update: my coworker responds to everything I ask him to do with profanity and “your mom” jokes

Remember last week’s letter from the person whose coworker responded to everything she asked him to do with profanity, name-calling, flat refusals, and and “your mom” jokes? Here’s the update.

Not too long after my letter was published, Boss, Clerk, and I sat down to discuss my concerns. Boss said “I’m here as a mediator only… OP, take it away” and only cut in sparingly to clarify points or add her two cents. I brought up the communication issues with Clerk and used the calling the front desk incident as an example. His response was that my tone came off as demanding/accusative, so he didn’t feel like answering me. (!?!) He said he takes issue with my tone when I ask him things or give him tasks to do in general, because I sound less like I’m asking and more like I’m telling. I was taken aback by that and asked how he got that impression, since I always ask (“Can you do a couple reports if you have time” “Do you want to help me with ___”) and would never just demand something of him. He said my demeanor when asking always came across to him as nothing actually being optional and those “if you have time” additions being passive aggressive.

He “got belligerent” (his words) and decided to “draw the line” with me on what he would or wouldn’t do, without telling me (or our boss) in any way. He figured I would “take the hint” based on his actions and behavior: long aggravated sighs, backtalk, tossing work I’ve left him back on my desk while I’m away from it instead of doing it because he “didn’t feel [I] should have to [your] work for [you]” despite that the work I gave him is… filing, and of course the silent treatment, but the only hint I got is that he was unwilling to do anything other than his usual bare minimum, so I’m sure by then my tone was something to behold, try as I may to not let it be. The conversation got really heated, almost within shouting levels, but thankfully we managed to reach an understanding and apologized to each other. We both agreed to work on the problems – my tone and his overall communication – and I also told him to stop the name-calling, point blank, and he apologized and said he would (“you know I’m just joking, right?” ugh).

Truth be told, I’m not entirely surprised by the “tone” comment. I tend to be easy to read – even if I’m using the right words and keeping my expression neutral, my feelings come out in my voice. I’ve never been told it was a problem before now, though, and that’s probably because I’m so unbelievably exasperated with this guy and have been for years! But I checked out a few books on communication from our professional learning objectives library in hopes of working on this (which is something I wanted to do anyway). I sort of have the feeling he may have heard the tone of my voice that way because he doesn’t like to be told what to do (think the “bossy woman” trope), but I’m willing to try and adjust my behavior and see if it makes any of the issues go away, especially given that it’s a plausible issue for me to have. At this point, I seriously doubt his performance is going to change much, being halfway out the door already and given free rein to call what I ask him to do “optional,” but if I can at least curb the profanity that’s a start. Boss had absolutely nothing to say in regard to my tone or his refusal to do things other than to suggest some ways to delegate our workloads better.

On the bright side, it’s been a week or so and he hasn’t called me any names and my softened language (“What does your to-do list look like today? Can you fit in a couple reports?”) seems to have helped somewhat. At one point he did interrupt me with “be quiet OP! Men are talking!” and I flatly said “not funny” and he dropped both that and speaking to me at all for about an hour. If you can’t say something nice…

Thanks again for your help. Hopefully I’ll have a better update in the future.

Me again. Unless your boss also talked to your coworker one-on-one and told him to cut the crap with you (which is possible), she’s being negligent here. Similar to this morning’s letter from someone whose boss’s boss was suggesting mediation in a context where actual management was needed, your boss is putting way too much emphasis on “work this out yourselves while I sit and watch” versus doing her job of managing this guy.

I suppose that it’s possible that this alleged issue with your tone is playing more of a role here than you realized and that she wanted to bring that to the surface (possible, but not a foregone conclusion) … but either way, when things have gotten to the point of this dude swearing at you and refusing to do work you gave him, that’s not an issue for mediation. That’s time for a manager to come in and say to him, “you can’t behave this way, period, regardless of provocation, and if it continues to happen, you will no longer work here.”

That said, she’s not washing her hands of the situation entirely. In a comment you made on the original post, you noted that once you told your boss about the name-calling, she was visibly shocked. That’s good. And so you should absolutely pass that “be quiet! men are working” comment along to her. She needs to hear about it when he continues to cross lines.

Part of the initial problem was that by tolerating abuse from your jerk of a coworker, he learned he could get away with it. You need a zero-tolerance policy for offensive BS from him, which means letting your boss know as it continues to happen.

{ 426 comments… read them below }

        1. Nea*

          What a wonderful phrase! I think I’m going to steal it.

          “He said he takes issue with my tone when I ask him things or give him tasks to do in general, because I sound less like I’m asking and more like I’m telling.” HOLY CRAP, you never need to politely ask people to do what they’re paid for if they don’t have anything better to do!

        2. Erica*

          Beautiful. I must steal this.

          Once he laid down the “men are talking” comment, I’d be seriously considering bringing that to the boss along with the phrase “hostile work environment.”

          Or maybe skip boss and go to HR with that phrase.

      1. Honeybee*

        THIS. He’s made it clear in the specific things that he has said to you, so it’s not like this is a subtle or covert case. “Tone” is so often a substitute for sexism, but in this case he’s done you the favor of also making it explicit with his most recent comment.

      1. Charlie*

        It’s not. She’s his superior. She’s been tasked to supervise him. She is entitled to tell him what to do, and should not have to beg and cajole and wheedle. They are not equals. In an ideal world, the response from the manager would have been, “So your problem is that she’s telling you, not asking you, to do tasks? Tasks that are in the scope of your typical job duties? Tasks that I have specifically empowered her, as your supervisor and trainer, to pass along to you? I see. The solution is very simple. You will do what she asks you to do, and what she tells you to do, promptly and without argument, or you can pack your shit and leave.”

        1. designbot*

          From the original letter it sounds like her supervisory capacity is largely unofficial–it’s not reflected in her title, they’re the same age, they used to mutually joke around much more. Based on this he’s likely to see her as a peer, not a superior, and this would have been the perfect time for their boss to formalize that by giving their support.

          1. Christopher Tracy*

            This. OP’s boss has completely abdicated her responsibilities here because she should have made it very clear to this asshat that he needs to do what OP’s asking him to do because she the boss has deemed OP as the lead.

            The original letter and this follow-up has completely incensed me. I don’t even know this guy and I want to punch him in the throat. Ugh.

            1. Jinx*

              I honestly can’t believe the supervisor just sat back while he said some of that stuff in mediation. He just decided to stop doing legitimate work to punish OP for her tone? And that he’d dump things back on OP’s desk because ‘he wasn’t doing her work for her’? And finally accusing *OP* of passive-aggressiveness?

              Nope. This guy is an abusive ass who has learned that his manager won’t manage when he acts out or fails to do his job; now he also knows that he can get an apology (???) from the person he’s been mistreating. He’s also a sexist pig. OP, maybe you have a tone issue but judging from his behavior I think it’s just as likely you did nothing wrong. It’s not unreasonable or unprofessional to become irritated when someone sabotages you and refuses to do their job.

        2. Isabel C.*

          I was going to say: “telling you what to do” is kind of…what your boss does. If she’s phrasing it all drill-sergeant “get me those TPS reports by noon, maggot!” then that’s a problem, but “please file these papers by noon” is not anything a reasonable adult should object to. (If you have sixteen other urgent projects, bringing that up politely is okay, but being pissed that your *boss* told you to do a thing? The hell?)

        3. catsAreCool*

          “She’s his superior. She’s been tasked to supervise him. She is entitled to tell him what to do” This!

        4. Student*

          I was the LW for a student off question in the spring and this was a HUGE part of my problem. The dude that was giving me issues in my organization was mad because I was “commanding him” (re: telling him exactly what needed to be done after he’d already neglected his duties to fix the bad position he had put us in with a client). I was president. He was not. Unlike OP, the person above us (our advisor) was happy to help making this abundantly clear to him.

          OP, your boss is dropping the ball so hard here. Even if you weren’t supervising him, helping coworkers when time permits it to get work done is not exactly optional, and definitely not something to get huffy about. Also, he’s a dick.

          1. Billy*

            This part really confuses me. Your boss seems to be treating the “I’m not going to do what you tell me to do” as a peer-to-peer conflict. Even if your supervisory role is unofficial, your boss *should* have said something like “Wait a minute — your entire job is to file the Teapot reports OP creates! Why is doing so a problem?”

            Alternatively, but much less likely, perhaps your boss never intended you to be in a supervisory role. In which case, a comment like “Hold on a minute — why is it so important to you when and how he files the Teapot reports? If you want to change the process of teapot filing, we need to have a different meeting to discuss your proposed changes”.

            In essence, your boss has created a situation where (1) you expect to be supervising to Clerk. (2) Clerk is not expecting to be supervised by you (“Bad tone”? That’s not something you say about a supervisor unless it’s blatantly bad). (3) In a meeting specifically addressing Clerk’s refusal to do the tasks you assign to him, the Boss avoids any mention of whether or not Clerk is supposed to.

            I agree that Boss is not doing what he is supposed to be doing. Unfortunately, your boss is not the one asking for advice. All I can do is (1) have another private meeting with your boss to be crystal clear that he is expecting you to direct Clerk’s work. (2) Document everything, with copies to your boss, with copies kept for bosses’s boss or HR.

    1. A*

      This idea that it’s all about the OP’s “tone” is making me angry. :( I mean, how dare she as a woman, tell a man what to do?

      1. Charlie*

        “Tone” is the classic stalking horse for “she’s a woman and I really don’t want her telling me what to do or even expressing strong opinions in my presence.”

        1. BeautifulVoid*

          Yep. My interpretation of everything the guy said in the meeting boils down to “I thought she was being a bitch, and therefore I needed to put her in her place/didn’t need to acknowledge her as a person.”

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        Me too – I can’t believe that when part of her role is delegation, she has to ask him in a way that he deems is nice? AAAAARRRGGGHHH!!!

      3. JessaB*

        Someone (OP) needs to Google “Tone argument” and pass copies to the boss and this coworker, because seriously it’s a major derailing tactic. Calling up visions of the angry woman trope, etc. And if the OP is a minority, in addition to being a woman, it makes it even worse because it’s especially used to silence minorities who complain about treatment.

        The OP’s boss however needs to make a decision. Are the things the OP asks for optional or NOT. Cause right now that mediation session has basically told the guy that they’re optional and he has a right to push back and that OP needs to be soft spoken, polite and begging and gentle, rather than just asking for something. And also that frustrating the OP with the silent treatment, ignoring things, calling names, etc. is okay. It’s not even if the OP is a coworker and not a boss.

    2. Mreasy*

      Yeah the “softened” example is WAY “softer” than you should have to be in a professional setting. You’re being tone-policed to keep from setting off an abusive person.

        1. esra (also a Canadian)*

          “Make sure you sound truly delighted even as your soul is dying inside.”

          Fantastic. And seriously, what is wrong with that manager? I would’ve clamped that business right down if a subordinate said they don’t like being told what to do by a supervisor.

    3. BRR*

      Bingo. “He said he takes issue with my tone when I ask him things or give him tasks to do in general, because I sound less like I’m asking and more like I’m telling.” Yeah, that’s really incredibly normal. Unless I have a warped sense of reality and you can say no to when your manager asks you to do stuff whenever you want.

      1. One of the Sarahs*

        This, this, this! OP has responsibilities that include delegating, and that includes telling him what to do!

      2. Jadelyn*

        Well there are situations when it’s a legit question – sometimes the boss asks a question, and sometimes the boss gives you an order with a question mark at the end of it, but most reasonable adults can tell the difference between the two.

        “Do you have time today to do some filing for me?” is very different from “Can you please get these filed today?”

      3. Jaydee*

        Especially because she is actually asking him! My goodness! It’s one thing to be upset by someone not ever using any basic pleasantries, but she is using the conventionally polite “telling in the form of a question.” If she softens much more beyond that she might just liquify.

          1. Kikishua*

            When I was a new(ish) young manager, a bolshy member of staff said “you can’t tell me what to do!”. I was so shocked I just shot back “that’s pretty much my entire job description in a nutshell”.

    4. Sfigato*

      Reading this, I kept hearing “The tone police, are coming for me, every single day!” to the tune of Styxx’s “The Dream Police.”

      1. Tiny_Tiger*

        This was so informative but so disheartening at the same time. What happens if a woman becomes aware that her personality, rather than her work ethic and ability, is being judged? There’s no way to push back against that without further ingraining that image into her boss’s mind and potentially jeopardizing her job.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Proactively raise this to your management as “hidden biases that could negatively affect the women in your organization.”

          I’d like to find the study that shows that women were marked down for using the exact same tone of voice as the man.

        2. Experiment 626*


          I’ve been called all of the things pointed out in the fortune link, when I scaled back my tone, I was then told I wasn’t assertive enough. We can’t win.

      2. AGirlCalledFriday*

        This. When I was unofficially promoted to vice principal at exjob, I suddenly received feedback like this ALL the time. It was the same 3 guys who would go out drinking with my principal. My principal kept yelling at me angrily for everything I said in meetings, and when I went back and questioned others about my approach – confusion all around as to how anyone could be offended by what I said. Think things like, “we should make sure that we provide additional training for areas in which teachers have not had any experience,” because although these people had some English teaching experience they were completely unqualified to teach content area education. So not exactly the most surprising ascertation ever, but boy, were the men so angry that I suggested they didn’t know something!

    5. Vicki*

      Also, “tone” is most often more what people think they’re hearing, filtered through their own perceptions, than it is really a “tone”.

      Yes, it’s possible that you’re speaking sarcastically. But no, your co-worker is not telepathic and he’s not guessing how you feel about him.

      And finally, it doesn;t matter What your “tone” is because the proper response is to say “Are you speaking sarcastically?” It is not to swear, refuse work, dump things on your desk…

    6. Lalitah*

      Must agree.

      OP had mentioned in the prior letter: “We both have the same boss, but I am largely responsible for supervising him and delegating what he does everyday.” So she was given the impression that she had supervisory responsibilities over this employee, so she can’t be blamed for her being able to “order him” to do things.

    7. Rdb*

      Agreed. Like many abusers, he’said blaming the victim: “I wouldn’t abuse you if you didn’t do X.”

  1. Mishsmom*

    was just here to say the same thing. it’s not your tone, OP, and if you were a man he’d never even bring it up. this makes me so mad. i’m sorry you work with inept people and jerks.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      I agree. It’s not the tone or the language. It’s the fact that he doesn’t feel like a woman has any right to tell him what to do. (That “Men are talking!” comment is very telling. I’d be tempted to point out that now the adult was talking.)

      And I am one of those people who can keep a cheerful tone up in a lot of situations. My tone would definitely have changed with him by the point you’re at. (If asking nicely doesn’t work…)

        1. Venus Supreme*

          I was just about to post that this was 1,000% gaslighting coming from Clerk.

          Let’s flip this “tone” conversation… Why isn’t he being reprimanded for HIS tone when he’s blatantly disrespectful? Because he’s a sexist dinkywink.

          1. LJL*

            Yeah, name calling trumps tone. The tone remark is sexist bullshit. The guy is going to have a rude awakening soon, I hope, for everyone’s sake.

            1. Christopher Tracy*

              Exactly. I couldn’t believe that when I saw it in the original letter. I’ve worked with a lot of assholes, and none of them ever called someone that to their face in the workplace, especially not the men.

            2. Mookie*

              This is so maddening. “If you didn’t want me to call you a bitch maybe you should ask nicer??”

              The manager’s complete abdication of responsibility here is incredible. How could she sit through such a conversation without reality-checking this guy to the kerb?

              1. Elizabeth West*

                Have not read through all the comments from yesterday, but I came back because I was thinking about this today. I almost wish I were there and had to listen to it–I would make a formal complaint just from being in proximity. Let’s see how he likes that.

                It would remind the company that THIS SHIT IS ILLEGAL AS F***.

      1. OhBehave*

        “Men are talking!” I am seething at this comment.
        Your boss MUST know about this. He/she seems inept, but at least this is further proof that Clerk is a jerk.
        This absolutely reinforces the notion that he’s got a problem with a woman telling him what to do.

  2. Sadsack*

    How can this guy justify the “men are talking” comment and then be mad about your reaction after the big meeting you had about all this? What the hell?

    1. A Non E. Mouse*

      OP, I really think you need to go to your boss immediately with the “Men are talking” comment, and tell her you are also looping in HR. Enough is enough. First the name calling, and now a literal out loud “Men are talking”?!

      1. Aurion*

        Exactly! I am seething.

        This guy is a horrible jackass, and OP’s manager is spineless. I would upgrade that to “manager is useless” if she does not immediately fire this guy after hearing about the “men are talking” comment. Or at the very least, start harsh disciplinary measures.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        Yes! I am usually really laid back about this kind of thing but this is absolutely over the line. And OP’s boss sucks big time for just sitting there in the meeting. The coworker deserves a PIP at the very least.

      3. designbot*

        yeah, I’d be inclined to go back to boss and say something like, “I know we were both trying to get to the bottom of where this was coming from, and something Clerk said just shed some new light on his thinking, which may be much less personal and more discriminatory than I originally realized.”

        1. Lisa*

          Also – add “i’m going to beginning looping in HR on this, so they will probably be contacting about our initial mediation that clearly has not worked to change Clerk’s behavior.”

          Tell boss you are going to HR – don’t ask for permission.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Indeed. Maybe Boss will get off her ass a little faster when she realizes somebody else is going to hear about her poor management.

      4. Engineer Girl*

        This is important for your own protection. Because there will be more incidents (because of his ego) and you will be blamed for not managing correctly.
        This is gender discrimination. You need to go to HR with his comments. HR needs to explain to boss why this is wrong.
        By going to HR you will give them a heads up on the problem before you are perceived as the problem.

