my new coworker is my childhood bully, getting people stop with replying-all, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My new coworker is my childhood bully

I recently started a new job. A colleague, who has an unusual name, was a childhood playmate turned middle school bully of mine. Until now, I have not had contact with this individual since that time and have worked hard to sever ties with a painful past. He introduced himself and seemed friendly enough, as one does with a new coworker – no direct indication of recognition but I think my name gave him pause. Should I address it, or is it better to not bring it up if he doesn’t mention it first? (I don’t mean addressing the bullying, rather more as “are you from X town? So am I. I think we went to school together way back when.”) How do I maintain a professional working relationship with an individual who made my life hell for a number of years, but one whom I hope has matured and changed in the many years since?

This is 100% up to you and what you would feel most comfortable with. If you’d feel better acknowledging that you went to school together, your proposed wording works perfectly. If you’d really rather not address it, that’s fine too.

For what it’s worth, I’ve read quite a few accounts of former childhood bullies and people who confronted their former bullies, and apparently it’s not uncommon for the bullies not to even remember that they were horrible to a particular person! Which seems shocking when you were treated badly, but it’s possible that this person doesn’t even remember it. It’s also possible that he remembers it and feels terrible about it, or that he remembers it and take glee in what a jerk he was, who knows. Regardless, though, I think your comfort here is what’s paramount.

As for how to have a professional working relationship with him, I think the best thing you can do is to treat him the way you would anyone you’d just met, and let him reveal through his current-day behavior what he’s like now. If you were just in a social situation with him, I’d say to feel free to be Extremely Chilly if you wanted to, but in this case your own professional interests dictate being at least neutral toward him.

2. Getting my office to stop with all the reply-all’s

Any ideas for how to delicately encourage my company to stop with the Reply Alls?

I work for a small company of about 15 – all work remotely, there is no central office. We communicate primarily via chat but there are occasional emails. These are mainly informational messages with updates to processes or announcements etc. For some reason, the company hivemind has made it okay that everyone on these emails needs to reply all. So one email will then result in a bunch of Reply All messages that are nothing more than “Thanks!” or “Great, got it!” messages and it makes me batty!

Do you have any suggestions for how I can encourage the company as a whole to knock this off? My thinking is always that if you want to thank the sender or let them know you got the message, you can reply to them directly, not clutter up everyone’s inbox with these messages. Am I just being a grinch?

If you’re in an at-least-somewhat senior position there with some authority, you probably have the standing to send an email to everyone (since there are only 15 of you) saying something like, “I know we’re all struggling with overloaded inboxes so I want to ask that as a group we change our norms around reply-all and save them for messages that truly need to go to everyone (so not for replies like ‘thanks’ or ‘okay’). I know I’d really appreciate it and I bet others would too.”

That could cut down on it. But it probably won’t stamp it out altogether; this is the kind of thing that some people are always going to do to some extent unless there’s either (a) sustained effort to combat it by someone with authority (and that’s probably not what you want to put your capital into beyond just the single email I suggest above) or (b) enough of a shift in group norms that it starts to feel really weird to anyone left still doing it.

3. I cancelled an interview and was asked to reimburse the cost of a plane ticket

I recently encountered this situation during a job search. I had been scheduled to fly in on a Friday for an interview with Company A. Company A paid for the ticket. However, the day before the interview, I accepted a position with Company B. I immediately contacted the (external) recruiter for Company A to apologize and cancel the interview.

The recruiter informed me that because the plane ticket was “mine” and I could use it elsewhere by paying a fee to change it, I’d likely need to reimburse Company A for the cost of the ticket (minus whatever fee changing it would cost). Is this normal? It makes a certain amount of sense since I’m in some sense getting a (cheap) plane ticket, but I’m a little surprised at being asked to foot the cost here.

Both Company A and Company B are in a relatively niche industry, and I recognize that cancelling an interview with one-day’s notice isn’t ideal, so I’d like to avoid any bad blood if possible.

No, it’s not normal. This is a normal cost of doing business for them, and it’s not reasonable to ask you to pay for a plane ticket that was purchased for you solely for the purpose of attending a job interview. If they’re especially concerned about this happening, they need to pay the higher cost of buying refundable plane tickets. And sure, canceling with one-day’s notice isn’t ideal, but I can promise you that they’d rather have you do that than waste their time with an interview when you know you won’t take the job.

I would say this: “I’d be happy to sign the ticket over to the company if that’s possible (note: it’s probably not possible, but you’re offering this to demonstrate good faith), but I’m not able to cover the cost of the ticket, which I understood to be an expense Company A was handling. I of course had every intention of attending the interview and didn’t expect to accept another job this week, but I don’t want to waste Company A’s time now that that’s happened. I really appreciate all your help in this process, and wish you all the best in filling the position.”

It’s pretty likely that they’ll drop it after that. If they don’t, you’re dealing with someone who’s operating way outside business norms.

4. Manager accidentally forwarded salary negotiation emails to half our company

A few weeks ago, there was an email announcement sent to about half the company announcing the promotion of someone to manager of a group. This is pretty standard here, to notify relevant groups and congratulate someone on a promotion, except that the assistant director (the new manager’s boss) who sent the email did not compose a new message. He added his announcement as a forward to a chain of emails that included the salary and compensation conversations he had with HR. The conversations included a comparison of two internal candidates, what they were offering each, each candidate’s response, and the new manager’s negotiation for a higher salary. (There was also an admonishment from HR asking why they were offering only 90% of market value when we keep losing talent.)

We all feel bad for the new manager and the other candidate, as it has to be pretty embarrassing for them. But we were wondering if there are actual legal repercussions for the assistant director who made the information public, even if it was unintentional. He hasn’t been fired, or demoted as far as we can tell.

Nope, nothing illegal here. It’s perfectly legal for companies to make salary information completely public if they want to (and some do publish salaries internally). The only way this would be a legal issue if the email exchange indicated discriminatory treatment of some sort (like saying they were offering one candidate less because she was pregnant and would be taking time off soon).

Super embarrassing for the person who sent out that email, no doubt, but getting a glimpse into behind-the-scenes salary discussions might be useful for everyone else.

5. Can my resume show that my temp work was so good that it led to a newly created full-time position?

About a year ago, I accepted a three-month temp job at my current company. The temp position came about because a key employee in the research department went on maternity leave, and they needed someone to cover. My position was 80% covering for her. It was also the busy season for another small, two-person department, and I spend the other 20% of my time helping out there. Well, it turned out that I was really well suited for that work, and after the woman on maternity leave returned, the company created a new, permanent and full-time position for me in that other department. It was a job that I really don’t think would have been invented if I hadn’t excelled and proven my value. Is there a good way to convey this on my resume?

Yes! “Accomplishments in X and Y during three-month temp role led to specially created permanent position”

{ 452 comments… read them below }

  1. Punkin*

    LW #1 – I would wait for the bully to say something – then reply “Funny, I don’t remember you. Must have not made an impression on me!”

    1. ginger ale for all*

      If it were me, I think I would go for a flat voice saying that I remember him, then pause. I would then let the silence speak. Once it gets uncomfortable then I would leave. I wouldn’t waste any more words, thoughts, or actions on the bully except to be professional and polite. No chit chat, no more contact than what is necessary. If they apologize, accept it. If they don’t remember, then don’t remind them and keep the distance.

      1. MK*

        The behavior you are describing may not be overtly rude, but I wouldn’t call it polite and certainly not professional (intentionally letting things get uncomfortable, really?). It’s not in the OP’s best interest to appear chilly towards a new coworker for no apparent reason.

        1. ginger ale for all*

          I admit that it is passive aggressive but that is my default in situations like that. But the pause is a chance for the other person to speak as well.

          1. ginger ale for all*

            Also, people have asked me to be bolder and get verbally aggressive with people that I am done with but when I am done with someone then I am done forever unless something has drastically changed about the person.

            1. Artemesia*

              Drama queen behavior has no place in the workplace. IMHO it is not that functional in the social sphere either.

              1. Engineer Girl*

                Yup. It doesn’t work. It disgusts (yes, disgusts) the reasonable people. If anyone was leaning in your direction they are now running away. Not the desired result.
                I have to admit that the older I get the more it drives me crazy.

            2. BRR*

              But this isnt your personal life and I’m a proponent of cutting of ties with people who are toxic to be around. Its not good for one’s professional reputation to behave like this. It sucks but you’re expected to be able to work with really anybody.

            3. Koko*

              That’s great when you *can* be done with someone. But by definition, someone you work with is someone you are not done with. You still have to work with them every day and be able to collaborate and cooperate to produce good work product together. In your personal life you don’t have to suffer fools; in your work life you sometimes do.

              Although I’d also point out that it sounds like this bullying behavior took place decades ago as a kid. It seems like even in a personal context, it’d be worth seeing if the person had outgrown their childish behavior. A lot of people do. Most of us can probably think of an unkind thing or two we did as a kid and cringe because that’s not who we are anymore.

              1. LaurenB*

                I always figure that I’m probably remembered as a bully by someone, even though I always perceived myself as the bullied social misfit. I mean, I never actively plotted to make someone’s life hell or physically hurt someone, but some of things I said or did in which I perceived as as justified retaliation for other people’s behaviour were not nice.

                1. the gold digger*

                  I don’t think I was a bully – I was the fat kid with glasses who played the violin and rode her bike to school with the violin strapped across the handlebars and wore homemade clothes, specifically, double-knit polyester pants with elastic waistbands when everyone else was wearing windowpane jeans, which is not exactly the formula for coolness and popularity, but I did go along with Sally D when she decided Kelly was no longer our friend. We were not kind.

                  I saw Kelly at our 20 year reunion. It took me a while to work up the courage, but I went to her to apologize. I had been mean to her and I was wrong. She accepted my apology and a 20 year load was off my mind.

                  It is possible that the bully remembers his/her behavior with horror.

                2. Whats In A Name*

                  ^the gold digger hit the nail on the head, sometimes your a bully by association. Middle school is a weird time and people want to make friends so sometimes they are mean to one kid to appear cool to another kid. Then they go home and cry because they were being a meanie. Not that I did that.

                  I have no idea the extent of this bullying but I see it coming out one of my ways.
                  1) The bully didn’t even know they were acting like a bully
                  3) The bully remembers and is mortified
                  4) The bully remembers and doesn’t care

                3. shep*

                  Also seconding LaurenB and the gold digger.

                  I was deeply nerdy and widely considered very kind. Even so, there were people that irritated me and/or monopolized me to the point where I would DREAD speaking to them, because I know I’d get wrapped up for hours having to listen to them. I wasn’t good at extricating myself, especially at sleepovers or other get-togethers. I began distancing myself from certain people, which was best for me but I’m sure really hurt these two girls in particular. They had few friends beyond me and my core group of friends. They were at least friends with each other, and both ended up writing me letters effectively ending our friendships. One letter was sad; the other was VERY mean.

                  So I suppose these girls consider me a bully, or the fraught term “mean girl,” but I never meant to be. That said, I know I was the cause of a lot of grief for those girls, just by dint of trying to phase them out gently from my life. (I’ve also had this done to me by one or two people; it’s not pleasant, but I never considered those girls bullies.)

                  Which is not to try to diminish the OP’s experience at all; it sounds like this person was actively mean. But it’s interesting to look back at my own interactions with people and see how I definitely could’ve been considered a bully in a select few people’s eyes, and I’m not proud of it at all.

                4. Koko*

                  Yep. I was a shy/nerdy kid, I wasn’t picked on as much as I was just ignored by the popular crowd, and I had a small group of shy/nerdy friends. I still feel wracked with guilt when I think about the end-of-year party I threw at the end of our last year of elementary school and invited everyone in my class except for two kids who got picked on a lot, one because she was overweight and one because she had a thick foreign accent. I never made fun of either kid any other time, but I wanted the popular kids to come to my party so I threw the other two under the bus and excluded them. It still makes my stomach turn thinking about it.

                5. Elizabeth West*

                  Same here. :( I was bullied and in turn I bullied a couple of other people.

                  I did run into some of the bullies later and they were actually nice to me, but they never apologized or anything–I figured they grew up and it wasn’t worth holding a grudge over. These people were really rude to me in school; I actually had dreams about their horrific and very satisfying deaths during that time. But unless they were still doing it, in which case I am perfectly able to defend myself or escape from the situation now, I saw no reason to hold onto those bad feelings.

                  If we worked together and they were no longer bully-ish, I’d probably just treat them like any other coworker I didn’t know previously.

                6. Natalie*

                  “I never actively plotted to make someone’s life hell or physically hurt someone, but some of things I said or did in which I perceived as as justified retaliation for other people’s behaviour were not nice.”

                  As far as I can tell, this is true for most people we would describe as bullies. People (children included) generally aren’t cartoon supervillians cackling over their evil schemes. We nearly always think our actions are acceptable at the time.

                  Bullying is more about what someone does, rather than who they are.

                7. Foxtrot*

                  In reply to shep…that’s not really bullying.We’re dealing with something similar with my cousin who is now a freshman in high school and doesn’t have many friends. No one wants to sit with him at lunch and he doesn’t really get invited to parties. No one physically hurts him or goes out of their way to taunt him. People are generally polite…he’s just not popular. The thing is, we can’t force these kids to include him. The best we can do as a family is teach him to be ok with himself regardless.
                  Now, if people started actively hurting him, we would intervene. But you can’t force be to be your friend. Their only real social obligation is basic politeness.

                8. No*

                  Do these stories remind anyone else of Romey and Michelle’s High School Reunion? They were the bullied misfits and at the reunion realized later that they had made other people’s high school lives tough.

                9. Natalie*

                  @ No, I was thinking of the episode of 30 Rock where Liz goes to her high school reunion, which has a similar plot.

                10. Artemesia*

                  I never bullied but some unkind things haunt me 60 years layer. He may not remember or remember differently. Best to be cool and see how it goes.

            1. Anon1*

              And yet no one here, nor anyone at any of your places of business, has gotten through the day without exhibiting it in spades.

              1. Lucia*

                I am so sorry that you are in such a toxic environment as to believe this to be true universally. I can promise you that it is very much not the case. I have never worked anywhere that such behavior was commonplace. Anyone exhibiting passive aggressiveness here would stand out a mile. It’s just not how people behave, normally.

                I really hope that you can find a way out of the horrible situation you must be in, and that you have the opportunity to learn what the world is like when you are not stuck in that awfulness. It’s a lot better than you are able to imagine right now. Good luck!

        2. Jeanne*

          And the problem is like Alison stated. What if he doesn’t remember being a bully? Or what if he remembers it pleasantly? The silence won’t work. OP could just say in a neutral voice “Yes I remember you. Excuse me. I have to get back to work now.”

          1. Clewgarnet*

            I ran into my high school bully a few years ago. She was absolutely delighted to see me and remembered us as being BFFs. A passive-aggressive silence would have been absolutely pointless, even if it were remotely professional.

            I think, in these circumstances, I’d go with Alison’s advice – treat the person as though they’re completely new to me and let them show who they are now.

            1. Temperance*

              My bully remembers us as friends. Which is weird, because I wouldn’t consider the weirdo who kept following me around to snap my bra, walk on my shoes, and scream in my face to be a friend.

              Although that also means that she doesn’t remember how I got the bullying to stop, so win-win? (I made fun of her mom in front of a group of classmates after she had been loudly making fun of me in front of everyone.)

              1. Random Lurker*

                I have a good one. I had a supposed bully I didn’t remember! I remember her running in a different social circle, but not someone I was ever interested in being friends with. Our names were alphabetically close to each other, so we always sat by each other in class, had lockers next to each other, etc. We weren’t friendly, but I remember no hostile interactions. I hadn’t thought of her since high school. She reached out to me a few years ago, in some sort of midlife crisis need to “right all the wrongs of the past” (her words). She was very sorry for torturing me. I gave her the forgiveness she so clearly needed, but I don’t have a clue what she could have possibly said or done that weighed on her for 20+ years!

                1. blackcat*

                  This happened to me, too! I got a “I’m so sorry for being an ass to you in high school. X, Y, and Z* were totally inappropriate and I see that now” facebook message.

                  I responded and said, “Hi! I don’t remember X, Y, or Z, but they all seem plausible and I trust you if you remember them. There are no hard feelings over here, and your actions did not leave an appreciable negative impact on me. Also, I teach high school now, and almost all high school kids are assholes some of the time. It doesn’t mean that they’re bad people, it just means they’re still figuring out how to be reasonable people. ”

                  *X, and Y were versions of “You tried to engage in a reasonable discussion, I mansplained and got everyone to disagree with you even though I was right.” and…. that probably happens all the time to high school girls who are around overconfident/cocky teenage boys. It definitely didn’t even register with me. Z was a very mean prank, but maybe the prank failed to come to fruition? Maybe he planned the prank but didn’t successfully implement (and forgot that part of the story). Maybe he did it to someone else, not me. Whatever happened, I have 0 recollection of those events. All claimed events X, Y, and Z took place during an extra curricular activity that I definitely remember both participating in… but I just remember him as someone who was kind of an ass who I worked with only when necessary. I don’t think he entirely mixed me up with someone else because the context fits.

                2. Kittymommy*

                  I’ve had this happen too! I don’t remember anyone being unpleasant or hostile to me in high school yet I had someone come up to me a few years later (I think I was in my mid 20’s) to apologize for how mean they were. News to me. I laughed snd told them not to worry about it because they weren’t very good since I don’t remember it!

            2. Adlib*

              This happened to me too. She was more of the stuck up snob kind of bully. It was so long ago that it’s water under the bridge, but after reconnecting with her that first time (now my Mary Kay lady), it sounds like life kinda slapped her around after junior high so I actually feel bad for her now.

              1. Bank Marketing Maven*

                That seems to happen to a lot of bullies, specially those who are bullies because they are acting out, responding to something in their environment.

              2. designbot*

                I ran into a girl who turned on me in middle school only a few years later–we were both on the same bus to summer school. I was taking summer school to graduate a year early, and she was making up for the class that failed her when she took time off to have her 2nd kid. She was a junior in high school. I couldn’t bring myself to actually be mad at her after that, though when I think about those years and how alone I was as a result there’s still a twinge of hurt.

          2. Jane*

            And a lot of time the bullying has little to do with the bullied. In high school I had a “mean girl” friend who was sweet as can be one day and vicious the next. She’d pick someone in the clique and they’d be the odd girl out for weeks on end and then suddenly you’d be her bestie. Years later we reconnected. She’d done a lot of growing up and had a lot of therapy as had I. We got lunch and she confessed that her parents had separated right before high school and her dad had moved in with another woman. She eventually kicked him out and he moved back. But her house was full of tension and fighting and her siblings were split on who’s side they were on. She honestly didn’t remember lashing out at any of us because the lashing out had nothing to do with us, really. It was her only way to exert control out of a very out-of-control situation going on elsewhere. She remembers the out of control feeling she had but she didn’t remember much else. We’ve become friendly again through the years.

            1. many bells down*

              A friend of mine confronted 4 people who’d bullied her, at our 20-year high school reunion. Three of them apologized and said they’d been having problems themselves and took it out on her. The fourth one said “I don’t remember any of that and anyway it was a long time ago so get over it.”

              Without knowing any of the names of the people she’d talked to I was able to guess who #4 was. Some people really don’t remember, and some people just don’t care.

        3. LeRainDrop*

          I agree with MK. Being passive-aggressive to the guy right off the bat is unprofessional and is counterproductive to the OP’s stated goal to “maintain a professional working relationship with [the guy] whom [she] hope[s] has matured and changed.”

        4. Engineer Girl*

          Passive aggressive behavior rarely gets the right results. It’s dishonest because it hides the root issue, prevents discussion, and therefore prevents reconciliation. I agree it is unprofessional.

      2. EleanoraUK*

        Speaking as someone who was bullied relentlessly – we were all kids back then, and I wouldn’t want it to colour my relationship with a new colleague now that we’re all adults.

        I’ve definitely bumped into people in social situations since, and what has worked best for me is a breezy, upbeat demeanour, cause my life is rather good these days and I’m not about to give anyone the satisfaction of thinking they got to me all those years ago.

