my boss got weirdly aggressive about winning a game and now keeps claiming I’m angry about it

A reader writes:

I work for a large company. Previously I was in a small team which supported a small department, but at the start of the year it was decided we would merge with another team and become the support group for the whole sector. The new team is headed by Ethel. It was agreed by management that we could have a “team building” afternoon out of the office for the newly mixed team to get to know each other better. Ethel decided we’d do a games tournament.

We split into small teams. I was on one and Ethel on the other. It was pretty fun, playing team games and solving puzzles. And it was nice to chat to my new colleagues in an informal setting. There was inevitable friendly competition but all very light-hearted and harmless. Bizarrely though, Ethel took it incredibly seriously. She got really aggressive, shouting that my team were losers and couldn’t keep up. Every time our teams crossed paths, she’d berate us and laugh. It made the whole thing awkward and added a weird tension to the day, but as we didn’t all know each other and she was the boss, nobody really challenged it.

We actually did end up narrowly losing in the end (maybe Ethel successfully psyched us out) as the other team beat us to first place by just a few points. I wasn’t particularly bothered, competition isn’t really my thing – which is perhaps what spurred Ethel on, but she latched onto me. She made a whole show of her team winning, and the organizer (who looked very uncomfortable by it all) had brought jokey little plastic medals for the winners, which made it worse. We cheered for them and said well done, but Ethel started waving her medal in my face, calling me a loser and laughing. I just stood there not reacting as I was so confused by it all. At one point I laughed back and jokingly said I’d never seen a sore winner before, but it only made her worse – she kept going on about how obviously mad I was (?) and how it must be hard being such a loser. My team and I were just baffled by it all, and hers all looked hideously embarrassed. I was really mortified that this was my first interaction with the new half of my team.

It’s been months since, and the team has melded together well. But even now, Ethel will occasionally pull her medal out of her desk drawer and wave it in the air, loudly asking (so others could hear) if I remembered the time she beat us. This happens every few weeks. She even tells new hires about it, and goes into how angry I was and how much I’d been rattled. I think she thinks it’s a funny in-joke we share, but I don’t find it funny at all.

I’ve tried saying “It’s been months, why are we still talking about this?” but that adds fuel to her theory that I’m raging inside and spurs her on. I’ve tried laughing it off and that has the same effect — she claims I’m covering up my feelings. Once I just flat out ignored her and she started pointing out to other colleagues that I’m too angry to talk. The whole time she’s laughing like it’s some big joke. I even mentioned it privately in our one-on-one, but she started laughing and joking about my “obsession with losing.”

I feel like this makes me look bad in front of the team, especially new hires. I have a reputation for being very calm and unflappable at work and I’m wondering if this is a weird attempt to undermine that. I also wonder if this is her way of trying to win over new hires and have something “fun” to talk about with them, as she is a bit socially awkward. Other team members have mentioned to me how weird it is and I don’t think she realizes that it just makes everyone uncomfortable.

Am I insane to let this get to me? How do I approach her and get her to stop without her insisting I’m a sore loser who can’t take a joke? Ironically I had zero feelings about this when it happened, but now when I see her pull the medal out I do admit I start raging inside, like she says! I also feel like as she’s my boss I have to be careful in how I talk to her.

I just don’t know where to go from here, and I’m annoyed I’m even having to write about it!

I can promise you this isn’t making you look bad. It’s making Ethel look unhinged.

In theory, you could try saying something like, “You know, I wasn’t angry at all at the time and I was baffled as to why you kept saying that I was. But I am getting frustrated that you keep bringing this up and attributing emotions to me that I don’t have. It’s weird to hear about this every few weeks. Can we agree to put it to rest?”

But based on what you’ve said about Ethel, I’m skeptical that it would make any difference. You can give it a shot since I don’t think you can make her any worse at this point and, who knows, it might help … but I wouldn’t count on it.

Another option is to just say in a tone of extreme boredom, every time she brings it up, “It’s so weird that you think that.” Maybe quickly follow it up with something work-related, like “Hey, can I ask you about this email from the client?” which might short-circuit whatever rant about your anger she’s about to go on.

Really, though, I think the most effective option at this point is to let it go. I think you’ve been searching for some way to shut it down because (a) it’s annoying and (b) you’re concerned that it makes you look bad to other people. But it really, really doesn’t. New hires (and anyone else) who have seen you to be a generally calm, reasonable person aren’t going to believe that you’re actually a ragingly sore loser with an anger management problem. They’re just going to think Ethel is being really weird. Or, at most, they’ll think there’s a funny story there and aren’t likely to give it a lot of thought. The least likely scenario is that they’ll come away thinking less of you. So simply detaching and deciding not to care is a good path here.

As for what’s going on with Ethel … I don’t think her social awkwardness is irrelevant here, and I suspect you’re right that she’s seized on this as something “fun” to talk about, without picking up on how weirdly it’s coming across to other people (or how rudely to you). She’s like that person who stumbles on a goofy joke about your hair or your height or your desk one day and then just keeps repeating it every time they see you, thinking it gets more hilarious each time.

But really, people around you are going to see this just as clearly as you do and will know pretty quickly that it’s about Ethel, not you.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 644 comments… read them below }

    1. Justme, The OG*

      I was going to comment that she sounded like the younger sibling of the workplace, because my sibling (younger) is so much more competitive that I am.

      1. fposte*

        Ha, I guess it’s all a question of your own family template. But my parents really should have banned Monopoly.

        1. seejay*

          I have a nephew who’s 8 who discovered Monopoly and has fallen in love with it due to the math and money parts of it. Then he discovered the “Cheaters” version which he only latched onto because it came with a pair of plastic handcuffs and my mom (grandma) bought it for him for xmas. This was a terrible, awful idea for children around the age of 8 who do not get the nuance of “cheating” being fun and amusing. There has been hurt feelings, tears and screaming matches over it, and this is after I told her the nanosecond I read the rules that it was a terrible, awful game for him.

          He has a hard time losing in a normal game, adding in a cheating component that he can’t quite grasp is a recipe for disaster.

        2. smoke tree*

          Fun fact: apparently Monopoly was invented to demonstrate the evils of capitalism. It’s unpleasant by design!

              1. T3k*

                I know we’re getting off tangent here but I freaking love that show! It needs to come back with another season!

                1. Salt*

                  PSA: They are, and in the meantime, his Adam Ruins Everything Podcast and Factually! both are him speaking to experts!

          1. anon4this*

            Didn’t the Parker Bros steal the game from a woman inventor, re-brand it as their own and capitalize on the success of the game, making them into a giant gaming monopoly?

            1. jcarnall*

              No. The Parker Bros bought it legally. The original game was invented by a woman, and wasn’t especially “successful”nor intended to be: it was played in a local community of Quakers to teach children about the evils of being a landlord (the original name was the Landlord Game). Parker Bros did rebrand it and call it Monopoly, but they didn’t steal it: they paid for it.

              1. D'Arcy*

                That’s not entirely accurate; the original Landlord’s Game was patented and commercially published. In fact, Parker Bros turned down a license for the original version in 1910 and again with a revised version in 1924 before changing their minds and buying Charles Darrow’s stolen knockoff of the game in 1934. They later bought up the commercial rights to the preceding published versions of the game in order to solidify their claim, but without giving credit to the true inventors instead of Darrow.

          2. Media Monkey*

            they have clearly played with my husband’s family (i don’t play with them any more).

          3. Anita Brayke*

            Oh, THAT’s why I really didn’t like it much. I eventually got bored every time I played it as a kid, and I never replaced it, like I did Sorry! and Life and Risk and Aggravation, etc. when I was an adult.

          4. Crooked Bird*

            That’s interesting! I learned about the evils of capitalism from Settlers of Cataan. I had a monopoly on wheat (the only food source in the game) and was squeezing my brother for everything I could get out of him and suddenly went “Oh my God, if this was real it would be so immoral,” and then my neocon brother had to watch me have a semi-socialist awakening right across the game table from him. Fun times.

        3. Tigger*

          According to my British friends, the royal family banned the game because of this! I have also heard that it is banned because of the paying properties and the optics of that but I prefer to believe that the board got flipped in anger and the Queen was not pleased

              1. Tigger*

                My money is on Andrew… but part of me wants it to be Diana and Phillip got prissy and went to the Queen. lol

              1. Turtle Candle*

                Puerto Rico is a game (made in Germany, I believe) that is basically about colonizing Puerto Rico.

                1. Puerto Ric-Oh No*

                  You sure about that, Sara M? Just because it’s a strategy game doesn’t make it stop being kind of problematic… sort of like how calling the tokens “colonists” doesn’t make them seem less like “slaves” based on the gameplay. It would feel a little different if a Puerto Rican had come up with the game, maybe.

          1. Cat Meowmy Admin*

            “We are not amused!” “Do not pass Go, do not collect $200!” I seriously love me some HM QEII.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              I do too. I think she’s done a basically a mostly awesome job over the years. And knowing she got handed that shit show at 25? Go Elizabeth!

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        Right. Do not slander us older siblings like this, lol. My kid brother would have done something like this when he was five, but an adult acting like this? So bizarre.

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          Exactly. I don’t have anything to prove. My younger sister…a grandmother…apparently still does.

      3. Mr. Shark*

        I object to the younger sibling comment. I may be more competitive than my older brother (they say I’m too competitive…who ever heard of something so absurd!!), but I don’t usually rub it in his face. The win is enough for me.

        As a response to Ethel, I think the opposite approach others are suggesting would be just as good.

        “Yup, you guys beat us, that’s for sure. Your team was so great, Ethel, we never even stood a chance. I could barely face you after that, I was so embarrassed at how bad we were.”

        This response takes the power away from her completely. She can’t say how angry the LW was if the LW takes ownership. It loses all the fun for Ethel to keep pointing it out.

        1. Zillah*

          It also prolongs the conversation and encourages Ethel to keep bringing it up. Based on what the OP has said, it seems unlikely that there’s any reply that will just leave Ethel speechless. There are ways to spin that response to attack the OP, too.

          1. Ginger ale for all*

            If Ethel says it one more time, just say something like “Oh Ethel, sometimes you are just so . . . awkward . . .” . And then look at her and wait. As the saying goes, just deliver the awkward right back to her.

      4. Mel*

        My younger sister used to make eating our lunches into a competition. I’m not competitive, but being told you lost sandwich-eating is a little infuriating when you’re 5, lol

      5. RUKiddingMe*

        Likewise. My younger sister is still, at the age of 52 competing with me for some non-existent thing.

      1. AKchic*

        Same. This would totally be my younger sister (who I do not speak to, for a myriad of reasons).

        1. RussianInTexas*

          I love all 4 of my younger siblings, but this is totally what at least two of them would do.
          I am not competitive in the slightest, which I think makes it worse to them.

          1. AKchic*

            When I can, I claim to be an only child. I have an older half-brother who is an unconvicted s*x offender and a younger sister who has a lot of problems thanks to genetics and my mother’s terrible parenting. She is so spoiled and competitive (and my mother encouraged it). You’ve got an ailment? Oh, hers are worse. It’s a holiday? She bought you the “best gift that you’ve always wanted” (a $5 trinket that is definitely something you didn’t want in the slightest, and she probably stole it anyway). I’m not even going to delve into her interpersonal stuff.
            She uses everyone and expects my mother to cover, apologize or otherwise make it up to the victims… and she does, because my mother is very much a Breakfast Club, white-picket-fence desiring Perfect Happy Families image type. I don’t play the “smile outwardly and don’t show yourself and embarrass me” type. I heard that enough growing up. My mom has been pushing for a big family reunion lately and I’ve flat out said me and my kids won’t participate. I’m not faking it for my mom’s social media.

            1. Case of the Mondays*

              Not only would this be something my competitive younger brother would do, I vividly remember the time the mean girl down the street agreed to play Monopoly with lonely, awkward eight-year-old me. Immediately after she won, she gleefully told me the many ways she cheated me during our two-person game.

              For about 20 years after that, I dreaded playing board games.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      And sadly it’s of the workplace because in family life, this gets you beat down at some point.

      “Remember that time I beat you at that game?!”
      “Sure do. Hey, remember that time I made you eat carpet and you had a rash for days?”

      1. Jadelyn*

        Right? At least if it were an actual sibling, you could take…corrective action. ;)

        1. RUKiddingMe*

          My sister “borrowed” and ruined my Cheap Trick at Budokan record. Yeah, vinyl…it was the 70s. I was so mad but did nothing.

          Firty-ish years on whenever she complains about me I say, “yeah but you ruined…and never replaced… my Cheap Trick at Budokan record, so…”

          Petty? Yep. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

            1. starsaphire*

              Lol, I thought that was a clever elision of “more than forty but not quite fifty.”

              My sister had that album too, but it wasn’t the one I ruined… so I was a bit relieved to see you’re not her. ;)

              1. RUKiddingMe*

                That would have been cool but no it’s more of an “RUK really needs to spend more than a nanosecond proofreading” thing.

