I bit my coworker

A reader writes:

So I bit a coworker yesterday. Obviously, I’m mortified.

I work in an incredibly dysfunctional office. The tone is set by our office manager. He’s in his fifties, has always worked in an office setting, and is difficult. Things are right if it’s in his favor and wrong if anyone else does it. He once cursed at me and called me a child for asking him not to say I’m prettier if I smile. He then didn’t speak to me for a year — which was a relief.

Well, yesterday, I had a meeting with a coworker. (If it makes a difference, the office manager and I are on the same level, as is the person I was meeting with.) My hands were full of paperwork and a full mug. When I got to the coworker’s office, the office manager was in the doorway, braced with one arm stretched across the opening. I stopped, said, “Excuse me, I have a meeting.” Aaaaaand he refused to move. He replied that he didn’t give a s*** and it wasn’t his problem. The coworker grimaced but said nothing, as is usual for our office.

Normally, I’d sit and argue. Rarely, I’m able to convince him to move. In those cases, I’d put down my things in the office and wait for the colleague and him to finish speaking. They don’t work together or like each other, but they angry-gossip frequently.

This time — this time I bit him. I don’t know! His arm was in front of my face, my hands were full, I know from experience he almost never moves, and I’m reaaaaally busy right now.

In any case, I bit him, over his sleeve, pulled back, and we just sort of stared at each other for a second, because … wow. He finally got his feet under him, figuratively, and retaliated by stomping on my feet (I was in ballet flats and he had heeled dress shoes) and shoving me. As I’m regaining my balance and trying to save my feet, I dropped my mug, which shattered. At that point, he stopped and bent to pick up the shards. I ducked into the office and shut and locked the door. Not helping him pick up the shards angered him more.

I’ve since apologized. He accepted gracefully, while admitting no fault on his part.

This office is bad. It’s warping my perceptions of normal behavior. I know there is no one above us who would address this issue with him and short of quitting, I have to deal with him every day. What is the right way to deal with difficult coworkers in these situations? Just keep arguing? Walk away and reschedule the meeting? There are no magic words to deal with impossible people, but how do I reason with myself mentally to stop myself from going down this road again?

Thank you for considering my question. I suppose most everything is solved by “walking away,” but I feel helpless and clearly spiral a bit into wild behavior when at a loss…

Ooof.

I think the thing to do here is to use this incident as a way of seeing really clearly that this office is messing you up. It’s destroying your sense of norms, it’s making you act in ways that (I assume) you would never normally act, and it’s turning you into someone who you don’t want to be. (Again, I’m assuming, but it feels like a safe bet that you don’t want to be someone who bites coworkers as a means of conflict resolution.)

It’s also going to start messing with your professional reputation, if it hasn’t already. It’s going to be hard for people to recommend you for other jobs if they know you bit a coworker.

So, three things:

1. You need to start actively job searching right away. Not like sending out a resume every few weeks when the mood strikes, but seriously working to get yourself out of this situation as soon as you can.

2. You should apologize to the coworker who saw the incident. It’s all kinds of messed up that she didn’t say anything at the time or afterwards, but that’s probably a further illustration of how out of whack the norms in your office are. Regardless, though, she did see it, and you don’t want her to think that you think it was okay. So talk to her and explain that you’re mortified and that you know it wasn’t okay.

3. For whatever amount of time you have to continue working there, it’s crucial to keep in the forefront of your mind that you are not somewhere that supports normal behavior. You should expect that when you deal with the office manager, he will be rude, unreasonable, and hostile. You should go into your interactions with him expecting that, so that when it happens, you’re not surprised by it. You want your reaction to be an internal eye roll, not outrage. You should also be prepared to have to alter your plans when he obstructs you. So for example, when he blocked your path to your coworker’s office, ideally you would have said, “Jane, I can’t get past Fergus, but let me know when you’re ready to meet” and then left.

It might help to think of yourself as being in a foreign country with completely different norms than the ones that feel obvious to you. Hell, pretend you’re on another planet where the inhabitants have their own, seemingly bizarre rules for interacting. If this were happening during your interplanetary trip to Neptune, you probably wouldn’t go into a rage and bite an alien — you’d more easily see it as their own particular culture. You might also try very hard to get off Neptune very quickly, and that would be reasonable. But while you were there, you’d understand that they were playing by different rules.

But really, this is as clear a sign as anyone will ever get that you’ve been there too long and it’s time to go.

{ 833 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      My reaction, was “hooooooly” followed by ever-opening eyes and an ever-dropping jaw.

      OP, Alison was exceedingly kind and said everything that can be said. Please try to get out of this place ASAP. You feel helpless right now because you’re not going to be able to change the Office Manager or your Dysfunctional Workplace. The only things you can change are (1) how you interact with the Dysfunctional Workplace and your Dysfunctional Coworker, and (2) how long you work there (i.e., by finding another job).

      And maybe invest in some steel-toed boots or Doc Martens. As you know, biting your coworker was very seriously not ok. And—not to normalize or excuse how not ok that was—his decision to stomp on your feet and shove you, in response, highlights that this is not a safe place to work. Odds are, things are going to escalate the longer you stay, and your sense of right/wrong is going to continue to erode.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Yes, I believe the cop term for this is “mutual brawling.” That’s not a phrase you ever want applied to your work activity.

        Reply
          1. Yorick

            I mean, I know commenters here say so, but I doubt most people would call the police if someone bit their arm (it doesn’t sound severe, like she bit a chunk out of him), and if they did the police probably wouldn’t care anyway.

            Reply
            1. Aisling

              I’d call if I was ever physically assaulted in an office by a coworker. The police would care – this is a clear case of assault.

              Reply
              1. Wintermute

                I think you overestimate the police, or maybe your area is far, far different from mine. For a minor fight with no injuries, no one being hauled off in an ambulance and no complicating factors (like domestic violence or gang involvement or something like that) they would tell you to come in to the station and file a police report with the desk sergeant.

                Then again around here (Chicago) police have other worries.

                Reply
            2. Emilia

              Someone bit me at a bar once. (Drunk girl told me I was “the most beautiful woman she’d ever seen” and when I thought she was leaning in to hug me–which would have been bad enough–she bit into my shoulder.) I didn’t call the police but she was thrown out of the bar. And then I had to check for broken skin in case of rabies. People, don’t bit people.

              Reply
      2. RVA Cat

        This is an office that has now normalized physical assault.
        You need to get out yesterday, but since you do not have a TARDIS, please focus on getting out as soon as you possibly can.

        Reply
        1. Kate

          “This is an office that has now normalized physical assault.”

          THIS. You had a physical fight with a coworker, and then, what, went on with your meeting? In a normal atmosphere, I suspect you’d both be fired. I realize you are mortified that you bit him, but I’m not sure an apology would do it. Physical assault is pretty bad. None of this is normal. It’s not normal for him to be cursing at coworkers, and for everyone to just be OK with that. This place is messing with your head. It’s making you someone you don’t want to be. Get out ASAP.

          Reply
          1. RVA Cat

            Honestly from the sexism and the co-worker stomping on the OP’s feet, it sounds like he could be an abuser whose behavior has crossed over into the workplace. That doesn’t excuse the OP biting (!) him but it does show how absolutely crazypants this situation is, and how her fear that he could weaponize the mug shards (!) could be a rational threat assessment.

            This would never happen in a reasonable workplace, but if it did, not only would they both be fired, there might be a police report.

            Reply
            1. Arjay

              Oh, I didn’t get that she was afraid of the cup shards. I read it as her dropping the mug sort of brought him to his senses, he went to clean it up, and she used that opportunity to get away from him immediately.

              Reply
              1. Zombii

                This is how I read it.

                However, the whole thing reads abuser, starting with the campaign of verbal abuse, casual sexism, and physically blocking her way often enough that she knows he won’t move. Especially problematic is the long pause before he attacked her: it wasn’t an adrenaline response, he actually assessed the situation and then made the decision to attack a smaller female coworker (assuming smaller based on OP’s description of her POV relative to his) instead of either backing down or continuing the standoff. Then, after he’d caused physical damage (the broken mug) while “putting her in her place,” he started cleaning it up (likely because “look what you made me do, you know I’m not like that”).

                OP, YOUR OFFICE IS FULL OF BEES GET OUT AS SOON AS YOU CAN SAFELY DO SO.

                Reply
                1. Pomona Sprout

                  Seriously. OP obviously works in a house of evil bees and needs to get out before she gets stung any worse than she already has.

            2. Specialk9

              I totally expected the story to say that he picked up the mug shards and started slashing her.

              Someone who used sexist language then cursed a woman for asking him not to use sexist language, physically barred her way routinely, cursed at her for wanting to enter a meeting, then stomped her feet and pushed her, then bent down for glass shards? I’m so glad she ran. This man is an abuser.

              Biting is crazy egregious too though. Wow.

              OP, please look up abuser behavior and get out safely.

              Reply
              1. BPT

                This dude does sound messed up and like someone I wouldn’t want to work with. But to be fair, if someone bit me, the very least I would probably do is push them away as a reflex. I realize that the stomping on feet may have made it more deliberate, and if you’re in a physical altercation, you are supposed to do what you can to get away and out of it, not make it worse. But if you physically assault someone, people sometimes react. Bottom line is DO NOT START AN ASSAULT.

                Yes, being sexist, physically barring her, these are all terrible things that should have resulted in firing a long time ago. But they don’t rise to the level of assault. Those things would likely result in a warning or two at first. Biting someone is an immediate firing, no matter what (in a functional workplace).

                Reply
                1. OhNo

                  As a reflex, I could maybe understand the reaction. But the OP clearly states that there was a second between her letting him go and his reaction, so I doubt this was a real reflex response. It might still have been a case of acting-before-thinking (which would not be surprising, since being bitten is weird enough that it would throw anybody for a loop).

                  My point is that even if this one instance of crappy behavior is sort of understandable, and something any one of us might have done under the right circumstances, it’s still part of a greater context of awful. So OP shouldn’t discount his reaction, even if she did make the first move (so to speak).

                2. KS

                  “physically barring her” THAT is part of abusive behavior. Abusers do this. Usually just before or leading up to physical assault next. Which he did with the stomping. And how do abusers get away with it? Well, here we have a perfect illustration. People let them. People say nothing. People say it’s nothing.

              1. Physician

                The office manager told her she would be prettier if she smiled (sexual harassment), and then cursed her out and called her a child when she told him to stop (abuse, infantilization).

                Reply
                1. Mmmmmk

                  I appreciate that someone brought this up because it’s the first thing I noticed about the post. Extremely aggressive sexism that may be veiled to the untrained eye but is a HUGE red flag (not that that legitimizes her physical response).

            3. KS

              ” it sounds like he could be an abuser whose behavior has crossed over into the workplace” That’s definitely my assumption.

              Reply
        2. Another person

          And I thought it was bad working in an office where people only threatened to punch each other regularly over their grievances!

          +100 to get out now any way you can. It’s even more disturbing to me that the dysfunction is so normalized there that two people actually got into a physical altercation and no action was apparently taken by management.

          Reply
          1. Cactus

            Yeah, I once worked in a place where weird threats that may or may not have been serious got thrown about all the time. It messes with you.

            Reply
      3. I'm Not Phyllis

        This is perfectly worded. I’ve worked in a dysfunctional environment before (though it never escalated to physicality) and I know how it can mess with your mind. Please, please, please do yourself a tremendous favour and get out of there.

        Reply
    2. FiredFiance

      Agree with Mike. I think this is exactly (ok, not the biting, but an otherwise uncharacteristic response) what happened to my fiance that caused him to be fired about 6 weeks ago (and thanks again to everyone who commented on the open thread with advice for him!).

      When you are in an environment this toxic, it changes you, which is clear you’ve realized.

      I wish I had other advice for you, but I think Alison’s is great. Just wanted to write a message of support to remind you that if you can keep your eyes on a goal (a better job), you WILL get through this. Your self awareness here is evident, which is I think speaks a lot about you.

      Do you ever get the feeling that “oh my god, this ONE INSTANTANEOUS thing just changed my (work) life drastically and permanently??” Just keep in mind that as quickly as things can change for the bad, they can change for the good. I hope for your sake that things change for the good (ie, a new job) quickly. One month ago, things were different. Think about how different things can be in another month – another three months – another six months, etc. Hopefully keeping your focus forward will help.

      Best of luck!

      Reply
    3. INTP

      This is so true. I’ve been in this situation on a much, much, much smaller scale and even that was disconcerting to think about later. (We had micromanagers that treated exempt professionals like children, and people who were not inherently unprofessional took on childish habits like getting zero work done and just talking crap about the managers for hours when they left for meetings.) The wrong environment can really warp behavior and reasoning in a bizarre way.

      Reply
    4. Dorothy

      Good for you!
      Things got so bad in my office, I finally lost it. That was about 2 years ago. I am on my second LTD leave since, have come to the conclusion that I cannot return to such a toxic environment and am waiting to see if my employer has a position in another department I can fill before completely throwing in the towel. I am not really in a good place to be interviewing yet Thankfully, I do have good insurance.
      Don’t delay in getting out. Do it before it compromises your ability to think straight and find another job.

      Reply
  1. Leatherwings

    ohmygod. This workplace sounds absolutely bananas and you have to get out of there. In the meantime I do think you need to deal with this horrendous person as calmly as possible moving forward, no more arguing. It’ll just keep escalating the tension and bad behavior.

    Reply
    1. Amber T

      Dear lordy all I could think was RUN AWAY, OP, RUN FAR, FAR AWAY.

      I mean, I don’t think anyone needs to explain that one adult biting another is *not okay* in any setting, but especially in a professional/workplace setting. You snapped, and while it’s not a good thing, the consequences don’t seem as awful as they could have been (I guess a positive that the office manager is a complete and utter wackadoodle?).

      But you need to get out of there like, yesterday.

      Reply
      1. Mazzy

        Sorry but the OP hasn’t really given any examples of it being an abnormal workplace, besides this one example. I feel like people are reading A LOT into this letter that isn’t there at all. All the OP said was they expected to have to sit and argue.

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth West

          Well yeah, she kind of did:

          When I got to the coworker’s office, the office manager was in the doorway, braced with one arm stretched across the opening. I stopped, said, “Excuse me, I have a meeting.” Aaaaaand he refused to move. He replied that he didn’t give a s*** and it wasn’t his problem. The coworker grimaced but said nothing, as is usual for our office.

          Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m reading this as “Fergus does this kind of crap all the time and nobody ever says anything.” Sound pretty abnormal to me. If upper management tolerates this sort of behavior, I would be looking, yesterday.

          Reply
        2. Natalie

          The OP has left more details in the comments, but even from the letter it’s pretty clearly an abnormal workplace. Right in the first paragraph the OP indicates this office manager once refused to speak to her for a year. That’s bananas all by itself.

          Reply
        3. Zombii

          Did you not read the letter, are you willfully oblivious or just trolling? The OP was pretty clear about what the issues are and all you seem to reference is the part covered in the headline. The things OP describes are not normal ways of interacting with coworkers in a functional office (even before the biting).

          I’m not trying to be a bitch, but if you don’t understand what’s going on here, you should really take the opportunity to try and figure it out instead of deciding most of the posters are overreacting.

          Reply
  2. KatieKate

    Wow wow wow

    OP, do you have a manager here you can trust not to give you a bad reference? If not, I would also work on collecting other references and make sure to have a good line for why you don’t have a reference for this place. And make sure NO ONE is able to bring up the biting to a potential new job

    Best of luck!!!

    Reply
    1. leave leave leave! Oh and leave!

      And the minute you have that reference, leave if at all possible. Otherwise, the shame will dim or normalize and you may find yourself stuck there because the motivation is gone and all that’s left is the crush of hopelessness.

      Out of morbid curiosity, did you flee from the scene when the mug broke because you were mortified or because when he reached for the shards, you were afraid he’d use them?

      Reply
        1. Dee

          Okay, that’s terrifying. I mean, obviously it is not okay that you bit him, which you know. But if it’s at the point where you’re afraid he might seriously hurt you with a potentially deadly weapon — you need to get out now.

          Reply
      1. Catalin

        LW had just been stomped (STOMPED!) on and shoved. Someone did that to me in the workplace (THE WORKPLACE?!), I’m assuming they’re going to kill me because you have to be COMPLETELY Guano-Crazy to get to that point.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Though I’d say the same thing about biting, and if a co-worker bit me, I might well grab something that seemed helpfully defensive. This is all just too toxic across the board to disentangle.

          Reply
          1. Lehigh

            Yeah…his coworker just bit him. We’ve established that no one up the chain is going to do a thing about it. It seems reasonable that he would feel the need to physically show her that she was not going to be allowed to assault him without consequences.

            Reply
            1. Catalin

              Just a consideration: this guy sounds like a large guy. If his arm was at her face, we should realistically expect that he’s larger than her.

              I feel like it matters whether it was a chomp or a nip. Either way it doesn’t really justify the stomp-and-shove ESPECIALLY if he is much bigger.
              *I’m not saying that biting a coworker is acceptable, but a non-chomp bite doesn’t AT ALL justify blackening someone’s foot*

              Reply
              1. fposte

                Look, I agree that the OP is sympathetic. But she committed unprovoked assault, and it really doesn’t matter how hard she bit down. It would have been better if the guy had responded by avoidance rather than response, but his response was at least provoked by her violence.

                It’s freaking *biting* somebody. That’s far more out of line than even a kick under a table.

                Reply
                1. JoAnna

                  I wouldn’t call it unprovoked assault. He was being physically threatening in his manner by refusing to let her pass through the doorway. Did it justify her behavior? No, but it did provoke it .

                2. kittymommy

                  I agree fposte. While she had my sympathy as this guy sounds like a raging douchebag, if someone bit me (at work out otherwise) I would probably push them as well, don’t think I’d stomp on their fit but who knows if I think it’ll make them back away. I’d then call the cops, absolutely.

                  I can’t believe this is normal behavior. The op needs to get out of there immediately.

                3. fposte

                  That’s not likely to count as provocation legally. She was free to leave, free to wait, free to do anything but essentially throw the first punch.

                4. Kyrielle

                  Also – I have young kids. I am not yet far enough from the biting age that I don’t remember it. And I have to say, a bite that doesn’t break skin, even one that’s through clothes and therefore softened, *hurts like holy whoa*.

                  His actions aren’t right. Her actions aren’t right. No one here is blameless. I can see how the pain from the bite would, after a moment of shock, trigger a fight-or-flight response. And because she was trying to enter the door he was blocking, she _would_ have been between him and ‘safety’, that is, she was blocking his only escape route. I don’t think that was her intent, but it was what happened.

                  In an ideal world none of this would have happened. I’m really glad that OP wants to make sure her part of it never does again, and I hope she is successful. I’m glad that she recognizes how out-of-bounds it is. I don’t want to spend a lot of time berating her – but I agree, we also don’t want to normalize it. None of it was normal.

                  Almost all of it was understandable, viewed through the right lens. That doesn’t make it normal or okay, though.

                5. Aurion

                  I’m with fposte. And since OP was in the hallway and the office manager in the doorway, technically she was blocking him into an enclosed space. Being an ass and not getting out of the way is not enough provocation for physical violence.

                  Of course, his foot-stomping afterward sounds less than instinctive reaction and more calculation retaliation, so this is a hot mess all around. OP needs to get out stat.

                6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  I’m with fposte on this. Folks can argue about whether he’s an “abuser” or “aggressor” or “provocative,” but holy Toledo y’all, OP bit the dude. And frankly, someone being obnoxious and blocking a doorway is not adequate “provocation” to justify biting someone.

                  OP is sympathetic, in part because she realizes what she did was crazy. Her coworker’s reaction was also crazy. Let’s not argue about which crazy is worse—the whole place sounds like Arkham Asylum, and she needs to get out. So let’s help her get out, because that’s the only reasonable, long-term solution.

                7. Elizabeth H.

                  I personally think that what he did was much worse, but different things have different significances to people. Biting someone is shockingly weird (I’m having a hard time coming up with the right words to use for it) but stomping on the foot for the purpose of hurting someone, and shoving them is in my mind a lot more escalatory. Like on a spectrum where one end is giving someone both middle fingers (an act of aggression but nonviolent) and the other end is punching them in the face, I feel like what she did is closer to middle fingers and what he did is closer to punching. Like, if I were choosing which person to fire based on which person I thought behaved worse I would definitely fire the office manager. Even if she started the aggression, he had equal duty to retreat and went even further past it.

                8. Not So NewReader

                  @Elizabeth H.
                  Biting to me feels like it’s on a primitive or root level. I am not saying this very well. It’s a reaction that happens when no other resources are left to use.

                  Not to liken people to a pet, but we do see this with our dogs. My old dog HATED having his nails trimmed. His reactions were to pull away and then run away. If I got him in a good hold he would let his muscles go and become a lump of jelly then just slide out of my arms. He did everything he could think of without using his teeth on my hands and arms. I was always aware that he could run out of ideas and possibly use his teeth. (He never did.) It’s the physical closeness and his possible sense of being trapped that had me on alert.

                  The times I have seen people bite other people is when the bite-er is very close to the bite-ee before the situation starts to unravel. I think there is a sense of being cornered or having no escape.

                  I had to take regular trainings at one job. One year I went for my annual refresher and the instructor actually bit me. Hours later I still had teeth marks on my arm. I wrote it up. It never happened again. I felt that the action was to humiliate me but at that point my give-a-damn was broken.

                  OP, I’m not you, but I read this story and it looks to me like people are doing what they have to do to ensure their own basic survival. Likewise, yourself, you are barely making it through your day. This is not a group that will ever thrive. Check back in ten years, you will see not much has changed. You deserve to work in a place where you can THRIVE, not merely limp through from one day to the next.

                9. KS

                  Two wrongs don’t make a right. Maybe, just maybe, he should have acted like a real adult and not been a crappy bully blocking the door to begin with. That’s toddler nonsense and he should not be employed anywhere, to be quite honest.

              2. spek

                His size has absolutely nothing to do with it. Regardless of previous conflict or circumstances, she bit him. He doesn’t need to gauge his response based on how hard she bit or how much she weighs. He probably reacted instinctively. She is lucky that he didn’t have her arrested, especially if she drew blood and he decided that he needed shots.

                Reply
                1. Sunshine

                  Hard disagree. A large 6″2 guy blocking a doorway and swearing at you is inherently threatening and just as likely to provoke a fight or flight response. It *does* matter how big you are – a 5″3 woman is (probably) less able to seriously damage you.

                2. fposte

                  I’m a 5’2″ woman, and I actually find that remark a little insulting. The world is full of taller people than I am. They are not intimidating merely by standing in a doorway any more than people my size are.

                  She wasn’t blocked; she wasn’t afraid; she was mad that he wasn’t moving.

                3. Sunshine

                  I am a 5″3 woman which is why I used it as an example. A tall person standing in a doorway is not threatening. A tall person who is blocking your way, swearing at you and getting in your face *is* threatening.

                  Why do you assume she wasn’t afraid? I would be. He was trying to be frightening. It was completely deliberate.

                4. Michael

                  Height and ability to damage someone with a bite are not particularly correlated. Enough with the victim blaming, please.

                5. Aurion

                  Sunshine, I read it as he was trying to be antagonistic, but up until that point he was in the doorway and OP was in the hall. If we want to make an argument about threatening presence, technically she was boxing him in. “I don’t give a s***” is obstinate, rude, and crappy, but s*** is not, by itself, harsh enough to sound threatening–there are worse swear words everywhere. And the post didn’t say anything about him getting right up into her personal space (I read the “arm in front of my face” part as OP moving forward to bite him).

                  By the time the situation escalated and he started picking up porcelain shards? If the tension was still there, that would’ve been much more threatening. But at the time of OP biting him, he was just being a tremendous ass.

                  I’m also a 5’3″ woman, if it matters.

                6. fposte

                  It’s possible she was afraid as well, but she described the mental state that led to her response (“I’m reaaaaally busy right now”) and fear wasn’t included.

                7. LBK

                  Yeah, I think that’s a really important piece of this – by her own characterization of her mental state, the OP doesn’t seem to indicate she felt threatened or intimidated, so I don’t really see the purpose in trying to argue that she could have potentially felt that way.

              3. Princess Carolyn

                I’m also troubled by the co-worker’s reaction here. We only have one point of view here, of course, but stomping on someone’s feet doesn’t sound like a natural defensive action. It sounds like retaliation. More calculated than instinctive, especially if there’s a notable size difference here. I don’t like to police the way people react to assault or other taxing situations, but something about this just didn’t sit right with me.

                Reply
                1. Lehigh

                  Not if he has any self-defense training. Stomp-and-shove is textbook for getting someone away from you.

                2. Michael

                  That was literally my instinctive animal response to someone (purposefully) slamming a door shut on my hand in college. Kick them hard through the gap in the doorway, not as a well-planned retaliation, but just a OW SHIT THAT HURTS instinct.

                3. Elizabeth H.

                  Agree, it may be a knee-jerk uncontrolled reaction but it seems like a reaction of anger rather than a reaction of fear.

          2. leave leave leave! Oh and leave!

            fposte, I totally understand why you might do that, especially if you were in the midst of an attack. The part that gave me pause was that the other person paused when she paused and then launched into his attacks so it didn’t feel as reactionary to me whereas your example does.

            Regardless, OP must leave now if at all possible. Like you said, the toxicity there cannot be disentangled. Her norms are warped and she had felt life threatening danger in her office. This kind of psychological damage can be very difficult to undo and with the possibility that her physical safety is at risk, if she can cover shelter and food, she should leave now to avoid further damage, imho.

            Reply
            1. BananaPants

              “Life threatening danger”? Really? Both the OP and the coworker come off looking really, really bad. Grown adults don’t bite, stomp, and shove in the workplace.

              Reply
              1. Former Employee

                She left and didn’t help him pick up the broken pieces of her mug because she was afraid he’d use them as weapons against her. Some slashing you with the jagged edge of a piece of glass or porcelain does equal life threatening danger. All he’d have to do is hit an artery and she’s dead.

                Reply
        2. an.on

          I don’t condone the biting. I’ll just say that first. But I see how absolutely nuts this situation is and how sometimes when things are totally nuts around you, you do something that’s totally nuts.

          All of this blew my mind, but I think the part that really made my jaw drop was that the response to the bite was to stop her feet and shove her and grab shards of mug which presumably could be used for further, more violent retaliation… I mean, I don’t even have words.

          Again. Not condoning the bite. Can’t say that enough. But I feel like the bite is not the worst thing in this letter… OP, I feel like you’re in a volatile, dangerous situation here and I’d agree with everyone telling you to find your way out ASAP. And please remember when you’re entering into a new, presumably more sane workplace, it might be a difficult adjustment. I never dealt with physical violence but I had a pair of bosses who used to scream at me 2 inches from my face and I regularly had to clean their spit off my face from these “meetings.” I was like an abused animal at my next job – always flinching like someone was about to rip me a new one in front of clients or colleagues, worrying that I was about to get fired or that I was a pathetic, stupid excuse for an employee and I was lucky they didn’t fire me and have security rough me up on my way out the door. I wasn’t sure how to act in a “normal” place and I actually put up with a lot of weird stuff because I thought I deserved it. I was in a bad situation for 2 years, and it probably took 2 more years to recover from it. Wishing you the best of luck getting out of there!

          Reply
          1. BeautifulVoid

            Agreed. I also do not condone the biting, but if we have to rank wrongdoings in this letter, I’m not sure it makes the top 3 for me. OP, a major line has been crossed. Things can only get worse, not better. Get out.

