Coworker Yelled At Me. Advice For the Future?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about coworker conflict:

In my company I am the one who is getting maximum salary. And also I am working as part time. There is a lady about 45 years of age, who always gets jealous of me because of my salary and the appreciation I get from chairman. She is in admin department and I am in technical department(consultant). This lady has been constantly playing politics in the company and doing back biting against me. She always tries to show her superiority over me, but I am relatively calm and have ignored her comments many a times. This frustrates her even more, since she expects some comments from me as well. She looks for an instance for making a fight with me, but I never gave her a chance.

Today, she emailed me keeping the chairman in CC, about “the last reminder” about attendance. Yesterday I did not mark my attendance. But that is not my fault because the attendance system did not work. I found the “last reminder” email very much authoritative, and was uncalled. The email itself had some words which I did not like and hurt my ego- I agree. But I did not loose my patience. I replied her respectfully. But I do agree that in my email at the end I advised her about making sure of the proper power backup, which appeared her authoritative. That was indeed as a retaliation from my side That was the point she was waiting for, which I was avoiding for smooth delivery of projects. She shouted at me in front of many staffs, she even used abusive words. I kept looking at her and did not say even a single word.

The chairman comes and the lady tried to win his favour, but to her utter disappointment, the chairman was in my favor only. At this she shouted at Chairman and threatened me- shall “see you outside” kind of attitude :-). I don’t know how I got courage to keep silence and kept patience. The lady went banging the door.

I have these questions: 1- Later on I thought I should have replied her with same language. Because people might think I am cowardice. Did I do right when I did not retaliate with the same way?

2- After this event, how should I react now in front of others? Shall I change my attitude? Shall I become too polite or shall I become more authoritative to show my superiority over others?

3- How do I avoid such conflict in future?

4- Is this my mistake that I did not inform the grudges she was having against me earlier? Or the management is also responsible? I really don’t have time to think of politics and people like her. I shall appreciate some advice on the above.

Signed, Silent But Concerned

Dear Silent But Concerned:

The work situation you describe sounds unpleasant for everyone. It’s time for the ongoing conflict to be resolved in some way, and your supervisor or manager should be involved. The outburst that happened today gives you the perfect opportunity to talk to your boss about it. You can use the coworker’s anger as an example of the kind of issues you have been dealing with and you can ask for advice. I think there are several things you could have done to handle this differently and better, and things that have contributed to the problem, whether you meant for them to or not. Your boss may have ideas about that. Here are some thoughts to consider, which you can adapt based on your work culture and your relationships in the workplace.

1. It sounds as though the Chairman is your immediate supervisor. Ask him for a meeting about this situation, for the purpose of finding out what he wants you to do to deal with the anger of the administrative employee (I’ll refer to her as Anna). When you meet with him, give him a brief overview of what has been happening and what things you have done to try to deal with it. Ask him if he has suggestions for what you should be doing in the future and what he things should be done overall, to solve this problem. It sounds as though you and Anna have to work together to get work done. If so, something has to change.The Chairman heard all that was said when the coworker was yelling today, so you shouldn’t have to convince him that there is a problem. The Chairman also will have the bigger picture of how Anna treats other employees. He will know if she shows anger to other employees or only to you. And, the Chairman will know about you and your working style and methods of communicating, so he is in a better situation than we are to suggest improvements or changes in that area.

2. One thing you can do before the meeting with the Chairman is to think carefully about what might be some of the other sources of anger for Anna. If she treats others in the same way, maybe she just is an unpleasant person. If she gets along well with others, maybe there are things involving her interactions with you that are especially negative. That still doesn’t excuse her actions today, but would be good for you to consider. Another way to analyze it is to start back at the beginning of your work there. What was your relationship with her like in your first few days? First weeks or months? See if you can pinpoint exactly when things started being so unpleasant between the two of you. Did something specific happen or was it just a series of bad situations? Think back and see if she has said something to indicate what you do that upsets her or why you and her don’t get along. Do some things seem to make her much angrier than others? Another thing to consider is, are the two of you able to get along OK sometimes or is it always as unpleasant as it seemed today? Those are all things to consider and to talk about to the Chairman.

