how to handle angry emails from a coworker when you’re at fault

A reader writes:

Last week, my coworker (who is senior to me but not my boss) asked me to help format some documents. I did so, but apparently made a mistake in the formatting which required my coworker to then go back and re-do my work.

I didn’t know about my mistake until I received an angry (think all-caps, “this was a simple request,” etc.) email from my coworker yesterday. Realizing my mistake and feeling genuinely mortified that he had to go back and re-do my work, I apologized and assured him that I would take certain steps in the future to make sure I didn’t repeat the error.

Later that day, I received another email from my coworker that said: “In the future, let’s stick to a simple philosophy – if you do something, do it right the first time. Aim for anything you do to be the final version.” I completely understand his frustration about having to redo my work, but given that I’ve had some particularly horrible (as in depression/anxiety/PTSD-inducing) work experiences in the past (in previous jobs, not this one), his response has thrown me a little.

Until he sent me these two emails, I was under the impression that he was happy with my work, having received nothing but positive feedback so far (I’ve only been here a few months so haven’t had any official performance reviews, but I have no reason to believe either he or my boss have been unhappy with my performance until now). That said, these emails make me worry that he possibly has had other issues with my work. I realize that the best course of action is probably to just talk to him about it, but this experience has triggered some anxiety and I’m having a hard time figuring out what to say. How do you think I should handle this? Talk to him (and if so, what do I say)? Or let it go?

Well, the first thing to know here is that your coworker sounds like a jerk. Sending someone an all-caps “THIS WAS A SIMPLE REQUEST” email is overkill and inappropriately aggressive. Following up later with a second email chastising you is way over the top. (Not to mention, his whole “let’s stick to a simple philosophy” thing is really condescending.)

You’re assuming that his over-the-top response indicates that he’s had other problems with your work. But I wouldn’t assume that at all — I’d take this as a signal that something is wrong with him, not with your work. Because reasonable people don’t talk to each other this way. If a reasonable person had been having issues with your work and felt this was the last straw, they would have approached it much more constructively — as in, “Jane, I’ve been having to make a lot of corrections to your work. Can you be more careful about doing ___ in the future?”

(They also would have talked to you in person rather than firing off angry emails, frankly.)

So I suspect you’re simply dealing with the office jerk. You’ve only been there a few months, so that would explain why you’re blaming yourself rather than him, but I’d bet money that he’s talked to other people this way too.

In any case, as for what to do about it, I think it’s fine to just let it go and move on to if you’d prefer to do that. But if you’d get more peace of mind by talking to him, then say something like this: “Bob, I know you were upset with the formatting mistake I made the other day. I’ll be more careful in the future to make sure it’s correct before I send it to you. However, your emails made me concerned that you might have had other concerns about my work too, and if you do, I’d really like to hear your feedback so that I know what I need to do differently.”

This will accomplish two things: First, it will get you additional feedback it there really have been other issues. Second, it will show him that you’re someone who will calmly and assertively ask what’s up when he’s rude to you, rather than just taking it (and if he’s not utterly unredeemable, might subtly shame him too).

But I’d bet money that the issue here is him, not you.

{ 66 comments… read them below }

  1. The IT Manager*

    “In the future, let’s stick to a simple philosophy – if you do something, do it right the first time. Aim for anything you do to be the final version.”

    This strikes me as such a useless response. As a philosophy it’s fine, but it’s not like the LW meant to make a mistake. And if someone was to have a problem with making lots of mistakes, it doesn’t offer a useful way toward improvement.

    1. Rana*

      Yeah, I was struck by that, too. So unforgiving, and so humanly impossible. (And I say that as someone who works in two fields that are particularly nit-picky – indexing and editing.) That’s what drafts are for, no?

    2. Chinook*

      “In the future, let’s stick to a simple philosophy – if you do something, do it right the first time. Aim for anything you do to be the final version.”

      I do try to stick by this philosphy because, frankly, I am lazy and hate to redo things (Mike “Do it right the first time” Holmes is my hero). But, sometimes, mistakes do happen and, sometimes, you don’t realize that what you are doing is the wrong thing. The former can most often be caught by double and triple checking (if you have thetime available to you) but the latter can only be caught if someone tells you what you are doing is wrong. Bonus if this is done in a humane, compassionate, not-make-me-feel-like-an-idiot manner.

