Insutling Coworker But Managers Don’t Stop It

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about insulting behavior: She calls me “ugly” or “ugly Filipina” and other offensive remarks.

I work in a company that makes transformers of all kind. I recently got assigned in the winding area and am a winder now. Many ethnicities work here: Filipinos, Laotian and Mexicans. In the past few months a coworker who is Laotian has been giving me a hard time. She calls me “ugly” or “ugly Filipina” and other offensive remarks. One time I had to walk close to her because the man that works on the preparation area was standing by her and I needed to ask him for supplies. As I was walking away she said “Hurry up and get out of here I don’t want you here!”

I felt humiliated and thought I had enough. So, I wrote a letter to the HR manager stating the details of verbal abuse I had been putting up from this woman. They talked to her and it stopped, but still we don’t look at each other even when we are in a narrow hallway of the break room. I heard a lot of people complain about this woman, but the nothing happens to improve the situation, so the people before basically just quit because they couldn’t take it anymore. I also heard from few employees that they think the reason she is doing that is because she hates or don’t want any pretty girls to be working on the winding area.

They call her queen of the winding area because she does a good job. I know a couple of girls who worked there longer than her but got moved because she requested the company to do so. I actually communicated to the President of the company about this issue but he said that the complaint must be backed up by several employees to be regarded or honored. I think this is impossible to have happen because she is a bully and even guys at work are intimidated by her.I truly believe that this company is unfair. Is that really acceptable? Can the company really disregard all the complaints because she is a good winder?

Signed, Ms. NO Drama

Dear Ms. NO Drama:

To directly answer your question: Your company can disregard complaints, unless they are complaints about law violations. They apparently did do something when you talked to them before, so they didn’t just ignore the complaint. But, they are not obligated to fire her or transfer her. If you have proof that the coworker is repeatedly making ethnic slurs, emphasize that fact if you complain again. That would place the remarks in a higher priority. Keep in mind that ethnic remarks made by anyone might then be investigated, not just her remarks.

Sometimes these complaints come back to bite the complainer! If she is good at her job, the managers probably don’t want to lose her and may be seeing another viewpoint of the situation. Apparently there is a lot of talk about her, so maybe there is a feeling that the rest of you gang up on her. (Not true, I’m sure, but you can see how they might take it.) It could be some of your coworkers have not treated her well either.Or, it could be that managers just get tired of dealing with people issues and figure employees will never get along so they’re not going to keep trying to make things better.It might also be that managers see the problem aspects of many employees and think there are bigger problems than this one.

Let me take a roundabout way to give you some suggestions for dealing with this.Mentally describe how you would like work to be as it involves interactions with others. Then compare that to what is happening now. That can help you see if this is the only thing that is a problem. Identify the people who are the most well liked by everyone and who contribute the most. Are you part of that group? Consider how you might strengthen your connection with that group or provide enough good example that others see the value of being positive contributors.Who are the best workers? Who gossips the most? The least? Is there anyone you respect who gets along with the unfriendly person? How do they do it? What can you change or control?

You can control your grooming and hygiene, your facial expressions, your posture and overall demeanor, your words and tone of voice, your responses, your conversational topics, the people you seek out and the people you avoid. You can also control the work habits that you have and how well you work within a team, and with a few others as well as on your own. Those are a lot of things you can control!Within those things consider what would make you a good person to have around. What would make you more valuable to others? More enjoyable? That is very important for enjoying work. It is also extremely important for getting enough influence that others will support you if you are being treated unfairly by a coworker.

One technique for reaching out to others is this: Pretend that someone you like who you’re talking to or approaching in the hallway is YOU. You have the chance to treat YOURSELF in a way that is really nice! How will you want to look, talk and act to yourself? Do it to that person! Then expand it to people you don’t like so well. Then maybe one day, extend that behavior to your coworker problem.Focus on your own work and be as good as you can be at it. Ask your supervisor if he or she has suggestions for how to increase your speed or accuracy or whatever might be an issue.

Develop a good working relationship with supervisors and managers that is sincerely focused on helping the company make money through your quick and accurate work. Be such an employee and coworker that no one will stand by and do nothing if someone says something unpleasant to you. And be such an employee and coworker, that you will say something supportive to the person who is being mistreated by others, as well as telling the other person to stop.You can’t control how the coworker acts. But you can control how you respond to it. I’m not advising you to ignore it, but it sounds as though the way you are responding is not making a positive difference either.

Try this approach and do it consistently: Keep the mind-set that you have a right to be there and to be a fully functioning employee who is pleasant, a contributor and a person of value to others and the company. Walk confidently and happily down the hallways, as though you and everyone else can share them just fine. Nod, smile, do a quick wave, or otherwise acknowledge people when you see them–including the unfriendly coworker.

Remember that to have no expression looks hostile, no matter what you are thinking at the time.

You don’t have to grin, but you can do a quick little close-lipped smile that implies, “Hey, I’m trying to be nice.” As for her verbal comments, start all over as though you’ve never dealt with it before. Take it a bit at a time. First, courteously confront her repeatedly unpleasant remarks. Then, more firmly do it. At that point you will either have something very definite to lodge a complaint about or maybe she will have backed off from it. So, she says, “Get out of here. I don’t want you here.” You say, “Come on, Lu, don’t say things like that, even jokingly.” If she doesn’t stop or respond positively, you can say, “A remark like that does is make you sound unhappy and it makes things unpleasant around here. So, stop it.” If she does it again you can escalate it a bit: “Lu, I’m trying to be a good person to work with. I don’t talk bad about you, so please stop saying those things.”If she continues, list the witnesses who heard it, and lodge another complaint.

This time say something more forceful: “I would like to have this situation investigated completely, so we can get a better workplace and focus more on our jobs instead of the actions of one employee.”Don’t just leave it as a one-to-one complaint. Instead make it a bigger matter that managers MUST look into.If you talk to people about this, don’t focus on wanting to get rid of the employee. Focus instead on wanting the workplace to be better. If she would change it would be better, so getting rid of her shouldn’t be the only thing that is considered a good result.This is a long answer I know! However, I think you have many options for ways you can respond to this. I hope you will try some of them.Best wishes!

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.