        1. Artemesia*

          this. go to hr –let them know his role, his refusal to do the work and specifically the names he called you. tell them that you were manipulated into apologizing for your tone – a classic strategy used to discriminate against women and that subsequently he told you ‘be quiet men are talking.’ let them know that this is a hostile workplace where sexual discrimination is impeding your ability to get the job done. and dont back down–it isnt you. he should have been fired for the name calling. if it doesnt get fixed take it on up.

      5. RVA Cat*

        Also, I’m giving some serious side-eye to the dude(s) he was talking to with that “Men are Talking” crap if Other Dude(s) seemed okay with it.

    2. Wendy Darling*

      I seriously would have burst into FLAMES OF RAGE. It’s not even better if he’s “joking” because raging sexism isn’t funny.

    3. Knitchic79*

      Seriously! My husband looked up at my strangled rage noise and looked half terrified. “Men are talking,” I can’t even! The original post had me side eyeing your coworker hard, but this is making me sputter. Definitely get HR involved, his behavior is atrocious.

    4. Turtle Candle*

      Honestly, that read like classic boundary testing, to me. Like, “Okay, I guess the big bad mean women made me rein in the ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’ comments, so let’s see exactly how far I can stretch the boundaries now.” Making a blatantly sexist comment without namecalling, right after being told to knock off the namecalling, strikes me as classic ‘I’m not touching you!’ logic–figuring out exactly how offensive you can get without actually getting in trouble. He’s testing you–or, to be less charitable, he’s taunting you.

      Which means that, yeah, as others have said, it means it’s time to go straight to HR, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. He is flagrantly, blatantly flagging to you that he is going to be as misogynistic and aggressive as he can get away with, and that he is going to test every line of common decency you set to see how far he can step over before you call him on it.

      1. catsAreCool*

        Yeah, he’s testing you. He sounds like he is going to spend a lot of effort to find exactly what he can get away with. Not cool.

    5. Tuxedo Cat*

      He doesn’t want to change. It’s only been a week, right? So this is how he chooses to behave after so little time has passed.

  3. Emac*

    I was going to say the same thing. When I read his response, my first thought was that he was totally derailing the conversation instead of addressing the issue. It’s not your tone, it’s his behavior.

    My other thought was why didn’t your boss make it clear to him that he does have to do the work you give him and it’s not actually an option? If I remember the original letter correctly, that is the dynamic, even though you’re not his supervisor, right?

    I’m sorry you have to deal with both of them. I would be so angry at both him and your boss right now.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      why didn’t your boss make it clear to him that he does have to do the work you give him and it’s not actually an option?

      YES. If he’s putting the filing back on your desk to do when he is the FILING CLERK, that is a place where it is absolutely, 100%, completely your boss’s job to say, “No, you are the filing clerk, you need to do the filing.”

      I do not see any good solution to this sorry situation except leaving, I’m afraid. LW, please, please, please believe me that none of this is normal. This isn’t something you need to learn to work around, because in any halfway functional workplace it will never come up again. Contorting yourself to adapt to it is sort of like.. if you had a job with a piranha moat across the front door. “Learning to leap the piranha moat without getting your ankles chewed on” is not a skill you should spend a lot of time acquiring because normal jobs don’t have a piranha moat at all.

      Don’t waste a ton of energy learning to leap this piranha moat. Find a job with no piranha moat.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Well, sortof. She will likely encounter people who trying to avoid their work, so that aspect of it is worth drilling down into.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Oh, yeah, that part is worth exploring, especially if she has had issues with other people who shirk, or who respond poorly to instructions. But… I sort of feel like this is a different situation. “How do deal with someone who puts off work until it’s too late” or “How to deal with someone who always has a flimsy excuse for why they didn’t get their shit done” are both things that are likely to be necessary to learn.

          “How to deal with someone who calls you a bitch and tells you to get back in the kitchen, and then regales you with mass murder jokes all afternoon instead of working,” though… is not, I think, a particularly useful lesson to learn, and I’m not sure is transferrable to the other, more ‘normal’ situations. In fact, as Alison has discussed a few times, it can be actively counterproductive to train yourself to work around a toxic system, because you’ll carry poor assumptions into future jobs–if you take forward into your future work life the assumption that asking someone to do their job is likely to get you called a cunt or a bitch, that is more likely to hurt you than help you.

          And that’s what I meant by the piranha moat analogy. In most workplaces, you will need to figure out how to get the door open; you should not train yourself to expect to have to long-jump to do it.

          1. SarahTheEntwife*

            Some of it could be useful if the OP ever works in a customer-facing role, but there are so much less toxic ways to learn that kind of diplomacy!

          2. Trig*

            But hey, at least OP will always have a great answer for the “Tell me about a time you disagreed with a coworker” question!

            1. So Very Anonymous*

              And OP definitely has a candidate for “reference who you didn’t get along with” … not that she wants to switch to THAT workplace.

          3. Tex*

            Oooh, I need help with “How do deal with someone who puts off work until it’s too late” or “How to deal with someone who always has a flimsy excuse for why they didn’t get their shit done”. Any tips, links? Especially if they are a peer.

            1. Megan Schafer*

              I’m obviously not Allison, but if I had to guess what she’d advise, it would be to assess if the peer’s failure to do their stuff was effecting your ability to do your job, and if so, bring it to your manager in that light. If not, eh.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          I think I’d prefer a piranha moat to some of the things I’ve had managers expect me to put up with…

          1. seejay*

            Very true. I’ve had some terrible manager experiences that make piranhas seem fun.

            None as bad as this guy though. I’d take rabid piranhas over him any day. This guy makes me want to taintpunch him into yesteryear. ><

      2. Sfigato*

        I agree with you. I think it is worth OP’s time to go back to her boss and let her know you are unhappy with how the situation was handled, you think it is unacceptable that your tone was used as an excuse for the colleague to not do his job and be an abusive jerk, and the harassing comments haven’t stopped. But bottom line, she did not have your back, and you can guarantee that if there is another difficult situation at work, she will not have your back. He’s not the only sexist manchild who doesn’t like taking orders from a woman that you’ll ever work with, but many (hopefully most) companies would be much less tolerant of his bs than yours.

      3. Izzy*

        When he puts the filing back on your desk, what do you do then? I hope you are not filing it yourself.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I’m w/ Emac and Turtle Candle.

      You have an authority here, and your boss needs to make this clear.
      You should not be having to say, “what’s your schedule like?” “would you have time to do this part of your job?”

    3. Bad Candidate*

      I agree. You may not be his boss but if it’s your job to give him work, telling and not asking to do things are par for the course. Sure maybe asking sounds more polite, but not asking doesn’t give him the right to get all huffy about it. It’s definitely not your tone, the problem is NOT you, OP.

    4. Rachel Wilkerson Miller*

      “why didn’t your boss make it clear to him that he does have to do the work you give him and it’s not actually an option?”

      RIGHT! If OP is largely responsible for supervising him and delegating what he does each day (as the letter said) then the things she’s telling him aren’t optional, and he can’t get pissy because her “tone” makes it seem like it’s not optional. It’s not optional!!!! Ugggghhghghghghgh.

      1. LBK*

        Seriously, what the hell? I can’t believe the boss sat there while he basically flat out admitted to refusing to do his job and the manager somehow agreed with the employee that it was the OP’s fault because of her “tone”.

    5. Jules*

      I agree. He handed them weasels and they took them and ran with it :( I don’t even remember where I read this analogy but all he did was tai chi you guys into another direction without solving the issue, he needs to do work assigned to him. I am very disappointing that your boss didn’t stop the conversation there and said, ‘How does her tone impact your work?’. Does her speech pattern impact her work? How? Why?’ And after he gives his waaaah waaahs, for her to say, ‘Two wrongs doesn’t make a right. She might taken the wrong tone to you which you should address with her as a grown adult, but you need to complete your assignments. The next time I hear about you missing assignments, I will start writing you up.’

    6. KM*

      Yeah — I think this problem can be traced back to the manager not establishing clear roles on the team. I think this guy’s behaving poorly and in a sexist way, but I also think it’s entirely possible that he’s actually the OP’s peer and that they work in different areas without her having any authority over him.

      In the original letter, she said that filing was part of both of their jobs, so the fact that he’s returning the filing to her passive-aggressively (while rude and not a great conflict resolution strategy) signals to me that maybe, from his POV, she’s opting out of the part of both of their jobs she doesn’t feel like doing and “delegating” it to him when she has no authority to do that. Also, the comments about how she tells him to do his job differently and he says he won’t do that just because she said so, or when she called him to ask why he was covering the front desk and he acted like it was none of her business. Maybe it WAS none of her business. It’s impossible to tell, because it doesn’t seem like the manager has clearly answered the question of whether or not she’s his supervisor.

      I’ve worked in places where people assume that different job titles give them authority they don’t really have, largely because the meaning of the titles is unclear. To me, this feels like the same kind of situation, and I think the only real solution is to have a very direct conversation with the manager about what the roles are on the team.

  4. Academia Escapee*

    Thank you for the update! I agree that your manager is ineffectual. I’ve noticed that managers can often hide behind the, “they’re grown-ups – let them work it out” philosophy as a means of not actually managing. At least things seem to have improved somewhat. And if the special snowflake feels like he’s not being allowed to be himself, perhaps he’ll look for greener pastures.

    1. Jeanne*

      It’s pathetic. Your job as a manager is to manage. OP’s manager isn’t doing that. None of these comments are ok. I’ll bet you my 401K that nothing is wrong with OP’s tone yet boss does nothing.

  5. Murphy*

    OP, you are the only person here who is not in the wrong. I can’t believe your boss does basically nothing while your coworker acts like a spoiled child.

    1. EyesWideOpen*


      Isnt it your boss’ job to get involved not just sit back and listen?

      Ugh, just repeating what everyone else has rightfully said.

      1. Lance*

        Seriously… he’s spouting all this garbage during the meeting (that’s how I’m reading it, at least)… and your boss just sits there and does nothing about it? That’s just beyond ridiculous.

        1. Zoe*

          This so much: an employee flat-out says he gives a coworker “the silent treatment” — for ANY reason — and the manager doesn’t step in and explain that this is not acceptable behaviour in the workplace? Toxic, toxic, toxic.

  6. CA Admin*

    +1 million

    It’s not your tone. He’s just a sexist d-bag. He’s using your tone as a derailing tactic when you try to hold him accountable for his bad behavior. Keep pushing back on the bad behavior until he decides it’s not worth it and quits or your boss decides he’s not worth it and fires him.

    Good luck!

    1. Mishsmom*

      “Keep pushing back on the bad behavior until he decides it’s not worth it and quits or your boss decides he’s not worth it and fires him.” – EXACTLY.

  7. Jessie*

    Don’t take responsibility for someone else’s hostile and unprofessional behavior.

    That’s what you are doing when you say it could be that your “tone” could be a problem. You are minimizing the egregiousness of his horrid behavior, and you are taking some blame on yourself.

    There is NO TONE you could be using to justify one quarter of this jerk’s behavior. Draw a firm line with this. Do not take any of the blame on yourself, and do not minimize your coworker’s behavior.

    And if you minimize here, to us, you are likely doing the same when you talk to your boss, don’t you think? Make sure when you talk to her about it – and as AAM says, you should keep her looped in as he continues to be awful – that you do not attempt to downplay any of it, or minimize it at all by hedging that perhaps you let your “tone” get too harsh.

    You didn’t. Not your fault.

    1. TootsNYC*

      100% this.

      By even entertaining his complaint the tiniest bit, you are giving him a validity that he does NOT deserve.

      And I agree–when you talk to your boss, do not downplay what he does and says, and do not downplay HIS tone.

      Also say to your boss, “Look, I get that being nasty in the workplace isn’t cool–in fact, that is my major complaint. But I’m not nasty. I’m simply direct. I don’t want to have to police my tone because of his ego. It’s becoming a major time and energy drain. I want to simply say, ‘Here are these folders for you to file.’ If he can’t handle that, the problem is him, not me.”

    2. Koko*

      Yes, even if there is a “tone” issue, the problems aren’t even on the same scale. “I don’t like the way you tell me things.” vs. “I don’t like the way you make sexist comments, refuse to do your work, and ignore me when I speak to you.” The former is a stylistic thing that a person could be coached to improve on. Plenty of people have gruff or abrasive coworkers/managers and still do their jobs and manage not to be sexist asshats. The latter is a serious offense that should warrant more than just coaching, but actual disciplinary measures.

    3. CanadianKat*


      Keep your tone cool, professional, and neutral. Watch out for rising intonation at the end of sentences. Watch out for hesitation. Don’t, ask – tell. Confirm with an email. If you ask, demand an answer. If an answer can’t be given on the spot, set a deadline for when he has to have an answer.

      OP: “Can you do these repots by Friday?”
      Clerk: “Oh, I dunno, that’s a lot of work.”
      OP: “I need an answer. Can you get these repots done by Friday?”
      Clerk: “Hey don’t be so bossy!”
      OP: “I needed to know if you’re able to get this done by Friday. Since you’re not willing to talk about this, I am now telling you: Please get the reports done by Friday.”
      Follow-up email to Boss, CC to Clerk: “I have asked Clerk to get the reports done by Friday. I wanted to make sure that the timeline was not a problem for him, and he did not have any comments.”

    4. hugseverycat*

      Right? I mean, there are people I work with who have the most annoying tone. This person in particular I am thinking of makes me want to punch walls. But because I’m a grown up and a professional, I don’t react unprofessionally.

  8. Turtle Candle*

    Ooh, it really bothers me that this ended up in a situation where you apologized for your “tone” in “telling” him what to do, when telling him what to do is part of what your boss requires of you. Given how horrifying his tone was, it feels like a mediation between neighbors where one person says, “I’m sorry I didn’t wave you you when I saw you on your front porch,” and the other person says, “I’m sorry your rudeness led to me lighting your house on fire.”

    And he hasn’t even stopped! “Be quiet, men are talking!” followed by the silent treatment! That’s “I’m sorry your rudeness led me to lighting your house on fire. In the future, I’ll just set your shrubbery on fire.”

    LW, I’m sorry to say it because I know it’s way easier said than done, but I think you need to start looking for a new job, immediately. This is not a situation that ever should have entered mediation, and the fact that you were expected to mediate yourself with someone who called you a ‘cunt’ and that your boss sat there and let you apologize for inviting the treatment somehow is… I am speechless.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Yes, this. OP, your boss has, through her actions, told her that she would rather sit on her hands than intervene when an employee is sexist, jaw-droppingly rude, and lazy. She does not have your back. Don’t have hers.

    2. catsAreCool*

      “it feels like a mediation between neighbors where one person says, “I’m sorry I didn’t wave you you when I saw you on your front porch,” and the other person says, “I’m sorry your rudeness led to me lighting your house on fire.””


    3. J.B.*

      IANAL, but I think this is also getting close to the actual legal definition of hostile work environment. If you have HR head straight there, do not pass go. That could get ugly but it’s already ugly. Keep looking for something else while you’re at it.

  9. Willis*

    Ugh, this guy needs to go. Like, yesterday. Maybe you could take the Pam and Jim approach and just start filling out job applications on his behalf.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I used to mention his terrible tone to a male boss all the time. And another male boss who I managed, actually.

      I agree it comes up more with women, but it’s not solely the province of women.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        But Alison, you are super enlightened, so you would be willing and able to do so. I think women still get this much more than men.

        And I really doubt if the OP’s tone is any worse than anyone else’s would be in a similar situation.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No, but I don’t think the OP’s coworker did either (even if that’s what he meant).

          I don’t disagree that women get this crap way more than men, but my point is that we should stay away from absolutist “this would never happen to a man” or “a man never gets told this” because those statements are generally demonstrably untrue.

          1. Anna*

            I appreciate when you step in and remind people that there are no absolutes, but anecdotes don’t tell the full story. Objectively research has shown women are asked to soften language more so when you say “but men hear it too” it feels a little bit like you’re…softening your tone.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I know anecdotes don’t tell the whole story, and I’ve said many times that this comes up far more often for women than for men. But it’s just not true that no one ever mentions tone to men, and it’s worth noting that when it’s claimed.

              To be clear, if I were saying “but men hear it too” in response to people talking about it being a particular issue for women, I’d totally agree with what you’re saying here– that would be very #AllLivesMatter-ish. But I think it’s a different thing to respond when someone explicitly says it’s only women.

              1. Mookie*

                But you agree that there are barriers in place that making negotiating this problem for female managers far different than men, yes?

                If you agree, then perhaps you recognize that AllLivesMatters is the correct analogy. White people die; it’s just as awful. There is no systematic bias, however, that leads to white deaths by police officers.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Of course, and that’s something I’ve discussed here frequently.

                  Literally the only thing here I’m taking issue with was a commenter’s statement that men never hear this. That’s factually incorrect; I corrected it; that’s it.

                  (I’d have an issue with someone coming into the conversation and saying “you know that men experience this too, right?” because that would very AllLivesMatter-ish. But in this case, I’m responding to someone saying that men don’t experience it.)

    2. Thomas E*

      I’ve mentioned tone to my male boss (and, I am a male).

      The op’s problem isn’t tone. Their manager doesn’t have their back.

      1. TootsNYC*

        If there’s a tone problem, it’s all over the place, because HIS tone is over the top.

        And the OP should start saying, “If I’ve developed a ‘tone’ [use verbal quote marks] when I speak with him, it’s a direct response to his refusal to do work when it’s given to him politely and noncommittally. He can set the tone between us by doing his work reliably and maintaining a pleasant tone himself.”

        1. Thomas E*

          I don’t think I’ve been clear.

          There is no tone problem, IMHO.

