my coworker accidentally complained about me … to me

A reader writes:

I recently had a very strange situation at our office. Could I ask how you might handle the following situation?

Let’s say you call a coworker on his or her extension during office hours. You think you are talking with someone who is a friend, and you whisper something about another coworker. Your comments are, at best, not uplifting. You mention the person by name.

The person you have called informs you that you have actually called the person that you have just said something ugly about. So, you deny that you said what you said.

More specifically, I received the call. The woman on the other end said, “Her very existence annoys the *#!$ out of me.” I said “Who?” She said, “Did you not see your email?” I said, “Whose?” She said, “Jane’s!” I said, “This IS Jane.” She said, “Oh, I thought you were [name].” I said, “Obviously. If I have offended you in some way, I hope we can discuss it at some point.” She said, “Oh, no. I was talking about something else.”

We have a small team, and I don’t want to make a big fuss, but there is obviously a problem of which I’m not aware.

You can read my answer to this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and often updating/expanding my answers to them).

{ 104 comments… read them below }

  1. heatherskib*

    I had something similar happen years ago. I went into a new office as an external hire for a position that multiple internal candidates had applied for. Everyone was hostile from the start. My new coworkers wouldn’t even bother to lower their voices to trash talk me in our low cubicles. And they kept claiming that I was being rude to them to my bosses. At one point someone went around and told everyone that she had a dream about a big black snake in her house. When she killed it it turned into me. Eventually I just kept to myself and focused on my job (producing three times everyone else’s numbers for the record). It took a couple years of patient kindness to everyone, but gradually people realized that I am actually a nice person. Now those coworkers seek me out for opinions and guidance although I no longer work in that department. When another new person came in, they did the exact same thing to him, only I put a stop to it at that point.
    You can’t make mean people nice. You can’t make people like you. You can’t make them stop resenting your presence. You can be the bigger kinder person and hope that they come to the realization on their own. There’s a chance that you aren’t even doing anything to get the nastiness that you’re getting. Just ignore that haters when you can, be kind and courteous when you can’t, and focus on doing your job.

    1. brighidg*

      I am glad that worked out for you but your co-workers sound insane. I hope you don’t trust them as far as you can throw them.

      1. heatherskib*

        I no longer work with them. And I definitely wouldn’t ask a favor from most of them. One of them I have become closer friends with, but she wasn’t one of the crueler ones.

        Unfortunately there’s an assumption anymore that no one is nice. If you act nice, then you must be fake. If you look at someone when they’re speaking to you, then you’re creepy. Eventually people let it go and realize that nice doesn’t always equal fake, and that most people are raised to make eye contact during conversations.

    2. Charityb*

      I feel like your situation is even worse than the OP’s, since it sounds like your old coworkers wanted to make sure you knew that they hated you so much they fantasized about killing you in their dreams. That’s super intense and I really applaud you for rising above it and not letting something that vile shape your life or attitude in a negative way.

      1. heatherskib*

        Yeah, pretty sure the person who said this was not a fan of 1980’s british comedy. She’s more a reality show kinda lady. However, the lady who made the snake comment did end up helping my husband get a job when he’d been laid off.

  2. Bend & Snap*

    And this is why I don’t gossip at work. There’s just nothing good that can come out of saying things like that to ANYONE, and a lot of harm can be done if they are said. It’s not nice, adult or productive.

    Hopefully that person took a look at her own behaviors after that…one can dream, right?

    1. Cat*

      I don’t think it’s particularly unlikely. Most people aren’t inherently malicious and are shaken up by stuff like this.

    2. ted mosby*

      Ugh. totally agree. I hate when people say things about how “everyone” gossips at work sometimes. I’ve been at New Job for 14 months and I can say I’ve never said a bad word to another coworker. Not be cause I’m such a great person… but because of things like this. It’s really not inevitable. Take it home! Vent to a friend or your mom or your cat.

      1. Lizabeth*

        My cat is totally not helpful when I talk to her…she usually starts grooming when I do :)

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          One of my cats talks right back to me. I swear he understands English, too bad I don’t understand cat, but at least I know he’s listening.