            Reply
            1. Not So NewReader

              Yeah, this has opened a door. I’d recommend leaving while you still have some recollection of normalcy, OP.

              Reply
          1. Sunshine

            And she had just been blocked in and sworn at. I’m not condoning the biting but that is threatening behaviour.

            Reply
            1. Specialk9

              I agree he is abusive and scary and could possibly actually kill her… but she was not blocked IN she was blocked OUT. There’s a big difference, which is why we’re not saying “there there, you poor innocent dear” but “whoa you f-ed up, but that’s terrifying, get out now.”

              Reply
              1. who?

                WHAT?? He has not displayed any “abusive” behavior until after he was bitten, and where exactly are we extrapolating that he could kill her from? He reacted to being assaulted, and then started cleaning up the mess he caused.

                I’m not saying he was in the right. He absolutely was not. His reaction was disproportionate. But everyone is painting OP as a victim here and making up additional facets to the story. I mean, honestly, “could possibly actually kill her”?? No where in the letter is that even hinted. None of his behavior was threatening until he was physically attacked.

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  Yeah, WTF? I mean, technically pretty much anyone is physically capable of killing someone else, but there’s absolutely nothing to suggest that was even a remote, distance, fantasy of a possibility here.

                2. KS

                  “He has not displayed any “abusive” behavior until after he was bitten”
                  -Extreme overreaction to being told to stop being annoying. Didn’t speak to her for a YEAR? Said SHE was being immature? Look up gaslighting.
                  -Intentionally blocking the way, and explicitly noting he was doing it on purpose. Physically blocking people is part of an abusive set of behaviors.
                  -NO ONE else around there was shocked at what is clearly a pattern of behavior.
                  Dude is a garbage person. Nothing resembling an adult. I really can’t muster up any sympathy.

            2. Michael

              Not blocked in, blocked out. She wasn’t trapped, she was being kept from entering someone else’s office. That’s not threatening.

              Reply
            3. Managed Chaos

              She hadn’t been blocked in. She was blocked from entering a room. She could presumably have waited or turned around to go back where she came from.

              Reply
            4. Sunshine

              My mistake on the ‘blocked in’ but it’s still threatening behaviour. And it’s *meant* to be threatening. He was doing it in order to intimidate her.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                I think it’s meant to be intimidating, but I don’t think that’s the same thing as threatening. Really good teachers can easily be intimidating without being threatening, for instance.

                Reply
              2. Huntington

                She BIT him. That’s threatening, that’s assault, he could have pressed charges, and I’m concerned she still might be fired.

                Reply
                1. Sunshine

                  I agree. But I’m genuinely confused as to why he is also not regarded as at risk of firing. I wouldn’t tolerate his behaviour. If I were his manager I’d sack him, if I were a co-worker I’d leave.

                  He’s behaving like a 16 year old football player who’s had his first drink and thinks he’s a hardman. That’s not acceptable in the workplace.

            5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              No. OP did not say she found him to be at all threatening until well after she bit him. He was being obnoxious, and he has been obnoxious in the past, and something snapped for her because she was sick of dealing with his bullshit. That is nowhere near “threatening,” and it certainly does not warrant your coworker biting you.

              He’s awful, but arguing about how big and scary the Office Manager must be—or how he must have blocked her in, or how he must have threatened her—is trying really hard to paint OP as the victim. From what OP shared, it sounds like there are two bad actors, one of whom is also an asshole, and in this physical altercation, neither was in the right.

              OP doesn’t have to be right to merit our sympathy and strategizing, nor does the Office Manager have to be wrong in order to deny him sympathy. Honestly, if he’d written in using the same tone as OP, I suspect we’d be sympathetic there, too. We don’t have to reconcile any of that in order to provide useful or helpful feedback to OP.

              Reply
              1. Sunshine

                I think there has been a misunderstanding here.

                I have not once said the biting was warranted.

                I *do* think they are as bad as one another, and that this is toxic all round. As I’ve said before, I personally would fire them both and offer them counselling as part of their severance.

                I agree adults do not bite people. Adults also typically do not block doorways and act like teenagers.

                Reply
            6. Mazzy

              She wasn’t blocked in, she was blocked out.

              And she wasn’t sworn AT, someone cursed in a sentence aimed at her. Definitely a difference between calling someone a name and saying “I don’t give a ****.”

              Reply
            7. Anion

              An adult’s response to having a doorway blocked in a professional office should *never* be to bite them.

              It doesn’t matter how big he is or how small she is (I am 5’1, my husband is 6’3, so I’m familiar with size disparities).

              Adults do not bite other adults unless the first adult is being gripped in a chokehold and has no other option.

              Reply
              1. Sunshine

                I agree adults do not bite people. Adults also typically do not block doorways and act like teenagers.

                I need to clarify what I am saying.

                Biting is wrong.

                I also think he was deliberately trying to be intimidating and rude. He should have been disciplined the first time he did it. It would frighten the hell out of me if he behaved that way and I would choose to work literally anywhere else if he did that.

                To reiterate; none of that means the biting was ok. I just think he also behaved EXTREMELY badly, and some commenters are acting like she is a crazy person and he is an angel.

                Reply
              2. turquoises

                “Adults do not bite adults” is only partly true.

                *Healthy* adults with a *healthy, intact capacity to self-regulate* do not bite other adults.

                Self-regulation is our neurobiological capacity to modulate our mood, behavior and energy in order to meet the demands of our environment. Self-regulation can become impaired due to prolonged stress…. especially in situations where you don’t have the opportunity or ability to properly recover from fight-or-flight and return to baseline. Prolonged and repeated stress *diminishes* self-regulation, making your nervous system easier to alarm and harder to calm. It’s a vicious cycle. (Source: Self-Reg by Stuart Shanker)

                Now ideally, social engagement with other humans is a *resource* that can help re-regulate us when we are stressed. (Polyvagal theory– social engagement actually disarms the fight or flight response! it’s so cool!!) But in a dysfunctional environment such as this one, other people are actually sources of stress and compounding the problem even further.

                OP has spent years in an abusive environment and is exhibiting signs of impaired self-regulation. (Note: “Willpower” and “self-restraint” are functions of self-regulation.) I think it’s entirely probable, and understandable, that the cumulative stress of coping with this House of Bees has impacted the OP to the point where they experienced a sort of breaking point.

                One of the main themes of Stuart Shanker’s work is that “Misbehavior is stress behavior.” Biting someone is not acceptable, but I don’t think it’s helpful to point fingers and try to adjudicate whether the OP’s behavior was a “warranted” response to the situation. Biting was the best response she could come up with at the time… and that fact is a wake-up call to what needs to happen next: damage control, self-care and finding another job.

                Reply
    2. OP

      I know I have some GREAT references . I honestly don’t think this would follow me anywhere–as long as I move on quickly and don’t spiral again. Heck, there’s a good chance even he would be a wonderful reference to me. He sounds so normal and professional when interacting with those outside the company. I’ve never heard him give a bad reference, even to people he dislikes.

      Reply
      1. KatieKate

        I would only use him if there was NO CHANCE he would bring this up, even as a “ha ha, here’s a great story about OP” because clearly he is on a different level of appropriate. I personally wouldn’t trust him.

        Reply
      2. Super Anon for This

        I don’t want to derail, but OP were there *any* warning signs of how dysfunctional this place was when you were hired? I am currently working at a dysfunctional office that is making me miserable (thought not as bad as yours) and when I was interviewing and in the first few days there weren’t any warning signs! When I am able to save up enough money to start job searching again I am terrified I will land right back where I started in another bad office.

        Reply
        1. OP

          We’ve had almost complete turnover since we were both hired. Aside from him and I, and our mutual boss, everyone else is a more recent hire. I don’t think there’s any way to see something like this coming, because I do feel this was more gradual.

          My last workplace was the opposite, weirdly. I had a boss who threw things at me and told me to kill myself, before slowly becoming more friendly and kind over the 5 years I was there.

          I don’t know. I sort of feel like I’ll always end up in places like this because everywhere had horrible, dark issues…

          Reply
            1. The Cosmic Avenger

              First, THIS. ^^^^^ You deserve better, because no one deserves that. No one.

              Second, please realize that this is no more normal or OK than an abusive spouse or parent. Those people may have reasons for being the way they are, but they are responsible for their actions. And honestly, before you commented that you were afraid that he might use the shards as a weapon, it occurred to me while first reading your letter that if he had conducted a campaign of abuse and intimidation that that could be what he did next, before you commented to say exactly that.

              Please know that this is not considered OK or normal. Those that do consider it OK generally are abusers, or are the victim and have been abused and manipulated into doing so. I hope you can stay safe until you can safely extricate yourself from that job.

              Reply
          1. Falling Diphthong

            OP, how many workplaces have you had? Because if it’s two, then the dysfunctional first office might have made you immune to any early signals about the crazy of the second, but both are really, really abnormal. People can learn to treat anything as just how things naturally go because humans are hugely socially adaptable, but that doesn’t mean this office behavior is inevitable or even common.

            Reply
            1. aebhel

              I was gonna say that. I’ve worked at some places that I would characterize as pretty dysfunctional, but none of them rose to the level of EITHER of these places–this is completely crazypants behavior and it’s really damaging OP’s sense of how normal people (even normal office jerks) act.

              Reply
          2. Lora

            NO THIS IS NOT THE CASE.

            There are loads and loads of workplaces where the worst thing that happens all year is someone getting tipsy and dancing on the table at the company holiday party, or Wakeen in Accounting is dating Jane in Shipping. Or a guy walks into HR and opens with “Hey girls…”

            That said, there are some notoriously crazy fields to work in, but unless you’re working at Fox News or in a hoity-toity restaurant kitchen, nobody should be throwing things or telling you to jump off a cliff or anything. Like, the worst thing that’s happened to me all day is a guy I need to approve an HR thing is sitting around ignoring my emails and calls and texts and it’s REALLY annoying. I got a last-minute project dumped on me this week, which kind of messed up my original plans, and now we’re scrambling to find materials and generate the appropriate documents. But really, that’s it.

            You need to work somewhere normal. Even normal-ish would be a big improvement. I mean, I’m imagining the bratty kid in preschool who bites the other children and the teacher has a talk with the parents who are all, “yeah, she bites her sister too…it’s a phase, she’ll grow out of it…”

            Reply
          3. Lunchy

            I know how you feel about always thinking you’ll end up somewhere toxic. I moved from MA to NY to live with my boyfriend, and every job I’ve had in the past 5 years was incredibly toxic and dysfunctional. They made me question my own work ethic — if I was as hard a worker as I believed, or if I was even worth anything to employers. I’ve had three jobs, all with horrible management and bad endings – I quit, resigned, and got fired respectively. I never thought I was going to find a place where I was glad to work.

            I’m temping at a company I never would have applied for otherwise, and I love it. Good training, nice, knowledgeable superiors, work events, games, casual dress…I’ve even made a friend – and I’m a huge introvert!

            So don’t lose hope, OP. Don’t let this place define you as an employee, nor taint your perception of workplaces as a whole. You WILL find a place where you fit, and where your talents and hard work will be appreciated!

            Reply
          4. Observer

            OMG! Your last workplace was abusive. And not anywhere within a 100 miles of normal. Throwing things at people and telling them to kill themselves is NOT something that you should expect at any workplace. Even poorly run workplaces.

            Reply
          5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            OP, it sounds like you jumped from one dysfunctional workplace to another. That doesn’t mean you’ll always end up in horrible places—you deserve a safe, functional workplace. BUT, if you don’t identify the triggers or other factors that signal a bad workplace, then you’re likely to repeat the mistake (I understand that in this case, it may not have been possible to identify the badness until it was well underway). It’s similar to the cycle of abuse (children who grow up in homes with DV are more likely to enter relationships with DV or end up in the role of abuser/abused, which makes them more likely to have children who are exposed to the same abuse, and so on and so forth).

            So I think, in addition to job searching, it’s worth going through all of Alison’s guidance re: doing your due diligence. Because I think it will take time for your “wackness” barometer to recalibrate, and you shouldn’t have to suffer just because you need some time for that recalibration to happen. Can you enlist a friend or colleague with good sense who doesn’t work with you to serve as kind of a “neutral third party” when reviewing prospective employers?

            Reply
        1. Specialk9

          Do not use him as a reference. Do not tell him where you are going. Block him on all social media, and ramp down your privacy settings. He is a threat, treat him as such.

          And please get therapy, if you can afford it. This is all way messed up, and therapy can help you level set to a healthier place.

          Reply
          1. Courtney W

            Yes to the therapy suggestion. I was looking for a nice way to say it, and this pretty much sums it up. They ca help reset your normal meter, basically, and it sounds like that would be really helpful.

            Reply
      3. Bess

        I’m really confused about the norms in your office. This wasn’t reported up the chain or dealt with in any way?

        This is not to suggest I don’t think you were provoked, but even if a coworker had been a superstar, I think I’d have trouble giving them a good reference if I saw something like this escalate, or if I heard about it. Are you sure you want to use coworkers in this office as a reference? At the very least I’d follow Alison’s advice and apologize to anyone who saw it or heard about it. This is also the kind of story that could take on a life of its own in gossip so you’d really want to get ahead of it.

        Reply
      4. Falling Diphthong

        Having GREAT references now is a reason to move on while that is still true. I have seen this sort of awfulness really seep into people’s work as they care less and less and become more and more bitter, and the references that would have been stellar a couple of years ago fade.

        OP, my thoughts on reading this were:
        1) Wow, that is a great email subject line. Concisely sums up all the relevant information.
        2) If he was facing away from you, the disabling move would be to kick him in the back of the knees.
        3) …. Okay, coming up with 3 means it’s way past time to leave this office. As you saw, rather than your extreme reaction shocking and shaming him into normal behavior, like it would on TV if he followed his lines correctly, he struck back physically and harder. You need to work someplace where this doesn’t even come up. (The reason I know 2 is my tiny mom was a reserve police officer. She didn’t learn that stuff working in a teapot design office.)

        Reply
      5. Janey

        Please do not use him as a reference. Do not give him that much power over your life. (And if he gets a reference call and realizes you’re on your way out the door, he may become even MORE horrible). Don’t trust the people who make your life miserable to help you escape the misery they cause.

        Reply
      6. Courtney W

        OP, if you are seriously considering using him as a reference, we have a problem here. Maybe the problem is that this workplace has completely messed with your perspective. Maybe it’s more serious. But OMG you cannot use someone you got into a physical fight with as a REFERENCE. It doesn’t matter what you think he would say or what he has said when giving references for others he doesn’t like. Just don’t do it.

        Reply
      7. Renna

        Ok, obviously, you shouldn’t bite people at work, or in general. And I am the only one here who is gonna say this, because realistically, you can’t go around attacking people and not expect serious consequences – but he totally deserved it. I confess to a small, sick inner glee when I read this, remnants of decades past when I had a little sister who bullied me incessantly until I snapped (she grew up to be very nice and we’re good friends now). NOBODY TAKE THIS AS ADVICE. I know full well that it’s terrible that I was like “….yesss” because grown adults are not the same as scrapping children and the consequences could go so far…but that one moment had some nice schadenfreude in it. I hope karma takes a dump on him. And that you stay safe, find a much better place, and get out soon so you can turn into a nice calm happy person again. I can’t even imagine working in that environment, it sounds horrible for mental and physical health. Leave ASAP. Maybe look into boxing lessons? (Not so you can beat him up better – I suggest this only because my little sister did this and she said it felt great to punch the bag when she was frustrated. Gets out the aggression in ways that won’t get you arrested or killed by a whacko like the one you describe here).

        Reply
  3. paul

    OP: Run, don’t walk.

    I’m not sure if I’m more horrified by the fact you bit someone (who, to be fair, was being a raging jackass) or the fact that it’s apparently not a big deal in that office. That’s…wow. And please try hard not to internalize the office norms there.

    Is this your first office job? Do you have a more functional office job to compare it to?

    Reply
    1. RabbitRabbit

      I think I’m more horrified by the latter. But damn.

      I’d consider going instead for the dropping your voice an octave and intoning a firm “Move!” should this continue to happen. (He might not be dissuaded by a stare after this; you never know.)

      Reply
    2. Noah

      You’re focused on the wrong behavior. Co-worker was possibly committing false imprisonment, then committed a serious batter in response to a minor one.

      Reply
        1. newbie

          Noah may have meant imprisoning the coworker in the office, on the other side of the door (though I don’t think we have sufficient evidence to jump to that conclusion)

          Reply
          1. LBK

            I don’t see anything in the letter to suggest that happened, though. The arm blocking was while she was outside of the office trying to get in.

            Reply
            1. newbie

              LW was outside. Person LW was trying to meet with was inside (possibly entrapped – though as I said, I agree there’s not enough evidence in the letter to assume that).

              Reply
      1. swingbattabatta

        What? No, this is absolutely wrong. There is no false imprisonment here, not by any stretch of the imagination.

        Reply
      2. KarenT

        He was preventing the OP from entering a room, not from exiting one (which still would likely not be false imprisonment)

        Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        This is not how false imprisonment or battery works. This is not a situation where OP is well-served by drumming up legal causes of action for her, particularly since she was the person who initiated the assault (I’m not saying that to get into an argument of whether one assault offsets another, but rather, to note that this is not a cut-and-dry case of workplace violence).

        Reply
  4. Countess Boochie Flagrante

    I read the title and went “oh boy.”

    Oh boy.

    Alison is right on the money here. Get out. If you have savings, get out now. If not… grit your teeth, adopt impeccable professionalism as the subtle insult it can absolutely be, and find a good way to detox as you devote your energy to getting the hell out of Hell as fast as you can, because holy crap this letter was insane from start to finish, and I don’t just mean your part of it, I mean all of it.

    Reply
    1. memyselfandi

      I was coming here to comment that this letter made me think about the way I feel about drivers in the area where I live. They have driving habits that just drive me up the wall (not to mention are dangerous) and I found that I was getting enraged and acting just as badly. I did some deep thinking and decided I would adopt the driving version of “impeccable professionalism.” I can’t change them, only the way I react.

      Reply
      1. Aiani

        I have recently come to the exact same conclusion about my own driving. Allowing someone else’s bad driving to change my own driving just makes me a danger to myself and others. Now I tell myself, cursing that guy out and driving terribly won’t actually make the situation any better.

        That might be a good thing to keep in mind OP, reacting in anger to this jerk coworker won’t actually get good results for you. Often the best thing is to walk away, take a deep breathe and think to yourself that he might be a jerk but you don’t have to be. Easier said than done but overall more beneficial for you.

        Reply
      2. Bryce

        I think due in part to growing up in the middle of nowhere (and thus not thinking of travel times in increments less than an hour) I have developed a driving style of zen-like patience. Fifty, sixty, the road goes to the same place in the end. That guy chooses to risk his life to save thirty seconds, but I need not make that choice.

        Reply
  5. Namast'ay In Bed

    Omg.

    Just, omg.

    I hope your feet are ok, I know I’ve been accidentally stepped on by heels while wearing ballet flats, and it was horrifically painful – my whole foot turned black, and that was an accident! Someone purposely stomping on you must have been even worse!

    If your feet are at all bruised, I would take pictures to document that he assaulted you as well, just in case.

    Reply
    1. paul

      I would be *very* careful making an issue of that after you bit someone. Yes, he was being a dick, but what she did was definitely assault. Maybe I’m picturing the sort of bite you get in a bad brawl and what happened wasn’t that extreme, IDK, but I do know I’ve taken a chunk out of someone before and had it done to me. It can definitely require stitches, not to mention the potential for infection.

      Basically, I wouldn’t initiate any legal action in her shoes I don’t think.

      Reply
      1. Tiffin

        I think the point isn’t to bring legal action, but to be able to demonstrate what the guy did in retaliation if he decides to take action against her. It sounds like he won’t because that place is a nightmare, and even if he does go after her, it might not help because she did in fact bite him first. However, it can’t really hurt to document the bruises just in case.

        Reply
        1. Aisling

          In order for the pictures to hold up in court, they have to be taken by someone official – hospital staff, police, etc. Taking your own pictures won’t help, as there’s no way to determine when they were taken.

          Reply
          1. sap

            This is in no way true on several levels. I am a lawyer. To anyone who has been assaulted: yeah, police/hospital photos are best but do not decide against self-documentation based on this advice

            Reply
          2. Buffay the Vampire Layer

            Who told you that? I don’t know about laws of evidence elsewhere, but in America there’s no bar to admissibility of photos based on who took them.

            Reply
          3. Alli525

            Echoing what Sap and Buffay said, and adding the fact that photos have metadata embedded in them, so you CAN tell when a photo was taken.

            Reply
            1. GermanGirl

              But you can also fake metadata, which is why judges might be wary of counting too much on such self documentation.
              Still, it’s better than no documentation.

              Reply
              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Where is this information coming from? Judges are not “wary” of “counting too much” on self documentation. That’s not how evidence works. There are clear standards for authenticating photographs, and having “someone official” taking the photo is not one of the requirements/standards.

                Reply
                1. Halpful

                  plus, people wouldn’t be able to fake the time it was uploaded to, say, Google’s servers. (do even google employees have the ability to mess with that data?)

              2. sap

                Echoing what the princess said about (at least in America) this not being a thing that judges are keeping evidence out for, like, ever. I do not want to get into a long rant about the specifics of the American evidence code, but a picture that you took that has metadata you can testify is correct is not going to be kept out of any proceeding by a judge who follows the law even only loosely. If the opposing party thinks that the evidence was faked, they will have the opportunity to ask you about that and submit any supporting evidence themselves. The standard for admitting stuff isn’t “100% certainty authenticated,” and, in fact, judges are pretty comfortable assuming that evidence hasn’t been faked because lawyers who do that lose a lot of money and usually their licenses.

                Reply
    2. Midge

      Is it wrong that I’m more worried about the OP’s stomped on feet than the horrible office manager being bitten (probably lightly) through his shirt? Of course biting someone at work is wrong, but the violent response from the office manager is seriously concerning. It reminds me a bit of the letter writer a while back whose coworker was kicking her underneath desks and tables.

      Reply
      1. an.on

        That’s kind of where I’m landing as well. I feel like I KNOW I’m thinking about this incorrectly because biting is inarguably inappropriate and wrong, in no uncertain terms. But I am MORE blown away by the office manager’s verbal aggression that led up to this event and his response of stomping, shoving, etc. I get that not everyone will see it that way but I’m just totally in awe of this entire situation. I’m so sorry for the OP!

        Reply
        1. Renna

          Me too exactly. When she bit him I was like like “good for her” and then when I realized what I just thought: “wait, what?” I know that’s not normal or right but dude, what an ass!

          Reply
      2. Owl

        Me too! I never would have guessed when I started reading a post entitled “I bit my coworker” that I’d be sympathetic with the LW by the end of it.

        Reply
      3. Carla

        If it’s wrong, I’m wrong too. I suppose I’m biased because the boss sounds like a very abusive person I once knew.

        Reply
      4. hbc

        It’s not wrong in the sense that we’ve got the OP’s perspective and are pretty naturally going to sympathize with her. If he had written in about a colleague who (perhaps from his perspective) rudely wouldn’t let him finish a conversation, bit him rather than wait two minutes, and left him to clean up the dangerous mug shards she left behind, we wouldn’t be parsing exactly how long he waited to shove his assailant out of the way or whether he properly assessed her footwear before reacting.

        Plus, OP expresses a lot of remorse and manages to walk the line between explaining and justifying. If she was all “The jerk had it coming, how do I punish him without getting any blowback?,” we wouldn’t be worrying about her feet.

        Reply
        1. Managed Chaos

          Exactly this. Perspective of the storyteller makes a big difference.

          Personally, I don’t find either remotely sympathetic, though I would urge the LW to follow Allison’s advice, get out as soon as possible, and try to figure out why you think biting is the best way to handle a rude co-worker.

          Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          YES to all of this. I think folks are finding OP sympathetic, and it’s coloring how seriously they perceive her part of this cluster****.

          Reply
      5. SansaStark

        I completely agree. His escalation….really sort of demonstrated to me the level of toxicity the OP is living with on a daily basis. I feel like I can relate because I’ve completely and uncharacteristically snapped when pushed and pushed.

        Reply
        1. Managed Chaos

          But….. isn’t biting someone who doesn’t move out of your way a pretty high escalation as well? I think she escalated it more – took it from non-physical to physical, from non-violent to violent. So to say he escalated it? He may have added lighter fluid but only after she gathered the firewood and set it ablaze.

          Reply
          1. SansaStark

            I completely agree that biting him escalated it beyond anything that resembles reasonable. But I think that intentionally blocking someone’s way is sort of physical. Again, that doesn’t excuse biting him, but the whole workplace and coworkers seem totally bananas.

            Reply
          2. OhNo

            I think you’ve got the order wrong. It sounds like he is sexist, possibly condescending, swears at her regularly, and is generally a jerk of the highest order. So if I were to use your analogy, I’d say he gathered the firewood, laid it in place, set the kindling, added lighter fluid, and handed her a lit match – then poked and prodded her until she unintentionally dropped it right onto the whole woodpile. And only then (conveniently, once he could rightfully lay the blame at her feet) did he spray more gasoline on the blaze.

            Should she have paid more attention to holding onto the match, aka acting professional despite all his set up? Absolutely. But everyone has a limit to their patience and ability to handle situations like this, and it sounds like the OP found hers. What she did wasn’t right by any means, but having dealt with my fair share of bullies that used exactly this methodology, I think OP is the more sympathetic party here.

            Reply
            1. Jessie the First (or second)

              ” It sounds like he is sexist, possibly condescending, swears at her regularly, and is generally a jerk of the highest order.”

              And he did not deserve to be bit. I know you kind of say that but it is buried, and it really shouldn’t be.

              “everyone has a limit to their patience and ability to handle situations like this, and it sounds like the OP found hers.”
              Yes, but – the way I reach my limit would be to ragequit. Not to assault someone. Outside of childhood bullying issues, or domestic abuse, or self-defense, I really can’t agree with the idea that physically assaulting someone because they are a jerk is in the realm of “yeah, we’d all get to that point” kind of understanding.

              Reply
              1. Fictional Butt

                And I think this issue of “what happens when you reach your limit” will be OP’s biggest obstacle, if word of this incident gets out. I might hire someone who walked out of an abusive workplace without notice. I might hire someone who argued with their boss. I might hire someone who took mental health leave from their previous job and never came back. But I really am not going to want to hire someone whose failure mode is to assault their coworker. Those other things I listed might be red flags, but at least they are within the realm of what happens in a normal business. I can’t put myself or anyone else in the situation of being physically harmed, and I can’t guarantee that nothing in my company will cause OP to reach her limit and assault someone again. So I think she really needs to do some soul-searching to figure out how this happened, and how she will guarantee to herself and others that it will not happen again.

                Reply
              2. OhNo

                I mean, yeah, your reaction would be different. I don’t doubt that; mine would be too. It sounded like the OP already knows that her reaction was bad and doesn’t like what she did, so I didn’t see a reason to harp on it. But that doesn’t mean I’m suggesting that it was a normal reaction or that it was okay.

                But like I said, I’ve been around situations like this before. If the coworker is the kind of bully I’m thinking of, pushing people until they snap is the point of the whole thing. That’s the goal. My main point is that if she was set up to fail, it’s not surprising that she did. What she did when she lost her cool was so out of bounds I can’t even express it. But more people seem focused on the fact that her professionalism failed at all, rather than than the specific action she took when it happened.

                Reply
            2. Huntington

              That’s an awful lot of mental gymnastics. I can’t imagine you’d be okay with him having bitten her and then slamming the door and leaving her to clean up his shattered coffee mug.