    3. Kimberlee, Esq.*

      Yeah, I hated that response. I’ve gotten ones like it before, where you make one (obviously inintentional mistake) and they respond in such a way that it sounds like this has happened just a million times and some kind of policy has to be instituted in the future to prevent the error (which, in this case, is even more dumb, because the policy is now “don’t make mistakes.”)

      This guy is an asshole and doesn’t supervise you. I’d ignore it, but Alison’s “last hope of shaming” response is a better one.

    4. TheSnarkyB*

      I think you guys might be misreading this and giving him too much credit. (Or I’m misreading your responses.) I don’t think he was suggesting a philosophy. This sounds like – loose translation:
      “Hey, I have a great idea! Don’t f*ck up!”
      [i.e. It’s not actually a novel idea. He’s being an absolute ass.]

    5. crookedfinger*

      Yeah, that’s not a philosophy. That’s an asshole trying to make you feel bad about yourself.

  2. Joey*

    Hopefully your boss is okay with a co worker giving you tasks. Because if she isn’t aware you need to talk to her about it before you do anything.

    1. Vicki*

      That makes me ask, OP does your boss know the co-worker gave you a task? Does your boss know about the nasty email?

      You may want to mention this ion a 1:1 meeting. Past letters to AAM show that sometimes the nasty coworker will also cast aspersions upon you to your boss. Be prepared.

      1. Anonymous*

        100% true. Happens to me EVERY YEAR at my reviews. My coworkers never tell me when there is a problem. I just learn about it at my reviews. :(

        Now, no one even gives me work, most days.

  3. Sharon*

    There actually are people in the work world who have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to mistakes. Meaning that you’re the best coworker in the world, until you make one tiny mistake and then they act like you eat puppies for breakfast. I’m thinking this guy is one of those. So OP, don’t let it bother you too much. Alison’s advice is good.

    1. amy*

      A zero tolerance policy as long as the mistakes aren’t their own, of course. Then they’re unavoidable and/or someone else’s fault.

    2. Another Emily*

      Yeah, I mean he needed help in the first place right? So obviously this type of formatting isn’t quite so simple.

  4. AJ-in-Memphis*

    I think the OP has already apologized, so it’s best to move on. People like that in the workplace are looking for others to pick on and (usually) it’s newest and/or weakest person in the office. I wouldn’t gratify him with another response to his bad behavior and always check with my direct supervisor before doing anymore work for him or anyone else (like the previous post said). If you really want to get under his skin, you could just send him directly to your boss for any future requests, i.e., “my boss has given me task A and I will need to see if your task B is higher priority than the work I’ve already been assigned” (provided your boss is cool with this – which they should be since they need to know what’s being done in their department). This is how I often handle our office bully, leaving her no choice but to leave me alone.

  5. Tony in HR*

    I’d be inclined to talk to your manager too. Something along the lines of “Bob asked me for some help in formatting these documents, and it appears that I did them incorrectly. Bob seems to be very unhappy about this and it almost seems like it’s a concern with my work as a whole. Do you have any concerns about how I’m doing?”

    This could give you some insight into your own performance, and also how Bob usually is. (A la- “Oh, I’m sorry Bob seemed frustrated. When the Yankees lose, he tends to be grouchy for a while afterwards.” or “Oh, that’s just him. I know it’s hard to deal with, and I’m sorry. Don’t take it personally, that’s just his personality.”)

    1. Chinook*

      I like this idea about going to your manager like Tony described because coworker’s outburst may be caused by frustration at all the little mistakes you are making (or they may just be an anal retentive PITB). The manager should have a better idea of yoru work quality and show you where you need to improve.

    2. Jessa*

      Yeh this might work as a good idea. If your boss doesn’t have issues with you then don’t sweat the rest of it.

  6. The OP*

    Thanks so much for your response, Alison. I tend to second-guess myself a lot (I know, I’m working on it), but my first instinct was that his response was a bit over-the-top, so I appreciate the confirmation that I’m not crazy. I haven’t talked to my coworker since this happened last week, and I’m nervous that too much time has gone by for me to say anything to him now without making it look like I’ve been dwelling on it or obsessing about it. Part of me wants to just give him the benefit of the doubt that he was having a bad day and lashed out inappropriately. But at the same time, I do kind of want to call him on it (in the tactful and appropriate way you describe above, of course). I also don’t want to find myself in the sights of the office bully, if that’s what he turns out to be. I’ve been there before, and it was a singularly awful experience. I’d love to know others’ thoughts on this.