          The problem is that ‘Clerk’ is unwilling to do the tasks assigned to him in a professional manner.

          He has an attitude problem and should be given the opportunity to either fix it out find anther job by the op’s manager.

        2. JMegan*

          Right? Of course OP has an air-quote “tone” with him – it’s because HE IS SUCH A FUCKING TOOL. You’d better believe I’d have a “tone” if someone told me to be quiet because the men are talking. What the everloving hell is that???

          OP, there are 95 or so comments on this thread as I write this, all saying basically the same thing. So I’m really just adding to the chorus when I say YOUR TONE IS NOT THE PROBLEM HERE!!!!

          I would like to say something more articulate than that, but it’s really just a lot of swearing and exclamation marks at this point. I’m sorry, OP – I wish you had had a better outcome to all this.

          1. Lisa*

            OP sounds like she has had the ‘tone’ or ‘communication’ gender feedback a few times, and doesn’t realize that it probably isn’t her at all – because she believes its something to work on vs. just getting any tone / communication feedback doesn’t mean any of it is true – based on sooooo many studies stated women get this feedback more often than men – no feedback regarding actual work-related tasks.

          2. blackcat*

            I totally use a harsh tone with sexist d-bags. It’s the tone that I use to convey that the problem isn’t me, it’s that they’re being a sexist d-bag. It doesn’t accomplish anything (the offender already knows their behavior is inappropriate) other than conveying to those around me that I see the sexist d-bag behavior and I do not like it.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        The only “tone” problem here is that the employee says “I don’t have to do what OP wants and Big Boss agrees with me.” OP it’s not your tone that is wrong, it’s your boss’ tone.

        Ironically, it’s the BOSS’ lack of voice/tone that indicates to the employee “it’s okay, do whatever you want.”

    3. Seianus*

      People do it all the time. Maybe it never happened in your workplace, but generally it’s rather common.

    4. Hotel GM Guy*

      I’d be interested to know if you’ve ever managed people or not.

      I’ve had an employee whose coworkers came to me and complained that he was a condescending asshole. Their complaints confirmed my beliefs on the employee, and I ultimately let him go without much hassle.

      There are genuinely people, of both sexes, who never learned how to diplomatically speak to other people.

  10. Charlotte Collins*

    Unless she’s actually screaming at him, I don’t see how the OP could be using a tone that actually justifies his behavior. Especially when he’s refusing to do the work that she is delegating to him *as part of her job.*

    Then again, maybe the OP isn’t smiling enough. Now she’ll never get to be president.

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

    “Be quiet, OP! Men are talking!”


    He should have been fired long ago. The “just joking” stuff is crap. Someone like this should not, in fact, be employable at all. Or tolerated in any social space with other people.

    Why do I get the feeling he’s a misogynistic Internet troll too? (Possibly when he’s supposed to be doing work for OP.)

  12. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    Holy shit.

    He’s making his true problem — sexism — ever more clear the more this goes on, and it’s total horseshit that your boss isn’t backing you on this. Your tone is a) not up for discussion; his behavior is the problem, and he needs to manage that no matter how you speak to him and anyway b) so very obviously not the issue at hand. How very clever of him to manage to make the conversation with your boss into a discussion of how you must both mutually do things differently.

    I’m spitting over here. So sorry you’re in this situation. Your boss needs to step up and quick.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      This guy is clearly pretty skilled at manipulation even if he’s terrible at his job. That’s a really common thing that awful people do–to say “well, I only did [awful thing] because you did [mildly questionable] thing first.” Is it possible that LW was being harsher in her tone than she meant to/should have? It’s possible. (I suspect unlikely, given how far she’s bent over backwards to excuse his legitimately terrible behavior so as not to cause waves–and to be clear, I’m not blaming for that; it’s a common survival tactic.)

      But turning a discussion about Sandy Hook jokes, ‘get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich, bitch,’ comments, blatant disrespect, total lack of doing actual good work, and truly gross epithets… into a ‘well, both people are in the wrong here,’ because one person could have been slightly nicer? Yikes. The boss is coming across terribly, and I can’t see any positive end game, and fast.

      (Also, LW, in your comment about the insults on the other post, you mention that you didn’t previously tell your boss about them because they were ‘personal’ and not work-related. But the thing is, when you’re coworkers at the workplace, that line isn’t really… a thing. You don’t get to sexually harass someone, for instance, and say “well but that was a personal sexual harassment, so you can’t report it.” Comments at the workplace are work-related, even if they’re about you as a person. As one example of this: supposedly ‘personal’ comments can absolutely be used in EEOC complaints, so even if you are not willing to stand up for yourself [which you have every right to do, let me be clear!] by brushing them off as ‘oh, just personal,’ you can actually expose your company to liability. In the eyes of the law, when things happen at the workplace that line is not exactly a firm barrier.)

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        Also, personal comments seem worse to me. I don’t want to hear either, but I’d rather hear, “You did a terrible job on this task,” than, “You are a terrible person.”

      2. Jessie*


        Yes yes yes. Misogynist and hostile ‘personal’ comments hurled at you that happen to occur at work…. are work-related and a work issue.

      3. the_scientist*

        Yeah, credit where credit is due….this guy is EXCELLENT at shirking: his job duties, responsibility, any sort of accountability/ownership for his actions……

      4. Emac*

        “This guy is clearly pretty skilled at manipulation even if he’s terrible at his job.”

        Yes. This reminds me of the reason couples therapy isn’t good when one of the partners is abusive – the abusive partner is going to manipulate the therapist into thinking it’s a joint problem, when really it’s just that the abusive partner is abusive.

        Sometimes it doesn’t take two to make an argument. Sometimes it is all one person’s fault, like in the OP’s case – 100% him, 0% her.

      5. Megan Schafer*

        No shit. Asking nicely is for a supplicant wanting a luxury, a child asking their parent for more pizza. It’s not a requirement for basic respect.

      6. Not So NewReader*

        “Boss, please demonstrate by example what your nicer tone would be in response to the statement ‘get in the kitchen and make me a sandwich, bitch’. How would you respond to that in a nice tone?”

      7. Julia*

        This. Because at work, you cannot just get away from the “personal” comments, hence they are a work issue.

    2. Karanda Baywood*

      Agree with all of this.

      OP, your manager failed you. And frankly, your clerk got the better of you too. I can’t believe this turned into him accusing your tone and you ending up apologizing, essentially, for being his supervisor.

    3. Tuxedo Cat*

      Even if she did have a tone issue, he dealt with this in an awful way. I don’t love my manager’s tone with me sometimes, but I’m not going to be a spiteful jerk. And to me, it’s really telling that he’s already back to his antics after this meeting.

  13. Aurion*


    OP, it’s not your tone. And given how supportive your boss sounded in your last update, I’m surprised that she is being so utterly spineless here. And how did the conversation deteriorated almost to the point of shouting (!) without your boss stepping in? I’m appalled by how bad she is at managing this problem employee. Or backing you up in general–did she clarify at any point during this meeting that part of your job is to delegate tasks to your colleague?

    If part of your job is to delegate tasks–which, as I recall, is something you’re authorized to do per your previous post–you do not need to soften it to the point of “can you fit in” etc. etc. Whether you choose to is another matter, but softening to that level is not, and should not, be a requirement for completing the request. Part of having a job is to do things you’re told (yes, told) to do–whether you couch it politely or aggressively, it’s not optional. I am not a manager of anyone and I regularly request other people and departments to do things (that fall within their job responsibilities), and not one damn part of it is optional. That’s how work works.

    The fact that this manchild thinks that because your tone is “aggressive” (it sure didn’t sound that way to me) means he could refuse it, can dump it back on your desk without telling you, because “he doesn’t like your tone” means he has no idea what work is like.

    I am outraged and appalled on your behalf. “just joking”?! And your boss bought that? Really?

    This douchebag should be fired yesterday.

    1. Charlie*

      And when someone authorized to delegate tasks to you does just that, they don’t have to butter you up with 30 seconds of “if you have time….could you maybe….I’d appreciate it….thank you so so much” BS. “Clerk, please file these items this morning. Thanks,” is about as much butter as any reasonable person requires.

      1. Sensual shirtwaist*

        True. In fact reasonable people often find it irritating to be obsequiously asked to do things that are not actually optional. So the more effort you put into conforming to this …manchild’s requirements, the more damage you’ll do to your career – because you’ll develop work habits that are mal-adaptive in any functional office.

        He stinks. Your boss is spineless. Your tone is fine. Talk to HR and start sending your resume out.

  14. johnny walker*

    It’s not your tone. This guy is a sexist jerk, and I’m sorry your manager is letting him get away with it.

  15. Tiny_Tiger*

    Unbelievable… That’s the only word that comes to my mind. He “resented your tone?” Well maybe you wouldn’t have had a tone with him (if you indeed even had one when speaking to him) if he didn’t act like such an a**hole in the first place. And your manager is nothing short of spineless at this point. Not even interjecting when you two were almost yelling at each other? HELLO! That’s “We need a manager to diffuse the situation 101.” Even if he’s got both feet out the door he needs to suck it up and realize that you are higher on the totem pole than him and that he’s going to have to do things you ask him to do.

    1. Tiny_Tiger*

      Also, he doesn’t get to “draw the line” on you giving him tasks to do. Unless he is completely swamped with other work he has no authority to do that, and if he is swamped then he needs to say so, not passive-aggresively throw things back on your desk.

      1. EddieSherbert*


        even if OP could soften her tone, he handled it like a small child (ignoring her? Calling her a B*? moving things to her desk when she’s not looking? This sounds like a preschool… a very profane preschooler)

      2. One of the Sarahs*

        I can’t believe this was allowed to stand by OP’s manager! I’m literally boggling.

  16. Adlib*

    Besides his general continued awfulness, you were almost yelling at each other in this meeting, and the boss just sat there??? OMG. I can’t even see straight. He’s awful and seems to be continuing that, but I think the boss has me more upset at this point. How useless.

    Unless you think one of them is leaving soon, just look to get out ASAP. It’s not your tone. I have never heard tone being an actual excuse for anything.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah. I think he’s the worse person by a long shot, but the boss is the bigger problem insofar as work goes. Because a ‘terrible human being who doesn’t do his work and is flagrantly misogynist’ problem can be solved if the person in charge is willing to solve it–by firing, if nothing else. At this point, even if he were to wink out of existence spontaneously due to a glitch in the Matrix, you would still be having to work under a boss who tolerates harassment and expects you to magically make problems go away without giving you the authority or tools to actually do it–as witnessed by the fact that she suggested mediation instead of stepping up and dealing with this crap.

      (Which is why I keep saying: leave. The coworker problem is the more hurtful, obvious, and flagrant, but the boss problem is likely to be pervasive and consistent.)

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yeah, I agree, OP, your boss needs to become your ex-boss. She can manage the guy with the toilet mouth.

      2. MC*

        Agreed. I had a boss years ago that used the receptionist as a verbal punching bag and the rest of the small office followed lead. I asked her why she stayed and it was some odd sense of loyalty. I heard one of the jr employees speak harshly to her and I pulled him aside and said “I get it, here, that nonsense is acceptable to the big boss. But if you leave here and go to one of the big architectural or construction firms – your ass will be sitting in HR’s office so fast you won’t know what hit you. So watch your behavior because the shit that flies here… only works here.” The boss here has set a precedent. OP needs to leave for more respectful pastures.

  17. OlympiasEpiriot*


    You should not have apologised. He should not expect everyone to treat him with kid gloves. Next he’ll be wanting his work assigned to him via a butler with a “With OP’s Complements, Sir” at each interaction.

  18. seejay*

    I’m totally unaware of what planet exists where it’s ok for someone who’s technically supposed to be supervised by you to decide that he doesn’t like your “tone” and thus ignore your instructions and requests to the point of abuse instead of discussing it and taking it up with the manager… you know, like an adult.

    While it sounds like there was some sort of “happy medium” reached, I don’t see it being a) maintained for the long term and b) an actual solution to this guy’s core issues which is that he resents the OP and is going to look for ways to undermine her and go back to being the asshat he really is. ><

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yeah, this baffles me. Any place I have worked, an order from a boss is an order from a boss. IF you are lucky they will phrase it in a manner that shows consideration, but if they want to bark orders all day long they can. OP, you are not there to be his best friend.

  19. Seal*

    OP – start job hunting immediately. Alison is exactly correct that your boss is being negligent for not shutting this guy down immediately and/or firing him outright. If your boss isn’t going to back you when someone you supervise doesn’t do what you tell him to do, it’s only going to get worse.

  20. Crazy Canuck*

    I’d polish up my resume and start job hunting. Your manager completely failed at managing here.

  21. Dee*

    Oh, please. This guy is nothing but excuses, and he will always have another excuse when he’s called on it. It was your tone, you were being passive-aggressive, you’re not taking hints, you’re asking him to do your work, you can’t take a joke, you’re not using the right combination of words when you ask him to do something. All of that was packed into two paragraphs, and I have no doubt it’s ten times worse to be experiencing it.

    Also, he thinks that’s passive-aggressive? He’s obviously never had someone deploy weapons-grade passive-aggressiveness at him before.

    1. Turtle Candle*

      Yes: my experience is that with someone like this, there will always be some excuse. Right now, your “tone” was the problem, you were “telling” instead of “asking.” So you’re going to use phrasings like, “If you have time in your schedule and it’s not too much bother, could you consider doing X?”

      I predict that it is highly likely that next time it will be him going, “I just can’t tell when she wants something from me! The layyydieeeez just always hint around what they want and don’t come out and say it! If she won’t tell me what she needs, how am I supposed to know what to do?” In fact, I would pretty much guarantee it. It is in his best interests (in being able to continue to browse darkhumor dot net or YouTube or whatever) that he makes the line between ‘nice enough that I will condescend to do what you say’ and ‘not so nice that I feel entitled to ignore you’ an invisible line.

    2. nona*

      +1 – he only thought your tone was passive-aggressive because that’s how HE would act. He see your actions through a lens of passive-aggression because that’s how he would be treating people in your shoes.

  22. Lemon*

    This guy is pretty blatantly sexist. It’s not that he has a problem with your “tone” it’s that he has a problem getting directions from a woman. I can’t believe you had to apologize to him. And if your manager has authorized you to delegate work to him, there’s no reason you should have to couch it like “Please…could you… if you don’t mind….” I mean, you certainly don’t need to be an ass about it, but a simple, “Hey, I have some filing for you today” should suffice. And, again, if he takes offense to you asking in such a neutral, non-sugar coated way, then it’s NOT your tone that’s the problem. It’s this dude and his crappy attitude toward women.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      And OP is going to read books.

      OP, no matter how many books you read your boss will remain spineless and your employee will remain a glass bowl.

    1. Vin Packer*

      Right?! I don’t want to bring the OP down if she’s feeling better about the situation but….her having to apologize to him for her “tone” was pretty close to the worst case scenario here.

      1. OP*

        I know I haven’t commented much since this went up but I do have to say… I’m not thrilled. I was happy with it at first – feedback! something to work on! – my boss even asked how I thought it went and I said I was pleased, because I had gotten an apology and agreement to work on this and that, and had also received eye-opening information on how to improve myself. But by the next day the ‘wait a minute, what the hell’ settled in and I’ve only gotten more agitated since then.

        I do honestly believe I have a tone, but whatever tone I have, he has it ten times worse, and that’s the frustrating part. I apparently can’t “tell” him what to do, but the other day when I was scheduling lunch coverage like I do every single Monday, Clerk Informed me that he Was Not going to cover lunch on his extra day in the office because he was going to do something he came up with on his own instead, and all I could say was “um, okay.” I got told I had to utilize Clerk as backup and delegate whatever work I needed to him to do in order to reduce the massive backlog of work I was drowning in awhile back, and that if I did not utilize the help I have and stop trying to take it all on myself that I would be fired (which I resisted doing for ages because Clerk was already a pain BEFORE I started giving him things to do), so I did, and now it seems like I’m just going backwards, not asking him for anything because I either don’t want to deal with his attitude or don’t want to run aground with my tttooonnneeee and cause an international incident again. It’s nonsense. I’m infuriated. And everything said on this post is a relief to hear because I feel like I’ve gone 100% nuts. And I’m soooo mad about it. Not sure what I’m going to do yet, but thank goodness for AAM because it’s perspective I definitely need right now.

        1. Aurion*

          Really? So you were told, explicitly, that you have to delegate because otherwise your job is on the line?

          Delegating is not begging. Stop it with this “tone” bullshit. Tell your jackass coworker to do the tasks he’s supposed to do. Don’t bother with “if you wouldn’t mind” and other crap, just tell him straightfowardly “hey, please do X, Y, and Z” like you were before.

          Your jackass coworker will either 1) not do it or 2) be snippy about it, and you can report every instance of it to your manager. And if your manager comes back about “your tone” (I still can’t believe how spineless she is), ask her point blank “well, is saying ‘Please do X, Y, and Z” a problematic tone?” and then let your weak boss explain herself out of that one.

          1. Aurion*

            Sorry, OP, I’m not angry at you. Just–this tone is such complete crap.

            Honestly, if making requests of this misogynist jackass will cause “an international incident”, LET IT HAPPEN. Let her know that an “international incident” will occur because you made a completely reasonable request like a reasonable human being. And maybe your manager will be inspired (pressured) to manage.

          2. Dynamic Beige*

            Delegating is not begging.

            And maybe this is the language you want to use. You’re not asking him to do something, you’re delegating the responsibility for $ThisTask to him. You’re assigning. Enh, who am I kidding? This turbodouche is never going to do anything but resent any woman who has more authority than he does.

