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Part II: My coworker ignores me and it is very cruel

Dear Office-Politics,

My company likes to move us around every 3 or 4 months. I was just moved after being comfortable somewhere else for 6 months, and was looking forward to a change until I realized the person beside me hates me for no known reason. She ignores me completely and it is very cruel. I say good morning and goodbye, have tried breaking the ice with her and she is cold and won’t look me in the eye. I thought at first she was just focused on her work so I tried to stay quiet but we actually depend on each other for help and the supervisor told me she was very knowledgeable and asking questions was ok. Everyone else in our role shares information and helps each other out, not in excess, but enough that there is a comfortable amount of social politeness in the work environment. But this person will not even look my way. The worse thing about it is that I knew her before in this office and she actually used to be nice to me, and she is nice to everyone else. She is very well respected and liked throughout the office.

People say not to take it personally but it is obvious that it is. The only thing I can think might be wrong is that this spot was empty previously and she had this whole area to herself and now I have moved in. I was sensitive to that at first because I knew that would be hard for her but now I am through being polite and want to get to the bottom of this. How should I handle it?

Coldly Ignored

OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY FRANKE JAMES
franke james

Dear Coldly Ignored,

I am very glad that you have written into our site for help. Marty Seldman and Rick Brandon have responded to your dilemma in Part I. I want to share my perspective with you as well.

I read her flip-flop behavior towards you as a territorial battle. You have invaded her territory and she is letting you know it. The ‘ignoring’ tactic that your coworker is using is indeed cruel. However once you understand it as a ‘tactic’ you will be much better armed to defend yourself.

The funny thing is that ‘ignoring’ is a classic technique advised by Family psychologists to ‘handle’ unruly offspring who are prone to outbursts. Anthony Wolf, clinical psychologist and author of Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall recommends using this technique.

The advice to parent’s goes like this: When your teenager is arguing with you, the most effective technique is not to argue back but to keep restating your position on the issue and then disengage. “No, you may not take the family car to your friend’s all-night birthday bash.” Teenagers are masters at arguing and will have the parent tied up in knots in no time, retorting with arguments like this, “You’re saying you don’t trust me not to drink and drive! That’s terrible. You don’t trust me. You’re saying I would go out and kill someone by driving drunk…”

All of a sudden the conversation has been flipped upside down and is now about ‘trust’ instead of safety. Yikes! How did that happen? Rather than arguing each point with your teenager, Wolf advises repeating your stance, disengaging by IGNORING their further pleas, and even walking out. As a parent I have to say this technique is one that I have used occasionally and find very effective. Wolf notes that this is a classic psychological technique. “You are extinguishing a behavior by giving it a non-response. And by responding positively to any instance in which they are more civil, you increase the likelihood of that behavior.”

So back to your situation. Your coworker is trying to control your behavior by ignoring you. Except you are NOT an unruly child prone to outbursts. She is not your parent. You are a coworker who needs to have regular conversations with her in order to get your own work done. I know I would find your situation very annoying and distracting. So what can you do to fight back?

1. Try this behavioral test: Ignore her
The ignoring is a manipulative tactic — but once you are wise to it you can protect yourself from it, and possibly even laugh at it. As the Game Designer behind the Office-Politics Game, I am going to suggest something a little unconventional…

Try this behavioral test for one day: Ignore her. It will help you to better understand the game she is playing. Even if she does not notice you ‘ignoring her’, you will gain insight into how much concerted effort it takes to ignore someone. And also how hard it is to play the ‘ignoring’ game if the other person doesn’t acknowledge it!

You will need to be a bit of an actor to pull this off. You really have to pretend she is invisible. To do this effectively you need to talk around her. You cannot look at her. And you must leave her written notes, because she is not ‘present’. It’s as though she did not make it into work that day. The thinking behind this is that people hate to be ignored. You wrote to us because you hate being ignored. Everyone does. Perhaps this lady is different and it won’t bother her… But my guess is she will find it very frustrating, and it may break down the ice-barrier she has constructed towards you and get her to treat you with more respect.

But if nothing else, I hope this test will give you more insight into the type of behavior your coworker exhibits — and act as a positive motivator to you to treat all of your coworkers with the utmost attention and respect.