              Reply
              1. Turtledove

                From what OP’s commented, upthread, she retreated to her office and away from the shattered mug because she was afraid he’d use the shards on her if she stayed. OP definitely shouldn’t have bitten him, but the guy (and the situation) is pretty clearly abusive – so yes, if the genders were reversed, I’d be sitting exactly where I am right now anyways: the biting was wrong, but getting away from the shards wasn’t a bad move if that’s what survival instinct said to do, and the important thing right now is to get the heck out of that workplace and *not* use this person as a reference.

                Reply
            3. Not So NewReader

              I agree, OhNo, and you gave a great parallel example here.
              Isn’t this what abuse looks like, where the abuser provokes his target to their breaking point?

              Can you frame it that way, OP? Put it in the context of you will not let him get to you again.

              Reply
            4. Managed Chaos

              She could have chosen to walk away. He was blocking a doorway for a meeting. He wasn’t blocking a way for her to leave, a bathroom, etc or anything that would remotely be considered a necessity. Had she stormed out of her office for the day, that might have been a reasonable reaction, while unprofessional. But to act like she’s a victim who “accidentally” bit someone is a bit ludicrous to me.

              Reply
          3. nonegiven

            Depends, did she leave a mark? Draw blood?

            Did she get bruised from being stomped or shoved? Cut from a shard?

            Reply
      6. Michael

        I don’t know if I can agree. Someone in college once (purposefully) slammed a door shut on my hand as I was entering the room, and I remember totally instinctively kicking them (hard) through the gap in the doorway, just to get them to back away. It wasn’t a calculated ‘I must get revenge by hurting them back,” it was a instant fight-or-flight response to sudden pain and aggression.

        Reply
      7. Courtney W

        As someone who has toddlers and has been bitten by one of them recently, being bit really freaking hurts. Even when it’s not enough to leave a mark. So yeah, I do think this is kind of wrong. Not that I wasn’t completely horrified by the foot stomping/pushing, because I was…but I think some of you are underestimating what it feels like to have someone bite you.

        Reply
        1. focusfriday

          Yeah, the OP clearly accepts that she was wrong to do that, and clearly the manager is a massive jerk, but if an adult human BIT me? I might do almost anything in response, from freezing in total surprise to running away to punching them in the face. I’m not saying he wasn’t wrong in actions before the bite or wrong in his response to the bite, especially if it WASN’T entirely instinctive, but adrenaline kicks in when people bite you.

          Reply
      8. This Daydreamer

        I agree with you and it scares the hell out of me. That office has clearly hit FUBAR status and, if anything, it’s going to get worse.

        Reply
      9. Paula, with Two Kids

        I’m late here but feel exactly the same. I spent a lot of time with an abuser (almost always verbal and not physical).

        But once in an argument I put my finger on his chest, with no pressure it wasn’t to hurt him.. He used his finger (just his finger) to knock me off balance. Abusers generally like to dish out 1000 times what they are given (whether verbally or physically).

        Everything in that post made me terrified for the OP. And the fact that he routinely blocks her from places and everyone ignores it like it’s normal? So, so, so not normal.

        Reply
    3. OP

      I did have some pretty heavy bruises, though they’re gone now. I chose not to make it a thing because, well, I bit him! No, I didn’t make him bleed or really leave a mark, but still… I escalated.

      Reply
  6. LBK

    Holy cow.

    I don’t know if I have anything to add here, you just need to do exactly what Alison says: build up a temporary coping mechanism while you work on getting the hell out of there.

    Do you have any sense that he might try to retaliate? I guess that’s the only thing I can think of – that you might want to try to be proactive about whatever way he might try to get revenge for this incident. Although it doesn’t sound like he could necessarily be any more obstructive to your work than he already is.

    Reply
    1. Dulf

      The guy she bit already retaliated by stomping on her feet! I don’t want to sound unnecessarily alarmist, but this office is crazy enough that it’s possible he might actually try to hurt her next time a conflict arises (and justify it, in his mind, with the fact that she bit him first). Like Alison said: it’s time to go.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        Obviously I meant a more long-term retaliation, like giving a one-sided version of the story to someone in authority.

        Reply
        1. Dulf

          I don’t think there’s any version of the story he could tell that wouldn’t also implicate him unless he outright lied. I’d be more concerned about her accidentally setting a precedent where physical violence becomes an acknowledged part of this workplace.

          Reply
    2. OP

      He has completely moved past it. There’s a few other people in the office he targets more frequently, as I’m USUALLY very good about walking away and not engaging when he’s in a mood.

      I honestly think he’ll never bring it up again.

      Reply
        1. Peanut

          Or maybe more disturbing. To have someone bite me would be weird; to find it an ordinary enough event that I don’t need to bring it up again is BONKERS.

          Reply
            1. Anon for This

              Weird stuff happens frequently where I work because of the clients I work with and there was one particular case of a client and an instructor kind of horsing around and she bit him and WE STILL TALK ABOUT IT. Even though we’ve seen and heard weirder stuff since, it’s still pretty freaking unusual.

              Reply
          1. Turtle Candle

            Yep. At a normal workplace, an interaction like this (one person bites another, the other stomps and shoves) would be something you would talk about for years. Maybe decades. If it’s something they could shrug off and forget quickly? … it’s almost like an office workplace from the Star Trek mirror universe. All you need is Spock with a goatee.

            Reply
          2. Lora

            The only time I’ve ever heard of biting or stomping being normal enough to move past is from people who work with the severely mentally ill, in emergency rooms, or as some sort of patient aide for severely developmentally disabled people. And then, it’s the patients/clients doing the biting and stomping, not the colleagues! The colleagues are rather rushing to help!

            Reply
          3. Jessica

            It’s bonkers for the rest of us, but good for OP. As long as this guy doesn’t think it’s a big deal, then it won’t reflect professionally on OP more than it already has. OP should get a new job ASAP before someone reminds this guy how messed up it was, because right now she has a target on her back on multiple levels; one, that this guy has a legitimate grievance against OP that could justify further action, and two, that this guy is warped enough to decide that physical assault is now on the table, and retaliate in kind in some way (more than the foot-stomping, I mean). The sooner OP is out of sight, the longer she will be out of mind and the better this will be for everyone.

            Reply
      1. Construction Safety

        He’s a bully.
        You reacted physically. Bullies don’t like that.
        He’ll go bully someone else.

        Reply
        1. Tuckerman

          Yes. OP’s behavior was completely inappropriate and could have serious consequences. And it was probably the most effective behavior to stop being bullied by this guy.
          Of course, the best scenario would have involved her not working somewhere where she’s being bullied. And I agree with the advice that she should be looking to get out ASAP. But most people aren’t able to swing finically leaving leave a job without another one lined up.
          I think OP will be telling this story to her grandkids.

          Reply
          1. Emilia Bedelia

            Honestly, that’s what I’ve been thinking while reading this letter and responses- the OP has shown that she speaks this guy’s language and won’t just be a pushover (no pun intended). I wouldn’t be surprised if he respects her more as a result of this, in a weird, twisted way.

            This whole thing is bananas, OP. Real adults communicate with words – this guy will totally distort your mind.

            Reply
            1. OhNo

              That was my thought, too. Bullies of this type (and I have known a fair few), have a certain amount of respect for people that are just like them. It’s certainly possible that by turning it physical, the OP earned his respect (for lack of a better term).

              If that’s what happened, the best case scenario here is that he’ll back off a bit now. The worst case scenario is that he’ll start encouraging “joking” physical confrontations as a method of “bonding” with his new buddy.

              Keep a sharp eye out for this, OP. Once that physical barrier is broken with someone who has only the loosest conception of boundaries in the first place, it’s nigh impossible to get it back up again. If you can avoid touching him for any reason ever again, I highly recommend it.

              Reply
        2. Specialk9

          That’s about the most dangerous advice you can give. Abusers and bullies can be hard to distinguish. Bullies back down, abusers wait for you with a squirt bottle of acid. Please be careful what you advise!

          Reply
      2. Tex

        He might use the biting incident as a weapon to get you fired when he really needs it . After all, he has a witness and his actions of stomping on your feet are going to be framed as retaliation. Per typical bullies, he’s going to use this if he finds he can’t intimidate you any longer. Your usual walking away actions can be construed as submission, so he’s OK for now but he’s probably building a list of infractions and your next minor mistake is going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

        So don’t take him not bringing up this incident up as evidence that he has moved on. Believe me, he hasn’t forgotten. Get another job ASAP.

        Reply
      3. Not So NewReader

        Becoming expert at dealing with jackasses is really not resume building material.

        I love when Alison reminds us to watch what skills we are developing. We want to develop marketable, resume-worthy skills. I don’t think you are going to be able to do that in this place.

        Reply
      4. Not So NewReader

        So he’s Jekyll and Hyde. Peach.

        You do know that moodiness, especially in this extreme, is not appropriate at work, right? No one should have to put up with someone’s mood swings.

        Reply
    3. Bolt

      I think he pretty much got his revenge when he assaulted her back for biting him. Now they both have figurative blood on their hands. I would expect something if he had done the normal reaction of leaving the area and reporting the assault to the boss and/or police.

      My concern is that a line has been crossed here and no kind of discipline was doled out to either employee. Next time she is in his way or makes him mad, he may actually escalate to assaulting her because the previous incident was just kind of swept under the rug and forgotten. Or even that she could be the one that crosses the line again in the future.

      Even though it could result in termination, I would bring this to the boss ASAP. I would admit that I reacted wildly out of line by biting him on the arm because he wouldn’t move, but then I would stress that he did the same with the stomping/shoving.

      The reaction could be much more severe if the boss finds out from someone who witnessed the altercation or if the behavior between them escalates in the future. This could have possible legal implications for the workplace, not just the two of them. Even if he is the one that goes to the boss first, the story could get very skewed in his favor and the witness may side with him out of fear. If you go in on your own terms there is a greater chance to salvage the situation.

      Reply
      1. Dulf

        Yes, I absolutely agree. His reaction was very abnormal. Setting aside office norms, I like to think most people generally avoid escalating physical violence. It’s VERY concerning.

        Reply
        1. JasperJ

          His reaction seems pretty normal to me. Shoving and kicking to get someone to stop biting you is not in any way inappropriate. It’s purely self defense.

          Reply
  7. The Mighty Thor

    Yeah, definitely get out. Even if it’s just by the skin of your teeth, get out. A business like that really needs to bite the dust.

    Reply
  8. Virginian

    Wow!

    If your situation allows for it, you should consider applying for temp work just to get out of that environment. I’m not even sure if you can expect a reference from them.

    Good luck!

    Reply
  9. PizzaDog

    I’m scared that if you don’t get out now, it’ll wreck you. This job is totally unhealthy. If it’s at all possible to leave now, do so. You’ll find something else – even if you have to take up something else in the meantime, quite literally anything else is better than staying there.

    Reply
  10. Bree

    The thing where he paused and then retaliated by stomping on LW’s feet and shoving her is really alarming. It doesn’t sound like his violence was a defensive reflex, but rather a deliberate attempt to injure her. Combined with his outright hostility for a really minor slight and the sexism in telling her she’s prettier when she smiles, all kinds of red flags for this to escalate.

    I know the LW asked about her own behaviour (which definitely wasn’t appropriate), but, in addition, his behaviour indicates a safety risk to me (at least as described.) All the more reason to speed up the job search.

    Reply
    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Yes, absolutely agreed. The OP can’t exactly claim a moral high ground in the physical-assault arena here, but he definitely escalated and seems to have been completely okay with moving things from the realm of bad behavior to actual violence.

      Reply
    2. fposte

      I think they’re both a safety risk in that atmosphere. As you say, all the more reason to speed up the job search and reset before this stuff gets more ingrained.

      Reply
    3. Lehigh

      While I agree that there may be a safety risk here, if someone bit me at work I wouldn’t feel even a tiny bit bad about immediate physical retaliation. And I think if someone wrote in and said, “My coworker bit me so I stomped on her foot” it would be really easy to say, “That wasn’t a great reaction but holy cow, adults do not bite people!”

      LW, get out. And in my opinion you should seek therapy if you can–not because I’m suggesting you have a mental illness, but because you just bit a coworker. That is not a normal workplace thing to accept, but it is also not a normal person thing to do. Whatever in your brain snapped to make you feel like that was a choice you could make outside of physical danger, needs to be talked through.

      Reply
      1. Us, Too

        I’m not sure that this is an inappropriate reaction to someone physically assaulting you at work. I’m leaning towards saying it’s OK to defend yourself from attack and stomping on someone’s foot (a technique commonly taught in self defense classes) and then shoving the offender away seems pretty minimal compared to any number of other options that could have been employed.

        Reply
      2. paul

        I agree. I’m seeing a lot ot of people bewildered by a delayed physical response but that’s really not atypical when stuff escalates to violence. Regardless of the guy being a jerk before hand, the second or two where you’re just stunned and *then* you start fighting back? Yeah that’s pretty common. And yes, she’d quit attacking, but the brain can take a second or two or three to catch up sometimes.

        Unexpected aggression (non verbal, verbal, physical) can do funny things to people.

        Reply
        1. Turtle Candle

          Yes, years ago when I was physically attacked, I remember there being a moment of “holy shit did that actually happen?” before the (completely reflexive and instinctual) shoving them away from me. Both the pause and the shove came from my lizard brain; neither one was a conscious assessment. I think on some very primal level my brain was sorting through fight/flight options and it took a moment to pick ‘shove.’ (And the shove in my case was purely a GET AWAY FROM ME OH MY GOD GET AWAY rather than a desire to hurt.)

          This guy sounds like a primo jackass regardless, but a pause between action and reaction doesn’t mean that the reaction was calculated, necessarily.

          Reply
        2. Lissa

          Yeah, the “freeze for a second” seems super super normal. I have had both the “out of body” moment and the freeze in response to super bizarre stuff. I also watched a video a few years ago of an attempted political assassination and there was this moment where literally *everyone* froze, before screaming/reacting. It really struck me because that’s basically never portrayed in fiction.

          Anyway, I think the guy is completely awful but his response here seems normal to me, or at least not outside the realm of it….i mean, considering we’re talking about a very abnormal situation.

          Also I worked at a place where I could see this happening, sadly. It was a chain restaurant and things happened there that were incredibly bananas. Neverrrrr again.

          Reply
          1. Howdy Do

            It truly is such an unexpected thing to happen to you (especially if she usually doesn’t get aggressive with him and puts up with his bs) I really can’t be that mad that he had a physical response. The foot stomping does seem like weird overkill to me (but it was a weird situation!) him shoving her away makes total sense.

            Ultimately, if she gets out unscathed and can work in a normal environment, it’s kind of badass that she got to do something that crazy to someone who deserved it! I know lots of people are hand wringing that it’s assault yada yada but it sounded very mild in terms of pain and instead just wildly strange and I kind of love it (in this situation and this situation alone…I would be hard pressed to think of another situation where a non-physical annoyance should be met with biting!)

            Reply
      3. LJL

        Oh, LW, I feel you. My last job was a horrible atmosphere too. I’l echo the GET OUT NOW, but until you can, these are tactics that worked for me:
        1. Get counseling. Counseling gave me the professional affirmation that my atmosphere was batshit crazy and that I was reasonable. Again, seems simple but oh so valuable when you’re within the situation.
        2. Pretend you are Jane Goodall or a novelist observing and documenting the behavior for your scientific study or for your novel. Sounds weird but it really helped me.
        3. Forgive yourself for the biting…which was acting in accordance with the messed-up norms of that place. NO need to justify it…just be kind to yourself.
        4. Find and nurture the decent ones in your office, if they exist. If not, gather Team You to give you increased support.

        I’m on the other side now. Sending good thoughts as you continue your journey out of that place and toward your next, much improved workplace.

        Reply
        1. Coffee and Mountains

          + 1 to all of this. I feel for you, OP, because I’ve been in a similar situation and acted in a way I shouldn’t have because of the environment I was in.
          The first thing I did was went to counseling through my EAP. It didn’t fix everything, but it was helpful.
          Alison’s advice is great, and you definitely need to transition out.
          The other thing I would suggest is to find ways to maximize your relaxation. This is not the time to suffer through. Find ways to make your outside life easier and more relaxing, whether it’s coloring, hiking, treating yourself to coffee/tea, playing relaxing music, meditating, whatever. Find things that relax you and make them a priority in your life. It won’t fix all your problems, but it will help take the edge off.
          Good luck!!

          Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I like this—it’s a good checklist of things for OP to do as she reboots her “get the hell out of here” plan.

          Reply
        3. This Daydreamer

          Thank you for recommending counseling. The OP is going to need support to de-warp her expectations of work.

          Reply
    4. Us, Too

      I’m not trying to pile onto LW at all, but… An adult biting another adult is SO out of any sort of normal bound of behavior, even compared to other types of physical aggression that I’m inclined to give the guy who was bitten the benefit of the doubt in terms of his reaction. I would assume he was shocked enough that his reaction of stomping on her foot and shoving her out of the way wasn’t completely unreasonable in the circumstances.

      (His blocking the doorway is a jerk move, but that’s not really the subject here).

      In any event, LW should leave immediately.

      Reply
      1. Sunshine

        Do you not view blocking her way and swearing at her to be threatening? It’s the kind of thing that would absolutely trigger my fight or flight. I’d likely pick flight but I’m confused about how dismissive some people are being about his threatening behaviour.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          He didn’t actively block her way; he was standing in the doorway of the room already and she wanted him to move when she approached him. That’s different (to me, anyway) than his coming out in front of her and stopping her in her tracks. I also wouldn’t consider this swearing at her; it was swearing when he talked to her.

          Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that he was cozy or that he didn’t mean anything bad by it. But no, I’m not seeing a threat in somebody’s refusal to move away from where they were already standing.

          Reply
          1. Jessie the First (or second)

            Threatening is the wrong word for his pre-bite behavior. Given the whole context of the office manager in the letter and comments, I guess I’d call it more generally bullying and attempts to be intimidating.

            Which does not justify a bite – she was not in fear at that point, it was not a “fight or flight” instinctual reaction or self-defense. The best option would be what Alison says: call out to Jane about not being able to get in the room and “let’s meet when you’re free.”

            But it sounds from the whole of it (OP’s later comments included) that the office manager generally behaves in a twisted, hostile way. While biting is not the response I assume I would have in that situation, I can see how your sense of normalcy would go away, and how frustrating it must be to feel (and apparently be) so powerless. I’ll add my voice to the chorus saying that OP needs to leave ASAP.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              I think we may just have different camps here. I’m with you, in that to me, being bigger than me and being an asshole is not enough to make you threatening. That doesn’t mean I won’t feel threatened by you–but I can feel threatened by all kinds of people and situations and it doesn’t make it inherently threatening. Whereas I think to some people if the behavior makes them feel threatened, that’s where they make the call.

              Reply
        2. Us, Too

          Well, no. It’s not a physical threat to her. She can walk away. His swearing also wasn’t directed at her. So I’m truly not seeing this as a likely threat even if it’s SUPER assholey.

          Reply
          1. Sunshine

            Honestly I’m starting to wonder what some people *would* class as threatening. My response would not be to bite him but to me this is objectively threatening.

            I’m real life this sort of behaviour is a precursor to someone physically attacking you.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              There may be a bit of a cultural difference here, judging by your spelling. In real life to me this rarely leads to a physical attack–it leads to a “Seriously, dude?” and things deescalate, or to me deciding it’s not worth the argument and sitting in a different subway seat.

              Reply
              1. Sunshine

                Perhaps. But whether on public transport or in my local area, I’ve only ever seen people behave like this before they went on to get physical.

                Adults just don’t act this way unless they are willing to escalate.

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  Willingness to escalate is a different thing; I’m willing to escalate in the right circumstances, and clearly the OP is, so we can’t just tag that as something that only belongs to the guy.

                2. Sunshine

                  I should rephrase. Adults don’t generally behave that way unless they’re *itching* to escalate. Most people default to polite, conciliatory, pro social behaviour because it makes life easier.

            2. BPT

              I mean, I would classify someone getting ready to bite me as threatening.

              Standing in a doorway is not inherently threatening. Saying “I don’t give a sh**” is not either. If you’re in a relationship with someone (of any kind) where you’ve seen that behavior directly lead up to that person perpetuating physical violence, then yes they might be using it threateningly. But worked in places where people would tease each other. If I’m trying to get through a doorway, they might stand there and say “no you can’t” while smiling and then move a couple of seconds later. Plenty of people curse at work.

              Now this guy is obviously not a great guy, is sexist, probably a bully, and shouldn’t be working there. But biting someone is SO over the line into physical assault. I don’t care if it didn’t break skin. The coworker had not assaulted anyone before this. OP did.

              People can be jerks. That does NOT mean you can assault them. People can be terrible. YOU STILL DON’T BITE THEM. If someone is standing in a doorway, you walk away. You DON’T BITE THEM.

              I get this guy isn’t a great person, and that OP is writing in for help which is great, but nothing this guy did deserved violence and I’m appalled at the people trying to justify it.

              Reply
              1. Sunshine

                Not trying to justify the biting, or linking it to relationships. More, man on a train type stuff. I’ve seen plenty of people, at bars and on public transport (at 5pm on a Saturday) behave like this and *every single time* it led to violence. Not against me personally, but witnessing it gives you a keen sense of when to absent yourself.

                Reply
                1. BPT

                  I mean I see people out in public be jerks, block doorways, and *never ever* seen it lead to violence. So I get there are different experiences, but there is no reason to think that this man would have instigated violence. There was no history of that. He’s been a jerk for how long? and from what it sounds like in the letter never been violent. However the OP instigated physically abusive behavior.

                2. Us, Too

                  I honestly haven’t had that experience. I’d find this behavior unexpected enough to raise a red flag that would probably cause me to withdraw, but I can’t imagine assuming it was about to lead to violence. Truly!

                3. Jessie the First (or second)

                  Sunshine:
                  If I saw that from a stranger on the bus, yes, it’d be threatening (because I have no other context for their behavior, and it is so hostile to another stranger as to send red flags all over). But this is a coworker who has a history of being an intimidating jerk – but not a violent intimidating jerk. So here he was, being a jerk again, as he has been for a while now. He’d been a jerk often, and never escalated to violence. He’d sworn and screamed, and never escalated to violence. He’d blocked doors before, according the OP’s later comments, and never escalated to violence.

                  So he was hostile and trying to intimidate, sure. But in *this* context, I don’t see that he was being threatening.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                I think this sums it up really well. We’re not talking about an unknown quantity on a bus or at a bar or in a relationship. We’re talking about a known quantity, and part of that known quantity is that he’s an asshole. But that doesn’t make his pre-bite behavior threatening, and it doesn’t make it ok for OP to have bitten him. I don’t think we need to agree on whether he was threatening to agree that OP needs to get out.

                Reply
                1. Howdy Do

                  I would say that it was “threatening” in a mild way but not an “imminent physical harm” way as people are suggesting. She didn’t seem to think he was going to attack her if she were to just argue with him verbally base don past experience. But he was, to a degree, making it clear he was the one in a position of power through his body and spoken language…as other have said, more bullying than threatening. But enough of that bullying behavior COULD make someone feel unsafe, if she really thought that his brazen behavior was going to escalate she could use that as a reason for what she did (but it doesn’t sound that way, sounds more like she did it out of sheer frustration, not just with him, but with the whole workplace.)

              3. Renna

                I disagree. I feel like someone who waltzes through life treating other people this way ALL THE TIME deserves violence – or, if not quite ‘deserves’, I find it incredible that he hasn’t been beaten up by *someone* prior to this. Most people won’t lash out like the OP did without prolonged, consistent exposure to being mistreated, but there are a minority who are just as horrible as this manager is and that minority collectively has a teeny tiny fuse. One instance of his jerkitude, to one of these people, could be enough to get him thrashed. Heck, you read customer service stories, there are people who assault workers because they didn’t like their fries. It’s amazing to me that he’s never run afoul of someone with his own personality type before.

                “Reap what you sow”. I think the OP shouldn’t have bitten him solely because she doesn’t deserve the bad harvest that could come from it, but not because he didn’t deserve it. The seeds he’s been planting are the kind that end up with people being hurt – I kind of think it’s inevitable that some of that bounces back to him.

                Reply
                1. Not So NewReader

                  Well said. This bite happened because of a long stream of incidents. I am not saying it’s right. I am saying that OP understands she did something so very far out of character that she knows she has a big problem here. The proof is she wrote Alison for help. Wise move, OP.

            3. Starbuck

              Blocking an entry isn’t the same as blocking an exit. Would it have been threatening if he was standing in front of a cupboard that had supplies she needed to use? That’s pretty much what happened here. Being in the way isn’t the same as being a threat. There’s no fear, just irritation.

              Reply
        3. Mazzy

          If someone blocks a door like that and the person inside seems to agree, you could just walk away and come back later. Or walk away and call the person from your desk. Or say, screw the meeting. Or ask your boss if you can make whatever decisions without the input of the person in the office. Or just vent to someone about what a jerk the coworker is.

          And biting definitely trumps someone using a curse word, which is all the guy had done at that point, so…

          Reply
        4. This Daydreamer

          At this point I don’t think it really matters who started it. The OP has to end it. Now. Before workplace violence starts feeling normal.

          Reply
    5. Eljay

      I agree that the response seems extreme, but so does BITING someone at work! I don’t believe that the LW deserved in any way to have her feet stomped on, but biting someone is a violent act in itself. I have no idea what I would do if a co-worker bit me – it’s impossible to predict my reaction in such a bizarre situation – but frankly, anything that happened to the LW after she bit this person is something she brought on herself. Let me also clarify – I mean the “in-the-moment” reaction only – if her co-worker waited for her in the parking lot after work and stomped on her feet then, that would be entirely different and not the fault of the LW.

      Reply
    6. Fiennes

      Here’s why his violence is scarier than the OPs. She committed assault in the workplace and was immediately mortified, apologized to the victim and is actively working to understand/change her behavior. He committed assault in the workplace and *thinks it’s no big deal.*

      Reply
      1. Michael

        >He committed assault in the workplace

        How did he do that, though? I mean, would we say someone who pepper-sprays an attacker “committed assault?” Having a hard time not reading this reaction as gendered, because to me this seems like completely clear-cut self defense (which isn’t to say the guy isn’t a huge jackass for other reasons).

        Reply
        1. Managed Chaos

          We really don’t know what he’s thinking, though. We are seeing things through her lens. It’s possible he’s avoiding it because he’s angry at her but mortified at his own behavior. (Yes, he should apologize.) But we don’t know what’s going on in his head because we only see the perspective of the LW.

          Reply
        2. Fiennes

          The shove I can see as defensive. The stomping I don’t. I don’t think it’s gendered, either; nobody over the age of 6 needs to be going with “but the other kid did it first!”

          My answer would be different if OP had bitten him as part of an ongoing attack of some kind, but from the events we have here, it seems clear that this wasn’t happening and that this guy did not believe it to be happening.

          Reply
        3. Eljay

          Agreed! He was assaulted in the workplace and his behaviour, however inappropriate, was in reaction to that. I agree that the responses here seem gendered… if a male coworker bit a female and she reacted by stomping on his feet, I can’t help but feel that the responses would be very, very different.

          Reply
    7. Snorks

      He might have been shocked by it and taken a few seconds to react. A perfectly normal reaction to someone assaulting you, fight or flight instincts take over.
      A push and stomping on someone’s foot is really at the low end of a self defense response, considering what he could have done.