      2. Minion*

        Oh, I doubt that! I’ve seen the website, Mr. Mosby and you, sir are a jerk!
        And the red cowboy boots? NOT pulling them off! No can dosville babydoll!

        (and now I have revealed to the world that I am binge-watching HIMYM on Netflix because I’m a loser)

        1. TWIG*

          If by Loser, you mean awesome person, then you are correct!!

          I binge-watched my way through that show last year. It was legen- WAIT FOR IT- dary!

    3. The Expendable Redshirt*

      Indeed! Gossiping at work is no good. Either your negative comments will get back to the coworker, or you’ll gain a reputation at work for being an unpleasant individual.

      I save my venting for Mr. Expendable Redshirt when I get home. “Ensign Jane left no notes whatsoever on how to fix the warp core! She’s such a loon. Ugggh!” Frustration is best expressed in an environment that can’t hurt you.

    4. Rat Racer*

      This is interesting because just today I was IM-ing with a colleague about an associate with whom we work closely who is not giving us the support that she should be. Our department is like a client of her department. Anyway, on the one hand I know that it’s not gossiping to say, “It’s a problem that Susie hasn’t delivered on XYZ, which was due back in November,” but at the same time, this kind of venting doesn’t accomplish anything and feels under-handed (using this website as a confessional today). Really, we should be talking to my boss, who pays Susie’s salary. But venting, though pointless, is a lot easier.

  3. Hotstreak*

    I had this happen to me a few years ago. I was the new guy in the office and he didn’t like the way I did things, even though my direct manager and the rest of the team really like my work. I heard from many people that he was saying mean things about me, so I confronted him, and we met for coffee to discuss the “issues”. I let him know everything I had heard around the office and he was absolutely mortified. He spent half an hour making excuses for himself, we went back to work, and I haven’t heard a peep about it since. For about a year he didn’t socialize with most of the folks who he used to complain to about me, and was generally really quiet and kept to himself, which is the opposite of before our confrontation. I think it was a shock to him that his seniority didn’t mean he was always taken credibly or respected, and his ego got knocked down a few pegs.

    Overall the situation is better. I don’t have to deal with him whispering around the office, my coworkers never come by saying “you’ll never believe what Hewlett said about you this time”, and we can all focus on getting our work done.

    1. techfool*

      Exactly, it is a huge drain on productivity and morale. even if it’s not aimed at you personally

      1. eplawyer*

        And these people had nothing better to do than report to you what the guy said about you?

        Even if one person is gossiping, everyone else doesn’t have to jump on board.

  4. Artemesia*

    I had a similar situation, although someone else told me of a witty remark made by a VIP with whom I thought I had a good relationship that was cruel towards me. The problem of course is that you can’t unring the bell. It really hurt my feelings partly because I held this guy in such high regard and had always had the impression he felt that way about me too and perhaps he sort of did, but couldn’t resist a bit of wit when he had the chance. He tried to patch things up by taking me to lunch but I never felt the same about him after that. People need to be careful what they say in the workplace. After that I remembered a clever remark I had made about the wife of a colleague — and although I have no idea if it got passed on to him, I vowed after that to keep my wit under better control.

    1. BenAdminGeek*

      For a while, I had a post-it note that said “one joke a day” on my monitor, to remind me that wit is appreciated in small doses, but needs to be carefully thought out and not over-used.

    2. teclatrans*

      I also like author John Scalzi’s truism that “the failure mode of clever is @ssh**e.” (Um, trying to clean that up…it looks weird, sorry.)

  5. AnonyMoose*

    Yup, I too have a drama queen who asks us to go for ‘walks’ in which all she does is complain about our coworkers. I have since stopped going, and just sit and listen if she corners me and wants to vent, and make sure i don’t say a peep about how I’m feeling because I am 100% certain that what I say will end up with another colleague. It’s really quite sad. Some folks just like to complain, regardless.

