Ongoing Rudeness By Email

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about rude coworker:

I am currently having a tough situation here at work with a coworker. I am the only female here besides the President of the company. She also happens to be a very close personal friend of the person who sent me a rude email. I have had a lot of problems with this person and when I talk to my boss he tells me I should say I’m sorry cause maybe my coworker thinks I am giving him an attitude.

The last rude email he sent to me was because he was upset that I told him I had already received some information from a site superintendent. After I told him that, I asked him if I could help him with anything else. He wrote me back and said he didn’t know why he bothered to tell me anything and he wouldn’t do it again.I wrote back about that and he wrote back something rude again. Now my supervisor says he will talk to him, but he thinks my coworker will make a big deal about it. What should I do?

Signed, Tired of Apologizing

Dear Tired of Apologizing:

This is certainly an unpleasant situation. You provided us with some other information by email, which helped to provide further insights about it. As you know, emails and phone calls at work have all the risk of face to face communications, but with the added problem of having no opportunity to show through facial expressions, smiles or gestures, the spirit in which something was said. Add a long-term conflict to it and things get worse.

I don’t know how long each of you have worked there or what your respective jobs and job skills are, but apparently he has job site skills and you have office-based skills. Those two functions are often prone to conflict. You may feel that he talks down to you. He may feel that you think you know more about the work than the people who are doing the work. You both seem have your antennas out for what the other has done or said that is offensive.I’ll review the information you gave us about the phone call and the emails that followed it. I realize this was just one series and there have been many others. But, this one has enough issues that it makes a good example for a completely uninvolved person to consider.

Let me note though, that the emails you included, from yesterday, seemed like positive ones from both of you. So, hopefully, that can continue. I’ll mention that after these thoughts.On the days in question, your coworker called you and said “I don’t know if you know what’s going on for tomorrow out here.” Maybe he said it in a sarcastic way or perhaps you viewed it as insinuating that you weren’t doing your job correctly. He may have thought you didn’t know what was scheduled and he was going to show his willingness to work with you by filling you in. Or, he may have wanted to let you know that he knew more than you.

You apparently took it as unnecessary and somewhat insulting, because you responded, “Actually, I already called and talked to the site superintendent, but thank you. Is there anything else I can help you with?”If that’s what you said and not much more, it could easily sound like, “I knew already, so mind your own business. Is there anything else you want to know before you get off the phone and leave me alone?”Maybe there was much more to the conversation than that, but based on your quotes about it, it could sound “attitudinal.” I’m not trying to put all the blame on you, but your coworker shouldn’t be assigned all of it either. It could be that the reason your boss has suggested that you apologize to your coworker in the past, is because your boss could also pick up on that tone in your comments, even though you may not have meant it to sound that way.Your coworker was wrong to send back an email saying he was only trying to help and he wouldn’t do it again. That sounds sulky. He should have come to you in person and said, “What was that tone all about when I called you? It sounded like you resented me filling you in on what we’re doing on site. Was that it?”

At least then you two could have had it out in person! Or, he could have not responded at all and limited his communications with you to what was required.Instead, he sent an angry note. Then, you wrote back that you were going to pretend you never saw it, not for your sake but for his. That reply would irritate most people and it certainly irritated him! He wrote back, “Whatever gets you through the day.” Which is his way of saying, “Just leave me alone.”He may also think that the faith-based line after your signature isn’t matching the conversations!The manager for both of you should step in on this and bring it to a halt. He could instruct both of you to limit your emails to business conversation without any blaming or goading. If he won’t, the two of you will have to do it.

You can’t control what your coworker does, but you can control you and your reactions. First, even if you have to pretend all the time, you will probably have to pretend that you don’t have a strong dislike of your coworker. You may also have to accept that his work and yours will never be completely in alignment. He may never fully appreciate your role and you may never fully appreciate his. But, the two of you can at least fulfill your job requirements.If you were being hired today and they described your coworker and asked if you could work with him, what would you say? Would you have to turn down the job or would you say you could find a way to get along? If you were told right now that you have to learn to communicate without conflict or you’ll lose your job, would you be able to do it?

The bottom line is, could you do a better job of communicating with him than you’re now doing? I think you could. I think he could too, but again, you can only do what you can do.This isn’t a harassment situation, at least as described. It’s a contentious situation that has gone on for a long time–and about which you both probably feel justified. I expect your manager is wishing it would magically disappear because he’s tired of dealing with it! Unfortunately, there is no magical solution to situations like this one. But, if you want to keep working there, you will have to take your ego and emotion out of your communications with this coworker and stick to a businesslike but civil tone and demeanor. Pretend it’s your first day every day and look for ways to work effectively in spite of your dislike.If you think it would help, consider having your manager meet with you and your coworker and talk about the rules of communication between the two of you. What is acceptable and what is not? What gets work done and what gets in the way? What is too personal and what is the correct businesslike tone? Maybe that kind of conversation will allow you each to make some promises–and hopefully to stick with them.I’m hoping the emails you two sent yesterday will help smooth things out and you can begin to move forward from here.Best wishes to 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.