Coworker Treats Me Like One Of The Children!

Question:

How can I tactfully and professionally tell a particular coworker who is always talking to me like a child and who always second guesses me, to treat me with respect regardless of if she likes me or the way I do things? How can I let her know that even if she doesn’t like me we can get along?

My boss is obviously pleased with me, I get along well with everyone but this one person, and I got an Outstanding rating. So I know it isn’t me. I just want to reduce the tension and make my work life more tolerable.

Signed,

Standing Up For Myself


Answer:

Dear Standing Up For Myself:

You followed up with some additional information, telling us that your co-worker has been talked to by your boss and told to stop. And, you said you also have asked her to treat you differently and she will for awhile, then revert to her former ways.

So, the issue is not how you can tell your coworker to treat you differently, but how you can ensure that you ARE treated differently. You have already asked nicely, your boss has directed it as well–but there hasn’t been a change. You have two options for approaches (apart from just tolerating it, which I’m glad to hear you don’t want to do.)

Before you start, get your boss involved in this. She is responsible for the workplace and it sounds as though she has made an effort to correct things.

Write to her or meet with her and tell her about the two options you’re considering (mentioned below, or others you decide upon) and ask her if she has suggestions about which she would prefer.

That way, you will already have her support for your actions, because she approved them ahead of time!

Options:

1. Do not have a long conversation with the coworker about this matter. Instead, come to work prepared to stop her when she says something that is purposely hurtful or condescending in tone. You don’t have to say a lot, simply stop what you’re doing and say, sternly but without emotion: “Barbara, don’t use that tone of voice with me. It isn’t appropriate.” Or, “Barbara, we’ve been through this before. Don’t talk down to me. Stop it.” Or, “I can’t work with you when you’re talking to me like that. Stop it.” Or, “That remark sounded so condescending. I can’t believe you said it to me! Don’t do that again!” (That would have been a good one for the remark you gave in an example in your follow-up message, when she told you to wash your hands!)

After you’ve clearly told her to stop, turn or move away from her or get up and leave.

It isn’t easy to confront someone in that way, but it doesn’t require any long conversations. You can have a few phrases memorized and ready to use. The key is to respond immediately. If you aren’t ready you’ll be so upset you won’t think of what you want to say until ten minutes later!

If you have to ask the second time at some point, and you probably will, this: “I’ve asked you before. Next time I’m going directly to Mrs. Adams about it. So, this is your last chance to stop treating me like that and to treat me with respect.”

Or, you can go directly to Option #2. Your boss may suggest it anyway.

2. Put in writing what you’ve written to us. Be very specific about the date and approximate time the coworker did or said something rude. If others witnessed it, include their names. In your letter say that you have hesitated to complain and you considered talking to her again yourself, but you realize if she hasn’t respected your requests before, she probably won’t now.

Ask for a review of the situation with the goal of solving the problem once and for all. You might want to say that if you are contributing to it in some way you would like to know that, but you don’t think you are.

Tell your boss that you are available to discuss this in further detail but you think she is aware of the long-term problems you have had with this employee. You might want to say something about asking for her assistance to make work tolerable for you and to allow you to work in a place where all employees treat each other with respect.

It is sometimes useful to write something that reminds the boss that there is only one person that is creating problems of this nature. So, you might want to say that you get along well with all of the other X number of employees, and that there is only one employee–your coworker–who behaves with such insensitivity.

After that, no matter which approach you take, you must ensure that you don’t back down. If your coworker apologizes that’s fine, but the first time she does it again, stop her and go immediately to your boss again.

Usually, I would suggest making the effort to communicate your feelings and get a commitment from your coworker to treat you respectfully. But, you’ve tried that and your coworker apparently isn’t concerned enough about sanctions or negative results to make change. I think you must assume that she knows how you feel but either can’t or won’t change her actions.

It’s not fun to have to be tough at work, but in this case I think your coworker has gotten into the habit of thinking she has to provide oversight for you, remind you of things and assert herself as someone with authority over you. That must stop. But, you are in the best position to stop it–either by briefly but curtly stopping her in her tracks or by going to your boss about it. Whatever you decide, I think you should talk to your boss first and let her know how much this is bothering you.

Your boss may have been ready to do something and your complaint reminds her to do it. Or, she may have thought it got better and your complaint can give her examples of problems. She may not agree with you, and that would be good for you know as well. Or, she may fully support you, and it’s good to hear that confirmed.

Best wishes to you as you work through this situation. If you have the time and wish to do so, let usk now what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.