  6. matteus*

    I just do not understand the mentality that leads to this kind of behavior in a professional setting.

    I can understand being annoyed and upset with a coworker, but to gossip and complain about them like you are sitting at lunch in high school… yikes.

    1. AMG*

      I have thought about this–if what I said at any given moment was recorded or published publicly, would I be in trouble? You bet! I have toned it down but have more work to do. Of course, there’s one person I dislike so much that I have no issue saying it to her face or anyplace else but she’s the rare exception.

      1. Anon On This One*

        I have been having a “personality conflict” with a coworker for the last couple of months. He’s not as nice as he tries to make people think he is and for whatever reason he’s focused on me and my job to poke his nose in to. I know part of the reason is everything acts like sunshine shoots out his ass, so he thinks he knows a lot more about what I do than he actually does, but the fact that so many people think he’s great makes it easy for me. I don’t get tempted to talk about him with coworkers. I talk to my BF and my husband about what an ass he is and I react neutrally to him at work. It’s great!

        1. Artemesia*

          I had someone like this whom I did many favors for; unlike yours, he was not widely appreciated but he also did a lot of heavy lifting on things others didn’t want to do and made many contributions to the enterprise. He undercut me a couple of times but I still basically saved his job — and then came the last straw and I made sure he was gone after the next review. The key to revenge (or lets find a nicer word ‘holding people accountable’ who have shafted you) is to not have the reputation for gossiping negatively about them. Just as you can lie that one time you need to if you are a truthful person with a truthful reputation, you can bring out the knives when you need to if you are not known for backstabbing. May you have the opportunity with Mr. Wonderful.

  7. Glod Glodsson*

    I…actually did this to someone. It’s the low point of my career, although it’s also a good cocktail story like Alison said. Another department hired a very incapable person, who was also super dominant and very inappropriate with people. At one point I got so frustrated that I told a coworker on our internal MSN system: ‘I’m a terrible person but I can’t stand Y.’

    Of course it turned out I had actually sent the message to Y. Y was away from keyboard though, which prompted about 15 minutes of me running around like a headless chicken to try and FIX it before she could see it, which turned out to be impossible (we log in remotely on our desktops, so turning off the computer wouldn’t even have helped and the person who could have thrown her out of her session was on a plane). So I went to HR in a panic, and the HR person laughed and said ‘Well, just say you were talking about another Y!’. SERIOUSLY. She also had a pretty rare name and I never talked to her, so…I don’t even…what?

    In the end, I weighed my options between a) pretending nothing happened and hoping she’d ignore it too and b) just coming clean. So I intercepted her before she got to her computer and told her that I’d made a mistake and had said something bad about her to her, and that I was terribly sorry but that I was just frustrated in the moment due to an incident at lunch. Y must have noticed that I hadn’t warmed up to her, right? Well, Y had not noticed and she burst into tears. What followed was an incredibly difficult conversation which cemented to me that she was such a bad match for the job and the company but which also made us understand each other much better.

    In the end, she was let go but it taught me to never ever ever be an asshole about people at work. It’s a good story though!

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      I did, too, or at least I was involved in such a situation early in my career. There were four of us who were work friends. Friend A organized an Oscar-watching party and the other three of us said we’d go. Friend A made fancy snacks, etc., all the things you do for a small gathering of friends. This definitely wasn’t a “I’m watching the Oscars if you want to come over, I’ll be home” situation. It was a definitely an organized social gathering. The other two never showed up or called. Turns out that they had gotten too drunk to come over, or were hung over from the night before (I can’t remember which, just know it involved alcohol).

      The next day, the other two did a group chat explaining why they didn’t make it, and it was very much a “Whoops!” kind of explanation rather than an actual apology. Then Friend A and I had what we thought was a separate chat in which A said that the other two had been rude and thoughtless, and I agreed it was totally rude and said that they should have been very apologetic. But of course, it was not a separate chat.

