update from the reader whose coworker appointed herself the food police

Remember the reader whose coworker was badgering another coworker about her weight and diet choices? Here’s her update:

Thank you for your advice earlier this year regarding this difficult situation at my office. In your response to my post, you mentioned the assertiveness of my co-worker who was being bullied. I considered this and decided that I am also not particularly assertive when it comes to precarious situations such as this. I was intrigued at the discussion that followed my post. There were some very good points made and others that could have been perceived as offensive. I felt that there was no other way for my bulling co-worker to understand the inappropriateness of her behavior than for her to see those comments for herself. The very nature of the responses elicited from your readers indicated the sensitivity of body image and health issues related to weight.

I printed a copy of my post, your response and your readers’ responses. I placed the print-out in her chair before she arrived to work. I know she read it because I heard the pages turn for several minutes. It worked!! She was (to my delight) completely silent for two days. The only time she spoke was when she was asked a question or directed to complete a task. She had no idea of who placed the print-out in her chair (honestly it could have been anyone). Eventually she resumed her normal level of conversation, but with a marked difference. She stopped her obnoxious badgering of my co-worker. Several months later she quit her job to take a better paying position in another office. I can only hope that she is not out there unleashing her diet mania on an entirely new legion of co-workers.

{ 80 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I second the Wow! That sounds like something Dear Abby would have suggested – to print out a copy and place it anonymously on her chair. Glad it worked and glad that she decided to move on as well.

  2. Aaron*

    This is not a success story. This is a really disappointing (not to mention unprofessional) response from the letter writer.

    Letter-writer had a co-worker, A, who seemed to be trying to help a second co-worker, B, albeit in an extremely unacceptable and misguided way. Letter-writer thought A was being mean. Allison sensibly suggested letter-writer talk to A, or encourage B to speak up for herself.

    Instead, the letter-writer left an anonymous printout on A’s desk, saying that people around the office were complaining about A, and complete with comments from this site about how bad a person A is. The message this sends is: “hey, A, everybody here hates you, and we hate you so much we complain about you on random internet sites and get everyone there to complain about you too.”

    No wonder A moved on–she was bullied into leaving. If you want to point out to someone they are being mean, do it to their face. In addition to showing some sympathy even for those your angry at, it would have given A a chance to apologize in a lower-key way, and maybe work on her behavior.

    I’m just totally disgusted by this. The letter-writer is by far the meaner person in this scenario.

    1. Joanna Reichert*

      “The letter-writer is by far the meaner person in this scenario.”

      How so?

      How is witnessing awful behavior, asking for outside, objective advice, and subsequently printing and showing said advice mean?

      “. . . who seemed to be trying to help a second co-worker, B, albeit in an extremely unacceptable and misguided way . . .”

      No. That is not help. What was described is abusive behavior. And since we’re “nice” and “adults”, we don’t resort to things that get results when you’re a kid – hitting them or telling the teacher. Too bad, really, in some circumstances.

      So the OP did not feel comfortable addressing the issue to the offender’s face. Why? Very likely because the offender has a way of twisting words to indicate that the OP is crazy for “reading” the situation the way he/she did.

      I should know. My husband’s mother is PRECISELY like this.

      Not to the extent of always driving people to tears – though I’ve had private tears of frustration – but she says all of kinds of nasty passive-aggressive stuff and immediately says, “Oh no! That’s not what I meant at all – how could you think that?” Really – how are you supposed to respond to someone like that? When the offending party turns it around and acts like it’s YOU who is crazy?

      That’s my guess as to what’s going on here – and I see nothing wrong with the OP using whatever tools necessary to clear the air.

      1. Aaron*

        Ok, let’s strike that last sentence, which was probably over-the-top. (But hey, what’s the internet without some overly-strident comments, right?)

        There’s obviously a lot we don’t know about this situation. You read about this and think of your mother-in-law. I looked at it as the original bully misguidedly but honestly trying to dispense some “tough love.” Really, without being in that office, it’s hard to say.

