are often recommended as strategies for advancing your career. Take your bossy co-worker as a model of how not to do it. Successful managers do not boss people around: they offer support, thank people for their help and always make it clear that they are part of the team. Adopting this behaviour will not only make it easier to deal with a co-worker who acts like a boss, but may also help you get ahead yourself.

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About the Author

Lalla Scotter has been writing professionally since 1988, covering topics ranging from leadership to agriculture. Her work has appeared in publications such as the "Financial Times" and "Oxford Today." Scotter holds an honors Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Bristol.