      Reply
  11. Here we go again

    Is there a colleague that you could confide in while working to get out of there? When I was dealing with a toxic job, having one person who was sensible to vent to made a huge difference.

    Reply
    1. OP

      Mmmm, I honestly don’t think so. He’s got a lot of power here. Our mutual boss, the head of the company, openly says he’s her right hand man. And I know they clash. He’s screamed at her, admitted to other inappropriate behavior, started fights, and our boss doesn’t do anything. It’s not just no reaction, the conversation itself would be a nonstarter. So the entire office basically lives in fear of him while also trying to cozy up. If he likes you, you won’t get fired. If he doesn’t, there is literally nothing you could ever do right. I’d be too worried about someone telling him what I said to ever try to connect with someone in confidence.

      Reply
      1. Here we go again

        What?! There must be some kind of blackmail or maybe she is afraid his behavior will get worse if she fires him? Wow… that’s very scary. Please, get out of there!

        Reply
        1. Zombii

          Why do people always jump to assumptions of blackmail in these situations? It’s at least equally possible that he’s legitimately good at his job, and knows his boss’s quirks and preferences, and then based on that she made the (hopefully detrimental) shortsighted decision that it makes more sense to lose everyone else than it does to hire and train another office manager who doesn’t abuse/terrorize/intimidate her staff.

          A lot of managers don’t care about the interpersonal component as long as an employee is competent and doesn’t embarrass them in front of clients. This is stupid, but it’s stupidly common.

          Reply
        1. OxfordComma

          OP, the more I read here of your responses, the more I concur with the general advice you’re getting.

          1. Maybe document exactly what happened in case you need it, although it sounds like it’s so dysfunctional you won’t need it.
          2. Get out of there. Get out now.
          3. Look into some kind of anger management and/or counseling for yourself.

          Reply
      2. Betty Cooper

        Okay, your boss is also seriously messed up. The reason your coworker feels like he can treat people this way is because your boss lets him treat HER this way. So even if he were to win the lottery tomorrow and quit his job to move to the Bahamas, I still wouldn’t want to work for your boss. You really, really, really need to leave this job. Like, now.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          Yes. The boss is a loon, an not someone who you want to work for.

          And, it WILL come back to bite her one day.

          Reply
      3. Bess

        Wow.

        Others have said it, but just know: this is not normal. There’s some profound dysfunction going on here.

        I was in a bad, bad workplace that really messed with my head. It didn’t dawn on me that I could and should leave until I stumbled on literature that described the dynamics of an abusive family and the roles children and parents take in it–and I realized that described EXACTLY what was happening in my workplace. That lit a fire under me and luckily I found a much better job soon after.

        Reply
      4. Tiffin

        GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT GET OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUT. I know it’s not always that easy (“Oh, get a job? Just get a job? Why don’t I strap on my job helmet and squeeze down into a job cannon and fire off into job land, where jobs grow on jobbies?!”), but please devote all of your spare time to getting out. The situation is likely to get worse.

        Reply
        1. ...with a K

          “Oh, get a job? Just get a job? Why don’t I strap on my job helmet and squeeze down into a job cannon and fire off into job land, where jobs grow on jobbies?!”

          I spit my lunch all over the place. Thank you for this :)

          Reply
      5. Fafaflunkie

        To which I can only respond: who’s really in control of this company? If this guy can get away with these verbal assaults on Grand Boss, imagine what else this guy conducts that you didn’t hear about? How this company and this man haven’t been sued up the wazoo for harassment is beyond me.

        You’ve heard this enough times already, OP. Let me add to the number of advisors to say quit the instant you’re able to.

        Reply
      6. Not So NewReader

        I am not surprised you are saying this, OP.

        People who have this kind of negative clout do so because TPTB allow it.

        Reply
  12. Amber Rose

    Is your office literally a grade school playground? Because I’m trying to imagine a place where blocking someone, shoving them and stepping on their feet is allowable and I’m failing. I mean yeah, you bit him, but still. Actually, just take a second and consider the circumstance where you bit someone, and you’re still LESS in the wrong than the other person. What?

    Anyways, this dude is behaving like a demon child. I used to bite people, when my age was in the single digits. So treat him not just as a Neptunian, but a child from Neptune. You can’t reason with human children let alone alien ones, you can’t comprehend their thought process, so just shrug, say “how bizarre” and walk away. Reschedule your meetings. Don’t engage. Even if you’re busy, it’s just not worth it to fight.

    Reply
    1. Amber Rose

      Ah crap. I meant to say, I used to bite people when I was being bullied as a child. People preventing me from leaving or entering rooms was a common bullying tactic, and because I was young and felt cornered, I used to bite like a wild animal. So I understand where the instinct comes from. But understand, my bullies were ALSO CHILDREN. :/

      Reply
      1. Lehigh

        But the LW was not cornered (and is not a child). She was blocked from getting into a conference room–not from escape. That’s an important distinction. This is not excusable behavior–she assaulted someone who then assaulted her “back.”

        Reply
        1. Amber Rose

          A light bite over clothing that he probably barely felt does not justify shoving someone and then attempting to turn their feet to mush. Especially because there was a pause there, which means it wasn’t an instinctual reaction but a considered response.

          Given that it happened the way it did, I’m assuming this isn’t the first time LW has been abused in some way by this person. They may not have been cornered in the sense of being trapped in a space, but a toxic job will leave you feeling pretty cornered nevertheless.

          Reply
            1. Lehigh

              I made a comment lower down, but I feel like this kind of minimizing is destructive–I feel like you’re normalizing what she did, which is exactly what her toxic workplace is already doing for her.

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                Yeah — I have similar concerns. And really, if we’d had a letter from someone who’d been bitten at work, I think there would be serious outrage toward the biter. I don’t say that to imply we should be berating the OP — there’s no need for that — but I do think what she did was clearly and unequivocally wrong, regardless of the provocation or history.

                Reply
                1. OP

                  I agree. When I first told my friends what happened, I was so horrified, but they cast the blame absolutely and immediately away from me. Which isn’t right. I made an insane choice. What I need is to work past this, prevent it from every happening again, and, well, move on quickly enough that this mentality/action never reappears. This isn’t normal adult behavior!

                2. fposte

                  @OP–plus you wrote in and asked for what to do, and it was clearly not just “How do I make sure I get away with this?” You get a lot of credit for that, and for thinking in the comments. And I give you even more credit for realizing that people sympathizing with you doesn’t mean this wasn’t a big deal.

                  It sounds like you’ve had some really horrible work experience that normalizes this behavior–which is another way of saying you know the guy is horrible and you ended up on his level :-(. You need both to find a place that sets a level you’re happy to reach and find a way to keep to a standard you can be proud of even in tough times. I think you can do both, and I hope you find a great new job very soon.

                3. Not So NewReader

                  Banking off of fposte: It’s tough to soar like an eagle when you hang out with a bunch of turkeys.

                  We generally raise or lower ourselves to the standards of those we hang with. This is why some parents nag their kids about who they hang out with. But this rule carries on into adulthood, too.
                  There is nothing wrong with wanting to lift others up and expecting others to lift us up. Change your expectations, OP, and change your life. Expect others around you to help you to grow and do the same for them yourself.

              2. paul

                Agreed.

                I would wager I’ve been in more physical fights than most other commentators here (barring any MMA fighters, cops, etc). I had a stretch of really bad decision making in my late teens/early twenties that put me in a lot of places I had no business being in, and sometimes I didn’t walk away when I really should have. I’ve got a lovely collection of scars from some of it.

                Once stuff *gets* violent you do not, and cannot, know exactly what is going to happen or how it is going to play out. People’s reactions are weird and unpredictable.

                People are excusing her biting, and I haven’t really felt the need to comment on it because she seems to get how bad that was, but there’s a lot of commentors that are kind of glossing over it or making light of it or acting like a somewhat delayed response to an attack means it was more about retaliation than self defense.

                I’ve seen other people have, and have had, a delayed response to physical attacks. The brain can take a second to catch up to it because it is usually not expected. It’d be like seeing a purple alligator walking down your hallway. There’s a huh what huh lag sometimes.

                I’ll also say that my own past experiences have taught me to shut down physical attacks as quickly as I can, because once another person initiates violence, I don’t know what they’re going to do, how they’re going to respond to an attempt to defend myself, etc.

                You don’t get to “lightly assault” someone then be shocked they fought back. Period.

                Reply
                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Yeah, I agree with this.

                  There have been lots of past posts where the clear majority of commenters came down on the side of “once someone lays hands on you, they can’t complain about the instinctive response they might get in return.” It’s interesting to see this one play out so differently (and I think it’s because the OP here is coming across like an otherwise well-meaning person).

                2. fposte

                  I think sometimes we fall into subconscious “who’s the asshole here?” kind of choosing sides. But biting an asshole gives even an asshole the moral high ground–yet another reason not to do it.

                3. The Cosmic Avenger

                  I think this is being treated differently because the OP seems to be not only remorseful, but the victim of a campaign of abuse and physical intimidation, after having been subject to that in her previous job, too. This kind of chronic, constant state of fight-or-flight can definitely lead to someone snapping and making a poor, overly aggressive move when they feel they have an opening to counter the abuse.

                4. LBK

                  I’m not seeing where you’re getting the idea that this was a campaign of abuse or intimidation – it doesn’t sound like this is specifically directed at the OP, which describing it that way implies to me. The guy’s just a general jackass to everyone, which is obviously bad but describing it as though he’s been solely targeting the OP seems disingenuous and doesn’t allow you to accurately conclude from there what a proportionate response would be.

                5. Falling Diphthong

                  Now I want to read Alison’s career advice interview with Michael Weston. “When you’re a spy…”

                  (And seconding Paul that you should never assume that you are the only one allowed to escalate.)

                6. Turtle Candle

                  @fposte

                  I think sometimes we fall into subconscious “who’s the asshole here?” kind of choosing sides.

                  Yes yes yes yes yes. I think this is something that causes a lot of the long long arguments in comments–there’s a desire to reframe conflicts such that there is a Good Guy, who is thoroughly in the right, and a Bad Guy, who is thoroughly in the wrong. It tends to result in black-and-white thinking and entrenched sides and extreme but-what-ifs to justify the Good Guy/Bad Guy split (like the idea that maybe standing in the doorway was a form of false imprisonment, elsewhere in thread?).

                  It’s tempting because most of us want things to be simple tales of Good Guys and Bad Guys, but it’s not useful to a world full of gray areas and nuance.

                7. Sunshine

                  I feel though that people are also minimising his behaviour. Physically blocking someone from entering a room, while swearing at them, is threatening behaviour. It doesn’t warrant biting. But in a normal, functional workplace it would warrant firing, and in any other walk of life it would be completely unacceptable.

                8. LBK

                  @Turtle Candle – Totally agreed, and it was one of my big frustrations with the infamous bird phobia letter. Not every situation has a right side and a wrong side.

                  @Sunshine – I think you’re picturing the situation very differently than I am. I’m not envisioning this guy blocking the door and throwing out epithets like, say, the kidnapper in a horror movie trying to prevent their victim from fleeing the building. More like a high school bully in a teen drama lounging against the door of the classroom trying to push the nerdy kid’s buttons as he tries to get to class. It’s far from intimidating, it’s just annoying.

                9. Zombii

                  @AAM For me, it’s the stomping. If he’d just shoved her back and caused her to drop the mug, etc, everything playing out the same, I would be more divided, but the stomping on her feet was excessive. Obviously biting also excessive, but the stomping is excessive if shoving her away was enough to knock her back, and I think that’s where a lot of people are—not that it needs to be debated! Both people can be horribly wrong at the same time without debating who’s more wrong, but I think that’s where the divide is coming from.

                  I was taught from a young age that you’re only allowed to fight as much as it takes to get away. “Shove and run” was pretty common advice and we were warned (in school, by a visiting cop during sex ed/self defense (it was a weird 45 minute lecture in 6th grade)) that if we seriously harmed an attacker, we could be arrested and charged with battery if we used excessive force (as an example, we got this story about a man who tried to stab a woman in a parking lot, either to rape or rob her, but she was charged with the worse crime because she sprayed him in the eyes with bear spray instead of running).

                  Tl;dr: Men are generally taught to shut. it. down. (and if you kill him, it’s self defense) but women are generally taught to hurt attackers enough to get away (and if you kill him, good luck in court). I’m not surprised there’s a difference in perception to how this played out, since the conflict is being judged by 2 different sets of rules.

                10. paul

                  Zombii; in most jurisdictions in the US that isnt how it works (I’m guessing you’re Canadian or British?). Frankly I prefer our system.

                  Damned if I’m going to be held legally liable for not correctly guessing, while I’m being attacked, the exact right level of tit for tat self defense.

              3. Sunshine

                Maybe this is part of the problem LBK. In the situation you’re describing, often the nerdy kid is frightened as hell, and usually the only way to get the bully to move is to resort to violence.

                But I see your point and I’m wondering if there’s a bit of regression going on all round.

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  Having been the nerdy kid in the scenario for more or less my whole school career until college and having a brother who loved to push my buttons constantly, I never felt particularly frightened, just annoyed. On rare occasion I did have a violent reaction, but again, out of frustration, not fear, the way you get mad and throw the controller when you keep dying in a video game. But to each their own, I guess.

                2. Jesmlet

                  But often in school, the blocking is accompanied by a threat of physical harm, or previous instances of physical harm. This guy had never laid a hand on OP so it’s less likely that there’d be the same fear response, plus these are two adults in a work environment who’ve known each other for 4 years. He’s just blocking the doorway and refusing to move. It’s hard to find a comparable scenario because this is just so strange all around…

              4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                Thank you for saying this—I feel the same way, and I’m not sure why folks are doing so much work to cast a good and bad guy in this story. OP’s behavior was unacceptable, full stop, and she realizes that. Let’s not try to muddy her sense of right/wrong further by pretending that what she did was ok or somehow excused by the Office Manager’s violent response.

                Reply
          1. Jesmlet

            No one is trying to justify his behavior, we’re just trying to appropriately address hers within all the advice. In no realm or circumstance would her actions be considered okay. The extent of the damage doesn’t matter, she initiated the physical contact and assaulted him, whether or not it was over his shirt or left any marks and regardless of what he did after. She should know that what she did was completely wrong because it allows her to see just how damaging this workplace has been to her.

            Reply
          2. Sharon

            Wait, what? A “light bite over clothing” is completely inappropriate. Completely. Stop minimizing her bad behavior just because he also engaged in bad behavior.

            Reply
          3. Turtle Candle

            It’s actually a misconception that instinctual reactions are immediate. It’s actually extremely common to have a freeze>fight or freeze>flight response. Had he waited ten minutes and then come over and stomped her feet, okay, but a pause of under a minute doesn’t actually mean anything regarding intentionality or premeditation.

            Reply
        2. Anon for This

          Amber Rose did say “preventing [her] from leaving or [I]entering[/I] rooms” which is exactly what happened to the OP. She was prevented from entering a room. So there’s some similarity. But that’s about the end of the similarity because yeah…children versus adults and being at work.

          Reply
    2. Purplesaurus

      I don’t think anybody is “less in the wrong” in this situation. His inappropriate actions don’t minimize the fact that OP bit her coworker.

      But I agree it’s best for OP to view this whole environment like Neptune because it’s WEIRD and NOT OK, and she needs to find a rocket and get out, warp speed.

      Reply
      1. Amber Rose

        Yeah, biting someone is weird. Really weird. But so is this workplace, and LW isn’t a dog. How much damage could possibly have been done? We’re not talking biting in the sense of grabbing someone by the jugular and drawing blood. We’re talking about an impact that he probably barely felt under his clothes, to which he responded by trying to BREAK BONES.

        LW did something weird and wrong and uncomfortable. The coworker on the other hand, tried to cause major physical damage and is someone I would be terrified of. There is a difference in severity there that is worth pointing out.

        Reply
        1. Purplesaurus

          This isn’t about what hurt more or who is right or wrong. The whole situation is wrong, and it won’t do OP any good to show up at her next job equipped to deal with conflict like she has in the past.

          Reply
        2. fposte

          It doesn’t matter how much damage was done. The OP assaulted somebody, and she did it in a way that is hugely over the line in any reasonable workplace and would have gotten her fired from both. It doesn’t matter if the person she bit was a jackass–it wasn’t a defensive situation, and it was a sign of problems with behavior management.

          She seems like an otherwise nice person who is in a bad situation and had the sense to realize this was an indicator she needs help. But this was a really bad thing to do.

          Reply
          1. Amber Rose

            See, what worries me is that people are normalizing what is clearly abuse as just someone being a jackass. People who are abused do terrible things. They realize these things are terrible. I don’t see how reminding them and reinforcing how shit everything is while minimizing the abuse is helpful.

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I think you might be reading things into it that aren’t in the letter. The letter makes it clear the guy is a huge asshole. But I think it’s a stretch to say it’s abuse, based on what’s reported in the letter.

              Reply
              1. teclatrans

                Well, but I think they *can* be classified as bullying (based on both the letter and the followup), and I think the reason so many of us are redirecting blame to the bite-ee is because in both abuse and bullying (which I think is its own form of abuse), when a victim lashes out physically, it’s in *reaction* to the ongoing campaign/reign of terror. In this case, OP didn’t bite an annoying coworker who was rude to her, she experienced her umpteenth violation by a bully, and she responded physically. Which, again, is miles outside of any professional norms. But the bully has kept the whole office far outside of professional norms for a long time now, and assessing his reactions outside of that context — say, by imagining how we non-bullies would respond to being bit — puts too much weight on the OP.

                I don’t think anybody (at least this far down the comments) is saying that what OP did was right. It was appallingly wrong. But, I have a lot of sympathy for a victim who snaps, and none at all for a bully whose taunting brought out a wild reaction.

                OP, I think you have received plenty of good advice. Run, do not walk, away from this place. Your whole being is getting warped by the abusive situation (and it sounds like you’d already been conditioned to abuse by your previous boss). Your letter makes clear you know this was a wild-thing reaction to the situation. While wild-thing-you was inappropriate for the office, I also think she is looking out foe you, and her appearance should be a crystal clear sign that the situation has escalated to the point that your instinctive defenses are kicking in. That is bad, and dangerous. Heed the danger signs.

                I just wanted to add that, no, not all places hold this level (or even type) of dysfunction. Not at all. Bullying behavior is frowned upon and often actively squashed. You might consider asking in the work open thread about what signs to look for during an interview, since your last two workplaces have held so much dysfunction at the top, and it can be hard to recognize healthy from that peespective.

                Reply
              2. Sunshine

                What *would* be classed as abuse, if routinely using physical force to prevent co-workers entering rooms (while swearing at them) doesn’t qualify?

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  Standing still where you already are isn’t physical force, though.

                  I think for me it’s less useful to say what is and isn’t abuse, since that’s a pretty nebulous term, than to say this workplace is hugely dysfunctional but doesn’t seem to create a perpetrator/victim dynamic that informs what I think about the OP’s response and what I would do about it as a manager.

                2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  How are you defining physical force? Because it doesn’t sound like physical force to me, but you’ve emphasized “with physical force” and “threatening” and “while swearing” as support for the idea that OP is in an abuse-abuser work relationship with the Office Manager.

                3. Not So NewReader

                  If we take this one incident, then it’s pretty tough to argue the coworker is abusive. It’s the long series of behaviors over a period of time that make him abusive. And it’s OP’s reaction that tells us it’s time for OP to leave the job.
                  This is why it can be so hard to prove bullying or domestic violence. One stand alone incident does not tell us that much.

                  OP, my wise friend had a piece of advice for situations like this. Wise Friend said we should check ourselves to make sure we are matching what is coming at us. I have found this very helpful and used it to remind myself, “This person is only using his/her words. So I will do the same.”
                  Sometimes words can feel like a sucker punch to the gut, I think most of us have experienced that. So it does take an extra second to remind ourselves, “It’s just words.”

                  One side of this I really appreciate is that there is recognition for those rare times when we may have to defend ourselves. This bit of wisdom does not pretend those times do not ever happen.

                4. Sunshine

                  “How are you defining physical force?”

                  Using your body to prevent someone from going where they want to go.

                  There’s a lot to support the idea that the office manager is abusive. He screams at other people in the office. He picks fights with people. He uses his body to dominate physical space. He routinely blocks her out of conference rooms – i.e. prevents her from doing her job properly – for absolutely no reason. This all sounds hellish, and yes, it sounds abusive.

                  Even the “you made me cut myself on the mug that broke when I hit you” is classic abusive behaviour.

                  In a relationship, she could get for-fault divorce. If he were a random person, she could have a restraining order against him.

                  I will say, again, biting was not the solution. She *should* have walked away, possibly out of the office and to the nearest lawyer. But if you feel trapped, and powerless and see-red angry, her reaction is completely understandable, if not acceptable.

            2. Jesmlet

              Agree with Alison, his actions up until the bite can’t be characterized as abuse so in evaluating her behavior, you really can’t look at it like an abuser/victim dynamic.

              Reply
              1. Specialk9

                Wait. You don’t think he’s an abuser? Because he seems fairly textbook.

                *The office “lives in fear of him”
                *Makes sexist comments to co-workers, then curses at them for objecting
                *Physically bars shorter people from where they need to go.
                *Curses at people for asking to get by.
                *Screams at his female boss.
                *He’s started fights! (In context I assume physical slugging matches)

                I mean, at what point can we just call him abusive?

                OP: “Our mutual boss, the head of the company, openly says he’s her right hand man. And I know they clash. He’s screamed at her, admitted to other inappropriate behavior, started fights, and our boss doesn’t do anything. It’s not just no reaction, the conversation itself would be a nonstarter. So the entire office basically lives in fear of him while also trying to cozy up.”

                Reply
                1. Jesmlet

                  Based purely on what’s in the initial letter, not really. Barring the physical contact, it doesn’t scream abuse to me. I think there’s quite a bit of overlap between asshole, bully and abuser.

                  All we have is “Things are right if it’s in his favor and wrong if anyone else does it. He once cursed at me and called me a child for asking him not to say I’m prettier if I smile. He then didn’t speak to me for a year — which was a relief.” and refusing not to move his arm. Cursing and doorway blocking do not an abuser make. That’s just so tame compared to other experiences I’ve had.

                  The follow-up comment does add a bit more color and clarity though. Constantly living in fear does make me lean a bit more in that direction. But like I said, that wasn’t mentioned at first.

                2. Sunshine

                  I agree with you Specialk9. He ticks several boxes if you were trying to file a report.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I don’t think this is clearly abuse, and that’s why you have so many comments pushing back—including from people who are very vocal on threads that are clearly about abusive behavior or an abusive relationship/dynamic. From OP’s letter, what we know is that this guy is a jerk and that he is also a bully. We have no idea if he’s abusive, but honestly, we don’t need to know that information in order to advise OP.

              Pointing out that it’s not clear isn’t normalizing; it’s pointing out that it’s not clear, and that maybe because it’s not clear we should first start with a “not abuse” scenario instead of an “abuse” scenario.

              Reply
        3. paul

          Google “human bite wounds” images. You can seriously screw someone up with teeth. It’s risky–blood born pathogens–but it really works int he moment.

          Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              You asked how much damage could possibly have been done. I’m sure you don’t intend this, but some of your comments here are really minimizing what the OP did! I wonder if you’re projecting from your own past experiences or otherwise reading things into the letter that aren’t actually there.

              Reply
        4. Aunt Helen

          How could you possibly know the bite was “barely felt?” Human bites are incredibly dangerous. As someone who has been bitten by an adult when I was a child, I can say from experience that it is shocking and painful even when bitten lightly. I too have sympathy for the OP but it helps no one to downplay the bite, and your repeated posts minimizing its possible damage (of which we don’t know!) are unhelpful.

          Reply
    3. Kyrielle

      This.

      And if my kids did any one of those things (from either party), they’d be facing consequences at their schools. They wouldn’t be gone, but they’d be having talks at school and at home – it would be a major issue. As of September they’re both in primary school.

      OP, your workplace compares poorly with a grade school playground…. Yes, get out, and meanwhile watch the strange alien children and try not to get caught up in their behavior.

      Reply
      1. Justme

        I don’t want to believe it, because I don’t want the OP to be working somewhere so dysfunctional and awful. But I totally believe it.

        Reply
        1. No, please

          The industry I was in for 12 years has a lot of dysfunction. Every place, except one, had physical fights or theft and blatant lying to managers about colleagues. I’m pretty happy to be out of that industry.

          Reply
        1. Anna

          It’s not luck. Most workplaces aren’t like this, but there are a few dysfunctional scary places out there. It’s less that you’re lucky and more that statistically speaking it’s unlikely you’ll come across a place that is this dysfunctional.

          Reply
      2. The Other Dawn

        I have an example, too.

        I work at a bank. Years ago, a teller supervisor and her direct report got into it in the back room and they basically hit and choked each other. They were both fired the same day.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          Well, isn’t that a key difference?

          I’m not questioning the letter. I’m making the point that part of what makes it so bizarre is that no one seems to think that it’s an issue!

          Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      From the commenting rules:

      What if I’m skeptical a letter is even real?

      I have no way of knowing if the letters people submit or real or not. I assume all advice columnists get trolled now and then, but I don’t really care as long as the answer might be useful to someone.

      But yeah, debating whether a letter is real or fake is a pretty crappy experience for letter-writers. Also from the commenting rules:

      Be kind to letter-writers and fellow commenters, which especially means being constructive if you’re criticizing. If you want a steady supply of interesting letters to read here, people need to be willing to write in and expose themselves to public critique. Treating them kindly makes that far more likely to happen.

      Reply
    2. animaniactoo

      Really? Well then I won’t tell you about the infamous incidents that have happened at my company, one of which include one of the owners hitting an employee with the telephone in a fit of rage (this kind of crap no longer happens… but the stuff that did is legendary, and yes, I was eyewitness to some of it).

      Reply
      1. Buffy Summers

        I would really, really love to hear some of these stories. Please tell us some in the open thread on Friday!

        Reply
      2. Discordia Angel Jones

        The hitting-with-telephone style of management is also present at my current workplace (but I’m only here for 3 more weeks! Woo!).

        So. This stuff happens.

        Reply
      3. la bella vita

        I found out that before I started at the most dysfunctional place I’ve ever worked, the psychopath of a CEO got into a disagreement with a senior level person at the firm and decided that the correct way to deal with it was to throw a stapler at his head. He was a class act.

        Reply
    3. gmg

      Leaving aside the very valid question of the commenter rules … Mes must be lucky to have always worked in very functional, staid environments, because here are three things I have known to happen in workplaces where I was employed:

      1) Employee punches a colleague in the face — like a straight-up KO boxing punch, knocked the guy on the floor.
      2) Employee special-orders a PIG HEAD from the deli, puts it in a box and, Godfather-style, leaves it on the desk of a colleague she was angry at over a critique of her team’s work.
      3) Employee finds out he is about to be fired, breaks into office over the weekend so he can trash his desk.

      Reply
          1. Natalie

            You’re going to need to be more specific or that thread will be 100,000 comments long before lunch.

            Reply
            1. animaniactoo

              Okay “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve witnessed or heard about your co-workers doing at work?”

              I have so many stories….

              Reply
        1. Formica Dinette

          The open threads aren’t normally my bag, but come Friday I’ll be there searching the comments for “pig head.”

          Reply
      1. Noah

        If the head didn’t come from a pig owned by the victim, it was not like the Godfather. A horse’s head had no special meaning — it was the head (and neck) of the beloved horse of movie director who found it in his bead.

