my coworker is a rude, inconsiderate bully — but am I being too sensitive?

A reader writes:

Six months ago, I started a new position after leaving a very toxic work environment. One of my colleagues on my team, Mary, is responsible for the majority of my training and is essentially my counterpart. I initially worked longer hours, since Mary works remotely across the country and I wasn’t able to complete training without her. Many tasks were completed around her schedule. I won’t be able to work 100% independently until I’ve learned the ropes, and because certain things only come up monthly, quarterly, or yearly, it may take me a while to be self-sufficient.

Sometimes I’ll check in about half an hour before the end of the day to see if there’s anything else needed from me, she’ll say yes, and then keeps me waiting (sometimes up to an hour or more!). There are times when I step away from my desk and return to find missed IM messages because she needs to speak to me immediately. In the last few months, it’s become incredibly apparent that she blatantly has no respect or regard for my time (even with meetings she’s initiated, she’s 15-20 minutes late and subsequently annoyed we only have a fraction of the required time). Oftentimes she’ll put me on mute/hold without even telling me. She’ll come back and ask me to repeat everything because she wasn’t paying attention, or she’ll talk over me and then cut me off with “wait, I’m not done” or “no, you’re wrong.” There are times when I’m met with even more of an attitude when I need to jump onto another call (“oh my god, fine, who are you meeting with?”), work on something else (“no, this is more important”), or simply need to reconvene at a later time. I now log off the company IM at exactly 5:30 p.m., because she has a tendency of approaching me at 5:28 p.m. knowing it’s the end of my day, and her “five minutes” is actually 40. No amount of my telling her that we need to resume the conversation the next day is successful. I understand time constraints or last-minute deadlines, but that is rarely the case and I get bothered when I can never seem to leave on time yet her day ends when it needs to because at that hour, everyone on the east coast is already done for the day.

I blamed it on her having bad days, my overthinking it, or my taking it too personally until I realized that she’s just down right demeaning and talks down to me, and acknowledged how awful her behavior makes me feel. I helped train a new colleague, Steve, and I scheduled a session with Mary to join us because she was more knowledgeable on the subject. Steve pinged me later to tell me he felt humiliated because all she did was yell and talk down at him during the call.

I don’t think my boss has any idea, as the way Mary speaks to me when we are all on a call together is drastically different than when it’s just her and me. I understand I need to stick/speak up for myself, but I’m not good at doing that. I have been making more of an effort to speak up and push back, but our level of interaction has become a source of bad anxiety for me. I may not be doing a good job of explaining our interactions, but I feel slightly bullied (I internalize a lot and may be taking this harder than necessary).

Annual performance reviews are coming up, and I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to discuss this with my boss. I’m still a new employee and don’t want to rock the boat, but I feel a more positive relationship would be beneficial for everyone (including my boyfriend who gets angry when I come home crying because he simply wants me to stand up to her and stop tolerating this kind of treatment!). I’m new to the corporate world. Am I being too sensitive and need to grow thicker skin? Any advice?

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked: “Does Mary supervise your work or is she a peer? Is there any reason you need to check with her to see if she needs anything before you leave for the day?” She replied:

She’s a peer; my boss made it clear she’s not my supervisor but that she’ll be doing most of the training and explaining (I’m an entry level analyst and she’s a senior). I check with her periodically if it’s a particularly busy time (quarter end for example) and we’ve been working together on a lot of tasks or if she’s asked me to work on something specific for her. I would mostly assume my day is over at 5:30 unless otherwise noted but for some reason I feel like I need her permission sometimes (I’m a classic people pleaser)! That sounds silly when I write it.

Yes — there’s no question that Mary is quite rude and inconsiderate, but I think it’s important for you to spot that checking in with her before you leave is opening the door to some of this. So effective immediately, stop doing that. She’s not your boss, she knows what time your day ends, she presumably understands time zone differences, and she’s perfectly capable of giving you advance notice if she’s going to need something from you that day. You do not need a peer’s permission to end your work day at your normal time.

(That said, it sounds like maybe she’s not quite a peer? She’s clearly not your manager, but if you’re entry-level and she’s senior, she probably has some standing to delegate work to you and possibly to tell you that one priority is more important than another. That doesn’t change what I wrote above, but factoring that into your thinking may help some of this feel less annoying.)

Anyway, beyond that, I think you have two options, and you could do either or both of these:

1. Talk to Mary directly:
* When she puts you on hold without telling you, say, “Hey, would you mind telling me when you’re putting me on hold so I don’t keep talking?” You can also say, “Is this a bad time? Should we reschedule?” which is a mild way of signaling, “Hey, what you’re doing is not a great use of this time.”
* Address the lateness this way: “I know you’re busy. Is there a way to schedule meetings for times when you’ll be available? I’ve noticed that otherwise we end up without the full amount of time we need for what we want to cover.” (If she weren’t senior to you, I’d say to be more blunt and tell her that you need her to be on time for meetings with you, but I don’t think you have the standing to say that in this case.)
* When she wants to have a long conversation with you at the end of the day and resists waiting until the next day, say this: “I really can’t stay late today; I need to leave on time. I need to end this call now.” Then, the next day, say this to her: “I’ve noticed that we often end up on long calls just as my day is leaving, since I’m three hours ahead. I often need to leave on time, so if you need something from me, we should talk no later than 4:00 my time to make sure we have the time we need.”

2. Talk to your boss (and don’t wait for your annual performance review conversation unless it’s in the next week or two). I’d tell her what’s been going on and then frame it as asking for her advice — so you’re not complaining, exactly, but rather looking for guidance on how to deal with a challenging situation. Everything you wrote in your letter is fair game to tell your boss about, except for the IM’ing you when you’re away from your desk (that’s pretty normal since you work on projects together). You should also confirm with her that it’s okay for you to tell Mary you need to leave on time most days when you she tries to give you work at the very last minute, as long as it’s not truly an emergency or time-sensitive (make sure you say that last part to your boss so she knows you’re not being unreasonably rigid). And make sure that you mention the yelling; if your boss is halfway decent, that’s going to really alarm her.

All that said … in addition to the above, I suspect that the answer to “Am I being too sensitive and need to grow thicker skin?” is also probably yes. To be clear, Mary is being really rude — but that’s about Mary, not about you, so to the extent that you can, you should try not to take her behavior personally. I know that’s easier said than done, but if you’re coming home crying, that’s a piece of this that you’ve got to work on too. There are probably going to be more difficult coworkers in your future too, and I don’t want you to be this rattled by all of them.

Then throw in the fact that you note that you’re a people pleaser, and I suspect your own psychology is mixing with the situation in a particularly difficult way — you’re not instinctively setting boundaries, and that’s the missing piece here. When you’re not used to setting boundaries, starting to push back can feel terribly scary, but it’s very much a work skill (and a life skill!) that will be crucial to you having a happy career … and not letting the world’s Marys run roughshod over you.

{ 124 comments… read them below }

  1. AdAgencyChick*

    Oh, OP, I have been there. I’m in NYC, and my team used to have an account head who was based out of SoCal. She would routinely make comments on work in the middle of HER day (read, end of our day) and expect them turned around the same day. We didn’t report to her, mind. It drove us CRAZY. One thing that helped was putting due dates and times in emails to her, in bold and with consequences for missing the deadline (for example, “We need your comments on the Teapot Report by 4 PM EST; if not, we will send to the client without your feedback”).

