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Part I: 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


dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Coldly Ignored,

Based on all the data that you provided it does seem that your coworker does have negative feeling about you.

Consult others in your network
What we don’t know is if this is a reaction to your personality and/or behavior or would she act this way towards anyone who came into the space. We always suggest that building a network is a very high priority and in your situation we think it is essential. This is because we think that this is the best place to start to find out why she is treating you this way. Often people in your network have a much better insight into what is going on. When you inquire please make sure that you are respectful about her. Put your inquiry in the context of trying to find out how to work better together and to learn if you are doing anything wrong. This usually yields useful information and if your questions get back to her that may be positive too in that she may disclose what is going on to someone.

Negotiate with your Coworker
If this doesn’t work then it leaves you with the option of gently asking her for feedback. If she is not forthcoming or doesn’t want to discuss it we think it is reasonable for you to ask for clear agreements on the minimum communication you two need to accomplish your objectives. This action on your part will either move her in the right direction or at least you can document that you have tried to find a workable agreement.

Talk to a Supervisor
The last resort, with documentation on what you have already tried, would be to talk with a supervisor asking for help. Again try to avoid badmouthing; explain that you are not looking for a friend, chit chat or anything beyond a business relationship that allows you to achieve your best in this environment. Hopefully you won’t need to do this but if in fact her avoidance of you is impacting your performance, and not just your feelings, a supervisor may need to get involved.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.


Rick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.d. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

  1. 8 Answers to “Part I: My coworker ignores me and it is very cruel”

  2. I have a SIMILAR situation. In our office I am the one ignoring the coworker. Not because the coworker is invading my space but because the coworker claimed she can do the job and CAN NOT. The coworker has gone to HR and accused me of discrimination, had her friend (who is a client) call our boss and try to get me fired with false accusations. The coworker is still on “new hire probation” and I still have to work with her knowing this. So if I ignore the coworker its because I have a job to do and rather not have a nasty confrontation.

    By ann on Nov 16, 2007

  3. There are always two sides to each issue. I have a coworker who accuses me of ignoring her morning greetings as she passes my workspace, not being friendly towards her and disliking her. Our jobs rarely require interaction so there is no teamwork issue here. I am very busy at work and my work requires concentration so I tend to tune out distractions. Her job is somewhat less demanding. The other thing is she’s a bit of a gossip which makes me uncomfortable so I do avoid conversations with her. I have tried to reassure her that I do not dislike her but am simply busy. I have even asked her to lunch to discuss. She is really making an issue out of this to the point that I feel I’m being blackmailed into a behavior to please her which is causing me a lot of stress. I have come to the realization that there is no slight or misconduct here, just someone who wants to be gratified.

    By Sandy on Jan 6, 2008

  4. I have a co-worker who has given me the silent treatment for months in a row, tried to steal my job when she’s been assigned to a new position, given me partial info when I asked for help so when I would mess up she could then point out my mistakes, etc.

    It’s been so bad management has been involved for months, has promised things would change, has warned her the bad attitude had to change or she could leave…but they keep coddling her and asking her what she’d like to do at the company that will make her happiest, or at least her immediate manager keeps telling her this, the owners have said to do something. Now the gal has accused me of intentionally trying to falsify information based on a clerical error, something I had just learned to do, which I’m taking very seriously. I let the owners know what she did, I wouldn’t be coming to them again about her, that something needed to be done immediately. I don’t know if I should take legal action, leave now or what. I can’t find a job that pays like this…believe me! I’ve tried. I wish I could quit but I like the job so am really in a bind.