    3. Jake*

      I’m 30 and still do this to my younger siblings.

      To think anybody does it in any context outside of family silliness is terrifying.

  1. Tigger*

    OMG I HAD A MANAGER LIKE THIS TOO! It got so bad that he flipped over a corn hole board when his team lost in the final. It was kinda satisfying to watch because that morning he told us he doesn’t associate with losers and we should all be looking for new jobs.

    1. Lena Clare*

      That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever read on this blog and that’s saying something. Seriously, I’m howling to myself!

      1. Tigger*

        The winning team was in our department but not on his team. He told them to not put the trophy up (a small red solo cup on a small base) and was pissed when they did anyway. It soon replaced the cat skeleton Halloween prop as a “memorial” placed on the desks of people who left.

        1. Lena Clare*

          Haha. I love that others took it completely ridiculously!

          Alison, please can you do a thread about the totally excessive ways that people get competitive in the workplace??

          1. Tigger*

            It was very weird cause we were in finance. Not a lot of competitiveness there so for him to have that mindset was weird to me.

            1. your favorite person*

              The fact that this was in finance somehow makes this 100% funnier to me.

            2. embertine*

              Based on my experiences of working in finance in my first job, I am 100% unsurprised to hear this.

      2. Fortitude Jones*

        Me too, Lena! LMAO! The image and the commentary about not associating with losers is comedy gold. I could actually see this being a scene from a movie trailer starring stupid ass Will Ferrell.

    2. seejay*

      SERIOUSLY trying to not guffaw out loud at my desk at “flipped over a corn hole board” XD

    3. Cat Meowmy Admin*

      That’s hilarious, Tigger! What a visual in my mind – I can only imagine how it unfolded in real time. I hope someone recorded the events too (caught on camera accidentally of course) lol.

    4. Not sayin'*

      I participated in one of those organizations that are supposed to teach you integrity and winning (think est). During one contest, I (rightly) pointed out that the only way we could collect a certain point was to lie and cheat. We didn’t win, because we lost that point. I was taken aside by the captain of the team and told in no uncertain terms that I was the reason the team lost, that I was not a team player, had a problem with winning, and was generally a loser in life.

      My response: It’s not a win if you have to cheat to get it.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        “It’s not a win if you have to cheat to get it.”

        He’s still smoldering because ::Michael Kelso voice:: BUUURRRNNN!

    5. Maintaining a Polite Fiction*

      Lollll I totally pictured this as part of the episode of New Girl when Schmidt and his cousin get super competitive about everything.
      “Hey, how long can you guys do this?”
      “ALL DAY, SON! ALL! DAY!”

    6. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Stop the presses… this page helped me look knowledgeable on vacation this week! The American Legion hall here is having a corn hole tournament and I was able to explain. Woot!

  2. ENFP in Texas*

    I’d personally have a discussion with HR, because if Ethel is too tone-deaf to realize how inappropriate this is, someone else needs to tell her. Especially if Ethel is responsible in any way for the OP’s performance reviews or career path input.

    1. Auntie Social*

      And tell HR you LET Ethel win because she’s the boss. You were gracious, and this is the thanks you get!!

      1. Not Me*

        I must’ve missed where LW said they let Ethel win? Even if that was the case, I think mentioning it when bringing up Ethel’s odd behavior to HR would make it look like LW *is* being more of a sore loser than they really are.

        LW doesn’t seem to care at all about the games, it’s the behavior that needs to be addressed. Ethel’s odd behavior is what the focus of the conversation should be.

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          Besides, I’ve won so many trophies I don’t have room for even a small one. You know, Ethel, like the one they gave you…

        1. MJ*

          Perfect reply to Ethel: “Yes Ethel. You won. We followed the ‘always let the Wookie win’ rule.”

          * Obviously, only when a new great job is lined up and a reference is not required.

    2. Glitsy Gus*

      I was thinking this as well, but given the situation I would be afraid that Ethel would double down in a, “you’re so butt-hurt about this you went to HR! I knew it pissed you off!” way.

      I think ideally there would be another person in management or her boss give her a bit of a reality check, but that’s hard to organize organically.

    3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      I also kind of think that HR should know this is going on, but would approach it carefully. Like, don’t make it a big serious HR discussion, maybe tell them you don’t need them to take action but want them to be aware that it’s going on in case she escalates her hostility towards you. My concern is she has this idea of you in her head that she keeps feeding into, which could negatively affect you for promotions or transfers or raises. Say that it’s not a huge deal, but Ethel is doing this thing, and other people can back me up on this, and it feels like she’s singled me out for extra hostility and it’s been making you uncomfortable. Also, if you have any relationship with someone above Ethel you could bring it up? If I was managing Ethel I would want to know this kind of crazy was going on.

      1. Lance*

        That’s what I was thinking; if it might be worth taking it over Ethel’s head (presuming there’s any good angle to do so) and having them tell her to cut it out. Because with people like this, I feel like if the OP approaches her at all about the issue, it’ll just validate the ‘you’re so angry, and this proves it’ nonsense in her mind.

        That or wait for it to go away… but if it’s not going away after three whole months, I don’t hold a lot of hope in that.

        1. Lance*

          Sorry, for that last part, several months. Three months specifically must’ve been something else I was thinking of…

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I would talk to Ethel one more time, and then if things don’t change go to HR. OP is trying to play it off as not a big deal, and she mentioned Ethel is socially awkward, so she’s just not getting it. OP needs to be matter of fact and direct one last time. If she’s telling new hires OP is a sore loser, that could affect her relationships with co-workers, and possibly damage her career.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        I wouldn’t worry about being called a sore loser – I would worry about new employees being told you have a terrible temper. If she (the boss) is going around to new people saying, oh LW was SO ANGRY this one time I beat her at a game, I would take it as the boss warning me not to cross LW and that she could lash out horribly over something petty. People who were there at the time would know it’s bullsh*t, but if the boss is telling new employees it might take them a while to realize it’s not true and it could affect her relationships with them.

        1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          That’s what I meant, not literally being called a sore loser. I guess that wasn’t clear as it was worded.

        2. LITJess*

          Do you think any of the employees that were present for the Great Board Game War of 2018 are taking the new employees aside and correcting them? I feel like if I was coming into this office, I would probably ask my new coworkers what Ethel was talking about though I know not everyone would be curious (read: nosy) like I am.

          I am worried about how this could affect LW’s performance reviews.

    5. HalloweenCat*

      I agree. LW (Medal Hater) mentioned further down in the comments that Ethel does her reviews/raises. I would be concerned this level of hostility would trickle over. And any HR department worth their salt would want to know about a (fairly new) manager calling one specific employee a loser on a fairly regular basis. That is harassment and it is demeaning language that will definitely hurt morale over time (and already is!) with an employee who seems to be seasoned and respected within the company.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree, this is workplace bullying and needs to be addressed as such. There is no need for calling people losers, EVER.

      2. Jasnah*

        Agreed. HR/Ethel’s boss needs to know that she is calling one specific employee a loser and telling everyone that they can’t handle their emotions. That is definitely bullying behavior.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        You can go to HR to ask how to deal with it without placing a complaint.

      2. ENFP in Texas*

        If the person who is in charge of my performance reviews is engaging in this behavior after I’ve asked her to stop, it’s EXACTLY the thing to go to HR for.

    6. Eleanor Konik*

      Came here to agree with this. Boss is bullying LW and it’s not worth trying to “win” when you could try to get it to STOP. The fact that she’s trashing LW’s reputation with new hires is not okay.

      1. Alex Di Marco*

        Agreed. This behaviour will end up being a type of situation called “boiling frog slowly” – it’s because Ethel is so ridiculous that the person in this situation would keep putting off going to HR. However, the behaviour has already escalated. Telling new people about winning?!?!!?

  3. Zombeyonce*

    Another option is to just say in a tone of extreme boredom, every time she brings it up, “It’s so weird that you think that.” Maybe quickly follow it up with something work-related, like “Hey, can I ask you about this email from the client?” which might short-circuit whatever rant about your anger she’s about to go on.

    I would cut this even shorter (especially when around other people). If she brings it up just look confused for a second and then say something work related. Not only will it show that you don’t have these feelings she’s claiming, it’ll also reinforce to anyone watching that you would really rather just do your work and not buy into this ridiculous obsession of hers. It also gives her absolutely nothing to work with in claiming you’re still upset about losing since you’ve said nothing.

    1. Fortitude Jones*

      Agreed. I wouldn’t even waste the breath on this – it would be as if she said nothing at all.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I would say, turn your back on her so she can’t see, and gently. roll your eyes and smile like it’s a little amusing secret.

      I think the other option is to say, amusedly, “There you go again!” If you can get a little note of amused affection (“that’s her funny little quirk”), it might at least help with new hires.

      1. motherofdragons*

        Or dead-pan, Captain Awkward-style: “Yes Ethel, I’m just overwhelmed with anger. Anyway, about those TPS reports…”

        1. MM*

          I misread this as Captain America and was trying to think through all his deadpan moments. Best I could come up with was “Well, all the guys in my barbershop quartet are dead…” which would make quite a riposte to Ethel.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Gah, I know it’s a typo but I kind of love the idea of chemistry-inspired names! “Meet my kids, Ethyl, Beryllium, Anion, and Levy (short for levorotatory).”

          “Oh, mine’s name is Stannous.”
          “Ooh, like in Baratheon?”
          “No, like in fluoride.”

          Moving on…

      2. TootsNYC*

        the point I was trying to make with my suggestion is to NOT try to manage or react to Ethel.

        But to provide evidence for onlookers that you are gently amused and think she’s just a tiny bit ridiculous.

        It’s about managing the perceptions of others, and abandoning the likelihood of changing Ethel.

        and it will also give the OP something to do in response that feels just the teeniest bit aggressive but is actually pretty safe. So it’ll be easier to put up with it.

    3. Scarlet*

      I agree with Alison – it’s not YOU that looks bad. She looks crazy.

      OP – I wonder – have you tried just playing dumb? I agree that it seems like she’s trying to make it funny or something – but the best way to ruin any joke is to make the person explain it.

      What would happen if the next time she mentioned it you said something like “oh wait, yeah I remember – at the (insert wrong location here)” | “Yeah I think I remember… that was.. (wrong game)? No, (wrong game), right?”| “Oh yeah, what did you win again? A trophy? I remember it was something gold.”

      When she shows you the metal – more curiosity and extreme interest – “Oh cool!! Where did you get this?” | “Oh can I take a closer look at that? Does it have your name on it too?” | “Did you make this? It’s really neat”

      Act just really confused (but sincere) and make her explain every single time. Keep asking for more details, whatever you can think of.

      And if everyone else is as annoyed as you about it, try to get your coworkers in on it – as if no one remembers the details. Every time she brings it up = confusion.

      1. AKchic*

        Ooooh. I like that.
        “Why would I be mad? I don’t even remember it. I guess if it’s *that* important to you, I could try to remember it, and pretend to be slightly aggrieved if you’re so insistent on being victorious.”

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I started smiling just thinking of these interactions. This is my favorite way to deal with Ethel. Bonus points if you can get your coworkers to participate.

      3. Miss Petty and Vindictive*

        100% agree with this option.
        Especially the ‘did you make this?’ option.

      4. Jasnah*

        Yes, I’m so glad I’m not the only one who thought playing dumb would be hilarious!
        “When was this?” “Who else was here, was Bernard here? Did he win something?”
        Or congratulate her like she won a Nobel Prize yesterday. “WOW!! Congratulations, what are you going to do with the prize money?”

      5. babblemouth*

        Love it! It’s a method that also works when someone makes offensive jokes – get them to explain the joke over and over again until they have to outline the fact that they said something racist/sexist/ableist etc, and act SUPER confused why anyone would think this is funny.

    4. Engineer Girl*

      It’s important to NOT react. Reacting is what Ethel wants so she can “prove” her superiority.
      Let her escalate if she wants. That means more and more people will notice her bizarre behavior. At some point she’ll escalate to the point where she shoots herself in the foot.
      Do not engage. Attention is what she wants. So don’t give it to her.

      1. lizzy*

        Honest question though, how do you not react.
        I mean, OP has tried a lot of things – should she just stand there and wait, pause and ask a work related question?
        It sounds like anything or nothing will lead to a second round of -“ooh, look how upset OP is about losing” so the OP has to keep hearing all this.

        Even if the OP does not try to shut it down or manage Ethel, Ethel just keeps going on.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Yes. Ethel will keep it up and escalate. That’s the point. At some point she will escalate so far that she crosses boundaries.

            1. LITJess*

              I agree. Where is Ethel’s manager while all this is going on? How has upper management not observed this and dragged her aside to say “ENOUGH”?