    I think Alison’s suggestions to assert yourself are great. I would also add, since she’s a peer and not a manager or client, that you can get off the phone if she’s late! I’d give her 10, at most 15 minutes from the start of a call before moving on to other things. Then send her an email saying you figured that time no longer worked for her and can we please reschedule? She will either learn to be on time, or (more likely) she won’t, but at least you won’t waste as much time waiting for her.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      +1 to the calls suggestions. There is literally no reason you should be sitting around 15-30 minutes waiting for her!

      After about 5-10 minutes, I’ll usually ping someone (“hey, are we still meeting?”). If they don’t respond within a couple minutes, I think it’s totally reasonable to return to your normal work (after sending a ping letting them know – just a “hey, I think we really need a full 30 minutes for this meeting. Since you aren’t available, let’s reschedule.”)

      1. Willis*

        +1 to your suggestion ping wording. It’s totally unreasonable to expect a coworker to stay on the line waiting for you for 30 min!!

      2. TheCupcakeCounter*

        I’d maybe ping first and then send the reschedule note as an email so that you have a paper trail just in case Mary goes to the boss with OP isn’t doing X, Y, and Z

        1. EddieSherbert*

          That’s a good point; I know my IM system saves conversations (so I can search a folder to find my past ones), but that is not true everywhere, and you would deifnitely want a record!

      3. designbot*

        Agreed on the ‘couple of minutes’–even 10 or 15 minutes seems like a long time to wait to coordinate with a peer. Presumably your teammates should value your working time as much as you do because it is productive for the team, and it’s perfectly normal to go back to other work if you can’t get an internal call going.

        1. Vicki*

          Especially a peer who then takes the next 5 minutes complaining that they don;t have enough time left.

      4. Visualized Tacos*

        So much this. I don’t even wait around that look for managers. The understanding is that they would like me to use my time more effectively than just waiting around for them. If they can’t make it on in ten minutes, we reschedule.

        I suspect your manager has other things they would prefer you to do besides waiting around for a colleague who won’t get back to you on whether or not you can meet, and will probably back you up on that.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      I’ll also add: Your coworker is probably not doing these annoying things *conscious* that she’s annoying you. She’s just going through her day, oblivious of her impact on other people. Maybe she couldn’t make your noon meeting because she was on another call that went over (not malicious or intentionally annoying), but she’s too oblivious to shoot you an email letting you know she’ll be late or, better yet, scheduling her meetings with time in between if they have a tendency to run over.

      If making her aware of her impact on other people (by telling her that you can’t take calls at 2:30 her time because that’s the end of your day, for example) doesn’t work, then the next best thing you can do is to fix things so that there’s no skin off your nose. This includes shutting her down and hanging up the phone at 5:30 (politely, as Alison suggested above), not staying on phone calls for an extended period of time when she hasn’t bothered to show up, etc.

      1. NW Mossy*

        Mary’s probably more susceptible than most in this respect because she’s in a different site than the OP. When you don’t have physical presence with someone, it’s a lot easier to read them as a non-person. If she had to encounter the OP on a regular basis in the office, it’d be more challenging to pretend that being persistently late and yelling a lot is normal behavior.

      2. Camellia*

        I think you are being far too generous. My experience with this is that the person knows exactly what they are doing. Few people are so obtuse that they don’t realize when they are 30 minutes late to a meeting.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I agree she knows what she is doing. Some people wait until they are told NO and then they stop doing whatever.
          Last week I mentioned I had to talk to someone at work. This person is an outsider to my work but he also has more status (for reasons) in our field than I do. The guy is Mr. Oblivious, or maybe he knows exactly what he is doing.
          I targeted problems W, X, Y and Z. I went one by one. “I cannot do W any more. You will have to take care of it yourself.” Then I moved to X. As each problem came up I said NO. It was predictable that the problems would come up. I had my wording ready and I went for it.

          The odd part here is that it took longer to say no and explain it than it did to fill the request. But he makes so many requests that if I took 15 minutes to say no, it probably saved me 45 minutes. This is another reason why people don’t say no, it just. takes. too. long. to explain the reason for the NO. In the moment it easier to just go with the flow. But over a period of weeks or months the amount of time wasted is incredible.

          It’s not a waste of your time, OP, to learn how to do this. You will use it for the rest of your working career. It’s funny/odd, but sometimes I think that work is more about handling this type of stuff than doing the actual work itself. The work itself always seems far easier.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Do you think Mary subscribes to the same school of “power moves” as the job candidate who shows up late to interviews to test the employer?

      3. Charlie*

        I think you’re giving her the benefit of too much doubt, assuming that she’s doing it unconsciously – her verbal comments alone make it clear that she’s being consciously rude and dismissive. And even if unconscious, consistent lateness and disrespect for others’ time is unconscionably rude.

        1. Lily in NYC*

          Yes, along with the fact that she speaks differently to OP if the boss is also on a call with them.

          1. Security SemiPro*

            +1. Like most cases of abusive behavior, it can be controlled. Mary doesn’t yell at and demean the boss, its not behavior she just thinks is okay.

    3. Dee*

      I’d give her 10, at most 15 minutes from the start of a call before moving on to other things.

      Yeah, that was one of my first thoughts. Maybe if you always make a habit of leaving the meeting after she’s 15 minutes late, it will start to register with her.

      1. Gene*

        15 minutes my hairy butt! If we have a scheduled call and you aren’t there in 5, at the very outside 10, I’m hanging up and doing something useful.

        She puts you on hold?!?! If you don’t hear any7thing on the other end, like affirmative noises, ask if she’s there. If not, HANG UP!!!

        I understand you’re programmed to be a people pleaser, but if you don’t stand up for yourself, no one else will.

        1. Crystalline*

          Here here. I’m waiting 10 if I like you, know you aren’t meaning to be a big jerk, or if we haven’t interacted enough to know yet… 15 seems awfully long to give someone who has already shown a pattern of this behavior.

          I agree with the rest of the advice I’ve seen here so far, though! Set boundaries, and mean them. You can do it!

    4. AFT123*

      Totally agree with AdAgencyChick’s suggestion to not wait on her for more than 10 minutes. She is an adult, it is her responsibility to either get to meetings on time or to give you some kind of heads up that she will late, and it is not your responsibility to accommodate her. I think part of gaining professional experience and truly feeling and being perceived as an experienced professional is learning how to navigate these situations without being rattled. OP, I know you’re still new, but the sooner you can mentally put yourself on the same level as your peers, the better. You have a job to do, you know what you need to do it well, and you really don’t need to exert energy on pleasing this woman. You can figure out how to placate her for the sake of your working relationship, but do always remember that you are both on equal ground here, even if she has some whiff of authority over you. Like, from a human standpoint, if that makes sense. The more leeway you give her, the more she’ll take, and it will absolutely reflect poorly on you in the long run. You can’t control her, but you can certainly work on controlling your own behaviors and reactions.

    5. Xarcady*

      This is what I call, “You need to start acting, instead of reacting.”

      The OP has been reacting to Mary’s actions, but nothing is changing. So the OP needs to take control of the situation as much as possible.