        If the ‘bully’ was this all-around horrible person, I understand the willingness to cut the letter-writer some slack–people enjoy getting revenge on mean people. (Wasn’t there recently a movie about killing your boss?) But it just wasn’t an appropriate response. I think Charles’ comment below nails it–the letter writer seems very proud of the way this went down. And that definitely rubs me the wrong way.

    2. Liz*

      I totally agree. “Hey I let someone know I don’t like her, and neither does anyone else, without having to face any uncomfortable conversations about my own opinions or giving her a chance to respond….” That’s not a demonstration of assertive behavior.

    3. Kimberlee*

      There’s just one thing I want to say to those of you defending the person who was making fun of OP’s weight: Just because you mean well doesn’t mean you get a pass for acting badly, insulting people, or being a jerk. Sure, there’s a CHANCE the woman in question genuinly (somehow) thought that she was being super nice by constantly badgering the employee, but that doesn’t mean she deserves to be treated with kid gloves. This was a tactful, gentle way to make needed change happen.

      As someone who is super non-confrontational, I don’t relish the opportunities I have to confront people face-to-face, since they have the emotional upper hand and can easily brush off comments made in person (or steamroll their victim, as they’ve done over and over again).

    4. Helen*

      You think that that behaviour is worse than saying “If you want to be alive for your son’s graduation”?

  3. Ell*

    Another agreement with Aaron.
    My read on the original letter was that the co-worker was trying, in an inappropriate way that showed no empathy perhaps, to help someone she perceived as having a medical problem connected with her weight. Yes, she was totally out of order in how she did that (and quite judgmental) but still …

    The OP has deliberately reduced a co-worker to near silence for days (and been delighted by this) and not even taken responsibility for their own actions. If I were the co-worker I would feel awful about my actions but also that I couldn’t keep in touch with anyone from my previous workplace because I didn’t know who had hated me so much. Honestly this feels like something that might happen at school.

    To add a little context to my view, I’m a relatively young woman who recently had medical issues that may be connected to my weight. I’m now in the process of trying to deal with that – all my friends/colleagues have tried to support me with that and some have made less than sensitive comments. They did it to help though and stopped when I had a word. Perhaps the co-worker needed something a bit firmer but this response feels more like wanting to make her feel bad than simply dealing with the original problem.

  4. Eva*

    It sounds like the OP understands that the ideal solution would have been to be direct and assertive, but concluded she did not dare face up to A. Given that, is “bullying the bully” by leaving the AAM exchange on her desk anonymously really worse than the alternative of doing nothing and allowing her to go on bullying B?

    I say this as someone with empathy for A, by the way. I know I’ve had to learn not to overstep boundaries. Sure, it’s an easier lesson when someone judiciously measures out the right dose of assertive discipline, but should A really go undisciplined rather than imperfectly disciplined? The OP’s action was anonymously aggressive, but it’s not like the letter to AAM even hinted that there was any problem with A except concerning this particular behavior.

    If the OP hadn’t acted, maybe B would be the one to have left the workplace by now, A would be complacently terrorizing someone else, and the OP and others would be demoralized.

    Oder was? What am I missing?

    1. Liz*

      I really don’t think we have a duty to “discipline” others. If I don’t like someone’s behavior, that’s my own business, not something to get in there and start fixing on behalf of humanity (at least not without being asked for help).

      I think the OP overstepped. If the OP hadn’t acted, the two other people would have handled their own problems without any outside “help,” and I hope been able to take responsibility for their own outcomes. Now the OP is involved in a mess she didn’t need to be in, and has hurt someone else’s feelings, too.

      1. Helen*

        I manage people so maybe I see this a little differently. However, if I saw one co-worker reduce another to tears, I would either step in (if they were on my team) or go straight to their manager (if they weren’t).

        Let’s stop giving Person A a free pass here; she *made a co-worker cry*.

        That is utterly unacceptable in the workplace.

  5. Long Time Admin*

    I can see both sides of this passive-aggressive argument. I avoid confrontations maybe a little too much, and have been the recipient of nasty behavior over the years. Facing down someone like that would be like walking naked and unarmed in the Battle of Waterloo (no matter which side I was on, I would be dead). But leaving a print out on someone’s chair is massively P-A.