  8. BenAdminGeek*

    Years ago, I had a coworker do this to his most important client. She called him and was complaining about something, then his boss called him as well. He thought he put her on hold to answer his boss’ call, and picked up saying “Amy’s being a real b—-!” It was still Amy. I’ve never seen anyone pulled from a client so fast. It was fair comeuppance for him, so it was hard not to gloat.

    1. NJ Anon*

      Something similar happened to me. I got suspended from my job for 2 weeks. My boss went to bat for me though saying he couldn’t run place without me. My lowest point ever at a job. I have learned my lesson though!

  9. Biff*

    I have not sent a message to the wrong person, but I’ve definitely lost it publicly over a coworker who uses a very high, childish and tiny voice during meetings. It’s rage inducing just thinking about listening to that coworker.

    While I don’t think the OP is in the wrong, if I had gotten this message even by accident I’d give my emails/phone convos some seriously consideration to see if I was communicating in a way that was potentially obnoxious or tone deaf.

        1. Biff*

          There are times, especially after long meetings with this coworker, that I feel it is the rare moment in which encouraging someone to become a chain smoker is the moral thing to do.

      1. Doriana Gray*

        There was one coworker I had to actively avoid because I hated her godawful laugh. Or rather, her shrakle (a shriek mixed with a cackle).

        1. NicoleK*

          Did we work together? Former BEC had a very high pitched voice and a super loud laugh (it carried down the hall). When she lets loose, she sounded like the wicked witch of the west amplified.

      2. NicoleK*

        Yep, ex BEC coworker had a highly excitable high pitched voice and I found her intolerable and had to force myself to tune her out. I eventually told her that I was sensitive to her voice and that she shouldn’t take offense if I closed my door when she was nearby.

      3. Augh!!!*

        @Case of the Mondays – I feel the same way about one of my colleagues! Makes my hair want to stand on end!

      1. Biff*

        I’d like to point out — not all coworkers with grating voices are female, and in fact, my original comment doesn’t state the gender.

        1. CMT*

          Is the coworker with a high, childish voice really a man, though? Come on, we can tell by what you did write.

          1. Biff*

            Out of the coworkers I’ve worked with who had exceptionally grating voices, only one of them has been a woman.

              1. Biff*

                I actually don’t mind hers a bit. I hate hearing Will Ferrell though. Seth Rogen can get really, really obnoxious. I can’t think of a female star in the industry that has a truly obnoxious voice to me. But of course, they are paid to be heard and watched, so they doubtless select for sound as well as beauty.

                1. Biff*

                  Wait, lies. I find Mila Kunis 100% obnoxious. Her face is annoying, her voice is okay but the way she uses it grates on my nerves. I had actually forgotten about her for a little while! (It seemed like I couldn’t get away for a couple of years — I think that overdosed me on her and made her seem more annoying than she is.)

  10. MaryMary*

    One of our VPs likes to sit people down and tell them “people say you’re [vaguely negative trait], but I don’t think that’s true.” My vaguely negative trait is that I “have an agenda” but other people have been told they’re difficult to work with, or inexperienced. If you ask for specifics, he repeats himself in slightly different words (“well, you know, that you came here with an agenda”). If you ask who these “people” are, he says he doesn’t want to repeat gossip or throw anyone under the bus. If you ask what you should do with the feedback, he says “well, *I* don’t think you have an agenda. I think you’re great to work with!”

    I’ve come to realize he just likes to try to create drama and set himself up as the good guy, so I just smile and thank him for the feedback.

    1. heatherskib*

      I had one of these, too! She would permanently try to stir up trouble with a staff assistant like this. She learned it didn’t work when I would go have a conversation with staff assistant to avoid future issues and staff assistant would tell me that she had said no such thing.

    2. Bend & Snap*

      Yep. My boss at my last company did this too. The nail in the coffin was when he told me nobody liked me.

    3. Soupspoon McGee*

      My last manager (the fifth in six years?) at my old job did this to me. She said “Leadership sometimes has problems with your tone.” I asked for examples so I could correct it. There were none. This resulted in me having to cc her on every damn email I wrote for months and do a survey of all the people I worked with–all of whom said I had exceptional communication skills, showed great tact and patience, and was generally awesome. This seemed to further piss off the boss.