      Things like just leaving work on time, asking to reschedule when Mary is too late starting a phone call or meeting, giving Mary deadlines (I need this information by 4 pm today) instead of waiting for Mary to get back to her, hanging up if Mary puts her on hold (Oh, I’m sorry, I thought we were done/disconnected/you had left the call).

      There’s no way to change Mary or her behavior, so the OP needs to change her own.

    6. Lily Rowan*

      On the time zone issue, especially if there has been an issue, I always list both times in every communication. So: “We need your comments on the Teapot Report by 4PM EST/1PM PST.” It gets clunky, but I bet everyone has screwed up time zones or just not paid enough attention, so keeping it in her face might help.

      1. Moonsaults*

        Yes, please anyone who deals with other timezones frequently should write it in the other person’s time as well! I’ve done it for years and cut down on so much confusion.

  2. NW Mossy*

    I second Alison’s suggestion to touch base with your boss for ideas on how to handle this. One of my reports did this last week in a similar situation, where she needed to push back on a peer and wanted to validate her stance and proposed approach with me first. It helped tremendously because then I could keep an eye on the situation as it unfolded and intervene to reinforce our team’s boundaries and requirements when the bully tried to, well, bully his way past them.

    In some ways, my report is similar to you in that she knows she needs to draw boundaries but is sometimes unsure about how (or even if) she can do that. Knowing that your manager is in your corner and willing to back you up may help give you confidence to know that it’s not just you on your side of the boundary and that you have support in the event that Mary reacts badly.

  3. AngtheSA*

    OP I feel you. I am a people pleaser. I just left a toxic work environment with a co worker who sounds similar to Mary. She was demanding and very passive aggressive. I am a working mom and when I had to take off work for appt or sick time with my daughter, she wouldn’t speak to me for days. It got to the point that I would ask what was wrong, and if she continued to ignore me I would alert my boss. I ended up leaving and thankfully work in a great environment now but am getting over the trauma that come in working in that type of environment for a long time. Like Allison said, you need to work on your boundaries. If need be get some therapy and read books, whatever you need. It will definitely help in the long run. Good luck!!!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Speaking when spoken to is essential to any job. People who can’t do that, should be relieved of their jobs if they fail to correct their behavior. They are toxic and they are harming the company’s flow of business.

  4. Girasol*

    Is it possible that Mary is simply thoughtless: not meaning to make you stay uncomfortably late but oblivious to how awkward it is for you? The mean tone of her messages may be bullying but might simply be terseness. I’ve know a number of people who are kind and charming in person but their messages are so terse as to look nasty if I didn’t know them better than that.

    1. NW Mossy*

      The OP indicated that Mary’s essentially a different person when the OP’s boss is in the conversation, so it seems that she’s capable of being more pleasant, but simply chooses not to.

        1. Purest Green*

          Absolutely! Unless we assume OP is an unreliable narrator of these events, Mary seems to go beyond being just a bit of a jerk if she’s yelling and talking down to people.

        2. Dynamic Beige*

          This. If Mary is perfectly able to be on time for the boss and be a “normal” human being when it’s the boss, the boss is never going to understand anyone else’s problems with Mary unless they experience them first hand. Given the fact that another coworker has also had issues with her, it sounds like this is not someone who should be relied upon to be a resource for new employees if she’s just going to belittle them.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Mary should not be in the position of training people, for the simple reason that she can’t train.

    2. LBK*

      Yes, I have a woman I worked with via email for about 6 months before I met her in person and it was a complete 180 in personality. She emails very tersely and sometimes comes off as condescending/mean, but in person she’s as sweet as can be.

      1. NW Mossy*

        Years ago, I worked with a client who had a phone voice that made her come off like Sadness from the movie Inside Out. Her “Hi Mossy, it’s Lucinda” perpetually sounded like she was on the brink of existential despair, even though she was quite a pleasant and happy person in reality. Certain people truly can come off differently on the phone or over email, although in the OP’s case, it seems like Mary’s attitude can’t entirely be ascribed to distance communication.

    3. SarcasticFringehead*

      I’d be more open to this idea if she were better over the phone – I often worry that my emails are coming off terse, so I’m sympathetic to that, but both the OP and Steve say that Mary is also rude, condescending, and aggressive on the phone, which suggests it’s not an issue of tone. It’s entirely possible she’s being thoughtless, but that doesn’t make it okay.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I think it sounds like Mary doesn’t want to be doing this training and she’s taking it out on OP and Steve. That does not excuse it in the least. The worst bully I ever worked with was a huge suck-up when the boss (or a customer) was around, and acted like a velociraptor with a stick up its butt when he wasn’t.

        I agree with the secret boss listening, heh heh. I hope the manager is reasonable and has OP’s back.

  5. AnotherAlison*

    Mary sounds like a jerk, and I can allow for the idea that that is all it is.

    The only question I have is if the OP (and Steve’s) positions are new. It’s possible that your manager mishandled the whole Mary-training-the-new-hires scenario. Or, she was resistant to training anyone because of the challenges of being remote and in another time zone, and is not happy that she has to do it. Or, she thinks that once the OP and Steve are up to speed, her remote position will be phased out. None of that is an excuse to be a jerk, but I have been in the shoes of being unhappy about a new counterpart and can understand the attitude a little bit.

    1. OP*

      My position and Steve’s aren’t new, however the vacancy for mine was much longer than his. I sometimes wondered if Mary’s behavior was due to her concern regarding redundancy, but I don’t think that’s the case since she’s quite knowledgeable within her role (and others) and it would be tough to fill her shoes.

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        And that is entirely possible. It’s also possible that Mary could get hit by a bus tomorrow or come down with a terminal disease or decide to emigrate to Australia. Eventually, someday, Mary is going to leave whether through choice or not, then what is everyone at that company going to do?

        Could also be that Mary has a case of the sour grapes because she can’t get her work done with everyone asking her for just a minute of her time. But that is also not your problem, OP and if Mary does have an issue with it, it’s up to her to manage it/set some boundaries. You could come to some sort of agreement with her that you’ll save all your questions for one specific time unless it’s an emergency, if your work will allow that sort of thing.

  6. Marcy Marketer*

    Hey OP, I feel you! I work with a lot of “boundary pushers” in my office– it honestly astounds me. They’ll do things like demand I reply to emails within an hour, but then take days to respond to mine. Or, they’ll try to bully me into doing things that are their job (I think it’s just the culture here). Because I’m a yes-person, who likes to be helpful and has kind of a dive-in-get-it-done attitude, it was (and is) really hard for me to set boundaries without feeling like I’m not being a team player.

    I will stress that you should talk to your boss before your start being more direct. You want to be able to know you have her backing before becoming more direct with your coworker, to keep your coworker from complaining to your boss about you before you’ve spoken.

  7. Tiny_Tiger*

    OP, I can relate so much to this. When I first started working in offices I was pretty meek and quiet, until I had a coworker who would steamroll his way over anyone he thought was beneath him (i.e. everyone who wasn’t his direct manager). It wasn’t until after he left that I started learning how to toughen myself up at work and learn to say “No” or outright tell people off when they did something rude or irresponsible. Growing a thicker skin is definitely more easier said than done but the benefits of doing it are more than worth it.
    As far as talking with your manager about Mary’s behavior, do it sooner rather than later. You definitely do not deserve to be treated the way she’s treating you and whether she likes it or not, your work day does not revolve around hers.

