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My coworker humiliates me…

text by Franke James, MFA.; rhino photo ©istockphoto.com/ HenriFaure

Dear Office-Politics,

I am hoping for some advice. I am a high school librarian. I left my previous position for a position that offered $20,000 more a year. The extra income is a big deal for me.

I am a single parent and I have struggled to provide for my child. I was at my previous job for 6 years. I left with a good reputation, an excellent work record, and an offer to come back. I love my work!! I love turning kids on to books!! This new position was fine in the beginning.

I found out from my co-worker that the reason the former librarian left was because she was “difficult to get along with.” Everyday, for the past several months, I heard about how awful this former coworker was, sometimes several times per day. My coworker knows where her former coworker is employed and is now starting a hideous gossip chain about her to her new employer. What does this have to do with me? In meetings, my coworker, humiliates me in front of everyone, she says demeaning comments to my face. She has sabotaged me with other teachers by telling them that I do not know what I am doing. She tells everyone I am a “dingbat.”

I have a masters degree and have raised myself since the age of 15. I just bought a new car out of necessity and she tells everyone I am on “debtors’ row.” I became sick last night because I was scheduled to go to a meeting with her today. I didn’t go. How can she humiliate me if I am not there?

If I get a phone call or make a phone call she asks me who I the person was, why did they call, and almost always comments that it should have been her handling it. My supervisor sent me a book to review and she commented that it should have been addressed to her. When I write emails, she hangs over my shoulder wanting to know all the details. She has point blank asked me about my salary.

She is constantly calling me “poor Petrova” as if I am some pathetic loser. She asked me about my living situation. After Katrina, I lost my house. To save money and avoid the trailer situation, I took a small apartment. She totally misconstrued my situation. And she brings up my living situation in front of people I don’t know. She asked me if I was ever on welfare (never, I have always worked).

I am now thinking that SHE was the problem, not the former librarian. She has done and said other things as well, but I think you get the gist of the situation. I have never had to deal with this before. EVER. I respect others and I hope to get respect in return. Please advise. Please. Thank you so very much.

Thank you,

Masters in Survival

franke james

Dear Masters in Survival,

I bet by the time you finished writing that letter you knew what you had to do. But just in case you have any doubts let me tell you the message I’m getting loud and clear.

Your coworker (let’s call her Teri) is a bully. You’re a smart lady and you’ve faced some very tough situations — and not wallowed in self-pity. So don’t do it now.

You’ve recognized the bully for what she is. You know what her tricks are. Perhaps now that you know who and what you’re dealing with, she will have less impact on your emotional health.

But let’s clarify what your choices are. The way I see it you’ve got three:

  1. Ignore her and rise above her taunts. (You’ll need a skin like rhino. But if you’ve got determination and grit that she is not going to force you out of this job, you will be able to do it.)
  2. Document her abuse in a daily journal and file a report with your supervisors.
  3. Find another job (possibly go back to your last job even though it paid less).

It is very hard (some would say impossible) to change an abusive colleague like Teri. Why are you putting up with her nonsense? Because you’re earning more money. Now, twenty thousand dollars is a lot of money, but it’s not worth the grief you’re experiencing in my opinion.

Teri is making your life miserable. Your mental health and happiness is too important to let this continue. You need to take control. I have faced bullies and in my case (everyone’s situation is different) the best thing I did was to resign myself to the fact that I could not change the people I was dealing with. So I moved. It was the best and most positive action I could take. It was a gigantic improvement. It was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and I was free. It opened up new doors for me that have helped me to this day. But the experience taught me an important lesson: Do not work with people who are abusive.

Although you are dealing with an adult coworker, this situation is also like the torment that kids face in school playgrounds. Let me tell you briefly about my son (at that time in grade 3) who was being bullied. It was ruining his self-esteem and making him miserable. He didn’t want to go to school anymore. We met with his teacher several times. Finally she told us (confidentially) that if we could afford to move him we should. We had suspected that it would come to this, but hearing it from the teacher was our signal to take action. We switched him to another school — even though it required moving him at Christmas break. He is now grown and happily employed. He has told me many times that the best thing we did was get him out of that destructive environment.