        Reply
        1. Katie the Fed

          that’s probably why she said “godfather-style” not “the same exact thing that happened in the Godfather”

          Reply
        2. Falling Diphthong

          But the tradition has been extended outside its original context. So if I found the head of a strange horse in my bed–or on my desk, or in the sink–I would know that someone was threatening me. I wouldn’t ponder whether it was perhaps meant to be an invitation to doubles tennis.

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader

            “Oh, there is a pig’s head on my desk. Must be someone lost it. I know! I will ask around and see if I can find the owner.”

            Reply
      2. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.

        PIGS HEAD wins but we once had an employee make voodoo dolls of a couple of supplier reps she was mad at, fill them with pins, and burst into a meeting I was having with the reps so she could show them/half throw them at them.

        Reply
        1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.

          how I’ve hung out here for 3 years and this is the first time this story came up, I can’t say.

          Reply
        2. Oh boy oh boy

          VOODOO DOLLS?!

          I’m going to need more details! What were they made of? Were they personalised? What did the reps say? Was she fired? How did she behave? And, again, what the hell?!

          Reply
          1. Hills to Die on

            Yes! She was a witch putting curses on people. Voodoo dolls at work is amazing–I MUST have more details on how that played out! Please put that in the open thread on Friday!

            Reply
        1. gmg

          I guess it is more like “Lord of the Flies” than “The Godfather,” now that I think of it … commenter above has a point. :-)

          I will be sure to pop in to the open thread on Friday with a few more entertaining details!

          Reply
    4. Somniloquist

      The OP is in the comments and her story is consistent. I can see this happening in a few workplaces. An outlier to be sure, but not impossible.

      Regardless, I really like the Neptune example. I have a friend in a Toxic Job right now and I’m going to send her here for that perspective, which I think is really helpful.

      Reply
      1. OP

        I’m glad to know my experience may help others. I know some of the similar situations mentioned in the thread are helpful to me. That’s what this community is for.

        Reply
        1. Nopebadger

          OP, I was abused at my job for a while and it turned me into someone I wasn’t, for quite some time. I won’t go into details but I will say that therapy has helped immensely and now that I am encountering another workplace bully, I am better equipped to recognize they have a problem that is not me, though I will feel the heat sometimes. Good luck getting out of there and getting some perspective on a normal workplace. I promise you they all have secrets and problems, but when you find a place where the “secret” is just normal office politics, hopefully you’ll have recovered and grown enough that you can laugh at how above it you can be after having the experience you’ve had.

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader

            I feel the need to repeat this, when a workplace [or anything] turns us into someone we are not, that is a super huge warning to get out. This is good life advice, too. It covers relationships, residences, or whatever maybe the negative box of crap this pushing us in the wrong direction. Heed the warning and get out.

            Reply
      2. Slow Gin Lizz

        I like the Neptune idea too. I shall have to remember it for times I’m in a weird situation or dealing with a strange person.

        Reply
  13. CS Rep By Day, Writer By Night

    I have worked in some hellaciouslly toxic offices, but the idea of working someplace where co-workers use physical violence against each other (both the OP’s biting and the Office Manager’s feet stomping) during conflicts just blows my mind. I have to echo Alison and the other commentors – you need to get out of there ASAP, and if it can’t be immediate, focus on not engaging with Office Manager as much as humanly possible.

    I’m assuming as bad as this is, you don’t have a higher-up supervisor or HR department that would intervene?

    Reply
      1. Lora

        AND INTER-OFFICE CONFLICTS

        CONFLICTS

        Stompy McStompersons is in charge of Conflicts. Is it his job to *instigate* them?

        Are you sure you don’t work for Aperture Science? Maybe the boss needs to find a different personality core, or replace him with a potato?

        Reply
      2. Not So NewReader

        Oh so the fox is guarding the chickens. This will go well. NOT.

        On top of this he is not any old fox, rather he is a Jekyll and Hyde fox…. guarding the chickens.

        If this company owner does not end up in jail it will be a miracle. There is only one way I would need an employee like this, and that would be because I am dirtier than him.
        OP, did I mention, “get out, asap”?

        Reply
      3. The Expendable Redshirt

        You bit the acting HR rep? Teeth on arm BIT the HR department?*

        And this quasi HR dude reacted with physical violence?

        …………….

        Create a time machine and job search yesterday. This employment situation is toxic. It will not improve. It will never improve. There is no way for this situation to improve. There is no pathway to correct this in a professional capacity if you are scared of HR slicing you with coffee cup shards.

        Reply
    1. SignalLost

      I have worked in a role where two colleagues were at odds. The list is long and varied, but I’d say that colleague A’s worst faults were: being good at her job, very entrenched in a wildly political environment, and not prepared to defer to idiots. Colleague B’s worst faults were being incompetent to a level that redefines incompetency, being actually a liar (he was paid a bonus for certifications he claimed but clearly never had), and being really obviously uninvested in the job but wanting to keep it for benefits his passion job didn’t provide. They had an incompetent manager who was willing to let a lot of things slide, like keeping B around solely to antagonize A (when A retired, B was fired within two months), writing good reviews of B so the union that governed us all would not allow B to be fired because that is a lawsuit waiting to happen, and actively discriminating against A for being a very competent woman in a wildly male industry.

      So it really came as no surprise when B threw a chair at A, 20+ witnesses reported it to her grand boss, and nothing happened. I wish I could remember the specifics of the incident, but I know it was really minor – something like assigning an easy project to me and another newbie so we could get more hours, and B, who liked projects he could coast on, was angry to not get the project.

      The really exciting part was that A didn’t assign projects, she just made recommendations to our manager. And yet, there was no discipline for assaulting a colleague.

      Reply
    2. Tilted

      LW,

      Please get out and get counseling. Biting instinctually is a far worse sign than AAM may realize.

      In the court system, biting by anyone above the age of five is ALWAYS taken seriously b/c its a sign that something is very wrong.

      The fact that this office has driven you to bite instinctually says everything about how much it has screwed with your head. You reacted like a caged animal. You did not do this on purpose or with any thought whatsoever.

      That should terrify you. It does me. Particularly since there are no other markers in your letter that there is something else going on with you.

      It’s not you. It’s the environment. It’s toxic. Immediately and seriously toxic.

      Also, this incident may be forgiven, but you should probably also talk to a lawyer right now. In my state, biting is taken very seriously and is often prosecuted. I’ve represented women who have been bitten by by others. You should see the reaction by the state’s attorney and the judge when they hear about an adult biting another.

      Reply
      1. Alli525

        This is exactly right – if OP is so beaten down that she’s reacting like a caged, abused animal… Don’t even wait until there’s some savings. Just get the hell out and start temping or waiting tables or something.

        Reply
  14. Mustache Cat

    I kept saying “wow” as I read this, and that was before I got to the part where you bit someone!

    Um, I don’t have any advice for you, since you obviously can see for yourself that biting coworkers is not good. Enormous sympathies for getting warped by a dysfunctional office, and I hope that you do not feel the need to bite coworkers in your next office.

    Reply
    1. OP

      I’ve been here 5 years and he’s been here a little over 4. It didn’t used to be this bad! I don’t think? The company has been transitioning lately and there’s a lot of uncertainty. I know eh’s also been under a lot of stress. Maybe that’s why his behavior has also declined….

      Reply
      1. Sara without an H

        “The company has been transitioning lately…” If an interviewer asks why you’re looking, that could be your response. But by all means, start lining up someone who can give you a decent reference, and start looking right now.

        Reply
      2. Colorado

        Five years is perfect for your resume. This place brought out the worst in you, it’s time to move on.

        Reply
      3. Here we go again

        Not to excuse his behavior, but if things have changed drastically since he started, is it possible that he is dealing with a mental health issue or other personal crisis and he isn’t just a violent a-hole but rather doesn’t have the coping skills to deal with something? Does he seemed embarrassed about his own behavior? Is there a way for someone to approach it as a “Hey, I am really worried about you… What is going on?”

        Reply
        1. Liz T

          Nopetopus to this idea. OP does not want to entangle herself further, and if this is that stark a personality change I doubt a polite question or two is going to change anything.

          Reply
          1. Here we go again

            Oh, I didn’t mean to imply the OP should be the one to ask those questions – that was why I said “someone” but I realize that may not have been clear. I had thought maybe the manager or someone who is still friendly with the the coworker but a rational person.

            Reply
        2. Specialk9

          It sounds characteristic. Tge OP wrote in a follow up comment:
          “Our mutual boss, the head of the company, openly says he’s her right hand man. And I know they clash. He’s screamed at her, admitted to other inappropriate behavior, started fights, and our boss doesn’t do anything. It’s not just no reaction, the conversation itself would be a nonstarter. So the entire office basically lives in fear of him while also trying to cozy up. “

          Reply
      4. Tina

        I’ve been in a work situation like that (though not as bad as yours). The environment was great when I was hired, but over the four years I worked there things just spiraled into this horrible, zoo-like environment where managers openly called female employees the c-word in front of the whole office and I had to start secretly collecting and throwing away Nerf darts after getting caught in the crossfire of some jackass coworkers multiple times while trying to do things like talk to clients on the phone. I compare it to having a gas leak in the office. You don’t realize anything is wrong until it’s gone so far that’s you’re f***ed.

        Reply
      5. ENFP in Texas

        “I know he’s also been under a lot of stress”

        DO NOT make excuses for this man’s completely inappropriate and unacceptable behavior.

        Blocking the doorway and being a jerk is unprofessional, and should not be tolerated among co-workers and peers in the first place. That there is a history of this, and it has escalated to violence on both sides, is unconscionable.

        Do not start looking for reasons to think that somehow it is “okay” or “acceptable”. It is NOT.

        I don’t care how much stress someone is under – it does not justify insulting, disrespecting, and abusing co-workers.

        Reply
      6. Snarl Furillo

        OP, I think you should fire yourself from this job. Like, this week. And I don’t think you should worry about giving them notice, or leaving on a good note, or anything except having enough money until you get something else lined up. You bit a dude then went on with your day. Taking a bunch of sick days then quitting on short notice is not less professional than that.

        Call in sick and job hunt all day. Go back for like a day next week then get sick again. Hand in your notice. Borrow money from your family. Open a credit card and put your rent on it. Get out, get out, get out. You are Angela Bassett and this job is the burning car you’re strolling away from. Get up and leave right now. Today. You have the stomach flu. Go.

        Reply
        1. Lindsay J

          She might be able to get a doctor’s note and take the sick days legitimately.

          One of my employees got a note from her doctor excusing her from her other job for mental health issues because her relationship with her boss there had degraded to him completely ignoring her (not speaking to her, talking about her like she wasn’t there, turning the lights off if she was the only person in the room) and the stress from it was affecting her mental health.

          It seems like the OP is definitely stressed from this situation since she bit someone.

          The note might let her use all her sick days and then possibly short term disability while she job hunts.

          Reply
      7. This Daydreamer

        Stress doesn’t excuse any part of this situation. Don’t try to make sense of what’s going on because you never will. Just escape. Now.

        Reply
  15. Anon here

    So, one question I have is whether violent behavior, particularly as a reaction in this type of scenario, is at all a pattern for the OP. Growing up, I had a real problem with losing my temper and fighting with people who didn’t see things my way. Nowadays, I don’t tend to find myself in situations like that, but I occasionally still feel the rage bubble up in the just-right situation (probably like the situation you were in where someone is being completely irrational and stopping you from doing what you need to do). I can control acting out physically now, but if it is an issue you have, you may need to get help with that, in addition to the other advice to get a new job.

    Reply
    1. Ana Eats Everything

      +1 to this. I have a lot of guilt over the way I acted as a teen/very early adult, and I also feel the “rage bubble” sometimes. These days it manifests mostly as VERY dirty looks, clenching my teeth so hard I once chipped them, and writing scathing emails that I revise 20+ times before they’re nice enough to send.

      Reply
  16. TCO

    OP, you really, really need a healthy outlet to help you keep an even keel as long as you’re in your terrible workplace. Some short-term therapy, if you have access to it, could be a good way to have someone remind you of what is normal, help you develop coping strategies, and listen to you vent. You need a way to stay grounded in reality since your office is twisting your concept of “normal.”

    Otherwise, pursue exercise, art, happy hours with friends, whatever makes your out-of-work life rich and relaxing.

    Reply
    1. Anon for this

      ^^^ This. No matter how awful your workplace is, biting people is still a hugely extreme reaction. Not discounting her co-worker’s behavior is any less awful, but therapy would be super useful and helpful while you’re stuck in this really horrible environment.

      Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            Because of course he does. Seriously, calling this place a zoo is offensive to zoos. Calling it Arkham is offensive to criminal sociopaths.

            Not to undermine Mockingjay—OP should certainly try to get assistance/counseling. EAP may not be in place, but there are probably other programs, not affiliated with her workplace, that may be a good resource.

            Reply
    2. gmg

      Co-sign … before and after you are able to secure your departure from Toxic Workplace, OP, therapy could help you a lot in processing all this (and sanding the edges off any violent impulses … I don’t say this to be judgy, btw, because I have dealt with the rage monster off and on in my life as well).

      Reply
    3. Somniloquist

      Triple cosign on the therapy. I was stuck once before and I always say therapy was like a massage in my brain. It really gave me the tools to cope in a way that nothing else did.

      You will also need it to detox, so you don’t bring bad habits to the next place.

      Reply
  17. Matilda Jefferies

    Oh, gosh. Sending you empathy and strength, and also very strong GTFO vibes. It doesn’t sound like this situation was salvageable even before yesterday – honestly I think all you did was bring to light how monumentally messed up it is. Before yesterday, you could theoretically have been telling yourself that it’s bad but not THAT bad, but now you’re left with “holy crap, it really IS that bad!”

    I don’t blame you – it sounds like you were pushed to your limits and beyond by this jackass – but I think you should take this for the giant red flag that it is, and plan to move on as soon as you can.

    Reply
  18. Observer

    Get out. Now, if at all humanly possible.

    You are NOT helpless here. You are an adult and, assuming you are in the US, you could walk out today and no one could do anything about it except give you a bad reference. That may not be your best path forward, but understand that you DO have choices.

    If you do not have any savings, start looking for a job, very actively. And start saving your head off, so you can leave without a job lined up if you don’t find something within a reasonable timeframe. I’m thinking 6 months or so, definitely not more than a year.

    The ONLY thing I would spend some money on, to be honest, is some counseling. Your framing is a bit alarming. It’s not just that you feel helpless, but that you did this and that you say that you “clearly spiral a bit into wild behavior when at a loss“. The fact that you realize that this was nuts is a good sign, but you need some help in developing tools to deal with craziness, and getting your expectations re-calibrated.

    Reply
      1. Daffodil

        Yes, do talk to a counselor at least a few times! They are literal professionals at giving perspective and a safe place for you to vent. The situation you’re describing would mess with anyone’s head, and doing what you can to get it un-messed is key to moving on.

        Reply
      2. Bibliovore

        The best advice I ever got in this sort of toxic situation is
        you don’t have to attend every fight that you are invited to

        That deescalates the situation when someone else is behaving in an aggressive or glassbowly manner.

        Reply
    1. Falling Diphthong

      Seconding on the counseling. It sounds like after two dysfunctional offices OP could really use a third party perspective on normal versus unusual behavior.

      Reply
    2. Aunt Helen

      Counseling could also help to transform self-blame into constructive paths moving forward. OP, you’ve already acknowledged your role in this, which is a great place to start. A good therapist can both provide you with tools to use in any future challenging situations, and with a sense of what is normal/abnormal in a work environment so you can recognize and remove yourself from toxic situations earlier.

      I really wish you all the best. Reading your account was hard because I could see myself acting in a similar way.

      Reply
    3. Tilted

      Actually, I’m very concerned that she bit another human. Above the age of 5, this is very rare, and very serious behavior. It’s a sign that things there are a LOT worse than she realizes.

      There’s a major difference between hitting and biting. Biting is a lot more concerning.

      She needs to exit NOW and to go talk to someone about this.

      Reply
      1. Tilted

        PS – Not a psychologist, but a lawyer who has done a lot of divorce, child abuse, and domestic violence work.

        This doesn’t mean that OP has major issues herself. It could be 1000 percent environmental.

        I can only say from experience that biting is always, always taken seriously in my state. I live in a state where spanking to the point of bruising isn’t child abuse, but one bite gets your kids removed. Biting a spouse? Jail. Putting her in the hospital? Probably not.

        Reply
        1. Jessie the First (or second)

          “Biting a spouse? Jail. Putting her in the hospital? Probably not.”

          That is downright bizarre. What on earth state are you in that does not take beating someone until they need hospitalization as seriously as a bite?

          Reply
      2. fposte

        Yeah, it’s not just that it was a physically aggressive act; it’s a physical act that is a huge outlier.

        Reply
      3. Observer

        That’s why I suggested counseling. While I think that this is a situation that truly justifies walking off the job without something else lined up, I understand why the OP might not feel able to do that. But an exit strategy with a defined, and not too long, time line is crucial.

        Reply
      4. SarahTheEntwife

        I’m kind of intrigued by this, because wanting to bite is absolutely one of my stock stress responses. I’ve luckily never been backed into a situation so serious that I’ve even come close to actually biting someone, but I hadn’t realized the instinct was unusual.

        Reply
        1. Anon for this

          I am also intrigued because I can vividly remember as a child the powerful urge to bite when I got mad. Not hit. Not kick. Not throw things. Bite. I was way too old to be biting as a normal developmental stage, so I managed to not actually bite anyone (however, this may have led to some of my later self-harming behaviors, as the urge to self-harm and the urge to bite are, I’m realizing, very similar feelings).

          Reply
          1. Halpful

            I don’t tend to bite, but I do use my mouth as a third hand at times. I’d be more likely to hold the papers in my teeth to free up a hand… and then have no idea what to do with that hand, anyways. maybe use it to defend myself or my drink while ducking under the arm.

            Reply
  19. NW Mossy

    Another important reason to step up the job search in earnest is something Alison alluded to in a recent post – the fact that the mere act of searching and spending time in thinking about your accomplishments, your skills, and your abilities can help to bring you out of the toxic “no one else will ever love me” state that a dysfunctional environment can put you in.

    This happened for me when I was in a toxic job early in my career. I felt like I couldn’t get hired elsewhere because I had such a brief (3 year) work history, but once I started applying, I got multiple interviews and two offers. It really changed my thinking of myself as a screwed-up, low-value person, and it made a huge difference for me in boosting my confidence.

    Reply
  20. The proof is in the Anon

    Anon for this!
    I once bit a boyfriend…hard…on the cheek, and on purpose. I was instantly horrified and played it off like I was just fooling around but I was angry to the point of mania and had no other (acceptable to him) ways of showing it.
    I had been in a horrible, dysfunctional relationship with an active alcoholic that had just reached the point of emotional and psychological abuse in the previous 3-5 months and I was literally being driven out of my mind.
    I won’t detail all the things that he did to make me that way because honestly, they’re triggering. But suffice to say I was shaken to the core and left him less than a month later.
    I hate the person he turned me into or that I was around him: an animal, unable to articulate my emotions for fear of reprisal, only able to lash out physically.
    OP, please find a way out. Abusive and toxic relationships, including work, can mess you up forever.
    I still live with the shame of that moment.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I think this is a really useful perspective; I’m glad you shared your experience. I’m really glad you’re out of there, too.

      Reply
    2. OP

      I’m so glad you’re out. It feels terrible to be cornered like that, where all the adult/professional words suddenly don’t mean anything or make a difference.

      I’ll do my best to follow in your footsteps.

      Reply
      1. DaBlonde

        Do you know why toddlers bite?
        There are usually two reasons.
        First, most toddlers start biting because they are frustrated. They want the toy, or to be left alone and do not have the words to express that desire and so they bite. If the parents and caregivers are quick to intervene and teach other behaviours/communication then this behavior stops fairly quickly.
        The second type comes later when an older toddler tries to use their words but their words are being ignored. When Baby Nancy says No to Little Suzy and Little Suzy doesn’t back off, Baby Nancy will resort to biting to reinforce that boundary.
        You just let this coworker regress you to a frustrated toddler! Get out and find somewhere where your coworkers will be adults.
        Source: Taught in daycares for 10+ years and 2-year-olds are my favorite age group.

        Reply
    3. Anon for reasons

      This resonates. My first marriage was incredibly emotionally abusive and escalated to periods of physical abuse. At some point you feel utterly trapped and you just want it all to stop-the yelling, the manipulation, the abuse, the violence. After awhile I learned to respond by hitting back or shouting back or breaking things back too. It still makes me ashamed and it took a long time to get out of that situation. Please know that it’s not your fault, we learn to survive in the environments we are in by adapting the behaviors we see around us. In the OP’s case, I will just say that it is hard to climb out of that mindset once it starts, so the sooner you leave the better.

      Reply
      1. Howdy Do

        I have had a similar experience. I have never before or since acted out violently except for one time when my abusive girlfriend would not stop walking out onto the highway (to show me how mad she was at me) and I socked her in the stomach, really hard. I’m a woman, too, so already it’s weird to be a same sex abusive relationship but on top of that we standing in front of a restaurant with a ton of people on the patio who were quite shocked. I was shocked! I stayed with her for a while after that, somehow, and never did anything like that again (even though her violence got worse.) Not terribly applicable to the actual case BUT it is an example of someone (like myself) who doesn’t act out of violent rage often but experienced one weird bout of it.

        Reply
    4. Even I'm Anon for This One

      I bit my ex once. It was after a couple of years of being held down/restrained, groped in public when I begged him not to, tickled when I begged him not to, undermined, had my career ruined, etc, etc. I was so afraid of this man that even his brother’s dog picked up on it and would get between us whenever possible/growl at him when he got near me.

      Suffice it to say he was messing with me and his hand was on my face and I bit him. I felt how you describe, the proof is in the anon, because I just had nowhere to go. I hadn’t bitten anyone since I was 5. I was 27 at the time. But I was being held down and I was scared and I was angry and I bit him.

      Abnormal situations jack up perspective. Understanding how it happened doesn’t make it okay, but you clearly know it isn’t okay so I don’t see a reason to beat that dead horse. Get out of this situation ASAP, OP, before it starts to feel normal. It took me a year to stop asking permission to get up and go to the bathroom. Don’t be me.

      Reply
      1. blackcat

        I also think biting is more likely in situations where one person is smaller than the other–the last time I bit someone was in college. This pair of asshole guys thought it was funny to surprise petite women from behind and pick them up off the ground. They did that to me, and I bit the arm in front of me HARD. My hands were trapped, the second one had grabbed my legs and I couldn’t kick, so I bit. It seemed like the only thing I could do at the time.

        Reply
        1. Alli525

          Yup. There was a girl at my church when I was in high school that was overly aggressive from time to time. I was significantly smaller than her (than most people – I’m 5’0″ and was around 115lbs back then), both in height and weight, and when she put me into a headlock one day before youth group, I bit her. Not enough to break skin, but enough to startle her and make her back the eff off. She never messed with me again, but I still feel sad that that’s what it came to. I don’t think I’d EVER bitten anybody before that, even when I was a toddler.

          Reply
        2. Snazzy Hat

          As far as I can remember, the only times I’ve bitten people were when I was already engaged in a physical fight with them, and biting was an attempt to bring the fight to a sudden halt because I had crossed the threshold from feeling angry to feeling scared.

          Reply
    5. SignalLost

      It was after I intentionally parked a car on my then-boyfriend’s foot that I started questioning what my subconscious was trying to tell me.

      Reply
    6. Yet another anon

      I’ve also had experiences like this (I never bit anyone, but I did punch a boyfriend in the face when he wouldn’t stop tickling me… he’d hit me before, but I hadn’t been the aggressor in a physical fight since I was a child). What OP did was all kinds of not okay, but she should take it as a sign that this environment is messing her up big time and get the hell out.

      Reply
    7. Not So NewReader

      Look at these stories, OP.

      Bites happen when there are no other options available. The sooner you figure out options the better off you are.

      Perhaps there is someone you can move in with if you expect a prolonged period of unemployment. Figure out your worst case scenario, make a plan for worst case, and then get out of this job.

      Reply
  21. Chickie Manages It All

    Obviously, you need to get out of that situation by finding a new job as quickly as possible, but that is only part of the solution here.

    I’d suggest working on how you handle conflicts and difficult people – maybe a counselor, maybe some meditation/deep breathing so these kinds of things don’t bother you as much.

    Ultimately, this is about you, your reactions, and your wellbeing. You’ll move on from this job, these people – you’re stuck with you ;)

    Reply
      1. animaniactoo

        Among other things a therapist can help you with (this is the major chunk of what I did in therapy) is to look at situations that are abnormal or keep going in a direction that leaves you upset and find other ways to react to them. Literally strategizing what and how to do, because if you’ve created such a plan you have a far better chance of enacting it than if all you have to fall back on are your resolve to do something else and what you’ve done before. A big portion of that was also in analyzing the potential outcomes (because there’s always going to be more than one since the person on the other side if it is not reading through a pre-programmed script) and figuring out how to react to whatever possibles you come up with as the next step. Ultimately that’s helped me a lot in being able to assess factors on the fly and be able to choose a reaction more often, even when it’s a situation that I’m not expecting or haven’t faced before.

        Reply
    1. paul

      Yep. It’s hard to generalize from one story…but going from being annoyed at a dick behaving badly to assaulting them isn’t really a great thing. It’s also, in other context, a very good way to possibly get a lot more hurt than you did.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Oh, that’s an excellent pragmatic point. I like pragmatic points. You really don’t want to develop a habit of assaulting people who could put you in the hospital.

        Reply
        1. Turtle Candle

          This is why it drives me bonkers when Internets badasses hear stories of people being abused or insulted and say “Oh, I would’ve punched him right in the nose!” Yeah, okay, and then maybe he would have hit back, and harder. Or been armed. Escalating to violence almost never makes things better and can make them worse to the tune of deadly.

          Reply
        2. Not So NewReader

          It’s also a boundaries question. If we are punching someone we have waited too long to state our boundaries.

          OP, it sounds like you are very good at getting along with difficult people. (I am going by your comments, not by the original letter.) How are you at setting limits with people? How are you at standing up for yourself IN AN EFFECTIVE MANNER?

          These are tough questions and probably many people reading here are thinking, “hmmm, maybe I should beef up my tools in this arena, too.” Personally, I decided years ago, I was going to spend my life learning to do this better and better.

          Your old boss told you to go kill yourself? Really? And you stayed? OP, work on your NO, please. Your NO needs to be buoyed up. You sound like a really great person. I’d probably be thrilled to have you as a coworker. You can get a better job than this.

          Reply
      2. Mints

        It’s interesting for me how my frame of mind has changed after starting to take krav maga. The approach to fighting is #1 avoid it all costs
        #2 once you’re engaged you pretty much keep hitting the person until they’re unconscious or the police show up.
        (“If someone comes up to you with a knife and says ‘give me your wallet’ you give them your wallet. If somebody comes up to you with a knife and says ‘You and your daughter need to get in the van’ you start preparing to stab somebody”)
        Like I sort of understand how people think the coworker overreacted, but it’s a bad mindset to think you can just get a little violent or that there’s an acceptable threshold of violence that’s not a big deal.

        Reply
        1. Annie Mouse

          Yeah, I like the way the framing is ‘get them away from you and to a point you can disengage and run’. We didn’t even cover disarming them properly as it was a case of get the knife pinned so they can’t hurt you with it and then get disengaged.
          I also like the fact that, although we’ve covered a bit of grappling, I was told ‘if you’re on the floor, you’ve pretty much lost’ and the emphasis is on staying upright. But that’s mainly for the my knees more than anything!!