    4. Geegolly*

      I had this happen with two senior management members a while back. One would come into my office and tell me the other had concerns about me. When I went to the second guy he would say that he thought I was great but the first guy had express some concerns, which would be totally different. Back with the first guy and he would say no, you’re fine but second guy still has problems. After about six months of tying myself into knots over this, I went over their heads to the big boss and said either you need to fire me or tell me to quit but I can’t keep doing this. I found out that that those guys were in a fight with each other and were each using me against the other. Big boss knew they weren’t getting along but didn’t know they were involving me. Good news is that it stopped once I went over their head. I swear it was like working with middle school girls.

    5. ToxicNudibranch*

      Nothing says professionalism like “negging”.

      This reminds me of an old joke. “You know, so-and-so said you weren’t fit to eat with pigs, but I stood up for you and said you were.”

      1. A Bug!*

        Yeah, it sounds like textbook manipulation intended to motivate through insecurity. Make the employee doubt herself and everyone else, and nobody gets too comfortable in their job security.

  11. Pennalynn Lott*

    I had a manager do this to me once. He sent an IM to me — thinking he was IM’ing my previous manager — that said, “Did you ever just want to punch Pennalynn in the gut?” I busted out laughing and teased him for the entirety of his (very short) management career. I also bought him a desktop-sized Bobo the Clown punching doll and some keyring-sized boxing gloves. :-D

      1. Pennalynn Lott*

        He totally rolled with it. We’d already had the “Pennalynn, you are sometimes difficult to manage” discussion, but I was one of the top performers (sales), so I got a lot of leeway. Plus, this was his first time managing and we had been peers (and work friends) before he got promoted. [He only last 6 months before getting demoted back down to my level, senior sales person.]

    1. K*

      I find your response fascinating! I think it speaks to how this situation would be handled very differently when between two men instead of two women, or even a man and a woman. That you thought it was funny and teased this person about it would never happen between two women.

        1. OhNo*

          Well for one thing, women are often socialized to “be nice” to everyone, at all times, no matter what. For someone who has been raised with that expectation, having a female insult you is a much deeper dig (because she is supposed to like everyone so you you must be really bad if she doesn’t get along with you). Plus, a woman raised with that expectation who got caught being “mean” would be doubly mortified: once for being caught, and once for “failing” to meet the expectation that women are always nice, no matter what. So if you get women socialized to expect constant niceness on either side of the equation, it’s just an exponential increase in hurt feelings and awkwardness that’s tough to get over.

          Which isn’t to say that Pennalynn’s situation can’t (or doesn’t) happen between two women, or any other gender combination. You just have to get the right attitudes on both sides to make something like that work. :)

          1. OhNo*

            Allow me to clarify, since I don’t think it came through in my previous comment: I’m not trying to defend K’s view that it’s less likely to happen between two women, just offering a thought on why that was their first assumption.

          2. Myrin*

            I’m a woman myself and other than the fact that women are often socialised to be very nice at all costs I really can’t agree with this comment at all, to be honest. I see from your comment below that you’re only explaining what might be K’s POV and reason for saying this (and thank you for doing so because I never would’ve thought of this myself), but I find the whole train of thought very bizarre and outlandish, to be frank.

      1. Carrington Barr*

        “That you thought it was funny and teased this person about it would never happen between two women.”

        Oh, is that so?
        Do elaborate, because I’m dying to know why not.

      2. Pennalynn Lott*

        Um, I totally would have done this to a woman. In fact, when the previous manager in this situation (a woman) took off Christmas Eve, but told us we’d be put on PIP if we didn’t meet our call goal for that day (seriously, she expected us to talk to 80 IT managers on Christmas Effing Eve!), I wrapped every single thing in her cubicle in newspaper. I still made all my calls, too. But when she came back to work the following Monday, she had to unwrap each and every pen and pencil. . . and her phone. . . and her monitor. . . and her photos. . . and her knick-knacks. . . and her chair. . . and her desk. . . and her books. . . and her chair mat. . . literally *everything*.