        Even if they wouldn’t get any satisfaction from it, their feelings of guilt wouldn’t fix anything for me now, and I sure as hell get more satisfaction from being A-OK these days.

        No need to drag up the past, in which everyone was underage, especially not in a work setting.

        1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

          I was picked on quite a bit in school: too tall, too smart (with zero filters, I cringe), curly hair and my mother always dressed me funny. I cried to myself a LOT in elementary school and had many days I begged not to go to school because so many kids were mean to me.

          In my case (and with a bunch of years and conversations having ensued), I’ve been able to hit reset on the whole experience. The only people I have an issue with are the adults who didn’t intervene (but, we didn’t equip teachers with any tools back then, did we?). A slew of people, starting in high school, going through the one reunion I went to and now re-connections on FB have apologized to me, or told me stories in conversation that put where their 10 year old heads were in context. Some of them had very rough home lives at the time, little parenting, and not a lot of love. (One of the guys who ruined 3rd grade killed himself at 19. One of the guys who contributed to wrecking 5th grade recently confessed that he had a huge crush on me then, and did still. Sorry, married. Plus we are 55. Wave at the ship that’s sailed by. :) )

          My point is NOT to diminish in any way shape or form the OP’s feelings or to say that when you hear the stories behind the stories you have any obligation to forgive. Just, there are stories and I’ve found a lot of happiness and peace in putting out a fresh piece of paper with folks and seeing what happens next. (I never ask. They talk.)

          1. babblemouth aka One Of The Greatest Minds Of The 21st Century*

            I’ll confess, I’m not yet at the point where I can be the bigger person towards my childhood bullies. I was also too curly, too smart, with no filters and a mom who did not know how a pre-teen should dress to fit in (are you me?). While confronting my ex-bullies or even be passive aggressive isn’t something I’d do, I do take a lot of pleasure in knowing I’m doing much better than them in life now. Petty? Yes. Feels good? Also.

            1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

              Ha, we’re the same.

              Eh, I don’t think there’s reason one you have to think kindly or with forgiveness toward your childhood bullies. Whatever gets you through. In my case, I learned things by being open to encounters when they came along.

              Here’s a story told to me recently. A (then) young girl was berated by her father who (from the context she told me was likely a drunk) almost daily that she wasn’t me. I got over praised at school events and did a lot of things visible in the community and remember, NO FILTERS, so I was out there. That man literally used ME as a tool to be emotionally abusive to his daughter. I never met him in my life. Can you imagine that. I was floored!

              Now this is 4o+ years later and that woman is still carrying that.

              So to my point about their being nuance and shit.

              1. cbackson*

                I was bullied by someone under very similar circumstances. Coming to understand that gave me so much compassion for that girl. What she did to me was trivial compared to what he did to her…

            2. EleanoraUK*

              Oh I’m absolutely with you on this one – I’m in no way going to be best buds with these folks, and I still think what they did was horrid and cruel.

              But nothing tastes quite so sweet as knowing I’m doing great these days, and they are utterly irrelevant to my life. That’s not to say the bullying didn’t leave its marks – it did, and its taken a long time to work with those marks – but I’ll be damned if I let them influence my life now.

            3. Rusty Shackelford*

              I wasn’t bullied for curly hair and unpopular clothing, but my self-confidence definitely suffered. Guess whose kid had a REALLY nice wardrobe?

              1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

                Hilarious. True story, so my oldest is on the autism spectrum and was entering elementary school within special ed. So you’ve got me with my history + I’m responsible for dressing a kid who will be “different” no matter what.

                I LITERALLY staked out the boys section in the department store for back to school shopping. As in, I stood there and watched little boys for close to an hour. O.o I was watching for what they wanted to wear not what their parents wanted to buy for them.

                A bit much? In retrospect! But at the time I believed his well being for the rest of his life depended on it. :)

                1. Rusty Shackelford*

                  I don’t think it’s much at all! :-)

                  I know wearing clothes she loves isn’t going to give my kid better self-esteem or help her make friends (although, sadly, with girls it just might). I just don’t want her clothes to ever be what holds her back.

                  (And she also benefits from having a mom who suffered through curly hair, because it means she has a mom who KNOWS HOW TO TAKE CARE OF CURLY HAIR.)

                2. VintageLydia*

                  My son is almost 4 and right now is too young to care, but I still make sure his clothes are cool and similar to things his friends at school are wearing (right now generic shorts or jeans with character tee shirts. Mostly paw patrol but my kid isn’t into paw patrol so it’s his favorite shows instead.)

                  Because guess who else wasn’t able to where the cool kid clothing? I understand not springing for ridiculously expensive JNCO jeans and Roxy or Delia’s striped tee shirts (oh god…) but flare jeans were also pretty popular in middle school in the 90’s and also fairly easy to find cheap, but mom didn’t like them so I didn’t get any until high school when she FINALLY let me pick out my own clothes at the department store. I was more angry with her when I saw pictures of her in high school with flare jeans (she graduated in the early 70’s.)

                3. Temperance*

                  I’m not a parent, but I so buy all my nieces cute clothes, lol. My sister lets her kid wear costumes if she feels like it, because our mom was all about us looking like we came from Little House.

                4. Aurion*

                  My cousin’s kid had alopecia in when she was young (5-7 or thereabouts). It tanked her self-esteem massively, and my cousin had mentioned to me that he and his wife made sure to buy her nice clothes so she wouldn’t have another thing to feel bad about.

                  Kid’s got way better fashion sense than me. :)

              2. Elizabeth West*

                My mother MADE MY CLOTHES. I didn’t have any jeans until middle school!

                NEVER EVER EVER WILL I DO THIS. I wouldn’t dress a kid in designer celebrity bullsh!t, but I am not going to make them wear homemade clothes that don’t look like anything anyone else is wearing. I’m not very fashionable now either–but that’s just because I care more about books than clothes. :)

                1. Temperance*

                  OMG I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE. My mom used to make matching clothes, big ugly frilly dresses like on Little House on the Prairie, for my sister and me. She’s 4 years younger, so that made it worse. I dressed like a dork AND a baby. lol.

                  I see clothing patterns now that are reasonably fashionable, but I can’t abide the idea of wearing something homemade.

                2. babblemouth aka One Of The Greatest Minds Of The 2st Century*

                  My mom made my clothes too. I recently started teaching myself sewing, and I do feel bad about not appreciating how much effort it takes to sew a garnment well… but on the other hand, I didn’t really ask for them. People who lvoe sewing: sew for yourself, and sew if someone requests something, but don’t force it on a kid. Home-made clothes are just Not Cool when you’re a pre-teen and teen. I don’t care how fashion-forward they are. No kid wants to be fashion-forward, or vintage, no matter what Pinterest tells you.

                  (Alison: I’m realising we’re waaaayyyy off topic here, let us know if we should shut it down)

                3. Gillian*

                  My mother turned the majority of my t-shirts into dresses in elementary school. Just… sewed a bunch of cotton to the bottom hem for a skirt and called it an outfit. I was not a fan, and I definitely looked a bit weird compared to the rest of the kids who wore their school t-shirts as separates.

                  I do now have a much better eye for fashion than I might have otherwise, though, because I spent so much time agonizing over the different-ness.

              3. Alienor*

                Same here. I suffered in homemade and uncool clothes, plus I wore children’s sizes all the way through the end of junior high – this in the mid-80s when there was a much more marked difference between kid and teen styles. My teenage daughter has always had an amazing wardrobe, and I know it’s because I’m compensating for my past and I don’t care one bit!

            4. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

              When I found that my middle school bully had failed two grades and graduated from high school with my younger brother’s class, I admit I laughed. No idea what she’s doing now, but I hope she’s a better person. (And a smarter and more hardworking one. Her failing two grades was, uh, definitely not a surprise.)

              I did some crappy things when I was younger, and if the person I was awful to showed up at my job I’d probably quit out of shame and remorse.

            5. SimonTheGreyWarden*

              When I was a high school freshman, having moved across the country, I went to some catholic youth conference with my school. The two girls with whom I was roomed there were merciless to me. I had an accent and came from a region where we wore uniforms, and didn’t know how to dress myself. They deliberately lost me more than once in the big city the conference took place in and laughed about it later.

              My parents allowed me to transfer to public school.

              Three years later, one of my tormentors from that trip transferred to my public school bc they closed the catholic high school. She remembered me and sat behind me in chemistry class;I happened to have three very good friends in that class. When that girl started making overtures of friendship to me, I told my friends what she had done to me as a first year.

              She had a very lonely senior year.

              I have grown since then and would not think shunning appropriate now, but damn, did it feel good.

          2. Temperance*

            I had a very similar childhood, but with a mentally ill, neglectful mom who is also a conservative evangelical Christian. I basically dealt with being an outsider at school and then come home to more nightmares.

            I still didn’t pick on other kids. They made fun of me because I was such an easy target. I had waist-length, frizzy hair (because my mother made me brush my very-wavy hair out), and weird clothes, and a Mom who refused to be friendly with other moms, so I was seriously the outsider. My mother would do things like pour bleach on my clothes and then make me wear them, and other kids pounced on that.

            I take delight in knowing that my biggest bully has a limited, crap life as an adult. Because she took away the only break I had from my mother’s reign of terror. I don’t believe in the high road, though, and don’t really see any of those people anymore.

                1. Temperance*

                  Thank you! I honestly have a really great life now, but I end up sharing about my mom mostly because of all the time I spent not getting to tell, if that makes sense?

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  It’s good for you to put your perspective/take-aways into words and it’s good for us to read and learn from them.

                  Sometimes throwing someone else a life preserver brings our healing to a new level or makes us more whole in some manner, too.

                  Putting stuff out there can impact us in varying ways, all good. And I do think it’s really important to let others know they are not alone.

                  I am sorry for the BS that happened in your life. I am glad to see that things are better now.

            1. TL -*

              But you don’t actually know how the other kids perceived you. I definitely wasn’t a bully (or bullied) but I was somewhat of an outsider. Looking back now, I think there were kids who thought I was pretty cool and I bet there were times I was unintentionally cruel to them because I had zero tact and didn’t think anyone cared about my opinion. I don’t remember most of those times but I bet some of the other kids remember.

              Also, these were kids – should we hold one responsible for all the mistakes they made that other children didn’t? There were tons of kids in my school who actively stood up for other children who they thought were being treated badly from an extremely young age – should we hold every person who didn’t do that accountable in bullying?

              1. Temperance*

                Ah, I was regularly told by people, even those that liked me, how nerdy I was. I definitely don’t think that anyone thought I was cool. ;)

                She was a teen at the time, so not a little kid. Honestly, I see meanness as something that is a part of someone’s character. I will always regret not speaking up more when I was much younger.

                1. TL -*

                  I was frequently told that I was nerdy and book smart (implying common sense dumb) as well, though it was generally tinged with kindness. :)
                  But there were kids who (I’m pretty sure with hindsight) thought I was cool because I got all As, and always knew the answers and read books nonstop, even though they called me nerdy. They knew it meant I was the one who was getting out of Small Town and that was its own form of cool.
                  I did not pick up on that in high school. Or college. It took me a while to figure it out.

                2. Temperance*

                  That’s really interesting, TL. All the “cool kids” from my school still live in our small town and all hang out with each other. I’m really happy to be far away from that.

                3. TL -*

                  So do the “cool” kids from mine – and most of the not-cool kids as well. A lot of them are really happy but I don’t think many felt like they could actually leave. I’m glad I left.

                4. Snazzy Hat*

                  I was in high school & my sister was in college when I told her most of my friends thought she was cool, and she cried from this revelation. I felt bad for not telling her when she was still in high school; I think I assumed she didn’t care about approval from kids four years younger than herself. Middle & high school were awful for her, so looking back I realized even “forget those jerks, you’re still cool” would have really helped.

              2. aebhel*

                That’s true to a point–and I was kind of a weird, blunt outsider as a kid who sometimes crossed over into unkindness–but I never beat anyone up, I never destroyed their belongings, I never started destructive rumors or lied about anyone to teachers to get them in trouble, et cetera. All of those things happened to me. So while I’m quite sure that some people accurately remember me as ‘weird, hostile, and frequently a jerk’, that’s really not the same thing as going out of your way to make someone’s life hell.

                And yeah, these are kids. Mostly, they grow up. But that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy or painless for me to be professional and pleasant should I (god forbid) end up working with the guy who slammed my head into a locker repeatedly in middle school.

                I would still do it, because I value my job more than I value getting one over on that jerk, but I sympathize with the position the OP finds herself in.

                1. TL -*

                  Maybe one of those kids you were frequently a jerk to remembers you as a bully and maybe they feel like you went out of your way to verbally hurt them, even though you didn’t. Maybe a piece of gossip you shared or a sarcastic comment you made started a rumor that never came back to you.
                  That’s certainly different and not nearly as bad as physical attacks or a concentrated rumor mill (those kids sound like they were asses), but it still could’ve affected other kids badly.

                2. aebhel*

                  @TL, possibly, sure. But there’s a meaningful difference between “This person said something mean to me a couple of times” and “This person slammed my head into a locker until I was bleeding.”

                  There were a few people who were occasional jerks to me, and I don’t remember them as bullies. Most people are jerks at least some of the time when they’re teenagers. The people I remember as bullies were the ones who mounted a concentrated, clearly deliberate campaign to destroy my life. Maybe I’m just using an unusually narrow definition of the term, I don’t know.

                  I don’t even disagree with you that we all tend to remember our own actions in a more positive light, but I don’t agree at all that everyone is equally badly behaved in middle school.

                3. Foxtrot*

                  No aebhel, you’re right. People can be completely unpleasant individuals without being bullies. It’s all about my ability to escape the situation. If I know I can avoid Joe’s snarky comments by just not sitting next to him at lunch…then I just don’t sit by him. If the only way to avoid Suzy seeking me out is to stop coming to school, that’s clearly bullying behavior.

              3. catsAreCool*

                As someone who was bullied some in junior high, I was angry at the kids who actually did the bullying and at the teachers for either not being there (one teacher came late to his classroom most days, so the classroom didn’t feel safe) or somehow missed what happened when it was practically in front of them.

                It would not have occurred to me to blame kids who didn’t stop the bullying. Also, if everyone went to a party but me, I’m not sure I would have cared as long as they didn’t make a huge deal about it.

          3. neverjaunty*

            Teachers had plenty of tools back then. They just chose not to use them (and many teachers continue to do so today). And, of course, some kids never grow out of being jerks.

            That said, it’s still non-negotiable to be civil and professional at work regardless of whether one likes a co-worker personally.

            1. babblemouth aka One Of The Greatest Minds Of The 21st Century*

              That brings me to one of my biggest pet-peeves: I’ve oftne heard from adults that intervening in bullying situations isn’t helpful, as kids need to elarn to toughen up since no one will help them when they’re adults. Except, that’s not true: as adults, in private situations, you can always say “screw this, I’m peacing out” and freeze a bully out; while in normal professional setting, the norms are that you can’t be a jerk to your colleagues: you have to be, as you write “civil and professional.” If you do have a toxic workplace, while you might have to tough it out for a while, you will have the option of peacing out.

              Letting kids bully other kids does not teach anyone anything of value!

              1. dragonzflame*

                It’s bullshit. I got bullied, I told my mum, she went to the principal, he shut that down really fast. No more problems. It probably helped that it was on the bus and he gave me the choice of having her kicked off and I chose not to, but after that she was fine.

                So teachers intervening works!

              2. catsAreCool*

                If an adult is bullied, there are options – talking to the boss if it’s at work or to the cops if it isn’t. When a kid is bullied, sometimes he/she thinks that if he/she tells about it, the bullying will just get worse.

                Maybe part of the problem is class sizes. If there aren’t too many kids per teacher, it might be easier for the teachers to deal with bullying and to notice it more quickly.

                But you know, the kids usually know who the bullies are, even if they personally haven’t experienced it. It’s usually not all that subtle, so why don’t the teachers keep an eye on the bullies so that they don’t have much change to be mean?

        2. TheBeetsMotel*

          I feel that you should make as clean if a slate as possible with a former bully, should they suddenly appear in your adult life, because they are almost certainly not the same person as the kid that bullied you way back when. That doesn’t mean you don’t get to feel bitter about what happened, but that perhaps any bitterness should be tempered by the fact that neither they NOR you are likely to be the same as you were at twelve years old.

          Maybe they remember you, and maybe not. Maybe they remember bullying you, and maybe they don’t. Maybe they still have a nasty streak, and maybe they’re an absolute delight as an adult and near no resemblance to the asshole kid you knew at school. Either way, YOU aren’t the same person now either. So start from scratch, and be pleasant are cordial – no need to be besties, if that’s too much. But you should treat them as the mature, different adult that BOTH of you now are.

      3. Roscoe*

        That seems a bit much. You are just trying to make this new person uncomfortable for, what other people will see as no reason. It’s not “unprofessional” necessarily, but its not a good way to go about this

      4. lfi*

        that’s good. i’m probably not ballsy enough to stand up to mine.

        funny… a few years back when reconnecting with old classmates on FB one sent me a message and said boy does bully really feel bad now for what he did to you. but did it come from him? not at all.

        while out one night in the city with some friends stumbled upon an old classmate drunk out of her mind. she kept hugging me saying ‘god we were so mean to you, you didn’t deserve it’.

        meh. i just hope that one day my kids don’t have to endure what i did.

    2. Sophie Winston*

      I was bullied by a group of slightly older kids in my neighborhood in grade school. Five years later, when we were all in high school, one of the boys in the group asked me out on a date. He seemed genuinely confused/hurt when I turned him down flat without the usual attempts to be kind about it. I suspect that, as I was picked as a target by one of the girls in the bully group, he had long forgotten the identity of that younger girl they harassed.

      It makes sense if you think about it. It’s easier to bully someone you don’t see as a real person. If you never saw them as anything but an easy target, it’s easy to forget their identity.

      1. Liane*

        Miss Manners has warned young people about this danger: The boy/girl you wronged For (Elementary/Middle School) Reasons “will be only too happy to break your heart” when, a few years later, they Become Attractive To You. (gist)

      2. many bells down*

        Hah that happened to my at my 10-year reunion. Guy who harassed me relentlessly in school came over and talked about how he was just *dying* to dance with me. He claimed not to remember any bullying when I called him on it.

        Also he was incredibly drunk by that point so for all I know he didn’t actually have any idea who I was past “blurry female shape.”

    3. Wendy*

      Except that it did make an impression, and you’re trivializing the effects of childhood bullying, which is a form of abuse. Would you expect a woman to work with an ex-husband who’d abused her?

      There are people in the world who are dreadfully uncomfortable with the idea of victimhood. Like it really makes them squirm and want to insist that it doesn’t exist and that it’s the victim’s fault for having been a victim. You hear things from such people about refusing to “let the other guy win”. Where it’s not about simpleminded insensitivity, it’s about their own terror of being helpless and violated themselves: they get angry at it in others, and angry at others for having let it happen, as though the victims had a choice.

      But victimhood does exist and it isn’t the victim’s fault. Nor is it about “letting the abuser win”. The abuser has already won, and that is the fact, and the victim is trying to reclaim her own life. That’s as much as is sane to do.

      Punkin, if that doesn’t make any sense to you, please go do some reading and learning about abuse before you inadvertantly hurt a friend or someone who works for you.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Adult bullies are in control of themselves and know what they are doing.
        Child bullies are a mixed bag. Some don’t know better. Some don’t have the social skills. Some have a bad home situation. And some grow up into something worse.
        The two are very different.
        You win when the bulky doesn’t get a rise out of you. As long as you are holding on to victim status they are still controlling you.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          BTW lest anyone think I didn’t have bad bullying, I did. My mentally ill sister made my life miserable. It included physical violence. I will choose to have a good relationship with her if she ever gets healthy. I seek to forgive her because doing so removes her power over me.