    However, I imagine that, after hearing the nasty and mean comments from that bully all day every day, 2 days of silence must have felt like heaven. If the bully did have any friends in the office, then she would have been able to narrow down the list of who might have left that print out on her chair. Apparently she didn’t, and that’s what put me on the “pro” side the P-A arguement. The bully must have been treating a lot (or most) of the co-workers this way.

    Being a bully is worse than being passive-aggessive.

    She got what she deserved.

  6. LondonI*

    I’m afraid I have to agree with those commenters who think that this was not a satisfactory way of handling the problem.
    Whilst I commend the OP for wanting to stand up for B, I feel that this solution ended up being more of a cowardly revenge attack than anything else. Also, I don’t think that the people who commented on the original post could have reasonably expected their comments to be shown to the bully in question. I know this is a pretty anonymous forum, but still…

    1. Eva*

      I think we can all agree that it was not the ideal way of handling the problem, but given that the OP didn’t feel capable of confronting A directly, what would you have had her do? Just let A’s bullying continue? I think it’s a question of choosing between lesser evils here. A was way, way out of line with her uncalled-for advice to B and needed to be put in her place. In Danish we have a saying, “When you stick your butt out, you get your temperature taken.” I think it applies here.

        1. Eva*

          Rolling my eyes here. I’m all for encouraging people to step out of their comfort zone, but we don’t know just how far outside the OP’s comfort zone a confrontation of A would have been. If standing up to someone so belligerent would be biting off more than she [the OP] can chew, as she herself seems to have judged is the case, it is closing an eye to the reality of the situation to just expect her to do it anyway.

          1. Anonymous*

            From the original post, it seemed as though Person A was genuinely concerned about Person B, and was acting in good faith. Her methods were bad, but her intentions appeared good.

            But this response to Person A was done with full knowledge that it wasn’t the best way to go about it. She realized that, and did it anyway. She knew her weaknesses, didn’t want to put herself out there by being direct, so took the passive aggressive approach. She had a chance to grow as a person, and run away from it instead. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

          2. khilde*

            Eva – just wanted to let you know that I’m totally with you on this one. I have read your comments throughout and I agree with them. I am genuinely surprised at the number of people that are attacking OP for how she handled it. I have a very difficult time believing that all these people commenting here would have professionally confronted the bully with a face to face. If most people were capable of doing that then we wouldn’t have half the fodder we do on this blog. Just wanted to let you know that I agree with your comments.

      1. LondonI*

        I just don’t think two wrongs make a right. Also, in the original post the OP ended by saying: “Should I say something to this self-appointed food police?” Therefore the advice given was based on the assumption that the OP would not have a major issue speaking directly to person A. I believe that if the OP had said: “I do not feel comfortable tackling person A directly”, the advice probably wouldn’t have been to print out this blog and leave it anonymously for person B to find.

        1. Eva*

          So what should the advice have been, had the OP made clear from the beginning that she did not feel up to confronting A directly?

          To me, it seems too easy to say ‘two wrongs don’t make a right’. Sure, but doing nothing is a wrong in itself, so it’s a question of choosing the lesser evil.

          Whew, we’ve got our hands on a real moral dilemma here! AAM, looking forward to when (if?) you weigh in. :)

          I’m reminded of this:


          1. Charles*

            Eva & others;

            It is just not that the OP handled this poorly; but also she seems to have taken some self-satisfaction (“I know she read it because I heard the pages turn for several minutes. It worked!! She was (to my delight) completely silent for two days”) in HOW she handled it.

            Your link to the moral dilemma of “who/how to decide who should not die is not relevant here; In that case there is only one of two options. Such was not the case with the “office food cop” and the OP. If she truly did not feel comfortable in direct (and in a professional manner) “confrontation” (quote marks because it doesn’t have to be a confrontation; as others have said here, a joking manner might have worked as well) then she should have brought this to a manager’s attention. If she is in fact the manager, then she is a very poor one at that.

