Work Trouble

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    Dear TB community,

    I work in a network of “offices” on an on-call basis. Early this year, I went into this office for the first time. The routine for me is to sign in at the office before moving to the part of the building to do the task I signed up to do for that day.

    Some information about me as I go about life that may help you see the picture: fresh faced mid-30s; I am soft in my approach — the please and thank you’s come ingrained in the way I deal with most every one, thoughtful, generally trusting, have been learning to be assertive, competent in my job, and open to new people and open minded,  This latter point might lead some to judge me as naive and an easy pick for unloading.

    In our first encounter, the admin assistant (receptionist type position) — an older woman who carried herself in an imposing manner — was looking at her screen. Assuming that she was on a task that needed focus, I waited for her to finish said task while standing within her line of vision without imposing my presence on her. I gently said “good morning” after a longer than expected wait, and she slowly raised her eyes to meet mine, without uttering a single word. I did what I needed to do to sign in, let the way she made the situation uncomfortable go in my mind, and went about my job.

    I’m good with what I do and I enjoy my circumstances for the most part: talking to people who work there, being open, pleasant, but never imposing my presence on anyone who might be avert to new relationships with a relative stranger.

    These past couple of weeks, I was positioned in that office on a regular basis (every work day), and things have escalated. The uncomfortable silences continued until I break it in the morning; the insiduous micro-agressive moves such as flicking my dayfile my way while blankly glaring (I picked this word carefully considering staring would have a different feel on you when it was what someone is doing it) at me. When I would say thank you, she would sit down in this important way that I’d noticed and flagged as a bit odd; subtly squaring her shoulder and refusing to move when we are stuck in the same narrow walkway in the office until I’d duck and move to prevent it from becoming an awkward stand-still; not giving me a plan for the day until I realised the next day that there was one for me that only she’d received via email…

    I’d tried to minimise any chances of encounter with her, including asking for permission (and given) to keep my key so I didn’t need to talk to her. Mostly, it was to close the door for her insiduous ways to undermine or inconvenience my doing my work or having a smooth day at work.

    I’d have been frightened, flagellate myself in the past for being an awful person because that’s why I’d invited that kind of treatment and that was what I deserved. However, after some inner work in the past year, I knew it was my pattern and I want to learn to deal with people like this woman in an effective way going forward.

    I hate being bullied, because of the growth I’d experienced from the days when I’d internalise and implode with substance abuse. I’m still learning alternate, healthier ways to deal with bullying behaviours directed at me.

    Any advice is welcomed. Thank you for reading.



    • This topic was modified 5 years, 2 months ago by gia.
    • This topic was modified 5 years, 2 months ago by gia.


    Unfortunately for whatever reason there are people who are unhappy/rude/angry that you have to deal with.

    I have no advice but I can offer suggestions.

    1) Kill her with kindness. Greet her with a smile, eye contact and a warm hello/good morning/afternoon.  You most likely not get anything in return.  Consistency and persistence is key.

    2) If you are willing to put yourself out even more then engage in conversation with her.  Ask her about herself, likes/dislikes, family, etc.  Establish a relationship. She will find it hard to be rude to someone she knows on a more personal level.

    3) Be aggressive back. Be rude back. Demand the plan or anything you are entitled to.  Don’t ask for it.  Demand it loudly and forcefully.  Call her out on those microagressions.  Tell her that what she says/does is unacceptable especially from someone whose job is to be of service to people like you.

    Not sure what is the best way or the most effective for they are two opposite ends of the behavior spectrum.

    Good luck,


    Dear gia:

    As I read your post I was impressed by how insightful you are and how astutely aware of bodily language and passive-aggressive communication. I trust you to see the situation with the receptionist as it truly is.

    I don’t see any other way to deal with her behavior other than one: at a moment when she is looking at your face, make a very bold eye contact with her, and with a confident, loud and clearly angry tone, tell her:  f*&* you, (her name)!

    Once you say it, stay there, where you are, stand there and keep looking at her. After a short while walk away.

    Next time she displays any of her aggressive moves, like standing in your way, tell her in that same tone of voice, confident and angry, eye contact if she is looking at your face: move aside!

    I know it’s crude to use the f word. I don’t like to use it myself, hate it really, but when necessary it is way preferable to a punch in the face, which is illegal.



    * didn’t reflect under Topics



    I think I’ve dealt with this same woman myself…haha. Seriously though, Mark is right, some people are unhappy/rude/angry and unfortunately we’re forced to deal with them to get our jobs done. Don’t let her get to you.