    By Amy on Feb 19, 2008

  5. I have this co worker that is always giving me dirty looks. Even though at times, she might start a conversation with me, not all of the time. She always looks at me in an odd way everyday, even when she is saying goodnight. She confuses the hell out of me, but each day it is starting to bother me. I am not sure if it’s because I don’t start alot of conversations with her as often as she does. At times I really feel like she is being phony. She gave me the dirtiest look yesterday. I know she gives alot of people that look, that’s why I haven’t talked to anyone about it. I have complained about her two years ago. I guess that’s why she has this hateful feeling towards me. She did something a few months back that got a few people pissed off. They told on her, and I didn’t this time because I feel that she is never going to change. I really just want to do my job and get out. I know everyone goes through things but I dislike people who bring it to the office and take it out on everyone else.

    By Karina on Apr 26, 2008

  6. I face EXACTLY the same thing at work. I work in a place where teamwork is very important and we see each other very often practically almost everyday. This girl, whom is my junior, behaves in such a way that she gave me the silent treatment eversince she stepped into the new environment. I have totally no idea why she treats me that way, I tried breaking the ice by smiling and starting small talks with her, she just completely ignores me and doesn’t even want to look into my eyes. But the confusing part is, she treats everyone else so nicely that it makes me look like the bad one and she’s the angel. I’ve tried confronting her twice, quietly, and she denied everything that had ever happened. She then gave me a very sweet smile, walked away, and then her former attitude bounces back. Just like that! It leaves me clueless to why and how to deal with it, and no doubt it affects not only my mood, but my performance as a senior who’s supposed to be all self composed for multi tasking. I also tried speaking to my other close colleague and she told me to ignore my junior. I’ve tried, and the more I try, the more she does things to annoy me like slamming something loud when I’m around. At first I thought all these gestures were part of her personality. Then I found out that she’s actually pretty pleasant with others. But not to me. I’m still figuring how to deal with her. Please help if you know how. Thanks.

    By Samantha on Sep 17, 2010

  7. I am also in a “Team” environment… but new to the job. Expectations are high and training is extreamely low so I must depend on others in my group for assistance while I learn the ropes. Most are helpful but one guy acts as if I bother him everytime I come to him. He huffs, puffs as if I just interrupted the winning shot in a NBA Championship game! It’s a call center and I may get a call that is for him to handle… I chat him, tell him who is on the line and the issue…no reply.. I chat again..no reply… I stand and ask verbally if he sees my chat…and there I go again … interrupting the last shot of another NBA Championship game! One time I relayed to my manager who was standing next to his cube…he told her (the manager) that he is ignoring me… all the while the customer is waiting. What do you do with that people….somebody please tell me!

    By Roger on Apr 27, 2011

  8. Three guys where I work are giving me the silent treatment and one of them glares menacingly at me when ever our eyes meet. I imagine that he is glaring at me whenever we pass in the hallway, but I try not to look at him. I have never said a bad word about them or done anything against them, so I have nothing to point to as a reason for why they will not speak to me. The only thing I can think of is that I feel that I have the vocal tone that someone will assume I am gay as soon as I speak. My vocal quality is not high, but it sounds softer and more sensitive. I wish I had a deep, commanding voice, but I do not. I am a graphics artist so sensitivity serves me well in my ability to feel the impact of typography, graphics, color in graphical communication. Anyway, so I think these three men hate be because I am gay. I have worked at this company for 10 years. They have been here for less than one year. Since all three are in offices all around me I tried to be friendly and greet them when we passed in the hallway, but they either issued an awkward kind of half smile/half frown, or grunted a barely audible “hey” in return. I feel like I’m the target of their prejudice so I stopped trying and avoid them as much as possible. It has negatively affected my sense of security in the office. I now keep my office door closed and have to resist the urge to lock the door. I feel like I am surrounded by hostility. Again, they have never said or done anything overtly against me. Their silent treatment is actually an aggressive psychological weapon when it is utilized daily. Makes me feel bad. I try to not let it show that their behavior bothers me. I start my work day later on purpose so that there is only 4 hours of overlap when I’m in the office at the same time as the other guys. For those 4 hours I try not to leave my office unless I really must. Any advice on how to cope with this type of subtle workplace prejudice?

    By Gavin on Sep 29, 2015

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