            So, my questions are: – where was management in this situation? was it ever brought to their attention? Did the OP ever have a talk with the “victim”? Maybe the victim really didn’t need for someone else to step in.

            There are often more than just one or two ways to handle most situations. Bullying a bully, or giving someone a “dose of their own medicine” is not always the right option.

            1. Eva*

              Thanks for getting back to me, Charles. See my response to AAM below. I think I still would prefer the anonymous action to no action at all, but surely you are right that there must have been other options.

              That said, I’d like to add that I feel a holier-than-thou attitude emanate from your judgment of the OP’s pleasure at the outcome – is that right? Do you really have no sympathy whatsoever?

    2. Andrea*

      Exactly. If she had just printed out the question and response, that would be passive-aggressive (bad enough), but sharing all the comments–made by people who do not know A–was out of line. Even though A’s behavior was bad, the OP should have given her the benefit of the doubt. She’s probably boorish and inconsiderate and maybe a know-it-all, and she might have thought she was helping B, but even so, A is probably not pure evil. She probably felt like everyone hated her after she read all of that. And I have to say, I have worked with people who would never confront others about little things–always choosing a passive-aggressive “solution” or running to the manager/HR instead of acting like an adult and resolving things–and it was deeply unpleasant. Coworker A is guilty of not showing empathy and for being inconsiderate of B’s feelings before acting, but the OP is guilty of exactly the same thing.

      1. Anonymous*

        If you say something to someone, and they break down crying in front of you (as was mentioned in the original post), you are not helping that person. If you continue to treat someone that badly, you deserve whatever you get.

        1. fposte*

          Yes. I’m not sure about the response, but the “trying to help” characterization of the other employee just isn’t convincing. People find ways to rationalize their misbehavior with other people, which is why so many people are jerks in ways that they can then disavow as just “trying to help.” They’re really not.

  7. Liz T*

    Am I the only one who hates when “passive-aggressive” is used in this way? Passive-aggression is when you hurt somebody by NOT doing something, like not being in the house when you know they need you to be, or something.

    I understand what people here are saying. I’m a very direct person. But I also think people get hung up on the medium of the message a little more than they need to. It’s like saying, “It’s not that he broke up with me, it’s HOW he broke up with me.” Sometimes that’s true, but most times it’s an excuse.

    You can probably tell I’ve been burned by this. I once had a roommate who got mad when I talked about whatever money we owed for utilities etc by email, because she thought it was passive-aggressive. I had several good, practical reasons for doing it that way, which she knew–she just hated talking about money, because she was bad with it, and there was no way I could talk to her about it that she would’ve liked. At this point I’m just a fan of getting the info out there.

    1. fposte*

      I would say that it is actually a passive-aggressive response (and your talks via email may have been too, I dunno), but that doesn’t make it evil. “Passive-aggressive” is like “hypocritical”–it’s a term that gets used as if it were applying to a deadly sin, when it’s not always a bad way of doing something. Yeah, you want to be able to retain the ability to speak to somebody directly and not be the full-blown passive-aggressive personality, but it’s not an automatic moral victory for the person who gets left the anonymous note, either.

    2. Katya*

      I disagree that passive-aggression is defined by the absence of doing something necessary. I think most people think of passive-aggression as when someone undertakes an action pretending that is nicely or neutrally intended, while actually knowing that it will bother the other person.

    3. Anonymous*

      Passive aggressive is not how you interpret it; it is open to many different ways of presentation, and I would agree that your post indicates that you are somewhat passive aggressive in your dealings too.

  8. Anon.*

    OP, did you show your bullied co-worker the print out too? What was/would have been her reaction to the post? To “A” resigning?

  9. Charles*

    I’ll be another one to comment that this was the WRONG way to handle this situation. Totally wrong – In a sneaky, cowardly, and mean way!

    Man up! OP be man enough to OWN your actions! or don’t do those actions – it is you who is the jerk!

      1. Charles*

        see my comment above . . . if one cannot do the “job” then get out of the way and let someone else do it or at least bring it to their attention.

