How To Shut Down A Condescending Coworker For Good

How To Shut Down A Condescending Coworker For Good

You have problems, I have advice. This advice isn’t sugar-coated — in fact, it’s sugar-free, and may even be a little bitter. Welcome to Tough Love.

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You have problems, I have advice. This advice isn't sugar-coated -- in fact, it's sugar-free, and may even be a little bitter. Welcome to Tough Love.

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This week we have someone who’s struggling with a crappy coworker who seems to be holding all the cards.

Keep in mind, I’m not a therapist or any other kind of health professional — just a guy who’s willing to tell it like it is. I simply want to give you the tools you need to enrich your damn lives. If for whatever reason you don’t like my advice, feel free to file a formal complaint here. Now then, let’s get on with it.

Hey Patrick,

I am curious how to handle a situation that has come up at work over the last two years. I have a co-worker that is rude, condescending and dismissive towards several people in our office (myself included). The problem is that she is in charge of scheduling and is an unofficial shift supervisor, even though officially we are equals job-wise. In fact, I have seniority. The others that are suffering a similar fate as I am are hesitant to confront her, given her control over their schedules.

I have tried to bring up these issues with her before, only to be dismissed or accused of being the actual cause of the problem, which never gets defined. My department head doesn’t really like getting her hands dirty, and tends to avoid issues of conflict. Another co-worker of mine tried to talk to the department head last year about the same issue, and was subsequently admonished and told that the problem was with her, not the shift supervisor. In lesser cases, it turns into a “let’s all get together and talk this out”, which the shift supervisor knows how to milk and turn it back on the person complaining. I’d go to HR, but they are outsourced and technically, no rules are being broken. I’d leave, but my job is specialised enough in a way that leaving would require me to move to another city.

I’m stuck on how to proceed. I can’t stand the thought that I’m being treated this way and it’s really affecting my ability to do my job. However, I can’t think of any good options other than a direct confrontation, which I worry will play right into her hands. Any advice?

Stuck in Nowhere Land

Hey Stuck in Nowhere Land,

This grief-bringing gal is good. Why? Because she has leverage, and you have none. Your department head is useless, your HR department isn’t even around, and you sound like a big ol’ weenie who can’t fend for yourself. But it’s not over, Stuck. She doesn’t get to win if you don’t let her.

First, go to HR anyway! Yes. Do it. Get these complaints down on record so they’re official. In fact, have everyone complain about her. If she slips up at all in the future, someone will be able to see those complaints and realise how awful she actually is. Then bye bye Barbara (that’s her name in my head). You say no rules have been broken, but I’m pretty sure there’s something in the ol’ employee handbook about not being such a rude piece of crap to coworkers that it affects people’s ability to do their job.

Once you’ve done that, you have a few options on how to proceed. Pick your favourite:

  • Take away her leverage: You say you have seniority, or are at least stand on equal ground, so try to take over as the “unofficial” shift supervisor. Ask your boss if you can do it for a while, or at least take turns doing it. You can even make it seem like a nice gesture to her, and make it look like you have a go-get-’em attitude to your boss. There goes her power…
  • Get on her good side: If you really don’t think you can change her ways, try to get off of her hit list. Fake your way to being her pal so you can at least work in peace. Offer to do her some favours, treat her like she’s an old friend, or hell, pay her off with a gift or something. Maybe she’s dead inside and hates most people, but you could slip into that small percentage of people she tolerates with neutral acceptance! If you can’t beat her, join her.
  • Stand up to her: You’re worried a direct confrontation will play into her hands, but there’s no way she’s that brilliant and diabolical. She isn’t a super-villain, she’s a sad jerk that works in your office. You and the rest of your crew can shut her down by not letting her treat you the way she does. When she says something rude, act like you don’t hear her, or tell her to slow down and explain what she’s getting at. When she’s dismissive, follow up with her until she has no choice but to hear you out and listen. If she tells you to do things, refuse until she changes her tone and asks nicely. Confront her and tell her how her actions make you feel, and tell her to stop treating you that way. If everyone finally stops being such a pushover and shows her they have had enough, she’ll have no choice but to pretend to be a decent human being.

The truth is, this woman is just a run of the mill bully. And bullies get all of their power from you. Stop playing the victim, Stuck, and fight fire with fire. She does all this crap because she can get away with it — so stop letting her! She doesn’t have to like you, but as a coworker, she does have to respect you.

That’s it for this week. I probably didn’t make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but sometimes what you need is some tough love. ‘Til next time, figure things out for yourself.


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