          Reply
        2. Trudy

          If what you’re getting from Krav Maga is “#2 once you’re engaged you pretty much keep hitting the person until they’re unconscious or the police show up.” then I think you’re doing it wrong!

          I absolutely agree with your #1 but if you get to #2 then you do what is needed to get clear, but then you get out of there, you don’t hang around to beat them into unconsciousness. If you have to hit then hit hard but a couple of good hits to the face, maybe a nice kick to the balls and leg it, after that they’re going to have to be really dedicated to doing you harm to keep going.

          Reply
  22. animaniactoo

    OP, this won’t help you now because yes you just need to get the flock out of there.

    But for future – when someone is being this kind of a jerk? The only way to deal with it is to make it his problem in as professional a way as you can.

    i.e. “Very well, I’ll inform [supervisor or someone above you guys whom the meeting is important to] that I couldn’t get to my meeting because you were blocking the doorway and refused to move. Jane, please let me know when you might be able to reschedule.” and turn around and walk away. There’s a strong likelihood that he’ll tell you not to be such a [insert slur here] and move so that you can get on with your meeting, in which case you can say “whatever dude, but thanks for moving” but if not – this is the path to escalation that you want when you escalate the issue. Making it his problem in a professional sense.

    Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yes, but animaniactoo is advising OP on how to handle this when she gets to a functional workplace (“But for the future…”). If her perspective is so skewed right now that her subconscious led her to bite someone, then she may have other strange responses that have become habit from working in this place. Basically, her “baseline” for professionalism and functionality is off.

        I think it’s helpful to help OP reset her “default” moves once she’s reintroduced to a normal workplace, which is what I think animaniactoo is trying to help her to do. One of the hardest things for me to reset when I left my ToxicJob (which pales in comparison to this place) was what a normal, professional “escalation” should look like. I think animaniactoo is trying to help her remember what the baseline for “normal” is and is giving her concrete guidance so she doesn’t end up in a bite-spiral at her next job.

        Reply
        1. Snazzy Hat

          Regarding resetting, I haven’t worked in genuinely dysfunctional places, but I have a few things going against me in general with the work world:
          I look considerably younger than I am.
          I’m not assertive (though I’m trying to be, with small steps).
          I’m a month into my first non-temp job outside of retail.
          I’m the newest employee in my department.

          I have been terrified for years that making a complaint about something which genuinely makes me uncomfortable could mean I’m getting dismissed from my job, or hopefully just laughed at or ignored. It’s difficult to overcome, even in a great environment with supportive managers (which I thankfully have).

          Reply
  23. Jill McCoy

    Not in a mean way: Get therapy. You need help dealing with this horribly dysfunctional place until you have a new job, with understanding why you have stayed there so,long, stuck in this awful situation and with processing your own incredibly bizarre behavior. If you take this as a HUGE red alert that your life has gotten out of control and react appropriately, this can end up being the catalyst for necessary change. You need to treat this as a dire, all hands on deck, red alert situation because it is. good luck!

    Reply
    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      Agreed. It’s so easy to internally normalize things when they are part of your every day existence and it can be very difficult to move past them once you’re out of that situation. It’s been nearly a year and a half since I was terminated from my horribly dysfunctional job and a year since I started my perfectly lovely functional job and I still don’t think I’m completely over it.

      Reply
  24. NaoNao

    I must say it angers me a bit when I see SO many stories about horrible high level people like this manager/VP/exec guy who has acted so crappily for so long. And he’s far from alone. There are thousands of horror stories about people like this.
    And there are just as many stories of unemployed people begging for a job, a chance, an opportunity. I’m not saying every single unemployed person is some kind of saint, but come ON. Why do we reward such awful behavior and punish those in so much need?

    Reply
    1. Another person

      In the situations I’ve seen, it’s because people are afraid of calling out the bullies. The bullies have no shame and will always toot their own horns to make themselves look more valuable than they are so they move up the ladder, while gleefully humiliating anyone who gets in their way. 25 or more years out of high school so many professionals act like they’re still in it.

      Reply
  25. Bend & Snap

    I…have no words. But I am WTFing the coworker more than the OP to be honest. Yes, biting is weird and aggressive, but he launched a full-scale physical assault. I can’t believe this didn’t catch someone’s attention, like everyone just watched it happen!

    GET OUT NOW

    Reply
    1. OP

      I would say a good percentage of the office saw the whole thing. I heard the next day that there was some sympathy on his side as he pricked his finger on one of the shards. He’s diabetic, so one woman fussed after what seemed to be stronger than normal bleeding. He’s fine though! The cut wasn’t even big enough for a bandaid.

      But overall, it’s something no one is speaking about. Which is odd because he does angry-gossip almost constantly. The fact that he’s not really says how shocking the whole incident was for the both of us.

      Reply
      1. k.k

        That really speaks to how messed up your office was. The thing that is weird and not normal here isn’t that no one is gossiping, it’s that you both still have jobs. If something like that happened where I work, you’d be fired, your coworker would be fired, everyone who witnessed it would be filling out paperwork, and there’d be a staff wide meeting on proper conduct (or at least a strongly worded memo quoting the employee handbook). You need to take Alison’s advice and get the heck out of there.

        Reply
      2. Amber Rose

        That’s messed up OP. People are more upset about the broken mug, a mug that was broken because of his own behavior, than either of your actions.

        That is so not OK. I can’t even wrap my head around how bizarre that is.

        Reply
      3. AMPG

        I wonder if this was a bit of a wake-up call for him, as well. You have to assume someone who’s that actively hostile and bullying all the time isn’t very happy, and maybe this made him realize that he needed to keep things under control a bit more.

        Reply
      4. LBG

        Okay – just throwing this out there, not as an excuse, but maybe a partial explanation: Is there a possibility that his blood glucose being low correlates to when he’s being the biggest jerk? My partner has T1 and when their blood glucose gets really low (40s-60s) they can sometimes get very nasty, mean, confused, etc. I now recognize that as a sign their sugar might be low, but the first few times it happened it was quite alarming.

        Reply
        1. voluptuousfire

          +1 on LBG. I’m just over the diabetic threshold (T2) myself and if my blood sugar drops, I can become very crabby and confused. I can be a different person when hungry, like the Snickers commercials say.

          On the other hand, if the guy is knowingly diabetic, he should have some sort of stopgates in place in order to prevent blood sugar dropping from being so wicked. I grew up with a mother who was T1 and we had stopgates for her if her blood sugar dropped. If mommy was acting funny, you make sure to get her candy or orange juice because she was having an insulin reaction (what they used to call low blood sugar).

          Reply
        2. Observer

          Not really an explanation. Diabetics know that they need to keep a source of sugar handy. If they don’t, then it’s a decision they are making. But, it’s pretty uncommon, especially in a work setting because things can get pretty bad, pretty quickly.

          Reply
          1. LBG

            Yes, ideally people with diabetes always have something on hand to correct low blood glucose. But sometimes that’s not possible or they don’t realize their sugar is (that) low until it is. It’s not always a decision they have control over, even with vigilant checking. Not to mention, it takes a bit of time – even if it’s orange juice or a glucose tab – for the correction to happen. I’m not going to argue with you over how common or uncommon it is, because your experience is not the same as mine vis-a-vis my partner.

            Reply
            1. Observer

              Obviously, I’m not talking about your partner. I’m talking about what happens in a reasonable workplace with reasonable people. But we know that this guy is not reasonable. Nor is realistic to think of his behavior as the result of a momentary weakness due to something like low blood sugar – he wasn’t suffering from a “momentary” bout of ANYTHING for the year that he gave the OP the silent treatment.

              Reply
        3. Not So NewReader

          This makes sense.
          I married into a family of diabetics. Oh man, they could get snippy. I mean snippy where witnesses would walk out of the room. And once the blood sugar came back up, everything was fine, like nothing happened. But hurtful things got said and it was all okay because they were in low blood sugar. I was the first one who said, “No this not okay. The snippy remarks hurt people and it permanently damages relationships. NO, it’s not okay to just pretend nothing happened and people should just “get over” what was said.”

          Reply
  26. Katie the Fed

    I’ve been in some really bizarre environments in my career – knives pulled, phones thrown, security called, threats made. Remember – this is not normal. For them or for you. It’s the environment. You have to go, now. For your own sake.

    Reply
    1. Anon Accountant

      Me too. Including where a coworker threatened to bring in a weapon and take out a few of us to phrase it mildly. And the boss did nothing but say she was stressed.

      OP counseling ASAP to help you through. And download AAM’s preparing for interviews and read the archives on job searching. Apply to as many places as possible and think about when you took the job. Were there warning signs during the hiring process?

      Reply
  27. This is me

    there are days at my dysfunctional workplace where I think “I could quit and go work at Waffle House” and I have frickin master’s degree . I have a coworker whom the office manager reminds me of. He is NEVER EVER EVER WRONG. I know this is wrong, and that you reacted out of frustration. Your professionalism has been strained to the limits but someone who has no concept of it. But I am living vicariously through you and imaging biting some of my coworkers so thank you.

    Reply
  28. Harry

    I’m personally reminded of a quote from Conor McGregor: “I just want to say from the bottom of my heart, I’d like to take this chance to apologise to absolutely nobody.” But that’s why I don’t run a career advice blog!

    This place sounds hellish. As other commenters suggest, get out ASAP for your own mental – and, apparently, physical – safety.

    Reply
  29. Lehigh

    OP, a lot of people here are being sympathetic to your situation and your view of the situation, which is nice of them but I’m concerning that it’s reinforcing what your dysfunctional office is teaching you–specifically, by normalizing your behavior. It was NOT normal. You assaulted a man for annoying you. Yes, he was very, VERY annoying. But people don’t typically assault other people for being obnoxious. I’m really glad to hear in your updates that you’re going to seek out counseling.

    I’m not trying to be unkind, but I want to make sure that this comment section doesn’t make you feel like his acceptance of your apology, for instance, makes sense. I would not easily accept an apology in that situation, regardless of how violently I reacted at the time, and I don’t know many people who would.

    If you have any resources whatsoever to fall back on, I would not wait to find a new job before getting out. It seems like this is your mind and health at stake.

    Reply
    1. Amber Rose

      He’s not annoying. He’s abusive. That’s the key difference here. Many of us in the comments have experience with abuse, and with the way that warps your mind and causes you to lash out. Abuse victims need help and empathy more than they need to be reminded how messed up things have become.

      Reply
      1. paul

        It was petty workplace bullying. The dude’s a jackass, and I can understand *wanting* to slug him; it would cross my mind.

        But going from being blocked from a conference room to biting someone? No, that isn’t OK. And the fact he hit back doesn’t change that at all. You’re acting like the OP bears no culpability and they do.

        Reply
        1. ssbb

          No we aren’t. We’re saying OP doesn’t need to beat herself up about it any more than she already has. That’s very different.

          Reply
        2. LBK

          Yeah, I don’t know that I agree with quantifying his behavior up to this point as abusive, such that it would begin to justify reacting this way. Most of the stuff the OP describes is pretty run-of-the-mill office jackass stuff – I’m sure we’ve all worked with someone who was convinced only there way was the right way or who didn’t react well to being called out on crappy behavior.

          Reply
          1. ssbb

            He routinely blocks office doorways with his body. That’s physical intimidation. That’s beyond run-of-the-mill office stuff.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              I don’t think it’s physical intimidation; it’s just jackassery. He’s not leaping in front of the OP to block her in–he just refuses to get out of her way. It’s not behavior I’d tolerate, but it’s not rage or violenceworthy, either.

              Reply
              1. Sunshine

                I’d be curious to know how many of the people categorically declaring this not abuse are a) female b) have ever experienced abuse.

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  I’m curious what relevance being female has to the judgment of whether something is abusive or not? I’m sure it goes without saying that men can also be abused.

                2. Turtle Candle

                  I’m a woman who has experience physical abuse multiple times over many years. If we really need to show our cred.

                  (Usually when this kind of thing comes up it turns into ‘but surely you are a woman who is privileged in some other way so you don’t count,’ so please, let’s cut to the chase here.)

                3. Sunshine

                  I was genuinely curious, not trying to make a point. I can see a man of equivalent size to the office manager being less intimidated than a smaller woman would be. I’m not sure why that’s a controversial thing to say?

                  And I would expect a person who had experienced abuse (separate category, I know men can be abused) to understand why aggressive, abusive behaviour could be intimidating and threatening.

                4. LBK

                  Conversely, I think what I gather from your comments is a history involving abuse might also be giving you a bias here to read the situation as more intense/aggressive than how it’s described. It feels like there’s some projection of your own experiences that’s not justified either by the details of how the OP describes the situation, nor her apparently emotional gauge of the situation (eg it doesn’t seem like she actually felt threatened, just frustrated).

                5. Turtle Candle

                  @Sunshine, I interpreted your question as credentials-checking, to which I have a profoundly negative reaction (if nothing else, it requires people to out themselves as to their axes of oppression, which they may have highly legitimate reasons to not want to do), and which I therefore–perhaps ironically?–perceive as a form of bullying. If that’s not what you meant, then I apologize for being snarky.

                  But yes, I do disagree with you that the behavior as described is sufficiently threatening to warrant biting.

                6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  I’m not sure how these questions inform the conversation? I know you don’t have ill intent, and I don’t think you meant to do this, but the way you’ve framed your question sounds like you’re asking people to demonstrate their viewpoint is “legitimate” by providing their “woman” and “survivor” credentials.

                  That said, I’ll entertain this slightly. As a fairly average-sized woman who has worked with other survivors for 12+ years, OP’s letter does not, for me, describe an obviously “abusive” situation. It describes bullying, assholery, and workplace harassment (not in the legal sense), but it doesn’t read “abuse/abuser” to me. It sounds like you may have a different interpretation or reading of the letter based on your experiences.

                7. Anon for this one

                  Since you want credentials in order to determine if we should be taken seriously: I’m a woman who was physically assaulted by a roommate’s drunk boyfriend – resulting in an ambulance ride, a concussion, and needing a surprising number of staples to close my scalp wounds.

                  IMO, what the office manager was doing was utter asshattery, but not abuse or physical intimidation.

                8. Sunshine

                  Said almost immediately afterward – to the first person – who asked – that I was not credentials checking. You could have checked that if you wanted to.

                1. fposte

                  I don’t know of any state that has a legal definition of bullying involving adults at all.

                2. Tilted

                  Fposte

                  there’s a difference between statues and caselaw. Most states don’t have statutes that deal with bullying, but do have caselaw.

                  Blocking is not per se bullying or abusive, but an ongoing pattern of it is so.

                  I’ve been barred in several states. I’ve seen abuse cases and workplace harassment cases where blocking like this was taken as evidence.

                  Like sexual harassment, one act may not, per se, be an issue, but ongoing physical blocking is.

                3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

                  Which definition of “abusive” are you using? IME, blocking doorways can certainly be harassing/abusive conduct in the employment law context, but based on the information in the letter, it does not sound like “abuse” as defined in law regarding family violence, which is how Sunshine is using the term.

                4. Sunshine

                  I appreciate we have different points of view on this, Princess Consuela Banana Hammock, but blocking doorways is literally on abuser checklists.

                  It’s a form of control where the other person is forced to accede to your wishes and acknowledge your dominance. Yes, if you can walk away it’s still less egregious than blocking someone in, but it’s still a documented tactic of abusers.

            2. LBK

              I think it’s hyperbole to describe that as physical intimidation. That’s the kind of stupid stuff my siblings and I used to do to annoy each other. The point was just to push someone’s buttons, not try to scare them.

              And FWIW, I did intentionally say *most* of the stuff she describes, not all.

              Reply
              1. EmmBee

                Siblings also push each other down, have wrestling matches, and hold each other down to rough house. But if grown adults did that to each other in the workplace, that’d be a problem. You can’t compare the two.

                Having a grown adult – a superior, no less – physically prevent a colleague from entering a conference room is absolutely physical intimidation.

                OP is way wrong. This guy is way wrong too.

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  That…doesn’t really have to do with the point I was making. I’m not talking about whether it’s appropriate for the office. What exactly is intimidating about someone standing in a doorway?

                2. Detective Amy Santiago

                  @LBK

                  if someone was physically blocking your only means of egress from a room, I could see that being intimidating.

                  That is not what happened here though.

                3. blackcat

                  @LBK, I have had a much larger man stand in a doorway to block my way. The arm-at-face-level thing is definitely intimidating. It’s like the man’s body language was saying “Look how much bigger I am and how easily I could crush you.”

                  Not sure that’s what was going on here, but definitely something that can happen.

            3. London Engineer

              I think there’s a pretty big difference between trapping someone in a room and not letting them enter one though.

              Reply
              1. Sunshine

                You’re still asserting dominance over them though. I agree it’s not as bad, but it’s not acceptable behaviour.

                Reply
              1. Sunshine

                And that was wrong. But he could also have said, “Could you give us a moment please? We’re just finishing up.”

                Reply
            4. hbc

              No, failing to get out of someone’s way is not physical intimidation. Preventing them from leaving an enclosed space, sure. But if he was hanging out in the doorway finishing up a conversation, there was no requirement that he’d hop out of the way immediately. He expressed it in a hostile way, but there was nothing more restrictive about it than, say, the person in the office failing to unlock the door when she knocked.

              Reply
              1. Sharon

                I have a “thing” about being blocked in a doorway because of an incident that happened when I was a little girl and an authority figure blocked me in a cloakroom. I really, really hate when people block me in a doorway, I have flashbacks to that moment as a child, and I have a level of momentary panic about it that’s likely above the average person. Nonetheless, that absolutely does not give me any excuse to BITE someone blocking me. The professional, adult response is exactly what has been posted before — “I’ll make sure to let [supervisor] know I couldn’t get to the meeting room because you blocked me.” The fact that biting even occurred to you is evidence that there is real need for counseling here. Violence is just not appropriate, ever.

                Reply
                1. Matilda Jefferies

                  The fact that biting even occurred to you is evidence that there is real need for counseling here.

                  I have to disagree with that part, actually. Lots of us have weird impulses like that from time to time, it’s just that most people have the werewithal to not act on them. I was on the subway once, standing near someone who was reaching out to hold on to the pole. It so happened that their arm was right around the level that my mouth would have been if I had leaned forward a bit, and I really, really wanted to bite them! I didn’t, obviously, but the impulse was very strong.

                  I do agree that the OP needs therapy (and it sounds like she does as well, so that’s a good thing.) But the issue is not that she had the impulse; it’s that her stress levels were so high, and her coping skills were so low, that she was unable to restrain it. It’s the behaviour that’s problematic, not the thought process.

              2. Sunshine

                It’s more like a colleague locking another colleague’s office door and hurling verbal abuse around in order to deliberately intimidate two other colleagues.

                Reply
                1. LBK

                  I don’t see how that’s even remotely similar to what happened here. Where are you getting the “hurling verbal abuse around” part from?

                2. Sunshine

                  LBK – I was being hyperbolic because someone likened the situation to ‘not unlocking a door’ which I felt was an understatement.

              3. Tilted

                “No, failing to get out of someone’s way is not physical intimidation.”

                That is both factually and legally wrong in my jurisdiction if this was a part of a pattern of behavior using physical blocking.

                (Lawyer)

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  Okay, that’s interesting–can you expand? Do you think that the courts would consider her bite a justified response to her behavior?

                2. Tilted

                  Fposte

                  No.

                  (1) Because biting is considered above and beyond a proper response.
                  (2) I’ve seen several psychologists testify in other cases that non-consensual biting among adults is beyond abuse and more akin to torture.
                  (3) He wasn’t blocking her in this exact instant.

                  His pattern of behavior is itself problematic. Had she not bitten him, we’d have another discussion about his behavior. Had he been blocking her from leaving (instead of entering) and she shoved him, different discussion.

                  There are two issues: (1) he wasn’t blocking her exit at this point in time and (2) she bit

            5. Turtle Candle

              But I think it’s worthwhile to note that while it is reasonable and acceptable to push back against bullies, it is not reasonable or acceptable to bite them. And I say that as someone who has been severely bullied and physically threatened and attacked.

              Honestly, I think it’s deeply worrying to normalize this as an understandable or acceptable response.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                I would be less concerned, in fact, if the OP had shoved him. It would still have been bad and fireable, but biting is so feral that I would have no idea what else somebody who does that might think it’s acceptable to do.

                Reply
                1. Tilted

                  You are 1000+ correct on that.

                  Biting is always considered worse than hitting a kid with a belt or even a very bad spanking. (In my state court system).

              2. Tilted

                Everyone’s behavior in this scenario is really wrong and should not be normalized.

                A person – particularly a man – using their body to block people or being too much in someone’s space repeatedly? Wrong.

                A person over 5 biting? Wrong.

                Everyone in this office needs counseling.

                It sounds to me like the place is so disfunctional that it’s giving people symptoms that I’ve only seen in PTSD cases (veterans, abused spouses, abused children).

                I am not saying OP has PTSD. Just that I’ve seen people with diagnosed cases behave like this.

                I’m very concerned for her.

                Reply
                1. Not So NewReader

                  On the good side of the story, OP has been consistent in her comments about her behavior in this scenario and the fact that she needs help to get herself some place better. OP has been rock solid on these points. I am optimistic for this OP.

          2. Observer

            Actually, while I agree that his behavior doesn’t come close to justifying biting him, what the OP describes is NOT close to run-of -the mill. Even taken in isolation, some of these things are way over the top – I mean who screams at their boss, the owner of the company?! And the pattern is even more concerning.

            I think it’s important to call this out. The OP needs to know that this is an environment that she CAN get away from by changing jobs. She fears that leaving this job won’t make a difference because this probably happens everywhere. Calling tis “run of the mill” feeds that fear. But the reality is that this is NOT run of the mill. This is not normal. There ARE places where this kind of stuff does not happen!

            Reply
            1. LBK

              I don’t mean it’s run of the mill when you look at the average office across the whole population, but relative to other office jerks we’ve heard about, this guy doesn’t sound especially worse than a lot of the others who’ve had letters written about them here. Certainly not to the point that I’d consider him abusive.

              Reply
              1. ReanaZ

                Look, I’ve had annoying shitty coworkers and I have broken mugs at work. And I have never, ever thought “I better run away from this coworker quickly before they attack me with the shards of this broken mug.”

                The fact that that thought even occurred indicated how UTTERLY MESSED UP this situation is and that is is materially, “especially worse” than a run-of-the-mill terrible coworker.

                Reply
    2. AMPG

      I think the tone of the letter (which has the OP expressing horror at her own actions) is informing the tone of the comments. Clearly the OP understands her behavior is not OK or normal, so we don’t have to convince her – we can make suggestions about how to move forward.

      Reply
      1. paul

        Agreed. I’m not even upset/appalled at the OP, but the comments minimizing how significant her actions were are worrying.

        I can’t bring myself to feel a lot of sympathy for someone that’s being a real jackass day in and day out then gets clobbered for it, but that doesn’t mean the clobberer gets off scot free, or that their actions won’t negatively impact them. Or that they shouldn’t develop better, healthier, conflict resolution skills.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          I do think that if a biting incident had to happen somewhere that day, there are people I’d be more bothered about getting bitten. But this isn’t about what happens to him; it’s about the OP moving on from a severe self-management lapse that could tank her life if not dealt with.

          Reply
          1. Fictional Butt

            Yes, I’m glad that so many people are being supportive of OP, but I also think very few hiring managers will take a chance on someone who is known to have bit a coworker. Hopefully word of this incident won’t spread, but if it does, I think OP needs to be prepared to not be given the benefit of the doubt, and to show that she’s done some serious work on her own behavior.

            Reply
    3. WPH

      I agree. I’m not coming down on you OP but none of this was normal, none of this was acceptable, none of this wasprofessional and none of this was justified. This cannot be excused and you have to hold to that so that you can truly see how unacceptable your behavior was in this situation. You need to get out for your own sake so you can get back to normal.

      Reply
        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I think WPH is pushing back on the comments that argue that OP’s behavior was justified or not that bad. In particular, I read this line,

          This cannot be excused and you have to hold to that so that you can truly see how unacceptable your behavior was in this situation.

          to be saying that OP must remind herself that it was not normal so that she doesn’t risk having her sense of right/wrong permanently warped by her dysfunctional workplace. I didn’t read it as an admonition that OP is not taking it seriously—I think WPH is saying OP is taking it seriously and needs to remind herself of how serious this was in order to adequately deal with this as she moves on from this employer.

          Reply
          1. WPH

            Thank you Princess! (Not a sentence one gets to write a lot in everyday life) That is exactly what I meant.
            The danger of working in toxic workplaces is that you can lose sight of how toxic they can be. I speak from experience. OP knowing that her behavior is wrong and this situation is unacceptable will help to get her out of the door instead of backsliding into, “it’s not THAT bad.” Yes, yes, it is THAT BAD.

            Reply
    4. ssbb

      This feels really unnecessary to me. I think the reason people are responding as lightly as they are is that OP made it ABUNDANTLY clear in her letter that she knows the behavior was inappropriate.

      (I’d also argue his behavior went far past annoying and into abusive, but that’s a ymmv thing.)

      Reply
      1. Turtle Candle

        I don’t think what concerns me personally is that people aren’t chastising the LW. I think what concerns me is that people are treating biting as a relatively innocuous act, as if it’s a natural response to a jackass at your workplace–or even a bully at your workplace. (And intimating that biting is more okay than foot-stomping, which, I’d honestly much rather have my feet stomped than be bitten, for a variety of reasons. And I am a not-large women who often wears thin shoes, myself.)

        It’s not the LW who’s striking me as downplaying here; it’s the commenters.

        Reply
        1. Lehigh

          Yes, exactly. The tone of her letter did not concern me. The whole “how much could it have hurt him?” train of comments does.

          Reply
          1. Howdy Do

            I truly do not believe that any one who has been sympathetic to the OP believes that biting your annoying co-worker in a normal, functional (or even a somewhat dysfunctional) workplace is good. But, in the context given with the amount of embarrassment and shame she has expressed, I also lean towards keeping the amount of harm she did in perspective. She didn’t break the skin or cause him any lasting harm and that is relevant because it means there aren’t police or lawsuits involved and also the amount of concern she should feel about her lack of self control. If she had kneed him in the groin, scratched his eyes, and thrown her coffee on him, well, that would have been pretty extreme and you’d get a lot more “seek professional help AND a new job” comments versus something relatively mild from pain standpoint which was wildly inappropriate but also not at the height of violent behaviors. But we also got into this arena with the letter a while back where the woman tickled a co-worker’s feet. Some people saw that as assault, and assault is assault no matter the severity but I don’t agree with that and think degree of harm is part of the story.

            Reply
    5. sap

      This, so much. It’s not clear from the OP’s letter whether his arm was in her face because he was putting it there intentionally to mess with her or as part of his door blocking, and depending on whether he was shoving his physical parts literally at her mouth biting approaches an expected responses when your hands are completely full (I’ve bitten someone in a circumstance where I was imobilized.and someone had their hands up in/on my face after saying “please stay out of my face” and have no guilt about that at all–but also I wish I hadn’t bitten because biting is bad). But that is actually kindof beside the point.

      From OP’s letter, it’s not clear! Biting is very abnormal behavior in the workplace, so absent more information that indicates coworker was intentionally putting his body parts milimeter from her face to mess with her, we should not be justifying the biting as expected behavior. And even then, what’s important for OP here isn’t to stop feeling bad about the biting, but to really recognize that if you are in a workplace where biting is within the realm of expected responses to commonplace physical antagonization of employees… That is not normal, that is not okay, and the right thing in a situation like that isn’t to dwell on why the biting was maybe alright but to dwell on making sure you GTFO.