        1. Grace*

          The co-worker who was being harassed about her diet had been diagnosed with a serious medical problem. That medical problem could legally place her in a legally protected category as having a disability. HR (or someone in that role) should have spoken to the aggressive co-worker and counseled her to stop.

  10. Anonymous*

    I call shenanigans on the people getting outraged and saying that it was bullying the bully. The bully resigned months after this incident – probably just because of a new job opportunity and not because of the letter. There was no hostile work environment, the bully corrected her behavior – everything worked out.

    I do agree that it would’ve been braver to pull her aside and let her know it wasn’t cool face-to-face, but I think with some bullies this kind of approach is more effective – it all gets laid out there without interruption or defensiveness and there’s nobody to argue with.

      1. Anonymous*

        I… what? How can I be name calling when I don’t even know her name? Neither of us know the other, so all I can comment on are her actions, which were cowardly.

  11. Anonymous*

    I see this all the time – the person who starts all of the offending is seen as the victim when someone tries to put a stop to it with a majorly unfavorable way. For example, I had received an email from someone asking for help in my field (he’s still in school), and while he did write “thank you for your help” in his original email, I answered him and never received a genuine thank you back. I was really tempted to write back a YOU’RE WELCOME, but my friends suggested I not do that since it makes me look like the jerk. But seriously, he walked over me and got what he wanted without any acknowledgement, but I would be the ass if I tried to teach him some manners.

    I sympathize with the OP, and some of you may think me as naive or juvenile for such. But I cannot wrap my mind around the original offender being allowed to get away with something, and when they get the karma train, suddenly they are the victims. And she’s the victim to find out that people in the office hate her (the food cop)? What did she expect for the way she acted? She really deserved it if people had told her before.

    1. Anonymous*

      It’s easy to get offended by a lack of a thank you, but did you do it for the other person’s eternal gratitude or to help someone learn more about your field? A thank you is the appropriate and polite way to respond, but if you really did it out of the pure kindness of your heart to be helpful it shouldn’t ruin your week not to hear back.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m sure it didn’t ruin her week, but it’s objectively bad behavior for him to ask someone to spend their time helping him and then not acknowledge it. I would have been tempted to email him back and say “hey, I’m concerned you didn’t receive my reply since I didn’t hear back from you.”

    2. Anon*

      Yeah, someone being rude isn’t really the same as walking all over you and taking what they want from you, in my opinion. He didn’t plunder your files without asking. He asked for your help (with a preemptive “thank you”) and then failed to re-thank you after you freely helped him, but now this is your reaction. That’s a pretty hardcore response to garden-variety rudeness, don’t you think?

        1. Anon*

          A sarcastic, all-caps email reads as pretty aggressive to me, especially in a work context rather than a social/personal one.

          1. fposte*

            I guess I reserve “hardcore” for something beyond that, especially since the person only contemplated sending such an email. And if we’re hardcore based simply on what we imagine doing, I could make hardcore quake in shame and fear.

  12. Other allison*

    The OP was totally correct here. Bullying another coworker, reducing them to tears, and interfering in their private life which is beyond none of their business is unacceptable adult behavior. The offender needed to understand that the rest of the office did not approve of this behavior and did not want to be complicit.

    Further, I would argue that this is better. This avoided a personal confrontation and allowed the offender to react in private. The offender was not forced to become defensive in the face of an ’embarrassing’ confrontation, but instead given a chance to take stock of her own behavior. Notice that the offender did not, as far as we can tell, address the office over this or try to figure out who left it – probably because she realized she was completely in the wrong!

    The biggest priority here is not the whether the OP ‘mans up’ the biggest priority is the office environment and the bullied coworker. It’s nice (by which I mean terrible) that people are so willing to stick up for the bully’s feelings while ignoring how much better life must be for the victim right now. Maybe the victim no longer dreads going to work.

    1. Anonymous*


      From my experience dealing with bullies, I would have guessed that Bully would have dismissed the Letter-Writer’s input if she had confronted her directly. Face-to-face solo confrontation would have been useless.

      What matters is that A shut her mouth. OP used the most statistically-likely method for accomplishing that.