        2. Temperance*

          I don’t agree. That may work for you, but I think too much stock is put in “forgiveness”. I don’t think that you need to “forgive” to move on.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Agree. I was just thinking about that exact thing this morning. A person in my social group whom everyone likes was mean to me when I was in pain (after I had given her support during her rough time), and I don’t need to really forgive her, though I see no reason to hold on to the upset. I can be pleasant to her, but I will never like or trust her again.

            1. AnonAnalyst*

              Yeah, I have a couple of people like this in my life. I am not angry or hurt any more so I feel like I have moved on, but we will never be close or have the same relationship we did before. I am just not interested in investing any more time or energy into those relationships. I am cordial when I run in to those people at events, but that’s the extent of our interactions at this point.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              This. You can forgive and still REMEMBER. The saying is forgive and forget and that is just so wrong.
              I forgive and forget the hot stove for burning me, so I will put my hand on the hot stove again.
              No. Just NO.
              Forgiving and forgetting are two separate steps and each step should be considered carefully before acting on it. Some situations one or both may not be appropriate. Those are situations where forgiving and/or forgetting would put us right back in harms way. Don’t put yourself where you know you WILL become injured again.

              1. catsAreCool*

                Yeah, I forgive, but I do not forget. As the saying goes, believe people when they show you who they are.

          2. designbot*

            I don’t think you need to forgive to move on, but you do need to decide what “moving on” means to you. To one person it may mean never having to think about that person again, even if it means moving or changing jobs, or whatever else they have to do. To another it may mean being able to live their lives freely without tiptoing around the bully anymore, even if it means working with them and dealing with the discomfort.

        3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          “You win when the bulky [sic] doesn’t get a rise out of you. As long as you are holding on to victim status they are still controlling you.”

          Oh, don’t give me that. “Not rising to it” means nothing, and it doesn’t mean the bullies will leave you alone. I was harassed, had things stolen, and was physically attacked in school, and just rolling with the bruises and my missing things did not in any way mean I “won.”

          1. Tuckerman*

            Yup. Also, not reacting is still a form of reacting. I’m pretty sure most bullies are smart enough to realize that it takes a lot of mental and emotional energy to “ignore” a bully. I’d argue it even comes off as passive, and may promote more bullying. Unfortunately, unless you can demonstrate your are stronger or more powerful (or have more allies that are strong or powerful), there’s not a lot that will stop predatory (and yes, bullying is predatory) behavior.

            1. Dot Warner*

              Yes, mine certainly were. One of them actually told me, “I can tell I’m really getting your goat when you pretend to yawn.”

              1. Not So NewReader*

                Yeah, I tried this strategy, too. I might as well have painted a dart board on my face.

                My wise friend said, “If you see a behavior three times then you have a pattern. If you have a pattern then you HAVE to respond to it. If you do not respond to it, then it will get worse.” If I had known that when I was ten my life would have had a heck of a lot less misery.

            2. LCL*

              Yeah, but for some of us, not reacting is a great source of strength. Being able to stay strong and tough while someone is yelling at you is empowering. It gave me a sense of superiority and inner strength. Though once in a while I did have to punch someone to show that I wasn’t a pushover.

              In my life long observations, how traumatic bullying is depends on the power differential. Junior high kids saying stupid nasty things to junior high you, will make you stronger. Parents or authority figures THAT ARE SUPPOSED to keep you safe being abusive will destroy you, I’ve seen it happen.

              1. SarahTheEntwife*

                “Junior high kids saying stupid nasty things to junior high you, will make you stronger.”

                I’m glad it worked that way for you; for me it meant that I wrote off all social interaction as horrible and had to learn from scratch in college.

                1. Isben Takes Tea*

                  Same here. I’m glad it worked for you, and you’re right that the power differential is a huge factor, but violent or viceral rejection by your peers can also cause significant trauma. I’ve seen it happen.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  If you have nasty classmates and one or more nasty family members then you have no reprieve, there is no where to run and no where to hide.
                  The world is a harsh place filled with heartless people.

                  Or so it can seem to a kid.

            3. Pink Teapot*

              Yeah, the only thing that’s worked for me is standing up to people directly. And calmly. It can’t be an emotional confrontation.

          2. Temperance*

            Yep. It just gave my bully more ammo against me, actually. Because then I became an easier victim, since I would just “ignore it” so she could keep it going.

            1. many bells down*

              Ignoring, for me, meant escalation until they could get me to react. Oh, you’re going to ignore the taunts, and the insults, and the spitting? Okay, we’ll knock you down, steal your shoes, and throw them on the roof of that house. Try ignoring THAT.

          3. Observer*

            At the time the bullying is happening, you are mostly correct – not rising to it doesn’t work i many case, and the cost, even internally, can be high.

            But, this is 20 years later. Rising today to events that happened 20 years ago is a whole different kettle of fish. THAT is essentially letting the bully (who may not even exist any more) live in your head, rent free.

        4. Koko*

          I agree with you about a lot of child bullies being redeemable in ways that adult bullies aren’t, but I have to say I don’t agree with your last sentences.

          The bully isn’t trying to get a rise out of you. They’re trying to display power over you. Whether you cry, or scream and yell, or ignoring them by bizarrely acting as though whatever obvious thing they did didn’t just happen, the bottom line is they were allowed to do it. That’s where they draw their power from.

          When a man catcalls me on the street, it doesn’t matter if I yell at him or if I just keep walking as if I didn’t hear him. That man lives in a world where he feels free to yell disgusting things at women who pass him on the street without consequence. He has won.

          When I see teenagers throw garbage from their cat at a homeless man, it doesn’t matter if the homeless man cries or if he just sits there refusing to make eye contact and pretending it didn’t happen. Those teenagers live in a world where they can throw garbage at homeless people without consequences. They have won.

          Bullies don’t care about your emotional reaction or internal state. They care about the power of being free to do what they want to who they want without facing consequences.

        5. Jayn*

          Intent isn’t magic. Child bullies may well have their own stuff going on, but personally I don’t really care because I’m still dealing with my own emotional fallout from those years. Professional politeness, I could probably manage, and I probably wouldn’t mention the past because I see little point in dredging up old hurts (I doubt anything positive would come out of it). But it would be hard to keep that past from coloring our interactions because that past is still coloring my present life.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I’m still dealing with my own emotional fallout from those years. – YES. This x1000. I really don’t feel the need to sympathize with someone who triggered my lifelong struggles with depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts, just because they had their own stuff going on at the time. Their cruelty and psychological abuse could have killed me, quite literally. They don’t get a pass on that just because they “didn’t know better” or “had a bad home situation”.

        6. neverjaunty*

          “Don’t let them get a rise out of you” and “ignore them and they’ll go away” are nonsense things adults say when they don’t want to be bothered intervening to stop a bully.

          How the LW should behave towards this new co-worker now has nothing to do with how she “should” feel about him or whether she “should” forgive him. It’s astonishing to me to see all the hand-wringing about the latter.

          1. starsaphire*

            This. Absolutely this.

            The inept school counselors and busy parents of my day all said this, too. It just gives the bullies more leeway to do what they want, without consequences.

        7. Kore*

          At the same time, it’s hard not to let the bully get a rise out of you if what they did had lasting trauma. When I was in high school, I found out that a group of people had been mocking me behind my back for a long time – I actually found out by them apologizing about it to me. While they may think “Oh, I apologized” that single event made it really hard for me to trust people. I was bullied beyond that as a child and it affected my mental health in other ways. I appreciate some childhood bullies come from bad situations, but I don’t think we should trivialize the negative effect bullying can have.

        8. Jadelyn*

          “As long as you are holding on to victim status they are still controlling you.”

          Wow. Can we not with this? Acknowledging that you were victimized by someone and acknowledging that their abuse had long-term traumatic effects is not “holding on to victim status”, and to say that is incredibly insulting and invalidating to people who’ve experienced this. The phrase “holding on to victim status” is putting all the responsibility for one’s abuse on the person who experienced it, while ignoring the person who did the abusing. Not cool.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            I experienced it. I had bullies at school and I had a mentally ill sister assault and traumatized me at home. She actually led the bullying at school too. I had no one my age to play with until I was in the 5th grade.
            There is a huge difference between being a victim and holding on to it. Holding on to it means letting it define your actions.

      2. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

        I don’t think it’s trivializing the effects of childhood bullying (which are huge), to not “criminalize” the children who were the bullies. There’s a reason that children under a certain age are not treated the same as adults for their bad acts and are given a reset in our legal system. A child bully may be a nasty, rotten egg who is never going to get any better or he might be a child in distress who isn’t being protected by the people in power any more than the victim is.

        Personally, I couldn’t have progressed until I came to that understanding. I’m not going to live my life with my head back there. I went forward a l-o-n-g time ago.

        Should that affect what the OP does? I don’t know the OP or her situation and couldn’t say what would make things right for her going forward.

        1. Myrin*

          I’m somewhere in the middle on this issue, certainly due to my own experiences. I’m not exaggerating when I say that in some way, being bullied ruined my life. I mean that insofar as that the only insecurities I carry around with me – I was a very confident child pre-bullying and it’s pretty clear that luckily, that just seems to be part of my general nature – can very explicitly be traced back to what was done to me fifteen years ago. I will never forget or forgive the people who did that to me and – and I’m sorry if that sounds harsh – I don’t care one bit what was the root cause of their behaviour; I mean, I could sympathise with them on an abstract level if I found out something horrible caused them to behave that way but it wouldn’t really faze me, to be quite honest.

          That being said, I behaved what would probably be called “professional” in the adult world towards the one girl who didn’t leave our school shortly after the bullying ended. We spent all the years up until graduation in the same class and I was civil and polite to her, could have a normal conversation etc. I’d probably have a harder time with that had she been the leader of the bullying gang – whom I met a couple years later on the train and when she wanted to talk to me, I stood up and walked away, which is obviously not possible in the workplace. But I think it still would’ve been manageable, although I’d try my hardest to have as little to do with her as possible.

          1. Kore*

            I totally agree – I was a confident, happy, outgoing child, but bullying tanked my self esteem, made me not trust others, and had major effects on my mental health. I understand there are often root causes to bullying, but it doesn’t change the fact that the bullying really caused me a lot of harm.

            1. First Robin of the Season*

              I’m with you two on bullying changing my personality and ruin my life. I was told to “ignore it”, but in the end I got rocks thrown as me everyday at lunch and walking home from school for the last two weeks of the school year. It really breaks your trust in everyone. I went from a “quirky, friendly ham who wanted to be friends with everyone!” to a kid who had a mental breakdown every week and generally misanthropic.

        2. Florida*

          Agree 100%. I work with children (not in any sort of clinical setting), and unless you are around kids a lot, I think adults often forget how young middle school children actually are. We are talking about 11-14 year olds. These are not little adults. Granted, middle school kids are capable of doing many things on their own, but they are still pretty immature emotionally. When kids don’t have the emotional skills to get what they want/need, they act it out instead. I have never in my life witnessed a physical fight in an office setting (although it happens), but it happened nearly every day at my middle school. When kids don’t have the emotional and communication tools they need, they communicate through behavior. (This is why a toddler has a temper tantrum instead of saying, “I’m tired.”)

          Many middle school kids don’t even realize what it is they are seeking. They might want to feel important, but they don’t realize that. They only know that they aren’t getting it.

          You are right too in that the middle school kid may grow up to be a life-long bully or she my grow up to be a very reasonable human being.

          I’m not saying that what happened to OP is nothing. It obviously had an impact on her. I’m saying that from the bully’s side, a child bully is different from an adult bully.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

            I think you put this really well – I know that I’m not around kids much and am constantly thinking kids I run into are younger than they actually are, because I sure don’t remember being that little at that age! This whole conversation reminds me of a conversation on Facebook not too long ago when a friend posted a picture of her kid’s arm after another kid bit him. A couple of people were really quick to go “you should slap that other kid” or “biters should have their mouths’ duct-taped shut”, which seemed to me like a really appalling way to respond to bad behavior from a freaking five-year-old. A teenager’s brain is more developed than a five-year-old’s, but it’s still a good way from being an adult’s.

        3. cbackson*

          Yeah, statistically, children who are bullied have a high likelihood of going on to bully others (google “bully-victim”), so the person many of us remember as our bully has a pretty good likelihood of having experienced some awful stuff herself.

          Compassion is a harder choice, in many ways, but it’s a healthy one (and I was bullied myself).

        4. Bwmn*

          First of all, I completely agree. Personally, growing up I heavily struggled with my brother. He had a lot of medical issues growing up, and as the ‘big sister’ there were a lot of expectations that as the healthy, smarter one – I’d be ok. Which definitely resulted in a lot of me lashing out and being angry as a result.

          My brother and I have definitely come to terms as adults, but I could also easily seeing that pent up anger and frustration with a situation at home having leaked out at school more than I would want to hear about now. As someone largely apart of assorted “unpopular” groups, I definitely don’t see myself as a bully – but I also definitely would not say that shielded me in any way from participating or going along quietly with mean girl behavior.

          That all being said, none of that reflects my professional life and very little reflects my adult life. Not to mention, if I were in a professional context where one employee was refusing to interact with another employee over bullying from middle school – it would be challenging not to side with the former bully provided there was no unprofessionalism at present. Lots and lots of children aren’t very sophisticated with their emotions and whether that comes out as aggressively sarcastic, bullying, fighting, etc. – holding that against adult professionals would be tough.

        5. Lissa*

          I also think that many people were both treated poorly and treated at least one other person poorly as a kid/teenager. We’re more likely to remember being treated poorly, though.

          It’s definitely true there are asshole kids who grow up to be asshole adults, but I also don’t think it’s usually as sharply divided into bullies/victims as is often portrayed…somebody may be a bully one day, a victim the next.

          Like another person said, I mostly hold the teachers responsible for my horrible school experience. I’m an unusual case in that elementary school was far worse…I was outright ostracized and didn’t have anything close to a ‘friend’ till I was 14. But it’s the teachers I resent, for doing things like forcing me to socialize with them when I just wanted to be left alone to read. Or talking to them about how they had to “be nicer” to me. *cringe*.

        6. gmg*

          At least one of my high-school bullies didn’t make it to age 30, because he died of an OxyContin overdose (a couple of years after I last saw him at a social gathering, at which time he didn’t exactly apologize for being a jackwad in high school but did admit that he had some wrong-footed ideas about me and my dorkiness). That was an eye-opening reminder for me that being one of the “cool kids” had its downsides, too.

  2. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms*

    LW #2- regarding the constant reply all (which would,and has,driven me batty too) is there perhaps some aspect of the culture that people are being defensive about? Like if they do only reply to sender, are they constantly fielding questions from every Tomas, Ricardo, and Enrique, saying ” did you get that email? Are you sure? Let me forward it to you again”? I had an awful manager who did something similar, and that was by far the least problematic thing about his micro managing style. Just a thought.

    1. Chocolate lover*

      I can see that being possible. One of my former managers took lack of response (even to things which didn’t seem to need a response) as disrespect and disengagement, never responding made her angry. People started replying to all just to publicly pacify her.

  3. Scotty Smalls*

    We have a new employee, who is replying all to every email sent out by the head office. It makes me want to say something, but I’m waiting for the office to address it. In one she rsvp’d to a training (there are 2 to choose from) with just a “RSVP”. Its my two pet peeves put together, uninformative (not that I needed the info) and reply alls.

    1. Koko*

      I’m a grinch so the reply-alls that annoy me most are the ones where everyone is congratulating/thanking/welcoming a coworker. I emailed my coworker (privately) to congratulate her on her promotion, and then for the next hour watched other people hitting reply-all to congratulate her. Reply-alls are pretty rare outside of that context and it never fails to come across to me like people feel like they’re proving something by showing how magnanimous and kind they are. And of course once a few people have done it I’m sure everyone else feels politically like they have to do it or they’ll be seen as an asshole. And of course I never say anything because who complains about people having the nerve to thank or congratulate others?

      1. Elizabeth West*

        That happens in my admin group. Someone gets an accolade and they hit reply all instead of congratulating the coworker directly.

        The other day, someone did a “It’s X days until Christmas!!! Who’s ready!?!?!?!?!?!?!” email, and I wanted to kill myself.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          NO! Banish them! Or better, yet, make them wear a dunce cap. Haha.

          It is far, far too early for that nonsense!

      2. Jadelyn*

        Reply-alls in that context are absolutely 100% about loudly proclaiming I Am A Good Person where everyone can see you doing it. I get defensive in those circumstances, because for example maybe I actually went up to the coworker and personally congratulated them over their promotion, but I didn’t do the public performative congratulations, so people might think I’m being rude. Ugh.

      3. NolongerMsCleo*

        If I send out promotion emails or something along those lines I just BCC everyone to prevent the reply all avalanche that will follow.

  4. Artemis*

    For letter #5, this may be a nitpick, but where in the resume should that go? Under the temp job or the newly created one? I am in a similar situation and will soon be applying for jobs, but it has been a long time since I’ve reworked my resume and I’m not sure which would be best.

    1. Former Invoice Girl*

      I personally would do it this way:

      “Temp job
      – indication that the outstanding performance led to a position specifically created for this LW

      New job (the one that was created for LW)”

      – at least this is what makes the most sense to me, but I’d like to see what others suggest.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If the two jobs aren’t entirely different from each other, I’d do it this way:

      Teapots Inc.
      Permanent Job Title (date-date)
      Temp Title (date-date)
      * accomplishment
      * accomplishment
      * accomplishment

      But otherwise, what Former Invoice Girl suggested.

  5. Shabu Shabu*

    #4 – my department head did something similar (new employee, salary negotiations, etc.) but no one said a word. It almost made me think I was the only one who read the whole thread.

    If you forward me an email, I *will* read the thread it its entirety. I’ve seen some wild stuff….

    1. Jeanne*

      It is often considered polite to pretend you haven’t seen or heard something. Maybe that’s what happened. Or it was considered too much of a hot potato to discuss. You can’t be the only one who read it. I would have read it all too.

      1. Ann On for this*

        I belong to a professional organisation which has a mailing list. It is possible to reply to the individual sender, or to the entire mailing list.

        A few years ago, the whole mailing list received an announcement about a convention, and was then treated to several messages exchanged between the sender and another member in which they (both married to other people) arranged to hook up at the convention. I think they learnt a very serious lesson about reply all and appropriate uses of work emails… and it greatly amused most of the mailing list recipients (it’s usually a very dull and grown up mailing list).

        1. Case of the Mondays*

          Part of this has to do with how list serves operate I think. I belong to one where if you hit just “reply” it actually “replies all” since the original post comes from “group at listserve” not just the person writing it. There is a separate button to click if you want to reply privately. It’s the exact opposite of regular email convention and ripe for hilarious errors, which happen frequently.

        2. Anon for this*

          Oh my god oh my god oh my god.

          When I was doing tier 2 desktop support at OldJob, I once got a ticket to remote into every PC at our training center for some internal software upgrades. I worked on a couple with no issues, but the next one I logged into was apparently being used for training, because when I logged in, the PC had Lotus Notes email up on the screen, with an open email describing in quite a bit of detail the steamy things that the sender of the email wanted to do to the recipient. I didn’t know either of these people. I logged out and didn’t mention it to anyone. So, much tamer than a reply to all. The takeaway from it, I guess, is that I would advise not to do any personal stuff on a training PC, even if the class is really really boring.

          1. cleo*


            When I taught college, one of my colleagues gave a practical exam in a computer lab. She had remote desktop on the faculty computer so she could monitor all of the students to prevent cheating and to make sure there weren’t any technical problems. One of her students opened up a chat window, started chatting with his (presumed) girlfriend and typed “what are you wearing?”

      2. K.*

        The HR manager at my old job sent out an email with promotion information to the entire company. It was a big company so there was a fairly large number of promotions and the email included a lot of sensitive information including salary info, SSNs, etc. She recalled it but it was too late – a lot of people, myself included, had opened it and read it. No one talked about the information in the email, but people did talk about how she’d messed up and sent it to everyone (this was not her first mistake of that size).