    1. Regina 2*

      How do you develop a thick skin? I’m in a tough culture where I fear I just won’t be able to learn how to do this until I move somewhere else. Any tips in the meantime, or what to do when I get to a place that I feel safer to test the waters?

      1. Tiny_Tiger*

        Honestly, the way I did it may not be the best, but I did it by gaining more than a little apathy for my coworker and my job in general. I had to keep reminding myself that I was at work to do MY job and no one else’s, I’m not there to make friends or even to be friendly with people, I’m there to work and be polite. It also helped that it was around then that it started to click with me just how valuable I am to the company I work for (I essentially do the work of 3 people and 7/10 times I’m the only one with the ability to do it). It’s a lot easier to test the waters and see how far you can push things when there is a certain guarantee that they can’t afford to fire you.

  8. the_scientist*

    It sounds like there are a few different things going on here. First, Mary does sound like a bit of a jerk. But she also sounds like an ineffective and inexperienced trainer. Is this her first time training new hires? I also wonder if the boss doesn’t realize that training is taking up most of Mary’s time and she’s feeling the pressure of keeping up with her regular workload on top of the training, and is taking it out on the OP and Steve. Or, she’s worried about her position being phased out and taking it out on the OP and Steve. Not that either excuses her from acting like a jerk, obviously.

    I’ve worked with many people who are chronically oblivious to and/or disrespectful of others’ time, and a lot of the suggestions here are good. Provided it’s ok with the boss, stop checking in before you log off for the day. Let Mary know that if she needs anything from you before the end of the day, she should have it to you by 4:00 your time, unless it’s an emergency. When Mary is late joining scheduled phone meetings, move on with your life and re-schedule them. There is NO point in cramming a 30-minute meeting into 15 minutes; it will not be productive or useful. When Mary gets mad because you don’t respond instantaneously to IMs, don’t react. As you gain more social capital, you can push back on behavior like that, but as a new employee, it’s better just to let it run off you like water off a duck’s back. As for the yelling, probably best to just ignore it- you have confirmation from Steve that it’s Mary’s issue, not yours.

    1. Bob Barker*

      I mean, I would hope that the manager is made aware of the wasted time of the employees? Every call that has to be rescheduled for a stupid reason is wasted time.

      Also, wouldn’t the manager want to know that new hires are dispirited and offended by how they’re being treated, by their trainer no less? That’s how you get revolving door positions. Which also costs the manager wasted time and money.

  9. Trout 'Waver*

    If someone asked me to repeat something because they had stepped out of a call without alerting me, I would stop taking meetings with them. I mean, why even have the meeting at that point?

    1. Adonday Veeah*


      “Oh, OK. Clearly this wasn’t a good time for us to meet. Email me with some times when you can be fully present to the conversation. We’ll touch base then.”


    2. Whats In A Name*

      This is the point I keep coming back to. This is just thoughtless.

      OP, if you have questions on how to handle things or have to provide her with a summary of points related to work can you ask her if you can do this via email. That accomplishes 2 things: 1) unnecessary call time repeating information and more time to do your actual work (which it appears she is doing on her end) and 2) you will have a paper trail of what you have relayed to her. If she is only half paying attention or all out bailing on calls without telling you I have to imagine she is missing some relevant info. And if she feels the info isn’t relevant, why have a call?

    3. Alienor*

      Yeah, that’s pretty egregious. I will admit that I’ve lost track of conversations on group calls that are mostly other people talking, when I’m doing other work and just listening with half an ear for my name. But in a one-on-one conversation between me and someone else, I’m definitely all there and paying attention!

    4. Not So NewReader*

      OP, listen for the “uh-huh” or one word interruptions like “yep”, if you don’t hear them for a few minutes ask her if she is still there. If she does not answer, tell her you are hanging up and ask her to call you when the coast is clear.

  10. Lemon Zinger*

    OP, I was in a very similar situation when I started my current job, except “Mary” worked right next to me and she was disrespectful to me to my face! She was good at her work and mostly neglected me (especially where training was concerned). I’d asked her several times point-blank if I was messing up or irritating her, but she wasn’t very open to talking and would always shut down the conversation immediately. It got to the point where I was afraid to talk to her, so I reached out to my boss (who works remotely) and told her that I had concerns about the quality of my work because of Mary’s demeanor and treatment of me and other staff.

    Boss jumped to my defense and told me that Mary has a hard time dealing with people. I think she spoke to Mary about our talk, because a few days later, Mary revealed to me that she has severe anxiety, which influences her mood and personality. Not that it’s an excuse, per say, but it did help me understand her a bit better. The empathy helped me get along with her until she found a new job and left.

    OP, talk to your boss. Sometimes it’s impossible to make headway with people like this unless you reach out to the higher powers at your workplace.

  11. ChooseBetterLife*

    OP, good for you for wanting to be proactive and stand up for yourself!
    As you follow Allison’s suggestions, consider keeping a log of important incidents as well as what you’ve tried and how it worked. That way if you do need your boss’s or HR’s assistance, you’ll have concrete examples.
    Best of luck!

  12. Evie K*

    I used to work with a person – Terry – who was incredibly rude on calls until we started using video. It was like if Terry couldn’t see us, we weren’t really people so there was no need to treat us like human beings. Once faces were there, it was all normal business for Terry. Weirdest thing I’ve ever personally experienced. Might be worth a try.

  13. TootsNYC*

    I think it’s OK to eventually get a little testy.
    She complains or speaks nastily to you because you were away from your desk, you can be “impatient with and dismissive of this criticism” back. Don’t be nasty, but be authoritative. It’s part of the push-and-pull.

    1. TootsNYC*

      And when she asks you to repeat stuff because she went off and did something else while you were talking, be a bit astonished and offended: “Mary, did you really stop listening to me? That’s not cool–I have other things to do over here, so why don’t you call me when you’re ready to devote your attention to this? Bye.”

      (though yes, absolutely, talk to your boss about this, w/ actions, behaviors and facts as your focus, and not respect or rudeness. And say, “I need to set some boundaries; this is what I think I’ll do. Any advice?”)

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I think the boss will be upset when he finds out how his employees are being trained.

  14. TootsNYC*

    Oh–and those things that only come up quarterly, semi-annually, etc.?

    Make a list, and go proactively find out what you need to do for them NOW, and who else will know the information, so you can just ignore Mary, or minimize your interaction with her.
    Pretend Mary quit, and you have to reconstruct that stuff on your own. I guarantee that it will be possible.

    1. Camellia*

      This is excellent advice. Also be sure and let your boss know you are doing this; learning to toot your own horn is also part of being a professional.

  15. Temperance*

    We have a CA office, and I’m on the East Coast, and I find that, very often, the CA people will either forget or “forget” and send a weird request – my favorite was to have a call at 3:00 p.m. Pacific on a Friday.

    I say no. Every time. I then ask if we can do something by X time, or ask when they come in the next AM. I am pretty strong-willed, though, FWIW, and don’t care about upsetting people.