      2. PVR*

        Given everything OP has all ready tried to deflect and not react, I might take a more direct tact where it’s not really about what happened that day but the language and comments since, such as… you know, I’ve tried to have a sense of humor but being repeatedly called a loser is starting to hurt my feelings. Or a matter of fact (need to have absolutely zero emotion on this one) no, actually I was never mad. Congrats on the win + subject change. Or, I’m so sorry you misunderstood my reaction—I was never mad + subject change. There is zero “fun” reaction received by Ethel this way and Ethel will look pretty strange if she doubles down. “Oh but you really are mad! That’s why you’re saying you aren’t!” Optional reactions on your part: Ok/if you say so/ shoulder shrug/anyway…about those tps reports. Good luck. And also, Ethel sounds infuriating.

    5. MJ*

      “That was months ago but you bring it so often. I thought it was just a fun day out, but I never really realised how much that medal meant to you. It’s okay you know. It’s okay…”

      [while patting forearm tenderly, and nodding head in understanding that that is all she has]

      1. Jasnah*

        I love this. “I’m so glad this medal has brought you so much joy. I don’t regret throwing the game at all—I mean, you definitely earned that victory.”

  4. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

    My name is Ginger. I used to work in an office with a lady named Mary Ann. (You know where this is going.) Most of the office laid off the Gilligan’s Island jokes after a couple weeks. But because of ONE GUY who just could not let it go, Mary Ann and I deliberately would not ever be in the same room if we could help it for pretty much the entire year and a half I worked there.

    It was never “What’s wrong with Ginger and Mary Ann, why can’t they take a joke” from onlookers, it was always “Oh, god, is he STILL on about that?”

    1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      I’ve had a similar experience. My name is Wendy, and for a while I was good friends with a woman named Lisa. When people saw us out together, they might smile and sing a line of “When Doves Cry” or something, then leave it alone — except That One Effing Guy, who would make creepy comments that we ignored. Until one day when we were with a group that included one of his guy friends who looked straight at him and said, “You know that’s gross, right?” Never said a word after that.

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        LOL. But at least he has good musical taste (The Revolution was one of the best backing bands ever).

      2. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        Tangerina brings up a good point. Is there someone Ethel respects (or fears) who can deliver the message that she needs to drop this now?

      3. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        Maybe a peer is the right person to bring this up? If there is anyone at her same level that could casually say “It’s really weird you keep bringing that up”. If you have standing with anyone on her level it might be worth it to ask them.

        1. TootsNYC*

          Tangerina’s IS a good point.

          In bullying, the bystander is the one with the power, because it is THEIR reaction that the bully wants. The bully wants to gain status in the eyes of everyone else.

          And they will NOT attack someone who has allies that will stand up for them. That’s why they target the loaners, the people who are already outcasts.

          So get an ally or two, and an EQUAL is even better.

          But even if everyone on your team just now and then says, “It’s weird you keep bringing that up” in a mild way, it might get her to tamp it down.

          1. lizzy*

            I have been bullied, it definitely did not depend upon an audience; it was just for the pleasure of the bully.
            I am surprised you define it that way.

            1. TootsNYC*

              It can certainly be both. I have mostly experienced the audience thing.

              But if a bully thought you might have an ally who approached them later, they might think twice.

              So ally-dom is a strong deterrent, especially in the moment but even if it’s expected to show up later.

              But yes, certainly the rush of powerfulness they feel in the moment will be the motivator. In that case, THEY are the audience.

              But in either case, “not giving them a reaction” is totally ineffective. And victim-blaming.

    2. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I have a name that’s in many songs so I grew up with people singing my name to me or asking if I liked a certain musical. I used to get really ticked because you’d think that would be the most unoriginal thing you could say to me, but people did it anyway.

      After I moved out of my parent’s house, because they’d never let me snark, it was Miss Manners’ guidance that helped me:

      When the person starts up, I smile making sure only to raise the corners of my mouth so I convey it’s a fake smile. Then I wait until the person is done. If I can dial up the snark, I’ll ask, “Are you done? Because we can wait if you’re not.” I nod slightly and then move on as if nothing was said.

      But then I turned 40, and now I interrupt and say, “Oh no please don’t do that. We can’t do that today.”

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Yeah, I usually go “Huh. Never heard that one before. Anyway, what’cha need?” in just the right tone of voice that gives me plausible deniability in a pinch, but everyone listening totally hears “and that’s six million, three hundred forty-five thousand, nine hundred and TWELVE….”

        1. Jadelyn*

          I saw a picture of someone super tall, wearing three pins on their jacket that said “I’m 6’10” – “No, I don’t play basketball” – “The weather up here is fine” Like, clearly they’d had Enough of that, lol.

          1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

            I have a friend who’s seven feet tall. He has a t-shirt that he wears to any sort of gathering where he’s likely to be accosted by strangers – the front says “yes, I’m seven feet tall” and the back says “no, I don’t play basketball.” (I also have a really entertaining picture of him in my Smart car from several years ago – he didn’t actually have any trouble riding in it with me, but I didn’t let him because he and I together were over her stated weight capacity and I feared potholes and speed bumps.)

            1. TootsNYC*

              yeah, there’s a lot more height in a Smart car than people realize. The guy who accompanied me on my test-drive was 6’5″ and he had plenty of room overhead. Fortunately I was smaller and he was very lean, so we didn’t worry about weight.

        2. That Work from Home Life*

          My last name is a common object, but nothing that lends itself towards anything funny or racy, just really really bad puns. A dryly delivered “I’ve never heard that before. Where do you get your creativity from?” usually puts a stop to the endless wordplay that my last name seems to inspire.

      2. Mimi Me*

        My daughter had a bully in 6th grade who used to be like Ethel. I showed my daughter how to do what I call the bored bitch face. It goes like this: bully says something they think is clever. You look as bored as possible as you turn to look at bully. Look bully up and down – maintaining the bored face – make the noise “Hmm” (so short it’s almost a laugh, lips closed, no expression) and then turn back to what you were doing. It helps if you’ve got one of those Bitch resting faces like those that run in my family. My daughter didn’t think it would work. One week is all it took for the girl to move on.

        Although, to be fair, I don’t think this will work on Ethel. My daughter used it on an actual 6th grader, not a grown woman acting like a 6th grader. I think Ethel’s powers of resistance might be stronger and require an HR intervention if it continues.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Calm disdain is one of the best tools to slap someone down without getting in trouble for it. You’ve got plausible deniability because you didn’t *say* anything they can complain about, but your expression and tone make it extremely clear that you are epically Not Impressed by their shenanigans. The icier and more contemptuous you can be, the better – I find The Eyebrow to be a great tool for this, if you can do it, but if you can’t do a single eyebrow, slightly raising both of them in a mild sort of “oh, really?” can work too.

          1. CoffeeforLife*

            My eyebrow of disdain was so well known by my employees it became a Halloween costume one year. I took it as a compliment ;)

          2. Argye*

            Or a pause, followed by a deadpan, “Quite. Now, as I was saying about those reports…”

            1. PVR*

              I like this approach. There is very little room for Ethel to maneuver from here. If she says, see! I knew you were angry all along! Hahahaha! OP just has to shrug, and say yup. Anyway…

          3. Tiara Wearing Princess*

            My first grader was being bullied by a girl in class. After her verbal abuse, she’d make a face at my daughter. I told her, when the girl makes the face, ask her “ are you ok? You look like you just swallowed a bug”

            My daughter did it. The other kids laughed and laughed and laughed. The girl stopped bothering her.

            Unfortunately this loon is LW superior.
            I still say ignore her and drop a huge bag of cheap medals on her desk.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          First, I love this. But I also agree that it may be lost on Ethel, who seems to think that not reacting is a “sign of rage.” But I like the up-down, “Hmm” combo.

          1. lizzy*

            Agreed about not working on Ethel.
            I accidentally did a RBF at work on a difficult coworker – she just kept saying I did not look happy. I wished I found some great AAM wording in my head like – how should my face look right now?

            My point is, if Ethel wants to keep this going, she will, no matter what the OP does.

        3. Media Monkey*

          i suggested this to my 10 year old in response to a couple of nasty boys in her class – “are you STILL going on about that? isn’t it a bit boring?”. always said when there are other people around to roll your eyes at.

      3. AMT*

        Thhheeeeeee…sun will come out tomorrow!

        Not that being trans is a choice or anything, but I’m weirdly glad I’m not named Annie anymore.

        1. Helena*

          Try having curly ginger hair. Yep, seen the musical. No, I don’t actually look much like her, because I’m a 40yr old woman.

          The remake was the best thing ever. “You think I look like Little Orphan Annie? Isn’t she black? See, here’s a photo on Google. I don’t see the resemblance”.

      4. Micromanagered*

        “Are you done? Because we can wait if you’re not.” Might be one of the most savage comebacks I’ve ever heard. (Of course it’s Miss Manners.)

        1. Ginger ale for all*

          Another suggestion is the “Bless your heart” response that has been polished to perfection in the south.

      5. I grew up with one of those last names and then changed it upon marriage*

        Now I’m picturing an alternative approach: when they start up, get visibly excited and then pull out a laminated “award certificate” you keep on your person for this occasion and shout, “Congratulations! You are the one millionth person to sing this to me!”

    3. Princesa Zelda*

      I have the same name as a video game character, and it’s a pretty unusual one. I try not to wear my name tag at work so the sheer number of times per day I have to deal with “have you played Video Game? (Yes) Are you named after it? (No) Do you know this obscure trivia fact? (My good stranger, I do not need to prove my geek level to you)” has gone down dramatically, but it still happens basically any time I’m introduced to a dude between 15 and 45.

          1. Scarlet*

            I love the name Zelda though. I would totally name my kid that, except yeah – she’d get that same treatment :(

          2. George Kittle*

            See I’m so old I would have thought your parents were Great Gatsby fans or something…

  5. OrigCassandra*

    Sounds like it might be gray-rock time on this one — do your best to make Ethel’s weird obsession unrewarding for Ethel. It seems clear from your letter, OP, that Ethel seizes on anything you say about the game as evidence of (and fuel for) her bizarre theory about you, so… say as little as possible, and when you must say something, say it in as few words and as neutral a tone as possible.

    “You’re obsessed with losing!” “Okay.”

    “I beat you real good!” “Yep.”

    “You were so hilarious — all angry and rattled!” “Okay.” (I wouldn’t recommend “mm-hm” here, because that might suggest you agree with Ethel, which of course you don’t.)

    1. Medal Hater*

      Thank-you, certainly worth a try. I think my difficulty is as I’m getting annoyed about it now I’m finding it harder to not react, but maybe saying as little as possible will help that.

      1. Glitsy Gus*

        It is so hard not to react! I have so much sympathy for you on this. I do think this will probably shut it down best, though. Removing the fun from it is the best way to end it.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        It may help to focus on how unpleasantly weird she is being, and get into the ‘I am an anthropological observer’ mindset. If you can do the Spock eyebrow, that would be a perfect response, but I’d have to go for a head ’tilt and sad shake’ + ‘You are still thinking about that? Bless your heart’.

        1. lizzy*

          I love “bless your heart”!!
          I wish I remembered that one a few weeks ago.
          I think a kindly, “aw, bless your heart!” and then go on to work topics. That’s in my pocket now!

          1. Ginger ale for all*

            Yikes, I didn’t see this when I posted this as a response above. Sorry.

      3. Engineer Girl*

        Look up extinction burst. She will Fenway worse before it gets better but it will get better.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          Spell check. She’ll get way worse before she gets better. Endure and it will go away.

            1. Properlike*

              I was about to google “Fenway worse” after “extinction burst.” Like, “Wow, that must be bad!”

            2. casinoLF*

              Fenway Worse is like when you go to a ballgame, but it’s cold and wet out and there keep being rain delays and then a drunk Sox fan pukes on your shoes.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                Or when you’re just trying to get somewhere *else* in that neighborhood right before a game, and you have to navigate a vast mass of drunk Sox fans, excited running kids, ticket scalpers, vendors hawking T-shirts, and street preachers wearing sandwich boards about hellfire.

      4. Snack Management*

        I was struck by this description from you: “I have a reputation for being very calm and unflappable at work”. For some people, that sort of cool, calm demeanor really unnerves them and they will try to find that one thing (or more) that gets to you; it satisfies something in them, I always think of it as a bullying reaction. Is it just you she’s going after or does she include the other team members in that medal peacocking every few weeks? If others are being called out on it, that may be undermining morale in a department restructure and would be a reason to approach HR (particularly if you’ve lost team members since then).

        1. Medal Hater*

          She only really does this specific thing with me, but other people have had issues with her (she can be quite abrupt, isn’t very good under pressure). I am quite senior in the team and I wonder if she thinks she can be this way with me rather than the junior staff, but it’s hard to say.

          1. Important Moi*

            Since other people have issues with Ethel, I don’t think this is specific to you.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Oh, I think I went to high school with this woman. /s
            My classmate said x to me and I just started crying. (Life was a bit much then and my threshold was low.)
            I pulled myself together and asked her why she said that.
            She said, “Because I wanted to see you cry.”
            I never saw or spoke to her after that.

            She may be trying to undermine your rep for being professional. If so, this could mean that she is jealous of you.