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        I was once on a semi-professional listserv, and someone sent a VERY personal message to the list that was obviously meant to go to his wife. Most of us politely ignored it, but one person responded to the entire list, telling us the kindest thing to in these circumstances is to ignore it. Which is what we were doing, except for you, bub.

    2. Joseph*

      “If you forward me an email, I *will* read the thread it its entirety. I’ve seen some wild stuff….”
      Yeah. If you’re forwarding me an email, the implication is “hey, the rest of this stuff forwarded below is also relevant information”.
      And really, you kinda *need* to at least skim the entire thread. Because there’s often useful information buried down in the threads – including (sadly common), the *actual information* that someone is requesting (wait, did you even read the email thread you forwarded? because your question was already asked and answered seven emails ago).

    3. Anon for this*

      We had a lot of new positions finally open at OldJob after we’d been shortstaffed for years. That happened a week after I gave notice. The managers gathered for a discussion in my supervisor’s office and drew a table on the dry-erase board: job title, # of openings, starting pay, bonus %… He was supposed to erase it when they were done. Not only did he forget, but the next day at lunch, he called me into his office and told me about the discussion the night before, “we were here last night, putting all the numbers on this board” and pointed to it.

      I look at the board, which I wouldn’t have otherwise noticed, and it jumps out at me right away that my replacement’s starting pay was going to be 30% higher than what OldJob was paying me at that time. Boss sees my face, finally looks at the board, sees the numbers, and goes all shades of pale. He thought he’d erased them.

      He begged me not to tell, so I only told two people I could trust and swore them to secrecy. After I left, they told everyone else, just as I hoped they would. Apparently I was not the only one being underpaid. There was a lot of talk and eventually an all-hands meeting . I was hoping a department-wide salary adjustment would come out of this, but nope, the management somehow explained to everyone that they were not being underpaid after all, and swept the whole thing under the rug. Good times. One of the few things I’ve done in my life that I’ll be proud of when I’m on my deathbed. Even if nothing came out of it. My supervisor was let go a year later, but for different reasons – he was incompetent in more ways than one.

    4. Venus Supreme*

      Yup. I was in a similar situation. Hiring guy at OldJob sent me a final salary offer and included the e-mail chain conversation between some higher-ups about my salary negotiations. A lot of “who the eff does she think she is?” sentiments were shared, and one interviewer even claimed I never set a desired salary range, although I actually did. I never acknowledged that conversation but it made for a very uncomfortable first day of work…

        1. Venus Supreme*

          In hindsight, I realized what a red flag that was. The organization (three people total, plus a board) was super dysfunctional. My new job is great though!

    5. Moonsaults*

      I keep trying to teach my boss about reading the rest of the thread but still no dice. So not only am I constantly reading the entire thread, I’m also laughing hysterically when people forward things that are obviously not for our eyes. I’ve heard the best things about my character within a forwarded thread looking for my assistance.

  6. Merry and Bright*

    On #1, having been bullied myself at school, I would immediately be feeling on edge but, as an adult, I know I wouldn’t want to risk giving him the satisfaction of feeling he still had an effect on me So I would be professional but play it super cool. Let him make an acknowledgement if he wants to. Let him squirm a bit if need be. I haven’t met school bullies at work but I have in other contexts. Some change, some don’t but that is their issue and not mine.

  7. Iain Clarke*

    #2 This is easy to solve – if one person is sending out these announcements: stop sending out To Alls! Send out BCC alls.

    Bcc:;;; (etc)
    Subject: Free dino ribs in the breakroom!

    Then, when your poorly behaved colleagues do a Reply All, only poor Bambam will see the replies, and it won;t annoy you any more.

    1. Been there*

      I like the intent with the BCC, but…. I am envisioning 10 people thinking “X, Y, and Z should have been included in this email” and then forwarding said email to X, Y, and Z. Resulting in X, Y, and Z getting 11 copies of the same email. :(

      1. Iain Clarke*

        That’s why you don’t put a specific person in your To, but either put something fake, like “allusers@”, or yourself.

        But yes, it’s impossible to guard completely against people actively foot-shooting!

        1. KWu*

          You can also have an italicized first line that says, “bcc’ed to all@ because I wanted to inform everyone, but replies will go just directly to me.” Will be helpful the first few times in particular.

      2. HR Pro*

        I agree with the suggestion. In our gmail system at work, we can see that the message went out to all staff AND that it was BCC’d.

        The problem with the suggestion to use BCC is to actually get people to remember to do it — I can (and do) remind the people who report to me to use BCC, but the executives in our company don’t always remember. Still, it’s better than nothing!

        1. Koko*

          Another really good reason to do it is to protect your coworkers’ inboxes from spam. I used to work in a position where I had to set up meetings between my boss and VIPs in our industry. A lot of times the way I tracked down VIP personal email addresses was by searching for their name in our email accounts and eventually coming across some kind of industry email where someone in our office had been a recipient, the VIP had also been a recipient, and the sender had not used BCC, so everyone who got the email could see the names and addresses of everyone else who got the email. This worked on multiple occasions, and since then I’ve always been vigilant about protecting the people I email from having their addresses exposed that way.

    2. Mona Lisa*

      This was what I was coming here to comment! After sending an e-mail to a several faculty and admins recently that required a one line response and having half the group reply all, I’ve started BCC’ing everyone or breaking the e-mails down into relevant groupings so that, even if an admin hits reply all, she isn’t responding to 15 different professors multiple times.

      1. Ms. Minn*

        We have that problem at my smallish company too. However, it’s typically only a few people who feel the need to reply all. Since we are passive aggressive Minnesotans, those individuals don’t get spoken too directly – instead it was brought up at an all-company staff meeting and of course those reply-all people didn’t get it.

        Now our office manager BCCs when sending out announcements. Since she sends the most group emails, it has cut down on the reply all madness. If you can get at least a few people to do BCC emails, it may help your level of sanity!

        1. Rater Z*

          This happened 10 or 15 years ago but I wound up being one of about 10 guys being sent an e-mail (spam) touting a porn site. I ignored it but one of the others replied that it was a great place and hit reply all. Then, someone else responded with reply all, then a third, a fourth… About the fifth or sixth person using reply all, I had enough and forwarded it to AOL asking for help to shut it down. That took care of it.

    3. Karo*

      You don’t even have to put anyone in the “to” line in some systems. Outlook lets you send to a BCCed group without addressing any specific person.

      And, as others have suggested, putting a note or a list of people you’re sending it to can be helpful. A former employee here used to send emails, BCC a couple of groups, then the first line of his email would be a list of which groups he sent it to. No explanation as to why, just “List A, List B and List C BCCed.”

    4. Joseph*

      One thing to note with the BCC thing is that you should ONLY do it for irrelevant or procedural emails – if you do this on project-related stuff, it really looks like you’re trying to hide things (wait, as Senior Teapot Designer shouldn’t John be copied so he’s aware of this?).
      Also, I don’t know if you’re aware of this or you just came up with something ridiculous, but there’s actually a restaurant in Syracuse by the name Dinosaur Barbecue that makes *awesome* ribs.

    5. Jadelyn*

      Our CEO is a huge stickler on using BCC for all-staff emails for this exact reason.

      Last year we were all treated to one branch sharing their wishlists for a Secret Santa with each other because of injudicious use of CC vs BCC. That was fun.

  8. Myrin*

    I’d be greatly amused – something I can only do because I’m not actually in OP’s shoes – if OP 2 wrote an email like Alison suggested and then everyone replied-all “Okay!”, “Will do!”, and so on.

  9. MK*

    #4, I realise that money is considered a private issue for many people (much more in the U.S. than in my culture, which is why I don’t get why it’s embarrassing for the candidates; a little awkward maybe, but unless the exchanges contained something inappropriate, I don’t see what they have to be embarrassed about), but I am very surprised by the OP’s reaction. Would one really expect a person to be fired or demoted over this, especially when it was unintentional? To me, a stern reminder to be careful in the future would about fit the bill; whatever anyone may think of as their “privacy”, this was not sensitive personal information.

    1. LeRainDrop*

      There are a whole lot of companies that would protect individual salary information and be sensitive to the employees’ expectation of privacy surrounding it (leaving aside the benefits the companies themselves get from not alerting the employees to their salary ranges/discrepancies). Plus, it wasn’t just a money disclosure — it was an assessment of two different candidates who both already work there, and the selection of one over the other! How would you feel if you were the losing candidate and the email chain was exposed to your co-workers? I take OP #4 at her word, based on the reactions of the many co-workers, that the assistant director’s disclosure of the salary discussions and candidate comparisons was accidental. That said, I agree that it’s not something over which the OP should expect the assistant director to be fired or demoted. Once it’s brought to his attention, he should be plenty embarrassed by his mistake and hopefully use extra caution to avoid repeating anything similar in the future.

      1. Mol106*

        OP#4 here.
        We weren’t expecting him to be fired or demoted. We were just wondering if it was something that would be considered a punishable offense because of wage discussion/disclosure laws (none of us are employment lawyers). I submitted the question out of curiousity.

        1. LeRainDrop*

          Okay, gotcha. I had believed you thought it might be a possibility from where you wrote, “He hasn’t been fired, or demoted as far as we can tell.” Sorry for the misunderstanding.

        2. Observer*

          Except that there really are NOT any wage discussion / disclosure laws – EXCEPT for the law in the US that explicitly states that employers ABSOLUTELY MAY NOT in any way shape or form keep people from discussing or disclosing their wages.

          1. Mol106*

            I know that I can discuss with my coworker at my level what I make. The question was whether my boss is allowed to discuss with my coworker what I make.
            So now I have clarification that the boss can discuss whatever he likes with anyone.

            1. fposte*

              There’s certainly no law against his discussing it, but it would be legal for your employer to forbid a supervisor from discussing the pay of his employees.

              1. fposte*

                Sorry, I lost track that you were the OP. What he did wasn’t illegal, because there are no laws *against* wage disclosure. But what he did also isn’t protected by law since he’s a supervisor, so your company could discipline him if it chose to.

          2. fposte*

            Well, there are some shapes and forms where they can, since there are several categories of worker exempt from the NLRA.

            1. Mol106*

              Thanks for your information. Obviously the company wouldn’t discuss with anyone if he were being disciplined in some way, and I don’t know if there’s a written company policy. When I was a supervisor in a previous position here it was an unspoken rule that you didn’t discuss it, and I’m sure this boss knew that too. I guess it was just the scale of the blunder that amazed us, although he has always been a bit of a doofus with email.

          3. Shabu Shabu*

            I got in trouble for this. I wish 26 year old me knew this at the time!
            I would have told that supervisor to F off. (J/K – professional me would have calmly reminded said supervisor that NLRA exists)

        3. Lucky*

          I would be squirrelling that email away for the next time I was negotiating a promotion & salary increase. It shows how they negotiate and that they pay below standard and know it’s making them lose talent.

    2. AD*

      What someone is being paid is not “sensitive personal information”? I beg to differ. And I don’t think cultural norms are to blame here. People’s personal finances are most definitely private information everywhere I’ve lived.

      1. Zahra*

        From a business perspective, it certainly isn’t (well, the law says it isn’t). How else are you supposed to know that there is discrimination? Especially since the old law in the US allowed to seek redress only during the first 6 months (or something like that) of the discrimination, not within 6 months of becoming aware of it. If everyone is so tight-lipped about their salary that you couldn’t know within 6 months, you were SOL.

      2. MK*

        I am assuming you haven’t lived everywhere in the world, so I don’t understand why you dismiss that cultural norms may be different elsewhere. To clarify, I was not suggesting that this person made the information public because he didn’t think it was sensitive and private (it seems obvious it was a careless mistake); I merely mentioned it to give some context for my surprise at the OP’s reaction.

        In my culture and others I am familiar with, “what do you earn?” or “how much have you paid for X” are not considered rude or inappropriate questions; of course you are not supposed to press them for details, but that goes for pretty much any question. And while I respect anyone’s wish to keep such things to themselves and wouldn’t do anything to infringe on that, I actually consider it harmful when society considers finance a taboo subject.

        1. Zahra*

          I too wish that the “what do you earn” conversation would be less taboo! I usually go through a “what kind of salary someone like me should expect?”, “Do you think X$ is fair?”, or a “I’ll show you mine, show me yours (but I’ll give you a 5K range, so you can do the same)” strategy, which is time consuming and pretty vague.

        2. Mol106*

          (OP here)
          To us, the embarrassing part was that it was made public essentially without the person’s knowledge. It’s one thing for you to say “I make $X” in a conversation or to ask others about their earnings. It’s another thing entirely for your boss to announce to everyone what your new salary is.
          I agree that the taboo is weird in the private sector. My spouse is a federal government employee, and the salary is public because of the job level. Everyone knows (or can find out) what a GS-step-whatever makes.

      3. DeadQuoteOlympics*

        I work for a U.S. state in a public university, and all state employee salaries are posted in searchable databases of one kind or another, usually created by the newspapers in the region. This is very common in states with robust public records laws.

      4. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        I think we need to detach “what someone is being paid” from “personal finances” – making salaries more widely known is helpful for a number of reasons, not the least of which is combating discrimination. Personal finances is a much broader category, however, including debts, spending patterns, and other sources of income, and it is perfectly understandable why someone would want to keep that private. One’s pay stub certainly plays into their personal finances, but is only a single factor.

  10. Wendy*

    Can’t agree on the bullying advice, which seems not to take seriously the effect of childhood bullying. Whether or not the bully remember is not the point at all, and a light shrug and an implicit “time to get over it” is not appropriate either.

    Talk to the boss, who no doubt had no idea at all, and see how you two can be kept separate — can you work on another floor, in another division, etc. If it’s not possible I’d recommend leaving. Not worth your mental health to stay. A wellmeaning but thick boss may try to force a kiss-and-make-up session; cut this idea off at the pass and say under no circumstances would you allow yourself to be retraumatized like that, and that this is not like a disagreement between people, but about past abuse. It’s no different from going in and saying, “This is my ex-husband and he abused me for three years; I can’t work with him.”

    The boss may, of course, be immediately understanding. The boss may even be miraculous, and be so understanding that she calls in the new hire and says she apologizes but there’s been a mistake. But when bosses are thick in a retro manner about abuse, bigotry, etc., it’s not a reason to hide in order to preserve a professional appearance. Talk about it calmly and give it to your boss as the HR problems it is. It may be possible to treat it as a condition that requires accommodation.

    1. Sophie Winston*

      All bullying is not equal, and it’s clear this LW did not experience that level of trauma. To suggest she needs accommodations only undercuts the smaller population suffering from PTSD that truly needs those accommodations.

    2. BRR*

      Woah I think it’s a stretch to compare it to spousal abuse (at least without further details) and it’s rather harsh to suggest someone should be fired over this. From an outside manager perspective, they have no way of knowing what happened many years ago and should certainly not take immediate action on it. It’s also the lw who is new in this situation, not the bully.

      I’m well aware of the effects of bullying but in this situation nobody knows if the bully remembers or if he is remorseful. I don’t think it should be written off as kids will be kids but the bully could be a completely different person and how long should we hold people accountable for what they did as a child. If the bully isn’t a jerk anymore, feels awful for what he did, and apologizes; does he not deserve a second chance at some point. I’m not saying the lw needs to be bffs or write it off but it can be unreasonable to hold onto things forever.

    3. Roscoe*

      THis seems very extreme of a reaction for someone that they haven’t seen in over 10 years (who knows how much longer). Firing someone for something they did as a kid? Refusing to work with them? Come on now

    4. Whats In A Name*

      WHOA. This seems a bit much. Firing someone for something they did in middle school? I got no impression that the bullying has caused any level of PTSD or other medically treatable condition; just simple discomfort and uncertainty.

    5. J.B.*

      Bullies can themselves be victims of some pretty yucky stuff and then turn it around on others. That was certainly the case with someone who seriously threatened me (as opposed to girls who verbally taunted me.) You don’t know what went on, and for me living well and that I really DGAF has been the best part of adulthood. There’s a wide range and I think Alison’s advice is sound. The OP should handle it how she wants to.

      1. Pink Teapot*

        Agreed. I would venture that most child bullies are themselves victims of some kind of abuse or bullying. Some realize what’s going on, deal with it, and stop being bullies. Others continue into adulthood.

        But a bully’s recovery doesn’t change the effects of their past behavior on victims. So this person should handle the situation in the way they’re most comfortable with, and seek support if necessary.

    6. Alton*

      Bullying can cover a wide range of behavior, from occasional mocking to an unrelenting campaign of harassment to physical assault. The OP implies that the bullying was serious, but there isn’t enough context to know if this level of response is needed. I don’t get the sense that the OP necessarily feels threatened by the former bully.

      I agree that suggesting someone should just “get over” bullying is inconsiderate, but there’s a lot of middle ground between making peace with a former bully and feeling like they still compromise your safety and mental health.

    7. Sue Wilson*

      Considering the question is “how do I approach this person professionally?” and the answer is “Be professional but do whatever makes you comfortable,” what is there to disagree with?

      In other words, please take the OP at their word that what they want is a professional relationship.

    8. Observer*

      This is totally over the top, as others have already noted.

      The ONE thing you are correct about is that there is a chance that a well meaning boss may try to force a “kiss and make up session” and that’s really not a good idea. That’s not highly likely, but it’s a very good reason to NOT tell your boss anything.

    9. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh my goodness, it’s extremely different from “This is my ex-husband and he abused me for three years; I can’t work with him.” This is something that happened when they were kids, and we have nothing in the letter that indicates it was as severe as you’re treating it as. The OP says that she wants to have a professional working relationship with him and that she hopes he has “matured and changed in the many years since.”

    10. Allie*

      I think trying to get someone fired for something they did when they were 11-14 years old and years down the line is completely inappropriate. This is radically different from an abusive spouse because that was committed when the person in question was an adult. Frankly, someone trying this with a boss would reflect badly on them and not on the other employee. I say this as someone who was on the receiving end of some nasty stuff in middle school myself.

    11. Anna*

      I don’t even know what to do with this.

      If people were fired for things they did at 11 years old, what the hell sort of weird world would that be?

  11. Engineer Girl*

    #1 – That was a long time ago and the adult may not be the child you remember.
    I’m thinking of one childhood bully in particular. When I was in my 20s I found out her dad was beating her regularly. So it turned out that she was treating me rather well in context with how she was treated. We became friends later in life.
    So I would give the benefit of the doubt. They may have overcome the root cause of their bad behavior.

    1. aNoN*

      It’s nice to understand the cause of behavior and adds context for why people do what they do but that’s not the OPs problem or any victim of bullying. This further illustrates why bullying behavior needs to be called out by adults sooner. It affects everyone involved in the situation. Understanding the reason for the behavior doesn’t take away the pain and angst the OP may have suffered and warrants the survival instinct to act in this case. Work is generally a neutral place for workers and the bully’s presence has introduced a perceived threat for the OP. Hopefully the OP can work on practices to alleviate trauma responses that will aid in minimizing the reaponse to the bully.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        Yeah, I’m really not pleased here with the idea that it’s incumbent on the OP to forgive and forget. If the bully doesn’t do anything to acknowledge that they weren’t kind to the OP… well, why does the OP have to pretend like they’re accepting the “everything’s cool now, no harm done” narrative?

        If they choose to, that’s fine — no one is saying the OP has to hold a grudge. But they shouldn’t be expected to simply shrug it off, either.

        1. Roscoe*

          How long are you really supposed to hold 10 year old’s responsible for that behavior. Hell, even if you get arrested as a minor, for most things it is off your record as an adult

          1. Whats In A Name*

            I am a little baffled by peoples advice to hold onto the behavior of a middle school kid, too. Childhood is confusing! I mean there is a big difference between being mean and catching a neighbors cat on fire.

            Not to mention the long term effects bullying are just coming to the forefront of development and handling the behavior has only been really highlighted in the past 5 years (maybe less). To blame the adults that didn’t help seems counterproductive.

            1. Observer*

              I don’t buy the last paragraph AT ALL.

