They Talk Badly About Me

Question:

I have this co-worker at work who is very annoying and very hard to talk to. She attacks you every time you confront about her work. Lately she and another worker have been picking on me. Because I found they were doing something they shouldn’t be doing and brought that to attention. Every time I pass by they make indirect comments related to me.

Comments like: One time after I made a mistake at my work, they would say “What a shame, she cannot do one thing right,” and started laughing. When I take my break by myself, they said, “What a pity–complete abandonment.” every time I pass by them, they had something indirect to say, and they would laugh at me. I know they are directing those comments to me. There’s no way I could prove this to my boss. Complaining about people is very hard thing for me to do. Though I dared to go and complain about these things to my boss. But he thinks I am being too sensitive and it’s just other person’s strong personality interfering with me. This is affecting my work. Could you please help me? What should I do to stop these guys harassing me?

Signed,

Harried


Answer:

DearĀ Harried:

It does sound like some unpleasantness is developing and could become worse over time if not stopped. It’s not easy to deal with such things, and most supervisors dread getting in the middle of what seems to them to be petty conflict. Let me suggest a couple of things and see if it will help you develop a plan of action.

First, it appears that the co-worker is reacting to something you said to her about her work. She may feel that if a supervisor didn’t correct her, you didn’t have a right to. It sounds as though your supervisor might not be a very strong supervisor, so the employee may not have been used to being corrected at all. You’ve probably already decided on your own from now on to be very careful about confronting this co-worker and others about their work, unless it is clearly appropriate for you to do so, rather than a supervisor. You say it is difficult for you to complain, so I can’t imagine you said very much to the employee, but it may not have taken much to be irritating to her.

She sounds like the kind of person it would be better to avoid most of the time. A mature person, even if she was irritated, would not act as this person is acting. She would have told you she didn’t think you had the right to criticize her, and she would have let it go at that. This person can’t seem to drop the subject.

I would agree with your boss that the employee has a strong personality; not necessarily a good thing. But I think your boss should get involved in this because it is getting out of control and is certainly bothering you and seems to be interfering with your work.

Consider this: Develop a time-line of all of this, starting with the day you said something to her about her work, if that’s when this truly started. Write what you said and how she responded. Then, if you remember the dates when various things have been said, list those and the remarks. If you don’t remember the dates, just list the remarks. Put the date you talked to your supervisor and anything that has been said since then. List any witnesses and anyone who participated. Also list any people with whom you work who could be contacted to verify your lack of negative actions toward the other person.

Then, write a short paragraph about how all of it makes you feel and how if affects your work. If you get nervous and make mistakes, note that. If you feel unable to concentrate because you’re embarrassed and upset over what they’ve said, note that as well. The message you wrote to us would be a good starting point for a letter. But, you would want to make a list so it could be easily read.

Review the list yourself. If there have only been two or three things, spread out over many weeks and none of them recently, perhaps you can wait and see if it gets even better over time. If there have been five or six things, spread out over the last couple of weeks, then you may want to go further with your concerns. If you decide to go further, add a final paragraph to your lists and say that you are asking for assistance to help stop this conflict that seems to be getting worse. You can keep it short, just make sure you say you are asking for help with the problem. That makes it official that you are concerned and want someone to help you.

If you have a Human Resources department, ask your supervisor if you can talk to them about ideas for handling this situation and tell him you would like to take your letter to them. That might remind him of his supervisory responsibilities. He may say he’ll handle it, and that’s fine.

If you do get some response at some level, be prepared to talk to someone about it at length. You may need to write another statement. Or, they may tell you again not to let it bother you. If they do, ask if you can go to them immediately the next time something is said by that person that is clearly meant to hurt you. They will probably say yes. Then, the very next time, report the matter immediately. Then you’ve done all you can do.

You could also talk directly to the employee and ask her why she is saying the things she’s saying. You could say, “Karen, what did you mean by that?” Or, “Karen, I’m not bothering you and I want you to stop bothering me.” That might at least let her know that you won’t just sit and take it. On the other hand, it could start a larger verbal quarrel. You know your situation best about whether you would want to do that or not.

If you have good friends at work, ask them what they would advise. They can probably see a bigger picture and might be able to help better than anyone.

And, of course, you could also just ignore it and focus on your work. At some point you will be shown to be the better employee or your supervisor will hear it and react, or other employees will get tired of it, or it will simply become history and the woman will be angry at someone else. I can understand how hard it would be to ignore it though!

So, you can deal with it directly or indirectly. But I think the place to start is by writing out what you are dealing with exactly so you can see it completely and anyone else reviewing it could as well.

Best wishes as you deal with this frustrating and upsetting situation. If you wish to and have the time, let us know what results you get.

Tina Lewis Rowe