            1. SunnyD*

              She’s definitely trying to undermine LW. The reason(s) just aren’t clear, other than profound character issues.

          3. Seeking Second Childhood*

            What’s the chance she thinks you were her competition for her job?

      5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I think her goal is to make you annoyed enough to react. It’s like having a little brother who holds his fingers/hand 1″ from your face and goes, “I’m not toooooouching youuuu!”

        I would be tempted to raise my eyebrows as if surprised like, “Seriously? Still with this one” and ignore her. But I love all of the snarky suggestions in the mix.

      6. RabbitRabbit*

        Maybe instead of agreeing, just say “Huh.” or similar, if that works better for you, and you think it’s less likely to fuel her tendency to bring it up again.

      7. ToS*

        A variation of gray-rock could be “If you say so” in a flat voice, ready to pivot to work topics.

        “Moving on” could be a neutral transition.

        Could you call in out? Ethel, I’m not sure why you keep returning to this as it has worn out all of the enjoyment I had for a team-building experience, when you provide your own interpretation of the game, I hope you are not trying to embarrass me or demean me, as you don’t seem to be reading my professional interest in moving on in a way that helps us to have a better professional relationship. I do want you to enjoy the prize/trophy, just not at my expense.

        1. TardyTardis*

          I’m a Harry Potter fan and I just amused myself by Ethel doing this to say, Bellatrix Lestrange. The resulting video cheered me up no end. :)

    2. Hallowflame*

      A slightly puzzled look and an “…okaaay?” or “uh-huuuuuh…” followed by a subject change can go a long way here.

    3. Sara without an H*

      I was coming here to say that this is the kind of situation for which the word “whatever” was invented. Or the Haxian “wow.”

      Then Jules the 3rd beat me to the weaponized “bless your heart.”

      Apply any or all of these frequently. And trust me, the only impression your co-workers are forming is that Ethel is an idiot.

      1. Jadelyn*

        “Weaponized ‘bless your heart'” oh my god that is a perfect description of it. I’m from California, but I lived in Tennessee for a couple years after college, and my best friend there (who was a literal debutante, so she Knew the Southern Politeness ways and taught me well) explained “bless your heart to me”. Now that I’m back in CA, nobody around here understands it, so I can use it to my heart’s content and silently giggle to myself while they think I’m just being nice.

      2. Vanilla Nice*

        The upper midwestern use of “that’s interesting” (with a heavy emphasis on interesting) could be mother option.

    4. Sarah M*

      Yessss. OP, seriously Grey Rock it and combine with the suggestion above to immediately ask a super boring work-related question. Don’t acknowledge the behavior or commentary in any way. Act like she’s not doing it, and keep your face and affect as straight-up boring/neutral as possible. (Think HAL from 2001) You will simultaneously take allll the fun out of it *and* highlight the fact that she’s nuts to anyone watching.

    5. Batgirl*

      Yeah, agreeing with the ‘it’s fun to fight’ person is a great way of taking away their ball.
      “You were so angry!”
      “Yeah (make sincere and calm eye contact with new hire) I was really super angry about the tic tac toe game. You got me good.”
      “We didn’t play tic tac toe!”
      “Oh I must have been angry at some other game then”
      *calm shrugs*

      1. Mr. Shark*

        Yup, agreeing in a sort of sarcastic way takes away any power she has.

        “Yup, your team was so much better than we were. We never had a chance.”

    6. JokeyJules*


      I’ve used this many times in instances like this, where someone wants a rise out of you for their own amusement.
      “Okay” . No inflection, no tone, nothing at all. you aren’t agreeing or disagreeing. it’s perfect

    7. Emily K*

      Yeah, this would be how I’d handle it. Agree with her, but in the “I don’t really believe what I’m saying,” voice that’s adjacent to sarcasm but less biting (like that cartoon of the dog sitting at the table in a house on fire saying, “This is fine.”), only because that’s a voice I use in other contexts so it fits my communication style and would come off naturally. I think the best approach will vary depending on the LW’s own style.

    8. Me*

      Exactly what I told my kid in 3rd grade when another child made fun of her coat every single day. She didn’t care about being made fun; she found it insanely annoying. Bully lasted exactly 2 days after that.

      Agreeing matter of fact with people who are expecting a rise out of you takes all their power.
      Sure. Ok. If you say so. Mmmhmm. Yep. Uh-huh.

      Close cousin to the playing dumb when people say ignorant things route (What do you mean? I don’t understand?”

  6. LurkNoMore*

    I dislike ‘poor winners’…
    Unfortunately, my father is like this and it never failed that he’d lose at least one game of whatever Santa brought that year, would say something hurtful and then be in a bad mood until he took a nap or had a drink – whichever came first.

    1. Not Australian*

      The first time I beat my father at chess was the last time we ever played. He was always ‘too busy’ after that.

      1. cmcinnyc*

        Very few men will play chess again with a woman who beats them (ask me how I know). My husband enjoys chess but he never really learned to play and I usually demolish him when we play. His response is always to ask how I did that–as in, actually learn to play. He is getting better. The games are more fun. Ah, a man who has his own balls… it’s wonderful.

        1. Rezia*

          Ha, nice to know I married the right guy, because he isn’t a sore chess loser!
          When we started, I had played more than he had, so I would handicap myself a piece to make it fair. Now he’s gotten so good he beats me as often as I do him.

        2. many bells down*

          Yeah Mr. Bells just wants to PLAY. Whether he wins or loses is irrelevant, because he got to play! And he gets super excited if you make a really good move that he wasn’t expecting. Now, I will get irritated if I have consistently bad luck in a game, but even that doesn’t seem to bother him.

          We don’t play chess (I learned how when I was 3, and I never got any better at it lol), but we have dozens of board games and he’ll play anything, anytime. Even the games he knows I’m better at than him.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            The only time I could beat my father at chess was if he was super tired. Once in a while I’d ask him to play chess at 11 pm. I figured I had a good chance of winning. He would sit and play chess with me. I’d win because he was half-asleep. And he would tell me, “Oh good move!” or “that was a great strategy!”.
            When I won he would tell me “great game!”. And then he would say, that is what you say when others win against you. You tell them it was a great game and you enjoyed playing.

            Neither one of us was very good at it and neither one of us read any books to try to get better at it. We just sort of played because it was a mental vacation from life stuff.

        3. babblemouth*

          I hope it’s OK to go a little off topic here – I want to learn chess but there is no one around me that plays it, and no club that I can find. How you would recommend to learn? Are there good guides anywhere?

          1. Partly Cloudy*

            I don’t actually play so I don’t speak from experience, but there are websites and apps to learn/play chess.

    2. MCL*

      I have a good friend who is a horribly sore loser, and it really sucks the fun out of playing board games with her. She is a grown adult who gets reduced to tears when she’s not winning Clue. It’s so uncomfortable!

      1. MotherofCats*

        My uncle used to cheat at Monopoly when I was little. It was blatant & usually unsuccessful, so he lost anyway. Then he’d sulk the rest of the evening. At least then I didn’t have to hear about his taxidermy hobby XD

      2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        There are some good board games out there like Pandemic where you aren’t playing against each other, rather everyone is playing together against the game. They are fun, and a great option for the super competitive family member who is way too cutthroat.

        1. Drew*

          But you have to watch out for the “quarterback” problem where one player starts trying to play everyone’s turns. I switched one regular game night back to competitive games because one player got really sulky when we didn’t follow his suggestions in a cooperative game. He’s actually much happier losing a competitive game than he was winning a co-op.

          1. your favorite person*

            OMG We have a friend in our board game group like this. He can’t stop telling people *how* to play in co-op games. When it’s a competitive game, if he’s losing, every SINGLE TIME he will go on and on about how if ____ had done this instead of this, I wouldn’t be losing. If he loses, he spends at least five minutes explaining how he *would have* won, if only this and this had happened. Our group is getting better on calling out his behavior, but it’s annoying. He’s also the one who usually buys the games so…

            1. ToS*

              This is my 13 year old. Crikey, he talks smack when he plays Chess. so he’s not going to grow out of it?

              1. Seeking Second Childhood*

                Take him to a park to play with the old timers …from what i hear, they’ll break him of that or at least teach him subtler insults.

          2. many bells down*

            Mysterium is a great co-op game where everyone wins or loses the game together, but you’re also working on your own individual goals. You’re psychics, trying to solve a murder via visions from a ghost. It’s really fun – like Clue meets Dixit.

              1. JustaTech*

                I am so doing this the next time my “can’t co-op” friend comes over for game night.

          3. President Porpoise*

            I am one of those people. I really try hard not to be – but when you’re teaching someone a really complicated game, like Arkham Horror, it can help them to not panic.

        2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

          And for people who really like board games but don’t have easy access to a group of people who like board games, Pandemic and similar co-operative games are actually remarkably easy to play as solitaire, because if everyone’s on the same team ANYWAY ….

      3. Ron McDon*

        I’ll never forget the time my friend and I played scrabble against our mutual friend – by the time the game ended you could cut the atmosphere with a knife, it was so tense. Mutual friend would complain any time we played a word on a double word score/triple letter space ‘I was just about to go there!’ and generally sighed and complained if we played a good word, for the entire game.

        Mutual friend won by a couple of points, and immediately smiled, perked up and said ‘I really enjoyed that, we must do it again soon’ as friend and I both exclaimed ‘no way!’. She was very surprised to hear she’d been behaving so rudely, but tried to insist that we just didn’t know when she was joking. Spoiler alert: she was not joking…

      4. Lissa*

        Yup, this is definitely a thing. I have a big nerdy social group and we all like to play board games, but there are some people where I bow out because I can’t handle it – it’s not even the bragging, it’s the sulking when they aren’t winning that just as you say sucks out all the fun!
        I’m totally uncompetitive when it comes to things like games, and just cannot wrap my head around people who take that on so much – I have a friend who does this and is aware of it, but then will do it again, saying it’s due to their upbringing – ok, fine! But I still won’t play games with them cause it isn’t fun.
        The funny thing is that some people came upon the idea of playing cooperative rather than competitive board games and for some that works but for others it makes it worse, because now they berate their teammates for doing something that doesn’t work out well!

        1. Burned Out Supervisor*

          My husband and I have faded from our long standing trivia group because 2 members are so obnoxiously competitive that it’s not fun anymore. God forbid you suggest an answer you’re not 1000% sure about, because you’ll be treated to pointed equivocating until you’re nearly insane (“maybe it could be x or y” “how much are you guessing” etc). If no one knows the answer and we suggest a reasonable guess that’s wrong, you get pointed teasing. I mean, it’s bar trivia, for god’s sake.

    3. Dust Bunny*

      My grandmother was cutthroat at cards so my mom actively refuses to learn card games.

      Mom is cutthroat at jigsaw puzzles so the rest of us dread it when she gets a new one as a gift. I feel badly about this: She would love it if I’d do them with her more often but it always means you’re chained to the table for hours and hours until the bloody thing is finished, and life is too damned short.

      (Mom insists she is nothing like her mother, of course.)

      1. Works in IT*

        O_o I thought I was cutthroat about jigsaw puzzles…. but even I don’t insist on finishing them in one sitting!

        1. Drew*

          I bought my mom a puzzle one Christmas that had random straight edges throughout the middle of the puzzle AND came with several extra pieces that didn’t fit anywhere. She was not as amused as I thought she would be.

          1. The New Wanderer*

            My MIL got us (really, me) a jigsaw that has identically cut, fully interchangeable pieces throughout. There’s a letter grid on the back, you basically have to use it to get it right. Recommend putting it on a glass table b/c you cannot flip the thing over since the pieces don’t interlock securely enough!

            1. TardyTardis*

              Once you’re done, get a piece of plywood and superglue it to the done pieces. *Then* you can turn it over (and nobody can mess it up if you did it right).

          2. Jaid*

            There’s this dude named Chris Ramsay, on YouTube. He reviews puzzles and the last one…hoo boy. Your Mom would be PISSED, LOL.

      2. Aphrodite*

        If you want to give your mom a puzzle to really chew on–it might even defeat her–try the Rosetta Stone one. Amazon used to carry it but no longer. However, the British Museum, which originated it, still does. It may give you some good laughs as you watch her cutthroat attitude challenge this one. I’m guffawing just thinking about it. (Yes, I have owned it for a long time and have yet to finish it.)

      3. Oldster*

        My youngest always gives me jigsaw puzzles. We work them together, apart and sometimes over long periods of time. Just finished one that we framed for her father. It had been laid out on the kitchen table since Christmas. Bought 2?, 3? Christmases ago.

      4. Miss Fisher*

        You should consider signing her up for a jigsaw puzzle tournament. I didn’t even know those were a real thing until I saw a lovely movie about one.

      5. nonegiven*

        I thought jigsaw puzzles were ‘leave them out on the table’ and place a piece or two whenever you have a few minutes. I didn’t know it was something to be finished with in one sitting, that wouldn’t be fun at all.

    4. Jill March*

      Demetri Martin has a bit about how all games are really the same game: Who’s the Asshole?