    She’s communicating to you that she’s more powerful than you are in this office. That’s why she refuses to move when the two of you are stuck in the same narrow walkway in the office; she’s insisting that YOU move first. She has your daily work plan and she knows you need it so she’s going to make you squirm before you get it. This is classic passive-aggressive behavior. Recognize it, see it for what it is, but don’t let it bother you. It’s not personal. She’s done this before.

    I like both anita’s and Mark’s responses. I had to chuckle while reading anita’s because I’ve actually done what she suggested (minus using the f-word…lol) and it worked! It really did. The key is in the confident, bold, solid eye contact which will clearly communicate to this woman: game on! Whenever you see her be sure to hold the eye contact until she looks away. You’re stronger than you think you are and she’s weaker than she lets on.

    Whatever you decide to do, the real key is to figure out a way to not let this get to you. I suggest meditating for 20 minutes before you go into the office and then again when you get back home. Be above this nonsense.



    Dear Mark, Anita, and Brandy,

    Your responses overlap in some ways and differ from each other in others, as a result of which, the options I have are clarified and one in particular is highlighted in my mind. Thank you all, in the unique ways you extended a warm helping hand. As my path of growth is from a tendency to bottle up and act in, the trajectory of my growth has been to act out and I sometimes manage to pretend I’m more self-empowered than I feel, but I also recgonise that what I need at this moment is to scrunch up my face, curl up in a ball, and cry.

    With the issue at hand, I’d done: glaring back, cussing out in my head, making faces behind her back.

    Anita, your suggestion made me chuckle. How liberating that would be. My profession is one in which we are held up to some (to me somewhat) arbitrarily high standards — maturity, poise, doing the right thing all the time, etc… I entertained the thought that the person we discussed saw that as a trump card to hold people in my position in check, knowing that I (we) cannot afford to act “inappropriately”. It’s like people cannot easily imagine that people in my profession experience bullying as well.

    Brandy, your insight regarding remembering  not to allow her power-tripping behaviour to get to me is tremendously helpful. It’s simple enough to use as a snappy soundbite especially at times stress and adrenaline flying rampant when I next come into contact with her (and the next time, and the next time…)

    Mark, thank you for affirming what I’d begun to counsel myself with in similar situations, that it is inevitable that we encounter people who are rude/angry/have s&*! to unload.

    • This reply was modified 5 years, 2 months ago by gia.

    Dear gia:

    You are welcome. You wrote: “It’s like people cannot easily imagine that people in my profession experience bullying as well”-

    -she is bullying you covertly, in ways that she can easily deny if confronted with it by anyone.

    Because of the high standards you mentioned and the fact that she will probably deny her covert aggression and accuse you  of uncalled for aggression, if you do choose to respond to her covert bullying with an overt counter aggression, as I suggested (choose your words, with or without the f word)-

    -see to it that you do so outside the earshot and sight of other people, so that it is a personal interaction, between you and her and no  one else is a party to  it or a witness to it.



    * One more thing, regarding the “high standards- maturity, poise, doing the right thing all the time”- it is not the right thing to submit to an aggressor, be it an overt or covert aggressor, or is it mature or wise or a high standard to do so, not repeatedly at least, and on a regular basis.

    The right thing to do when facing an aggressor is to either leave or stay and stand up to the aggressor.




    Gia, I’m curious if you have experimented with any of these suggestions?

    Two things come to mind for me.

    1) Please stay aware of your triggers and desires around the substance abuse. Reach out to someone if you feel like relapse is possible.

    2) You are entitled to your physical space, I am a lot like you and sometimes I forget that I deserve to stand tall, own the ground i’m standing on, and don’t need to tolerate disrespect. Even just the act of telling her outloud, that you see what she is doing and that you don’t like it, might be incredibly empowering for you and might take the wind out of her sails.



    Hi TJ,

    I apologise for the delay in my becoming aware of your response. I have maintained my distance (emotional — harder to do compared to physical and professional distance) from the person involved. A bit surprisingly, she’s “let up” and noticeably easier around me. Of course, lots of minuscule things transpired — she saw me beginning to develop amicable relationships with people at the workplace; seeing that I know people at a community centre we both attend (it sounds awful to me that someone would only let up their mean ways due to social pressure that I cringe as I acknowledged that as a reason for the improvement), seeing that I give s*^& back to her as she does to me…

    I also noted a temptation to observe her interaction with others in my situation, but decided that not only is it not natural for me, I do not want to know. I have a tendency to do that — distance myself from people, from events…I am yet to explore how that is working out for me. I don’t think it’s … good.

    Thank you for pointing out ongoing issues surrounding substance abuse. It is interpreted with gratitude for the honesty and sensitivity on your part to note that it is an issue.



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