            Frankly, the best outcome for this would be for you to apply for a new, better job within the company and get it. Especially if it gets you away from him and your manager. Hell, any new job is sure to completely baffle him (“how did she do it?”) but he’ll soon come up with some “It was a quota” thing to reassure himself that he’s not incompetent.

        2. EyesWideOpen*

          What….they said you would be fired if you did not utilize Clerk to help you out and you received no support in getting Clerk to help you…..wow, this is a messed up situation.

          I feel for you.

        3. Ultraviolet*

          Hi OP, thanks for the update! I’m glad the perspective here is helping. Both your boss and coworker are outrageous.

          Even though you initially told your boss you were happy with the outcome of the meeting, you can go back and tell her you’ve thought it over some more and are still really concerned. Point out to her that you’ve been told that you need to delegate to Clerk in order to perform your job adequately but he is refusing the work you delegate to him, and say that you’d like her to make it clear to him that you have the authority to delegate. Tell her that you don’t want to hear anymore sexism like “Be quiet, men are talking” and that you need this to stop, period. These are extremely reasonable things to say, though I understand it doesn’t feel easy to approach your boss about it. If she brings up your tone, say that you are happy to discuss that more with her, but the sexism and refusal to acknowledge your ability to delegate are huge problems that need to be fixed independently of any problems with your tone. (And by the way, I am definitely inclined to say that your coworker would be acting this way regardless of your tone, but I think it will benefit you to appear willing to discuss the possibility that your tone is suboptimal. Just hold firm that his behavior needs to change no matter what. It’s not okay that change on his part be conditioned on change on your part, because his behavior is extremely far over the line.)

          1. Ultraviolet*

            Also, two more things:

            1) It sounds like someone else must have been there when Clerk said, “Be quiet, men are talking.” How did they react? Are they a peer of yours, or someone above you on the org chart? If they’re senior to you and/or in good standing with your boss, I wonder whether you could talk to them and maybe have them talk to your boss and mention to her how completely vile and inappropriate (and gender-based) Clerk’s behavior is.

            2) Was it your boss or someone else who told you you’d be fired if you don’t “utilize” Clerk’s help? If there was anyone else involved in deciding that or telling you about that decision, I think you should go to them and tell them what’s happening. Emphasize that you understand your job requires working with Clerk, but he tosses incomplete work back on your desk and refuses to talk to you for hours and tells you to be quiet because men are talking, etc. Ask for advice. They’ll probably say to talk to your boss, and you can tell them exactly how that went.

          2. Meg Murry*

            Yes, this guy is playing “you’re not the boss of me, only BigBoss is the Boss of me”. Which is 100% not ok, since OP has been told by BigBoss she has the authority to delegate to Clerk.

            OP, put it in writing. “BigBoss, according to you I have the authority to delegate tasks to Clerk. However, when I asked him to do [A, B, C, cover lunch] he refused. Can you please make clear to him that I have this authority?”

            Is BigBoss is your area? Next time Clerk refuses a task, take it to BigBoss’s office and say “Clerk told me he doesn’t have time to do X (or doesn’t want to do X or whatever) and I don’t have time to do it either so I need you to delegate it to someone else.” If Clerk won’t do the tasks, make 100% sure your Boss knows you *tried* to delegate it to him, and *make* it Boss’s problem. Do not just do the task yourself – your Boss needs to see that the problem is that Clerk won’t assist, not that *you* aren’t getting things done.

            It’s a passive aggressive move, but you can also start emailing him requests, and CCing your boss. “Clerk, please file the ABC documents I put in your inbox. Thank you, Jane”. Then if it winds up back on your desk, you can follow up with your boss.

            Does that feel like you are in kindergarten and tattling to the teacher? Yes. But apparently that’s what this guy needs right now.

            1. aelle*

              CCing the boss: I don’t think it’s passive aggressive at all in this situation. It’s completely normal to loop in your manager when you have been trying to do your job (here, delegate) and outside forces (here, Clerk’s jackassery) are hindering you. Also, it highlights to your boss the extent of the problem, it gives him the tools to act quickly if one of Clerk’s refusal impacts a critical topic (which you may not know), and it creates a paper trail for disciplinary measures. Informing your boss of problems that are beyond your scope (which is the case here because you lack empowerment) is absolutely business as usual.

              1. Meg Murry*

                For me, the semi-passive aggressive part of it was that the Clerk and OP sit *right next to each other* if I’m remembering correctly from the first letter. Sending the person sitting next to you an email (and cc’ing the boss) rather than just talking to them is the part that seems passive aggressive to me – but it also seems like it might be necessary.

                1. Layla*

                  I disagree with this. it probably depends on the dynamics within your team , but for me it’s totally normal. If I don’t do it immediately & my co-worker does not send me an email I may forget about it or remember it way later ( OK I could have a better task list system … Mostly working out of email here ….)

                  And cc’ing a boss could be any reason : updating on the progress , letting the boss know who’s covering the portion …

                  May not be that relevant to filing …idk

        4. LBK*

          Whoa. Yeah, you need to go back to your manager and re-hash this entire situation, and this time don’t let your coworker be involved. Your manager sounds like a reasonable person when she’s not being influenced by your coworker’s manipulations – get her alone in a room, bring up the facts like you being specifically told to delegate work to him and lay the cards back on the table without your coworker there to get in her head. This is insane, I can’t believe you’re somehow the one on thin ice now.

          1. Observer*

            Reasonable? Really? How is letting someone get away with refusing to take instruction from someone who is REQUIRED to give him instructions remotely reasonable?!

            1. LBK*

              Because that was in the context of a conversation where the coworker was there manipulating her into thinking that was reasonable. That’s exactly why I’m saying to talk to the manager alone.

        5. seejay*

          I remember not wanting to talk over problems with my ex-fiance because every time I brought up certain subjects that I had problems with (like money), he’d get mad, defensive, and angry and we’d have a fight. No matter how calmly or rationally I brought it up, he’d get mad. I tried to watch my “tone”, tried to do everything I could to make it an easier talk, but he’d still blow up. So we didn’t talk about it and I hoped that things would get better after we were married.

          He broke up with me six months before the wedding.

          Another guy I dated and lived with, whenever I approached him about something I was upset about, he’d fly off the handle and have a fit, cry and yell at me. Again, it didn’t matter if I tried to rationally say “hey, I’m a bit upset about something you’re doing, can we discuss this?” he’d freak out because I was “attacking” him. I would step back, try to analyze my tone and figure out how I could better broach these subjects so it wouldn’t turn into a fight.

          After breaking up with him (and it was a messy breakup that at one point he told me I was crazy, his friends agreed with him after he told them all the stuff I was doing, and he intentionally tested my boundaries that I was struggling to maintain), I realized that I would intentionally avoid difficult conversations that adults had to have to keep a relationship healthy solely because I was dating immature jerks that didn’t know how to have proper adult conversations. Sure, not every conversation is going to be easy, sometimes you have to have difficult ones, but you don’t respond to them by blowing up, having a hissy fit, crying, and pouting so that your partner tiptoes around you and avoids the conversation just to keep the peace. And then feels like *they’re* going crazy because they feel like they can’t talk to you and wind up shouldering all the burden of things that are wrong.

          You are not wrong, you are not crazy, and you are driving yourself insane because you are trying to have a conversation with someone who is an immature brat that’s having a tanty whenever you try to talk to him. And as a result, you’re avoiding the confrontation (which is a natural response btw, don’t beat yourself up over it!) and making yourself sick and crazy as a result! This is not normal and you’re being forced into it because of this wank.

          Remember that, and keep telling yourself that this isn’t your fault, you are *not* in the wrong, and no matter what your boss or this guy is telling you, it’s not your tone. It wasn’t my tone either when I tried to have difficult conversations with my partners that I was expecting to share my life with. I’m not saying I was perfect every time I tried to have conversations with them about difficult subjects, but I know I *tried* to be super cognizant about approaching them without being accusing or rocking the boat or stirring up trouble. Heck, one of the fights I was *so* timid about even bringing it up, I was making every effort to make it about *me* and how this one little thing was a little bit bothersome to me and could he *please* not do it, and he lost his *absolute shit* and screamed at me and started bawling his eyes out about how I was constantly nagging him (which was a lie and and over-exaggeration to the extreme) and believe me, I never broached it again about putting something in the garbage can after he opened something. It was literally that small of a thing, and yes, it was that big of an over-reaction. I left three months after that.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            I agree. Yay seejay!

            I have a similar issue and it finally dawned on me that I do NOT have to compromise my happiness to keep someone else happy. That’s not how healthy relationships are supposed to work.

            Same at work. I don’t have to take (ILLEGAL and REPORTABLE and LAWSUIT WORTHY) abuse just because a boss can’t grow a spine.

        6. Lunch Meat*

          Just want to say I hope you don’t feel bad about not asserting yourself more in the meeting. This guy probably has a lot of experience manipulating conversations like this. I hope things do get better for you though.

        7. Honeybee*

          Guess what? You can have a tone. You are allowed to have a tone.

          I think you are really being too hard on yourself here. Interacting with other human beings at work doesn’t mean making your voice devoid of any and all potential “tone” that might be conveyed, especially if the person receiving the direction has proven themselves hostile and noncompliant before. If my manager has to tell me 3 times to do something, I’m pretty sure she would inject a displeased tone into her voice so I would know this is a Problem. It’d be even worse if I’d given backtalk or dropped my work on her desk (!!!) with the expectation that she would do it instead.

          I agree with all the rest that if you are being told you need to delegate to Clerk in order to keep your job, then you need to keep bringing this up whenever it happens. Document it, and make sure you surface the problems to Boss every time so she can see how deep the rabbit hole goes. Show her that Clerk is making it impossible for you to do your job because of his nastiness.

          And you are not nuts! You are clear-headed! You are the only non-nuts person in the room!

        8. neverjaunty*

          OP, perhaps you do have a tone. I guarantee you 100% that is not why your co-workers is behaving the way he is. I can also pretty much guarantee that there is nothing inappropriate about your “tone”.

        9. One of the Sarahs*

          Hey OP, I absolutely love that you’re listening to what was said, and thinking “maybe I can improve” – and using resources to, as well – BUT like absolutely everyone else, I wouldn’t worry about your tone.

          It can be very hard to delegate, when it’s the first time you’re doing it as part of a job (it’s something that I, and a lot of my friends, struggled with), but it’s a skill you have to use. So my advice is don’t look up resources for “tone”, read up on good delegation skills, because that’s something that’s useful to learn, starting out in careers.

          But holy shit, like everyone else says too, your manager has dropped the ball here, because “how to delegate well” does NOT include having to be obsequious to your team member. There’s definitely room for the occasional “If you’re not too busy, please could you possibly help by doing this part of your normal work. Thank you so much, that’s super-helpful”, but it’s absolutely not an every-day conversation.

          You might want to go back to the manager and ask for tips – I dunno, maybe have regular meetings about getting the backlog down, with a timeframe and a plan, that the manager attends, so she can have your back (even though she sounds pretty terrible) and emphasise how important it is. But ugh, if I were you, I’d start looking for another job, if you can. You’re doing really well in turning yourself around in this job – maybe it’s time to start somewhere else, with everything you’ve learned, and see how else you can move on.

          1. Whats In A Name*

            I am just revisiting this morning, but I think the advice to brush up on delegating effectively could be an effective use of time if OP truly feels she is the one who needs to change in this situation (for the record I do NOT think OP is the problem here). Your point that this could help here while job searching but come in handy down the road in other jobs is a great point – brushing up on that skill will carry her much further and be of much more value than “tone” training.

        10. Anonymous 40*

          OP, I genuinely hate to suggest this….but is your boss trying to get rid of you? She threatened to fire you if you didn’t use this jerk to reduce your backlog, took no action about his attitude and refusal to do the work you assigned him, and sat quietly as he gaslighted you about your “tone.”

          “I’ll fire you for having more work than one person can do” is one of the craziest termination threats I’ve ever heard. She’ll threaten to fire you but won’t say a word to him for behavior that was clearly out of line just in your meeting that she “mediated.” Is she hoping you’ll give up and just quit? And trying to create a pretext for letting you go if you don’t?

          Is she too intimidated by him to stand up to him, too?

          Didn’t you say last time that he’s related to someone higher up? Could he be whining to the relative that you’re being oh-so-mean to him and the relative’s blaming you to your boss?

          Or your boss is afraid that taking a stance firmer than a wet noodle with him will anger the relative?

          It’s just insane….give you authority, threaten to fire you if you don’t use it, then give you no support when you do try to use it. I’m so sorry you’re having to put up with this.

          As everyone else has said, get out of there. Your willingness to proactively examine your own performance and try to improve will be greatly appreciated in much better organizations than this one.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think it depends on context. I’ve managed people before who refused to delegate, even after coaching that they needed to, and as a result were horribly backlogged. I can certainly imagine saying at some point, “Look, this isn’t optional — it’s a requirement of your job that you delegate as part of managing your own workload.” And the next natural step from there is treating it as a serious performance issue if they don’t.

            I have no idea if that’s what happened here, but I don’t think threatening to fire the OP if she didn’t start delegating is inherently outrageous.

            1. neverjaunty*

              In a vacuum it would be, but this is a situation where Boss knows Fergus actively fights doing any work the OP delegates. It’s a catch-22.

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Yeah, it is not in and of itself outrageous, but having sat in a mediation meeting where the clerk admitted that he threw work back at the LW or simply didn’t do it if he didn’t like her tone or didn’t feel like it, I think it boomerangs back into being outrageous. I mean, presumably in said “mediation” the boss had a chance to say, “LW has my authority to delegate work to you, and you need to do it,” and presumably boss now knows it’s an issue and can follow up if she wants to.

                In that context, it smacks of “I don’t want to manage this guy, and I’m not going to give you the tools to manage this guy, but I am going to hold you responsible if this guy does not act managed.” Which is pretty dreadful.

                1. Turtle Candle*

                  Or to put it another way: it sounds like you’re a smart, conscientious person, and I think you really, really, really need to find another job and let this place drown in its own dysfunction. You cannot solve a problem where you get threatened with firing for not somehow making someone you do not have authority over do work, but that person doesn’t get fired for slacking off while making hideous and blatantly misogynous remarks. You can’t, short of a magic wand. The only thing you can do is get out, and let the whole thing collapse behind you like a flan in a cupboard.

            2. Observer*

              I’m surprised that you are saying this. I agree that in theory threatening to fire someone who refuses to delegate is not outrageous. But, it IS outrageous to essentially require someone to take abuse and crawl on the ground or face termination. Because the only way for the OP to get any work out of this guy is to take his abuse and crawl and beg for him to do what he is supposed to be doing.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Absolutely. I was responding to the part of Anonymous 40’s comment that said “‘I’ll fire you for having more work than one person can do’ is one of the craziest termination threats I’ve ever heard.” (Although upon closer reading, I think there was more context in her comment that probably made my response a moot point.)

                1. Anonymous 40*

                  I probably didn’t word that well. It was intended to be a paraphrase of OP’s manager saying she’d fire OP if OP didn’t somehow make Clerk help with the backlog. I agree with your overall point that not using available resources to catch up on a backlog could be grounds for discipline. I just meant that this particular threat in this situation is crazy. The manager delegates authority to OP but then provides no support when Clerk is resistant to OP’s direction. Then she threatens to fire OP for not making Clerk do the work. Even if the threat was before the ridiculous “mediation” meeting, it still seems insane to me. She has one employee who takes feedback well and shows an interest in self improvement and one employee who is abusive, misogynist, and refuses to do his assigned work, but the good employee is the one she threatens to fire.

            3. OP*

              Yeah, that’s about what it was – that it was becoming a performance issue for me not asking for help. I’m a little bit of a perfectionist about my work, and since I usually get back flawed reports when Clerk does them, I was extremely resistant to the “suggestion” that I use him more and only allowed myself to bend when my boss said ever so candidly that the higher-ups were not pleased with me and it was either delegate or else (“and don’t be such a control freak”). Clerk was extremely unhappy and I heard more than my fair share of whining about “it just feels like I’m doing YOUR job instead of my own”, and at the time I probably didn’t handle the complaining well because I wasn’t thrilled either. But the difference between us is that I eventually figured out why it was a really big deal that I a) do that, b) not bitch about doing what I’m told, and Clerk is still whiny about it.

              At least I can take comfort in knowing it’s not just me. Yesterday the accreditation manager asked him to tally up some percentages on file collection for our inspection next month, and as soon as she walked away he regaled me with a monologue about how he was going to do that Whenever He Gets To It and would instead be going back to the task he had decided was his task of the day instead. I said nothing, being in the middle of reading the comments on this post and kind of wanting to light him on fire already as it was. :\

              1. Anna*

                I laughed at your last sentence. He is a piece of work and your manager is doing you a giant disservice. I hope you’ve taken to documenting things (like cc’ing your boss on emails and talking to HR when he makes sexist comments).

              2. Ducky*

                OP, are you me? Because you sound like me five years ago. “Ducky, you can’t control everything,” “Ducky, not everyone’s as perfect as you,” “Ducky, just because you’re smart doesn’t mean everyone else or that you’re always right.” And these were always said so as to imply it was bad that I wanted things to just be *good*, and that I pointed out things *weren’t* good when certain co-workers did them. And these co-workers? Complained about my tone non-stop. That satirical article at the Cooper Review? Might as well be a transcript of the advice I received from my boss.

                When I tried taking things to HR, no good, it wasn’t any good because the CEO (who I also talked to) refused to do anything about the situation and was convinced I and the co-workers were just having a “both sides do it” type argument. Found out later they’d been saying utterly horrible things and lying about me to him constantly.