  7. kwagner*

    Ethel sort of reminds me of those people who are “jokingly” rude to people they don’t really know or don’t have that kind of relationship with. I have no idea where it comes from, but boy do I know a lot of those people. It crosses a lot of boundaries and sets a tone for the relationship, personal or professional, to just go downhill. Once new hires/anyone not originally involved hears that this occurred months ago, I think your reputation is in the clear OP.

    1. Airy*

      Seriously, they need to learn that friendly teasing requires you to establish “friendly” first.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I wonder if my brothers would get it if I said that.

        I sometimes want to say to my big brother, “Pretend you’ve just met me, and talk to me like that.”

    2. Medal Hater*

      (LW here) Yes, I do wonder if she perhaps thinks we are ‘friends’ or at least closer than we are, despite my confused face every time this happens! Thank-you.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I’d almost bet my last chocolate donut that she is NOT thinking about friendship.
        This is a very self-focused person, just guessing, but she probably does not have many friends because of her self-focus.

      2. SunnyD*

        I think she’s gunning for you. Trying to ruin your reputation. Don’t trust her, and get out from under her.

    3. Not sayin'*

      When I was very young and new to my career, a senior co-worker took me aside and suggested I stop the cutting remarks that I seemed to find so funny. I was being called “Donna Rickles” behind my back. I was astonished at how I was being perceived, and once I thought about it, I was astonished that I had ever behaved that way. It hurt to hear what my co-worker had to say, but ultimately it was a kindness.

  8. Ross*

    Wow. How odd and frustrating. You are definitely in a tough spot because if you say anything you’re just feeding in to her theory in a way. I think all you can do is ignore. So weird.

  9. Squeeble*

    I wonder what would happen if you neutrally agreed with her. Like, in a deadpan voice, say “yep, I’m a pretty sore loser,” and then change the subject. It might take the wind out of her sails (but based on what you’ve said here, it could make things even worse, I don’t know).

    1. Tangerina Warbleworth*

      If you did it broken-record style, i.e. “You’re such a sore loser!!” “Yep, that’s me all right” in the flattest tone ever) every single time she says it, she might finally get bored. It’s at least worth a try.

        1. PVR*

          I like this! I was thinking deadpan, but a super cheerful agreement would work too! Yes I sure am! Ethel:hahaha I knew I was right all along! You: enthusiastic yup! How long can it go on from there?

    2. BethDH*

      I think it might help. It seems to me that Ethel is making a competition (in the form of a debate) about whether or not OP is a sore loser. OP declining to “compete” short-circuits that and makes it less fun. In the meantime, it helps with the other part of OP’s concern about other people getting the wrong impression.

      OP could also take it to a ridiculous extreme, still in that same flat tone: “right, I was so angry about that I couldn’t look at medals for months!” — “I have never been so disappointed about anything in my entire life” — etc. Whatever wording feels like it fits OP’s personal style. I think the key is that deadpan delivery you mention and then also being so over-the-top that everyone else can immediately get that it’s hyperbole even if they don’t hear the tonal nuance.

      1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

        My only concern here is that if Ethel is socially awkward (and boy, does it seem like she is), she may be a person who doesn’t pick up on sarcasm. If that’s the case, best to keep the answer as short as possible.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          I don’t think she’s awkward. I think she’s mean.
          Awkward people tease badly. But Ethel is mapping negative emotions on to others. That’s a whole different level.

          1. BethDH*

            Yeah, she read as petty more than awkward to me — like she can only be an effective boss if she’s better at everything than her reports. It doesn’t matter whether she thinks OP actually is a sore loser or whether she knows it gets under OP’s skin to be called a sore loser. Either way she knows she’s needling OP.
            I could be projecting, of course, especially if others are reading the same letter and hearing a different tone. It seems like Ethel is likely to read silence as sulking, though, based on what OP said in the letter.

            1. Gazebo Slayer*

              Ah… the sort who always insists on having two scoops of ice cream as a power play while all their subordinates have one.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I get the feeling that the target isn’t really Ethel, though. It’s more about giving her her performative space while telegraphing to everyone else in the room that Ethel is unreal.

    3. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      Yes! Channel your inner Daria Morgendorffer! (Which I am not doing here, because Daria would never use that many exclamation points.)

      1. tink*

        I’m just imagining the most deadpan or eeyore “Oh no, Ethel is doing this again.”

  10. WellRed*

    I’d seriously want to steal the medal from her desk and pitch it down a sewer, never to be seen again.

    1. Lora*

      I’d want to surreptitiously set up any conference room computers to play “We Are The Champions” by Queen every time she was presenting. And “The Underdog” by Spoon whenever I had to present…

    2. Jedi Squirrel*

      Or buy more of them and put one in everybody’s desk. Then when she pulls hers out, everyone else can pull theirs out and wave it around like she does.

      People like Ethel really bring out the evil in me.

    3. whistle*

      I believe WellRed is (mostly) not recommending this, but, LW, I would seriously consider this option if it is possible for you to pull it off.

      1. WellRed*

        If she was a coworker, I’d say go for it. With a boss, it’s a tad scarier. I do like some of these other suggestions ; )

    4. Cat Meowmy Admin*

      I love these ideas! Or send that trophy down the porcelain abyss and flush with a flourish. Mwahahaha!

      1. T. Boone Pickens*

        If Ethel wasn’t your boss I’d be half tempted to print out a fake deed with the location of “Ethel’s head” and the rent/mortgage listed as “No charge”, have the OP sign it and present it to Ethel next time she waves her medal around.

    5. Medal Hater*

      (LW here) I fantasise about stealing it when she’s not in, but I know I’d be the prime suspect and that would probably make her worse!

        1. irene adler*

          Maybe the medal needs to show up in different places in her office. First in a desk drawer, than another, then on a shelf, then in the file cabinet, etc.

        2. Medal Hater*

          Haha, well funnily enough a friend of mine at work offered to try – but we thought Ethel might build it into the narrative, her great story now with a tragic ending as the medal mysteriously disappeared and she was wronged just for being the winner! Etc…I almost feel like she’d be worse!

          1. Rezia*

            Alas, that’s probably true. Just let her continue to be unhinged.
            But, I do wonder if a friend of yours at work could speak up for you and when she next brings it up, say loudly, “You’re still talking about that?” or “We know, Ethel, you mention this often.” (Preferably someone who isn’t a direct report, lest Ethel start picking on him/her instead).

          2. Nessun*

            I think if you want the medal gone (which I fully support), it needs to be done while you’re WITH Ethel – out for coffee or a 1:1 in a boardroom or something. It almost requires someone to do it without you even mentioning it to them…maybe just surreptitiously leave a link to AAM where a friendly face might see it and choose to act? Just a thought…

          3. TootsNYC*

            she would absolutely look to blame you for the disappearance of the medal, no matter what evidence there was that you couldn’t have (you were on vacay in Tahibit, for example).

            Because it fits with the narrative.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Maybe the answer isn’t fewer medals, it’s more medals! Can you buy a bag of bulk medals (like dollar store trinkets) and either start hiding them in her desk now and then or hand her another whenever she brings it up?

        Saying “You win again, Ethel!” while producing a medal from your pocket and handing it to her, then immediately changing the subject feels right to me.

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          Once, many years ago, I threw a party where everyone got ribbons with declarations like “shoe-tying champion” or “toothbrushing award” printed on them that were sold as things to give your small child as motivational prizes. I know I picked them up for really cheap – maybe at a dollar store? While it would be wildly unhelpful in terms of improving the actual situation, I would be tempted to buy a bunch of these and gradually sneak them into her office decor while she wasn’t looking…

        2. Jadelyn*

          This is amazing! I was already liking the idea of more medals when it was suggested upthread to give them to everyone, but the idea of just giving Ethel more medals and just like…blatantly humoring her weird obsession in front of everyone cracked me up.

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Yeah, and it’d just reinforce to her that it was Very Important. Because otherwise why steal it?

        It’d probably work better to make it part of a glittery diorama and glue that to her wall in pride of place (because how embarrassing to have that be your prime achievement). Not that I think you should do that either.

    6. Sarah M*

      Maybe someone should kidnap the medal and hold it for ransom. Leave a note for Ethel made of letters cut from magazines, threatening to melt it down if she doesn’t come up with the ransom by a specified time. You could have a lot of fun with this.

  11. Sharrbe*

    Not get all psychological, but she had to have been chastised for losing as a kid. Probably had overly-competitive parents and siblings. This is just not normal.

    1. Autumnheart*

      I was thinking this is the first time in her life that she’s ever won anything.

      1. Auntie Social*

        She sounds like the reason the Royal Family isn’t allowed by HM to play Monopoly anymore—it got waaay too cutthroat.

        1. Cat Meowmy Admin*

          “We are not amused!” – “Do not pass Go, do not collect $200!” (I love HM – age 93 and knows her sh*t!)

    2. Turtle Candle*

      It’s possible, but some people are just tone-deaf jerks, bad losers, insecure bosses, or all three.

    3. Batgirl*

      I was thinking that this is an understood ritual at her house of origin and she doesn’t understand how much it doesn’t translate.

    4. Moo*

      On those lines I wonder if an effective way of shutting it down would be taking the ‘anthropologist’ attitude in a one to one and saying ‘you seem very invested my feelings about something inconsequential that happened x months ago. What’s going with you?’ And turning every response back into a question about Ethel. Eg. ‘you are so angry about it’ – ‘do you often feel responsible for your employees feelings, maybe you could get advice on that from your boss or hr.’

      Perhaps ‘concerned friend’ tone might shut it down in a way that not reacting hasn’t. There’s an element of truth because it is odd behavior that is causing bigger problems but also it can work to take some of the wind out of her sales.

      I commend your patience to date with this. I’d be howling mad by now.

  12. StaceyIzMe*

    Wow. This is odd. I wouldn’t engage about this anymore at all. It’s impossible to do without being hostile and she doesn’t seem to want to let it go. I suppose that you could try “you know, you’ve got a story going on where you get to play all the parts. (pause…) You tell me what I’m feeling and spread this tired old tale around to new hires and to the larger team. (pause) I’d really appreciate it if you let me name my own feelings. (pause) What I’m actually feeling is tired- this is an old tale and we may actually never see eye to eye on how it played out. (brief pause) I’m okay with that- I don’t have to be right. (brief pause) But I’m asking you to give it a rest and stop putting it out there as if it’s a big deal that just happened. It’s not a big deal. (brief pause) And it’s old. Let’s move on…” Maybe practice whatever version of this feels authentic to you and decide whether it’s a 1-1 context or a “here we go again…” group context that’s strategically best.

  13. Dust Bunny*

    Apparently my dad has a long-lost twin sister.

    Jokers everywhere: It’s a VERY FINE LINE between “signature humor” and “desperately in need of new material”.

    1. Auntie Social*

      My name is Gala Cruise, and one guy calls me “the loo-ve boat” every. single. time. Talk about needing new material. . . .

      1. Dust Bunny*

        Dad is set off by certain phrases. It’s almost like a tic. We’ve started avoiding saying certain, otherwise completely normal things around him because we’re so tired of his unwillingness/inability to rein this in.

        1. Argye*

          My mom, any time anyone says, “Hmmm.” will respond. “Things that make you go Hmmm.” Every time. For the last 28 years. (Yes, it’s been that long since 1991.) You’re right, it’s a tic. I’m not convinced she even realizes she says it, but gets all hurt whenever anyone gets annoyed. It’s taught me to stop saying Hmmmm.

    2. Inca*

      I think there could be some merit to pointing out the repetitiveness: ‘it was kinda funny the first 30 times but I think we’re past that now’ in a very bored tone.

  14. AngryAngryAlice*

    It pains me to say this because my beloved daughter/cat’s name is Ethel, but I think we need to cast Ethel off to sea on a piece of driftwood with only her ridiculous medal to keep her company.

    Holy wow, I would not be able to work with this person.

  15. Angie Babee, Special Lady*

    Definately a situation where detaching is best. Stop expecting Ethel to change. Apparently “We are (I am) the Champions’ is her theme song and she is going to sing it to everyone in the office, everyone who joins your team, everyone who delivers her lunch and anyone walking their dog past your office. She may even roll down her windows and shout it out as she drives home, scaring people waiting at the bus stop. Try to distance yourself emotionally as best you can, because she is going to sing it no matter what – even if it is not true, even if you disagree, even if it makes her look obsessed and insecure, event if the person listening is bored out of their mind and confused to the relevance.
    This is a case where you don’t have to say anything. Ethel is already explaining who she is and her truth with her song.

    1. PVR*

      I mean it might kind of funny if OP starting singing You are the champion and bowed the next time it came up.

  16. Auntie Social*

    The next time she does this, pull her in a bit closer like you’re telling her a secret, then tell her you let her win. Like guys who intentionally screw up their last hole playing golf with the boss. “We were trying to be nice, you were our new boss. . . . ” So really, maybe the thing to do is to just put the toys away and appreciate what a nice, gracious staff you have.