              It’s always been pretty clear t anyone that paid attention that bullying is a severe problem. And while the specifics of certain things are only now being studied, that doesn’t absolve anyone. Even if there are no long term effects – which is NOT something any reasonable person should ever have swallowed – it’s just not ok to allow someone be tormented, even if all you are worrying about is the moment.

              1. Whats In A Name*

                All I was saying was that if she is 25 and was bullied 15 years ago schools didn’t have anti-bullying policies in effect.

                When I was in middle school and someone picked on me, put hot soup in my backpack, threw away my text books, stole my lunch money or cut up my favorite t-shirt in gym class the response 25 years ago was “suck it up young lady” by my parents, my grandparents, my friends, my neighbors, my teachers. It was just different.

                1. Observer*

                  Actually, not as different as you claim. “Suck it up” has NEVER been an appropriate response to the things you describe. Of the parents I knew, the only ones who would have reacted that way were parents who were pretty problematic as parents or who were inadequate and didn’t want their kids to see it.

                  As for school staff – that has nothing to do with not understanding bullying. It has everything to do with power politics, institutional inertia, and a few other related issues. Which is why the same places that allowed bullying by and large allowed the sexual harassment, molestation and assault on their students – by staff and / or students. And THAT has been illegal for for a long time.

                  Think of places like Horace Mann, the LA Unified School district (3 schools and probably close to 200 kids in all), and St. George’s (decades of abuse and at least 61 kids abused, some by staff and some by students.) These are not the only ones, of course, but it gives you some sense of the scope of the problem of staff turning their backs on the kids in their charge for reasons that have zero to do with lack of knowledge.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  Yeah, the response I got was suck it up or ignore it. This type of advice is given by people who don’t know how to handle bullies. It was pretty much the norm from my experience.

                  I will say that the more corrupt the institution then the worse the bullying is. Suck it up or ignore it COULD be indicative of corruption, but not always.

                3. WhatsIn A Name*

                  @ Observer….thank you for assuming my parents are problematic and inadequate. They raised a pretty successful group of kids without laying a finger on them or exhibiting any kind of abuse but it’s good to know that that they don’t pass your standards of parenting.

          2. KellyK*

            But if you shoplift as a minor, the store you stole from is under no obligation to let you come back when you’re an adult. Likewise, if you steal from an individual, they’re under no obligation to leave their possessions unattended around you, regardless of what your criminal record shows. In the same way, there is no statute of limitations in personal relationships. If someone called you names, or physically assaulted you, or stole your lunch money, there is never a point at which you are obliged to pretend it didn’t happen and be their friend, not even if you’re both 97 and in the same nursing home.

            The bullied coworker does not owe the childhood bully *anything* but the cordial neutrality of a coworker. If it helps the OP to strike up a pleasant relationship with the bully now, they can do that. But if it helps them to keep things strictly professional, not initiate any conversations deeper than “How was your weekend?” or “Hey, can I get your section of the TPS report by Tuesday?” then that is also fine. And setting personal boundaries with someone who has hurt you, even if other people do not like or understand those boundaries, is not “being a victim.”

            1. Engineer Girl*

              It’s not about owning anyone anything. It’s choosing to move beyond it so that the painful past memories no longer control you. You give the other person forgiveness so you can detach and move on.
              I’m surprised that so many here would rather wallow in victimhood. It’s not going to take away the pain.
              Forgiveness is something you do for yourself. It frees you from the mean person.

              1. Myrin*

                I really can’t agree with that. “Not forgiving” and “moving on” are not mutually exclusive – I have certainly long moved on from being bullied but the three times a year I think about the girls who did it, I certainly haven’t forgiven them and I never will.

              2. Oryx*

                My ex cheated on me. I’ve moved on from it, I don’t “wallow in victimhood.” It happened years ago, we haven’t spoken since our break-up, and I’m happily living with someone else. We work in the same field so there’s always a chance I’ll run into him at a conference and if I do I’ll be polite and professional.

                But no, I don’t forgive him for that. These aren’t mutually exclusive.

              3. KellyK*

                Who said anything about wallowing? *If* forgiving helps you move on, great, do that. But pressuring people to forgive before they’re ready is weird and counterproductive. And it frequently turns into pretending that you weren’t hurt or pretending nothing happened so you can prove how “over it” you are.

              4. aebhel*

                Honestly, I really hate that attitude. Acknowledging that you’ve been hurt (sometimes in permanent ways, depending on exactly what happened) is not ‘wallowing in victimhood’, and there are a lot of ways to move on that don’t involve forgiveness.

              5. Not So NewReader*

                The more I read about this, the more I am finding that forgiving may not be everyone’s key to freedom. Some folks may need to do different things to find their freedom and forgiving is a minor or non-player. OTH, some folks may never forgive and still find many ways to free their minds and hearts. In turn, I think that when someone decides not to forgive that may happen for a reason, perhaps the bully needs to learn that they can permanently lose friendships/relationships.There may be a bigger picture that we are unaware of, I wonder if I have the right to interfere with that bigger picture by telling a person they have to forgive. (Just a long range, meaning of life question with no real answer.)

                I have come to see that telling a person who is not ready to forgive (or may never be ready) that they have to forgive to find freedom can actually cause setbacks/hurts. So I would am a little more cautious about recommending that path, particularly when other paths can be used.

                What other paths? Well, for one how about, “This is a part of my life story, but it is not the only part. I will have many parts to my life story. Although this part is ugly, scary, etc, it has shaped me and made me the person I am now. Tricky part: It has shaped me in GOOD ways as well as bad ways.” It’s really easy to remember the bad ways something has impacted us, and too easy to forget how something has shaped us in good ways where we are more insightful, more in tune with others.

                Another path: Sometimes the best people can do is get their weary minds and hearts to realize the bullying is over. It’s not happening any more.

                I am sure there are other paths.

                I am on kind of an odd path myself. I have had this, that and the next thing in life. If a former bully turned up in my workplace, I might just hand in my notice. I would not be doing it because it’s the mature thing to do, obviously. My choice would be based on the fact that I feel I have dealt with enough crap for the moment and I can and I will have a workplace where I do not have to walk on eggs just to get through my day. It’s not worth it to me. For me, the ultimate freedom is walking away. I have rarely had that option and I have the health discomforts to prove it.

                OP, I am not sure what your path is. This is a work blog, so most of the advice is going to be to help you keep your job and stay working. That actually is the best answer for many situations. However, only you know your load tolerance, only you know how many risks you can take, and only you know how much internal strength you have. And these are all factors that must weigh into your solution. You have to keep stress levels tolerable, you have to limit your risks to reasonable ones for your setting and recognize it will take some internal strength to get through this.

                If it were me I would plan out what I would say for a couple foreseeable scenarios. I might even practice in front of the mirror or in the car on the way to work.

            2. Myrin*

              This. And also, can we see things in proportion here a little? We are here talking about one person, the person who was bullied by another, potentially holding someone accountable for what they did as children. We are not talking about how a whole society should ostracise someone for all eternity because they were a bully when they were ten. The (former?) bully is not going to crumble and waste away because one or even a handful of persons cannot forgive them for something they did years ago.

            3. TL -*

              I don’t think anyone is suggesting the OP befriend the bully! I think the suggestions are really that she switch her thinking from, “this person IS a bully,” to “this person WAS a bully,” and be professionally cordial to them.

            4. Natalie*

              No one, Roscoe included, seems to be suggesting that the OP needs to be friends with this co-worker. “Not holding present-day them responsible for childish behavior” != “be friends”.

          3. aebhel*

            There’s a difference between holding them legally responsible and trying to ruin their life over it, vs. not really wanting to be BFFs with someone who terrorized you as a child.

            OP should be professional. But that’s all she owes the (former) bully: not friendship, understanding, forgiveness, or absolution. Professional, neutral behavior is the name of the game.

      2. BRR*

        I definitely agree with you that Any backstory to the bully doesn’t take away what they did but I think engineer girl has a point that people don’t stay who they were as children. If the guy is a jerk now your can conclude he’s a lifelong jerk. It’s not reasonable to forever link people to their actions as a child. I wouldn’t give the bully a free pass but if they feel bad about what they did, acknowledge it, apologize, etc. why would you not be at least a little flexible at some point.

        1. Purest Green*

          This. I’m startled by the recent questions and responses like this that seem to suggest a person can never live down a past mistake and change – apparently even from childhood.

          1. Gaara*

            But it will damage the LW’s professional reputation. So it’s either find a new job, or interact with the former bully in a professional manner.

          2. neverjaunty*

            The OP didn’t ask for armchair theorizing about whether this person is still a jerk or what caused his behavior, and yet, she’s getting buckets of it. Which have nothing to do with her actual questions about how to behave towards this dude.

            1. Purest Green*

              I don’t understand your point. People are allowed to state their opinions that are wholly related to the topic, even if they don’t offer a direct answer to the question. Plenty of people on the other side of this have offered no actual answer to OP either.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Yes, people are allowed to state whatever opinions fit within the comments policy. I’m just startled that the OP is getting lectures on forgiveness.

        2. Pardon*

          Because I don’t trust my 5th-12th grade bully in the least. If he apologized and I let down my guard, I would not put it past him to then take advantage again. Maybe he’s not like that anymore, but I’m not willing to put myself back in any situation where I have to interact with him.

      3. Photoshop Til I Drop*

        Exactly, it isn’t her problem. You being in pain doesn’t justify you inflicting it on someone else.

        1. Anna*

          You’re still talking about a child, though. So that reasoning doesn’t work in this case. That isn’t to excuse and it’s not the OP’s job to forgive, but you can’t apply your adult thinking to how a child thinks and believe that it makes sense.

    2. Punkin*

      Agreed. With the brain not fully formed until the mid-20s, it is possible that bullies (who may be fighting bad situations themselves) mature & become decent people.

      I tell you, I was floored when several classmates’ battles were revealed over the last few years. Some were perfect to the outside and in turmoil in truth. Some were just barely surviving abuse at home.

      Some bullies remain bullies forever. Some find better ways to cope. I have to develop skills to work with a variety of personalities. Fortunately, my work place pretty much nips power trips in the bud.

      1. Cat steals keyboard*

        Then there are those of us who were abused at home and bullied at school and did not become bullies ourselves.

        I believe that with kids all behaviour is communication and, yes, bullies bully for a reason. But don’t forget some of the people who had battles to fight at home were on the receiving end at school.

        1. Cat*

          This is certainly true, but behavior, disfunctional or otherwise, is complicated. The effects of abuse on children is not going to be the same on everyone for reasons not entirely related to the moral culpability of the child.

        2. TL -*

          I had shit going on at home and while I didn’t bully, a lot of the moments/things I’m not proud of in my life spring from that.
          I grew up and moved on, as one does. Not everyone who is in pain bullies but I’d be extremely surprised if anyone can honestly say they’ve never regretted a behavior or even pattern caused by pain.

      2. Photoshop Til I Drop*

        Not my problem. I got thrown around at home, and didn’t take it out on anyone else. It’s not automatic, it’s a choice.

      3. Here, kitty, kitty...*

        I don’t give a flying effing fig what the bullies who tormented me at school were putting up with at home. I was putting up with a pretty horrific home environment, and I refused to take that out on anyone else because I couldn’t bear putting someone through the same kind of pain I experienced at home. I attempted suicide three times before I was 18 because of the combination of home and school. No, I do not care what those… the kindest thing I can call them is wastes of air… were going through. They made my life an endless cycle of torment for 12 years before I finally just ran away from home to get away from it all.

        I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think people change only rarely. Your basic personality traits are in place by around age 8. I’d wager good money that 99% of the people who treated me like dog feces are still jerks. The remaining 1%, still don’t care what their reasons for degrading another human being were.

        I’m amused by the people defending children’s behavior because they’re children! Children know they’re being cruel. They aren’t stupid. I don’t know where this idea that children are all innocence and unintended consequences came from, but it needs to die a painful death. The childhood social dynamic is surprisingly complex, and mimics very closely that of the adult world. Kids know when they’re being cruel to other kids. There’s the rare exception, due to autism or similar conditions, but neurotypical kids absolutely know. I was stymied by what I would hear from adults versus what I knew to be true in the schoolyard: “Oh, just ignore him! He doesn’t know he’s being mean, he doesn’t mean it.” Bob (a composite of my childhood bullies) absolutely knew.

        Those whom Florence King called “huggybears” will continue to deny the truth of this, of course.

        1. TL -*

          People’s personalities aren’t set at 8 – at 8, most people are just barely learning to be empathetic and kind. The thing is, these are things that children have to learn – that their actions harm others, to empathize with others, to understand that people may be hurt by things that don’t bother them, and to understand consequences. The kids in the school yard may know they’re doing wrong or being mean, but they probably don’t really understand why it’s wrong or what mean can do. They don’t understand long-term consequences and they certainly don’t understand how being mean to someone today (or even for a year of todays) could do serious, lasting harm to others.

          You teach them by modeling and correcting them when they’re doing wrong, so saying, “oh, Janey’s just a child,” isn’t enough. Realizing Janey’s a child and modulating your response appropriately is.

          And, I don’t know about you, but all of my friends and I have done things to others that we regret because of pain or anger. I don’t think any of it was on the level of bullying, but I don’t think I’m such an angel that I can say, “Well, I never had to learn to be kinder, softer, better, so you – a child – shouldn’t have either.”

        2. fposte*

          Florence King is an odd person to bring up here; I can’t imagine her believing that adults should be protected by their workplaces from their childhood bullies.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I am not sure which point we are tossing around here- is it the childhood bully in the workplace OR is it the other point of Bully was a child? I am up too late reading this.

            In regard to Bully was a child therefore we need to excuse the behavior, the problem comes in where Recipient was ALSO a child. This means we are talking about a peers, they both were children. Maybe it’s just me, but when an outsider starts talking about a peer group the rules get kind of odd. People tend to perceive the outsider as an intruder, for one thing. And here, it’s similar to saying telling a child, “Ignore it, they don’t mean it, they were a child, etc” The fact that the bully was a child does not by itself ease or negate the recipient’s pain, as the recipient was also a child. I am not sure that this helps everyone. I do see that some people are able to reframe once they find out their bully was abused. But others don’t care about that. Emotionally charged issues are usually about finding which tools work and which tools don’t. This makes each person’s answer unique.

            HOWEVER. Having said all that, I do favor anti-workplace bullying laws and policies. We can’t change the past but we can take strong steps to prevent it in current time. If the bully continues to bully, then that should be handled by management.

            I hope some of you get a smile out of this story. I have a friend who says he is a recovering asshole. I asked if there was a 12 step for that. He shook his head real sadly and said “No. It’s a 31 step. And you have to create each step yourself, there is no guide book.” I listened to his stories and,yeah, he was a real AH. He stopped all that stuff. But he had to learn how the world actually works and how he fit into this world and that is a life long process. His story kind of gives me hope that the jerks of my childhood made their way to a better place some how.

        3. Jupiter2*

          YES, YES, YEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSS!!!!!! Can we please, please be friends??? I have never met anyone before who also shared this opinion. I absolutely agree with you. Kids know exactly what they’re doing when they bully. I agree with the comment below that they don’t understand long term consequences but they absolutely understand point in time consequences.

          I was the really smart kid with hair that was not only curly but RED! And I was extremely skinny and painfully shy. I lost count of the people who tried to bully me. I was told to ignore it which I tried at first. But I had a brother who was 6 years older and being a girl won me no allowance with him. My temper kicked in at school and I hit back. Bullies quickly learned to physically leave me alone. Verbally to my face they were no match. Behind my back, however, they were vicious. It hurt terribly but at least no one was trying to break my bones. I was left alone to read my beloved books.

          Those kids knew the consequences of physically harming me and they didn’t like it. They wanted to hurt ME. THEY didn’t want to be hurt. Same goes for the behind the back stuff. If I had returned in kind (which I didn’t) they wouldn’t have liked it.

          So what kind of kid was I? Not perfect, but I had some good traits. I would rescue bugs from spiderwebs, I would take home strays (2 and 4 legged), I loved elderly people, adored animals. I befriended the fat kid, the deaf girl, the mean girl who actually wasn’t. I gave Christmas presents to the kid that got one from no one else. One of these I particularly remember was in 3rd grade. The look on this guy’s face as he unwrapped that gift…he was absolutely delighted. I will never, ever forget that look and how it made me feel. The bullies, of course, jeered at me and him. The bullies threw rocks at the stray dogs.

          The point I’m trying to make is that I was a definite “person” as a child. I am the same “person” as an adult. I still adore animals and elderly people. I still bring home strays. I still have the same traits I had as a child with the privilege to express them as an adult.

          Kids who bully also have traits. Traits that make it “ok” to hurt others. Not all kids who are abused at home take it out on other kids. We don’t all react the same way because we’re not all the same person. And some things definitely are choices. How you treat others, even as a child, is a choice influenced by your traits.

          Nature versus nurture is not an argument anyone can win no matter which side you’re on. I’m no expert but I’ve done a lot of “watching” in my life. I’m of the opinion that we are who we are from birth with a lot of shaping from our environment. Empathy and compassion are not learned. You either have those traits or you don’t. They can be learned as “behaviors” but that’s not the same thing at all. There are those who will never see past their own noses.

          To the OP (and I realize this is an old thread), this guy who bullied you will still have the same personality traits that caused him to bully you in the first place. The nature of those traits is anyone’s guess. Was he just mean and enjoyed causing others pain? Was he in pain himself and hurting others to get attention? Either way it’s not your problem. You owe him nothing. You do, however, owe it to yourself to create an environment in which you can thrive and do your job. Be professional, treat him like any other coworker. If he brings it up, keep your dignity. If he apologizes it will be to make himself feel better, not help you deal. It’s up to you whether or not you want to grant him that.

  12. Knitting Cat Lady*

    There was a reply all incident at my workplace a few years ago.

    Someone’s coat was stolen at the staff canteen in City A. They then mailed all 5000 employees in Germany to ask if they knew where it was.

    The vast majority of the recipients were sensible and ignored the whole mess.

    A few people had a field day with it, going back and forth via reply all.

    The C-level people put their foot down and wrote, via reply all, to cut it out and that anyone replying after this message would get a formal warning.

    Some idiots ignored this. And received formal warnings.

    The ‘Reply All’ button in outlook was disabled as well. The key combination still works, though…

    1. BadPlanning*

      My coworkers and I darkly joked that perhaps our next round of layoffs should start with the people who did a ReplyAll to announce “Remove me from this list” after a fairly obvious “oops, used the wrong email group and mass emailed people a thing” email.

  13. ReanaZ*

    There is an Option C to the Reply All question: deactivate the feature in your group policy for your email client (e.g. Outlook/Exchange).

    This is what my company finally did. Only the truly dedicated will copy and paste the names over in a reply for something that’s not actually important and required. It makes everyone think about making sure their replies are being sent to the right people and not everyone.

    Although if you ask nicely and convince them you’re trust-worthy, you can get added to the semi-secret AD group to get it turned back on for you personally (which I did… weeeeeeee!).

    1. AMT*

      Another Outlook solution: make some inbox rules that say something like, “If it’s addressed to a listserv, put it in my check-once-or-twice-a-day inbox.”

    2. SpaceySteph*

      Idk about this. Reply-all on a small scale (like 4 or 5 people on the email) is useful for exchanging information. We use this all the time at my work. People included on the thread have a need to follow the conversation– the WHOLE conversation.
      It’s Reply-all on the large scale, and particularly about useless things like ‘please remove me from this list’ that is troublesome. We need a function that has a limit (like if you are about to send to over 10 people, or 20, or whatever makes sense for an organization) and also maybe an “are you sure?” command rather than to ban it entirely.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        Yeah, my work team actually has more of the opposite problem — there will be a group discussion or announcement and someone will reply with an update and forget to reply-all, leaving most people out of the loop.

  14. Photoshop Til I Drop*

    #1, I would be only as polite as needed to get by in the office. I don’t care if people change or not. There are plenty of people in the world who didn’t need to practice not being an a**hole, and life is too short to waste on those that did.

    1. TL -*

      Spend some quality time with young children. All people spend a fair amount of their formative years learning how to not be an asshole.