3. When it comes to solutions, I hope the Chairman directs Anna to never again yell at any employee the way she did today. That was certainly inappropriate for any workplace. And, once she has gotten that agitated, there is no way to know what she might do next. Anger in the workplace often results in violence, even from people we normally wouldn’t expect it from. After that he will hopefully use good judgment about what he thinks is needed for the situation. He is close to it and it effects his work too, so he will probably have some ideas. You should be insistent that things can’t continue as they have been. You don’t want the Chairman to just tell you to learn to tolerate it!

4. That brings us to your questions about how you should have acted and how you should behave in the future. I tend to think your first questions were not meant seriously. Of course you should not try to be “too polite” and of course you should not try to show your authority over others. I don’t think you seriously believe either of those to be the right approaches. It also isn’t logical to ask if you should have used the same language as the coworker, when you wrote to us primarily because you were offended by the actions of your coworker. I suggest you don’t take that approach with your Chairman, because he may view it the same way I did, as being insincere and trying to appear like a very humble person when you really don’t feel that way. Or, as though you have done nothing to contribute to the problem, when in fact, it appears that isn’t true. That may sound harsh, but I believe it would be worthwhile for you to think about how you are viewed if you present yourself that way all of the time. It comes across like a way to present yourself as superior to others, even though you are talking just the opposite. You may not mean it that way at all. If not, then it’s good for someone on the outside to warn you to be aware of it. For example, look at the issue about signing in. You could have prevented that whole problem that happened today by sending an email to Anna to say that the time clock wasn’t working, but you were at your desk at such and such a time. You knew you were supposed to sign in and you knew the machine wasn’t working. So, it sounds to me as though you used that as a chance to make a point. You did and it didn’t work well. But ultimately, you started the upsetting chain of events. Next, Anna sent you a nasty email. She said it was a “last reminder” that you have to sign in. That leads me to believe this has happened before. If this was the very first time you had not clocked in, you could have written to her, copying the Chairman, to say that you have never done this before and that in the future if the clock isn’t working, you’ll let her know by email that you are present. You could then add that you don’t understand why she would use the phrase, “final reminder”, since this was the first time it had happened. So, you would like to meet with her and the Chairman to make sure it’s clear that you have not violated any rules in the past.You would have written it differently than that, based on the facts of the situation, but the idea would be the same. Writing a response like that would have been the professional way to handle it. Instead, your response was about as snippy as hers. You knew the Chairman was seeing it. He probably was rolling his eyes at both emails and thinking you two sounded like squabbling children. Perhaps your email sounded better than your description, but it sounds to me like you let her and the Chairman know that she was at fault for not having power back-up for the time clock. Back-up or no back-up, if you know you are supposed to clock in, it is your responsibility to find a way to do it. You admit that you gave Anna the opportunity she was seeking to become angry at you, which she certainly did.

5. You also asked what you can do to avoid such conflict situations in the future and should you have contacted your manager earlier about problems.When it seems you and a coworker are not able to communicate effectively and it is having an impact on your work, that is the time to talk to a manager about it. If your work suffers or if conflict gets out of hand, you want to be able to show that you have done your best to find a solution. But prior to talking to the manager, if it is at all possible, talk to your coworker and see what is the problem and if there is a way to find a solution to conflict. It is probably too late for that with Anna, but will be a reminder for the future with others. I hope you can see that sitting in silence time after time is not effective communication. It IS communication though, because it sends a message to the person who is talking to you, correcting you or questioning you, that you don’t care enough to even acknowledge their statements. I don’t know what all of the arguments and unpleasant conversations have been about, but it doesn’t sound as though you have ever told her to stop yelling at you or asked her to talk about specific issues that have made her angry. She may feel that yelling is the only way to get your attention. Or, she may simply be an angry person and your silence has given her permission in her mind to demonstrate it fully to you. I think you need to focus on communicating honestly while still communicating appropriately. And, you need to talk, listen and talk some more, rather than sit in stone-faced silence. That doesn’t present you as the better person, just as someone who is aloof from what is upsetting a coworker. You are a consultant and you say you do not have time for the politics of work. That sounds to me as though you don’t view yourself as part of that workplace. That may be the best approach for the situation. But, it may also create animosity and put a barrier between you and others, especially the administrative person. Work on that for yourself and talk about it to your Chairman. Find out how you can achieve a balance between not being overly involved but also not seeming to be arrogantly remote. Best wishes with this current situation. It sounds as though it was bad enough that it got your Chairman’s attention, so that might mean they’ll react for the good of the company as well as to assist you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know 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.