      1. your favorite person*

        If you ever leave this job, make sure to put this in a card for her on your way out. :P

    1. Cat Meowmy Admin*

      I love this too! Medal Hater, you have my sympathies- but def do this!
      Auntie Social, I wanna be you when I grow up. (And I’m over 60) :)

    2. LJay*

      This would just egg the boss on more.

      Ethyl will see through the fact that’s a lie – which it is as the OP says nothing about letting her win purposely – and will position it as now the OP is still so sore about losing she has to make up stories about it to sooth her own ego.

      And I’m not sure why HR would care whether the she let Ethyl win or if Ethyl won fair and square. Either way the way Ethyl is behaving is inappropriate. Bringing it up and saying that will just make it look to HR like OP is defensive about losing which is the opposite of what she needs.

  17. Snarkus Aurelius*

    I have an older sister who is, basically, Ethel, and for reasons she’ll never discuss, my sister is very insecure about…everything. I know it’s annoying because you have to deal with her, but know that her insecurity doesn’t really have anything to do with you. It took many years, but AAM’s advice proved correct when one of my sister’s friends got tipsy and asked, “Why do you always bring up these weird stories about Snarkus? They’re don’t make sense. Did we have to be there or something?” My sister was SUPER pissed for the rest of the day.

    Don’t bother standing up for yourself because every time I tried to draw a boundary, my sister would use that as “evidence” I was boiling mad underneath when in reality I didn’t care. The harder I tried, the more she insisted I was upset. What Ethel is doing is a manipulative conversation tactic that keeps the subject matter in conversation.

    So my advice is you can either ignore it or here’s a better option. The next time Ethel starts up, stop talking completely and listen to her and nod with zero expression on your face. When she stops talking, ask her if she’s done. If she says she is, then move on to the next topic of conversation like nothing happened.

    1. Medal Hater*

      LW here. Thanks, I agree you and Alison are right and there’s no magic answer I can use to shut this down – ignoring and deflecting is the way forward! And perhaps by responding I am feeding it somewhat, or at least fitting her narrative.

      1. Close Bracket*

        You aren’t the one feeding her narrative, she is. You can’t change anything she says or believes, doesn’t matter whether you grey rock or fall to your knees, rend your clothes, and toss ashes over your head. She has created her own reality, and nothing will budge her from her belief.

        Understanding this, respond in the way that causes the least effort for you. If grey rocking is the least effort, grey rock. If agreeing causes the least effort, do that. Heck, if rending your clothes is the least effort, do that.

        You know, it would be really funny, to me, anyway, if you totally started playing along in a hyperbolic manner. Channel Jackie Gleason when she pulls the medal out: “To the moon, Ethel!” Maybe you can just picture yourself doing that in your mind.

        1. Observer*

          That’s not entirely true. It is* true that this narrative only lives in her head and has nothing to do with the real world. But *reacting*, regardless or WHAT the reaction is, tends to feed it. But, ignoring, coolly deflecting and just moving on to whatever is supposed to be happening makes the interaction fizzle and keeps all of the action and spotlight on Ethel. Not in a good way for Ethel, but it’s the best thing for the OP. Because anyone seeing this is not going to think “Ethel is weird, but does OP maybe have a sore loser or volatile streak that could be triggered by something” but “Ethel is WEIRD. I’m impressed how cool OP is about this nonsense. I’m glad they are just moving on.”

          1. Cordelia Vorkosigan*

            Honestly, I think ignoring it will also feed into Ethel’s narrative. “Look, you’re so mad that you can’t even talk!”

            It doesn’t matter what OP does. It’s not about her at all. It’s aaaallll about Ethel and her issues.

      2. Anonymouse*

        Tell her to “Let it go”.

        Now she is stuck with that stupid Frozen song in her head for the rest of the day.

      3. Red Wheelbarrow*

        Medal Hater, I love your handle! And I don’t blame you for being annoyed–this would have me grinding my teeth. But it sounds as if you’ve handled it with aplomb (despite a certain amount of concealed tooth-grinding, maybe!). And you, Alison, and the commenters are probably all right that the best thing is to let it go as best you can.

    2. Auntie Social*

      Meh. Your sister was the first pancake. They always turn out awful and the rest of the batch is perfect. You’re the beautiful golden pancake. (Which is what my younger SIL started calling her older sister, when she’d taken enough spit. I loved that!)

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        My pancakes are always the opposite – the first one comes out beautifully and the rest are a mess. I always told people that was a metaphor for how me and my younger brother turned out, lol. He’s the hyper competitive one, and I’m the one who just shrugs and keeps it moving when I lose.

    3. Horses for courses*

      I have one of these. It is so weird and confusing, because there is no competition save for what exists in their mind. What do they get out of it? why would they snipe at someone who has no ill wishes? I don’t expect sibling to want to be my best friend, but we could at least be benevolently existing. It can’t be solely one-upmanship, because there is nothing to gain, and we are different people, living different lives. I have no doubt that the choices sibling makes for them are better than the choices I’ve made for me would be for them. So weird, such a lost opportunity.

    4. Turtle Candle*

      A calm expression and no response until someone winds down works SO well (unless they’re violent, but that seems unlikely here without further indication). It reminds me, frankly, of animal training—that a null response is often more effective than a negative one.

      Hard to pull off, though!

  18. Medal Hater*

    I am the LW, hello all!

    Thanks Alison, I think you’re right and it’s my anxiety about what other people think which is causing me the discomfort. And you’re totally right of course, logically it’s bizarre that she keeps flogging this dead horse…and I can’t imagine how weird it must be as a new joiner hearing about a team day out from 6 months ago in elaborate detail! She’s supposed to be the Senior Lead of a large team, and this behaviour is just embarrassing.

    I am well respected in my job and I’ve worked hard to build relationships with my team, but you’re right that this weird medal obsession isn’t going to undo all of that.

    Thanks for your advice, and thank you kind commentators for your support.

    1. lawschoolmorelikeblawschool*

      Please know, if anything even remotely approaching this level of behavior occurred at my workplace, everyone would be talking smack about Ethel behind her back (given that she’s the boss and apparently unable to let this go). No one would think badly of you.

      1. Medal Hater*

        Thank you. She’s actually not the most popular manager for other reasons too, so you’re most likely right.

        1. valentine*

          I would never have guessed you’re worried what people think of you. Your colleagues probably think you’re trying to help Ethel save face. She’s like the recording in a movie where someone wants a caller to think they’ve answered the phone. If the person waits long enough or calls back, the speech/pauses repeat. It mostly doesn’t matter what you say. If, as advised above, you say you let her win, I think she’d escalate. She’d probably be much worse if she’d lost, calling you a cheater, saying the games were rigged or that she let you win. She may very well not be listening, just waiting for a pause and chiming in with her accusations. I’m wondering if the only thing that will satisfy her is if you lie down and bare your neck or belly like an animal or weep bitterly and rend your garments as you confess she’s right and you covet both the trophy and her superiority most ardently.

          She can’t risk another competition (Everyone will want her to lose and what if their trophy’s massive?), which is too bad, since you enjoyed the teambuilding.

      2. Jadelyn*

        Same – we’d all be eyeing Ethel and wondering what her problem is. Nobody would actually think you’re the problem here.

    2. Drew*

      This is probably bad advice, but if you were short-time or really didn’t care about Ethel’s opinion, you could do something like this:

      Ethel (waves medal): Medal Hater is just mad because she’s a LOOOOO-ZER!
      You (mildly): That tournament was six months ago, you’re still talking about it, and *I’m* the loser?

      1. Nessun*

        I think my inner sarcastic would fly out in spectacular drama queen form: “AAAAAUUUGH!! You’re RIGHT, Ethel! I can’t get it out of my mind! Every day I wonder, how could I have beaten her!? What could I have done better?! *drop to knees and tear at hair* Even now, SIX MONTHS LATER, it haunts my dreams!!” …then get up, dust off, and cheerfully ask for the Miyamoto file.

        1. Medal Hater*

          I have rehearsed/thought about loads of great mean comebacks secretly, but as she’s my boss unfortunately I feel like I have to be really careful what I say. Ethel does my appraisals, dictates if I get a pay rise or not, if I’m allowed to go on training courses at cost to the company, whether or not I can work from home etc…I just feel like it’s too risky, sadly :(

          1. AKchic*

            Just keep track of her appraisals, your pay increases and the trainings. If it seems like she’s not approving things as expected, make note of it.

          2. Observer*

            You may want to talk to HR then. The actual issue is not something I’d get HR involved in, but this is an issue that you should flag. If you talk to them, make it clear that it’s not the stupid comments that you’re coming to them about. But you want to make sure that if your appraisals suddenly start being lower, they have the context.

            By the way, are you a guy? I wonder if that could be playing into this whole craziness.

          3. Alexander Graham Yell*

            I so want you to be able to say, “What would you do if I *were* really upset about this? Just taunt your employee about something they’re sensitive about? That doesn’t seem like great management.”

          4. CoveredInBees*

            Are you familiar with the gif from the Brady Bunch movie, “Sure, Jan.”? Maybe you could get away with something along those lines?

    3. Cat Meowmy Admin*

      You have my sympathies, LW Medal Hater – and my respect for taking the high road and staying true to yourself. Others can/will definitely see you in a positive light because of that. Ethel seems to be very insecure and immature; her words and her actions reveal more about herself than about you.

    4. Garland Not Andrews*

      My first thought reading your letter was that you need to get the woman a dead horse and she needs one to flog!

    5. 99 lead balloons*

      It’s totally your anxiety talking – I promise! My mother-in-law behaves similarly and trust me, that kind of behavior just screams insecurity even at the new hires who don’t have the context of being at that tournament. The best way to “win” this game is to abstain from playing. I would bet all the lint in my pockets that she fixated on you in the beginning b/c your awesomely calm and unflappable reputation not only preceded you, but hooks her own insecurities. She’s likely the raging loser type who can’t cope with defeat, but is totally projecting it at you.

      I echo everyone’s suggestions on “grey rocking” or similarly non-reacting and re-directing conversation. Good luck!

    6. Boomerang Girl*

      You could always try my approach. “Please continue. I’m not too proud to make my first million from a sexual harassment lawsuit.” Said with a deadpan expression and voice. Insert “hostile workplace” instead of sexual harassment—works every time.

      1. President Porpoise*

        … but it’s not, legally speaking. And also, unless someone is actually sexually harassing you (and even potentially then!) this is a weird and overly aggressive threat.

    7. Lindsay gee*

      Do you have a close colleague(s) that you trust that you could get to very occasionally make subtle comments to your boss, when boss makes comments to you, like:
      “Wasn’t that, like, 6 months ago? Are we still talking about this?”
      “Oh, I was there, I didn’t think anyone was upset. It was a super fun time!”
      “Didn’t we just talk about this, like a week ago?”
      person on winning team *boss pulls out medal* “Omg, you still have that thing?! I threw mine out months ago!”

      My thought is that if people other than you bring up how weird she’s being, says things similar to what you’ve been saying, then she might at least quiet down more? When you address it, it’s more evidence she’s right and you’re a sore loser. But if other people bring it up, it might flag to her that other people think she’s being weird about it.

  19. a*

    In my opinion, this is exactly the kind of situation a “bless your heart” type of response is made for. “Oh bless your heart Ethel. Now, back to the TPS reports…” If not literally “bless your heart” then “there you go again” or whatever regional variation would make sense.

    Also, I think the backstory about the teams merging is relevant here. I would wager Ethel resisted it, and/or is picking a really weird way to piss on “her” territory.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      + a gazillion

      I’d go with ‘bless your heart’ no matter the region, I *think* the true meaning has spread far enough, and if it hasn’t, well, at least Medal Hater knows what she means.

      1. Close Bracket*

        The true meaning ranges from “you’re very kind” to “go eff yourself.” If only the nuance had spread as far as the single pole has.

        1. Emily*

          Yeah, I know the phrase can be barbed or (as I’ve often heard it used) gently condescending, but I’ve also heard it used more kindly. It’s pretty context-dependent, in my experience!

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              Yes, but the kind meaning is what (in my experience) non-Southerners perceived, up until maybe… 10 years ago or so?

              If I said ‘bless your heart’ in Philadelphia 20 years ago, it was assumed I was being friendly and quaint. Now, people actually *check* tone and context.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      I’d go with “Aw, it’s nice you still remember that team building event! And after so many months! That win must have meant so much to you.” Insert gentle smile here.

      But the gentle smile and cheery tone is requisite.

    3. LD'S Mom*

      “Bless your heart” is PERFECT and I would use it every time. Say it sympathetically like you’re indulging a small child and follow it with a quick change of subject. Every single time.

    4. Medal Hater*

      The team merge was decided above Ethel’s head in the interest of ‘efficiency’, overall I get the vibe she’s excited to prove herself in this role but is intimidated by her direct reports doubling.

  20. Aunt Piddy*

    Honestly, with people like this my response is to lean into it and pretend it’s an inside joke.