                The only solution was to leave. It was hard, because we had good benefits and I otherwise liked the CEO (it was a small place, only 60 people or so), and I managed to end up at a *second* company with sexist co-workers and a hands-off boss so I spent even longer thinking the problem was me and something I needed to work on. Nope. The commenters here are right on, and I am so, so glad to read everyone’s indignation.

        11. Lissa*

          So, you have to phrase everything to him as a gentle request so it doesn’t make him get his back up, and cause him to “draw a line in the sand” or whatever else, but he can tell *you* he’s not going to cover lunch and is going to do something else instead, without having to ask? And you’re supposed to be his superior…? This is so maddening. Good luck, but just…aaarrrrggghh.

        12. Vin Packer*

          Ughhhhh, that delayed “wth?” reaction! The worst. I think we’ve all been there. You went into that meeting in good faith, hoping everyone would be cool and you would all be the better off for it, so you brought an open-minded, collaborative attitude with you. It sucks so much that this guy turned that into a vulnerability to exploit. And it sucks, arguably even more, that your boss does not even slightly have your back.

          Don’t beat yourself up about any of this. There is no perfect turn of phrase or act of badassery that could resolve this situation that you aren’t saying or doing. You’re handling it like a champ–you did all you could, and now you’re flatly shutting him down, which is the best thing at this point.

          Sorry your work friend turned out to be such an unrepentant toad and had no chill about making counter-cultural jokes. I hope he leaves so you don’t have to if you don’t want to.

        13. Observer*

          Please, for your own sake, do three things:

          1. Document EVERY SINGLE incident where this guy is uncooperative, sexist or both. Let your boss know immediately when he does something particularly outrageous, like the “men are talking” bit.

          2. Go back to your boss, and tell her that you need to know whether you are supposed to be delegating to him or not. Because if you are not supposed to be delegating to him, then you don’t want to get fired for not getting through all of the work. And, if you ARE supposed to be delegating, then she needs to tell him that. And she needs to tell him that when you delegate something, it is NOT optional, whether he likes it or not. and, you are going to stop “asking” him, and start telling him what to do. Follow this up with an email, so you have some clear documentation of what happened.

          3. Assuming that your boss tells you to keep delegating, and to keep arranging coverage, etc. tell Brat that you are no longer going to be policing your tone. You are going to ASSIGN work to him, and it is NOT going to be optional. Follow up with an email expressing the same thing, and cc your boss. In all likelihood, he’s going to come back with some more sexist garbage. Shut it down. Don’t argue, just tell him that that’s the way it’s going to be, because that’s what manager said. And, document what he says. CC HR on the email you send, because you should explicitly address the garbage – you should explicitly say that using sexist and derogatory terms is unacceptable, no matter what he thinks of your “tone” and instructions. As well, send an email (yes, do this in email, so you have a record) to your boss, hr and yourself (bcc a personal address) documenting what happened and asking them to step in and put a stop to this.

          1. NoBadCats*

            We’re not having a discussion, we’re not having a negotiation, I am telling you how things are.

            Sweet fancy Moses in a muffin cup, this guy is the worst.

          2. blackcat*

            Re: 2. Document all of these things. And if you *do* get fired for failing to delegate, approach HR with your documentation to argue that you were set up to fail. It may help you negotiate severance.

            I don’t think you can be successful under this boss. Either approach HR to see about internal transfers, or start job hunting really actively. You’ve been told you may be fired. Believe your boss. You need to be looking elsewhere.

          3. Whats In A Name*

            I agree that all of what you said above is relevant and important.

            However, I think this is beyond the manager at this point – she has proven ineffective and unwilling to deal. I say document, document, document, go to HR.

            1. Whats In A Name*

              And if it’s not clear, 1st documentation needs to be this failed mediation session so when HR says “did you go to your manger first” she has documentation of what happened when she did and subsequent behavior.

        14. Not So NewReader*

          OP, you don’t need a new tone, you need a new job.
          Please say you are looking, you need to get out before you start accepting all this stuff as normal. It’s not normal, OP. It’s very abnormal and very toxic.

        15. aelle*

          Your management *said* you were empowered to assign tasks to Clerk but they have not *actually* empowered you, and that is a huge failing on their part.
          1. Your boss needs to explicitly communicate to Clerk that it is now part of your job to delegate work to him, and part of his to do what you tell him (Has this actually been done? did I miss this???)
          2. when Clerk refuses to do what you assign to him, your boss needs to remind him that whatever you asked him to do is not optional
          3. when Clerk becomes hostile and insults you for doing your job, your boss needs to give you the tools to reprimand him in a timely manner (and not stay neutral while the 2 of you work it out, OMFG. You’re not peers!)

          It’s up to you how you want to phrase this, but personally I wouldn’t use any softening language at all. I would tell my boss that this is the support I *need* to perform the duties required of me, and to please make it happen. If this isn’t the first time you make these requests I would consider looping my n+2 in this as well. None of this is ok and it is not your job to fix it.

        16. Julia*

          OP, I feel for you so much. Really, you have nothing to blame yourself for.
          When you are a good person and conscientous worker, it is easy to assume that you must be doing something wrong, otherwise the other good people around you wouldn’t cause you so much trouble. Unfortunately, some people are manipulative, gaslighting lazy bums who try to take advantage of good people, and because we are not used to their tactics, they can take us by surprise.

          I am in a similar, though thankfully not as horrible situation at work. My boss seems reasonable at first, but shirks his management duties and basically just tells me that it must be my communication style whenever a colleague has hidden information from me, yelled at me or similar. I think he just doesn’t want to admit (not even to himself) that he cannot keep his employees in check. Once, he called in a meeting with my co-worker and me, and just like your Clerk, everything she did to me from rudeness to work sabotage was ignored because she claimed that I sometimes had a tone with her. Guess what, I do have a tone with her because I am sick of her walking all over me. That is completely besides the point. But just like your boss, my boss let her get away with it, and just like you, I was so confused at first that I apologised to that woman. She never apologised to me and now feels like the victor of that little “Mediation”. I am looking to get out of here as soon as I can, and they can see how much work will get done once they let Ms. Lazy Incompetent run rampant.

          It really, really sucks to be the only reasonable person at work, and it can do a huge number on your self-esteem and the way you view yourself. Please be kind to yourself, accept that you were strongarmed into that meeting and that there is nothing you could reasonably due when the other parties are completely unreasonable. And please look for a new job, you deserve so much better than this.

        17. Janice in Accounting*

          One thing I would advise that I’ve not seen mentioned here yet is to write down every single thing he says and give it to your boss AND HR however often you see fit–daily, weekly, whatever. Every “make me a sandwich,” every “men are talking,” every time he refuses to do work you have specifically been told to delegate to him, ALL OF IT. Maybe seeing it in black and white will make a difference.

          1. Janice in Accounting*

            Oh and also, when he gives you the silent treatment, write that down too. “I asked him if he had time to file this week’s TPS reports and he did not respond.”

    2. Trig*

      I KNOW! I was hoping for some satisfying come-uppance, that the OP would school him.

      Like, “because I sound less like I’m asking and more like I’m telling.” The response right there should have been “That’s interesting, because I AM telling. I am telling you what to do, because assigning you work is my job.” and the manager backing her up because honestly everything he said IN THE MEETING WHERE THE MANAGER COULD HEAR is terrible and deserves to be called out as such!

      But noooooo instead we get lost in a discussion of her tone and how she has to speak nicely to him when he refuses to do so to her or he will get snotty and not do his work and MANAGER IS OK WITH THAT?! Auuuugh this guy is a classic derailer and I hate him and I want to hug OP and give OP’s manager a shake!

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yeah. I would be seriously tempted to (and probably would) return to my manager and say, “Am I supposed to be assigning him work and telling him what to do, or not? If I’m supposed to be telling him to do these things, then I need you to back me that I’m allowed to do that. If I’m not, would you like me to take the time to do them myself, or email you with the requests for him to handle them? To be clear, I can definitely do them myself, but that will slow down my work by about X percentage and delay Y and Z accordingly.”

        I’d also be job hunting. Because ugh.

        1. Mephyle*

          This so much. This discussion needs to be held. So far, manager’s implicit instruction has been “you need to assign him work, but you can’t tell him to do it.” If she comes out and says so explicitly, call her out. Bring the inherent contradiction out in the daylight in front of her and push for a solution that has logic and that works.

      2. NoBadCats*

        This is one of those times that I wish AAM had a “like” or upvoting function, because I’d be loving up on all of the responses in here.

  23. my two cents*

    anyone else hear the gas(light) on?

    Cripes, this guy is a manipulative jerk. He managed to still have his tantrum, tells you to ‘ask nicely’ and he’ll consider it, and takes no proverbial lumps about the AWFUL flippant, sexist, and/or derogatory comments.

    I mean, I’m glad you felt it was smoothed over…but this really REALLY reeks of sexist gaslighting derailing redherring garbage.

  24. Anon and Angry*

    This guy is a jerk and your manager sucks for not getting more involved. It reminds me of the time I was chastised by someone else’s boss for emailing that person to do something instead of addressing the fact that I had to ask several times and then when they’d finally actually do it they’d make it sound like they had already done it before I asked a second time for an update. There were time stamps in the system that proved that was not the case! But it was all “why don’t you just call him?” and thrown back on me like it was MY fault he wasn’t doing his work. I emailed him so I had proof I had asked him to do something. Why didn’t his manager address his horrible work ethic instead of try to turn things back to me?

    Ugh, it still makes me angry and it’s been many years. I am angry for you and I feel like you’re being gaslighted here.

  25. justsomeone*

    My jaw is on the floor and my eyebrows have joined my hairline. HOOOOLY.

    LW, I am super upset reading this update! It’s not your tone. It’s that he’s a sexist jackass. As many other commenters have pointed out. And as another commenter pointed out, he’s practically gaslighting you.

    I just can’t even with this guy. Your boss is crap, this guy is crappier and I am disappointed that you still have to put up with his BS.

  26. Queen Anne of Cleves*

    I agree with most of the commenters here. My stomach was in knots as soon as I realized he turned everything around on you and you and your boss let him do it. It is not YOU or YOUR tone. I hate that you walked away feeling like you had to work on your tone and even apologized!

  27. LBK*

    Wow f*ck this guy. What a pig. OP, please, please take all these comments to heart, understand that you’re being gaslighted to hell (a term I usually find overused but which is completely applicable here) and ignore this BS feedback your employee is providing and your cowardly manager is supporting. You haven’t done anything wrong, or you’ve certainly done absolutely nothing on the level of what he’s doing back to you. Do not allow him to convince you your behavior is equally bad.

    He said my demeanor when asking always came across to him as nothing actually being optional and those “if you have time” additions being passive aggressive.

    That’s because they aren’t optional. Maybe you should just switch to giving him command like a dog, since using completely normal softening language that every manager in the world uses is apparently passive aggressive.

    1. YawningDodo*

      This, all of this. I’m dismayed that OP’s manager let this “tone” crap stand. “Can you do ___” is a completely normal way for a manager to communicate a command to their reports. My own manager uses “If you could…” nearly every time she gives me something to do, which of course I always understand to mean “You have to do this thing, but I’m saying it politely because this is how adults speak to one another.” It’s not optional, because it’s my job. She’s telling me to do things that are parts of my job. OP is telling the clerk to do parts of his job. Of course it’s not freaking optional. If her frustration started leaking through, well, maybe she wouldn’t be frustrated with him if he was actually doing his work instead of acting like a child.

  28. Venus Supreme*

    I am actually visibly angry at my desk right now. Oh, if Clerk said those things in front of me…

    To echo all previous comments: this has nothing to do with your tone. Gaslighting is real and gaslighting is vicious.

    I want an update to this update to see how this plays out.

  29. Aurion*

    Also, OP:

    Aside from reporting the “men are talking” (wtf, I can’t even, I am seeing red just typing this) remark, ask your boss point-blank what disciplinary measures you are allowed to do. If the answer is “nothing”, and your boss continues to be this insipid, get a new job.

  30. Karina Jameson*

    I agree with almost everyone else. It is not your tone and the guy is a sexist dirtbag. I’m enraged reading about this and also super mad that the boss is not telling him to knock it off.

  31. seejay*

    In case the OP doesn’t know the term:

    a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting his or her own memory, perception, and sanity. Instances may range from the denial by an abuser that previous abusive incidents ever occurred up to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim.

    Example: Sociopaths consistently transgress social mores, break laws, and exploit others, but typically are also charming and convincing liars who consistently deny wrongdoing. Thus, some who have been victimized by sociopaths may doubt their perceptions.


    Girl, you have been gaslit.

    1. Charlotte Collins*

      Also, since it’s being mentioned so much, if anyone hasn’t seen the movie Gaslight (either the British version, with a very young Angela Lansbury, or the American version – both are great), do so. Not only does the film really show you what is meant by the term (since that’s where it came from), but it is a classic.

      1. seejay*

        Wasn’t the movie “Gone Girl” also a good example of gaslighting?

        (I’ll avoid saying more since it’d spoil the plot which is one heck of a mindf*** and it’s a pretty awesome movie, and I say that as someone who is not a Ben Affleck fan)

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Haven’t seen that. Also, I was wrong. Angela Lansbury was in the American version. (Ingrid Bergman played the female lead.) To bring this around to a work-related post, she plays a very, very bad employee.

          And if you want an Angela Lansbury double feature of creepiness for Halloween, she’s also in The Picture of Dorian Gray.

        2. LBK*

          I think Gone Girl just uses straight up lying and deception rather than gaslighting. Gaslighting is more about insisting on an alternate version of facts in order to pressure the person into questioning their own perception of reality; in Gone Girl, it’s more just that the facts presented turn out to be falsified.

          1. seejay*

            I think there was a form of gaslighting in the sense that there were several alternate versions of reality being portrayed throughout the entire movie though: the wife had the public image that she portrayed to the public, then there was the image she portrayed to her husband, the image she portrayed to her parents, the real image she had, and even her husband had two images, then at the end, when they got back together, they had a whole new image they put out to the public, while living a separate image inside the house.

            While it was straight up lying and deception, the whole movie was based on alternate versions of people and how they portrayed themselves to others around them. True, almost all of it was falsified, but there were so many alternates, where was the truth and who could actually believe which one was real?

            That was my interpretation of it anyway, but I also saw it awhile ago so I may be forgetting chunks.

            1. LBK*


              My understanding is that gaslighting is when you have empirical evidence of an event and then someone tries to convince you that your perception isn’t what really happened. The only person who has hard evidence that Nick didn’t kill Amy is Nick himself, and I don’t think Amy ever tries to convince him otherwise, she just tries to frame him and convince the police/general public that he did (and they never have a reason to believe otherwise, so it’s just plain lying, not her trying to convince anyone that what they saw isn’t really what they saw).

              There are several unreliable narrators, for sure (especially in the book), but I don’t think that’s quite the same as gaslighting. Girl on the Train comes closer, I think.

          2. LD*

            Haven’t read Gone Girl, and I don’t want to be a spoiler, but The Girl on the Train might be a good example.

        3. Whats In A Name*

          I actually think the book “Girl on A Train” is a better example of gaslighting than Gone Girl.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Yes! “Gone Girl” is more centered around deception and unreliable narrators. “Girl on a Train” also has an unreliable narrator, but she’s unreliable in part because she’s being HARDCORE gaslit! (I hope that doesn’t get caught in a censor :( ).

  32. Morning Glory*

    I agree with most of these comments. His saying blatantly sexist things under the guide of ‘joking’ is no different from someone making a racist ‘joke.’ The pretense of humor does not negate how offensive it is.

    The next time he says something like “the men are talking,” don’t just say it’s not funny. Tell him to apologize, and acknowledge he was out of line. Make him say the words out loud. Do not let him sulk an hour without apologizing. If he tries to complain about your tone demanding an apology to your boss, he will have to explain what he said to make you react that way.

  33. anon attorney*

    It’s appalling that you are being expected to sugar coat perfectly reasonable work requests to soothe someone’s hurt feelings about being assigned work by a woman. Frankly the fact that he still has a job after calling you a c*** is shocking, this situation didn’t require mediation, it required discipline. I’m really sorry your manager didn’t have the courage to manage.

    1. Julia*

      It is shocking, but sadly not uncommon. Almost the exact same thing happened to me, only that the guy just yelled and didn’t call me a C***.

  34. Moonsaults*

    Awww poor wittle boy doesn’t like it when the boss is a woman, it probably is grinding his gears even harder that you’re a woman of his age. This tire fire of a man is never going to change, do not change yourself for him and do not second guess yourself because of his “your tone” bullpucky.

  35. Student*

    If your tone is conveying that his behavior is crazy and you are angry about it, then I’d say your messaging and tone is spot on. Own that instead of letting him convince you it’s not legitimate, or that you aren’t allowed ot express that (while he, conveniently, is apparently allowed to express it however he likes). “Yes, glad you picked up that I am angry about your refusal to do your job and your insubordination toward me. It’s a fact – I’m angry about the insults and deeply disappointed in your shoddy work. Time to shape up!”

  36. Rachel Wilkerson Miller*

    Oh my god, I cannot believe he wasn’t taken to task for how unprofessionally he behaved toward you! Even if someone is being HORRIBLE to you, it’s STILL not appropriate to behave the way he did. “Your mom” is not an acceptable response to a coworker, especially one who is supervising you, ever!! In no way is your “tone” (and, like everyone else, I’m skeptical of that being a problem) an excuse for that behavior. Holy hell.

    Gahhhh I’m so mad reading this!!!

    1. Moonsaults*

      From the letter, it says “she” in regards to the boss, so if we go on that, yes the boss is also a woman.

