Dealing With Passive-Aggressive Coworkers
How to Deal with a Bipolar Coworker
People with bipolar disorder may experience extreme mood shifts and display erratic behavior. If you work with someone who has bipolar disorder, you may find that the nuances of their condition create challenges in the workplace. Your coworker may not have a strong concept of boundaries, so you'll need to set and enforce them when necessary. Then, find ways to make your work life more bearable for the both of you and get support for yourself when things get overwhelming.
Setting Limits with Your Coworker
Refrain from casually sharing their diagnosis with others.Show respect for your coworker by keeping your lips sealed regarding their condition. If their diagnosis is not common knowledge in your workplace, keep what you know to yourself.You should keep your communications work-related.
- Your coworker may not want others to stigmatize or pity them. Respect their privacy and avoid discussing their diagnosis with others in the workplace—unless the other person is already privy to the information. If you do discuss it with someone who is aware, be sure the conversation is constructive, not simply to gossip.
- If knowledge about their condition is a part of your work duties, you could get in trouble for breaking confidentiality. Even if you are not bound by confidentiality, you should still be wary of discussing your coworker's condition, as doing so could damage your work relationship with the person and your reputation.
- If, however, your coworker’s condition is impacting your ability to do your job or if you think they may be a danger to themselves or someone else, speaking with a supervisor is appropriate.
- Mental illnesses are very complex. Never diagnose someone yourself or assume they have bipolar disorder. You should also never accuse someone of being bipolar or mentally ill.
Decide what you cannot tolerate.Reflect on your co-worker’s typical behavior. What kinds of things do they do that you cannot tolerate? Make a list, then come up with suitable limits for everything on your list.
- For example, maybe your coworker calls you late at night about work business. You will need to tell them this is not appropriate.
- If someone keeps coming to you with personal problems, you may want to establish boundaries there as well. Suggest your company's EAP program as a way for the person to talk through personal issues. Once you open the door for colleagues to process personal issues, it may be difficult to pull back.
Verbalize your boundaries throughout the workplace.When sharing your boundaries, be consistent. Rather than making your bipolar coworker feel singled-out, voice your boundaries with everyone. Make no exceptions.
- You might say to the larger office personnel, "Someone has been using my office supplies without asking. Please do not go into my desk without permission."
- If your boundary applies only to the bipolar coworker, there's no need to make a public announcement. Simply speak with the person about the issue privately.
Repeat your limits as necessary.You may need to vocalize your boundaries over and over again for them to sink in with a bipolar coworker. Reiterate your limits whenever you need to.
- You may feel like you're overdoing it, but repetition may be the only way for your coworker to fully respect your boundaries.
Enforce consequences if boundary violations occur.If, despite verbalizing your boundaries, your coworker continues to cross lines, you must take action. Be sure to tell them what line was crossed and what consequence will be put in place.
- You might say directly to your coworker, "If you go in my drawer again without my permission, I will report you." Another consequence might be putting a lock on the drawer.
- If, during a meeting, your coworker repeatedly interrupts you, you might ask them to leave.
- The person may get angry about your boundaries initially, but you should hold fast anyway. Being firm and consistent is the only way they will start to respect your limits.
- Reinforcing boundaries can be done one-on-one in private with your coworker.
Improving Your Interactions
Read up on bipolar disorder.If you're not familiar with bipolar disorder, it could help to inform yourself about the condition. Knowing why your coworker behaves the way they do could make things more bearable at work.
- Check out reputable sources like the National Institute on Mental Health at or Psych Central at to learn more about bipolar disorder.
Encourage them.A depressive episode can leave your coworker feeling worthless and overly negative. Counteract this mood by offering them positive encouragement.
- Tell them how great they performed on an oral presentation or compliment their new work attire.
- A little praise may go a long way in improving your co-worker's mood.
- Only offer sincere praise. Never praise them for behaviors or actions you don't truly feel positive about.
Offer practical solutions to their challenges.Improve your co-worker's work conditions— and, ultimately, your own—by making small changes that support their ability to perform. The accommodations you make will depend on your role and your coworker's role in the office.
- If you are a colleague, you might make concise lists of tasks, so your coworker knows what's expected. You might also suggest that your coworker work in a private room to minimize distractions.
- If you are a supervisor, you might work with them to find a happy medium that benefits their mood. It may be helpful to have them work from home on some days, or you may reduce their duties as needed.
Clarify the purpose and goals of mutual projects.If your bipolar coworker is manic, this could translate to overzealous behavior in the workplace. They may try to change the scope of a project or create unrealistic goals. Be sure to clearly state the aim and scope of your project going in to prevent this.
- If needed, restate the goal of the project and remind them that this is what you've already agreed on.
- If they try to push the issue, explain that you will need to reach a consensus with other team members or the boss-- you can't make changes simply because they ask.
Stay calm if the person tries to argue with you.If your bipolar coworker says something offensive or inappropriate, refrain from reacting. Re-state boundaries as necessary and report offensive behavior to the appropriate authorities. Resist the urge to become angry or argue with the person, as it will likely be unproductive and get out of control.
- Remain calm by taking a few deep, cleansing breaths.
- Refuse to give in to demands. Stand firm in your boundaries.
- Leave the environment if you feel unsafe.
Practice self-care.You're more likely to respond calmly to your coworker if you have been taking care of your own mental health. Set aside time daily to nourish yourself.
- Eat balanced meals, adopt a regular workout routine, practice relaxation exercises, and make time for positive social relationships.
Talk to your supervisor.If working with the bipolar person presents challenges, have a conversation with your supervisor. Ask for help improving work conditions and make suggestions regarding accommodations you think could help you or your coworker.
- Your boss may not have noticed any issues or may not work as closely with the person to be able to determine what they need.
Consider attending a bipolar support group.If you work closely with a bipolar colleague or this person is a friend of yours, you may want suggestions from people who understand where you're coming from. A support group will allow you to get feedback from those with bipolar disorder and their caregivers.
- Contact local mental health agencies or clinics to find a support group in your area.
- If you find the group helpful, you may even invite your coworker to join you at meetings. However, only suggest this if you have good rapport with the person and they have disclosed their condition to you.
Video: 8 Steps to Dealing with A Toxic Coworker
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