    1. Bookworm*

      I’ve had similar experiences with Hawaii. Also, on the other side I’ve that, I’ve gotten into the office at 9am to see a flurry of e-mails from our East Coast office from six asking for info ASAP. Or having people request meetings with me at 5:00am. Barring emergencies, it makes the most sense to simply come in at m normal time and handle things at a normal pace.

      I’m not three hours late, we’re on different schedules. Nor do I fault them for sending those e-mails. People should reach out when they think of it. Just as it’s not my job to accommodate their schedule, it’s not their job to accommodate mine.

      Time differences can be a bit tricky, and OP needs to remember that (to an extent) it’s up to her to set and manage those boundaries.

      1. michelenyc*

        I work with Asia and we would rotate staying late or coming in early for conference calls. At least I didn’t have to stay at the office when it was my turn to do the evening call and I would do them from home.

        1. HonoriaGlossop*

          Is the call rotation a standard practice for your company, or is it something your team worked out? If the latter, how did that happen?

          My divsion has a large group in Asia, and a smaller (40-50) group in the US. All meetings are done early in the morning, between 4-10 AM Eastern. We (US team) have suggested rotating meeting times, but get pushback about interrupting their (Asia team) time in the evenings. This is made worse because there are multiple meetings that occur daily. It is really hard to do your best work when you’ve just rolled out of bed. We also continue work until our workday ends, around 530PM Eastern.

          I’m really burnt out.

          1. michelenyc*

            Most teams have adopted this practice. The company lets you decide what works best for your team. Thankfully the earliest our calls are 8AM. Our company would never ask us to come in or call in at before that time. It would have to be a huge issue; like the time a factory burned down and we lost an entire style.

      2. Ann Furthermore*

        We have locations in Europe, and I’m there several times a year. I love working there because it’s nice and quiet until about 2:30 in the afternoon, when people in the Denver office start to arrive. Then it’s a non-stop flurry of emails and IM’s. Every day around that time, everyone is like, “Oh, God. They’re awake.”

      3. Perse's Mom*

        It’s not even time zones for me – it’s just Shift A starts at 8am and Shift B starts at noon but 90+% of the full time staff are on Shift A and they just don’t think at all about the people who are on Shift B when they schedule 9am meetings that include B-people.

        The minor positive is if I have to go in that early, I also get to be done early… but it still messes up my internal clock for the rest of the week.

  16. Workfromhome*

    You can use my favourite phrase whenever someone wanted to keep me on the phone or meeting past time or past my quitting time.

    If she contacts you at 4 58 tell here I want to let you know I have a HARD STOP at 5 pm.

    Then at 5 pm say as I mentioned I have a hard stop at 5 if you need to discuss further send me a meeting request tomorrow. Then hang up.

    Do not say “Sorrry I have a hard stop.” You are not sorry. You are being clear that you have Andre commitment. Mary has no regard for your time. Yet she is upset when you don’t answer her immediately. That needs to stop now.

    It’s not rude to disconnect in order to meet another commitment (another meeting,catch your bus or whatever it is) Set the boundaries with a hard stop and stick to them no matter what she says. If she says something is urgent then she should have planned better.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      I like this. Some of our consultants with back-to-back calls use a similar thing to hard stop. And you’re totally right that there is no need for OP to apologize.

    2. Sensual Shirtwaist*

      This is pretty common in consulting, and causes no hard feelings. Much better to state clearly upfront then sit there awkwardly clearing your throat at 5:02 looking for a natural break in the conversation.

      I also work on the opposite coast from the rest of my team. I’ve taken to putting recurring appointments in my calendar when I need to leave the office – most people know not to schedule a meeting directly adjacent to another appointment. It won’t help with Mary – she’s either oblivious or disrespectful – but it will help with others, and it might help you hold the boundaries you’ve set.

  17. hbc*

    “I check with her periodically if it’s a particularly busy time (quarter end for example).” Good. Checking in like that is great, provided you’re framing it like, “Okay, it’s an hour until I leave, do you have anything small I can help with or that I can continue on with in the morning before you get in?” Or “Good morning! Email me if you want me to help with the stats for the quarterly reports today, by your lunch time if you want them done same day.”

    Also, go ahead and accept her late afternoon meetings, but tell her from the start, “I really need to get out on time today, so I will literally be hanging up at 5:30 even if we’re mid-sentence.” If it would look bad to be so focused on the clock every day, put in fake limits, like you can only do Tuesdays and Thursdays until 6:00, or you’ll only go late during the closing week. You’ll be less stressed if you know in advance if this is going to be a long day or not, and she’ll probably even push less on the long days once she internalizes that you’re not at her beck and call.

    1. OP*

      “You’ll be less stressed if you know in advance if this is going to be a long day or not, and she’ll probably even push less on the long days once she internalizes that you’re not at her beck and call.” I agree with this 100%, thank you!

  18. Jackie*

    I have been there. It’s a very difficult situation. I ended up leaving my job. Once my home life became affected by my work life I knew it was time to move on. If you can truly stand up for yourself, maintaining your integrity, go for it. I got too worn down by the day to day harshness of my work environment.

  19. Murphy*

    OP, I’m sorry you’re going through all that! I’d probably talk to your boss in this case, since it sounds like Mary is not going to be reasonable. You can mention to your boss that your coworker experienced this from her as well (just give him a heads up that you’re doing that).

    As hard as it is, don’t take it personally. She hasn’t done it to just you and it’s clearly HER problem and not yours.

    As far as the late in the day phone calls go, you can definitely hang up on her! Just say, “Mary, as I’ve said, I needed to be done at 5:30. It is now 5:30, so I’m ending this call. We’ll touch base tomorrow. Have a nice afternoon.” and then hang up.

  20. pomme de terre*

    Oof, I am struggling with something similar, although my co-worker is not nearly as rude as Mary. But I’m a new person in a newly created position and my CW is more established at the company and I think is just a taskmaster by nature.

    Either way, she’s definitely not my boss.

    In meetings she will often ask the status of what I’m working on (which is a fair question, ppl in the same department should know what’s going on) but there’s a weird tone to it, like she’s the one assigning deadlines, and will also give me feedback on how to do it differently (thanks but no thanks in most cases). It’s been really tough to figure out how to navigate the relationship. I am new, so sometimes her input is helpful but I don’t want to be a doormat about how my projects are run. FWIW, a director from another department (above both me and CW in the org chart) said she speaks to him that way too, so I don’t think it’s personal. It’s just how she is, perhaps slightly compounded by some territoriality of having a new person in a new position handling things that used to fall to her and the fact that I’m in HQ and she’s not.

    The manager of the department has one foot out the door to retirement and has more or less abdicated responsibility for this kind of micro-managey stuff, so going up the ladder is not really an option. :/

    Advice for ways to deal with bossy/pushy co-workers welcome! Right now I feel like I’m living with a roommate who keeps needling me about doing housework exactly her way.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      I’d handle it with acknowledgement of her comments without treating her as if she’s over you, with a polite brush-off if needed.

      “What’s the status of the Sucracorp project?”
      “Great. Should be done by the target date. And what about your widget project? How is that going?”

      “You should try X, Y, and Z.”
      “Actually, Boss and I have decided to use A and B for this one.”