My view is that you are in a destructive environment and you need to rescue yourself. Review those 3 choices I’ve laid out for you. The good news is that you love being a librarian. The economy is obviously in dire straights right now, so I strongly urge you to be careful if you do switch jobs. Secure any new job in writing (and if possible have a lawyer review the contract. Ask in advance for an estimate of the lawyer’s fees. You’ll be buying a service and you need to know the price tag).

You can also find a good stress reliever like an after-hours hobby. Write. Paint. Cook. Knit. Garden. Hike! Any of those activities may help you feel better — and you never know. Perhaps you’ll write a “fiction” book about this bully, and in that way earn additional revenue.

You may decide that it is too financially risky to find a new job. If so, then you’ll have to proceed to do battle. There are many books on bullying you can read. I suggest you read some and then plan very carefully how you are going to disarm this bully.

Best of luck and please let me know how things work out.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.


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


Dear Franke,

Thank you so much for the advice. I plan on keeping a journal, everyday, of what goes on in this library.

I am under contract… but I will start to look for another position. I cannot see myself doing this for another year. Before I go, I will sit down with my supervisor, my journal, and tell him why I need to leave. They can do whatever they wish with the info.

I would never have called it “bullying” but you hit the nail on the head. It feels a little weird to admit that someone is bullying me, but saying it gives it some sort of shape that I can deal with–not just an abstract feeling. Gosh, this is so new to me.

Thanks for your input and helping me put it all in perspective. I believe you have given me advice from an objective point of view. I just read a few other articles that will help me disarm her when she asks me about emails and phone calls AND keep peace within the environment. I feel much better about dealing with her come Monday. And thank you for providing this much needed service.

Many Thanks and God Bless,


By Feedback from Letter writer


Franke James, MFA is the Inventor of the award-winning Dear 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.

2011: This is a repost of classic Office-Politics letters from the past.

  1. 15 Answers to “My coworker humiliates me…”

  2. I moved into a position years ago and ran into someone similar (but not nearly as intrusive). This woman (who was higher up the ladder but not my supervisor) was obviously threatened by me somehow and started making rude and snarky comments about my clothing choices, my office, my work, all sorts of things that didn’t concern her at all. After about #3, I started keeping track. When I had six quite inappropriate behaviours on my list, she did it in public, at a staff meeting. (“Well, Julie, we all know that the people in your position are dumb.” No kidding!) After the meeting, I got my list out, added that insult to it, put it in an envelope and met up with my boss. I explained what the envelope contained and told him, “You witnessed today what I have been putting up with for months. I just want to let you know that if a certain person in this office ever insults me or says anything inappropriate to me again, not only will I give you this envelope, but I will not be held responsible for slugging her.”

    I was there another three years. She never once said another unkind word.

    Disclaimer: this tactic may totally depend on your boss’s courage and/or your relationship with your boss.

    By GreenHearted on Jan 7, 2011

  3. I had a very, very similar situation two years ago – and after panic attacks, cognitive behavioral therapy, and after trying everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, I quit and got another job. In that order. I was so demoralized I was crappy in job interviews – until I left and realized my boss was an abusive bully, not just a “micromanager”. And because I do have two decades of great experience, and lo and behold and actually am good at what I do, I found work again very quickly.

    By ONEWEIRDWORD on Jan 14, 2011

  4. I should add: my boss had the full support (and adoration) of the department head. And since I was the only staff member who she’d ever managed before, and all the bosses above the dept head just looooooved her (cuz they never had to report to her), I had zero support from anyone with any power.

    After she gave me a truly terrible performance appraisal – my first and only bad one – I quit. And escaped her suggested Performace Improvement Program.

    By ONEWEIRDWORD on Jan 14, 2011

  5. .. what I think you should do ‘master in survivor’ is let go of any scruples that are holding you back from playing really dirty (yet smart) with this woman. Go machiavellian on her ass. She so deserves it. But the big problem is you clearly have no experience in the game, so you in all likelihood will be unable to pull it off. Don’t you have a relative who’s a politician on the high ranks.. or a hustler.. if so, get advice from them.. 🙂

    By Dude on Feb 3, 2011

  6. Whenever someone talks about someone else being “difficult” you know it’s a warning signal. (Why? Because it ALWAYS takes two to tango, most people aren’t difficult on their own, only when two or more personalities are in the mix).
    This woman is clearly out of line. I would not recommend doing what the first commenter said, “I will not be held responsible for slugging her”; Well actually the law will disagree with you there honey, plus violence is never the answer.