    2. Joey*

      Oh, c’mon the end doesn’t justify the means. Anonymous complaints are completely unfair I don’t care how valid they are. Theyre a cop out. If you’re going to have the balls to do something about it have the balls to take the consequences.

      1. Anonymous*

        Totally agree here. By leaving it anonymously she effectively made everyone in the office suspect, including those who didn’t want to get involved or be associated with the situation in any way. Very bad form.

      2. Other allison*

        Seriously? I can’t complain anonymously if I think there might be reprisal? What?

        This isn’t about having ‘balls’ (which by the way, is not relevant to my anatomic situation anyway), it’s about getting things done. What consequences is the OP unjustly avoiding? Nothing, because she did nothing wrong.

        1. Anonymous*

          Leaving anonymous notes is pathetic. It gives the reciever no chance to explain their actions or intentions, and creates an atmosphere where “everyone is suspect”.

          It’s childish, and is a pitiful way for adults to go about trying to solve issues. Even if you’re in the right (Which you can’t be sure of, since you obviously never had a dialogue with the person at the recieving end of the note), it still doesn’t excuse it.

          1. Anonymous*

            In this case, who cares what this woman’s intentions were? Regardless of the fact that she probably felt she was being caring and considerate and trying to help, she made a grown woman break down and cry, AND continued with her rude, arrogant, invasive and frankly harassing behavior. Oh, poor baby. The bully didn’t get to bully the person who left the note. How sad.

            1. Anonymous*

              Because I believe that the intention of the person is more important than the outcome when determining blame and fault.

              Using your logic, if you fed a starving person food and killed them as a result, then you would be a murderer.

              1. VintageLydia*

                Um, in the eyes of the law, you would be a murderer. Well, you’ll probably get it reduced to manslaughter if you have a good lawyer that can argue it was an accident…

                The intentions of something means jack. Besides. the bully KNEW that her “help” wasn’t being well-received and severely hurt the feelings of coworker B. The behavior should have stopped immediately but didn’t. Considering coworker A’s attitude, I probably would’ve have done something similar, though I’m frankly appalled their manager(s) let it get to that point.

              2. Anonymous*

                To reply to VintageLydia: You are actually dead wrong. It’s called the Good Samaritan Law, and it’s designed precisely to protect people whose intentions are good, but end up harming anyway.

                How do you know she “KNEW” it? She obviously didn’t know it, since she kept at it! If a nurse gives a screaming child an injection, are they a horrible person because it isn’t being well-received?

                Intention is everything!

              3. fposte*

                I’d say intention is neither everything nor nothing, both legally and in general, and I think this incident is a really good example of why that either/or approach doesn’t effectively address the complexity of humans–people aren’t simply villains or victims.

              4. khilde*

                I teach about harassment and one of the key, key, key points we stress is that in the eyes of the law (in this topic, anyway), the IMPACT on the recipient trumps INTENT from the giver. This is because you can’t know another person’s heart, or true motives. Someone could easily lie about this to say, “oh, but I was only trying to help!” Who knows what the reat truth is?

                But what we can observe and know for sure if the visible impact on the recipient. Being reduced to tears, feeling harassed, tormented or worried on a persistent basis, etc. It would be sweet if we could live in a world where we could trust what people say their intentions were. Unfortunately, some people are excellent at saying what others want to believe.

          2. kathy*

            “Anonymous December 19, 2011 at 1:43 pm
            Leaving anonymous notes is pathetic.”

            *snort* I couldn’t help but think your screen name was ironic in the context of your comments.

        2. Joey*

          So if it she had such a problem with the bully why didn’t she do anything when the bullying was actually occuring?

          Anonymous complaints dont give the person an opportunity to respond or satisfy the person complaining. Especially when you’re representing an anonymous group how would the bully ever know when the group stops hating on her? You could argue the isolation contributed to her leaving.

      3. Grace*

        The OP stated that the employee who was being bullied about her diet had recently been diagnosed with a serious medical condition. That serious medical condition may have also moved her into a protected legal class under federal and state anti-discrimination laws. Why no one in HR (or a similar role) put a stop to that aggressive employee is beyond me. I see liability written all over that story (but then I work in law).