  15. Roscoe*

    #1 Talking about home towns typically comes up pretty easily in normal conversation. So I’d just wait for that to happen, then if you want, maybe mention you went to the same school. I think you should very much be open to the fact that this person may have changed. Don’t try to “trap” them, or give snide remarks. Just be normal.

    #2 I hate this. I recently brought it up at a department meeting. Lets just say that the people who love it thought I was a total jerk. THey would do the “THANKS” or “Congratulations” and stuff like that. I even got comments like “sorry we like to be polite”. But I’m much happier I brought it up. Some people really love to give public appreciation and praise. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, but when it clogs my inbox, its very annoying. Definitely bring it up, and fight the good fight!

  16. Long time lurker*

    LW1: I had almost this exact same thing happen to me. We were childhood best friends and then she was AWFUL to me in my early teens – like, was the ringleader of a whole group of girls who were mean to me for a whole summer, that sort of thing. And then I moved away. Several years after I moved back to our original town, I took a new job and she was going to be one of my colleagues in a different department but close enough that we would see each other occasionally.

    I was SUPER nervous and wondered if she was going to try to sabotage me there, but what I did was just to be super nice; I sent her an email inviting her for lunch and telling her how lovely it was to see her and how excited I was that we would be working together. She responded enthusiastically and we became friends. I’ve since left that job, and while we’re not super close, we’re still friendly and see each other for coffee occasionally. Neither of us ever mentioned the teenage horribleness, but we have both told people that we were best friends in kindergarten and isn’t it funny that we ended up working together as adults?

  17. Roscoe*

    So for all of you people who think people should be forever branded for what they did as a kid, I really hope you were just perfect little angels at all times who never did anything bad to anyone ever, lest you may run into someone you wronged 20 years ago and they take it out on you now.

    But really, where does it end. I used to be a middle school teacher, and I was fairly young. Some of my students are now entering the work force. If somehow I ended up at the same employer as one of them, albeit in a much senior position, do you really think I should hold those things against them now? I mean, that would be so petty. To just say “you talked a lot in class, so you obviously won’t be a hard worker now”. Or “You didn’t do your homework in class, I don’t know how you can be trusted with an account now”. Its absurd. But you seem to be ok bascially doing that in the questions for #1

    1. Pardon*

      There’s a difference between someone saying an occasional mean thing to you and someone who physically hurt you and sexually harassed you at every opportunity.

      There were plenty of girls in my school who said mean and snotty things to me throughout school. I couldn’t care less about them and have definitely moved on and would be perfectly civil to them if I ran into them now. But the boy who basically engaged in psychological warfare from the time we were 10 until the time were were 17? No, thank you. I’m gonna go ahead and brand him as a psychopath forever and run far away if I ever catch a glimpse of him again. I’m not willing to engage enough to see if he’s changed, because if he hasn’t, then God knows what he’d do to me now.

      1. Whats In A Name*

        I did not see where OP indicated sexual abuse or harassment by bully. That’s a big assumption. And leap.

        1. Pardon*

          I’m just saying, there are levels of bullying. We don’t know what the OP’s level was. If the bully reached a certain level of harassment, then she has every right to feel very uncomfortable around said bully.

          1. fposte*

            She has a right to *feel* uncomfortable around anybody and everybody. That’s not the same thing as justifying a workplace action based on what happened when they were in middle school.

      1. Purest Green*

        A different perspective, perhaps? Disagreeing with Roscoe is one thing, but to suggest his/her comment is meaningless to the conversation (because you don’t seem to agree with it) is downright rude.

      2. Roscoe*

        You really like making pointless comments don’t you. But anyway, it adds to the conversation the fact that holding a child responsible for their actions for an indefinite amount of time is petty. That clear enough for you?

            1. Kelly L.*

              Your very first sentence (in your first comment, before anyone replied to you) is really snarky, and lately you’ve been following neverjaunty around being a jerk to her. What gives?

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        neverjaunty, Roscoe’s comment seemed as relevant to me as many of the other comments on this topic, so that feels needlessly rude to me.

        Roscoe, your reply to neverjaunty was also needless snippy.

        Let’s move on, please.

    2. KellyK*

      No one is suggesting that the bully should have “I was a jerk in middle school” tattooed on their forehead, or that the OP should push for them to be fired. But an awful lot of people are arguing that the OP has some inherent responsibility to forgive and forget and to be this person’s friend, which is BS.

      I’ve both taught middle school and been bullied. I would try not to let my impressions of a student I taught color my view of them as a coworker, but I also don’t have an obligation to have lunch with them and be best buddies if they were deliberately mean and disrespectful. (Like, if the kid who thought it was appropriate to ask the teacher if she was having sex showed up at my workplace, cordial neutrality would be the best I could muster.) For that matter, I don’t have an obligation to have lunch or be best buddies even if they were awesome students and hanging out with them just seems weird and also makes me feel old.

      You owe it to your coworkers to be polite to them and have a good working relationship with a basic level of friendliness. Anything more than that is totally up to you, and it’s not okay to pressure people who have been bullied to be friends with their tormentors.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*


        Let’s say we give the bully every possible benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume he was bullied and abused himself, and lashing out at others was how he survived a horrific childhood. Let’s assume he regrets it with every fiber of his being. The OP still owes him nothing but a polite, professional working relationship. No more, no less.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Exactly this.

          Nobody is arguing that the OP should go to HR and complain about this dude, and very few people have opined that she should be rude to him or should ask work to accommodate her (things she didn’t ask about doing in her letter, btw). She just wanted to know how to behave towards him in a work context.

      2. Rat in the Sugar*

        Someone IS saying the coworker should be fired though! Wendy at 5:17 am said that she hoped the boss would tell the new coworker it had turned out there was a mistake in hiring him.

        While you are saying that OP should simply treat the coworker neutrally and professionally, there are people upthread suggesting that OP freeze out the new coworker or absolutely refuse to talk to him, or ask to be transferred to a new department. I think what Roscoe and others are trying to say is that your approach is the right one, and those advocating a freeze-out would be taking it too far unless and until the guy shows he’s still a jerk. I do not think that they are saying that OP should be best buddies.

        That’s not what I’m saying, anyway.

      3. Roscoe*

        I’m not saying be best friends. But literally there are people here suggesting they be fired and saying they would have a hard time even being cordial

      4. Observer*

        Actually, someone upthread did suggest that the OP go to the boss and either demand to never have to work wth the (former) bully or find another job. One of the first people to respond to this thread suggested that the OP start her work relationship with the guy by being rude, and passive aggressive. And, that person called that passive aggressive rudeness “professional” behavior!

        I think that that’s a lot of the context here. I don’t think that the OP has any obligation to the new co-worker on a personal level. But all of the people saying that this new person IS a bully, IS a horrible person etc. are all denying the reality that people change, especially from childhood to adulthood.

        1. Foxtrot*

          The worst is the the bully is the OLD employee here. He’s been working there longer than the LW. It’s ok to want to avoid your childhood bullies, but you can’t accept a job where they’ve been working for a while and then demand they get fired.

        2. Lissa*

          Completely agree with this. I think that yes, there are two extremes — be passive-aggressive and rude, or try to be friends. And a lot of people are arguing one point by saying that the person shouldn’t have to be the other.

          I also think a lot of people here saying they were *never* mean to anyone in school despite going through worse things than the bullies were can’t really be as sure — a lot of people who were little jerks to people are legitimately shocked and don’t remember when confronted.

          I really don’t think telling somebody to forgive is appropriate, no, but this is work advice, and I don’t see what other appropriate action one could take than what Alison suggested.

    3. Greg*

      you’re right I don’t blame people for how they acted as kids for the most part. Now for all the teachers that sat by and let it happen without lifting a finger, or made things worse for me. Them, them I blame.

      1. Anony*


        I mean, if someone’s 10-18-year-old self stepped out of a time machine, I would probably shove them back in.

        But I don’t blame adults for what they did as kids. I do blame some teachers for watching it and doing nothing. And I’m extremely grateful to the teachers who did step in.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Hear hear.

          I’m still not going to hold a grudge against them, though. I was actually severely bullied by a teacher as a kid–but it was incredibly freeing when I finally let it go. I found out as an adult that 1) I wasn’t her only victim (for years, I thought it was just me), and 2) other people had positive remembrances of being in her class because she behaved in a completely different manner to them.

          That cemented the realization in my mind that no, none of it was MY fault. It was all her choice to behave that way toward me in particular. And I didn’t need to hang onto my hatred of her because she was a garbage person and not worth it.

          1. Greg*

            there was this moment where I had a realization that every single thing said to women about how they are treated were the exact same things said to me as a child about the bullying. That was a thing that required some thought and made a mental shift on some topics for me. (basically just say I was an idiot on a couple topics in my early 20s)

    4. Sue Wilson*

      As long as professional norms of the workplace are followed, victims can respond however they want, and it’s ridiculous for you to pretend that people shouldn’t hold the responsibility for emotional harm on the people who did it because they were kids. Everyone was kids, and at least one person may not get to shrug off the consequences by virtue of adulthood.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Seriously – why is it that their age is apparently an excuse for their behavior, when my age wasn’t sufficient reason for me not to have to experience that abuse?

          1. Jadelyn*

            All the suggesting that people shouldn’t be held responsible for what they did as children *because they were children* absolutely IS saying that. It’s using childhood as an excuse for their behavior, and yet there’s no equivalent concern for the childhood of the person who was abused. That being the case, there’s absolutely a weird inequality going on in terms of how the bully’s age is being viewed versus the victim’s age.

            1. Cat*

              That’s not true though. You can acknowledge that something horrible happened to someone while still finding that the person who did it wasn’t fully culpable.

            2. TL -*

              That’s absolutely not true. No one is saying that it should’ve happened to the victims. Several people have stated the adults in charge are to blame for ignoring this and no one is defending those adults.
              But children are not adults and childhood bullies cannot be considered the same as adult abusers.

    5. Alton*

      There’s a big difference between annoying or irresponsible childhood behavior like talking in class and serious bullying. Bullying can involve serious harassment and assault.

      Like others have said, even if you realize that the person who hurt you was young and may have changed, that doesn’t mean you’re going to have good feelings about them or that you’re not going to be hurt. That’s not “taking it out on them.”

      I probably had some undiagnosed mental health issues as a kid that caused me to act out sometimes. In retrospect, I think some of the adults in my life weren’t really fair to me. I don’t think I was mature enough to shoulder the amount of responsibility that some of them placed on me. But I did learn a valuable lesson that even when you have a “good” reason to act badly, it can still hurt people and cause damage. Understanding this has helped me as an adult.

  18. eplawyer*

    For LW1 — this is a work situation amongst adults. Let’s see how he behaves as an adult. If he has continued his bullying behavior, act accordingly. If he has grown up, then treat him as any other work colleague. From there, you can see what happens naturally. You may forgive, you may not. But you should always act professionally at work. If you don’t want to be around him at work social events, you can manage that professionally. But, you may find he has developed into a different person that you want to be friends with.

    It’s not let bygones be bygones, it’s let’s see what is going on in the here and now.

    1. K.*

      Totally agree. I think starting from a neutral place, the way one would with any new colleague, is the best idea. Whatever LW1 needs to do to move on personally should be handled outside of work, but at work, neutral and professional is the way to go. If the bully is still a bully, then you deal with that. If he’s now like most coworkers – not a friend, but someone you can handle being around – then that’s that. If the bully has now morphed into a kind, decent person, then you deal with that.

    2. Anony*

      Completely agreed. See how it’s going before you do anything. Stay polite and professional (and distant as you want).

    3. Chinook*

      “Let’s see how he behaves as an adult. If he has continued his bullying behavior, act accordingly. If he has grown up, then treat him as any other work colleague. From there, you can see what happens naturally. You may forgive, you may not. But you should always act professionally at work.”

      I agree with this sentiment. My standard MO when I was a teacher dealing with a child who had problematic behavior (after the required punishment/amends was made, of course) was to point out that people change and I could have a short memory. As long as they didn’t give me a reason to remember past incidents, then they will be given a clean slate. Sometimes all it takes for someone to become a better human is the opportunity to actually be a better human.

      Of course, if they continue the bad behavior, my memory will become quite excellent.

  19. Shelby Drink the Juice*

    #2 – bcc is the answer.

    A year or so ago, someone sent out a promotional email announcement, but did not bcc and one distribution list had another distribution list in it. Sooo….his email went out to 70k+ employees. Shut down all email for a while because people were replying all to say they didn’t need to be on this distribution, plus add in all the read receipts some people so for.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        YES!!!! I feel like it’s e-mail for kindergartners. Annoys me to no end and is an administrative burden.

      2. Shelby Drink the Juice*

        Yes! And it doesn’t mean they read it. It means they clicked off of it. My outlook is set to automatically send them if they’re requested, because I don’t want to know which people are stupid enough to ask for them.

      3. Rusty Shackelford*

        Also, does Outlook tell the sender that I reviewed the entire message in the preview pane, even though I didn’t actually open it?

  20. Whats In A Name*

    For LW#3:
    “The recruiter informed me that because the plane ticket was “mine” and I could use it elsewhere by paying a fee to change it, I’d likely need to reimburse Company A for the cost of the ticket (minus whatever fee changing it would cost). ”

    The way you worded this made me think the external recruiter is speaking without direction from the company. Is there a chance it just her assumption that it would go this way and not the actual company policy. I have got to agree with Alison here. In my past experience we’ve always paid the higher price when someone gets to the point of coming in for an interview so that we have the option to cancel/reschedule if something comes up. Cost of doing biz.

    1. Newby*

      Also, this isn’t like yesterdays letter where someone signed an agreement to repay the cost of a course if they quit within two years. It seems like it would be very hard to force the LW to cover the cost of the ticket if they did not previously agree to do so. It is not even as if the company is refusing to reimburse the ticket; they want the LW to reimburse them!

    2. Joseph*

      I was wondering the same thing. This seems more like something that the recruiter is irritated about it rather than the company actually asking.
      Honestly, I think the key part of Alison’s proposed wording is the part where you mention that you canceled in order to not waste people’s time with the interview. Because that makes the whole thing seem ridiculous and puts them in a spot where in order to keep pushing, they need to justify why they would have preferred you to come and waste hours of their time.

    3. Cyruiys*

      It certainly feels like someone is reaching out to cover their butt. While many tickets are non-refundable, if you do notify certain airlines before your flight, you are able to get a portion of the amount of the plane ticket as a credit on account. So you can then use the funds towards a future plane ticket purchase in anyone’s name.

      I have a funny feeling like someone was supposed to have done something like this and dropped the ball – so now they need to try to get OP to agree to pay for it so that they don’t get their butt kicked out the door for losing that money.

    4. Plane Ticket*

      LW #3 here!

      I believe this was indeed the case. Later that same day the president of the company called and asked if I’d reconsider, but was polite and cordial when I declined, and made no mention of plane ticket reimbursement. Chalking this up to a quirk of the recruiter.

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        I’m glad it worked out! I’ve never had this happen to me in the half-dozen times I’ve flown for interviews – either I pay or they pay and that’s the bottom line. If a company asked me to agree in advance to repay the cost of the ticket if I canceled the interview, I suspect I’d cancel the interview right there because that is not a great sign at all.

  21. Cath in Canada*

    “I’ve read quite a few accounts of former childhood bullies and people who confronted their former bullies, and apparently it’s not uncommon for the bullies not to even remember that they were horrible to a particular person!”

    Happened to me! The person who made my life miserable for 3 years in high school tried to add me as a friend on Facebook. I asked her why I would want to friend someone who did things like smush cake into my face and throw my backpack into the boys’ bathroom, and she claimed to have absolutely no memory of it. Not very satisfying… I just ended up blocking her.

  22. Gaia*

    I was both bullied and a bully as a kid. I lashed out as a reaction to how others treated me because I had no one to help me and it was the only thing that made me feel like I had any control. I was young, ill equipped, struggling with what I now recognize as depression, and I didn’t fully understand the consequences of my actions on top of not having any good role models in my life.

    I am horrified by how I behaved. I know I hurt people. For those that I can, I have apologized. I am grateful that, unlike many of the people here, while I doubt they will forget how I treated them – they treated the adult me with respect and kindness and heard me out when I apologized. I don’t expect forgiveness, I have a hard time forgiving those that bullied me and failed me, but the idea that I should be branded forever is absurd. I was a child. I was in a bad situation. I was suffering from mental illness. I had no adults to help. I wasn’t able to make good choices or see the consequences of my actions clearly.

    1. Sue Wilson*

      I have a hard time forgiving those that bullied me and failed me, but the idea that I should be branded forever is absurd.

      Maybe I have a different understanding of forgiveness, but this seems like an oxymoron to me. Seems like having trouble forgiving people is a result of having believing their past actions should have an effect on your present thoughts about them…

        1. Sue Wilson*

          I did say anything about whether you could do it. I said that having a hard time doing it, suggests that you obviously see the link between past actions and present feelings and to a certain extent, don’t think that’s unreasonable, just not useful.

    2. Jadelyn*

      So…this seems pretty hypocritical. You can’t forgive those who bullied you, but you expect to escape the same judgment from those you hurt? At least that’s what the whole “I was a child, etc.” bit seems to suggest you expect.

      1. Lissa*

        I don’t think it’s hypocritical at all. I think Gaia is saying that she knows how emotionally hard it is to let go and forgive, because she’s been there too, and explicitly says she *doesn’t* expect forgiveness.

        There’s a difference between not forgiving and branding forever, and it seems like Gaia is making that distinction. You can understand logically that somebody might have been going through a really hard time and realize that holding their behaviour against them as an adult is not the right thing to do, while still not emotionally wanting anything to do with them.

      2. Anony*

        She didn’t expect forgiveness, but was grateful when people listened. I don’t actually see her expecting to escape judgment at all.

        1. Anony*

          Unless by “escape judgment” you mean “not be branded forever,” in which case, you and I have different views on this that probably aren’t going to line up.

      3. Gaia*

        I don’t expect forgiveness however I want to point out I said I have a hard time doing it, not that I didn’t do it or that I’m not working on it.

      4. Gaia*

        There is also a big difference between escaping judgement and being forgiven. I judge myself for my actions but I’ve forgiven myself. I judge those that bullied me for their actions but I’ve forgiven (or am working on forgiving) them. They are not the same thing at all.

  23. FD*

    #1- I find it genuinely concerning that there seems to be a trend here of believing that past mistakes should be held against people forever, shown in the comments both here and in the plagiarism thread.

    People do wrong things, things that harm others. No one is saying that it’s good to be a bully. No one is saying it’s good to plagiarize. And I think few people would deny the effects on others. Bad behaviors should be stopped and/or punished where possible at the time. But to continue to penalize someone years and years afterward…how do you expect a person to do better if you don’t ever give them a chance to do so?

    It also bothers me how self-righteous some of the comments have been on both threads. Remember, everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, and it’s easy to condemn a bad thing that you aren’t prone to doing yourself.

    1. KellyK*

      The thing is, nobody owes anybody a relationship. It’s not “penalizing” a bully to be neutral and polite to them at work, but to have minimal engagement. And having one coworker not make an attempt to be their friend does not forever bar them from any chance to do better. They have those chances with *everybody else in their social sphere* who they didn’t bully. The person they bullied doesn’t owe them that.

      1. FD*

        I actually agree with you. And that also gives the LW the benefit of seeing whether the bully is still a jerk.

        Where I’m concerned is where comments are popping up to go to the manager or to be passive aggressive to the person. That’s going beyond just ‘don’t engage more than necessary’.

        1. fposte*

          I think that’s mostly people working out their own anger via internet. Which isn’t a bad place to work it out; it’s just, as you note, not great advice for real-world behavior.

          1. FD*

            Probably. I feel like we’ve generally kept comment section away from the ‘screaming into the void’ culture that tends to be prevalent elsewhere, which is why it does concern me a bit.