2. Go to your Supervisor and request a Transfer
If the behavioral test doesn’t work (or it’s not to your liking) then I’d recommend shining a bright light on her behavior. But before you flip the switch, make sure you’ve documented it thoroughly. Just like the teenagers who can argue back, and turn things upside down and backwards, this lady is a manipulative Office-Politics player. You have to have your evidence clearly laid out before you go to your Supervisor and ask for a transfer.

Work can be a pleasure if you have nice people around you. Your coworker sounds miserable — but then even teenagers can be miserable for awhile, and then their behavior changes and you realize it was just a growth phase and they really are human after all.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics. Please let us know how things work out — we hate to be ignored!

Franke

Franke James, MFA
Editor & Founder, Office-Politics.com
Inventor, The Office-Politics® Game

__________________________________________________________

Franke James, MFA is the Editor & Founder of Office-Politics.com. She is also the Inventor of The Office-Politics® Game a dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play, and laugh, at office politics. It’s used by HR departments, and corporate trainers worldwide. The Office-Politics Dilemmas have been inspired by the hundreds of letters submitted to Office-Politics.com.

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  1. 117 Answers to “Part II: My coworker ignores me and it is very cruel”

  2. I’ve been dealing with an obnoxious coworker. We hit it off, so I thought, at first. But somehow, after time, we just don’t talk to each other at all.

    First it was my boss asking about the temperature in the office. I wasn’t going to lie, and said that no matter what I put it at, no one seems to agree on a temp. He asked who keeps changing it, so I said who it was. 1st strike against me because I can’t lie.

    2nd thing happened when I said that some people find this coworker is a hard a** to work with. This got back to them and they flipped on me for calling them an a-hole and not everyone thinks that way. And they didn’t care that I thought that. So, I told my bosses about this because I didn’t know what to do. Apparently this was my 2nd & final strike. I just don’t understand why they didn’t ask me and just jumped to me bad mouthing them when I actually respect their capabilities.

    Well, now we are at an impasse. Why do I care? Because I get along with everyone, and somehow I just don’t with them.
    If he thinks I’m a b**ch, I don’t really care. I can be tough sometimes and come across like that when I’m trying to do my job running a project. I can be tactless, and yeah, I say the wrong things all the time. But those around me seem to shrug it off and (most likely) link it to PMS. I’m working on it though.

    I said this person is obnoxious. What I mean is that they always have to take centre stage. If someone doesn’t know something, they’ll teach them, but in a way that they think you’re beneath them because you don’t know. And they’re childish by writing a note to hand to me instead of asking. Just ask, I will help, that’s what I’m here for. And a few other little things like they way they seem to try to “teach someone a lesson”, like it’s their job to point out someone’s faults & destructively deal with the situation.

    I don’t know if it’s because I’m new and in a managerial position; and they’ve been a part of the company forever and decided not to be one. Or that they are family to the owner.

    I read something today that seemed to help:
    If you want to know what someone is like, watch how they treat their inferiors, rather than their equals.

    I do know, by what people tell me (and they come to me a lot) that this person is, in fact, difficult and an a**hole. But apparently, I’m not supposed to talk about it. It always gets back to them anyways. I’ve learned one thing, don’t talk about them. Ok, lesson learned. But seriously? Why do they have to be so childish? And how is it that I get along with everyone, but 1 person? But I see how everyone gets along with them & talks behind their back… makes me wonder if that’s happening behind mine.

    In the mean time, I don’t ignore, nor do I try to talk to them if I don’t have to. They stay away from me anyways. I find this person quite entertaining with their stories that I overhear; they lived an interesting life. They are the type of person that I typically would connect with.

    I guess I can’t win them all.

    By Deling with obnoxious coworker on Feb 4, 2014

  3. Maybe you deserve to be ignored because you are slow, lazy and overall a weak human being whose existence brings suffering to those around you who have to make up for your lack of work capacity.

    By Bmiller on Feb 11, 2014

  4. I am fairly new here at this company, I began about 3 months ago. I am an HR Manager at a media company and there is a small team that comprises of two ladies that are in their early 20’s and a guy who is in his mid-thirties, there’s the head of our department who is my exact age, early forties.

    I am generally ignored by the 2 ladies and the chap continues to speak to me less and less. We all sit in a pod, very closely together. Not pleasant.

    I’m not sure what I’ve done to offend all of them, but it really hurts at times and it can get the better of me on occasion. It may be that I don’t have a lot in common with them? I try not to make negative comments and try to keep it on the lighter side… obviously that’s not working. Is it because I’m paid more than the others, with the exception of the head of department? Oh well. I give up!