    1. Liz T*

      Hey OP! First off, are you definitely supposed to be doing this kind of work for a coworker? Someone raised the question above, and it’s a good one.

      Otherwise, as it’s been a week you can probably just let it go.

      1. The OP*

        Yeah, I should clarify. I am supposed to be doing work for him. In fact (and where so much of my anxiety comes from here), when I first started this job a few months ago, my boss told me that Bob would be my “mentor” – not like a formal mentoring program, but just in the sense that my boss basically tasked him with giving me stuff to do and helping me get on board. He reviewed most of my early work and actually gave me helpful feedback. Now I’m starting to get more work directly from my boss and getting pulled in on other projects, but in general, I’m expected to help more senior staff, like Bob, with their projects unless the boss tells me to focus on something else. So I’m a little unclear on how much input Bob has on evaluating my performance, but I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if my boss solicited his feedback.

      2. ChristineSW*

        I agree…chalk it up to Bob having a bad day. You already apologized and stated that you’ll be more careful in the future. Now, if he pulls that nonsense again, then you may want to consider talking to him, mentioning that it’s happened more than once.

        As for your overall work – If your manager is open to it, it certainly can’t hurt to just check in, mention Bob’s reaction to your mistake, and see if there are any other issues.

  7. Library Jen*

    OP this is ridiculous! Sounds like this guy is a serious jerk – no same or reasonable person would send an all caps email or such a condescending and snide follow up. All caps is reserved for the crazier corners of the Internet and my parents trying to text.

    I would also print those emails or forward them to my person account. This can’t be a one off experience and further down the line you might need hard copies of his behaviour. Or you might find them in a few years and laugh because he’s been exposed as a jerk :)

    1. Jamie*

      All caps is reserved for the crazier corners of the Internet and my parents trying to text.

      And people coming out of ERPs to send mail who cannot spare the time to hit their caps lock off.

      It’s one keystroke, people…just click it and make the world a better place.

    2. LisaLyn*

      Saving the emails is GREAT advice! I’ve been in situations where by the time I realized I needed to have some proof of the harassment/whatever, I had already lost valuable examples. This situation is a red flag concerning this guy so better safe than sorry with the documentation.

  8. Jamie*

    Listen to Alison and everyone who has already commented – this is him not you.

    Mistakes happen. His response is OTT and ridiculous and not worth worrying about. Although, I get why it would concern you.

    If you have to talk to anyone, as mentioned – talk to your boss and see if they are happy with your work. I would bet a paycheck you’ll get some version of “oh, that’s just how Bob is – don’t let it worry you.” Not helpful to stopping Bob from being an ass, but will put your mind at ease.

  9. TL*

    I agree with everyone else. If you feel the need to respond to Bob, a useful type of response to that type of condescension – for me, at least – is “Okay. Thank you for the advice.”

  10. Wilton Businessman*

    It sounds like he realized the first response was a little over-the-top and tried to smooth things over (albeit a little jerky).

    I would respond that you realize you didn’t do it the way he wanted and you are sorry for that. In the future you will try and do a better job. In addition, perhaps he could point out the incorrectness of it and let you fix it so you can learn next time.

    1. Meg*

      I’m sorry, but what? If you want to smooth things over, the first thing you should do is apologize. I fail to read that second email as anything but evidence of a superiority complex.

      1. Anonymous*

        This. The second email sounded like “I’ve thought about it and now I have something even meaner to say, so here it is.”

    2. Editor*

      Wilton Businessman makes a good point about letting the person who’s made the mistake fix it. I think fixing mistakes is a good way to learn, and by failing to return the task for correction, the snarky worker/mentor got frustrated because he had to fix the problem, and he didn’t actually improve the OP’s skills or awareness of formatting preferences.

      This could have been a teaching moment, and the mentor failed to use it. Also, if the mentor is so het up about this, maybe there’s an intermediate stage where the work can be checked before it is completed and turned over. The OP could ask the next time if there is a stage at which review can be done and if it would be useful.

      Were the instructions that led to the formatting error clear, or was there miscommunication? If OP misunderstood or was inattentive, then the error is still an error. If the assigning worker was vague or made assumptions about what the OP knew, then there’s blame to be shared.

  11. The Other Dawn*

    “In the future, let’s stick to a simple philosophy – if you do something, do it right the first time. Aim for anything you do to be the final version.”

    Not only is this condescending, it tells me that Bob doesn’t realize people and human and humans sometimes make mistakes. I could see if the OP didn’t take ownership of the mistake, but that’s not the case here. OP apologized and told him how this mistake will be prevented in the future. Bob is being an ass. I wouldn’t even give any more thought to it.