  13. shawn*

    It’s hard for anyone to say if this was the best way to handle the situation, there are too many variables. Was it the nicest way to handle it? Probably not. Was it effective? Yes. The bullying stopped and a bully got put in her place, all without the possibility of negative consequences that can result from a direct confrontation. That sounds like a solid outcome to me.

  14. Mikey's mom*

    I probably would have just called her on it in a joking way, rather than print out a letter and leave it anonymously. As a very non-confrontational and introverted person, I sometimes have to rehearse these things to get them right. The shower is a good spot for this! The thing about anonymous is, you are never as anonymous as you think you are (though without a doubt this is the exception – after all, aren’t we all always the exception and above average? I know I am! ) .

  15. Anonymous*

    At the very least, the OP could have handed her the print out in person and said, “I’m concerned about some of your behavior and I sought some advice. Please take time to read this.” and then left.

  16. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I think this is tough. I wasn’t comfortable when I read how the OP had handled it, but I also recognize that not everyone will speak up directly when it requires confrontation. I wish they would, but they just won’t. And given that, the question becomes: Is it better for the OP to have said nothing or to have left the anonymous print-out?

    I am REALLY not a fan of anonymous notes, partly because it means that the recipient will now have to suspect everyone around them of having done it, which can impact their relationships with a wide range of people. However, in this case, the coworker’s behavior was so over-the-line that part of me is admittedly glad that someone brought that to her attention, even though it was done in a less than ideal way. (I do wish that the OP hadn’t included all the comments though, as they probably functioned as an unneeded pile-on.)

    It’s also possible that the OP may have felt like the coworker would have disregarded any feedback coming from one single person, but seeing it in writing from strangers, and seeing them ALL aligned against the behavior, would be more convincing. I’ve certainly known people like that.

    In any case, if the OP had said in her original question that she wasn’t willing to talk to the coworker directly, I probably would have focused my response on convincing her to do so … or talking to others about speaking up.

    1. Eva*

      Thanks for sharing your take! I have to say I’m relieved you’re not above sharing a smidgen of the OP’s pleasure at having put A in her place. And having slept on it (you can tell this one really got to me!), I’m converted to the camp that won’t sanction the OP’s action. I think I just needed to acknowledge my (now-guilty) pleasure at the outcome before I could disregard it.

  17. Danya*

    I think it’s great that there are so many people commenting who are confident that they would do the right & ideal thing in this situation. But speaking as someone who is not so brave as the rest of you, I have to say I believe it’s preferable to do something — like what the OP did — rather than nothing, which is what many of us end up doing if we try to force ourselves into a course of action that we don’t feel comfortable with. The choice here is probably not between “OP confronting office bully” and “OP acting passive aggressively”. The choice is probably between “OP acting passive aggressively” and “OP doing nothing and nothing ever changing”.

    1. Liz*

      Well, even given these choices, I actually do feel like it’s better to do nothing if the problem is between two other adults, neither one of which has asked for your help. How do you know your perceptions are correct, or that your imposed solution is welcome? It’s great to have helpful intentions, but jumping in to save someone might actually backfire and make him or her feel worse, too.

      1. Eva*

        “I actually do feel like it’s better to do nothing if the problem is between two other adults, neither one of which has asked for your help.” I think you are right in principle that people should ask for help, so it’s a risk (and some might say a slippery slope) to take it upon oneself to help others without explicitly being asked. However, sometimes people just don’t think to ask for help even though they welcome it, and waiting to be asked means to make what I would call errors of omission. But it’s definitely a grey area. I guess people are just different in terms of whether their conscience dictates to always keep their hands clean or to try and do something, even if it entails winning some and losing some.

      2. Grace*

        I have another take on this situation, since I work in law. The OP said that the bullied coworker had recently been diagnosed with a serious medical condition. That potentially moved that co-worker into a protected legal category under federal and state anti-discrimination laws. I see legal liability written all over that story. (That employer should have a handbook and training about all of the protected legal categories. HR/or a manager should have put a stop to that aggressive employee.)

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