    But after reading a lot of your comments, I do not think that ignoring them intentionally will work, it is childish and it will do nothing but lower me to their level. I also don’t want to waste my energy on worrying about people like that either! My Mother always told me to heap kindness on people like that and just do what I can to make myself happy.

    I need to stay in this job for at least 1 and 1/2 years – so I will try my best to learn how to cope and just get on with my job.

    I will however try not to discuss things that are not job related with them, just keep it professional and not let them know that it bothers me. If I need a bit of cheering up I can always text one of my friends a hello…

    By Ahuvahb on Feb 20, 2014

  5. I too am an ignorer. This is only because I do not know of any other way of handling difficult situations at work. There is a co-worker that I found very annoying. She was not very professional in the things she said and did. She also was very selfish and things that were meant for communal use, she would take for herself. I guess my contempt for her showed because she started ridiculing me to my face about my personal life. I definitely limited what I had to say to her at this point. Eventually she started gossiping about me, telling lies to others about my capabilities at work and saying that I was envious of her. Many people came to me, warning me about her and the things she was saying. Eventually I realised that she herself was not performing well on the job and was being chastised for it. She started making the attacks on me more frequent and she started including a male supervisor who dislikes me because I ignored his advances towards me. As soon as I started ignoring them both, then working in their presence became much easier. The funny thing is that when I started doing this, they confronted me, telling me that I was the one who was unprofessional. I listened to them, asked them if they were finished and then left their presence. If they give a greeting, I answer. I told them that I do not wish to be a part of any silly birthday club (which in the past I was bullied into giving money) and instead I limit my conversations with them to absolutely necessary work related stuff. I must add that they have worked very hard to get others on staff on their bandwagon and I constantly face ridicule and people looking at me and laughing in my face. I am trying to leave this job, but it is difficult to find something else with the same salary. I have a mortgage and car payments.

    By Dee2014 on Mar 1, 2014

  6. More focus should be on the people who bring you up rather than down. I believe you need to train yourself to recognize this and stay focus on the uplifting people in your life. There will always be people who will be anti-social with you.

    By Michael Alber on Mar 31, 2014

  7. I have recently started working for an engineering company in Canada. One of my coworkers, a Colombian, just like me, has been playing the ignoring game since day 1. I tried to be polite, only saying “good morning” or “buenos Dias” but no answer at all. She is friendly with everyone, except me.

    I don’t wot with her directly but this behaviour bothers me. I don’t know what I did or said to anoy her. I don’t want to go to upper management either as I won’t be in a good position (she has been in the company much longer than I am). However I really don’t know what to do…maybe trying to ignore her…but this won’t be my normal way….

    I’m happy with my job and boss and I don’t want to think on looking for elsewhere because of this coworker….

    By Juan on May 6, 2014

  8. I am ignoring someone at work. And it’s not a coping technique. This person is extremely irritating. If you get up from your desk to go to lunch, she will say something like “Oh, are you sneaking out of work for the rest of the day?”

    Loaded questions that echo throughout the office. She talks very loudly all day with nibby questions and unsolicited advice, but then demands silence when she has actually decides to do any work.

    So, why should I have to exchange pleasantries and divulge my private details to a person who is extremely rude?

    And, trust me, not answering her questions and ignoring her is actually much easier than putting up with her!

    Not to mention, that if people go along with her, her comments and questions escalate.

    To people being ignored:

    We are at work to do our jobs, not to be a captive audience for your poor social skills. Try to imagine if the person ignoring you is on their vacation or out having a surgery. You are still expected to do your work regardless of whether another person is minding their own business.

    By Ashley on May 18, 2014

  9. Who cares? There is this stupid b*tch at work I dont speak to right now and she likes running to others crying about it. Sorry, the world does not revolve around you. Im here to work, not “speak”.