    “Haha Aunt Piddy is so mad about losing!”

    “Hahaha! I sure am! Grrrrr!” *fake fist waving*

    She knows it’s not a joke. She think’s she’s really bothering you (and she is, but not for the reason she thinks). I bet she lays off if she thinks you’re enjoying it.

    1. Jessen*

      I was kind of thinking that as well. Just start acting like she’s repeating a tired old joke. Because of course a rational adult would not be seriously thinking about this so much later! And of course you’re treating your boss like a sane, rational adult!

      Nothing tends to disarm this type as fast as realizing they’re not being taken seriously.

  21. Fortitude Jones*

    It’s making Ethel look unhinged.

    This was my exact thought, Alison. This woman sounds like a loon. Why she’s being this obnoxious over a game no one else but her seems to care about eludes me. OP, ignore her from now on. She has a screw loose.

    1. Miss Astoria Platenclear*

      I wonder if she just got back from making a big announcement in Orlando.

  22. Black Bellamy*

    Go to the dollar store, buy several dozen cheap plastic medals or trophies. If she makes any comments about the contest, there should be a medal on her desk the following morning.

    1. Tiara Wearing Princess*

      I was thinking along same lines but I’d leave the whole pile on her desk.

    2. SuperAnon*

      Or give them to everyone on the team/floor and when Ethyl asks, say, “We’re all winners!”

  23. C in the Hood*

    It’s like when someone keeps asking if you’re mad & you’re not…until the 80th time they’ve asked you! Anyhow, Ethel is showing everyone who she is, not who you are.

  24. animaniactoo*

    For a moment there, I was willing to credit that maybe Ethel plays like I do with some games where it’s expected that you bust your opponent’s chops. But no – even the most competitive, most extreme chopbuster I have ever met does not do this aftermath crap.

    So I’m not sure what’s up with Ethel. But, generally I would let go of trying to get her to stop. What you want to think about now is your response to her over the topness – but in an “I have to respond because otherwise this will be even weirder and I will go crazy” but not getting it to stop kind of way.

    Ethel brings up how you can’t let it go: “It’s funny you say that. I’m not the one who keeps bring it up!” [lowkey laugh]

    Ethel brings up how you’re secretly raging inside: “Oh. Yes. I’m totally furious about this” [completely deadpan]

    Ethel brings up how rattled you were: “Oh. Yeah. I’ve never been so rattled in my life.” [completely deadpan]

    Ethel says “Hey remember when I beat you?”: “Yup, I still remember from the last time you reminded me 3 weeks ago. And 3 weeks before that!” [mostly deadpan, eyeroll]

    And then shift the topic back to some work related thing. Don’t try to stop her – just move it along for everyone “nothing to see here, nothing to do here, next exhibit”.

    I am fairly sure that there is something in here where she feels the need to get a reaction out of you, and the less reaction you give her, the less fun it is for her OR she’d need to admit she misread the situation and this is her way out of having to do that. Probably both. Even the deadpan agreements might be enough to let her feel validated (even though she shouldn’t, but as you’ve noted this is not worth the capital) and resolve that. But I wouldn’t bet the house on it. The main key here is – if you’re concerned about what others are seeing, them seeing you calmly replying and dismissing it is going to make it really clear that it’s an Ethel thing. Even if it takes them a couple of weeks to learn that, that’s okay. The goal is for them to learn it by demonstration from you, regardless of what Ethel is saying or doing.

    1. Medal Hater*

      (LW here). Thank-you, yes you’re right it’s very much ‘you can’t control other people’s behaviour, only how you react to it’. I can’t stop this but I don’t have to be defined by it.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Right, you’ve tried stopping her, and that didn’t work, so it’s useless to continue that path, and it’s not worth spending the capital elsewhere to make her stop (and that would probably only result in an entirely different set of issues with Ethel). So the only thing left is to change how you react to her.

        However, I do think there’s good advice here to talk to HR just to fill them in on this happening without asking them to do anything at this time. Just to be aware in case it starts to affect how she handles things that will professionally affect your job there.

    2. Jaybeetee*

      I suspect it’s as OP/Alison both suggest – Ethel is socially awkward, and has latched onto this as a “thing” to joke about. Or views it as an inside joke or office joke. I’ve worked in places where a big part of the office bonding was “Remember that stupid thing Bob did three years ago?? Bwahaha!”

    3. many bells down*

      Oh yeah I mean, we trash-talk all through board games. My husband had a Twilight Imperium game going with some friends and I was in hysterics listening to them dis each other (TI can take 12 HOURS to play. There was a LOT of trash talk).

      But, like … no one keeps doing it months later. Hell, no one even does it a week later. Maybe a particularly good burn might get dusted off the next time they play but this? Ethel is bonkers.

  25. Amy*

    “Honestly, my team decided to let your team win because it seemed so important to you and you’re our new boss. I was just trying to have a fun day with my new coworkers. It makes me super uncomfortable that you keep bringing this up- should we get HR to mediate this issue?”

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      As satisfying as a slow smile followed by “… We let them win” would feel on a personal level, this is work. And you shouldn’t dare Crazy to escalate.

  26. PlateOnAShelf*

    Looks like your only option is to train, Rocky-style, to increase your upper body strength then publicity challenge Ethel to an arm wrestling contest.

    Kidding, kidding. I worked in a manufacturing with a lot of older men who would pick a ‘joke’ like this and repeat it incessantly. I generally would give a weak smile and not engage until one day I snapped and responded with a pretty cutting reply along the same line of the joke. The coworker actually took it pretty well and backed off but unfortunately I don’t think you can take this approach with your boss… good luck, OP, and please post an update!

    1. Terry Tub*

      I would talk to another manager at level or above Ethel privately (do not organise with Ethel knowing). Tell them the whole story. They will observe the behaviour and pull Ethel into line when they see how bizarre it is. Ethel may finally put to rest the situation when someone at level or above points out her weird behaviour.

      1. Jules the 3rd*

        I have to disagree, it’s not something that you can really use to pull in another manager. It’ll make Medal Hater look kinda petty and over reacting.

        I mean, yeah, Ethel is way out of line and harassing, but it’s not based on a protected status or openly derogatory. Someone outside the team’s going to have a hard time seeing it often enough to recognize the pattern, since Ethel only does it once a month or so.

        Medal Hater’s going to have to deal with it on her own, but I bet that if she can just keep modeling how ridiculous Ethel is for this and stay bland, it will die eventually.

        1. Terry Tub*

          Hmm, I disagree with your leaving it to be, “bland and [then] it will die eventually”. OP explained it has been going on for a long time with little to no reaction from OP and Ethel still presses the issue. It’s not respectful workplace behaviour regardless of timeframes of when it happens. Ethel is displaying continued unwanted behaviour. It’s time for a new tactic and progress it. Good luck OP, don’t be stagnant and let it go on – progress!

          1. StaceyIzMe*

            That’s a valid point, the lack of respect displayed here is epic. I doubt it’s a viable option, but in LW’s shoes I might be tempted to ask if she’s “feeling okay” since she keeps talking about an event that happened long ago to people who weren’t even there. It’s a fine line- trying to determine if Ethel is someone who will bust your chops until you stand up for yourself or if she’s merely a bit unhinged and will escalate. In your shoes, I might be looking for either a lateral transfer or greener pastures. It might seem like a small reason on the face of it, but the cautious side of me would be tempted to think “if she’s this whackadoo about a team building day, what ELSE am I going to have to contend with for the dubious honor of working at this job in her department?”.

          2. Observer*

            You’re right – it probably won’t die. But it will also rebound on Ethel. At best it just makes her look bad. If it’s part of a pattern, it’s going to come up when someone with more capital gets really ticked off at her for something.

            In the meantime being as bland as possible is going to look much better for OP than asking a manager to stop it.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          You don’t have to go to other manager and say “Ethel’s a bully please make it stop”… you go to other manager or HR and say “Ethel is keeping an old joke going, do you have any suggestions for how I should reply? Do you see any way I shouldn’t reply that might affect my performance reviews?”

  27. Falling Diphthong*

    This isn’t making you look bad. It’s making Ethel look unhinged.

    This is very true. Continue being unflappable.

    I was reading a letter from the archives earlier which had the opposite dynamic–this new coworker appears calm and normal, but she’s my SO’s ex so I know she must be seething with rage and plotting against us. You always want to be the person being calm and unflappable–work acquaintances are going to be judging you on how you behave with them, and someone who makes unhinged speeches about how you are seething with rage deep under the surface is going to make people edge away. Even if they say “Mmm. Mmm hmm” to their boss while doing so. This is true regardless of the truth of any existing seething emotions.

  28. Tessa Ryan*

    If she is talking about how you were so angry about losing and making jokes about it, you could change the subject to ask about a work-related project/task. If she goes back to talking about it, you can repeat your work-related question again.

    She may take this as even more of a sign that you are a ‘sore loser’ or whatever, but it makes you look professional and anyone watching that interaction will know who is in the wrong. What a weird thing for Ethel to obsess over, and especially for her to bring it up over and over again!

  29. Catsaber*

    Let me join in assuring you that you are not the one who looks bad – it’s definitely Ethel. I guarantee everyone else is tired of the joke, too. And if I was a new hire, I’d be thinking, “Okay, what a weird thing to bring up on my first day…”

    Unfortunately I think you just have to keep ignoring and eventually it will die, even if she claims that you’re angry. I had to do something similar to this one guy I worked with, and he went around telling everyone I was “just so mad” at him, and he had no idea why. Most people ignored it. For people that did ask me if I was mad, I would just blandly say, “Nope, I’m not mad about anything,” and then change the subject. He gave up eventually.

  30. Akcipitrokulo*

    With new hires – you might want to tale wind out of sails by saying “Oh! Ethel has a great story about winninf a medal! It’s her best story ever! She’s even still got the medal to show us! Can we see it now please, Ethel?”

    1. irene adler*

      “That medal is the highlight of her entire career. Think about that for a bit.”

      1. Fortitude Jones*

        LMAO! This is my favorite, but sadly, she probably can’t say this to or in front of her boss because then Ethel really will lose it.

      2. CMart*

        To Ethyl’s credit, my own “personal highlight” of my career is winning my office’s trivia tournament. I ain’t ashamed!

        Yeah, I have a flashy plaque commemorating my crucial role in securing a debt refinancing deal, but it’s hidden behind my giant trivia trophy.

    2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      This was my first thought. Take the bull by the horns and really talk up how Ethel’s biggest accomplishment in life is the one time she won dodgeball and how it REALLY has set the tone for the group since then. Be super happy and enthusiastic like you are totally all-in on the “joke.” Keep repeating the game that was won too, to reinforce how simple or childish it was. Ethel is the dodgeball master. All employees will be expected to kiss the medal on the anniversary of the dodgeball win. No one will ever (be allowed) to replicate the dodgeball win as the game has now been retired from play. The dodgeball win is the only thing this department shall henceforth be known for… This is the most hilarious joke EVAH! Get your coworkers to join in as well about how this game changed the dynamics of the group forever. As soon as Ethel is no longer in control of this joke, I’m betting it will cease to be funny.

      1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        Now I’m thinking about this more…start exaggerating the details or getting things totally wrong so that she’ll try to correct you but get the group to back you up ahead of time. It’s an old meme but CHUCK NORRIS her with ridiculous compliments and accomplishments.

    3. AKchic*

      “I’m glad my letting you win has been such an achievement for you. You keep thinking you’ve earned it. The way you brag about it certainly has given us the impression that you consider me a threat of some sort, so you go ahead and keep making yourself look petty, dear.”

      No… too on the nose.

    4. Fantasyland*

      I love the idea of the team starting every meeting by congratulating Ethel for “winning that thing that one time”*

      *obvi not a real suggestion

  31. smoke tree*

    I’ve dealt with this kind of behaviour before, although fortunately it wasn’t at work. Like the LW, I have a fairly calm/neutral demeanour and am not very competitive, and I find that this combination will drive some people into an inexplicable frenzy of competitiveness. Although it becomes incredibly irritating to deal with, I find the most satisfying response is to remain neutral-to-encouraging, congratulating them on achievements that they’re trying to rub my nose in, which drives them up the wall and makes them look even more ridiculous.

    1. Medal Hater*

      (LW here) Yes you’re right, I was very nonchalant the day it happened and I think this made me a target. The competitive people on my team received no such speeches.

      1. Yvette*

        You don’t care that you lost and that bugs her. She is going to make you care whether you want to or not!!

      2. Turtle Candle*

        Ohhhhh. Yes, you’re right. Sometimes people go completely apeshit if you don’t care that you lost, because they need you to not just have lost but to *feel beaten.*

        Not a good look for them but useful for you to know.

        1. Lissa*

          ooh this is a really good point! It doesn’t apply just to games either, and makes me think of some people I know who, even after I agree with them, need to keep pressing their point and making me react in a certain way. “I need X.” “Ok!” “I really really need X a lot because of reasons Y and Z.” “Cool, X will be available.” “Ok, but I NEED X more than *anyone* else has, or else things will be so bad!” “Sure you got it.”