    I think you need to speak to her boss, tell the boss what has been going on. You need to be careful here because if the boss likes her, you may find things becoming even more difficult. In which case, you will want to make a bee-line for the door. No amount of money is worth putting up with these degrading situations. Don’t let her bring you down, emotionally, you are clearly a winner and she is clearly a loser. Remember that and do not doubt yourself!

    By Lindsay on Feb 9, 2011

  7. Yes, make the list. Also make sure to record the names of anybody who was present when the abuse happened. Start with the people whom she told you were a dingbat. Go to your HR department and get a copy of the rules on hostile workplace harassment. Ask around and see if you can get in touch with the former coworker. I’ll bet you find that she left not because she was incompetent, but because of the bully. See if you can find a book about the havoc bullies wreak on the workplace. Take all this to your bosses. Start out with the list of incidents and witnesses. Point out what the book writer says about the way the entire workforce suffers from bullies; I’ve been there and I know what a relief it was to everybody when she left. If they don’t take it seriously, then you have done your homework for other steps like a complaint to HR. The ultimate step might be a civil lawsuit for defamation but you would have to talk to an attorney and knowing where the former coworker is could help if the bully’s tactics have cause her problems at her new job. In fact, just telling the bully that you’ve talked to an attorney could make her back down.

    There’s always one other step but she has to go to extremes first, such as physical violence. Don’t you slug her or even threaten to because that lays you open to charges of battery or assault. Just if she goes there, don’t roll over. Call the police, file the charges, and be in court when the case comes up.

    By go for it on Feb 18, 2011

  8. I used to think that everyone who had a job had it because they cared about it, because they liked being part of a team, because they were competent, that they felt productivity is rewarding, and of course for financial security. I was obviously very wrong. As I get older and have been in the working world longer, I realize some people see the workplace as their personal drama stage. Some of those that I have encountered almost seem to not be in touch with reality, except the reality of their own little world. I have seen (as I’m sure most people have) co workers that display nothing but immature, destructive behaviors. Whether it be bullying, whining, co-dependence, laziness, gossiping, or anything in between- it seems to be present in a lot of work places, and it sucks the life out of the entire staff!

    My first real job was a place where selfish, immature people were simply not hired. If one did get through, they didn’t last long. The people in charge didn’t see any value in employees who were not working for the company but rather using the work day to gossip, bully, loaf around, and otherwise use the office and its people as the stage and cast of their own personal soap opera. The work environment was great. All of my managers, co workers and team mates were positive, goal-oriented people who could all see the big picture. The value of being supportive and cooperative was evident every day. If someone was having a tough time, there were no reservations in asking for a second opinion- you would get just that, not an earful of insults. If someone was overloaded with work or was out sick, someone else would always pitch in. We were not all friends, but we were definitely all mature enough to put aside our personal lives, our differences, and anything else not work related for the sake of turning out amazing results.

    I could have stayed at that job forever, but my personal life lead me to relocate to a very small town. I interviewed at one of the few places that could keep me in the field I love. I should have noticed all the red flags, but I was so excited and ready to start a new adventure that I guess I wasn’t thinking critically enough. As I sat down to wait for the interviewer, I noticed the entire staff was behaving like first graders – throwing paper balls, taunting each other, and just plain not working! As I was lead back to the interview room, I also noticed most of the staff did not seem to care about their personal appearance, nor the appearance of their desks. I shrugged it all off, not wanting to be judgmental, and later accepted a job offer.

    Now I have been at the new job for almost four years. I love the job. I cannot stand the people I work with. I have witnessed behaviors in grown adults that I never could have imagined. The air is thick with resentment and low morale due to the tension that exists between those who walk around like they own the place, and those who actually try hard to be an asset to the company. Management puts up with a lot of disrespect towards them, and among employees. Any attempt to correct behaviors is always delivered in a soft, not-so-enforcing manner, and almost always to the entire staff as a group (versus having specific discussions with the offenders themselves). If rules are broken, there are no warnings or write-ups. It is a world where the only consequence anyone ever has to face is picking up the time and space-wasters’ slack.