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          We did this to a coworker, but with wrapping paper, and it was because we love her and we’re in the middle of a prank war.

    2. louise*

      That response makes me think you’re probably fairly assertive when needed, that you don’t take yourself too seriously, and that you occasionally carry a joke farther than the person on the other end might want…which means I might want to punch you now and again, but would overall love working with you. :)

    3. Ad Astra*

      This is such a graceful response to an awkward situation! I’m keeping it in mind in case I ever need it.

  12. techfool*

    Good point about everyone annoying someone. I get annoyed by people talking on the commute, ppl getting the lift to the first floor when I’m getting off at the top floor, talking to me while I’m eating at my desk etc. They aren’t doing anything wrong and I wouldn’t ask them to change.
    I’m sure I annoy ppl unintentionally but if annoyed person isn’t motivated to talk to me directly then the problem is not big enough for me to pay any attention to.

    1. Allison*


      I hate when people make snide, passive aggressive comments about the things that bother them. The way I see it, if it’s a big issue and you’re in a position to talk to the person about their behavior, say something. If you don’t want to address it directly because it’s not worth a fight, or it would be tactless, or it’s not your place to correct the behavior (and you couldn’t talk about it with someone who could fix the issue) don’t say anything *at all* and learn to let it go.

      1. Jerzy*

        Snide, passive-aggressive comments, but never addressing anything directly? Sounds uncannily like my MIL and her entire side of the family. I swear, these people never have anything nice to say about anyone, but never want to address anything directly.

        I made a banana cake for my son’s 2nd birthday party, not knowing that my MIL HATES bananas. The subject had never come up, and my husband isn’t the sort of person to offer up that information (or, honestly, even retain it long enough to tell me). She also didn’t tell me. I just overheard her complaining to her sister about how much she hates bananas and rolling her eyes at me as if it was some intentional slight.

        Well, if I’m not there to continuously give her ammo, what good am I as a DIL, right?

  13. Winter is Coming*

    This makes me think of group text situations, where you don’t realize you’re in a group text. You answer the person who texted you, thinking it’s just the two of you, which can make for some awkward and embarrassing situations! Or am I the only person this has happened to??

    1. SJ*

      I always open up a brand new message to make sure I don’t accidentally reply to a group text if I’m going to be talking about someone! My phone will stick it into my ongoing conversation with that person, but I don’t want to make a mistake.

      I DID have a situation once in college where I was texting two roommates at once in two different conversations, let’s say Carol and Linda. Carol and I were talking about getting dinner or something and Linda and I were gossiping about how Carol was cheating on her boyfriend (which was true). Yep… accidentally sent one of those texts to Carol. It was a subject that had kind of been brought anyway but it made it clear that people were discussing it behind her back. I don’t think we ever even acknowledged that it happened, but super awkward.

    2. Stranger than fiction*

      I hate group texts for exactly that reason. Plus I often don’t know the people replying so all I can see is their number and makes me go ” who the heck said that?”.

    3. Moose Face*

      I’ve accidentally ruined surprises (gifts, parties, etc) this way. It really makes me miss the days before group text conversations were possible.

  14. Allison*

    I’m a little disappointed no one’s alluded to this scene in Mean Girls:

    Karen: oh my god she’s so annoying!
    Gretchen: who is?
    Karen: . . . who is this?
    Gretchen: Gretchen . . .
    Karen: right . . . hold on *switches lines* oh my GOD she’s so annoying!

    or maybe I just have the movie on my mind because it’s Wednesday and I’m wearing pink.

  15. Stranger than fiction*

    I’ve instant messaged the wrong person, talking about them, at work twice…thank god both times it was vague enough I was able to weasel out of it with an “oops that wasn’t for you”. The one time the guy asked if I meant him and I said No. Since the second occurrence, I now text the person on their personal cell if I really need to vent about a coworker, and if I don’t have their cell, that’s not a person I should be talking to about such things.

