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How do I deal with angry female coworker?

Headline text by Franke James, MFA.; Head with target ©istockphoto.com/MirekP

Dear Office-Politics,

I have a coworker that has done everything in her power to get under my skin and a lot of time I feel like there is very little I can say because I am afraid it will be seen by HR or others as me being the Macho guy. She promoted herself to our level and has only a high school degree. She yelled at me today in front of a lot of other people and I just walked away. But I think it is time for me to take action and register the fact in writing. Understanding that I have to communicate with her what should I do. I wish I could look for another job but the economy is not good now. How do I deal with an angry black woman?

Thank you,

You’ve Got Male

timothy johnson

Dear You’ve Got Male,

OK, let’s back up here. You mention this “angry black woman” has done everything in her power to get under your skin. I guess I’m a little at a disadvantage to know what that means. Outside of taxidermy “customers,” it’s my understanding that we among the living still control who or what gets under our skin. Is she making snide comments to you or about you? Have there been other “yelling” incidents? Does she wear obnoxious perfume? Has she made comments actually referring to gender or is that your own inference?

The reason I ask is simple: sometimes we create drama in our own mind that may or may not exist.

If her behavior is bad, you do not need to become the macho caveman and drag her around by her hair to persuade her to behave in a professional and civilized manner. My first boss out of college was truly one of the meanest and most ill-tempered trolls you could ever dread meeting. At first, I thought she was a rabid man-hater. And then I started LISTENING to her comments. While she did have man issues, her main problems were displacement and projection; her ex-husband’s name was also Tim and she was punishing me for his past transgressions. Now that she’s two husbands beyond him (and she’s numerous bosses behind me), I’ve learned that she does have issues with other men professionally. Being able to diagnose the real root cause of her issues helped me to take away some of her power. When she would make comments like “You do such-and-such like my ex-husband” I would respond by saying, “That’s an amazing coincidence. I’m glad I’m not him, though, given how you obviously feel about him.” By listening, and by redirecting her comments, I was able to keep the gender issue out of it.

One thing I would challenge you to think about is whether you personally have issues with gender, race, or education… rather than attributing them to HR or your female coworkers. Your letter seemed to hit on three sensitive areas of diversity, and without having the benefit of specific issues that your coworker has done to set you off, it can be perceived that the problem of perception lies with you.

Assuming the nature of her problem is behavioral and/or verbal, your best bet is to get on an even playing field with her and attempt to resolve the issue as adults. Do no raise your voice, do not storm off, and do not join in the fray of battle. Examples of possible responses might include, “Susan, that’s an interesting reaction to this issue. Would you mind explaining why you feel so strongly the way you do so I can understand your point of view better?” This will help defuse her volatile actions to you.

If she continues, you might say, “Susan, this is not acceptable behavior for professionals to engage in. Perhaps we need a third party to help us sort this out. I will schedule some time with our manager, so we can explain our respective points of view. I’m sorry we couldn’t resolve this ourselves.”

Be cordial. Be professional. Be calm and steady-handed. If she brings up the gender or the race cards, again just redirect the conversation: “Susan, I thought we were discussing accounts receivable. I don’t recall the issue of gender or race being introduced into the conversation. Let’s please stay on task with this issue.” It sounds like you are already thinking about documenting these instances, which is very smart.

I know the economy is bad right now, and it is rough for a lot of people who feel stuck in a situation and feel they cannot change. Try to provide yourself with some stress outlets in the meantime. My Office-Politics.com colleagues, Joshua and Marty Seldman, recommend yoga (yes, yoga!) at your desk. Their book, Executive Stamina, has been a wonderful resource for me personally. Other techniques include visualization or even just giving yourself opportunities to get up and walk around outside for your break. Above all, look for opportunities to prove yourself to be the professional you want others to perceive you to be.

I wish you the best. Thank you for writing to OfficePolitics.com


Timothy Johnson, Author & Consultant

Timothy Johnson is the Chief Accomplishment Officer of Carpe Factum, Inc. His company is dedicated to helping individuals and organizations “seize the accomplishment” through effective project management, strategic facilitation, and business process improvement. His clients have included Harley-Davidson Motorcycles, Wells Fargo, ING, Principal Financial Group, and Teva Neuroscience. Timothy has managed projects ranging from a $14 billion class action lawsuit settlement to HIPAA compliance, from software conversion to process reengineering, from strategic IT alignment to automated decisioning, from producing a training video to creating a project office environment. He is currently an adjunct professor at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, teaching MBA classes in Leadership, Managing Office Politics, Creativity for Business, and Project Management.

An accomplished speaker, Timothy has enthusiastically informed and entertained audiences across the nation on the topics of project communication, office politics, creativity, and meeting management. He has written two books, both business fables: Race Through The Forest – A Project Management Fable and GUST – The Tale Wind of Office Politics.