    1. Jamie*

      I may go to hell for this impulse, but I’d like to audit Bob.

      Put on my cute little internal auditor cap and dig through his wheelhouse and see if everything meets his exacting standards.

      I’m thinking that would be more fun for me than for Bob. (And now that my fantasies consist of auditing strangers for strangers – I’m officially the geekiest person ever.)

      1. Chinook*

        Can I be the fly on the wall while you audit Bob? I suspect there will either be a lot of stuttering and floundering on his part or you will be amazed at his exacting,high standards and have to fight the urge to make him an auditor (one you will fight hard because he would be unable to do it with the tact required not to get your car egged regularly).

        1. Chinook*

          I think I better explain, before I get egged, why I think Bob the coworker might actually shock Jamie with being flawless. Mike Holmes, a Canadian contractor, is known for tv shows where he does renovations where he goes in and fixes the mistakes of bad contractors who don’t do it right the first time. Now, the OP is not negligent to that extent, but Mr. Holmes’ standards are so high and his frustration with some of these contractors so large that he has been known to rip someone a new one in their absence while he is ripping apart shoddy work.

          1. Jamie*

            My husband would love you – he is so into that show and I whine until he changes the channel. We’re not renovating, what’s the point. Then he asks me why I watch Food Network and rarely cook…

            And now you know our typical Saturday morning argument.

            But while I see what you’re saying, and I have a great affinity for the nitpicky, working in most office environments is really different than renovation or construction in that it’s in less of a vacuum.

            When we had a bathroom done a couple of years back we had a contractor who subcontracted out the plumbing, electrical, and tile. Each needed to do their part properly, but unlike in an office they didn’t need to work together harmoniously (or even meet) and there was no on going relationship.

            In choosing an auditor, as in choosing a new hire, I look for that which I cannot teach. In auditing, yes, an inherent attention to detail but more importantly the ability to be unbiased, fair, and with the people skills to audit without scaring people …the more open they are the more you will see. And people aren’t open with you if the very sight of you makes them clench.

            And so while I do love flawless, it’s transient, because no one is flawless all the time. I’d take someone who makes mistakes, owns up to them, and corrects them over virtually flawless any day of the week.

            And I say this as a flawless person myself, but it doesn’t apply to me because if I ever decide to make a mistake I’ll admit it and correct it. ;)

            1. Jesicka309*

              Yes, I am also flawless, so I’ve never come across this problem. I’ve heard from average people have this difficulty sometimes – how strange. It’s like they made a mistake WITHOUT meaning to. Who does that? :)

          2. Elizabeth*

            There is more to it than that, though.

            Mike Holmes used to be one of Those Contractors, and he has been very upfront about it. He realized after some ugliness with former clients that he was ruining his own reputation by doing shoddy work.

            His over-the-top anger for the cameras is as much reformed bad guy as anything.

            1. Liz T*

              Yeah, but have you ever seen him actually make something of his own, rather than criticizing/redoing the work of others? I bet he still makes mistakes, yknow, EVER, because he’s a person.

              He sounds like a Canadian Gordon Ramsay to me, and though I’m addicted to Master Chef, I’d never advise ANYONE to be somehow more like Gordon Ramsay.

              1. Jamie*

                Idk – I love me some BBC Gordon Ramsay. Ramsay Behind Bars, the F word, Britain’s Best Something or Other…he’s awesome. Way more encouraging than douchey.

                But something happens to him when the Fox cameras are on him and it just makes him crazy…and makes him string out his sentences. in. suspense. way. too. long.

                I would work for BBC Gordon (if he needed an IT – I wouldn’t learn to cook or anything) but I wouldn’t even loan a flash drive to Fox Ramsay. BBC Gordon would find my work ‘stunning’ and ‘amazing’ and Fox Ramsay would call me a donkey and tell me to F off.

                (Masterchef last week with the tangerine pants – what WAS he thinking?)

                1. ChristineSW*

                  I’ve only seen a tiny bit of BBC Ramsay, but I definitely agree he is a lot tamer with them than with Fox. A few weeks ago on Hell’s Kitchen, he called one of the female chefs “dumbo”. I get that it’s all for TV, but his insults and, in particular, the name-calling, can be really inappropriate.