      Being in a toxic workplace GENERALLY means that you have to adjust all sorts of SOPs and that becomes your new normal. Some of those coping behaviors in any other environment would make YOU toxic, and the longer you tell yourself those behaviors are perfectly fine the harder it is to stop doing them once you’re in a normal environment. Biting is EXTREMELY NOT OKAY under 90% of possible circumstances, so even if details that aren’t in this letter would show OP was in one on the small number of situations where biting is an unsurprising response, it is not going to help OP maintain what appears to be their still functioning “physical altercations are never okay at work” boundary. If OP starts focusing on why the altercation may have actually been okay in this limited circumstance, OP may start to erode that healthy boundary unintentionally… And that could be very bad for the OP once out of this situation. OP needs to focus on how to maintain their workplace behavior compass even here so that OP has less work to do on remembering how to behave professionally once they get out. Focusing on why abberant reactions may have been okay just here is going to hurt, not help, that effort.

      Reply
  30. CognitiveGradStudent

    Have you ever seen the episode of that 70’s show where Hyde gives Jackie zen lessons so she can upset someone bullying her by not caring? I’d adopt that approach (but not fight anyone at the end)- like somebody else said to adopt impeccable professionalism. I mean if someone yells at you or is being a jerk to get a reaction out of you and you just visibly don’t care they’ll move on to the next victim or lose their mind over it to the point where they’ll either realize they’re being insane or get in trouble without you also getting in trouble.

    Reply
  31. Weasel007

    OMG, I need some kind of warning before I go to the page and see the title of this. Coffee went everywhere!!

    Reply
  32. Kelly

    OP: I applaud you for being so receptive to the suggestions here! You know what you did and are accepting responsibility, like an adult. Sounds like your coworker is a tool, and I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve thought about smacking a coworker once or twice :)
    I echo the suggestions to get out ASAP, get some therapy going, and take this as an opportunity to see the job for the humongous red flag that it is. NO ONE should be acting like that.
    Kelly

    Reply
  33. k.k

    If I were OP, I would set a hard timeline for an end date to this job, whether or not they had something else lined up*. I gave myself a 3 month end date for a job I was in and hated (though much less toxic than OP’s situation!) because it was impacting me so much. Knowing that I was leaving, as in it’s a fact not something I’m hoping for, was very liberating. It lit a fire under me to find something else, but also helped me to mentally disconnect from the job. Instead of a bad day following me home and ruining my week, I was able to look at it and say “Man that sucks, glad it won’t be my problem soon!”.

    *Obviously this isn’t financially possible for some. But if it is, even if it means living sparsely for some time, I feel it’s worth it.

    Reply
  34. Barney Stinson

    I will not judge you for biting that person. I would caution you, though: biting someone is dangerous for you. You don’t know where that guy’s been.

    Vaya con Dios, friend. Run far, run fast.

    Reply
    1. paul

      This may be a joke, but I had to get a swath of test for various blood born diseases after I bit someone pretty good in a brawl back when I was 21 or 22. HIV, Hep (I forget which, or maybe all? IDK), a bunch of other crap. The HIV test was the one that scared me the most.
      It worked in the moment–he kinda rolled off and left off hitting me–but holy crap the doctor mentioning that scared me as much as the pummeling did.

      Reply
  35. Eric

    WTF.

    Also leave ASAP. This is completely insane. Quit as soon as it’s financially viable. Hopefully today.

    Reply
  36. Delta Delta

    Let’s take this one more step. Suppose OP leaves her job and gets a job at a normal place where the only bad behavior is not refilling the copier or occasionally microwaving some fish. What can/should OP do either at work or outside work to re-calibrate to what’s normal? It sounds like she is pretty clear that this place is super-dysfunctional and not normal. But that has a way of warping someone’s perspective. How do you fix perspective? I ask this because wow – this is a heck of a situation that happened, but also because I think a lot of people end up sort of warped and feeling weird when leaving toxic places and it’s maybe hard to get into a feeling of normalcy.

    Reply
    1. ThatGirl

      I would actually suggest some (probably short-term) counseling, because clearly some new perspective and insight is needed.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I second this. People can re-norm without counseling, but it’s much harder (imo) and takes longer. Plus, I just think counseling is good for people, even when they’re not in crisis.

        Reply
    2. k.k

      I think a simple step that can be helpful is to surround yourself with normal social situations. Being in a bad, stressful work situation can make you retreat and isolate yourself a bit; after a long day of dealing with craziness it can be hard to want to go be around more people. But be it a structured activity like a volunteer group, workout class, church meeting, bookclub, or just a casual coffee date or happy hour with a friend, force yourself to go be around normal people. As a way to remind yourself that not everyone is terrible.

      Reply
    3. paul

      Therapy/counseling but that’s kind of my default answer…and I don’t know how many therapist specialize in workplace issues (I’m sure there’s some?).

      Reply
    4. Not So NewReader

      I have a fun suggestion in addition to the serious suggestion here. She could make herself read AAM daily until it starts to feel like her new home.

      Reply
  37. Wannabe Disney Princess

    When I got my first office job, I was so used to my previous one at a small, independent retail store. We didn’t have a cleaning service, so it was up to the staff to keep the bathrooms clean. Because that is what I was used to it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t have to clean bathrooms at my (then) new office.

    LW – this is not what normal workplaces look like. Don’t keep scrubbing toilets, get out of there ASAP.

    Reply
  38. Janelle

    Wow. The biting wasn’t ok but it sounds like she felt like an animal pushed into a corner. We forget that humans have survival, fight or flight instincts that can and will eventually kick in when provoked enough. Also biting over his sleeve I bet it did not hurt him. Him stomping on her and shoving her was nuts. Not that she was right but wow.

    Reply
    1. Leatherwings

      Meh, this really doesn’t sound like a flight or fight response. OP was angry and lashed out when she could’ve walked away instead. That’s not an okay response and I think boiling it down to “well your body just responded with adrenaline” makes it seem okay or normal or something that couldn’t have been helped when that’s not the case.

      Reply
    2. paul

      she wasn’t cornered though; she wasn’t being allowed into a conference room she’d booked, but she wasn’t cornered.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Right. Thwarted isn’t cornered. This, I think, is more akin to a road rage incident where somebody deliberately cut you off; it’s still a huge leap across a line to then hit his car, even lightly.

        Reply
  39. Audiophile

    Wow. There’s so much wrong with this office, I don’t even know where to start.

    It sounds like the office manager is a bully of the highest order. To REFUSE to move so a coworker can get by? I’ve seen and experienced people doing it in a joking manner, but never seriously.

    This place sounds awful and it’s way past time to move on.

    Reply
  40. Buffy Summers

    ” …you don’t want to be someone who bites coworkers as a means of conflict resolution.”

    So, I realize I’m a bad person for this, but I laughed out loud for, probably, about five minutes after reading this sentence. I’m picturing it in my head. And I’m thinking how it would solve so many problems for me in my workplace. I’m seriously considering biting my manager tomorrow. She’s not here today. I’ll let ya’ll know how that goes.

    Reply
    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      I’m trying to picture Alison’s face as she wrote that line. Things you never thought you’d say in your life…

      My sister likes to tell the story about how I bit her when she was 2 (I was 16) to break her biting habit (which worked). This is… I don’t even know. I hope LW is able to get out of there quickly.

      Reply
      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

        Alison, if you ever feel the urge, I would love to see you do a “advice I never thought I’d have to give” feature!

        Reply
      2. Not So NewReader

        Years ago, I had a dog that would nip at my hands whenever I walked around. After months of this, I got sick of it. And I got sick of people commenting about how cut up my hands were. I bent down, picked up her paw and opened my mouth…her eyes got as round as saucers. I had made my point.

        Reply
  41. OldJules

    This is why I never recommend people sticking it out in a toxic environment. When you swim in the toxic day in and day out, it sticks to you and you don’t even recognize normal behavior anymore. If you really do leave this job, just know that you’ll have some PTSD issues and it can take years for it to wear off. I got out from a toxic environment within a year and still it took a couple of years to shake the fear/paranoia off. My friends who stayed longer took significantly longer to get out of the mindset.

    Good luck.

    Reply
    1. LizzE

      Absolutely. I complain about ex-job here all the time and how the toxic environment still affects me to this day -and ex-job seems to be nowhere near as bonkers as the OP’s current place of work.

      Reply
      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        Honestly, it’s usually really hard to recognize the toxicity when you’re mired in it day after day, so I give the OP kudos for recognizing how out of the norm this is. It’s a shame it had to reach the level of physical violence for her to have that realization though.

        Reply
        1. lfi

          this. i didn’t realize how bad old job was until i took a step back and noticed all of the horrible things that had happened. but it wasn’t until i realized it MYSELF that i was able to act on it.

          Reply
        2. SarahTheEntwife

          Yes! Especially since it sounds like this got worse over time. Each little escalation feels like only a small problem, because you’ve gotten used to the 15 other small problems without realizing they add up to Not Ok.

          Reply
    2. Fictional Butt

      Yes. OP, I hope you get out of that environment soon, but I definitely think you need some counseling to make sure you don’t bring the toxic with you into your next job. If you thought (in the moment) that biting someone was work-appropriate, there may be some less obvious behaviors or thought patterns/assumptions you’ve picked up that would also be inappropriate in a more normal workplace.

      Reply
  42. Tobias Funke

    Oh, OP. I feel for you. This is the kind of thing that going to therapy can be wonderful for. I both am a therapist and have been in therapy and the most useful/helpful therapy has ever been for me was recalibrating a sense of normalcy after a really dysfunctional work environment.

    Reply
    1. Anon Accountant

      Thank you for mentioning directly the possibility of arrest and lawsuits. Especially if another situation escalates.

      Reply
  43. Celeste

    I am so sorry things escalated like this. I can’t imagine the stress you’ve been under working with this very difficult person for so long. I think this is a case of perseverance gone wrong. It’s no virtue to stay somewhere when you’re effectively being abused. I think therapy can help you, if only because you will surely face difficult people in the future, and now you have this history. I think they can help you get a better toolbox for de-escalating things. That’s really the only “win” in these scenarios. I hope you can get out of there pronto.

    Reply
  44. Archie Goodwin

    I know you’ve heard this from other people, but I have to echo it…you HAVE to leave now. Your sense of normalcy is already warped, and the longer you stay, the worse it’s going to get.

    I had a job in a horrible environment once, and I resigned after a few months because I could already see that it was turning me into someone I didn’t want to be. I knew that the longer I stayed, the worse it was going to get…as it stands, it was well over a year ago that I left, and there are STILL things at my new office that give me the shivers, but which are really quite normal.

    Getting out now may not be the most economically viable thing you can do, but it will help you keep your sanity, and that’s the critical thing right now.

    Reply
  45. Employment Lawyer

    So I bit a coworker my office manager yesterday.
    Holy shit.

    Anyway, you’re still working there and apparently haven’t been fired. That in itself is an indicator that your workplace is really messed up: physically assaulting someone is an offense which justifies immediate termination at literally every company worth its salt. But you obviously should get out of there ASAP.

    So, my advice: Lawyer up.
    1) You need to leave
    2) The company is batshit and you owe them nothing
    3) Batshit companies are usually violating the law in multiple ways
    4) A good lawyer can help you use those ways to get severance/unemployment/money/etc.

    So, the odds are with you. Best of luck.

    Reply
    1. LBK

      FWIW in many offices the office manager isn’t an actual manager, which it sounds like is the case here. So I don’t think that’s inherently worse or that it changes anything vs describing him as a coworker.

      Reply
      1. fposte

        Yeah, I misread that as well initially myself, and I think you’re right that this isn’t her manager or anybody particularly high level.

        Reply
    2. Jesmlet

      There are office managers who manage the people who work in offices and office managers who manage getting things for the office (usually among other responsibilities). Either way, at a normal company both would be gone immediately. IANAL but I don’t think it necessarily needs to go this far. OP should just put her job searching into overdrive and avoid any contact where possible.

      Reply
    3. Tilted

      Domestic relations lawyer here.

      Biting is considered very, very bad in divorce, child abuse, domestic abuse, etc. cases. Very, very, very bad.

      She needs to lawyer up like yesterday. Because she could be arrested for criminal assault and sued for the bite (if she’s in the USA).

      I’ve seen some tort cases litigated where there was biting. The biter has ALWAYS lost.

      Reply
  46. Gwen Soul

    When you do get out you need to have a support group of friends to help you navigate what will hopefully be a more sane environment. There is a good chance you have internalized bad habits or fears that won’t even show up until you are in an environment that they are out of place.

    Reply
  47. Aphrodite

    Your mortification at your actions is a great indication that you haven’t been completely assimilated into the toxic atmosphere. Take it as the wake-up call it is and get out. I realize you may want to hang on to this job until you can get another but if you can go without one consider leaving immediately because the atmosphere won’t get better. It will continue to suck you down into the muck slowly until you have become “one of them” and view your workplace and your actions (and those of your co-workers) as normal.

    Reply
    1. animaniactoo

      This is possible, but it doesn’t mean that LW should stay – it would just be further proof of ability to adapt to a bad situation in a really unhealthy way. LW does not want to reinforce that for their own sake, they want to get out before it seems okay or in any way not okay but justifiable.

      Reply
    2. hbc

      Uh, yeah, or maybe he’ll make sure to keep doing awful stuff to prove he won’t be intimidated. Or maybe he thinks they’ve now established a new routine that when they’re unhappy with each other, physical solutions are on the table. Or maybe the bite is what brings the office together as they realize how bad it’s gotten and everyone is singing kumbaya by next month.

      I’m pretty sure a statistical analysis will show workplace violence does not usually make a situation better.

      Reply
  48. jv

    Can’t believe you bit him! Oh well… some things drive you to madness.

    When I was in primary school I bit a school bully for snatching and stealing my jump rope and stomping on and breaking the wooden handles. He pulled it away from me violently and pushed me. I got in trouble, he did not. I know it wasn’t my fault and sticking up for myself was the right thing to do. I didn’t apologize and didn’t care when my parents had to be called. My dad, in particular, encouraged me to retaliate if I was ever bullied “If anyone hits you or pushes you, clock them!” he’d say! He actually congratulated me for defending myself later that day! I was a very timid and kind child so my behaving that way was shocking to the teachers and my parents knew there was more to the story than what the bully reported. The bully didn’t hassle me again after that. I was about 6 or 7 then… don’t think I’d do it now in my 30’s! Some may argue against it but the way my dad taught me earlier on has made me who I am today. I don’t go around clocking people of course! But it’s made me a strong person and I always respond strongly to bullies now.

    I think OP should reflect a bit on why this person has been able to treat her this way for over a year and have this happen. Don’t let people try and intimidate you and walk all over you. Stick up for yourself and make it so you’ll never have to bite anyone again!

    Reply
    1. Anony

      I think OP should reflect a bit on why this person has been able to treat her this way for over a year and have this happen.

      How a person treats you is on that person, it’s not something you “allow” to happen.

      Reply
      1. jv

        I strongly disagree with that. Yes, people are responsible for doing the bullying and intimidation but you can control how you react to that person and how they impact your life. I’ve had to take steps myself and confront people and/or get them out of my life if they are having a negative impact.

        There’s nothing worse than falling into a deep depression because of some moron in the office. It can bleed into your personal life and make you an extremely unhappy person. If you allow others to pray upon you in this way and let it get to the point where your only retaliation is biting them… that’s a massive problem.

        Reply
      2. Not So NewReader

        There are some people who are real bulldozers. OP could learn how to recognize those people sooner and move away from them.

        Many people, however, will respond when told NO or STOP. Unfortunately, not enough people believe that if they say NO/STOP their words will be respected or at least obeyed.

        Reply
    2. Falling Diphthong

      I think the overall lesson to stand up for oneself is very good; what changed is the context. So if you’re five in the school yard, kicking the bully who’s grabbing and smashing your stuff might be a valid response. If you’re 30, then icy professionalism, returning the awkward to sender, and mild boredom with the antics are supposed to be in your arsenal.

      Reply
      1. I'm Not Phyllis

        I agree with you.

        But also want to say that he wasn’t grabbing or smashing her stuff – he was blocking a doorway. She had other options.

        Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Agreed. I don’t think this is a situation where the tactics that worked when a person was 6-7 (which are not ok, even if jv was instructed and felt otherwise) should not be the tactics we use as adults placed in trying circumstances.

        Reply
  49. Sara without an H

    Quote: “I know there is no one above us who would address this issue …” In what kind of organization does management ignore fisticuffs among the employees???

    I agree with Alison and everybody else who counseled leaving yesterday, or sooner if possible.

    Reply
    1. Charlie Bradbury's Girlfriend

      Even in my most toxic workplace where the owner screamed at people and coworkers had shouting matches, I like to think they would have fired people if it had escalated to people putting their hands (or teeth) on each other. Echoing everyone to say this is not normal, OP. Get counseling. Get out.

      Reply
  50. Lady Phoenix

    Ahem… All aboard the Nope Train to OhHELLNahsville to board the S.S. Get Outta Dodge to FuckThisShitstopia in ImmaOutsia.

    If you have savings to live on, run to the goddamn door. This place needs to razed in dragonfire yeaterday

    Reply
    1. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo

      “All aboard the Nope Train to OhHELLNahsville to board the S.S. Get Outta Dodge to FuckThisShitstopia in ImmaOutsia.”

      This is a fantastic way to put it. : )

      Reply
  51. who?

    I’m mildly alarmed that so many people are minimizing the bite in favor of condemning the horrible coworker. Biting is a completely disproportionate reaction to someone blocking your path. Anything he did in retaliation, he did in retaliation. Doesn’t make it ok, but if I assault someone I’m not going to be shocked or even really upset that they fought back.

    Reply
    1. mreasy

      The biting was extreme, but the OP mentions having her hands full. Going into fight or flight after long exposure to a hopeless and toxic environment can lead to rage blindness. The fact of the bite vs a shove or a kick seems more circumstantial due to her hands being full. A bite when someone has all hands free would strike me differently. But YES, this is an extreme behavior and I agree OP needs to gtfo!

      Reply
      1. hbc

        If she gets a pass for rage blindness (not that OP is asking for it, I think she has a pretty good view), then certainly Office Manager gets a pass for his rage blindness causing him to obnoxiously blocking entrances.

        Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Uh… no. Your hands being full don’t make the biting less problematic than if your hands were empty! And I don’t think OP gets a pass on rage blindness. I understand that might be what happened, but in normal workplaces, you get fired for that, and if you’re lucky, no one presses criminal charges or files a police report.

        Reply
    2. Stop That Goat

      Seriously. The OP assaulted someone, they defended themselves and then the OP left them to clean up the subsequent mess. It’s a bit jarring to see so many people treat the OP like a victim when they were the perpetrator.

      Reply
      1. SeptemberGrrl

        The OP seems like part and parcel of the toxic mess that is this workplace – a willing participant, not a victim by any means.

        Reply
      2. Observer

        She left him to clean up the mess because she was afraid he’s use the shards on her.

        My issue here is not that he defended himself – that’s not really something that you can complain about. But the behavior pattern that the OP describes is truly toxic.

        Reply
    3. Lady Phoenix

      I agree. I feel that a bite is one of those inhuman responses to rage (like choking). When that happens, all bets are off and you basically do WHATEVER it takes to get away/get the upper hand. Stomping feet and pushing people away are all common self defence, as is also groin hits. The idea is to incapicitate the assaulter and then get some distance.

      So yeah, Manager can eat the biggest bowl of dicks… but him getting shamed for defending himself against someone who bit him is kinda victim blamey.

      Reply
    4. blackcat

      I mean, OP KNOWS that biting was way, way, way out of line. We don’t need to tell her that.

      OP seems to not understand that HOLY SHIT THIS PLACE IS DYSFUNCTIONAL. Pointing out the pattern of the dude’s dysfunctional behavior and how out of whack that is helps to make that point, which OP seems to not have fully processed.

      Reply
      1. who?

        No, she very clearly knows this place is dysfunctional, she literally says it in her letter.

        I work in an incredibly dysfunctional office.

        Reply
        1. SeptemberGrrl

          Yes, but she’s been there for 5 years so how much can the dysfunction bother her? And she said this about her last job in a comment:
          I had a boss who threw things at me and told me to kill myself, before slowly becoming more friendly and kind over the 5 years I was there.

          I would say for most people, a boss throwing something at you and telling you to kill yourself would be a red flag to RUN. Would you stick around for 5 years to see that the boss eventually became “more friendly”?

          I’m not judging the OP but some people are attracted to chaos and dysfunction, and it’s a pattern they repeat, even while recognizing they are doing it. I think it might be worth the OP’s time to consider that, for her benefit.

          Reply
          1. Sunshine

            “Would you stick around for 5 years to see that the boss eventually became “more friendly”?”

            No, but children who’ve grown up in abusive environments etc often do, because they don’t know it’s weird. And people who are poor might not have the luxury of simply quitting.

            Reply
    5. WPH

      It’s disturbing. Yes, he was a bully and no that is not okay but she ASSAULTED HIM. His retaliation (while vile) could probably be spun as self-defense. She BIT HIM FIRST that is all that is going to matter. That is immediate termination in every job I’ve been in and frankly, in life.

      Reply
  52. nnn

    My first thought about the office manager blocking the path and refusing to move was “Why on earth would he do that? What possible outcome could he be going for?”

    This kind of reaction might be useful to OP when she encounters bizarreness during her remaining time in this dysfunctional workplace. “Why on earth would you block my path and refuse to allow me to get to my meeting with Jane? What possible outcome could you be going for?” (Then if he says “It’s just a joke”, you give a skeptical eyebrow raise and scoffing “Could have fooled me!”)

    If possible, delivery should be loud enough for others to hear, but not so loud as to come across as yelling.

    Reply
    1. Wannabe Disney Princess

      My favorite response to “I’m just kidding” or “It’s a joke, lighten up” is to respond with a “We both should be laughing, then.”

      Reply
      1. nnn

        Not useful as a response but as a general philosophy: Comedy is like sex. Being good at it means that the other person is enjoying themselves.

        Reply
        1. Wannabe Disney Princess

          I disagree. I’ve used it when someone has tacked on the “I’m just kidding” as an excuse for jerky behavior. It’s not something I trot out often because out-snarking each other doesn’t always lead to the most productive outcomes. But it’s not as hostile as directly pointing out they’re being a jerk. Obviously, it’s not going to work for everyone or every situation.

          Reply
          1. Jennifer Thneed

            nnn was just giving another example of the same idea, while saying that they weren’t proposing it as an actual response.

            Reply
    2. nnn

      Forgot to add: others have commented that biting is worse than blocking someone’s path, but the reason I (and, possibly, others) glommed onto the path-blocking is it doesn’t make sense, as in you can’t see why someone would do that.

      The biting is obviously not the epitome of professionalism, but you see how she got there. He was in her way and explicitly refusing to move for the sole purpose of causing trouble, her hands were full, his arm was right in front of her mouth.

      But quite deliberately and intentionally blocking someone’s way so they can’t get by…why?

      Reply
      1. fposte

        I think it’s a pretty common jackass move, in my experience; that’s why it’s big with small children and teenagers. Sticking out legs so people have to go by you, demanding a toll, etc., etc.

        Reply
        1. Sunshine

          Yes, but not with adults. Most adults do not behave that way. I think that’s why it’s so jarring.

          Reply
      2. Us, Too

        Blocking someone’s path is petty bating that, though counter-productive in an office, isn’t that inexplicable. It’s just someone being a jerk, probably to get a rise out of LW. It’s no great mystery. The only thing surprising about it is that the guy was like this at work which just speaks to his professional immaturity.

        Reply
        1. LBK

          Right, I’m kind of confused by the people treating the act itself with such bafflement. Must be a lot of only children or people who never had to deal with obnoxious bullies growing up.

          Reply
          1. nnn

            Oh, I encountered it all the time when I was growing up, I just don’t get it. Why would you do that when you could just not do that? People are saying for the purpose of bothering someone, but why would you put effort into deliberately bothering someone when you could just not?

            Reply
        2. Gadfly

          It is a power play to put the other person in a subbordinate place.

          In an office culture where that makes you vulnerable to more harrassment, I can see the temptation to resist that.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            Oh, yes, I absolutely get that. It’s completely a dominance move, and it’s pretty natural to resist on a basic “You’re not the boss of me” level. What he’s doing is absolutely fireable behavior, and he too is at risk of someday meeting a bigger asshole who pounds him into the ground.

            Reply
            1. Falling Diphthong

              And possibly one who knows how to do that metaphorically and strictly within all company policies.

              Reply
      3. Falling Diphthong

        Imagine they were all orangutans. Blocking the path is a dominance move that establishes their relative places in the hierarchy.

        That he couldn’t even come up with something more nuanced involving toner supplies or software updates, but had to settle for the orangutan method (and the biting and stomping and smashing didn’t elevate things above that level), is yet another reason to flee this office.

        Reply
    3. Anony

      This is great advice for someone being a jerk once in a while, not someone who makes a career out of being a jerk. This person has done this to the OP before, she mentions that she has argued with him multiple times about this exact behavior. I doubt asking him why would work; bet this guy’s response would be, “Because I feel like it.” This is a beyond toxic environment, and it sounds like everyone and their cousin has been enabling this person to behave in whatever way he sees fit. OP needs to leave.

      Reply
  53. Shirley Keeldar

    OP, just an idea–here are a few things you might say when your co-worker is bullying and trying to intimidate you:

    “Well, that’s weird.”
    “How very odd.”
    “Huh.”
    “That’s a strange thing to do.”
    “Okay, when you’re done, I guess.” (As you turn and walk away.)

    I know these must sound totally inane and inadequate in the face of such bizarre and hostile behavior, but that’s kind of my point–to de-escalate, to remain as calm and deadpan as you can, and to call attention to his weirdness. Good luck getting out, out, out. I promise you that there are workplaces–tons and tons of them–where this simply does not happen. Judge by the level of shock in these comments!

    Reply
    1. Shirley Keeldar

      Oh, and I growled at my brother once. He was sitting next to me at the table and stuck his arm in front of my face to reach for something instead of asking me to pass it to him, and I growled at him. I didn’t plan to; it just arose from inside me! Never growled at anybody before or since! So I kind of understand where the impulse came from. Understanding isn’t justifying or approving, of course, but I do get how that feeling can come up.

      Reply
  54. Christine

    Dear OP:
    When you work in a toxic environment, it’s extremely hard to find the energy to job search. Does your current job offer EAP counseling? Mine does 4 appointments a year. I hope yours does, and includes mental health benefits. I almost feel like you should go see a psychiatrist , fill out paperwork for FMLA or short term disability. And get yourself committed for a mental detox. Do you have some sick days available? vacation? Can you take 2 – 3 days off before a weekend. Can you afford to quit without a job lined up?

    When I was working with a crazy woman, when I was interviewing my stress level and anxiety was so high it bleed into my interviews. Take 1 – 2 mental days, just do something to unwind, relax. Than use the other days to work on your resume. Once you get the foundation resume completed and LinkedIn updated start searching. In this situation I would highly recommend considering working a temp agency, contract employee or a temp to perm elsewhere.

    Reply
    1. Lindsay J

      This. It will get you out of there immediately while still giving you some income and being able to list yourself as employed.

      Reply
  55. Noah

    Call. The. Police. Unless you seriously hurt him and were continuing to bite him, his assault was far more serious than OP’s and it needs to be addressed. The letter is also a bit confusing as to where LW was, but he may also have committed false imprisonment. Seriously, call the police.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I really have to disagree with this. OP wasn’t blocked; she was thwarted in going into a room, and she essentially threw the first punch. It is unlikely that any police action against him wouldn’t also include the person who initiated the violence.