    Soon I will be relocating again. This time, I went into the job hunt differently. Not only because we are now in a recession, so the job market isn’t what it was four years ago, but because of what I learned from working in a place that tolerates unprofessional behavior. I am starting a new job soon, and during the interview I allowed myself to be more critical rather that just thinking “I hope the like me!”. I even asked the interviewer how the staff got along and explained that having a positive work environment is very important to me. I paid attention to the staff, how they seemed to interact, the noise level, and everyone’s appearance. I don’t encourage being judgmental, and first impressions are not always right, but I think the way people present themselves and their offices/workspaces says a lot about how much their heart is in the job. I felt very good about this place, and was impressed with how professional and friendly everyone was.

    The point of my telling this story is this – you cannot always change your work environment. If you do speak up with a legitimate concern, and nothing is done, it may be time to just accept that your workplace is not managed as well as it could be. A place where your issues will be heard and addressed is what the hard workers out there deserve, and places like that do exist! A place where co workers are team mates who support one another, not rivals who try to bring each other down. I know it is tough, the job market is still not back to where it was. Some of us have to stick it out for lack of options. I hear “I’m just lucky to have a job” so much- I even said it to get myself through some of the tougher days at work. If possible though, try relocating. You can start over with a wiser approach, and leave behind the workplace that does nothing but drain you!

    By OfficeDrone on Mar 17, 2011

  9. Bullied by a horrible woman VP who thinks she the king of all power. My colleagues and I have never seen a person act like this. They all hate her worth a passion, but because how she is, they all muster to her. I had enough one day and told her how it was, now we don’t speak and I want to barf everytime I hear her cackling laughter because I know she’s a fony. HR tried to settle it, but I am done with her and boss’s who allow such trash to work in their company. They should be ashamed! I hope one day that their children have to work and will work side by side someone who makes their life as miserable as she made mine. Perhaps one day, just one day they will think of me and say…hmmmm, do you think we should of done something about it?

    By Heather on Jun 2, 2011

  10. Actually, all these jobs are a misery. The mistake I’ve always made is believing that every new job I took would be different.

    It’s quite a miracle that any company out there is profitable. Most of them make money simply because they’ve been bankrolled, not because they’re intelligent.

    The business world makes me want to be a hermit. I’d just hang out in the woods and grow my own food if I could. Anything would be preferable to cut-throat office nitwits who seem to thrive solely by making their co-workers miserable.

    By Bill on Sep 19, 2011

  11. I assume you are in a union?. If not then documentation is key warnings ?. I dont know if you can threaten a coworker. I think a formal complaint is in order of abuse you can file it of course with H.R. and also with “The Human Rights Commission”. Depending on what state you live. The Labor board as well you have some real ammunition: first and foremost: It is against the law to ask anyone who works for you their marital status, living conditions, how many children you have, etc. etc. etc. these fall under the guise of :DISCRIMINATION as a paralegal in NEW YORK STATE it offends me to think that people are still going through this when we have laws put in place for : age,sexual orientation, race, gender, etc.

    By leeza on Oct 15, 2011

  12. excuse my faux pas DISCRIMINATION was the word.
    It kills me that you have put up with :
    “If I get a phone call or make a phone call she asks me who I the person was, why did they call, and almost always comments that it should have been her handling it. she hangs over my shoulder wanting to know all the details. She has point blank asked me about my salary”.

    This is serious: no one has the right to ask about your salary , that falls under “personal” information as private as your pin number. Would you give that out and if you are at a loss for words remember “pin number I dont give that out”.

    She is constantly calling me “poor Petrova” as if I am some pathetic loser.

    secondly: “poor petrova”? is chronic aggravated “harassment” in the workplace name calling is not acceptable and warrants a write up.

    She asked me about my living situation. After Katrina, I lost my house. To save money and avoid the trailer situation, I took a small apartment. She totally misconstrued my situation. And she brings up my living situation in front of people I don’t know. She asked me if I was ever on welfare (never, I have always worked).

    THIRD: seriously, asking about your living situation is again against the law no right to ask who, what and how you live. The worse part of all of this is the situation of welfare. Your personal welfare information is again Personal if she did it out of a place of compassion that is different. But this is out of malice to use against you and again has no right in the workplace.