    By Mark on Sep 4, 2014

  10. Dear all,

    I have been ignored by a co-worker for 3 years! I am 32 now. This began 6 months after I started my job. She started to be rude and when I started working in a project for a client that she was involved before, she started to correct me by written copying my managers and I politely ask her to stop. She answered: “I will keep doing it”. Finally I told her that she was not my boss. From that day she stop talking to me and she pretends I do not even exist. It was a nightmare. She is absolutely nice and polite with everyone else in the department. I started to feel weird and hurt. I tries to fix the situation by talking to her in private but she was cruel and rude and told me she is perfectly ok with the situation. I visited one psychologist and one psychiatrist. I have been feeling violent and sad and started to take medication cause I only wanted to cry when I woke up Mondays.
    I am from Spain and here it is almost imposible finding new jobs and I having gone from being energetic and happy at work to be depressive and shy.

    I started with a new psychologist now and he is encouraging me to be as I am. To start to say “hello” to her and pretending that everything is normal. I think is working! It is still annoying and I am still afraid about her but I think I will success. Anyhow I think she destroyed my career in this company. However I want to win and demonstrate that I AM.

    By Jaime on Nov 22, 2014

  11. An update on my situation from 9/2012: Soon after that post the office dynamics changed. The two ring leaders had a falling out. New people in the office now, one being a very upbeat friendly young woman who has replaced one of them. The original ring leader tried to intimidate her, tried to set rules and claim her turf. Others caught on and we offered her our support. This young woman is more professional and pleasant. Also, there is a new doctor in the office that doesn’t tolerate pettiness. Whenever that grumpy one starts up we ignore her behavior and when she decides to warm up to human interaction everyone, including myself, responds positively. No game playing!

    By marjac on Jan 13, 2015

  12. Well, I’m the ignorer. WHY? Because this coworker that I’m ignoring is a two-faced person wants pity, takes my update communications and runs to the boss to make it his, while trying to get me fired for stuff that he does. He’s not my friend any longer, and I seriously think all the drugs he did in college are screwing up his brain. He wasn’t always the best guy, but tolerable, but not now. Now, I’m thinking of changing jobs so I don’t have to listen to his flip-flopping/information grabbing tendencies any longer. Any advice on managing a flip-flopping coworker? PS – to those being ignored, maybe you also need to examine your own behavior as well.

    By Lisa M. on May 6, 2015

  13. Well I ignore my co-worker because she has insulted me way way too many times. I front of my peers, in public, and in front of my family. It doesn’t take much effort for me to pretend she is invisible. I am also tired of the fact that everyone else tries to tell me it is a cultural difference, that she didn’t mean it to come across the way it did. She did and she was well aware of it.

    By corky on Jul 16, 2015

  14. Ok this makes me feel better….I am not alone. Actually I am the ignorer. I was friendly with a co-worker and even helped her learn her job. She would talk non-stop with another co-worker and complain how people on welfare should get a job…..I couldn’t believe how many hours these two coworkers were wasting while I walked and worked around them and their gossip and giggling. I really felt like they were cheating the company we worked for since they talked and gossiped and giggled for hours….while I worked. They then started the “shhhhh her she comes” routine whenever I needed to go into the room they were talking in for work supplies. They would shut-up suddenly when I entered the room and then whisper and giggle whenever I left….This is very distracting to people that actually think they should be working during working hours….soon the one worker that is actually productive cannot stop thinking about whatever they are whispering about….this destroys the whole work environment…I just wish bosses would realize this. I decided to avoid them and move to a different area adjacent to the old working area to avoid their distracting behavior. Unfortunately they rumored and gossiped this as me being “antisocial” . Ha …I could go on but as you see they rule the roost and destroy a team environment by there stupid conversations…i finally tried ignoring them….it is the only way to get my job done.