  21. AshleyH*

    I’m a classic people pleaser, too, and being assertive when it might seem “mean” is SOOO hard for me. Honestly, something that’s helped me a lot is reading about feminism/women in the workplace (I’m assuming you are female, so I’m thinking you might have some of the same inclinations). I realized SO much of my behavior has just been entrenched in being polite and wanting to be seen as “nice”. It helps I’ve got a very strong female boss, but I’ve really cut back on apologetic language and have been SO much more assertive. It was difficult at first, but now…I like it! At my last review, my boss and team lead both commented how everyone I work with appreciates how direct I am, and how I don’t beat around the bush.

    1. OP*

      I have struggled to do this, but am getting much better. For some reason I say “I’m sorry” for everything – even when it’s not my fault! I don’t know when it became such an ingrained habit for me, but I actively pay mind to it and am working on not apologizing for every little thing I do other than breathe. I automatically assume that being assertive = mean, which is far from the truth, and sometimes situation require a little more push back than an eye roll and my shrugging my shoulders.

      1. Elder Dog*

        Sometimes people say “I’m sorry” to express sympathy rather than apology, but are using the same phrase for both circumstances. It’s a habit, and you can change habits.
        Instead of saying “I’m sorry” try switching to “What a shame” or “That’s too bad” or some other phrase that would fit most of the time. Change that and it will go a long way to not sounding like you’re taking on guilt when you needn’t.

      2. Rusty Shackelford*

        Don’t confuse assertive with aggressive. Mary is being aggressive. You need to be assertive.

        1. Boss Cat Meme*

          Unfortunately, eye rolling, shoulder shrugging, head shaking – -all of that is terrible communication skills and really useless in getting across a clear point of view. It’s like the person earlier who said they have someone in their office who walks around and ignores her for days. Who DOES this? Teenagers. You are a grown up and grown-ups deal with things by talking about it directly. It’s not “mean” to use your voice and say, in your own way, “This is not okay with me.” If the situation were reversed, and during the course of a conversation your co-worker rolled her eyes and shrugged her shoulders, would you think that YOU were doing something unprofessional? In that case, I know I would say something like, “What do you mean? What’s going on? Is there a problem here?” You can’t just continue to use vague eye rolls and think that Mary will “get” that she is doing something inappropriate.

          1. OP*

            I completely agree with you, however sometimes I can’t help but role my eyes at some of the happenings with Mary and take it in jest as best I can. I’m using it as an example of a reaction in a situation where I don’t know how to be assertive and/or react to something that just occurred over the phone. Please don’t misunderstand, I certainly don’t employ those reactions at work, as you mentioned, they’re far from professional!

      3. NGDGTCO*

        It probably became ingrained when you were a little kid.

        I highly, highly, recommend that you read Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. It is not “bitches get ahead” at all. It is much more about the behaviors that were socialized into young girls – such as being ‘nice’, wanting everything to be fair, apologizing for nothing so that people feel better, etc. do not always serve grown women well in the (American) workplace. And let’s face it, a lot of the social norms in business were established when office-type workplaces were almost exclusively male. It’s got a quiz at the beginning to identify your issues, and then you go to the chapters that discuss the behaviors that you need to address.

    2. Venus Supreme*

      I agree 100% with AshleyH! I was lucky to work under two powerhouse butt-kicking ladies. They were really instrumental in shaping me to be more confident and helping me realize I don’t deserve to feel “less-than” (believe me, I was a meek little newt when I started there- they thought I was going to quit!). I still have a ways to go (I still say sorry a lot) but I know I’m more confident than some of my peers.

      And a lot of that has to do with stop worrying how other people will perceive me (easier said than done, I know). Like Rusty Shackelford said, there’s a difference between being assertive and aggressive. I’m still learning the difference myself. CLEARLY someone is affecting you enough that you’re coming home crying, and you need to tell yourself that no one is allowed to affect you in that way. Take AAM’s advice and also work on building your own emotional armor to not let Mary (and future energy-drainers) make you feel less-than. Because no one deserves that. “Do no harm, take no sh*t.”

  22. Lora*

    Where I work Mary is named Ian and drives everyone nuts, not just me. Many of us spoke to Ian’s boss about him, and his boss periodically makes him come around to everyone apologizing very sincerely. Then he goes right back to his usual self.

    On repeating yourself because Mary wandered off into Narnia: “I will just send you my notes later and we can discuss them when you’ve got time.”
    On over-running meeting times: “I have a hard stop at (time)” and then “Sorry, I have to leave right now, but we can talk about this later”
    On interruptions: “Can I finish my sentence here?” said in an incredulous and offended tone. If she keeps talking, just let her go until a really uncomfortable silence happens, let it draw out a bit, and say, “anything else? sounds like we are done here.” Don’t bother trying to reply when she isn’t interested in your input. She can pontificate at the phone all she wants if it makes her happy. When she is ready for your input, presumably she will ask, but she may never be interested in your input. I’ve also done, “how about I just send my (report etc) to you and you can review it at your leisure and return it to me with comments?” if it seems like meetings are one-sided.

  23. TheCupcakeCounter*

    So OP you really should bring this up to your manager but not in a Mary is a jerk way but a “I need to get a clear understanding of the expectations of me staying past the normal end time”. My guess is they we be quite perplexed at that question which gives you a nice opening to tell them about the late in the day work requests. Another bonus would be if you are affected by the new overtime law and if you come in a 8:30 or whatever and need to leave by 5:30 in order to not get overtime you can bring that up as a potential future problem of the current situation. Unfortunately that only deals with the late in the day work orders. Either way you really need to stop checking in so close to your leave time. She knows who you are and what you do so if she has a task she will send it. By essentially asking for her permission to leave on time you are giving her more power in your relationship.
    As someone above said, after 5 minutes of waiting for her to join a meeting IM her with a “are we still meeting? I have on my calendar that it started 5 minutes ago”. At the 10 minute mark hang up and send an email clearly stating that you called in for the 1:00pm EST meeting and waited for 10 minutes and since she wasn’t’ available and the subject matter needs the full 30 minutes and you cannot go over due to X would she please reschedule. When this happened to me a few times I always included the meeting notice as an attachment that showed who set it up (her), the time in both zones, and the acceptance. That way if your boss asks why you no showed to the meeting you have some documentation that you did show up and that she didn’t. If your phones have a record feature I would also utilize that going forward. A simple “Hey Mary! Since we have so much to go over today and I don’t want to miss anything I am using this handy-dandy record meeting feature – when we end the call I will send you a copy for your records as well” should either eliminate the mute/hold and condescending speech or you will have a record in case you need to officially complain about her behavior.
    If Mary is a jerk and a bully these things might lessen since it is possible that a boss could become aware since there is now a paper and voice trail or she will get that much worse. A lot of times bullies will back off once you start standing up for yourself and refuse to give them any power over you. If she is just thoughtless a few pings or well worded comments (“that was very inconsiderate. could you let me know you when you have to put me on hold so I don’t keep talking and then have to repeat myself? it really is a waste of my time” when she mutes or put you on hold, “its 5:20 here on the east coast so if that really needs to be done tonight I will have to work overtime and I need to get that approved by the boss” or “remember my work hours changed to X to Y a few months back – I need all requests by X your time in order to get you same day turnaround or they need to go through boss for approval for OT” for those late requests.
    And Alison is right – you do need to work on sensitivity to issues if they are causing you that much distress that you go home crying. A lot of that could be alleviated if you work on standing up for yourself and insist on being treated as a peer in a professional manner.