                  Underneath all of that, though, he has a huge heart (oh, and he’s kinda handsome ;) ); his encouragement of ousted contestants seems really genuine. Can’t say the same for the bald judge on MasterChef though (Joe?). When tasting the food, he looks at you like you’re a bug he wants to squash.

      2. The Other Dawn*

        Yes, I would love to audit Bob also. He’s probably the guy that can’t figure out cut and paste or doesn’t know the difference between saving a document on the network so it’s backed up every night, and saving it to the hard drive where it can be blown away when the hard drive dies. He probably has a ton of confidential info on said hard drive.

        We had a guy like this. He had very exacting, high standards. Very arrogant. His biggest contribution at an IT meeting to review a new contract was to point out a type the vendor made, saying to me, “I thought you would want to know.” “No, not really.” He was quiet after that.

  12. Ag*

    OP, I was in a similar situation recently. I edited something for someone who is more senior than me (but not my boss ) and it wasn’t to his liking. He then sent me (and my boss) an angry email – a rant of how ridiculous he thought the edits were, basically. Luckily my boss agreed with me on the edits and thought I was in the right and he was in the wrong (the original document had many grammar mistakes, run on sentences, etc. but thought I changed the tone too much).

    The mad co-worker ultimately followed up with an apology email, so all is well…but until I received it, I spent the entire day worrying about my performance/future working relationship with this person. In our next 1 on 1, my boss assured me that he did not have any issues with my work and that he believed my edits were necessary. Phew!

    I agree with Alison & the commenters above. It’s not you. It’s him. Everyone makes mistakes, and you shouldn’t be berated for making one… it’s not constructive at all.

    1. Jamie*

      Back in the day I remember sweating the editing of people above me on the food chain – ugh. No I’m not changing your tone, because run on, mispelled, and rambling isn’t a literary style choice…it’s just a hot mess.

      I’m giving it a tone – the tone is called cogent. You’re welcome.

      Now I work at a place when I edit it’s really just to clean up minor errors because everyone writing for publication is good at it. Makes life much easier.

      1. KellyK*

        No I’m not changing your tone, because run on, mispelled, and rambling isn’t a literary style choice…it’s just a hot mess.

        I love this, and need to steal it.

        Now I work at a place when I edit it’s really just to clean up minor errors because everyone writing for publication is good at it. Makes life much easier.

        That sounds like heaven.

  13. K*

    I agree with Alison and the other commenters that his response is over the top.

    And you should definitely forward those to your personal account or if your company has an archive folder in the email system, place them in there as well.

    1. Editor*

      At one of my former employers, the archive file timed out after two years. Initially, I don’t know if we weren’t told or if it was overlooked, but it was disconcerting to discover Pronouncements from On High that I had saved began disappearing.

      Send the emails home to a personal account. If you want to save them at work, archive if you have a long-term archive. Otherwise, if you can save Word documents in a personal folder, cut and paste them into a document to track all eruptions, and add explanatory notes as needed.

      1. Tony in HR*

        Don’t do this. IT can track the emails, and if it’s noticed, they’ll start to question why you’re doing this. This can cause problems for you especially if the emails contain sensitive company information.

        Either print the emails or save them on a special folder on your desktop, if you feel you need to save them.

        1. Jamie*

          Absolutely agree. I do not recommend forwarding work emails to a personal account unless you unequivocally know that it’s okay and in keeping with policy.

          It’s a red flag if anyone is looking.

  14. JenTheNiceHRGirl*

    I often find that these “office jerks” or bullies as I like to call them, back down pretty quickly when confronted. I would definitely suggest that you confront him in a professional manner. Also, if he keeps this behavior up, I would most definitely alert your immediate supervisor as this is certainly not acceptable e-mail etiquette. I realize that solving this issue on your own is the best course of action, but if it does no good, don’t be afraid to go to your manager. I am pretty sure that they don’t want you to be feeling uncomfortable and nervous when you are at work. Good luck. I hate bullies!

  15. Cassie*

    Geez, I hate it when people behave this way. Yes, it’s frustrating when I’ve asked coworkers to do something (this was ok’d by their boss) and it didn’t come back as I had planned. It’s easy to just blame the lowly staffer for being “stupid”. But I’ve always seen instances where maybe I wasn’t quite as clear as I could have been (there’s something about “overexplaining” a task that might make the coworker feel like a child) or maybe I didn’t even know exactly what I wanted in the first place.

    I never send mean emails. I’ve thought about it, I’ve started typing snarky responses to mean/rude emails, but I always go back and change it to polite/courteous.

