How To Stop Rude Coworker From Worse Behavior

Question:

I emailed a fellow employee requesting information which pertained to my job. He replied with an angry rant about me being emotional and not to piss him off with “blah, blah” emails. I notified HR that I felt threatened and bullied. What should my next step be to prevent this person from bullying me?

Signed,

Worried


Answer:

Dear Worried:

You should forward your email and the email you received, to your immediate supervisor. Say you feel concerned about the nature of the response he made to you and that you have notified HR. Your supervisor may already know about it from them or from you, but at least this way you can document it.

Ask your supervisor to meet with you and when you do, tell him you want an assurance from the employee that he will not send that kind of email again. You might also want to ask your supervisor to give you approval to come to him or her immediately if a problem develops. You can do that anyway, but it’s good to get that committment.

You don’t say what the tone and words of your email were. You may have been perfectly courteous, helpful and appropriate, or you may not have been perceived that way. I would imagine you and this coworker have had problems before, so it could be this is one more thing in an ongoing problem. Talk to your manager about that. On the other hand, your coworker may be someone who has been tolerated for a long time and makes it a habit to be aggressive in this way to intimidate people. By refusing to accept it, you may help the entire workplace.

If that is the case you may be told, “that’s just the way he is”. Stand your ground about that, in a civil way, and say that you don’t think anyone should be allowed to create the tension he created with that email. You can certainly link this to work by pointing out that his rude email will effect work because it will create an obvious barrier between the two of you.

The words you cited are not threatening in a legal sense. Whether it rises to the level of bullying would depend upon the totality of the situation. It certainly may, but it could be viewed as merely a one time unpleasant communication in response to frustration with something you said or did. Your supervisor and HR would be more likely to be aware of those circumstances.

It is not a hostile work environment, in that the term is usually reserved for biased actions based on protected class status. Even if that were the problem here, you can’t show that your employer has failed to help you, you can only show that you have had one unpleasant email. That doesn’t indicate an environment permeated with bias or hostility.

So, I think you’ve done the right thing with the HR notification. Now, let your manager know about it and ask him or her to assist you immediately if your coworker is unpleasant, threatening or is not cooperative with work.

This is the time to be the best employee possible and to build positive relationships with other employees, without gossiping about the coworker who has been unpleasant. Focus on doing your work well and stand your ground about not accepting rude treatment either verbally or by email.

If the coworker confronts you personally and doesn’t appear to want to be at least civil, tell him you will only talk to him in the presence of your supervisor, until he starts treating you with respect and courtesy. That might be difficult to do, but will at least state your case.

Hopefully your supervisor will use this as a time to discuss with the entire team the need to work together and to learn to deal with conflict effectively. All of us need to avoid inadvertently pushing the buttons we know will set someone off (as with your coworker.) And if someone pushes our buttons we have to know how to deal with that directly but courteously, rather than firing back an unpleasant letter. But, as in your case, we also need to have the confidence that we can get assistance and stop actions that are over the top in angry words and hostile reactions.

Best wishes as you work through this. 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.