    By betty on Aug 29, 2015

  15. I’m so relieved I finally found a site that talks about this! I’ve only been working at this temp-to-hire job for a few months but already my coworker, who I’m supposed to work closely with and share a cubicle space with, is ignoring me all the time. She “trained” me but didn’t give me information like management policy on how we treat file structure, for example, and acts frustrated when I ask these types of questions now, so I just avoid asking her for help anymore. I would ask if she needed help with a task or whether I could knock out a task from our manager (since I’d need a question answered) but she’d be dismissive, tell me it wasn’t a big deal, then leave the task stagnant for days. It’s like she’s hoarding to-do’s. I’ve been sneakily getting training from some of the other people in the office, but feel like I have to apologize for not knowing things I should. When I make a mistake and try to lighten things up like “hah sorry I thought I did that right” she’ll just flatly say “you didn’t” and doesn’t usually explain why. I’ll try to break the ice and be more social, ask about her weekend or the new cute picture on her desk of her kids but I can see it in her eyes when she tunes anything I say out. At first we had some good natured office gossip (which I’m already sorry I joined because how childish! & avoid now as much as possible) and snarked cheerfully about our jobs, but now any time I try to even nicely and cleanly joke around she says it’s rude or similar. I had told her my SO was in the military (I love him and know I brighten up when I mention him) and that we’d like to get married someday; suddenly my manager tried to slyly ask if I wouldn’t be in the area long!! It sounds crazy, but I swear I can “feel” her listening in hard on my conversations now, pausing her typing or similar, and she’ll sometimes suddenly stop talking when I come in the room. I no longer feel okay talking about my guy or personal life in any way, and have no privacy as my monitor faces her desk; meanwhile she chats away to her neighbor about anything and everything, including despising this job. Luckily I’m an introvert, but I worry she’ll have a say in if I get hired. I’ve been fighting at my anxiety by mostly ignoring my coworker and finding things for myself to do, snapping up tasks as soon as they come in, trying to figure them out on my own. It’s very concerning however when the previous girl who “just didn’t work out” seemed to have fallen into the negative behavior my coworker almost purposefully exacerbates: that former girl got lazy, started arriving late, and apparently yelled at someone. Recently began to wonder if she wasn’t ignored and told to “not worry about” her work as well because those are all symptoms of someone who hated their job…

    By Anne C. on Jan 8, 2016

  16. Sorry, call it or me cruel, but its the only way to deal with a difficult co-worker by ignoring completely. Yes, it is a control method is states we have tried every avenue and you refuse to respect others in the work place, so we will ignore you. You will not be invited into conversation nor acknowledged when you are here. Just do your job, which you do badly and make other co-workers look bad and don’t seem to care. So, the line of respect and conversation you want is not available to you in this work environment. I don’t see how ignoring someone who clearly disrespects the workplace and it’s co-workers should be treated as respectful or cordial even. The ignoring technique is a hopeful push out the door, if its uncomfortable enough they may leave and look for employment elsewhere. Sometimes it is for their own best interests as well. Makes perfect sense. I wouldn’t stay where I’m not wanted thats any relationship, unless your into controlling the situation, so badly that you want to continue it. For some people, negativity is also attention. The only way to handle this person is to give him less hours and hopefully he will leave eventually, but so far he is hanging. He just takes advantage of the work place and that is cruel in itself. If there is something ‘free” he is here for it. Be it trips eceterra. Can’t do his job, but will be here for a hand out. Sickening! Just want him to go away! He has no repsect for other workers, he has bad hygiene and a plethura of other habits that makes co-workers want to barf! So, my advise to keep sanity and saying cruel things, just ignore him completely. If I have to put up with him along with everyone else than I’m not going to make his stay here comfortable. 😉

    By justwannawork on Jan 16, 2016

  17. All of the people here who say they’re the ignorers are saying it’s because a person is difficult, or lazy, or something. I’m being ignored by a coworker (and it’s spreading to other coworkers in the clique).. and I do ALL the work while they sit around on their phones and laugh and ignore the work. I have been nothing but nice and fun and positive and all they do is talk bad about people and be mean spirited. It is so awful for morale because we work in a very stressful environment where we need to rely on each other, but as of now I’m just on my own. I can’t sink to their level because that would mean intentionally ignoring the work and it’s too important to me. But we don’t really have an on-site supervisor and I’m pretty new, so I feel like I have no recourse. I am trying not to be too confrontational so early into the job but it’s really upsetting to me. The main “ignorer” if she doesn’t ignore me completely, will look at me while I’m talking and then a sentence or two into what I’m saying will start a whole other conversation with someone else!! It’s so rude!! IF YOU DO THIS YOU ARE HORRIBLE

    By Janet on Feb 2, 2016

  18. I’ve been the person people ignore or aren’t nice to. I stayed in my job because:
    -I didn’t understand what their issue with me was
    -I thought they might eventually get over it
    -I really wanted the job
    -I wanted experience in the field
    -I had bills to pay
    -The job offered a good salary and benefits
    -Another job of equal pay wasn’t easy to find
    -I didn’t want to feel pushed out the door by arrogant people who decided I didn’t fit in with them

    …but I did eventually get out, cause who needs to be around such blatant, cancerous toxicity.

    By justsayin' on Apr 9, 2016

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