    I think I’d let it go. He probably behaves similarly to other people and I wouldn’t be surprised if they just ignore him too. It’s pretty easy to tell who is cray-cray (not in a certifiable way) – for those people, you just kind of have to ignore them. (We have a couple of those “barking dogs” types in my office).

  16. Lily*

    OP, you responded well.

    You asked again what you should do and I wonder if you really need him to “forgive” you for your own peace of mind? Then you should try saying in person what you said in the email or what Alison suggested. In person, so he can see you are sorry and embarrassed. If not, then let him have the last word and let it go.

    I would be careful with letting peers or subordinates seeing you sorry and embarrassed, but he is your mentor, so I understand that you would like closure.

    Your mistake was minor. With a major mistake, showing peers that you are sorry and embarrassed can work miracles. I had a project fail miserably, with my boss giving me one last chance to try it again only under the condition that I completely cooperate with 2 different departments. The condition was a bit unfair, because the computing center had refused to back up my data, so it was more a case of them not cooperating with me, but I didn’t try to shift the blame. So, I baked cookies, asked them to meet with me, laid my cards on the table and asked what they needed me to do, prepared to take notes. I was very pleasantly surprised that they went all out for me, not only in words, but in deeds!

  17. patchinko*

    i’ve had a boss like this – i rarely made mistakes, and generally she was super happy with my work, and let me know. and i took accountability for mistakes and tried to approach my bosses with suggestions ready for ways to avoid them, if it was possible. but if i made a mistake it was like it was the end of the world. the way she acted, you would think that i was constantly making mistakes, but we both knew that wasn’t the case.

    she definitely did a lot of “what can we do to prevent this in the future” in a not very nice way, when really the answer was “we can be superhuman robots who never make mistakes” or “i already suggested something that i think will work”.

  18. Jennie*

    I agree with most of the advice on AAM but feel there is usually little to be gained by having the kind of discussion recommended here with someone who is obviously a jerk. If this guy had it in him to feel ashamed, he wouldn’t have sent the OP those obnoxious emails. Talking to him about this will probably just give him another opportunity to act like a jerk and reiterate what he already said.

    If the OP is upset and wants to discuss this with someone, I’d show the emails to the person who is actually the boss. I think this is more likely to result in an improvement in the jerk’s behavior toward OP, or at least in OP having to deal with him less.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think it really depends on the jerk. I had a conversation like that very early on in my career with someone who had a reputation for exploding at people and he actually apologized and was nice to me after that.

      That’s not to say it works every time, but it does sometimes and even when it doesn’t, if you handle it well, it will nearly always establish you as someone who is calm, professional, and appropriately assertive.

      Another way to look at it: If you think of the people you respect most professionally, that’s how most of them would respond to this type of situation — they’re not likely to just go complain to the boss.

      1. Jennie*

        I see what you’re saying and it might work sometimes. However, I do think that bullies, which it seems like this guy is (or would become if given half a chance), will do their best to make you feel badly and act as a barrier to success, so it is best to avoid dealing with them if possible. And because many people are ashamed about discussing bullying with the boss, it can continue unnoticed for a long time.

        Also, I find it is often very hard to imagine what the people I respect most professionally would do if they were in my position because they are typically much more senior than I am and have a lot more credibility and security in their careers. Therefore, they are a lot less vulnerable to situations that for me are make-or-break. I’d be interested to see more posts on that topic if possible.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          For what it’s worth, I did what I described above when I was about 27 — so not very senior at all. While it’s certainly true that you have more security and credibility when you’re more senior, it’s hard to go wrong being calm and professional.

          1. Cassie*

            I wish more people in my office would feel empowered to speak up. It’s because the manager is like the OP’s coworker – will fly off the handle at the smallest thing – so everyone tiptoes around.

            And I understand how it is – no one wants to go up against the person, because of the power (or perceived power) she has. I wish I could tell them that it’s ok to stand up for themselves if they are getting berated unnecessarily by a staff member. If it’s a faculty member yelling, well, that’s a little different (you just let them rant and tune them out a bit).

            I have not had any incidents lately where the manager has been unnecessarily mean but I am trying to work on a calm, polite but firm response to shut her down if she gets crazy.

  19. Amy*

    A manager once sent me an all caps email in red no less in response to my (coherent, thought-out) email recommending a particular action (rather, recommending inaction in that case). I was floored but decided to ignore it because I thought there was nothing I could do.

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