I Feel Like My Coworkers Are Against Me

Question:

I joined my company about five years ago. The first day of work the boss told me to work with a girl who glared at me with a level of hostility that made me scared. Since then she’s been rude to me, giving me the silent treatment and lobbying bosses and coworkers against me.

She’s famous for being mean, even amongst her clique – but they see it as something funny. She’s hard working but she’s not into analyzing things – she’s more into manipulating people, really; her talk lacks depth.

According to her, I have a connection high up that makes everything easy for me; that’s not 100% true, I do have a connection but it’s not even part of the organization.

For whatever reason (most likely a tantrum she threw at him) my boss decided not to assign me any tasks or training courses and to do everything he could to slander me and freeze my career. When I tried to change departments he said I was needed. I struggled in this situation for a year and a half, until I did manage to change and my first boss got fired a few months later. Things were good for a while. This girl tried, to no avail, to lobby both my boss and the boss of my boss against me; at some point she went as far as giving my boss the silent treatment for having benefitted me. Earlier this year things went downhill with my boss. Normally she’d lose track of things (I once caught a glimpse of her screen with over 500 unread mails in the inbox), arrive late, be absent a day each week on average, lie or forget basic stuff, cancel meetings half the time and generally stall the development of our work as a result of the above plus wanting to take credit for and be involved in EVERYTHING.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was that she blatantly lied to me about a promotion if I didn’t apply to a internal job posting and then forcefully tried to micromanage a critical project I had been assigned by another department.

There was a big fight and I negotiated, with the upper management, to be transferred to a department where I could do work related to my career in exchange for training a replacement for me. Back to the point: This bully drama girl is still around and seems still obsessed with me. I’d understand if she were competitive about specific career issues but a couple of weeks ago she did something that struck me as downright crazy and illustrates how obsessed she is: I unwillingly ended up buying cookies for all the team. I was cheered and applauded. Who cares? Well, since then, she’s been nagging us to have us give her money so that she can buy cookies for everyone every other day.

I’m slowly becoming friends with the guy I’m training to replace me. The other morning we spent it working and talking together while the bully girl listened and said nothing. We finished our work and I went 2 minutes to the bathroom; I come out and she’s telling him to be careful with me while acting like she’s hurt and really concerned about his wellbeing. Turns out my new coworkers will be two allies of her. They’ve been giving me the silent treatment since it was announced I’ll be working with her. There’s also a new guy who had quit my unit because of low grades – he stares at me but doesn’t even greet me and has become friends with them. Basically, we will all be working together in two months time and whenever I run into them they just stare me like I’m some sort of alien. I know there’s a lot of gossiping about me and my department change. I’m afraid they won’t let me do my job and/or be so hostile I’ll be forced to quit. I’m not sure what to do to turn this around.

Signed,

Alienated


Answer:

Dear Alienated:

Apparently you will be making a change soon, so you won’t be working with these same people. That sounds like the best situation. When you describe essentially everyone turning against you over time–coworkers, former bosses, new bosses, more new coworkers, trainees, etc.–it seems that you either would be better off working elsewhere or your coworkers would be better off if you were working elsewhere!

It’s been five years since you started. What have you done to find out the cause of the alienation you are feeling? What have you done to show your leadersip at work and your willingness to help others and be part of the team? How many friendships have you forged and maintained?

You don’t mention talking to your managers about your concerns or attempting to talk to the people who stare at you to determine the source of their hostility. Perhaps you’ve done those things, but if you did it seems no solution was found. You apparently didn’t confront the coworker who was telling your trainee to be careful around you. That would have been the ideal time to go to your boss or HR to say that you were being undermined in your efforts.

I don’t want you to think that I’m implying you are solely to blame for what has happened, because I am aware that there are cliques and groups that gang-up in many offices and sometimes one individual is the target of their animosity. On the other hand, it’s not easy to get a lot of people to dislike someone who has done positive things for them or who has never done anything negative to them.

You mentioned that you unwillingly ended up buying cookies for the team and were cheered and applauded. You commented, “Who cares?” That sounds to me like someone who chooses to not be part of the team, not someone who is excluded from the team. Perhaps you didn’t mean it that way, but that’s the way it sounds to an outsider.

So, what seems to be your solution now? If you do your job well, the problem coworker can’t get you fired. If the trainee’s job depends upon learning from you, the trainee will have to work with you and learn, whether he likes you or not. At some point you’ll be done there and you can go to a new assignment. That will be a good test. If you can go there and develop positive relatonships, you’ll know you never belonged in this current workplace and you probably could never have improved things. But, if you go to a new assignment and you have problems there as well, that should make you start evaluating yourself and your interactions with others, to see if some of the problem is within you, even though most of the problem is caused by them.

I’m sure it is frustrating, irritating and worrisome too. But, if you’re not careful you’ll become as obssessively focused on your coworker as she seems to be on you. Instead, be moderatly friendly to everyone and don’t assume anyone is out to get you unless you personally hear the conversation. (And, if you hear the conversation, say something or do something appropriate about it.) Relax at work. Reach out to others in mild, friendly conversations. Be a resource for them and help them know you in the way you want to be known.

Best wishes through this challenging situation. 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.