      Reply
      1. Sunshine

        Imagine this outside of a work context. The guy’s bigger than her, physically blocked her and verbally abused her. His behaviour is bizarre and abnormal. And threatening – I’m genuinely confused by the people who say it isn’t.

        Reply
        1. Michael

          Ok, I imagined it. Bizarre, abnormal behavior is not an a legal justification for violent assault. Neither is verbal abuse or blocking someone from entering a room.

          Reply
        2. LBK

          I don’t know by what definition saying “I don’t give a shit” constitutes verbal abuse unless you think any phrase that has a swear in it is inherently abusive, and I can’t see anything in the letter that indicates he’s bigger than the OP, so that seems like an assumption just based on the genders involved.

          I refer you to my description above re: horror movie kidnapper vs teen movie bully – I think you’re imagining the setup of this situation really differently than how I’m imagining it played out. To my interpretation, this was much a much more passive act than the aggressive way you’re seeming to envision it. Not to say that mine is right and yours is wrong, but I think that could explain some of the confusion you’re experiencing with how people could not be seeing something that seems so obvious to you.

          Reply
          1. Sunshine

            It was the text where she indicated her head was level with his arm, implying he’s a foot taller than her.

            I’m picturing it as a bigger male colleague in a position of power being aggressively physical. It’s not the swearing, it’s the arm across the door.

            I should make it very clear I don’t think resorting to violence was acceptable.

            But OP says he’s done that multiple times. The *first* time he did that I’d be terrified of him, and putting in applications everywhere rather than work with him.

            I think the shock of her using her teeth has blinded people to the fact that this guy is appalling.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Huh, terrified would seem a really strong response to me. I get there may be reasons of personal history that make all kinds of behaviors terrifying, but I probably wouldn’t even fire somebody for doing this once, depending on the details.

              Reply
            2. LBK

              I just cannot envision being terrified of someone standing in a doorway like this, especially a guy in his 50s (no offense to fellow commenters in that age range). I have to imagine you’re either picturing the scene wildly differently than I am including the physical presence and body language of the man in question, or you’re projecting experiences from your own past that would make this act more intimidating and scary than it might otherwise.

              Reply
              1. Sunshine

                I think we must be picturing the scene very differently. Terrified is probably too strong a word because it completely depends on his tone and body language. If he was being avuncular or smug then I can see why you’re picturing ‘smarmy jerk’. I had interpreted as him yelling or speaking aggressively.

                Reply
          2. fposte

            Yeah, I think the response depends somewhat on where people view swearing. I don’t doubt that it was meant to be an aggressive response, but I wouldn’t feel sworn at by it; “I’m not moving, you [curse of choice]” would be a very different thing to me.

            Reply
            1. LBK

              Yeah, I think characterizing this as swearing *at* her is inaccurate, and I think that nuance (at vs near) is relevant in trying to set the scene.

              Reply
      2. Tilted

        You are correct. It is NOT false imprisonment. She wasn’t blocked from leaving anywhere.

        People – leave legal proclamations to actual lawyers.

        His ongoing behavior was criminal, but not so much that he would ever be prosecuted for anything. There’s a lot of “low level” assault and battery that goes on in our society.

        Just b/c something is criminal doesn’t make it something you will be arrested for.

        He’s committed some criminal acts and certainly some torts, but nothing in this particular scenario justified her biting.

        I almost never say something that definitive based on so little facts, but I feel confident in that.

        She needs an employment lawyer, a criminal lawyer, and a tort lawyer NOW.

        Reply
        1. Jessie the First (or second)

          “He’s committed some criminal acts and certainly some torts”

          You cannot possibly know that. There is a whole lot of jerky behavior that is most decidedly not a tort-level of jerkiness. And criminal? I don’t see it.

          “She needs an employment lawyer, a criminal lawyer, and a tort lawyer NOW”

          No, she does not. And holy cow, what an expensive proposition that would be.

          Reply
          1. Tilted

            Have you ever dealt with a biting case?

            I have. She does need a lawyer.

            Depending upon where she lives it could be no big deal or she could have legal trouble. I’ve seen people go to jail for one bite in a bar fight. One bite where the other person started it. Jail for a week.

            He could decide to go after her if he wanted. In my state, biting is the type of tort for which the only damage you have to prove is the pain of the bite. Even if the damages are next to nothing, that’s still not something she wants to hassle with.

            As for the rest, I disagree based on cases I’ve seen in my state. That, however, isn’t really important to her and what she does now.

            Reply
            1. LBK

              I don’t really see the need to pre-emptively retain a lawyer especially since he doesn’t seem to have any interest in pursuing charges – the OP has stated in follow up comments that he appears to be completely over the incident, hasn’t mentioned it since, etc.

              Reply
              1. Jessie the First (or second)

                Right – with no charges filed and no suit filed, there is about zero for a defense attorney to do here. Seriously. I mean, I just don’t have anything I’d really *do* for a client in this situation. There is not an ongoing medical bills issue to negotiate or make an offer about, no work discipline/meeting to advise about, apparently no ongoing discussion after the initial apology. There is just not a thing I can do for a client here. If she gets a letter from a lawyer, or a call from the police, or a summons, etc, sure. But, proactive hiring of an attorney in this situation? No.

                Tilted, I used to volunteer in domestic abuse cases and those situations are very, very fraught and IME are handled very differently than workplace issues (of this type anyway). So I am just really skeptical than we could or should transfer how cases are handled when there is a marital or parent/child relationship to how they are handled when it is an employment/colleague situation.

                Reply
            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I agree that people should not opine on “false imprisonment” and assault without some kind of experience-based background in those issues, but I disagree that she needs a crim, torts, and employment lawyer. There are no pending charges or a civil action, and I doubt there will be. But if either happens, then yes, she should lawyer up.

              An employment lawyer could be helpful once she actually transitions out. But I don’t think she’s at a place where having lawyers in the flanks will help her.

              Reply
    2. LBK

      I think it’s wildly unlikely they’d do anything, especially since she attacked him first. And she was outside the room trying to get in, but either way I’m 99% “false imprisonment” would be a laughable stretch to describe someone putting their arm across a doorway.

      Reply
      1. Noah

        If she were in a room (it’s unclear; part of the letter suggests she was and part suggests she wasn’t), this is almost certainly false imprisonment, especially if he’s bigger than she is. If there was no way to get through the door and he wouldn’t move when asked, and he intended to keep her in the room, that’s false imprisonment.

        Reply
        1. LBK

          I’d really like to see an example of a case where a similar situation occurred and the person was actually found guilty of false imprisonment.

          Reply
        2. Tilted

          No. No. No.

          I’ve been involved in cases with far clearer facts than this that were not deemed FI.

          Being unable to enter for a meeting is NOT the same as being blocked from leaving.

          Based on her own account + typical USA FI elements, it’s not FI.

          Reply
        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          No. She said she was not in the room, he blocked her from entering her coworker’s office, their bite-and-shove exchange happened, and then she entered her coworker’s office and closed the door out of fear, but also left when she was ready to leave. Under the common law and the law of most states, that fact pattern doesn’t even come close to satisfying the elements of false imprisonment. And his body size, in this context, is not relevant given that the basic elements of the claim aren’t even met.

          It’s really concerning that you keep saying that this is categorically false imprisonment or “almost certainly” false imprisonment when the facts don’t say anything close to that. Frankly, if OP tries to involve the police, she has a much higher likelihood of getting in trouble, particularly if he decides to file a civil suit. While juries may certainly decide that an altercation is a “wash” or offset the liabilities in a torts suit, there’s no legal basis for “excusing” her biting in light of his reaction.

          Reply
    3. Health Insurance Nerd

      That would likely end badly for the LW. The police don’t usually take into consideration who hit harder, but who hit first. The response of the coworker to being bitten is going to be perceived as self defense.

      Reply
    4. Detective Amy Santiago

      This is bad advice all around.

      The LW was trying to enter a room, not leave it, so false imprisonment is not an issue. And no matter how much of a jackass the coworker was being, the LW was the one who escalated to physical violence.

      Reply
    5. Dee

      Dude, she bit him. Yes, she was provoked. Yes, the workplace is toxic. Yes, she’s mortified. She still bit him.

      Reply
    6. paul

      This wasn’t false imprisonment; she was being denied access to a damn conference room, not physically prevented from leaving somewhere.

      Reply
      1. Noah

        The letter is ambiguous as to whether she was being kept in or out of the office (not conference room). In some places, OP says she was trying to get in, but she also says “Normally, I’d sit and argue. Rarely, I’m able to convince him to move. In those cases, I’d put down my things in the office and wait for the colleague and him to finish speaking.” In other words, at least sometimes this happens when she is in the office, and that is false imprisonment. It’s a little less clear in this scenario.

        As for the people who say “whoever attacked first is the one who gets in trouble,” that’s not really a realistic view. If I slap you and you hit me with a steel beam in response, YOU definitely get in trouble. I probably don’t. This is a little closer in seriousness, but his attack was far worse than hers, unless it was a really bad bite (as I noted in my original comment).

        Reply
        1. Michael

          Leaving aside vastly disproportionate responses (basically lethal force or anything reasonably likely to cause a life-threatening injury), I’m not going to audit how people respond to violent attacks. The person who commits the assault is the person I’m going to fire, not the person having the fight-or-flight response.

          Reply
        2. Lady Phoenix

          Your right that disproportunate retribution is going to overrule “throwing the first punch”, but the manager stomped on the OP’s feet and shoved them back in response to being bitten. Stomping and pushing are classic self defense techniques.

          So the OP would STILL be in trouble because she assaulted the manager and in a inhuman way. The manager only defended himself.

          Reply
        3. Jessie the First (or second)

          Noah, the letter is not ambiguous. “When I got to the coworker’s office, the office manager was in the doorway…” — she was walking up to someone’s office. And after the fight, ran *into* (not out of) that office. Also I believe she clarified in the comments more. She was not trapped.

          Reply
        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Noah, what’s your jx, and what’s your training/background/qualifications for these conclusions? Because the letter is not ambiguous, at least 3 licensed attorneys have disagreed with you (apologies if I missed anyone), and you’re making conclusions that are unsupported by statutory or case law.

          Reply
    7. Tilted

      NO. NO. NO.

      I’m a lawyer. This is the absolute worst thing she can do.

      The biting would lead to an assault charge on her.

      What he did may be illegal, but in no state in which I’ve practiced (several), would his actions be false imprisonment. Maybe some other crimes (I can think of a few).

      Even if he had falsely imprisoned her, her response was NOT OKAY.

      This is VERY bad advice.

      Reply
    8. Jessie the First (or second)

      No, god no, the police would be a bad option. Speaking as a lawyer here. She threw the first punch (well, bite), and she was not falsely imprisoned, and so she is the aggressor. It would not end well for OP. It might ALSO not end well for the office manager, but I doubt OP wants to sacrifice her clean criminal record on the slight chance that he will might also get a criminal record.

      (Although I doubt either of them will have a record. The police seriously have bigger fish to fry in this world.)

      Reply
      1. Tilted

        Jessie,

        I’m also a lawyer. Unless she is living in LA or NYC, she could get in trouble. I’ve practiced in several jurisdictions. Biting is always taken seriously.

        She needs a counsellor plus a lawyer or lawyers versed in employment law, criminal law, and torts. B/c she’s now got issues.

        Reply
        1. Jessie the First (or second)

          My main point is she should not go to the police.

          But it is strange to say she should get 3 attorneys proactively. That’s expensive, and for what end? That’s an honest question – why do you think she needs 3 lawyers right now? Do you envision *her* suing him, or do you think that because she *might* be sued later by him, she needs 3 different lawyers *now*?

          Reply
    9. Mazzy

      See Titled’s comment below, I thought that was going to be the legal answer so am glad someone chimed in. Yeah, I would not call the police because I – I – assaulted someone!!!!!

      Reply
    1. fposte

      That’s not a legal concept, at least not in the U.S. A hostile work environment is a concept, but it doesn’t sound like the guy’s actions areusually about discrimination against a protected class but general assholery. Responding physically to somebody who physically assaulted you is not likely to make it a hostile work environment.

      Reply
    2. Katie the Fed

      There is no legal definition of a toxic workplace because a toxic workplace isn’t illegal.

      If you mean hostile environment, then no, because it’s not about OP being targeted because she’s part of a specific class.

      Reply
          1. Natalie

            And really, even if it is pervasive it’s not like the Hostile Workplace Task Force will swoop in and fix things. The information is only helpful if the OP is planning on going through the long and obnoxious process to make a legal claim.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Good point–I think we’re sliding into the Ways He Is Wrong offshoot again when that’s ultimately not that relevant.

              Reply
        1. Mazzy

          Well, your assuming that it is even sexist, in which case, you’d have to prove they would only comment on a woman’s smile.

          Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          There are several things you have to establish to demonstrate a hostile work environment, and it’s not clear, from the letter, that that exists.

          There has to be harassment that is so pervasive/severe that it materially changes the terms of the workplace, the harassment has to be on the basis of a protected class status (here, gender/sex), and there has to be an adverse employment action. You can allege harassment either through repeated, ongoing, “low-level” comments or other statements, or by one (or more) extreme occurrence(s). And the alleged conduct must be objectively and subjectively harassing—meaning that an ordinary, “reasonable” person has to find that the conduct is harassing enough to “change the conditions” of the complainant’s employment, and the complainant has to believe that the conduct was so harassing that it changed the conditions of work, as well.

          Right now all we know is that the Office Manager is a massive jerk and that there was a physical altercation. Usually a physical assault is enough to trigger the “proof of harassment” prong, but this interaction is not clear-cut because OP initiated the violence. And based on OP’s comments, it doesn’t sound like the jerkitude is related to her identity as a woman. Although he’s made sexist comments, it sounds like he’s an equal opportunity harasser/jerk.

          Reply
    3. Mazzy

      I’m struggling with comments like this. I re-read the letter and am not seeing examples of this supposed toxic workplace. Where are people drawing this from?

      Reply
  56. Black Bellamy

    This is what co-dependency looks like. Your moral center shifts. What was wrong is now right and normal.

    Get out., fast.

    Also, consider therapy. Seriously. Go talk to someone about this – you don’t need to make it some ongoing process for the rest of your life, but just a couple of talks until you have a chance to unload and normalize.

    Reply
  57. Health Insurance Nerd

    I have to wonder what the response would be if the letter read “The other day at work I was standing in the doorway of an office, speaking with a coworker, with my arm across the threshold. Another coworker approached me and announced that they she had a meeting in the office, and I snarkily replied that wasn’t my problem, and didn’t immediately move to let her in (this was admittedly jerky). To my surprise, in response to my not moving, she bit me in the arm! It took me a second to recover from the shock, and in response I stepped on her foot and shoved her out of the way. When I shoved her she dropped her coffee mug and it broke everywhere. When I bent down to help pickup the broken glass, she went into the office and slammed and locked the door. She did apologize later, but I get the sense she also thinks I owe an apology. Alison, she BIT me! Am I in the wrong, here?”

    Reply
    1. fposte

      Yup. I could definitely see that letter. And the OP notes that the guy’s behavior has been getting worse the longer he’s worked there–same as hers. Everybody should just get out and they should raze the place.

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      1. Fictional Butt

        Yes, I think OP needs to recognize that she’s now part of the toxic environment. It may not be her fault that that’s the coping mechanism she came to, but that’s what happened. I’m concerned that her professional reputation will suffer if she isn’t able to rehabilitate herself before moving on to a saner workplace (but I still think she needs to move on ASAP).

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    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yep. I feel like we’ve actually had letters very similar to that (substitute in other physical action for the biting), and the reaction here has been Quite Different than today’s. It’s fascinating.

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      1. fposte

        I think we default to OPs’ being the hero of the story unless they really bug us enough for us to identify more with somebody else in the letter, and a self-aware OP who did something bad to an unappealing person perceived to have privilege or power is always going to get cut a lot of slack.

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      2. Us, Too

        I have had a very difficult time with this letter because to me the LW was so clearly in the wrong that my first reaction was to comment very scathingly. However, I drew back from doing so because the LW appears to appreciate the gravity of the issue. I am shocked at many people are apparent apologists for LW’s behavior when LW herself isn’t doing this. It’s a pretty interesting social commentary. :)

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      3. SeptemberGrrl

        Just MHO, but I think that people are trying not to pile on the OP but secretly think (HOLY SH*T!!!).

        If I’m being honest and not worrying about piling on, my reaction is that the OP’s behavior is toxic and very disturbing. I don’t see from her comments here that she really, truly gets how insane her behavior is.

        SHE
        BIT
        A
        CO-WORKER

        I know you were trying very hard not to judge in your response and I think that set the tone for the rest of the comments. In your response, you seemed to be OK with shifting a lot of the blame to the environment “look how badly this place has made you behavior” vs. “you did a deeply disturbing thing and need to take action immediately to address YOUR behavior”.

        Not a criticism, just an observation as to why I think the reaction is more muted than one might initially expect for BITING A CO WORKER (I cannot get over that…).

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        1. Fictional Butt

          Yeah, I think OP definitely seems to know that her behavior was completely wrong and unacceptable, but from her comments, I’m still not sure she understands how batsh!t crazy and career-ending it sounds to other people. I don’t want to make her panic, and I really hope things end well for her, but I think she needs to be aware that this incident could totally destroy her reputation (even among her other coworkers who aren’t as steeped in the toxicity).

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        2. Turtle Candle

          Right. I’ll be honest, I’d find it quite a lot more upsetting to be bitten–BITTEN–than to have my feet stomped or to be shoved. I’m having trouble expressing why, but there’s something reactionary in an almost feral, animal way about biting. Shoving and foot-stepping happens in adult life, although usually accidentally; biting, most of us learn not to do by kindergarten.

          I don’t say this to make the LW feel bad but because I am somewhat baffled by comments along the lines of “it probably didn’t hurt that much” and “it was through cloth and didn’t break the skin” and “she was provoked” and what not. It was BITING. To me it’s sort of like “well sure she tried to claw his eyes out but he was wearing glasses, what bothered him so much?”

          I guess it’s just something to which I have a strong visceral response that adult humans do not bite each other.

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          1. Natalie

            Shoving and foot-stepping happens in adult life, although usually accidentally; biting, most of us learn not to do by kindergarten.

            [I’m also having a hard time articulating this.] To this point, there’s a smaller range of experiences in which biting is an acceptable option, and they are generally at the outer band of human experience. That is, shoving as an action might range from accidental to playful to annoyed to murderous. To me, at least, biting seems like something I would only do if my life or bodily integrity was being directly threatened (outside of any sexual biting which is very much a YMMV thing). I wouldn’t playfully bite a friend, or bite them a little bit because they wouldn’t quit bugging me about something. So the physical violence response itself is odd, and the specific violence chosen is even odder/more out of line with norms.

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            1. Elizabeth H.

              These exact reasons are my same reasons for feeling like what he did is worse though: what she did is incredibly bizarre, but what he did was really mean and he deliberately tried to hurt her. Like, a lot more than the amount that she was trying to hurt him by biting him. To my mind “really weird” is less “punishable” (I really can’t think of a better way to phrase this) than “really mean.” It’s because it’s so weird that it doesn’t seem “as bad” to me.

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        3. JamieS

          Agreed. Honestly my reaction to reading this is it sounds like a narration of something I’d expect to see on National Geographic. Just replace “office” with “watering hole” and words spoken with roaring sounds

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        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I think that’s a really astute reading. I was a little surprised, because I felt like Alison was letting OP off the hook, a little (but I assumed that that was because OP seemed to indicate some self-awareness that this was so very wrong). But as others have noted—including Fictional Butt—I don’t think OP fully realizes how career-ending this could be if it ever got out to people outside of her workplace. Frankly, I suspect several of her coworkers are pretty freaked out right now, even if they’re keeping relatively quiet (because wouldn’t you keep quiet if someone who seemed normal all of a sudden BIT SOMEONE?).

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      4. Tobias Funke

        I think it’s because this OP opens with “I’m mortified” whereas other situations do not have nearly the level of insight this one does. I don’t see any reason to pile on.

        Also, I suspect the amount of DV victims/survivors sharing their stories of being in a similar powerless feeling fight or flight situation is impacting the responses. A lot of people have done something objectively unacceptable in unacceptable situations. That doesn’t make it okay/good/healthy but it sure does give people someone to identify with.

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        1. Daffodil

          Yes, this. The OP appears to have gotten painted into a corner, reacted to it badly, and is now horrified and trying to figure out how to extricate herself so it doesn’t happen again. That’s something most people can empathize with.

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          1. Daffodil

            Whoops, accidentally hit submit. The second part of my comment is that we’re hearing it from her POV and talking directly to her, and I think it’s entirely okay that that gets a different reaction than it would if we were hearing from the other guy. There’s no moral or logical requirement that we react exactly the same as we would if we’d been given a different perspective and asked a different question. (That is, how to deal with a violent coworker vs. please help me not be the violent coworker.)

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        2. paul

          Yeah. This comment section has been…tense at times but it never came close to getting as bad as a few others.

          I wonder if having an active party vs a third party (like with the damn bird letter) write in correlates with more restrained comments?

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          1. Daffodil

            I think so. Most of us are a lot more restrained and focused on saying helpful things rather than just pontificating when we’re talking to someone rather than about someone.

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          2. Not So NewReader

            I have been watching this for a while now.
            Yes, the OPs who chime in seem to make out better over all than the OPs who do not post.

            This OP here is staying put together and responding in a thoughtful manner. Some of these comments here are not the easiest things to read, to me that says OP is determined to work at everything.

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        3. Coffee and Mountains

          Exactly this. I didn’t bite my coworker, but I definitely had some anger issues that were being triggered. One day I was in a triggering situation, and barely kept it together in front of my boss, did not keep it together in front of my coworkers, went home and lost it, and called my EAP. The first thing I said was, “I’m angry. I don’t want to be angry. I’m not an angry person, but I am reacting that way and I need to figure out a way to fix it. ”
          I’m not excusing the OP’s behavior. She’s lucky she didn’t get fired. The OP isn’t excusing it, either. But I very much relate to that feeling of being out of control and that’s why I’m sympathetic and hoping for the best for her.

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          1. Observer

            Actually, I’m not sure she’s so lucky not to have been fired. The reality is that in any halfway close to reasonably functional workplace, she would have been fired – and probably so would he have been. In a halfway functional workplace he would have been out of there a long time ago.

            The current quiet is NOT NORMAL.

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      5. LBK

        To some extent, though, I wonder if it’s because it doesn’t really make a difference to how the situation should be handled. I feel that usually when commenters dig in on repeating how in the wrong the OP was, it’s when the OP doesn’t seem to have grasped it. In this case the OP seems to be pretty clear that she was wrong, including giving what I’d say is a very matter-of-fact description of the situation that doesn’t seem to be trying to paint her as more innocent than she was.

        And whether she knew she was wrong or not, the solution is probably to leave. So since the issue of blame seems more or less settled, we can skip the step of emphasizing how bad this was and just get to the answer to the actual question she asked (which I think is how you would prefer the comments to stay focused, generally?). Although I do agree that where tangents have formed discussing blame it’s weird to see how people are defending the OP’s actions (in some cases even more than she’s defending them herself!).

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        1. fposte

          I was interested to hear that the OP’s friends were doing much the same thing, in fact. I think sometimes it’s easier to support your friend by saying it wasn’t that bad a thing (the broccoli on the teeth approach) than by saying it was bad, but you’re better than that and we need to help make sure you stay that way.

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          1. LBK

            Very true – I think there’s an instinct to console that’s getting expressed, which may dilute the severity in favor of focusing more on how to mentally regroup so you can move forward.

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          2. Quadnon.

            I understand that perspective but I really don’t think it’s helpful to her (not saying it’s your perspective) and it’s doing her a disservice. This is bad. She should feel bad. She should be worried for her future. Her behavior was unacceptable. She should acknowledge that she is a part of the toxic environment. She should be worried about the silence (are they lawyering up? Sorting out an exit package for her?) and she needs to leave.
            I worry that the consolation will make her feel *better* and then start to rationalize and justify and not leave.
            OP needs to accept responsibility for her unjustifiable behavior, get some sort of counseling, and get a new job.

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        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          I think we’ve seen it most often when the person who initiated the physical response isn’t the person writing in. My take-away from that is that it’s much easier to go full-on outrage when the person is a step removed from the conversation.

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        3. Detective Amy Santiago

          I’ve been kind of mentally comparing this to the LW who called their daughter’s boss a whore. This LW seems aware of how bad her behavior was whereas that LW didn’t quite get it.

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      6. Sue Wilson

        I can’t speak for anyone else. But for me, it’s because OP said this blocking of the door happened repeatedly, i.e. this was a tactic of the OP’s coworker that was designed to trigger an angry frustrated helpless response and also designed to make it unwise for OP to act on it. The OP has literally only 2 responses: leave, and have been successfully prevented from doing her job, or get physical. Just like a commentator said that getting physical means that you should expect a physical response back, I feel like doing these sorts of tactics should expect the physical response they are psychologically inciting. I also feel that professionally you cannot react physically even if you want to.

        Which is to say, you’ve also gotten this type of reaction (although maybe to a lesser intensity) when someone has gotten physical or verbal after unasked for pranks, for what I think are much the same reasons.

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        1. LBK

          The OP has literally only 2 responses: leave, and have been successfully prevented from doing her job, or get physical.

          I really disagree that getting physical was an option that should even be considered here. I mean, to what extent do we justify violence in this case? Would people be cool with it if she’d socked him in the jaw? This is doubly true for me since they were in the workplace, where I think the inappropriacy of violence is multiplied. You just don’t do this, period, even in reaction to someone else being a jackass.

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          1. Sue Wilson

            I also feel that professionally you cannot react physically even if you want to.
            I can’t tell if you read this or not. I’m not saying you should consider violence. I’m saying that getting physical was one of two (though I admit 3 responses now) responses which blocking the OP was intended to trigger.

            As to violence: even the law considers that there are some non-physical acts which incite violence. It’s extremely limited, and situations like this I think the only rational option is to walk away (even in a non-professional context; below I likened it to the “I’m not touching you” game, and I think you should just leave), but I’m also not going to consider getting violent in situations where that response is being triggered, an outrage. You call someone a slur, I’m not feeling sorry you got punched. But I also come from the perspective that physical violence is not the only type of violence.

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            1. LBK

              I guess it depends what we mean by saying she “has” those responses. To me, that means what her reasonable, feasible options were for reacting in the moment, not just literally a list of every possible action she could’ve taken regardless of consequences.

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            2. paul

              My understanding–and it’s been a while–is that those are *incredibly* circumscribed and very limited.
              I can get the inclination–and I share it–that sometimes a violent response might be understandable and sympathetic, but that doesn’t mean we want to live in a society where jumping to physically attacking people is considered A-OK or legal, even under some provocation.

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          2. Marty

            I’m sorry, but there are plenty more options than just leaving or getting physical. She could have given him the evil eye until he moved. There are also a broad number of things she could have said to get the intended result, from making a compromise, “do you mind letting me put this stuff down while you finish your conversation?” To explaining how his behavior is rude, “when you block the door like that, I feel annoyed, because juggling this many things is difficult, and I need to put them down,” to verbally violent responses. The vast majority of them would be better than those two.

            OP, you need to study the linguistics involved in verbal violence. I might read “the gentle art of verbal self defence at work”.