      I think is more because Dude Bro is related to someone within the company or that the boss probably doesn’t discipline anyone for this garbage behavior. I have had bosses like that, it has nothing to do with the fact that they’re intimidated, it’s because they would rather just hide their head in the sand than deal with the grittiness of firing someone who for being vile. Unless she’s scared that he’s one firing away from hurting someone, with his nasty vile over the top jokes that the OP talked about before, I’d fear that more than anything else TBH. He sounds one step away from snapping with all that resentment that’s being carried around.

      1. seejay*

        My current manager (male) literally keeps trying to pass off a toxic coworker (female) to another lower manager (female) because he literally doesn’t know how to handle it. Lower manager is pushing back and telling him he needs to handle it because it’s his job. We’re pretty sure he’s intimidated by the gender dynamics at play and wants the female lower manager to deal with the toxic female coworker, since he has no problems dealing with a toxic male coworker. It’s weird.

        1. Moonsaults*

          I have ran into those men before, they are actually petrified due to their fear of being nailed for a gender bias. We had to fire a woman before and my boss was stuttering along, even though it was a clear case of “you are really bad at the job, we gave you a chance and you just cannot do it at all.”

          We also had this happen when an openly gay individual was openly horrible at his job. Those “this can be slanted as a discrimination case” moments can really get an inexperienced manager hot under the collar.

          1. TootsNYC*

            Or they’re petrified or thrown off balance by the gender roles they’ve absorbed from our culture.

  37. Karina Jameson*

    And I bet a million schrute-bucks that this Clerk would never expect a man to speak to you the way that he is expecting you to, in some sing-songy way as to not offend his manly ego. The more I think about this, the more furious I’m getting.

  38. BritCred*

    Your Boss sucks. And this guy resents doing the job he’s employed for. Or at least resents having a female in charge. This is only going to end up with one of you leaving I think.

    I once had someone from another department (that would be the department I was bailing out doing unpaid overtime for by the way… Sorting something that had been going on a year and was holding up thousands in customer payments!) tell me that “there was a Bird on the phone stopping him doing his work”. I can’t remember my response but I attempted to sort out the fact he needed to do something his end and I made sure the MD knew this “Bird” wasn’t overly happy to be called such when she’s sorting out a mess the guy hadn’t sorted in a year…

  39. Gaara*

    Even if OP’s tone was off, that doesn’t excuse this guy’s behavior. The fact that the manager sat through this whole thing and didn’t fire the guy on the spot makes me think that OP has a really crappy manager — and should be quietly looking for better opportunities elsewhere.

    1. Seianus*

      I was thinking the same. Everywhere I used to work this guy would have been fired on the spot, or at least got a serious improving period. What was this crap about reaching an agreement, toning it down and stuff, that’s beyond me.

  40. AdAgencyChick*


    The boss has been remiss from the beginning. At this point, given the “men are working here” comment, this dipshit should probably be fired, but earlier on, I think the boss should have asserted herself as the boss, rather than telling OP to solve the problem herself. I wonder if a lot of this mess would have been avoided if OP’s boss had clearly stated to coworker that OP has the authority to assign him tasks, and that he needs to be polite and professional in accepting these tasks. She (boss) also could have laid down the law in terms of “I know it’s been the Wild West around here with swearing and jokes. Moving forward, I need you to behave politely and professionally, and at a minimum, drop the SEXIST jokes.”

    My guess is that this sexist turd would continue being a sexist turd, but might at least have been smarter about what he allowed to come out of his mouth if it had been made clear to him by someone above him in the reporting structure that this behavior was not acceptable (and might cost him his job). Instead, the boss abdicated, which made it seem to him like both he and OP were on equal footing with legitimate viewpoints.

    OP, I’m sorry your boss tried to make you manage for her.

    1. Karina Jameson*

      To piggyback on what you said about equal footing…I have also worked for people like this. Some people have this mindset when there is conflict “Well you BOTH are at fault” and “it takes 2 to tango” and so forth. I don’t know what it is about these people but they have a hard time admitting that no, sometimes there is ONE PERSON IN THE WRONG.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Because they don’t like conflict and they don’t like the idea that other people can be bad or act badly, rather than simply being mistaken. By writing everything off as ‘you’re both at fault’ or ‘it takes two’ they can spare themselves the effort of having to actually think, AND pat themselves on the back for being all fair and non-judgy.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah. It’s a very comfortable position for people who don’t want to take any kind of moral stand. “Well, clearly we can all agree that everybody was partly at fault! Let’s all just shake hands and put it behind us.” But sometimes it ain’t the situation that everybody is partly at fault. Sometimes one person is being an asshole and someone else is minding their own business. Sometimes there is a fault split but it’s like 95% / 5% — like, sure, maybe someone is more cold or brusque or rude than they should be, but that doesn’t justify peeing in their water bottle or whatever.

        Patrick Stewart has a wonderfully eloquent and heartbreaking takedown of the “it takes two to fight” argument that I will leave others to Google (it’s on the topic of domestic violence), and having listened to it, I tend to find the argument to be often an excuse for moral cowardice. Sometimes, of course, it’s accurate, and both sides have a lot to answer for. But often it’s an excuse to not make an uncomfortable decision.

      3. Seianus*

        That’s my second most hated kind of people, after the ones who insist that “everyone deserved a second chance” without noticing it’s actually about 14th chance already. People like this disturb the workplace, projects, etc. the most, because they do nothing to solve the problem or even actively prevent solving it, with their everyone’s equally guilty, why don’t you just get along, why not give the guy one more chance, now kiss each other and be friends, I can’t even put into words how I hate such people. They shouldn’t be allowed within 10 miles from any management position, and their opinions on solving conflicts should be ignored period.

        1. Julia*

          I’d actually put These People before your “second chancers”. At least to give someone a second chance, you have to admit they’re wrong.

  41. Phoebe*

    I’m wondering, if this guys sexist behavior continues should OP loop in HR at some point? Could this be considered a hostile work environment? Or is one abusive co-worker not enough to warrant that label. Because I really don’t believe the whole “You-know-I’m-joking-with-you-right?” thing as an excuse anymore.

    1. E*

      The whole situation should have HR involved by now. If the manager won’t manage and the clerk won’t do what is asked by the OP who is authorized to delegate to him, HR needs to have a few meetings and perhaps a PIP for the clerk.

    2. Observer*

      That was my first thought. No doubt about it, because it is CLEARLY gender based, and it’s an ongoing issue that is being done publicly – and the boss absolutely KNOWS about it.

    3. Turtle Candle*

      I think (I might be wrong) that Alison said in the last post that it probably didn’t rise to the level of EEOC complaint, but if it were me–and especially given the intensity and specificity of the gender-based comments (not just the gendered slurs, but the “get in the kitchen” and the “the men are talking” thing), I’d 100% be talking to an employment lawyer. Especially as the boss now clearly knows about it. It’s hard for me to see how that’s not disparate impact.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Just to clarify, I’d said I didn’t think the EEOC would take it on; they don’t take on lots of legit complaints just for lack of resources, and I didn’t think a coworker making obnoxious comments would likely get their attention. (But I am not an expert on this and no one should take my word as gospel on it.)

        But at this point, it’s sounding even worse, and he’s making it explicitly gender-based.

        That said, if the OP’s company has a process laid out for reporting such things (probably involving HR), she’d need to follow that first (Having a clear complaint process that the employee didn’t follow is a legitimate defense to EEOC complaints.)

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Ah, that makes sense. And yes, that’s why I’d suggest an employment lawyer; they are likely to know how to lay the groundwork if an EEOC complaint or similar ends up being necessary, including things like following any internal procedures first. She’d need to follow internal procedures before filing a complaint, but she doesn’t need to do that before a legal consultation, and it’s often helpful to get an early consultation just to find out what your options are.

        2. Kyrielle*

          HR may be the right resource even if they don’t have a process – the EEOC may or may not be *justified*, but it may not be necessary even if it’s possible. I am pretty sure that HR at my present job would … produce … enough bricks to build us a whole new building on campus if something like this was brought to them. And yes, deal with it, after they finished the horrified sputtering.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      One person acting alone can create a hostile work environment. We don’t have as much information as we’d need to figure out if this is egregious enough (for a federal HWE claim, it either has to be bad and consistent or way beyond the pale at least once—the standards can be different for state anti-discrimination laws).

      But on that note—OP, please start keeping a journal in which you track literally every time this knuckle-dragging pre-homo-sapien-ancestor complains to you about your tone, refuses to do work you’ve assigned (or sabotages it), calls you a name (any name, but certainly the b**** and c*** words), or otherwise makes a dumbass misogynistic remark like “men are talking.” Do this consistently, and write the day/time and a few bullet-pointed notes about what happened. It’ll be helpful in your conversations with HR (and scary to them), and helpful if you have to sue, later.

  42. CanadianKat*

    If you actually have authority to delegate work to Clerk, why should anything you give him be optional? When my boss says, “Can you do this if you have time”, it really means, “Do this, unless you really don’t have time, in which case you have to tell me.”

    I don’t know what your tone is, but it looks like you are afraid to use your authority here. Confirm with your boss that you actually do have authority to delegate tasks to Clerk. When you do give him tasks, do not put it in an optional-type language, unless it really is optional. (As in, “Please complete reports 1 and 2 by Wednesday. If possible, I’d like to have them tomorrow.”)

    Your manager is doing a shitty job. She should clarify to him that when you tell him to do something, he has to do it, – unless what you’re asking is unreasonable (e.g. impossible deadlines), and if it is, he has to discuss it with you to find an acceptable solution. She has to tell him that he can’t just ignore work you give him because he doesn’t like your tone, – and that’s whether or not he is right about the tone.

  43. Anonymous in the South*

    Your TONE was the problem? I call 100% BS. Why should you have to tap dance around this guy and make changes when he so obviously is not?

    When he had the nerve to say “be quiet OP, men are talking”- oh naw. He sure as hell would not have liked *my* tone if he ever said that to me.

    You are NOT the problem. He IS the problem. He decided he didn’t want to do any work or tasks you assigned him because of your tone (again, BS), so he just acted like f’ing jerk?

    THIS IS NOT NORMAL!! Get out before it gets any worse. This guy is so over the top dramatic and full of BS. He is never going to change. You should really try to find a job where you/your work are valued and respected by both your manager and your coworkers and have a manager that will actually manage vs playing a mediator. This is not a mediate situation. It is the situation where the manager should say do your job, respect your coworkers, stop cussing and telling your mama jokes because this is the real world and not middle school, treat coworkers in a civil manner or you can get out.

    I am so pissed off for OP.

  44. Master Bean Counter*

    What a mess of a situation. This is kind of like old high school friends. Yes you had fun and partied back in the day. But then the day comes that you see your future and start growing up. Which is great, but your friend is still stuck in the high school zone. What do you do about your friend now? Mostly you just put distance between you and them. But in this case, that can’t be done. So now what?
    If it were me I’d sit down with the guy one more time. Explain that while you enjoyed joking around with it, it became obvious to you, that’s not who you want to be at work any more. That you decided it was time to start looking and sounding more professional overall. It’s not about him, it’s about you and your future. You’d really like to have a good working relationship going forward. But to ensure that he’s going to have to actually tell you when he has a problem. Assuming you’ll pick up on the clues is not going to work.
    The other issue I see here, your boss has told you to solve this problem, but isn’t actually supporting you in your efforts. And you need to point that out to her. There’s nothing worse in the working world than expecting to be a leader with out official authority when the boss isn’t going to back the position. So either your boss needs to step it up and tell Goofus to knock it off and try using a bit of decency or take over direct management of him.
    But really, OP, what you need is distance. This place may be scorched earth in regards to this situation. It might be time for a fresh start.

    1. Nea*

      “It’s not about him, it’s about you and your future.”

      I wouldn’t phrase it that way. I’ve worked with people so toxic that if they were ever given the slightest hint of leverage against me – “I need this or I can’t that” or “If I don’t x by deadline y” they’d go out of their way to make sure that I didn’t get what I needed or failed the deadline. Ever since that experience, I’ve been “the *job* needs this task on that deadline or [this consequence to the department].”

  45. LiveAndLetDie*

    This update is infuriating. This guy has a problem with your gender, OP, and this tone policing argument is a BS deflection tactic to get the heat onto you and off of him.

  46. ZSD*

    Well, I read this update ten minutes ago, and I’m still sitting at my desk thinking about how I’d give this guy a piece of my mind if I heard him say, “Quiet, OP. Men are talking.” My body language–and tone–right now? NOT gentle.

  47. Anancy*

    Just because I don’t think you can hear this enough OP: it isn’t your tone. He’s a jerk, your manager is failing you by not having your back and supporting you, and it makes me wonder about the whole company. It is not your job to manage this guy, that’s manager’s job. I can’t believe she didn’t do that. And you shouldn’t have to be the one to stop name calling and sexist jokes. It should be company vs sexist jokes and names instead of you vs this guy. And I second basically what everyone else said. Good luck.

  48. Trout 'Waver*

    Y’know, the whole place might be toxic. If Clerk said, “Be quiet, men are talking”, there must have been someone else present too, right? If a guy said that in front of me (also a guy), I would slap that shit down so fast it’d make his head spin.

    OP, you don’t have a tone problem. In this case, a tone of pure and utter disdain would be perfectly appropriate.

    1. Aurion*

      Oh, this is a very good point. If the other guy didn’t look horrified and shut the clerk down, this entire workplace might be beyond help.

      1. Chinook*

        In defense of the guy who witnessed the “men are talking” line, it is possible he was shocked into silence and didn’t know how to respond. I have seen it happen before, especially if they are shy and/or have a less dominant personality.

        Ex: for ceremonial purposes, I was representing my women’s group alongside the men’s group and a couple of the older, sexist ceremonial guards kept insisting I hold the arm of my peer in the male group I brushed it off the first time and joked the second time that I was capable of walking by myself. My poor male peer never said a word to tell the old guys to shut up and I wish he had. But, when we came to line up, he made a point of walking next to me as an equal and not my escort, even though the guys around him were looking pissy about it.

    2. Observer*

      This is one of the reasons I think it’s one of the few cases that comes up here that is truly an easy “hostile workplace” in the legal sense. He’s saying this stuff, people know about it, and NOTHING IS HAPPENING!

    3. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah, I noticed that too! I am confident that most of my male coworkers would reply with “The FUCK did you just say to her?”

  49. Grey*

    If your “harsh” tone is what led to his abuse, switching to a passive tone isn’t going to make things any better. He’s trying to “put you in your place” and you’re complying.

    1. Grey*

      I came back to clarify: You’re not actually complying but that’s probably his goal and how he’ll see it.

  50. STX*

    Here is a phrase to practice to deal with incompetent, resentful, and manipulative people like your coworker.

    “I’m not asking you, I’m telling you.”

    “I don’t want to work over lunch on Friday!” “I’m not asking you to work over lunch on Friday. I’m telling you that you are going to work over lunch on Friday.”

    Let him chew on THAT tone.

    1. STX*

      (I should say, only use this powerful phrase on people that you have the authority to boss around, but it sounds like technically you DO have the authority to boss Clerk around)

  51. What's In A Name*

    I have been waiting for an update for a moment I was excited…right before I became outright exasperated!

    Essentially what your telling us is this: The guy has been giving you the silent treatment, refusing to do assignments you’re giving him, using profanity and inappropriate comments about you and your mother and yet you walked away from this meeting thinking you were the problem?? And your supervisor is seemingly in agreement??

    WT freking H?

  52. Lora*

    What the fucking fuck? NO. WRONG.

    Your boss is either stupid or spineless. This did not require a mediator, it required a smackdown and a Come To Jesus talk. Joining the chorus of “get a new boss, this one is terrible”.

    What your boss should have said:
    “Clerk, OP is your supervisor and absolutely entitled to assign you tasks. The tasks she has assigned you are most certainly within the scope of your job description. Additionally, you must maintain a professional demeanor and use polite, professional language from here on out – there is to be no more name calling or attitude, whether it is joking or not, you are not to do it any more, ever. Insubordination is unacceptable and is considered grounds for termination, and OP has the authority to discipline you as needed, including putting you on a PIP, and also including termination if you cannot complete the terms of the PIP. Do you understand?”

    If he said anything other than “yes, I understand,” then the next thing your boss should have said is:
    “I see. OP and I will prepare a performance improvement plan with HR and we will meet (whenever) to discuss the terms. You may return to your desk now.”

    It takes less than two minutes to say out loud. How gutless do you have to be that you can’t even pretend to be Angie Dickinson/Joan Crawford/Margaret Thatcher/Angela Merkel for two minutes???

      1. SarahKay*

        (Also, the whole pretend to be Angie Dickinson/Joan Crawford/Margaret Thatcher/Angela Merkel is a really useful tip for me.)

  53. voyager1*

    I actually see two issues here and to me the second is more of a problem.

    1. Your clerk can’t work with women because he is a pig. I hearby rename him PigClerk.

    2. Your manager will throw you under the bus in a second.

    I am going to deal with the second issue. Your manager is useless. Here is the thing, the only way she is going to get involved is when PigClerk’s attitude impacts her. How you make that happen is up to you, but you need PigClerk out of there for your own sanity.


    Oh, When he did the Men talking comment you should have interrupted him with a “well actually.”

    1. 2 Cents*

      Totally agree with #2. The only way I can think of to make it Boss’s problem (but would reflect poorly on OP) is to kick up literally every objection to her. So OP gives PigClerk a task, he says no, OP brings in Boss to mediate. But then Boss could get the (incorrect) opinion that OP can’t handle supervising.

      The only other way may be to get HR involved *fingers crossed for a decent department there* and once OP outlines the gender discrimination and general insubordination, Boss may be held accountable by HR to improve the situation.

      1. Emac*

        “But then Boss could get the (incorrect) opinion that OP can’t handle supervising.”