  24. Boss Cat Meme*

    By all means, find your spine! All this advice that you’ve read today is REALLY useful, but if you are not going to be able to speak up for yourself with a little authority, it’s all just wasted breath. If it’s hard for you to speak up, to say something that might cause some friction, then that’s something that you need to work on. Practice doing so with a few friends until you get comfortable. You want to be assertive, but not whiny or rude, and I feel for you, because I have been there. I was just so “nice” to the bullies in my office for months and it only got worse. One day, I just said to the biggest bully, “You know, I have had enough of you treating me like your doormat, so just knock it off.” He just sat there with his mouth open. After that, I didn’t take any crap from anybody. It was hard but I held out. When people did rude things to me, that I knew was on purpose, I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t appreciate you doing x or y. It’s rude and unprofessional, and we have to spend a lot of time in this office together. ” EVERYTHING changed after that. I even became really good friends with some of the biggest offenders. At some point, you’re just going to have to say to Mary, “I’m sorry, Mary, but I don’t appreciate you doing x or y. It’s very unprofessional.” If she gives you crap at first, call her on it. If she tells you that you misunderstood, or that’s it was a joke, or you’re being sensitive, tell her, “That’s not true and you know it.” It WILL stop, and you’ve come across now as an equal, and not a junior whatever, afraid to speak up for herself.

    1. Willis*

      Along with practicing what you want to say, I’ve found it helpful to make a couple notes beforehand of what I wanted to say, particularly before phone calls I wasn’t looking forward too. In some of this situations you can anticipate (her trying to keep you on the phone past 5, her being super late for calls, etc.), it may be helpful to write down some more assertive responses and keep them by your desk. I know that sounds kind of silly, but then in the moment you’re not grasping for or debating what you want to say. I’ve found it a bit harder to back down when what I know I need to say is literally staring me in the face.

  25. LCL*

    Wait, these are all PHONE contacts? And you are on one coast and she is on the other? The time zone issue is enabling her rudeness, but the time zone thing is part of the problem.
    Who is early and who is late? I’m guessing OP is east and Mary is west. So when OP wants to leave at 5:30, it’s only 2:30 where Mary is and Mary still has hours to go so a few more minutes is no big deal to Mary.
    West Coast people sometimes get frustrated dealing with East Coast time differences, there is the perception that the East Coast thinks it’s the center of the universe and everybody should be on eastern time. Conversely, East Coast people sometimes think we’re a bunch of stoner slackers who always leave early.
    Next time you are scheduling a meeting with Mary, do it by email and include some graphic or link about the time zones. And don’t schedule open ended meetings- schedule them from 2:30 to 3:00PM, instead of meeting starts at 2:30.

  26. neverjaunty*

    OP, I want to push back on the idea that the problem is whether you need to be ‘less sensitive’ or ‘grow a thicker skin’, as if the issue were a personal flaw in you, rather than the issue being Mary acting like a jerk.

    By ‘people pleaser’ I’m guessing that you have preferences and strengths for getting along with others, and instead of beating yourself up about that, try shifting your perspective a little; it’s not that you’re too nice or too sensitive, but that you need to apply those skills in a way that solves your Mary problem. Talking to your boss is a collaboration skill! Politely deflecting Mary is also a people skill. You can handle this in ways that are different than somebody with ‘thicker skin’.

    1. Julia*

      I think being sensitive is often as asset, but I sometimes wish I had a thicker skin as well because it makes life easier. I would never tell anyone they had to grow a thicker skin, though! Usually, only those who want to Keep getting away with being insensitive jerks do that.

    2. Emma*

      I want to push back on your pushback, a little. I think it is absolutely possible to be too thin-skinned or oversensitive, and that is a personal flaw that needs to be worked on. If you can’t handle people talking to you without softening their language, for example, you are probably too thin-skinned and need to get a grip.

      And if you’re so much of a people-pleaser that you can’t set a reasonable boundary with someone even when you know you’re in the right and they’re overstepping, then yes, that is a flaw you need to work on, because you won’t always have a boss around to set your boundaries for you.

  27. GovWorker*

    Anyone yelling at anyone in the course of working together is unacceptable, full stop. It has to be shut down each and every time. I have even told my boss to stop yelling at me. If you do not demand respect you will get none. The office can be worse than high school, especially in organizations with cultures that do not value harmonious working relationships. My DD has the good fortune of working at a culture where rudeness would not be tolerated, but not all of us are so lucky. Focus on being respected, not liked. Good luck!

  28. GovWorker*

    Oh, if you would feel more comfortable saying “Please don’t yell at me”, or “Do you realize that you are yelling”, thats OK too. I not a people pleaser, so directness comes natural to me, but it is good to be yourself and use a softer tone as long as you communicate that the yelling is noticed and not OK.

  29. Volunteer Enforcer*

    Mary seems to be nearly as bad as Jane, based on how these aliases have been used in the past. The one I remember is Mary working part time leaving more work for the OP, when actually she was meant to work from home to keep up.

  30. Phoenix Feather*

    I deal with the time difference at my work as well. The time change can be frustrating, but something you are missing, OP, is that Mary is intentionally putting you off until her afternoon. You are not a priority for her. She has chosen to put other duties ahead of your shared ones and expects you to drop everything to accommodate her. 5:30pm your time is 2:30pm in California. She’s had HOURS to deal with the issue, respond to emails, make phone calls. She is choosing to not prioritize things. That is entirely on her.

    All you can control is your reaction and you’ve stated you are a people-pleaser. I think that is something that could be worked on. There are times when the answer is “No.” There are times when the answer is “It’s too late; my office is closed.” As others have said, apologies aren’t needed then. There have been a few books that I’ve read that have really helped me determine when I was being too sensitive and when I was not being sensitive enough. The typical “How To Say No Without Feeling Guilty” gives good examples of just how to phrase the answer of no. But I think “Boundaries For Leaders” by Dr Henry Cloud would be especially helpful for people-pleasers to learn how to say no in a business setting. Everyone is a leader – some lead their own work and some lead other workers. Even as an entry-level worker, leadership qualities are needed to determine what the work priorities are and how to focus on those priorities, especially when a difficult co-worker is disruptive.

  31. seejay*

    I have a coworker like this. I let most of what she says roll off me but occasionally she manages to get a jab in there that makes me flash back to when I was 10 years old and being bullied by a group of kids on the bus in grade school. She’s like this to a lot of people in the office. One of my really nice coworkers keeps trying to minimize it, explain it away, find a reason why she does it.

    In short, there’s no reason. She’s a meangirl, a bully, a bitch, whatever else you want to call it. The excuses to behave like this end when you hit your 20s. I don’t care if you come from a broken home, are an only child, your husband beats you or whatever. You don’t get to go to work and treat others like they’re dogshit on your shoe, to the point where they’re struggling with their own self-esteem because of what you’re doing or leaving the office in tears. You deal with your own issues, don’t bring them in and dump them on someone else.