    I am now thinking that SHE was the problem, not the former librarian. She has done and said other things as well, but I think you get the gist of the situation. I have never had to deal with this before. EVER. I respect others and I hope to get respect in return. Please advise. Please. Thank you so very much

    WE all know she is the problem I would never let this woman get me out of a job I look at these as a challenge. You will NEVER get respect from this woman but you can have her fired on these allegations. Bring a tape recorder or your phone to work . Go overhead to Human Resources . I hope you did because you would get more than a 20k raise out of this one.

    By leeza on Oct 15, 2011

  13. I am not here to defend nasty bosses, peers, friends, or anyone… but to explain them a bit…..as it may give you some advice for handling them…

    – often times, though they are nasty or bitchy, they can be highly productive contributors, therefore management and others overlook their nasty behavior. However, the long term loss of productivity, people and profit is what YOU can point out to your boss, HR or management in order to get the issues addressed
    – many times, the nasty individual is viewing themselves as strong, confident, fearless individuals, as opposed to nasty, curt, abrasive, etc… – it is their formula for survival and success. You, managers and others need to confront that possible self-perception as harmful to their LONG term success – because it will catch up with them. Unfortunately, good people like you may not want to wait to see that, and that loss to the company is what is key
    – people are not nasty for the sake of it…. people (women or men) lash out on others as a means of projecting out their own issues. If you, your manager or HR can uncover what those fears, insecurities, self-doubt, negative mindset or other interpersonal angst is that is causing them to lash out… it may provide insight and opportunity.

    Understand, agree or believe this or not…. but I was the ultimate corporate bitch for many years… even capturing it in my own book Shedding the Corporate Bitch. If I can help you understand what goes on in the mind of a nasty peer or boss, let me know.

    By Bernadette Boas on Oct 18, 2011

  14. She is very immature and may even feel threatened by you. Remind yourself of that. Ignore her and rise above her taunts. Don let the #$%## win you out of a good paying job. Strive to do the best you can at your job. That will tick her off. Eventually she will explode at you in front of the wrong people and get herself canned. Then you can laugh. Happens all the time.

    By John Long on Apr 13, 2012

  15. What it comes down to is management. Are they simply saying their job titles or are they doing their job titles? Bullies are everywhere–but if you have stellar management, bullies will be reprimanded.

    What may be unfortunate is if you have unresponsive management. If the previous librarian left because of this bully, then I’m sure the bully is expecting you to leave. A precedent has been set in the bully’s mind. I can do/say mean things to my target–and get away with it. If things were working out and started going downhill, you must have made her feel threatened with your education or your work ethic .

    I highly recommend DOCUMENTING EVERYTHING!!!! Get a black notebook and carry it with you EVERYWHERE since you interact with her frequently. Every single time she berates you, WRITE IT DOWN in that black notebook. Look for a clock, write down the time, write down the date (or ask someone present what today’s date is and write it down) AND write down what she says. You’ll start to create your own Pavlovian response that will result in fear–and not drool. This worked for me. Hope it works for you!

    Remember that you are STRONG. You must be if you’re a single parent. Good luck!

    By The Humanity on Jun 27, 2012

  16. All I can say is that I was harrassed and bullied in the workplace by the Department Head and my supervisor who decided between them, they wanted me out.

    You have to decide if you are going to run or fight, and I fought. What goes around comes around. I was made redundant, but eventually the head was too, and the supervisor left shortly after me. People kept quiet for the the five long months that this went on, and then left out of disgust. She had lost her credibility, and she couldn’t work there herself after it all ended. I filed a 13 item complaint, and gave the supervisor so much stress that she banged her phone repeatedly one day, just trying to smash the phone when she got an engaged tone. My own stress was unbelievable, but I decided first off, I wasn’t going to quit. By law, they couldn’t write a bad reference for the next job, and they have to compensate me for leave I hadn’t taken. So the die was set, and I won. What goes around comes around. On linkedin, that manager hasn’t got a job in 9 months and is still unemployed. Good things happen to good people. Have faith. If you stand your ground, make sure you understand precisely the ground you are standing upon. Keep a diary for the lawsuit you may instigate further down the line. Think ahead 10 paces in front of them. When the supervisor announced I was to be placed on the “improvement program”, I just walked over to HR and set in motion the complaint procedure all taken from my diary. She most have come in the following morning thinking she would have me all wrapped up and out the door, and may have been suprised to have received the call from HR with the tables turned… and yes, I would do again if someone ever did that to me again.

    By England UK on Aug 12, 2012

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