        But she’s not actually PigClerk’s supervisor. She is supposed to give him work, but she’s not his official supervisor. I don’t think anyone could handle supervising an insubordinate employee without the power to give consequences.

        1. Julia*

          I agree, but I also think there are many people – and OP’s Boss seems to be one of them – who won’t understand that.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        The other way to make PigClerk the Boss’s problem, of course, is to quit. That’s my suggestion–because even if PigClerk gets to be a big enough problem that something is done about him, when you next get WeaselClerk (squirms out of everything you want them to do) or BullClerk (does everything in a stubborn and un-nuanced way) or RabbitClerk (eats all the carrots), you’ll be back to square one, with a boss who won’t do anything until you contort yourself.

    2. Jennifer*

      If PigClerk isn’t getting fired for this, then he’s not going to get fired for anything. He could probably PEE on the OP in public and get away with it, I’m guessing. If he can get away with anything he wants and higher-ups won’t stop him, then he’s going to be even worse.
      Time to leave the job, unfortunately, because your manager sucks.

  54. I'm Not Phyllis*

    I’m going to join Alison in telling you that your boss is not doing her job, and an entire chorus of commenters in telling you that it’s not your tone. This guy is way out of line both with his insulting comments/attitude and his refusal to do work that is directly assigned to him. He’s using “it’s your tone” to simply deflect from the real issue, which is him. It seems like he has no issue being insulting so I’m sure he wasn’t worried about hurting your feelings by telling you that your tone offended him – which leads me to believe that if this were actually the case, you would have heard about it long ago. Your manager needs to point blank tell him that he needs to do his job or he will no longer have one. Putting work back on your desk that you had just assigned to him because he didn’t think that you had asked him nicely? No. Just, no. And for what it’s worth, you don’t have to tiptoe around him. If you boss has given you authority to assign him tasks, then you can do that without asking him if it’s ok with him. There was nothing in your original phrasing that sounded rude or offensive to me.

  55. meggers*

    I swear to God, when I read the “Men are talking!” bit, my arm almost involuntarily punched the person nearest to me. (Think Dr. Strangelove) OP, this is all kinds of wrong.

    If you shove him down a flight of stairs, I’ll swear in a court if law he fell. Ugh.

  56. Jeanne*

    Go to your boss or directly to HR. Any comment of “Be quiet, men are talking” has crossed directly into sexual harrassment. Tell them you expect they will shut it down immediately. This guy has crossed every line. I don’t care how often he says it’s a joke. You took it seriously.

  57. 2 Cents*

    Forgive me for forgetting, but you’re allowed to assign him work? Then stop apologizing. (And he can shove his “tone” crap up you know where.)

    “What does your schedule look like today?”
    *he answers with whatever whatever, and that’s less important than what you need him to do instead*
    “I have this BLAH that you’ll need to fit in, so you can table the [whatever].”
    *he answers but the [whatever] is more important*
    “I need you to switch tasks to focus on BLAH. If that’s a problem, we can discuss with BOSS.”

  58. ArtK*

    Men are talking? Men are talking ?!!?!?! MEN ARE TALKING???!?!?!?! What a (unprintable)!

    To quote Adam Savage, “well there’s your problem.” The guy’s a misogynist, pure and simple. Doesn’t want to take *any* direction from a woman and is resenting the fact that you can give him instructions. This is not about “tone” — his behavior wouldn’t be acceptable if you *told* him what to do rather than asking.

    IANAL and all that, but I’d be keeping a log of that remark and all of the other nasty ones. I suspect that he’s heading into harassment territory and your boss should be stomping on that one, hard. The fact that your boss didn’t slap him down for the “men are talking” remark says a lot about your boss — none of it very good.

  59. Kore*

    “Be quiet, men are talking” I would go BALLISTIC if anyone said this to me at work. This is UNACCEPTABLE, even if he “meant it as a joke.”

    1. Turtle Candle*

      And he clearly didn’t mean it as a joke. I mean, if so, when she’d said ‘not funny,’ he would have said ‘oh, sorry,’ and then gone about his day, not given her a childish SILENT TREATMENT. (I mean, and it’s not funny to start with, but seriously.) It wasn’t a joke.

      It was, I think, a very deliberate and calculated set of boundary testing: having had a sitdown with my boss and my coworker, exactly how misogynist can I get away with being? I guess I can’t say ‘bitch’ anymore, but can I still put her in her place? Let’s find out….

      1. Late to the Game*

        This. He is gleefully pushing buttons to see what landmines erupt.

        Pardon the mixed metaphor.

    2. designbot*

      yeah, this probably would have just gotten a big “EXCUSE me?” from me, coupled with The Look. But what I would want myself to say is “You do not get to criticize my tone ever again after the sexist nonsense I just heard come out of your mouth.”

  60. Nicole J.*

    Just chiming in briefly to say, I don’t think it’s your tone. I think the things this guy said came across as passive-aggressive are you trying to be accommodating – because he’s already made you feel that you can’t ask him to do things in a usual, matter-of-fact way, and made you nervous about asking him to do things.

    It’s not you, it’s him.

  61. Anon 12*

    I’m guessing that Boss lady has backed herself into a corner by listening to co-worker complain about OP at the same time OP was taking her concerns to her, and that’s what resulted in the “I’ll just mediate this” response. She hasn’t realized she needs to pull up her big girl pants and do her job to manage what is far beyond co-workers who don’t get along. Respond with “that is a blatant sexist remark that has no place in the workplace so don’t say that again”, then document the exchange and tell your boss you feel you are now in a position of having to document the abuse that remains unchecked.

    1. Prismatic Professional*

      An alternative I love to “big girl pants” is “Dragon drawers.” Though, I honestly use “Dragon up” more…it sounds so much cooler. You get armor and can breathe fire!

  62. CMT*

    Holy crap. This is infuriating. You do not need to soften your “tone” just because the poor little man doesn’t want to be told what to do by a woman. This is 100% his problem, not yours. You are not at fault. You do not need to do anything to try to fix this.

  63. Prismatic Professional*

    Adding a +1 to all the rage on here. OP:

    1. You are not the problem.
    2. Your boss sucks.
    3. Clerk @)*#$&%)@(P% sucks.
    4. You are a capable person put in an impossible situation. IT IS NOT YOU.

    I need to go for a walk to cool down. SO MUCH RAGE at this situation.

    Jedihugs if you want them (or I can totally hold a punching bag for you)!

  64. LadyPhoenix*

    Pardon my French but I want to tell both your clear and manager: Cassez-Vous! I have a long list of curses I could share those fugnuggets, but I’m afraid of making AAM blush. Clerk needs a footlong cactus shoved up his behind for bei g a condescending, sexist, disgusting piece of merd. And your manager? Manager needs to be slapped with a rotten salmon for her incompetence.

    “Tone” is just a man’s way of saying that he doesn’t want a woman telling him to do stuff, even if it is to actually work. He wants you to shut up and be his pretty little yes-girl, and he’s going to mentally screw you up to do so.

    Fuck the both of them. If you got any emails of this shitebucket being a sexist, insubordinate, lazy, or threatening shittake mushroom, then send it straight to HR and the head boss. Tell them this rooster needs to fly the coop but good.

    Like I said before, be the bitch. Get the hr and boss to tear him a new one and hopefully kick his ass out the door. A thousand fiery legos for him.

  65. E*

    Would using email to document the requests be at all helpful? Tone is pretty well removed from an email that simply states that clerk is assigned x, y, and z tasks and that he should report back to you when these are completed by a deadline. Even looping in the so far unhelpful manager would at least leave a paper trail that OP is doing everything she can to be cordial but firm and that her delegation of duties is within the clerk’s job description.

    Probably too far gone for this to help, but flippant and outrageous responses from the clerk that he is stupid enough to put in writing would be clear evidence of his inability to change his attitude, which is the only problem in this situation.

    1. Emac*

      I think a guy like this could still hear a tone even in email. It sounds like the tone, either spoken or written, is never going to be right for him when it comes from a woman.

  66. HB*

    OP, I know everyone is saying this but please please do not let this guy get to you. It is NOT your tone. And even if it was, it sounds like your position is over his and he needs to learn to do his job whether he likes the “tone” or not. This guy is sexist and terrible. It’s awful that your boss doesn’t have your back. I personally would start documenting absolutely everything he says to you. I would continue trying to shut him down in reasonable ways (“not funny” or “not appropriate” statements) so he knows his behavior is inappropriate and unwelcome at every turn. And, honestly, if your boss and HR don’t do anything about these very sexist and inappropriate remarks, I would look into getting a lawyer to help you here. I’m not saying it will all come out great for you but this is textbook sexism and harassment and nobody should have to put up with it. Your workplace is responsible for keeping everyone professional and making sure everyone feels respected and safe. Don’t downplay it and don’t let it go because you are in the right and this asshole deserves to be out on the streets, not refusing to do his job because he doesn’t like taking orders from a woman.

  67. Fluke Skywalker*

    Noooooooooooope. Nope, nope, NOPE.

    I was tone policed hardcore at my last job. By fellow women. It’s a losing battle, OP. If you try to be assertive, you’re bossy and abrasive. If you soften it up, you’re too nice and get overlooked for promotion because “you’re not showing enough leadership”. Maybe the rest of your workplace is okay, but for someone to say “men are talking”, well…. that implies that other men are watching this happen and they didn’t say anything. That’s shitty. That contributes to a hostil environment.

    IDK about you, but I jumped ship from my last job, found a place where there is a good mix of men and women in leadership, and am much happier. I’m treated like a person and not like a gender.

  68. Ruffingit*

    OP start job hunting. Get out of this House of Psychos immediately. This bullshit isn’t going to get any better and your boss is sanctioning it.

    1. Observer*

      Unfortunately, I think you may be right. Certainly, start looking for an internal transfer.

      1. Lady Phoenix*

        Internal transfer sounds like a great idea! As far as I can tell from the letters, the problem is coming from one particular managaer not being a manager. I bet the other areas are far better because they don’t have Mr. POS as their front.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      Yep. You went into mediation with a problem that boiled down to “he calls me a cunt and doesn’t do his work” and came out of it with a directive that boiled down to “be nicer to him.” There is no solution to this. Run.

  69. Michele*

    OP, the fact that he tossed work you’ve left him back on your desk because he “didn’t feel [I] should have to [your] work for [you]” is a red flag in itself, and the fact that your manager doesn’t pick on that is terrible.

  70. Observer*

    I didn’t read all of the comments yet, but I see that several people have urged you to go to your boss and tell her about the “Men are talking” comment. That’s beyond out of line. And, if it happens again without visible and significant push back from her, you need to loop in HR. Tell them that he is being EXPLICITLY sexist, your boss knows about it, and it’s not being stopped. This is absolutely in hostile workplace territory, in the legal sense.

    And, as the others have said, IT IS NOT YOUR TONE. Whether you need to moderate or not is NOT RELEVANT here. He doesn’t get to call you names, etc. just because you don’t ask “nicely”. On top of which, that’s not enough for him. You ARE asking “nicely” – too nicely, in fact. Yet he STILL slapped you down, and then sulked when you balked.

  71. Bibliovore*

    I went back to the original posting.
    “I am largely responsible for supervising him and delegating what he does everyday”
    That is the bottom line. You ARE telling him what to do.
    Your manager is not managing- Work it out amongst yourselves means that you sit him down with her present.
    You state- I assign you work. You do that work by the stated deadline. If you are unable to do that work by the deadline because of other priorities, then inform me and I will decide the order work will be completed.
    Put it in writing to him. Ask for confirmation.

    Confirm with your non-managing manger that you have supervisory duties and that “bro” reports to you.
    Stop being “nice”
    Write down and document every instance of uncooperative and unprofessional behavior.
    Send an email to him stating the incident, time and date with neutral language.
    “I observed..”
    “I heard you say…”
    “I assigned…you did not complete”
    begin a formal PIP.

  72. CAinUK*

    Straight to HR. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200.

    You boss sucks on two levels: 1.) telling you to delegate to this asshat, then doing nothing when he is insuboordinate and sexist, and 2.) making it YOUR fault, and possibly costing you YOUR job for this situation.

    It doesn’t sounds like there is a way to salvage this situation given your boss is ineffectual. It also sounds like there isn’t much relationship to salvage with your boss, either. So I’d go straight to HR, then file an EEOC complaint, and document everything. If you’re going to get pushed out, at least go out with a fight.

    And if anyone else can go with you to HR to corroborate the “men are talking” comment, bring them with you. And if you have prior emails with similarly sexist ocmmnets (and emails demonstrating your boss has taken no action), bring those and save them. IANAL but I feel this could get legal, fast.


    1. Kyrielle*

      It could, but I’m not sure it has to. I do think it needs to go to HR or to the boss’s boss, but if the person it goes to is competent, it’ll get dealt with swiftly at that point.

  73. Brownie Queen*

    I’ve had sit-downs with my boss and him about it and he just gave manufactured answers, which satisfied my boss, but not me. I’ve asked her how much I can push back against this behavior without it overstepping my boundaries, since I am not “officially” his supervisor, and she said I can do whatever I feel is necessary to get him to cooperate, but nothing is working.

    I copied the above from the OP’s original letter. You boss sucks, your co-worker sucks even more and it saddens me to see your trying to get him to cooperate and do his job resulted in a personal attack on you. I do hope the OP reads the comments here and realizes it is not her, and certainly not her “tone” she used when she asked her co-worker to do his job.

  74. wait a minute*

    OP… you need to keep acting like you have been. Do not let this man dictate to you to be the pretty little butterfly that asks him to do things sweetly.

    You tell him what to do from now on. Don’t ask. If those are his responsibilities he needs to do them… otherwise he shouldn’t be employed there.

    Chin up. Be who you are and never question your behavior or try and change it again because someone else is a lazy and entitled whiner. Ignore his commentary. Wear headphones if you must and get on with your job. Eventually he’ll get bored or dig himself into a hole.

  75. Reb*

    Adding my voice to the flood:

    I’m a female manager in a country where it’s very hard to fire people. And I’m conflict avoidant. And I really value the men in my team. But if one of them told one of the women to “be quiet, men are talking”, I’d send him home immediately while we investigated, and I’d be begging HR to tell me that was serious misconduct so we could fire him immediately. No way would I put up with that kind of shit in my team.

    OP, this guy makes me want to spit. It’s not about your tone! If you do moderate your tone to deal with this creep, please remember that it’s specific to this situation ONLY. When you’re a manager in a functional company, you don’t want to layer instructions in 10 layers of cotton wool. In functional companies, that’d hold your career back.

    1. Reb*

      Just to make it clear, I’m not saying OP should’ve done more to shut down the guy’s “be quiet, men are talking” comment, I’m saying OP’s boss should. And any decent boss would.

      OP, your “not funny” response was great. Short, to the point, and no attempt to extend the “joke”. Great response.

      Any decent boss would fire this guy.

  76. designbot*

    I wanted to mention that I loved your quick, direct “Not funny!” in response to sexist comments. Keep it up, and don’t shirk from doing exactly the same in front of your boss if it comes up.

  77. Lady Blerd*

    Everyone has already pointed out what was wrong with this exchange. I’ll only add that this is yet another example of the misuse of mediation. How is OP made to apologize to this jerk after him blatantly stating that he has disrespected her at every turn? In a way OP’s boss reminds me of mom who prefers to have conflicts swept under the rug rather then deal with it. OP, that that as a sign that your boss does not have your back and to be very careful around her. And again, mediation was not the answer here.

  78. Girasol*

    Has anyone mentioned his tone? If this was a tone duel, he’d be winning.

    And I have to giggle: the sighs, passive aggressive behavior, and most especially the silent treatment are the sort of behaviors cited by people who think women don’t belong in the workplace. He’s demonstrating his manhood by behaving like a stereotypical girl.

  79. KimberlyR*

    I didn’t read everything so apologies if I repeat something.

    OP, you were happy to have something to work on (your “tone”) after the meeting because that was in your control. If you change the thing in your control, you can have hope that the situation will improve. Unfortunately, this situation is beyond your control. You cannot change JerkFace’s attitude or worldview about women. You cannot change your boss’ spineless or indoctrination into a sexist business world. All you can control in this situation is how you react (by reporting to boss when he’s sexist, not doing his work appropriately/at all, etc.) This will most likely not make the situation improve and it may come down to you leaving. But you don’t have enough control of what’s going on to fix the situation by changing your own behavior. (If you were more wrong or more at fault, you could. But you aren’t. Other people are. So only they can fix the problem.)

    However, another thing you can do is go to boss’ boss or to HR. You still cannot fix the situation, but you can put it in the hands of people who can. If they also choose not to change anything or do anything to fix the problem, that is still not on you.

  80. Jules*

    I ‘love’ how your boss expect you to manage each other… It’s not your job to give assignments. If it is, it should enforceable, not optional. I worked with such boss before, it did not end well.

  81. Julie Noted*

    Oh, I’m so angry.

    Been there, got the t-shirt (and the bonus lingering resentment). Had the incompetent AND ALSO bullying coworker try to pull tone argument on me. In my case, it was a woman. She pulled crap on female colleagues junior to her or at her level, and on male colleagues junior to her. Constant gaslighting attempts.

    Sending email asking for information she held, or asking when was a good time to set up a meeting, was labelled as aggressive and harrassing because I was supposed to intuit that incompetent bully prefers phone calls to writing. (Because no paper trail, er, because phone calls are so much nicer than emails.) Had the weak as piss boss refuse to manage her and brush everything off as a personality clash. Got forced into mediation; hated everything; lost all respect for management at that organisation; left for a better job elsewhere.

    I am so angry. Screw people like this and the bosses that enable them.

