Lynne Curry: Office bully is driving co-worker mad

ManagementJuly 14, 2013 

Q. I was in a good mood when I came into work until I ran into "Nan" and she sympathetically asked, "Bad hair day?" I'd known my hair wasn't great, but I didn't think I looked that bad until she commented. Now I feel like hiding my head under a bag.

This has gone on for months. At first, I gave Nan the benefit of the doubt when she made seemingly clueless comments, like, "I can't believe you're eating those, do you know their calorie count?" when I was munching peanuts because I forgot my lunch.

It wasn't until Nan whispered, "Oh honey, what did that hair dresser do to you?" just before I got up in front of our entire company to give a presentation that I knew for sure Nan was trying to throw me off my game.

When Nan zings her digs, I feel my face flame and my brain stops working. Everything I later think of to say sounds like a catty put down. Do I take this to the boss? Turn into a cat myself? Or ignore Nan?

A. Don't run to the boss; if Nan's a cat, you don't want to be a mouse.

Ignoring doesn't work when you've flagged Nan's gotten to you by turning red. If you want Nan to stop, turn the tables on her without a cat fight. When she next snipes, respond with a neutral tone and easy smile, "Ouch. Have you seen a doctor about that foot in mouth issue?"

When Nan sees you're no longer easy prey, she'll either stop or escalate. If the latter, make a list of all the comments you remember and then meet with your boss -- letting him know what you've already tried.

Q. My boss expects my co-worker and me to share job duties. It's not working. She spends half her time texting or on eBay.

I've talked with my boss about it but he doesn't do anything. I know he thinks I'm a grumpy old lady who's jealous of an employee he calls a "sweet, young thing." Also, she's sneaky. When I finally talked my boss into looking at her computer browsing history, there was nothing in it.

The result? -- I work hard all day, give up my lunch hours and leave work exhausted. She, however, has plenty of time to schmooze the boss and make personal calls.

I don't want to find a new job, please help or tell me I just need to give up and shut up.

A. When you're joined at the hip with a slacker your boss likes, you need to prove the validity of your accusations. If what you say is true, your coworker cleansed her browsing history defeating your first attempt and appears more adept at office politics than you.

Do you have any concrete evidence that might matter to your boss -- for example, the number of customer calls you handle versus the number your co-worker handles? Could you log the times you see her on eBay, texting or on personal calls?

Alternatively, what might happen if you actually took lunches or scheduled a vacation? If what you say is true, your boss needs to realize your worth and the consequences of his schmoozer's playtime -- by your reining your work hours back to normal or by your absence.

Finally, are you sure you don't want a new job?

Dr. Lynne Curry is a management- employee trainer and owner of The Growth Company Inc. Send questions to lynne@thegrowthcompany.com and follow Lynne on Twitter @lynnecurry10.

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