  1. 5 Answers to “How do I deal with angry female coworker?”

  2. You’ve got male,

    Well, for starters I would treat her the exact same way I would treat an angry white woman.

    By Lavon on May 8, 2009

  3. I think it’s interesting that this person tells the story and then throws in the color of this person’s skin and gender. It’s also interesting how he uses the phrase “our” level, like somehow she didn’t belong and that because she only has a highschool degree, she doesn’t deserve it. Bill Gates only has a high-school degree. She must be smart if she managed to get herself promoted to “their” level.

    Perhaps he has a problem with condescension and doesn’t know it. I’m a white woman and this person’s remarks “got under [my] skin”

    By Sara on Sep 17, 2009

  4. Hi Tim,

    I have a similar story to tell. Let me start with a question. How do you deal with a bossy co-worker?

    A co-working, wasn’t giving any title but act authoritatively and rudely towards other co-workers. My co-worker “E”, she might be there a year longer then I did, but doesn’t give her the right to speak rudely towards me and other new comers. “Don’t do this!” , “Go do that!” One time I put down a juice box on the table in the break room to tie my shoe, She quickly responded ” Don’t you leave your mess for other to clean up for you!” After many similar incidences, I responded ” Don’t you worried, I only put it down for a sec to tie my shoe”. She didn’t respond, but she clearly didn’t like it. She starts making it difficult for me at work since. There’s another time, I over heard she told a 45 year old co-worker ” Be quiet! Go print some yourself if there isn’t any printout left” and I wasn’t the only one heard it. He too choose to ignore her comment, turned around and left like i used to do. E, her tone is always demanding and rude.

    Even with her bossy behaviour, she got her own group of friends at work. They were referred as the ” Catty women ” . But among the catty women, E is different in her own way. E overlook her own duty in the company to revenge those who doesn’t compliant to her authority. I don’t want to make a scene with her. Mostly, I don’t want the managers to notice I don’t get along with her and further translate into unable to work with others. I believe this concern is in most people’s mind. Therefore, most co-worker goes around her as much as possible.

    It’s been a year I have been with the company. It seems to me that ignoring her rude comment and walk away no longer a wise approach. And it seems that the company rewards these outspoken catty group of people. Outspoken and catty is not negative by all mean in my eyes. I have good working relationship with other catty people in the group. But rude is a wrong turn of catty and outspoken. I obviously don’t want to be judged as weak and not able to defend myself. (which is very important for my next promotion)

    So, how do I deal with bossy co-worker positively without being seen as a doormat and in a cat-fight?

    By ThinkWise on Oct 4, 2009

  5. You’ve Got Mail:

    Your question would have been taken more seriously if you would have left the race and gender of the person out of your complaint. Because of this, I’m not quite sure if my comments are going to the right person. You see, I work with a class-A controlling narcissist who is extremely skilled in manipulating HR, their boss and administrators (or anyone who was fooled into listening to them). This person is adept at feigning innocence and does not have a problem swearing on a stack of bibles that the aggressor is actually that of their victim (all with a straight face and the ceremonial dropping of a tear or two). In a picture perfect world, I would like to think that in the matter of employee conflict, where race and gender are obviously a factor, it’s not necessarily a fact. But life is not perfect and neither is HR.

    After years of abuse and empty promises by HR, I decided to get even with my attacker and I got to work. First I had to protect myself. I fragmented my mind and created a mental hard drive and placed my attacker in a file I called Triple-I: Ignorant, Irrelevant and Invisible and I lived faithfully by the code (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil).

    Second: A narcissist LOVES LOVES LOVES ATTENTION, but, the manipulative and narcissistic bully is addicted to POWER. Your “woe is me” reaction to their public attacks is like crack cocaine. And the more you ignore them, the more severe the addiction. They will do ANYTHING to feed their addiction (i.e., get that monkey off their back). They become so distracted by chasing the high that the line between legal and illegal becomes blurred and eventually invisible. God love ‘em, ignorant people are their own worst enemy.

    Oh and by the by, where are you while the ignoramus is standing in the “crap hits the fan” zone? Standing on the sidelines waving with pen, paper, a lawyer and your fragmented mental hard drive. JACKPOT!

    By Kim on Oct 13, 2009

  6. I also have a coworker that has bossed me around.We are the same level on the job and is not my boss.She tells me to do her work and then tells me how to do mine.There are so many things she has said like i hate you like 10 times and walks away.After i talked to another co workier in regards to this she found out and said she was joking .She did not laugh or smile while saying those words i dislike.What can i do ??????????

    By tom on Dec 14, 2009

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