        2. KellyK*

          Yep, I agree that those responses are unreasonable, given what we know. (Certainly, in cases of extreme bullying, or if being around the person is literally a PTSD trigger, it would be totally reasonable to ask to avoid working with them. Even at that, a certain amount of “we were kids, I’m not trying to get them in trouble, just manage my own well-being” is appropriate.)

    2. AD*

      Fair enough. We all have our opinions on these boards, and you have yours. Some would agree with your sentiments, others may say your approach sounds like an apologia for loutish behavior. We all have our viewpoints!

      1. FD*

        Honest question, then–do you believe that if people are jerks at any point in their life, even as children, that they should always be assumed to be jerks thereafter?

        (To clarify, that’s not to say that someone who has recently been a jerk doesn’t have to prove that they’re different. But both of these threads talk about meeting someone you haven’t encountered for 10+ years.)

        1. Pardon*

          To me, it depends on the severity of length of jerkiness. If they tripped me once in sixth grade because they were showing off for their friends, I won’t give them the “jerk” label 15-20 years later. Same for someone who lobbed the same dumb insult at me once a week for the duration of high school – at that point it sort of became an automatic, half-hearted thing to them. But if they actively worked and expended energy and time coming up with new ways to humiliate me and did so for 5+ years, then yes, they’re forever going to be a jerk in my eyes.

          1. Gaia*

            No matter what they do, how they have changed or the reasons behind their behavior?

            That’s just kind of…sad.

            1. Pardon*

              I consider it protection. If someone was manipulative to me in the past, I am never going to trust them again. I will not open myself up to further torture/humiliation/abuse by giving them a chance. My particular bully often did or said something to make me think he’d changed his ways, only to gain my trust and then exploit me further. I do not particularly care if he has changed “for good”, I’m not willing to get involved again to find out.

              1. Pardon*

                Kind of a “fool me once” scenario. You prove over and over again that you can’t be trusted, then I’m not going to trust you. Even if you were 16 the last time you pulled the trick on me, I’m still not going to trust you at 45.

            2. wickedtongue*

              Except that nobody owes them a good opinion. Even if somebody is sorry for their behavior, the person they wronged doesn’t owe them forgiveness. The most they owe them is blank politeness. They don’t have to allow this person into their lives ever again, and saying that’s “sad” is making it seem like the bullied person was/is the problem, and not the other way around.

              People don’t owe other people feelings. That’s not how it works.

              1. aebhel*


                OP should be professional–and if I had to interact with my bullies professionally, I would be, too. But she owes said bully exactly nothing more than that, and acting as though it is the primary social responsibility of the injured party to make the aggressor feel better and properly integrate into society is bizarre. There’s a whole world of people out there who weren’t directly hurt by that person’s behavior who can provide them with that positive reinforcement. Insisting that it come from the person who was injured is kind of appalling.

                1. Candi*

                  Isn’t that exactly what some men demand “girls” do for them?

                  It’s a nasty pervasive thinking that really needs to go, whether it involves bullying or harassment.

        2. AD*

          I think it always depends on the persons involved and the unique details of the situation. There’s no one-size-fits-all scenario for forgiving/forgetting, and I don’t think there should be one.

          1. AD*

            To clarify, I wanted to add that in this situation, OP should definitely be civil and professional as this is a workplace scenario.
            But we don’t know the details of what happened with the bully in the past, and that should be on the OP to figure out if/how to approach (and to also decide internally whether he/she wants to forgive this person and move on). I say this as some of the posts have an air of “we all made mistakes as children, just forgive this person and move on” tone to them, and it’s not our business to say that. Bad behavior is on a spectrum – some is easily forgivable, some not so much. And it all depends on the context and severity of the behavior.

      2. fposte*

        Genuinely curious–do you think there’s no age limit on that, or is defending a 50-year-old who was a brat in preschool still just an apologia for loutish behavior? I don’t think there’s a hard and fast cutoff myself, but I definitely think that kids, and middle school counts there for sure, just don’t have the social development to deal that adults do.

    3. Former Retail Manager*

      I fully agree. However, I am also in the camp that believes that people really don’t change at their core in most circumstances. I will admit there are exceptions. Anecdotal example…my husband. He was a Grade A royal d-bag from high school through early adulthood (think making fun of people with developmental disabilities as a starting point). It took some severe consequences for him to learn his lesson, but he is a completely different person now than he used to be and continues to feel guilt over how he treated people in the past. On the few occasions he has encountered someone he treated poorly in his past, he has all but fallen all over himself to apologize profusely and sincerely for how he treated those individuals. I realize that everyone isn’t like this, but for all we know the bully may be reformed or may not have viewed their treatment of OP in the same manner that OP did.

      I have personally received friend requests on social media from people I went to high school with who I did not care for but they seem to genuinely remember our interactions very differently. Time can work wonders for some people. I think Alison’s advice is great. If this person later shows themselves to be the same as they were in middle school, then I’d distance myself to the greatest extent possible and focus strictly on the professional ramifications of their behavior.

      1. FD*

        I agree with keeping a polite professional tone. There’s no point in engaging with this person more than you have to; I just also think it’s unjust to assume that this person is the same as they were years ago.

        1. fposte*

          I don’t think unjust is really right, though. First, I don’t know if just is something private opinions really have to be anyway–we decide that somebody in the car ahead of us is an asshole or the post office lady is horrible all the time based on a few seconds of interaction, and as long as that’s drama that stays in our head, I think that’s okay. Second, I think it’s okay, and even fair, to assume continuity rather than discontinuity but it’s unwise to insist on it–IOW, I think it’s reasonable for somebody not to embrace their former bully and to be wary because of this person’s past character in a way you wouldn’t with somebody whose past you don’t know, but it’s beneficial to be open to the possibility that things are different now.

          Actually punishing somebody or taking other action against them now is a whole nother matter, of course. I’m just talking about thoughts.

          1. FD*

            I think your approach is fair and reasonable.

            I said unjust because I believe in (for myself) attempting to be as just as possible in my own thoughts, however I think your point is valid that it doesn’t matter as long as you don’t act on it.

    4. Alton*

      I think it depends a lot on the behavior and the consequences. There are some things that are so severe that it’s hard for there not to be lasting consequences, and I also think there’s a difference between imposed consequences (like being arrested or fired) and natural ones. I mean, I strongly believe in lessening the barriers for people with criminal convictions to get jobs, but I also wouldn’t blame someone for having a hard time working well with someone who’d stolen their car a few years back. A personal connection complicates things, and sometimes lasting social repurcussions are justified or understandable. I don’t think people should be denied employment for things in the past that don’t affect their ability to do the job, but that doesn’t mean someone can erase things they did, either, or that it will never come up again. I think most former bullies are entitled to move past their mistakes, but that doesn’t mean they can expect to be forgiven or liked by people who remember them as bullies.

      1. FD*

        I agree with you, actually. And I don’t necessarily think that the people they hurt should be expected to forgive them.

        My issue here is that a lot of the comments on both threads go beyond that and into the assumption that people should basically be punished in perpetuity for wrong things they’ve done.

        To me, what’s missing is the balance. Consequences are necessary, but if you keep punishing someone, and never let them have a chance to change or prove that they can be better, then you’ll only create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

        1. Sue Wilson*

          I’ve seen at most 5 comments like that on a 250 comment thread. Where are you seeing more and if you aren’t, why augment the effect of those comments on the tone of the thread?

        2. wickedtongue*

          It’s not a lot of comments, it’s a fairly small amount. And very few people are saying former bullies should be punished…they are saying that their victims don’t owe them any more than basic politeness. They don’t owe their bullies “a chance to change.” Not being friends with someone does not a punishment make.

          Honestly, if my boss was thinking about hiring a former bully of mine and asked my opinion on the hiring decision…I’d say no. Not because of any sort of vindictiveness –but rather the opposite. It would fuck me up royally to work in close proximity with one of my childhood bullies. It would amplify all of the guilt and anger and social anxiety I still feel because of the bullying, and it would bring up all sorts of painful, violent, intrusive thoughts. It wouldn’t help me to move on and forgive and forget; it would destroy me and make me feel guilty for not being able to move on from the past.

          But hey, maybe that makes me the bad person in this scenario.

    5. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

      For a long time I believed strongly in never forgiving, and there are certainly people I’ve never forgiven (hello, 5th grade teacher).

      But, as I mentioned above, I have done things I really regret, both as a child and in early adulthood. Probably the worst was that I screamed at a friend in public (long complicated story).

      I seriously considered killing myself after I did this, but was too scared to. At a lot of times in my life, I’ve felt I was such a bad person that I don’t deserve to live. But I’ve always either *wanted* to live or been too much of a coward to die.

      I honestly admire people who realize they’ve done something awful and kill themselves out of remorse. I’ve long thought that was the morally right way to respond when you’ve really hurt someone. You can’t take back what you’ve done, so you can never be an OK person again. But I’ve never been able to do it myself, even at my most depressed. And I don’t think I’d ever tell someone to do it, and don’t think there are many cases where I’d really want someone to.

      So I struggle with this and think about it a lot.

      1. FD*

        I understand where you’re coming from. At the same time, those are utterly unrealistic expectations. Humans are flawed, and everyone hurts other people sometimes. Some of those times are on purpose. Any person who says they’ve never hurt another person is either a liar or utterly lacks self-awareness.

        I’ll be honest and say this sounds like a really hard way to live. Have you worked with a therapist on this?

      2. Temperance*

        I’m going to jump in here to vehemently disagree with you. There is nothing admirable about committing suicide because you’ve wrong a person. All you’ve done is add guilt to whatever else you’ve done to the person.

        1. Turanga Leela*

          Yes! Do not kill yourself, Gazebo Slayer (or anyone else). Suicide is not a solution to having done bad things. Everyone does bad things. You learn from them, you apologize for them, and you move on and try to do good things in the future. You are more than the sum of your worst moments.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        I second talking to a therapist, and perhaps your doctor. Your level of self-blame for hurtful things you did is WAY out of proportion. That’s a hallmark of depression, which is a treatable illness.

        We all do things that hurt people. It’s part of being human. And a person who is capable of remorse is capable of change, and of making amends. But that doesn’t mean you have to do it forever and it does not mean you are crap (you’re not).

        *hug* Please go talk to someone about this. You are valuable and have much to offer. You are not a bad person.

        1. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

          Thanks, Elizabeth, and FD, and Temperance, and Turanga Leela, and Alison. I’ve definitely had therapy and treatment for depression (I’m still on meds) and most of it is in my past – the suicidal part definitely is. I still feel guilty for being alive and wanting to stay that way and be happy, but I guess I mostly try not to think about that or about the things I did.

          I suppose my rationale for considering suicide was partly that I felt a person who had done something bad was bad forever because they could never take it back, so the best thing they could do at that point is remove said bad person from the world. Part of it is also a sense that it’s, yes, penance. I know it’s a strange and extreme view, but I’m pretty sure there have been cultures where falling on your sword/pistol/whatever is the most morally acceptable response to your own wrongdoing. I wouldn’t encourage someone else to do it, but I do feel that I’ve failed to live up to my own moral code by going on with life.

          1. an anon*

            From what you’ve commented here, I think you would greatly benefit from dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT).

          2. Temperance*

            For what it’s worth, I’m happy that you’re here, and I wish you continued health. Your perspective makes me really sad, though, and I really encourage you to examine your perspective with your therapist.

    6. Temperance*

      I do see a huge difference between making a one-time mistake and having bad character, though. The college plagiarism post, for instance; that’s a huge breach of ethics, and it burns me that someone like that was able to advance ahead two steps of an honest person. The kind of people who will do anything to get ahead are all too often the ones who find success, and that burns me.

      I believe that certain acts speak to core character. I don’t do those things, even though the benefits are obvious (like cheating in college to get good grades, and only having a black mark on your transcript, which no one cares about for job stuff anyway). I have a few personal weaknesses, including gossip, that I don’t love about myself, and I’m honest about that.

      1. FD*

        I agree, but I also think that you have to consider timing. To me, there’s a difference between a habit of plagiarizing twenty years ago and plagiarizing now. I think being wary is fine–but if you assume that someone is definitely the same, that can be an issue.

      2. De*

        “and it burns me that someone like that was able to advance ahead two steps of an honest person”

        The OP of that question explained in comments that they deliberately did not pursue the management track in their career.

    7. Lily Rowan*

      I think there’s a difference between not forgiving/forgetting and penalizing someone for their past behavior. There was a kid I babysat for who was a nightmare to me in various ways. He has apparently grown up into an excellent adult. I still secretly think of him as that pain in the ass kid, but I’m not saying that to other people!

    8. Jaguar*

      You need to understand that bullying has a long reach. It becomes a dominate influence on the development and identity of the people being bullied. You can see just from the complicated ways people react to it, as can be seen from the people who have commented here sharing their experiences being bullied and their correspondingly intense feelings on the issue, that there’s no easy solution here. I think it’s rare, if it even happens at all, that people wilfully hang onto their identity as a person who was bullied. My experience is mostly limited to just eighth grade, but it was everyone I had classes with and it was every day. The difference between 7th grade Jaguar and 9th grade are profound (obviously, it’s hard to distinguish what’s bullying and what’s a changing personality at a time when it’s going to rapidly change regardless), and I’m still trying to rebuild positive character traits I feel I lost as result of that period (like being extroverted, being unassuming towards others, things of that nature). If I could just drop the whole thing and move on, regaining what I feel like I lost and remove any negative feelings I have towards the people that bullied me over that time, I would in a heartbeat, and I suspect everyone else that was in a similar situation would make the same choice. Neither is a positive influence on my life (even though I’ve never encountered my childhood bullies – at least knowingly – as an adult). It’s admirable to forgive people who have wronged you, but it’s not a simple choice, and the people that can’t find it within themselves to do it should not be admonished for that. It’s the height of victim blaming.

      1. FD*

        I was bullied extensively myself from the time I started school to the time I started high school, by both other students at a couple of teachers. I happen to live in the same town where I grew up, so this isn’t theoretical for me either–I actually have run into a number of people who were jerks to me in the past.

        My point isn’t really about whether any one person who should bullied should forgive–really, that’s up to each person.

        Here’s an analogy. In their 20s, a person got into really addictive drugs. To fuel their addiction, they stole several times and were eventually arrested for burglarizing a local store. While they were in jail, they realized that they were really messing up their life. After they got out of jail, they tried to put their life together–got a job, stayed clean, and didn’t steal anymore. They work hard and build a better life for the next fifteen years.

        The convenience store and their family may or may not forgive them. That’s not really the point here. My point is that if you knew this person in their 20s, and run into them again 20 years later, it’s not necessarily accurate to assume that they’re the same person without considering how they act and behave now. That isn’t blaming the person’s family or the convenience store owners, and it doesn’t mean that they have to forgive him. It’s just acknowledging that a person may have changed, especially in a pretty long period of time.

        1. Jaguar*

          Yeah, I agree with you that people can and do change. But that doesn’t seem in line with your “continue to penalize” comment originally. In your analogy, the convenience store owner refusing to forgive them (which I’m going to assume also means refusing to sell to them) would be the equivalent of “continuing to penalize,” wouldn’t it?

          I don’t think there is any reasonable expectation on someone that has been traumatized by an abuser to feel differently about the abuser over any length of time. The only reasonable expectation is that if the abuser wants to repair the damage, the responsibility is theirs and it comes with the understanding that no matter how sincere and perfect the approach to doing so is, it still might not work. That’s how baggage is. I agree that assuming someone is the same as they were two decades ago is foolish, but if someone has baggage associated with that person and hasn’t been able to get rid of it in that time, I don’t think it’s reasonable to blame the person.

          1. fposte*

            I’ll go, as usual, with “it depends.” I’ve definitely heard people who are way disproportionate about small slights of decades previous, and while I assume the emotion is genuine, that doesn’t mean the response has to be universally embraced. (I love the Miss Manners account of sisters, with one talking about the evil things the other had done to her, and the other saying gently, “Yes, it’s true; I was a brat. But it was seventy years ago.”) I also don’t think abuse is always a viable construct for the hurtful actions of preteens, so I don’t think your responsibility template works that well for kids.

            In general, though, I don’t really worry about what private thoughts people carry anyway; it’s if you’re unwilling to work professionally with somebody that the reasons need to stand up to external scrutiny.

            1. Jaguar*

              So what does stand up to “external scrutiny”?

              – “I can’t work with this person because we have an unpleasant past that I don’t want to get into.”
              – “I can’t work with this person because s/he is my ex.”
              – “I can’t work with this person because I was bullied by them in school.”
              – “I can’t work with this person because they are a convicted criminal and I don’t feel safe around them.”

              Those all seem like valid reasons to me whereas, given the huge variety of responses this topic has generated, I could see them all being disqualified as invalid.

              I don’t think the details of the bullying behaviour matter. What matters is the psychological damage the person has as a result of it. Maybe the most valid way of handling things is that the people with psychological damage need to own it, but it seems profoundly cruel to me that the person who contributed to the damage in the first place is continuing to cause social harm to the person under the guise of polite society.

              1. fposte*

                Well, shoot, I thought I posted a long response but it looks like I screwed up.

                Ultimately I don’t think you can have a black and white rule in advance for this; it will depend on the situation, the job, and the people. But in general if I’m seeking special accommodation, I’m going to have a better shot if I give people a reason, and I’m going to need to be prepared for the possibility that the answer is no.

                I also don’t think childhood social struggles tend to map effectively onto an abuser/victim template that’s still in play decades later, and that how upset I was by an experience isn’t a measure of how obligated my workplace is to accommodate it. (Which is good, because narcissists get pretty upset over a lot of stuff I wouldn’t want to accommodate.) I’m free to privately hate Lugaretzia and Antipathe all I want, but I don’t think my employer is obliged to move me away from people who are mean to me now, let alone people who were mean to me decades ago.

                1. Jaguar*

                  Yeah. It doesn’t sound like we disagree much. Too bad about the longer post! I would have loved to read it. Maybe it stuck in the moderation queue.

    9. Here, kitty, kitty...*

      FD, I feel your approach is a cop-out. Bullying, especially done during the teen years, and plagiarism in college (the type of plagiarism that was described in that OP’s letter) are character-revealing actions. They aren’t done by accident, they are done with intent and, in some cases, a great deal of planning to achieve something that is sociopathic in nature. That is why I feel fine and dandy holding bullying and plagiarism against people for the rest of their lives. I would say such people lack self-respect, but recent studies have found that bullies, contradicting the lore shoved down our throats in years past, have great self-esteem. The plagiarist in the other letter came across to me as a sociopath. Both types of people are fine with throwing innocent people under the bus to get ahead. The plagiarist did not deserve that spot in college, which should have gone to someone who would have studied hard and done more with that privilege than our plagiarist did.

      I realize I may sound harsh. But I’ve come to the realization that life is short, and there are enough decent people out there to prove that those who act like jerks to others are lesser beings.

  24. Tertia*

    LW #3:

    “And sure, canceling with one-day’s notice isn’t ideal, but I can promise you that they’d rather have you do that than waste their time with an interview when you know you won’t take the job.”

    Unfortunately, not everyone has this much sense. My university requires candidates for faculty positions to purchase their own plane tickets and does not reimburse if they back out, so of course they come even if they’ve gotten an offer elsewhere. (On one memorable occasion, a candidate we were interviewing finalized his acceptance of another job on his cell phone during a break in his interview.) On-campus interviews for potential new faculty members are day-long affairs that can easily suck up four or five hours of your time if you’re on the search committee. So it’s a huge waste of time, plus we lose the money spent on their hotel and meals *and* miss an opportunity to interview someone who might actually take the job. I’m not sure why I’m the only person who understands this.

  25. Greg*

    I had a lot of bullies growing up, a lot. I’ve been through the ringer on that subject. A while ago I reached a decision for my own peace of mind I had to decide whether or not to let it go. The deciding factor was “are they still a jerk” if I haven’t seen this person in 15 years and they have stopped being the bully they were then I try to let it go and move on. If I run into them and they are still obnoxious cruel POS they were back then, well you’re an adult now, file them under no redeeming value and have nothing to do with them ever again (if you can).