    My way of dealing with the office twat is I minimize my interactions with her as much as possible. I’m lucky that I can, but when I do have to deal with her, I try to give her as little ammunition as possible. She’s sweet as pie to your face when she wants something (she’s only a snarky hateful meangirl when you want something from her or when she’s walking past you and feels the need to say something in passing) but I don’t let her draw me in so I’m polite yet not-friendly no matter what. I’ve unofficially filed complaints in select channels as our manager is absolutely clueless about what to do about her, and I’ve kept my head down and I’ve let her shoot herself in the foot… she’s managed to piss off enough people and garner enough complaints that people actually *are* starting to pay attention and something is starting to trickle upwards and get attention.

    In short, work on setting boundaries, don’t give this person ammunition to attack you with, be polite but not friendly, and yeah, you do have to work at not letting such a person get under your skin. It’s hard, coming from a background of being bullied as badly as I was, trying to set boundaries with an office bully was hard, but part of what helped was realizing that this girl was behaving exactly like a 12 year old girl, yet is in her 30s. She literally has not grown up. It’s kind of freeing to realize how immature she is when you think of it that way.

    1. SeptemberGrrl*

      My way of dealing with the office twat
      She’s a meangirl, a bully, a bitch,

      It’s cool to women “twats” and “bitches” on here? That’s unfortunate.

      I don’t care if you come from a broken home, are an only child, your husband beats you


      After reading your post, I kinda feel sorry for the office twat who has to work with you.

      1. Julia*

        While I don’t agree with the language, I think sometimes you just reach a point where you simply cannot see your bully as a Person anymore, only as a Monster.
        And seejay is right, it doesn’t matter if her colleague has a difficult life, she doesn’t get to make that easier by making seejay’s harder. Where is her empathy for the people she bullies?

        1. SeptemberGrrl*

          I find this language – “My way of dealing with the office twat – so offensive and inappropriate that I don’t think a person who would write that is to be taken as a reliable narrator of the situation.

    2. Anon attorney*

      I can understand that you are angry and upset about what has happened at work, but I am really put off by your choice of language. Your colleague sounds like a pain in the ass – can’t we discuss her bad behavior without using misogynist terms?

      My preferred definition of “bitch” has always been “a woman who doesn’t do what a man tells her to” (I forget where I heard this). But quite honestly if I never read or heard this word again in my life it would be an absolute pleasure.

  32. Annie*

    Is it possible that Mary has been overworked, you have been recruited to share the workload but due to the various constraints etc you haven’t been able to contribute as much as she would have hoped by now, and is feeling the strain? Does she have other responsibilities besides the things you work jointly on?

    1. Annie*

      >> I won’t be able to work 100% independently until I’ve learned the ropes, and because certain things only come up monthly, quarterly, or yearly, it may take me a while to be self-sufficient
      Is she picking up the ‘slack’ in the meantime?

      >> even with meetings she’s initiated, she’s 15-20 minutes late
      I wouldn’t assume that’s due to being inconsiderate or disrespectful, but rather that she has been pulled off onto some other last-minute thing?

      1. Aurion*

        Even if that was the case, that doesn’t give Mary carte blanche to be a jerk to the people that will be relieving her in the future. She was nasty to Steve and OP off the bat. That’s not a good way to build goodwill.

        1. Annie*

          Oh I agree @Aurion, but (based on my experience) it’s entirely possible for people to “snap” with an accumulation of demands etc.

      2. Gene*

        That’s when you dash off an IM saying so.

        Mary is an ass. See: Mary is a completely different person when she knows the boss is listening.

    2. designbot*

      I think this possibility is a good reason to maybe approach the conversation with the boss as “I need Mary to be able to dedicate more time (or time at the appropriate hours) to training and shared projects. Can you help make that happen?” This way there’s room for a variety of answers–the boss may talk to Mary and realize she’s underwater and someone else needs to train OP, or some of Mary’s work needs to be redistributed. OR he may see that there is no good reason for this and tell Mary to knock it off.

  33. SeptemberGrrl*

    OP – It’s hard but try to stop ascribing such nefarious motives to Mary. Think about this: Is she doing this to make you feel bad? Or is this simply her personality? It sounds like she has no filter and is off-puttingly direct and demanding about what she needs. Ask yourself – how is that about you? It’s not. It would be her personality if you worked there, it would be her personality if you didn’t work there. She’s not acting this way to make you feel bad, it;s just how she is.

    If she is genuinely raising her voice and yelling, that is a problem, and way over the line. Other than that, the IM stuff and not being cognizant of what time it is where you are, that seems really minor to me.

    I don’t say that to discount how you are feeling. I say that because you can’t fix the problem if you don’t understand it. My guess is that she doesn’t have any ill will towards you and would be surprised that you are so upset. You’re dealing with someone who demands what she wants; we tend to think everyone thinks like us so if you’re not demanding what you want from her and being clear about thinigs that need to change, she’s going to think everything is fine. “Wow, OP doesn’t like working with me? She never said anything was bothering her….”.

    There’s a lot of good advice here about dealing with things on an issue by issue basis, which I think is the way to go. Another tip is to get comfortable repeating the same thing as needed. You’re allowed to leave at 5:30pm and if you are feeling guilty about it, people are going to exploit that.

    I worked in a company where I had many interactions with people two hours behind me. You have to have the nerve to say “I can’t make that meeting, that’s 6pm my time and I’m leaving at 5:30pm.” “I’m just leaving now, can I get back to you on that tomorrow first thing so you have the answer when you get in?” Etc, etc etc. It never went away – the expecting me to keep theri time and sometimes I was willing to stay later, sometimes I wasn’t. I got pissed initally thinking “They know that’s 6pm my time, how RUDE!”. But it happened so much that I just had to get uber-comfortable saying “No”. I know it feels like “Oh my god they will think I’m a slacker” but you need to get past that.

    You will not change her personality. You can only push back on WHAT she asks you to do and HOW she asks you to do it.

    1. Mreasy*

      The problem is, it doesn’t get to “be your personality” to yell at and belittle your coworkers, or to show complete disregard for their time (muting a phone call while OP is talking??!!). She’s not spacing the time zones once in awhile. She is a jerk, and unless you are an acknowledged unique creative genius or incredible salesperson or somehow otherwise irreplaceable, you do not get to be a jerk at work. Period

      1. Julia*

        + 10000000000000000
        I was told that yelling or being terrible was just how some of my coworkers are. Well, guess what? Not finding that okay is just how I am!

      2. SeptemberGrrl*

        you do not get to be a jerk at work
        At many workplaces, you do. That’s an unpleasant fact. This site wouldn’t exist if all workplaces were jerk-free. And you acknowledge in your response that it’s quite common for people who are considered highly valued to be given a pass on their behavior.

        Labeling someone a jerk might give you some pleasure but it’s not a solution. In my opinion, understanding someone’s motivation can be helpful in dealing with their behavior. YMMV.

  34. June*

    I had this experience as a new hire and was trying to come up with the right way to bring it up with my supervisor… And then my version of “Mary” got fired before I said anything. Was such a relief- my expectations about appropriate work behavior are NOT totally out of whack!

  35. Julia*

    Now I finally know why my terrible co-worker is asleep in her chair so often! She has a second remote job as OP’s Mary! (So her terrible English was just a facade, then?)

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