    1. Ad Astra*

      I’ve done this once or twice too, and I feel very lucky that the things I said were factual (“Carol said she’d have it in by 3”) and not critical.

  16. Ruth (UK)*

    I know this is odd but I am 100%sure I have read this letter before. Not a similar one but this one. I am on my phone now but plan to look into this again later..

      1. Ruth (UK)*

        Woops. I don’t get a highly clear view sometimes when it loads on my phone, I just got the text of the letter and it looked familiar..

    1. Anonyby*

      Well, it is a repost of a letter that Alison replied to years ago. Maybe that’s why you’re so sure that you’ve read it?

  17. AnonAcademic*

    Once a coworker didn’t realized I’d returned to my cubicle from a bathroom break. My phone rang for a scheduled call, and she said something like “Dammit, AnonAcademic, where are you?” clearly annoyed, just as I picked up the phone and said “Hello this is AnonAcademic”. I never said anything to her, I figured she was embarrassed and learned her lesson about making assumptions. She always felt my judgement wasn’t good and my work was sloppy even though I was a higher performer than her, and it was oddly helpful to know that she would make an assumption like “AnonAc is running late and blowing off her conference call” because it was a window into her thinking.

    On the other extreme, my boss never betrayed his own frustrations with this coworker…until my exit interview, where he was VERY frank about her being “inefficient and bad with people” and how he appreciated my patience with her. That was gratifying, and about the classiest way/time to sh*t talk someone IMHO.

  18. Nervous Accountant*

    This happened to me last year, except with online chatting through our system. The person was someone I was friendly with and would go to lunch/coffee runs with (in a group)……she had said “N.A. is kind of weird and a bitch.”…. It stung and there was no basis in it.

    Said coworker said the same thing “oh I meant someone elses name!”…never bothered to apologize.

    At the time I was still temp and newish and our major deadline was days away….so I thought it would be best to forgive and let go for my own sanity. But If it ever happens again I won’t think twice to bring it up.

  19. Elliot*

    I almost ended up with this same situation. There is a part time worker in the building I work with who I’ve told my spouse a few stories about. I sometimes give him a ride home. I texted my spouse to let him know I’d be running a few minutes late. I got a text back in the car with the part time worker beside me, slowly reading “the one who…”

    I had a mini heart attack thinking of all the things he could have filled in there, “takes his socks off and flings around dead pieces of skin from his feet in the break room” or “runs the same speed as he walks” or “thinks nobody knows he’s picking his nose if he hides in a corner,” (this kid is a character) but thankfully, my spouse just said, “the one who lives up on x street?”

    The dude was giving me the evil eye as the car was reading it, too, like he knew all the things that could follow that statement.

  20. Isben Takes Tea*

    I never understood how the “Oh I meant someone else” was ever considered a good defense–the point is that someone said something mean and unprofessional, and now this person also refuses to take responsibility for it! That makes me angrier than the initial insult.

  21. Mmmmk*

    This happened to me in a small nonprofit office where we imported our work email web address to gmail. My co-workers would sometimes g-chat with each other. Once, the two who had been there longer thank I were talking and one of them accidentally replied to ME with something really nasty and then tried to play it off. It turned out that both of them spent the better part of complaining about me rather than actually doing their work. What’s funny is that all the interns and the boss really enjoyed working with me (but I wasn’t a kiss-up either). It was truly because I was new and the outsider and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. I think we are all bound to annoy each other and entitled to vent but I would never EVER do it AT the office. It doesn’t get more unprofessional!

  22. Lily in NYC*

    Dang I missed this post so I’m late to comment. When I worked in journalism, we had a boss who came to us after getting fired by Newsweek – he and a female coworker were both being considered for the top editor job there and he accidentally cc’d her and her husband on an email in which he wrote about her: “If only her brains were as big as her t*ts.” He got fired for it and we hired him for the same role at our magazine and he was a disaster and sent two more accidental emails making fun of people. He lasted a year before he got fired (for being awful in general).

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