    Now moving on doesn’t mean you have to be friends or even like them but just try to let go of the feelings. it’s hard it’s really hard. That stuff is a part of you and on some level always will be.

    a few years ago I ran into one such person and he actually apologized and I forgave him, but I still found him obnoxious and grating. Fortunately I don’t really have to see him and when he tried to friend me on facebook I declined and blocked him. I may forgive him but that doesn’t mean I like him or want to be friends with him.

    Look at the end of it here’s the question “are they the same person they were back then? have they grown?” and more importantly “have I?”

    You’re not required to be friends with them or even let them but this might be an opportunity to at least give yourself a bit of piece.

  26. Amy*

    OP 1, I was horrified to find my high school bully hired as my new peer several years ago. For months I kept waiting for her to say something about how we knew each other, or to me her nasty, hateful self. Instead, we kept up a pretense that we didn’t know each other, got to know each other as adult professionals, and get along very well now! It has literally never come up, and just like I don’t know where any of my other colleagues went to high school, I have never had occasion to discuss high school with her.
    This doesn’t diminish how horrid she was. It doesn’t excuse anything she did as a teenager. But I could tiptoe around her in fear forever with my shoulders in my ears, or I could treat her like the new person at work. The latter has given me a great colleague and occasional lunch buddy. The former would have made me look crazy at work and prevented me from collaborating.

  27. Ty*

    #1: I had this exact scenario happen to me. And I totally agree with AAM: handle it how you see fit. In my case, the guy didn’t remember me at all, for a variety of reasons, one of which was that the path he chose to go down in life ended up putting him at the wrong end of a gun. He spent a lot of time in the hospital and lost a lot of his memory due to being shot in the head (I’d say it was a tall tale, but I knew his life choices from before, and you could see the bullet wound and surgical scars on his head when he wasn’t wearing a hat, so I believed him). So while my first thought was to be Extremely Chilly, it wouldn’t have helped. He didn’t remember the bullying, and was never going to remember because he literally couldn’t. I did end up explaining to him who I was because he knew I recognized him. He was extremely apologetic but again, he didn’t remember what had occurred.

  28. Us, Too*

    LW #1: I had someone from high school contact me on Facebook to apologize for how mean he was to me in high school. Problem is: I have absolutely NO memory of this guy. I mean, his name is vaguely familiar and I figured out that he was a high school classmate via the “mutual friends” feature, but beyond that I couldn’t say I remember anything he did to me. But, apparently, he has spent the last 25+ years regretfully reflecting on his past transgressions against me. NONE OF WHICH I REMEMBER AT ALL.

    I actually felt kind of bad for the guy because he clearly has made efforts to be a better person and seemed genuinely remorseful. I ended up telling him that he shouldn’t spend another moment on this and that I honestly didn’t remember him being mean to me. I’m not sure if that made him feel better or worse, but it’s the truth.

    I can’t tell you how very awkward this would have been had he tried to bring it up in the workplace. I’m really glad it didn’t come up in that context. Egads.

    So, I think Alison’s advice is spot on: be neutral and wait and see. You have no idea what this person is like today. Maybe they are totally different now and a great colleague. No telling.

  29. VintageLydia*

    Sometimes I feel like an odd duck. I do have lasting issues as a result of being bullied throughout my school life. Not PTSD level, certainly, but at 30 it still effects the way I interact with others, especially those I perceive as popular.

    But… I also don’t really hold ill will to the bullies themselves. With rare exception, I talk to almost every bully I ever had. A few of which are my best friends now (we were really good friends, then senior year of high school came and it all went to hell. There were unfounded rumors of me trying to steal everyone’s boyfriends so I was shut out of the group and a few of the boys in my classes who was friends with my friends took it upon themselves to egg my car and harass me anonymously online. I still have the chat logs. They were brutal. The male ring leader has since joined the Peacecorps, spent time traveling to his home country in the very poor regions, and now is a counselor in Chicago. We made our peace ages ago and he is most definitely not the same person he was 12 and a half years ago. The female friends were all dealing with their own thing and looking back I wasn’t the kindest to them either. My middle school bully was mean to me because the friend group she wanted to be a part of was mean to me. She spread a rumor that almost got me expelled in a post-Columbine world. We are now friends and talk every few weeks or so on Facebook. My elementary school bully and I share some mutual friends, is a generally good person, often stands up for what’s right and just in the world, and is a theater actress in NYC which has been a lifelong dream of hers. Not quite Broadway but getting there. We ran into each other in high school and she apologized to me then, though now I don’t remember the specifics of what she did.)

    I *know* I’m an anomaly and I don’t expect those that were bullied to forgive and forget the way I have. Forgiveness, especially, is such a bullshit thing to expect of people since it’s often used to punish the victim for reacting at all to being bullied and abused. In your personal life, do whatever you want and need to do.

    But this is a work situation, the OP did not say nor imply she’s dealing with PTSD (and if she is, then what she needs is a counselor or a therapist, not commenters on a blog, to help her navigate this situation.) The fact is this former bully has standing with the company while she is still new. Being passive-aggressive (or aggressive-aggressive) right off the bat WILL hurt her reputation unnecessarily. If she can’t work with him without being professionally civil, she needs to quit, because her company sure as heck ain’t going to fire him for something he did in middle school, ESPECIALLY if he isn’t that way now. But it sounds like being professional is something she’s willing to do. She says right in the letter she hopes he’s a different person now, and since he wasn’t a jerk to her right off the bat, he might be. So y’all can probably cool it. No one is saying she has to be his friend, but we’ve all had to work with people we didn’t otherwise like. This situation isn’t much different than that.

    1. Natalie*

      Not that odd of a duck. I feel the same way about the bullying and other bad behavior (stealing, etc) I was subjected to as a kid by other kids. I have some feelings about it, but I’m also very aware that as a kid I coped with things poorly and behaved badly towards other children, too. (The adults involved is a different story. But as I get older I also see how hard it can be to effectively intervene, so I’m rethinking that as well.)

      1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        Thirded, so at least we’re three odd ducks together! A big factor for me as I’ve gotten older and become an attorney is that I very strongly believe that we should not treat individuals with developing brains the same as adults under *any* circumstance. I believe that trying children as adults is deeply unjust and immoral, and that we should even reexamine they way we handle crimes committed by people in their late teens and early 20s, as the science I’ve seen suggests that the brain is still developing at this point. Having good or bad judgment isn’t just a result of personal choices, but actual physical development.

  30. NW Mossy*

    My org has a deep reply-all culture and it’s frustrating, but I’m working on fighting it in my own corner of it. Here are steps I take:

    * Make friends with Outlook’s “Ignore” feature – this will send all future responses to a thread straight to deleted items. It’s perfect for “There are donuts in the break room!”, “Free tickets to the teapot exhibit!”, and the inadvertent inclusion of a mass-distribution email list on a topic that’s irrelevant to you (such as Shelby’s 70K+ example above)

    * Get ruthless about email distribution list maintenance. Push to have no-longer-needed lists decommissioned and get your own name off lists that no longer apply to you.

    * Use email rules to route messages to a list to a separate folder that you then check on whatever frequency is appropriate for that list (daily, weekly, etc.). It also helps keep things organized by subject matter (i.e., all emails to the Project X team are in one place) and preserves your inbox for direct-to-you messages.

    * Use your influence. I tell people that they don’t need to send a one-word “thanks!” email to me because I assume a culture of gratitude. It’s been surprisingly effective as a counter to the “but I want to be nice!” ethos that drives reflexive thank yous.

  31. KatieKate*

    I worked with my HS bully–they greeted me warmly and wanted to catch up. They had no idea that they had really traumatized me in High School and gave me some serious trust issues. I really, really wanted to confront her, but eventually I realized that they would have no idea what I was talking about.

    I’m not sure what happened, but I let it go. All of the anger, frustration and sadness I had carried with me for ten years disappeared. I no longer work with this person, and we are in no way friends, but OP, I encourage you to try not to waste too much of your energy thinking about this person. They’re not worth it. You are.

  32. overcaffeinatedqueer*

    Sometimes, a bully just changes tactics. Even if they apologize. One kid that was mean to me in high school apologized when we were 24, because he had found God and become a pastor…

    Six months later, he used me and my same-sex marriage as an example in his anti gay sermon. Yes, he was that kind of evangelical. And still a bully, but now God’s bully. As a gay Christian it really hurt me to hear that.

    1. Kelly L.*

      Ew, what an ass. Fakepology just to use you for his own self-aggrandizement.

      I’m lucky, mine mostly just want to convince me to sell scam body wraps.

    2. EddieSherbert*

      That’s super, super messed up. If that happened at my church, I would be 110% turned off, probably write a mean Facebook review, and find a new church. And tell everyone forever to not go to that church.

      I’m sorry that happened to you!

  33. Kiki*

    Re #1. I have a really unusual name too. In fact, I used to be the only one in the USA with my name. I checked last spring and there are now four of us. FOUR! And two of the others live in my home town, though I have since moved across the country. I hope you also recognize him, and you are not just relying on the name. (actually this all came up when I started getting emails meant for one of the others. Her child is in trouble in school. For guess what? bullying.)

  34. Sue Wilson*

    #1: I very much agree to the advice. The best thing you could do for yourself is determine for yourself what type of professional relationship you want to have with this person and then let that be your guide. If you want it to be friendly, be friendly. If you want it to just be cordial, be cordial. If you never want to talk about the bullying, don’t talk about it. If you think your feelings of the past will prevent a more friendly relationship, treat them as close or distant as your can manage and remain professional.

  35. Scarred*

    OP#1- tough situation. I feel for you because my childhood bully actually ended up marrying my cousin!

    They met at the out of state university they both attended. Because my cousin and I had different last names (my aunt married into their family), she never connected the dots that he was my family. So the invite comes and it has a picture of them and their names. I think I went into shock for a full day. I finally called my aunt and made some inquiries, because really, what were the chances?? When I confirmed it was indeed her, I declined the invitation. Well, lo and behold, she called me (with my cousin on another extension, listening in) and questioned why I wasn’t attending?! I told her considering our history, I thought it best to not attend and possibly sour her special day. Which lead her to first denying she bullied me (actually she had a whole gang of girls and it was relentless from 6th to 8th grade *and* several of them would also be at the wedding) and then saying it wasn’t nearly as bad as I making it out (WTF? sure, it wasn’t bad for you!) .

    It ended up a mess because she got the whole family stirred up and they wanted to us to “forgive and forget” but I just couldn’t. I could forgive but I will never forget and no way in hell am I going to put myself on a direct path that intersects with her. I would not watch her get to be happy and marry my cousin while all the crap she & her gang put me through flashed through my head. I quit answering calls, sent a card and check and went on with my life.

    It’s been about 5 years and for the most part, they leave me be. I got the baby shower invitation 3 years into the marriage and I had to endure standing in the church with her a row back when my dad passed away 2 years ago, but that’s all I ‘m willing to do . Just thinking about what she & her gang put me through is making me anxious as I write this.

    For anyone who may feel the need to tell me people change and I should try to get along with her for the “family’s sake”, please don’t. She has not changed and she’s still very much the mean girl bully she always was. The cousin she married has 2 sisters and the youngest has called me several times telling me about some of the stunts she pulls. I listen but don’t offer comments or advice.

    1. MoinMoin*

      Just the fact that when she called with your cousin listening in on the extension says that a) she remembers and b) she hasn’t changed. I agree with a lot of posters here saying that an adult isn’t necessarily the same bully they were as a kid and one should try to move on if they can, but if the adult shows you she still is that same kid I don’t think anyone would expect you to accept that and still have a relationship with her (especially if professional obligation doesn’t dictate it).

    2. ThisIsNotWhoYouThinkItIs*

      Nope, I think she showed you the first flag when she tried to minimize the impact after calling you.

    3. First Robin of the Season*

      I always felt the whole “forgive and forget” and “people change” is naive to say to people in this situation. I can’t forget what my bullies did to me even if they’re super awesome charitable people. I can’t really forgive them (or the teachers and recess aides who saw me getting bullied) for what they did because the bullying was so extreme.

      I forgave a few bullies who mostly did the teasing thing, but the worst bullies I will never forget and forgive, nor do I care that they changed. I rather they teach their kids to be better than them and leave me be.

      I hope OP#1 the best of luck with the situation because sheesh!

  36. Ryan Porter*

    For the Reply All writer, you could suggest that your company adopt a platform like Basecamp that consolidates all messages in a single online space.

  37. Audiophile*

    #1 is something I’ve experienced before. At my first retail job, when my childhood bully was hired a few weeks into my working there. She has a very unique name and we had attended junior high and part of high school together. She’d bullied me for all three years of junior high and into the first 10 months of high school, at which point my family moved. She remembered me, when we saw each other at work, and I certainly remembered her, but I largely ignored her.

    One day in the break room, she was sitting at anther table with someone and says to me “tell Fergus how I used to bother you when we were younger.” I confirmed it and she apologized. That was the end of it.

    We both carried ourselves professionally and there were no issues and no real awkwardness.
    I haven’t seen her since, even with the invention of Facebook.

  38. MissEducation*

    LW #2 – For what it’s worth, if your company uses Outlook as its mail program, there is a neat feature called ‘Ignore.’ If you find yourself getting numerous replies to a message that are irrelevant to you, simply highlight the message and press the “Ignore” button in your “Delete” panel on the top nav bar. If you can’t locate it there, you can also right-click on the message and select “Ignore” from the list of menu items — it’s toward the bottom for me. It doesn’t solve your cultural problem, but it will at least make your inbox easier to manage.

  39. seejay*

    LW #1: I have a somewhat opposite situation in that I have a coworker who is exactly the same as childhood bullies I dealt with for a few years but isn’t one of them. Everything she does is exactly like a girl I knew from aged 10 to 17. I fluctuates between amusing (because I can’t believe she acts like a 15 year old girl at times) to infuriating (because it brings up feelings of shame, inadequacy and embarrassment that I thought I’d gotten over a *long* time ago). I tend to avoid her as much as possible since I never know what she says will trigger out of me. For the most part I’ve managed to deal with her appropriately but occasionally she pushes a button that I don’t even realize I still have and it’s really hard to hold everything together.

    In short: childhood bullies can still perpetuate into adulthood and it sucks.

  40. Anon today*

    #3 – I was in a similar situation some years ago. I had purchased a plane ticket for which I was to be reimbursed by the interviewing company. On somewhat short notice I bowed out of the interview process and decided to stay with my current employer. The jilted employer offered to pay the plane ticket anyways, or the change fee if I was able to reuse the ticket (I was not). I declined, feeling it more professional to eat the cost since it was my decision to bow out.

  41. Anon today*

    #1 – I witnessed some terrible bullying in high school and although I was on the outside of the various groups, I was personally never bullied. Fast forward and I’ve been in a loose facebook group with many people from that school and been to a couple of reunions. Some of the bulliers (students and teachers by the way) seem to be perfectly lovely people with no recollection of their behavior (or they have blocked it out). Some of the bullied seem to have moved on, are all sunshine and rainbows and bear no ill will. At least one told me directly she cannot look any of the bullies in the eye and has no interest in “getting over it”. So, no two situations are the same. Start with what you need to do to protect your mental health and comfort, then assume karma will take care of the truly evil. Be who you are at work, not the person you were then becasue the dynamic does not have to carry forward.

    1. seejay*

      There really is no one-size for bullying and how you deal with it as an adult. I like to think I’m over it as an adult but sometimes someone will say something to me and I literally feel like that 12 (or 14 or 15 or even 17 year old) that underwent some really horrible shit 30 years ago. Some of my tormentors grew out of it, some are still sketchy enough that I don’t trust them to have gotten past that. And as I’ve seen, even people I didn’t grow up with can behave exactly like a 15 year old bully in their adulthood and I have no desire to subject myself to that type of behaviour from someone. I’m pretty confident and sure of myself now but sometimes you never know what might flip a switch and cause those latent feelings to come crashing in.

      And for the ones that were truly horrible, I have absolutely zero interest in ever crossing paths with them ever again, even if they tried to apologize for their behaviour. They could go walk off a short pier for all I care. It’s not a grudge or anything, I just have no interest in ever interacting or dealing with them ever again, some of them really went out of their way to make my life hell and they knew they were doing it too.

  42. One Time in Middle School...*

    So I wasn’t a bully, I was just an a-hole middle schooler who treated my teachers like crap. All excuses aside, in my late 20’s I started working at a public library where one of my former middle school teachers was employed. I took the bull by the horns and told her how mortified I was of my behavior and apologized. She was amazing about it (because I’m sure she remember me!) and said “Honey, all middle schoolers are a-holes!” We’re great friends and I’m so lucky to have a wonderful relationship with her!

  43. Moonsaults*

    This reminds me of when my junior high/high school nemesis and I attended our 10 year reunion awhile back. I just side eyed him from across the room and went about my business catching up with others.

    After a few drinks, he fished me out of the crowd and asked to talk to me. It was awkward to say the least but thankfully was also buzzed at the time so I agreed. It turned out that he was mad at me all those years because he thought I had ratted him out for a particular incident that I had no idea had even happened. I just starred at him and told him I absolutely had no part in it and whoever told him that was mistaken.

    He then told me that he had a lot of personal stuff that was happening back then, he had been self medicating a lot and that was why he was a such a little jerk to me. We hugged it out and whereas I have no desire to be friends, we have nothing in common aside from a painful childhood, he is completely different now and knows he was a bratty jerkwad all those years ago.

    I think it’s best to see how this bully acts in a professional setting first and give him a clean slate with just that knowledge in the back of your mind that he was a jerk as a kid. Many things happen when we’re growing up, divorce is one of them that I’ve seen send kids off the deep end into a bullying pattern as well.

    I understand carrying it all with you for long after you’ve left childhood behind. It took me up until right around that reunion to wash it away and evicting the ghosts of people who were taking up valuable real estate in my mind out.

  44. Regina*

    If I was the OP, there is no way I’m acknowledging that I remember the childhood bully – unless of course he brings it up himself to apologize and even then I might play dumb… at least for a few days. D

    The best revenge is living well – and it’s super satisfying to show those who inflicted torment on you in your younger days that their behaviour made so little an impression on you, you don’t even remember them. Last month I was out for lunch with my boss (he’s a politician so people approach us often when we’re out, I didn’t think anything of it at first) and this gentleman comes to our table as we are leaving. He asks me if I’m Regina K and I say yes, and he says ‘I don’t know if you remember me but I’m Shaun Griffin, I just wanted to apologize for the way I treated you in high school’. At that moment I actually didn’t remember who it was so I apologized for not being able to recall him, but thanked him anyway. It wasn’t until the next day when I was talking to my sister about the interaction that I realized who Shaun was. And gosh – it was satisfying to not remember – and to have him know I didn’t remember.

    I can’t pretend to know your situation, so I don’t know how it still effects you. I was fat, had a mouth full of rainbow elastics and wires, liked Garth Brooks a little too much for a typical 14-yr-old and had caterpillars for eyebrows – so some of my peers certainly let me have it. But I have a great life now. Being the first to acknowledge the torment gives the other person power. Even if you have to fake it, don’t let them have it!

  45. Seianus*

    It’s very natural bullies may not remember you. As the famous quote from otherwise terrible movie says, “For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me… it was Tuesday.”

  46. Leishycat*

    I had a couple of guys (identical twins, and I can’ t really remember which was which tbh) make my life hell in high school, culminating with them trying to shove me into traffic as I biked past them after school one day. They got suspended for a while and backed off a bit, and we graduated soon after.

    A couple years later I was working in the local university’s library as a work-study employee, when one of them was hired there to work in the same department. He immediately tried to start harassing me again, telling me that he wished he had killed me when he got the chance.

    He didn’t last a week at that job.

  47. Anony*

    I find it interesting that the vast majority of the stories of re-encountering childhood bullies at work involve females. Seems like a lot of “mean girl” types become successful career women, while most of the male bullies I grew up with didn’t do well as adults, and wouldn’t be found in a white-collar professional workplace.

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