  82. cncx*

    just another vote for a) it is not your tone OP; and, b) your manager is a toolbag for putting you in the middle like this, this is something the manager should have taken care of. horrible, horrible management and your coworker sucks. before i thought maybe coworker was just a little immature…no, he just sucks.

  83. Kate*

    OP, not only is your coworker a misogynistic, immature douchebag, but your manager is horrible at actual managing and is completely spineless.

    With those two awful combinations, I just think you should start looking for another job.

  84. Dust Bunny*

    Your tone, my $#!.

    Sorry, but your manager under-managed this one, big-time. He’s using “your tone” as an excuse to weasel out of having to change his behavior, and it definitely hasn’t changed his thought pattern. Mark my words, he still thinks of you as that bossy %@!!. The “men are talking” comment wasn’t a joke–it was is figurative slip showing. He’s still running the show because your manager is a coward and it’s you who’s being required to kiss up if you want to get anything done.

  85. animaniactoo*

    Oh man, OP. I am so sorry that I did not see this yesterday.

    Because I would like to say something very different from what most people here are saying – they’re saying that the problem is not your tone as in “there’s nothing wrong with your tone” and “you shouldn’t have to soften your language, it’s soft enough already”.

    I want you to be able to know and defend that your tone is a response to him. That when you get hit like that again, and pointed out something that you’re doing “wrong”, you can defend it and put the focus right back on him. Like this:

    “You know, I hadn’t realized it, but I’m sure that is coming through in my tone. Because I am completely frustrated. My tone did not start out that way. But you started doing all this BEFORE anything ever had an opportunity to show in my tone, so I don’t agree that you’re doing it in response to my tone. You have been doing this all along and while I thought I was covering it better, my tone is a response to your refusal to do work that supervisor and I have both told you that I am supposed to be delegating to you – because they’re your job. You’re not doing my job for me, you’re simply receiving some of your work from me.”

    Counter counter counter – where did the problem start? It didn’t start with your tone, he’s trying to make it become your reasonable and human reaction to him. He’s deflecting. You need to be able to stop that in its tracks. Because again – note – not doing your job for you. You’re not asking him to do that. You’re asking him to do his. You need to be able to draw that diagram and put the focus back on him. “Yes, I have done this. It may not be correct, but it is also not out of the blue, it is a result of you you you you you you you”.

    And mostly, I’m writing all of this out in the hopes that you will see it because you’re going to end up in a meeting again and I want you to be able to walk into that meeting and say “You know, I thought about it a lot since that last meeting. I was caught off guard then, but when I thought about it I realized that my tone started off perfectly fine,….”

    1. Trillian*

      Agreed. OP, you did start out nice. Being friendly, joking around. All that got you was a steadily escalating level of harassment. Which you can point out next time you get the ‘be nice’ message. Being nice did not work.

      Next meeting you go into, go in with a simple set of messages about how you want his behaviour to change. Prepare a script and do not deviate, no matter what he or your boss say. Broken record technique. This is a situation where role play would be really good preparation. Get one of more of your friends, particularly ones who are good actors and agile thinkers — or who have already had experience with that kind of person — to play him doing his head games, and focus on staying on target and calm. You are not responsible for his behaviour.

      But you should look at getting out, because you need backup and mentoring from someone with savvy and a spine.

  86. Unegen*

    I’m not sure if this tidbit is going to be helpful to you, OP, because others had so many better things to say, but:

    In any relationship (including working relationships), the person who cares the least has the upper hand.
    You care about what this guy thinks way too much.
    A good place to start dealing with this is to detach a little. You sound like a nice person, but that is biting you in the rear in this instance. This guy is not your friend. Pull back.

    Best of luck.

    1. Brogrammer*

      It doesn’t matter what the guy thinks, it matters what he does. He can be as shitty and sexist as he wants in the privacy of his own head, but he needs to do his job and keep his mouth shut. He’s not doing either; he’s refusing to do his job and he’s creating a hostile work environment (in both the legal and moral sense of the words).

  87. crazy8s*

    for the first time in a long time I don’t manage ANYONE. I love it. And this kind of shit is exactly why.

  88. Justin*

    I’m missing the part where her boss said that she would be fired if she couldn’t delegate better. I’ve seen that mentioned and I don’t see it in either the original letter or the follow up.

  89. Anne (with an "e")*

    Excuse me if I have this right? Since when can an employee not do their job b/c they do not like another employee’s “tone?” You do what you were hired to do regardless of anyone’s “tone.” Several people are saying that this jerk sounds like a misogynist, which sounds accurate. In addition, I wonder if he has some sort of Oppostional Defiance Disorder (I know, I know, I am not supposed to diagnose on this blog….I am just wondering?) I mean, how can you refuse to do assigned tasks and NOT be held accountable? The mind boggles. Why should he be coddled in such a manner. “Here’s some work for you to do. Do it.” That’s what needs to be said, who cares about “tone?”

    1. Mishsmom*

      EXACTLY. he’s there to work. you’re there to work. you don’t get to pick and choose what work you do or don’t because you don’t like someone’s tone (or anything really, it’s a freaking JOB, you get PAID to do it, and if he can’t do that he needs to leave). and again, it’s not your tone, this guy is an ass. i originally said he wouldn’t do it to a man, but as you have said OP, he is doing that to someone else too. he’s an ass.

  90. boop*

    Wow. So he’s gaslighting you, now.

    I think I’d rather risk getting fired for being “bossy” and constantly calling him out on his sexist bullshit, and letting him fuck up for doing no work, than to become the perfect little victim he (and your boss) wants you to be. I could see myself asking “what is the issue?” a million times a day just to annoy him.

  91. Cranky Kate*

    He objects to your “tone” when you “tell” him to do his work? OH HAIL NO. You are his supervisor. You are there to supervise. He is there to be supervised. Assuming that you’re being even marginally polite — and I believe you probably are — he needs to check himself yesterday or be prepared to take his little show on the road, all the way to the unemployment line. And, oh yes, your own supervisor needs to explain that to him, using short words and visual aids if necessary.

    There’s a supervisory fail going on here, I’m afraid, but it’s not yours.

    1. Reb*

      Love the idea of his boss using visual aids. I’m picturing the perfect visual aid: her handing him a box, telling him to put all his stuff in it and walking him to the door.

  92. WerkingIt*

    I think this guy is a misogynist. End of story. I didn’t realize LW was a woman on the original post, but if I had, I think I would have reached the same conclusion.

    However, is it possible to communicate tasks with him via email and CC the boss? Then if he puts files back on her desk, she can the reply (again CCing the boss) that she found the files and is there some reason he didn’t file them? Or, “I know that you said XYZ, but I will need to utilize you for lunch coverage that day from x-x. Please let boss and I know if this is a problem.”

    If that doesn’t help, I’ve also remember another post where someone ended up routing all requests through the supervisor.

    Frankly, I’d also suggest going to HR with a great big fat SEXUAL HARASSMENT complaint.

    1. Michele*

      This. Even if he gaslights you on these emails, you have proof that you are giving him tasks to do and they are not being completed. If something escalates, you can add your boss or HR as a BCC recipient on them.

  93. kapers*

    The next time this jerk tries to rope you into agreeing his harassment is a “joke,” say “I don’t see it that way.”

  94. kapers*

    Next time this jerk tries to rope you into agreeing his harassment is a “joke,” say “I don’t see it that way.”

    Not only is he harassing (abusing?) you, he is trying to get off the hook by saying it’s a joke and putting you in the horrendous position of having to agree with him or YOU’RE the one causing problems. Ugh, I hate this situation for you.

  95. No longer new commenter*

    I really hope we get an update from the OP telling us she has taken this to HR or found a new job – preferably both. This manager is not going to help.

  96. OP*

    OP here – thank you all for your comments and support. It’s been sort of hard to read – I know (and knew all along) that this was way off base, but it’s rough to hear people say it out loud, I guess. It’s so crazy to me, because I am NNNNOT the type of person to be messed with by anyone, especially not by a guy. I’ve put up with a lot of nonsense in life and I will go from 0 to government shutdown real quick on this crap… outside of work. I think it kind of blindsided me here, and being all tied up in ~corporate chains~ means I can’t do what I’d really like to do and serve him a piping hot piece of my mind. Curse you professional norms! But I also feel it’s wrong and kind of sick that I should be expected to tolerate another single second of it and that’s not going to be a thing anymore; I’m going to be pushing back hard, you better believe it – and if anyone gives me grief about it, I’m outta here. No job is worth feeling this bad about myself.

    A few people asked why he was able to say these things without anyone else noticing and cutting in – it’s because the two of us are alone in our own office. Our door is typically open, and Boss is across a short hall from us (and usually always has her door open too), but our volume doesn’t typically get high enough to be overheard. It’s pretty rare for anyone to come into our office for anything, or even really within earshot (all the “action” happens on our upstairs floor – we’re down in the admin area that only has a handful of employees, all in their own offices, most with doors closed). Clerk has that “eyyy, whaddup dogg, whats good, just chillin fam” kind of talk with everyone here (except maybe the higher-ups), and there are a few other employees he talks rudely to (all also women, incidentally), but nothing quite like how he does with me.

    Also, yes – Boss really did let the majority of the conversation go on between us in silence, including the almost-yelling (I tried not to get to actual yelling status, but as you can imagine I was getting really wound up by the “tone” bullshit, and was sort of worried she would cut in to calm us down – now I kind of wish she had anyway). Some commenters were stunned that she let him claim it was wrong of me to make tasks sound like they weren’t optional: she chimed in with a “yeah, you can’t just be Hitler and crack the whip all the time” (I said “I don’t!” but it came out in a breathless mumble because I was so blown away by the comment, honestly). It was also meant jokingly, but let me tell you how I feel about jokes in the workplace right now: STOP. So yeah. She also gave him a pass on the tossing work back on my desk because he didn’t think he had to do it thing because I had taken the fax confirmation sheets out of the filing stacks and started holding onto them, since case managers often wanted copies of them or for me to re-send them with other documents later, or otherwise refer to them at random, so it was just easier to keep them. This somehow made the correspondence filing “OP’s Filing”, and my boss said that because I had “declared” it my filing, it was no longer “fair” for me to give it to Clerk and expect him to do it. I responded “filing is filing,” but Clerk went absolutely wild insisting that it wasn’t. Boss said nothing after that point. So… okay.

    Long story short: argghhh.

    1. Aurion*

      Y’know, I thought I couldn’t get more mad about this situation, and then I read this update.

      Your boss took a crack at you by comparing you to Hitler?! For delegating like you’re supposed to, using civil, reasonable language?!?! And you’re not supposed to delegate even if something had previously been “yours” (which collating the fax cover sheets does not count as, but even if it does for the sake of argument)?!?!

      Your boss is utterly useless. Spineless was a given, but I thought maybe you could pressure her into helping you out. Now she sounds as bad as this jerk you’re forced to work with, just in a different way.

      OP, unless there is a higher-up above your boss who is willing to correct your boss’s tepid excuse of management and your colleague’s disgusting misogyny, this is not a tenable workplace. Transfer out of this department, or find a new company to work with. Your boss would rather placate this misogynist rather than get things done, and she is willing to throw you under the bus to do it. Find better people to work under and work with.

      And no one is surprised that the people Clerk are the most disrespectful to are women.

      I’d still report this to HR if you have one. And if you end up leaving and won’t need your boss for a reference ever I strongly suggest laying all this out at an exit interview.

    2. FrequentLurker*

      Rage has made me speechless through all of this, and I’ve kept hoping for a resolution through your boss getting a clue, but this….
      Hitler? HITLER?????
      And the filing is now yours????
      Your boss is not just failing as a manager, her attitude is actually disgustingly supportive of his crap.

      OP, I don’t see any way you can make even a denim purse out of this particular maggot-infested sow’s ear.
      The other two players in this scenario suck, and are not going to change. Please please please do whatever you can to get out and into a job elsewhere as fast as you can. It’s your best shot at improving your situation now.

    3. Printer's Devil*

      Dear sweet hypothetical baby Jesus.

      Run, sister. Run like the wind. This is not a safe place for you, this is not a healthy place for you, and this is not a place where you will be successful. Take it as a learning experience and flee.

    4. TheLazyB*

      For the love of all that is holy. Hell right now I’d give you a pass for no-call-no-show and getting in touch with a lawyer. This stuff is so, so, so not OK.

      I am not even going to tackle the Hitler comment because your boss has clearly proved there that SHE also has no idea of what it’s OK to say in an office. Hell if you’re complaining to HR add that to the list too.

      Please leave.

      If it helps, letting him get away with this is doing him no favours either. If/when he works anywhere else he will be fired so fast his eyes will fall out. (I sincerely hope.)

      Good luck OP. Keep us updated, K? Xx

    5. One of the Sarahs*

      Oh my goodness, OP, your manager compared you to Hitler, after she told you that if you don’t delegate you could be fired? Even without this specific nugget, I was horrified by her just letting all that BS slide, but this is egregious, and holy shit, incredibly offensive.

      Oh OP. You don’t deserve any of this. Please don’t beat yourself about this, or worry that somehow you have “let” this happen – your workplace is dysfunctional, and you need to be talking to HR, getting a new job, and gleefully planning what you’ll say in your exit interview!

    6. Observer*

      Your boss actually made a joke about you being “hitler and crack(ing) the whip”?! Seriously!!?!?!?

      PLEASE talk to HR, ASAP about a transfer. And start hunting your head off for a new job. That would be an incredibly offensive thing to say even to a supervisor who WAS being out of line. In your case? I have no words to express my utter disgust.

    7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      OP, I wasn’t going to comment because I came to the party late. But my blood pressure has gotten so high from me stopping up all the rage I’m feeling that I need some catharsis.

      What the everloving f*** is going on in this third-bit-circus hellscape called your place of employment? First of all, this tool should have been fired the first time he called you a b— or c—, and the fact that he’s still hanging around like a dingleberry is just a poor example of someone going around with a dirty bottom. Second, your gutless coward of a supervisor should have, oh I don’t know, done her freaking job instead of validating his bullshit about your tone, letting you all duke it out like it’s WWE, and then calling you Hitler. Apparently your coworker is channeling Idi Amin and thinks he’s the King of Scotland, while your boss has taken up residence as the caretaker of the seventh level of hell, wherein women endorse and support absolutely outrageous sexism in the workplace.

      You know what your tone is from now on? It’s called April Ludgate wrapped in a steaming pile of NYC-summer-sidewalk-cooked garbage with a side of vocal fry, and it conveys that your jackass coworker is dead to you and has literally no meaning in your world.

      Next, take a nice long stroll over to HR to make a detailed complaint, because sister, you’re going to Disneyland. And then start job hunting. This employer doesn’t deserve you, and you don’t deserve to be subjected to this petty, nonsense bullshit.

    8. LadyPhoenix*

      Welp . . . I’m seeing fire everywhere now.

      I would document everything and consider getting legal advice, cause I am very sure you got a mad case of gender discrimination and sexual harassment. I would also talk to the head honcho (not your pisser of a supervisor, she can fuck off) and HR and explain the situation too. Consider asking for a transfer (since it is just these 2 losers), or a good reference before you find a new place.

  97. Late to the Game*

    Ok, not that this matters b/c as y’all have established, he is Not a Nice Guy. *ahem* But could it be that once upon a time he had a crush on OP? Seems to me he’s acting like a 10 year old claiming girls have cooties when he really likes her–and any reaction from her, positive or negative, is attention and *WINNING*. He’s enjoying watching OP chafe and squirm and it has become about baiting OP, including enjoying watching OP’s “tone” shift as she gets more frustrated. This is how he is getting his rocks off at a job he hates. It is sadistic and unless management shuts it down *yesterday* he will push boundaries again and escalate.
    The manager is a dip sh*t that hung OP out to dry in the catch 22 of “delegate or you aren’t being effective” and this nonsense about not being allowed to crack the whip. They have given you a broken tool to use and no one is helping fix it. (Analagous to if they gave you a crashy computer and IT just stared at you, blinking.) Point this out to her and to HR, and push back anything they have to say about it either when tasks go undone or during a review. Treat him like a broken computer and your manager and their manager and HR as IT support. This is not about interpersonal relationships anymore, this is about a creepy immature punk sabatoging you on purpose.

    1. neverjaunty*

      No, he’s acting like an entitled, sexist ass, not a little boy who picks on girls because he’s taught that they’re icky. Can we *please* get away from this nonsense of “maybe he likes you” as a knee-jerk reaction to any dude behaving badly?

  98. Noobtastic*

    BOTH the clerk AND the boss need to be fired. Full stop.

    And you should apply for HER position, because you already know the department. Also, you can train the replacement for your position and for Clerk’s position, because you’ve been doing all the actual WORK there.

    You say the department is backlogged? It’s not your fault. It’s your manager’s fault. She’s been falling down on the job for YEARS.

    Sorry about the caps all over, but I’m just raging here. The original post was bad enough, the update worse, and then HITLER?!?!?!

    Fire them both and salt the ground. If HR can’t see that the only employee of value in the filing area is you, then they deserve the absolute hell that will drag the company down by having a not-even-close-to-faking-functional filing department.

    I just… There is not enough even in the world to can’t this situation.

    Update, please?

  99. Lynn*

    None of the above excuses the egregious behavior of the co-worker, however, the real problem seems to be ignored. OP should not be asking co-worker to help out all of the time. Something is wrong here beyond the horrible abuse and management needs to fix it.

    Either the co-workers work on the same thing and the abusive one never pulls his weight, forcing the OP to ask for help constantly, or the OP is asking(telling) the co-worker to work, taking on the role of a supervisor.

    Management needs to step in and make sure the supervisor is doing their job, giving work to each co-worker and not putting one co-worker into the position of being supervisor. That never works out well.

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