          Multiple members of my family are like this and it’s very frustrating especially when there’s more than one of them in the same room. I have said that they are the kind of people who can argue with you even when you’ve done nothing but agree.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            I have some family members who are like that, but with complaining. Like, it’s not enough just to say “yup!” or “I agree!” when they complain that something about the TV or cable service sucks/is frustrating. No, you have to sit through two or three rounds of “this ALWAYS happens, the cable box is a LEMON and the cable company is TOTALLY SCREWING US” and nothing you can say will make them stop.

      3. smoke tree*

        You have my sympathy! This kind of person just wants to make you upset that they beat you, and will stop at nothing to piss you off. Perhaps it would help to cultivate a feeling of strategic pity, as if she were a toddler acting out. I’ve had little success trying to reason with such a person as I would with an adult.

        1. smoke tree*

          Also, I suspect this might be her way of expressing that she feels threatened by you in some way. When it happened to me, it was mostly male friends who couldn’t handle the fact that I was smarter than them, so they decided to try to outdo me at really dumb stuff.

          1. Arts Akimbo*

            True. Could be she’s worried about you having better rapport with the team and maybe being a better fit for her job than she is.

      4. Little My*

        I was bullied a lot as a child and I learned something very interesting. Remaining implacable and indifferent in the face of it inevitably frustrated my abusers more but oddly without incurring further aggression. Although it’s hard to see it this way because she’s driving *you* around the bend, I would suggest that it’s actually you that has the upperhand here. While you’re still angry about this, as almost anyone would be, frankly, you may take some comfort in this: she’s accusing you of what she actually is, which is angry – for what, who knows, and it’s probably not even at you, ultimately. She’s definitely more miserable than you if she needs this, of all things, to feel good about. Weaponizing the “bless your heart” as suggested several times in this thread is one way of doing that, but it’s even better, imo, if you can do as Alison suggests and just look at her calmly, coolly, and slightly quizzically. Pity her in your heart but not in your words, and keep the conversation moving once she’s finished whatever round of whatever small, sad, and insignificant game this is for her.

    2. L.S. Cooper*

      Competitive people hate it when they don’t get to beat you. The goal isn’t to win, it’s to beat down someone else; I’ve learned to just go metaphorically “limp” in any competition, because I just don’t care. And boy howdy does that piss them off.

  32. Important Moi*

    For me this is the crux of situation:

    “I feel like this makes me look bad in front of the team, especially new hires. ”

    LW doesn’t have faith other people can see that Ethel is acting badly.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      I agree, but it doesn’t take much perception to look at someone swinging a cheap plastic medal and acting all proud about it vs someone rolling their eyes as they go back to work to see who’s acting badly.

    2. L.S. Cooper*

      A lot of people will side with a bully because they want to be “safe” in that power structure. I wouldn’t have much faith in this situation, either. In my experience, most people will probably either dismiss it as nothing, or actively get in on the joke to avoid incurring Ethel’s wrath.

      1. Important Moi*

        “A lot of people will side with a bully”

        ” or actively get in on the joke to avoid incurring …wrath”

        — I’m sorry that has been your experience. I don’t know people like this.

        1. AKchic*

          It happens everywhere. All the time. That’s how bullying and bullies operate and are able to keep power.

      2. Myrin*

        From both the letter and OP’s comments, that doesn’t seem to be what’s happening at all, though.
        At game day, OP’s “team and [she herself] were just baffled by it all, and [Ethel’s] all looked hideously embarrassed”. Now, having worked together with her new team for months, OP is well-liked and known to be calm and competent. Additionally, “[o]ther team members have mentioned to [her] how weird it is and [she doesn’t] think [Ethel] realizes that it just makes everyone uncomfortable”.
        Nothing OP has said so far makes it in any way likely that her coworkers will get in on this weird joke.

      3. Observer*

        It happens. But I doubt that it will happen here. For one thing, there is nothing really for anyone to latch on to. Also, although people won’t stop a bully when the bully looks unhinged rather than calculated, people tend to not pander too much to the bully either because you really don’t know what new crazy thing that person will do. So, you just stay out of their way.

    3. TootsNYC*

      I agree, and I hope LW Medal Hater can GET that faith.

      Ethel is being rude and awkward, and people see it.

      But she’s the boss, so they can’t really express it at the time. And later they’ve probably forgotten all about it, so they don’t think to say, “hey, that was weird. I didn’t believe it.”

      but maybe a few convos with some peer allies to say, “Do you think people believe her?” might make them feel better.

      1. Medal Hater*

        Thanks all, the difficulty is that because Ethel is the boss, and a lot of my team are quite junior, I think they are quite nervous about speaking out and potentially risking a similar fate.

        I don’t begrudge any of my team for staying quiet, I certainly don’t enjoy being the object of Ethel’s attention and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be in my shoes. Additionally I’m pretty senior in the team, and despite all this – my skin is relatively thick, I can generally handle it. But I wouldn’t want a junior team member, very early in their career and not yet used to navigating office drama, to stick up for me publicly in case Ethel turned on them too.

        1. CathieFonz*

          Actually, you could be doing your junior team members a favour here. Ethel is gonna Ethel, and by standing tall, you are protecting the rest of your team from her pettiness — unpleasant, but at least you are senior enough to handle it, while a more junior team member would find it overwhelmingly difficult.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I have a co-op president for which the dynamic is the same–she essentially runs the place, and no one wants to disagree with her. I find myself sitting there thinking, “Of course they all see she’s ridiculous, but they don’t want to get into it with her,” but there are times that I do wonder…

          I think sometimes that I should call people after the meetings to feel them out, and to make sure that we’re all having a similar reaction, and that they realize her criticisms and comments are not sensible.

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        Though isn’t there a phenomenon where a manipulator will take an ambiguous emotional situation and try to dictate people’s interpretation of it? I think it’s described as one of the “dark sides of emotional intelligence” in the organizational behavior literature, though it’s been a while and I could be wrong.

  33. RussianInTexas*

    I know this person. Hi is a friend f mine. His name is Jeff. No one competes against Jeff anymore in any games or sports, because Jeff sucks.
    Don’t be Jeff.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        He got so annoying after winning the friends group fantasy football season, friend of mine started calling him Sir Big Winner in person, texts and e-mails, until he stopped.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      My college boyfriend managed to turn Parcheesi into a contact sport. We hid games from him after that.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        People think Parcheesi is so innocent, but it is actually a very passive aggressive game.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          He prided himself on his strategy, which is great unless a game also involves chance. He could not handle the element of chance.

        2. TootsNYC*

          Parcheesi is deadly.

          Its mechanic is so similar to Sorry!, or Trouble, but there is something about its mechanic that is just so much more extreme!

  34. mark132*

    Some people seem to love to gloat. And I’ll admit I do enjoy it a bit as well, but after a day or two it’s time to move on.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      My 11yo kid beat me horribly at a board game on Sunday afternoon, and really rubbed it in (it was a *thoroughly* lopsided contest after about the 3rd round – darn Poltergeist *and* he got a Raft!) that night.

      I think he’d forgotten by Monday morning. I like playing games with my kid.

    2. CMart*

      I still remind my sister about that one time I got what we call a “pie sweep” in Trivial Pursuit against her – wherein I got all my tokens and won the game before she even got a single one. I think this was 15 years ago.

      But I am not in a professional relationship with her and I try to keep my continued gloating to major holidays, not every week.

      And also we have, you know, nuance and context and an extended, understood background with each other that makes it funny and not Our One Thing.

  35. Autumnheart*

    Many years ago, I was at the State Fair, playing games in the Midway. One absolute GENIUS of a game-operator bought about a kajillion strands of those shiny Mardis Gras beads. If you won the game, you got your stuffed animal or whathaveyou, and if you lost, you got a string of “Loser Beads”. Needless to say, everyone loved the beads way more than the real prizes, and this game had a crowd around it 5 people deep waiting to play. Winners would even ask for beads instead of the real prize, and the barker would say, “No! You’re a winner! Beads are for LOSERS!” and the winner would be all disappointed that they won. People would stop you while you were walking and ask where you got the beads, and it was hilarious to say, “You have to go play the squirt gun game and then lose! They’re Loser Beads!”

    Just brilliant. I would recommend doing something similar for the next competitive team activity. Ethel gets her trophy and everyone else gets the way-more-fun Loser Beads. Then if she tries to rub it in, “Ha ha! You’re a loser!” “Sure am, look! I got my Loser Beads right here!”

    1. SpongeBob's Wench*

      I love this so much and think I’m going to find a way to incorporate it into my classroom. Thanks!

    2. Cat Meowmy Admin*

      I would definitely participate in something like this and deliberately lose for my beads!

      1. Autumnheart*

        I’ve never had so much fun losing in my entire life! It’s hard to feel bad about anything when you have Loser Beads.

  36. Temi*

    This sounds like bullying to me. You already tried to address this directly, for now I think the best response is none. Do not acknowledge or react.

    If Ethel negatively impacts your growth, development or undermines you professionally, I would escalate. And document all examples of this and who was there and when. If she’s not backing off, she’s not finished with you yet. Tread carefully.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’d go further and say if she impacts your comfort at work, escalate it. Just because it doesn’t hinder your professional development, you have a case of awful behavior that will ruin morale and open doors to places HR usually doesn’t want to go. She needs retraining at very least.

      1. AKchic*

        But she *has* tried to impact LW’s comfort at work and professional development. Ethel has made sure to tell everyone, repeatedly, her version of events and her interpretation of LW’s emotions/feelings. Including the new hires. She is undermining the LW with her coworkers, colleagues and possibly outside agents every time she brings that blasted medal out and trots that “victory” story out to share.

      2. Archaeopteryx*

        Yeah, this kind of Catch-22 bullying (where every possible reaction or non-reaction leads to the same losing scenario) would be extremely uncomfortable for me. It’s so emotionally invasive to be pounded with the idea that you’re feeling something you’re not. And having spent time around an abuser, it’s too similar to the tactics they can use to publicly embarrass someone for looking unhappy. I’d escalate this too.

    2. ragazza*

      I was going to say this too. I think LW should definitely go to HR and document, as you say. It’s not only ridiculous and unprofessional behavior but hostile, even if Ethel frames it as a “joke.” Everyone can see what is going on.

    3. Jules the 3rd*

      I am not sure I agree – five minutes of comments, once every three weeks? Not based on any kind of protected status?

      I am struggling with an unpleasant person at work, and I’m documenting everything, but I just can’t quite make it rise to the level of bullying, and based on *just* this, I can’t quite squint this into bullying either.

      Now, if Ethel’s making *any* kind of work decisions based on this (ie, ‘You can’t have this project, Loser!’ or ‘All you losers have to sit together’ or ‘Losers get the worse shifts / customers’), that would tip the scales to bullying for me. Same for if the comments were once a week or more often.

      1. ragazza*

        1) It’s not just the five minutes of comments (which I’m not sure where you got that, maybe it’s in one of the threads). LW has to constantly be on alert that Ethel is going to pull this again, which is stressful and probably affects her feelings about her job, and hence her productivity.

        2) We don’t know if Ethel is making any kind of work decisions based on this, but as they say, when people show you who they are, believe them.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        As someone who is neck deep in HR and just came out of some intense “harassment training” with an employment attorney

        There’s not squinting.

        She’s singling out the OP to treat poorly and act aggressively towards.

        It’s not acceptable behavior and should be corrected. You think things should be worse, well it’s not necessary to be worse in 2019, especially depending on the local/regional laws if they skew pro-employee.

      3. Jasnah*

        Repeated, ongoing demeaning, mean-spirited comments from a boss to a subordinate is absolutely bullying/harassment. It doesn’t have to be based on a legally protected status.

        Are you sure you’re not being harassed too?

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          No, I’m not sure I wasn’t being harassed. I’ve been documenting, and I did a checklist of the behavior against my employer’s harassment and bullying policy. It ticked a couple, but the major one that it did not tick was ‘affecting business assignments or communications’. I couldn’t quite see it as rising to the level of bullying, especially since the comments were directed at everyone under a certain mgmt level. The offender got talked to, and since then, every meeting has included thank yous and compliments on everyone’s help (even people who didn’t help…) which are as transparent as… anyrate.

          I am not an HR pro and in Medal Hater’s situation, I totally defer to The Man, Becky Lynch’s assessment.

          I get the ‘five minutes’ from ‘occasionally’ and ‘every few weeks’:
          “Ethel will occasionally pull her medal out of her desk drawer and wave it in the air, loudly asking (so others could hear) if I remembered the time she beat us. This happens every few weeks. “

          1. Temi*

            I hope you aren’t being harassed. Sometimes if it undermines your confidence it can be enough affect business assignments or communications. If you are second guessing yourself, walking on egg shells, acting placid when there is turmoil beneath the surface, you may be a victim of bullying.

            1. Jasnah*

              Agreed. If you can’t just walk up and talk to them, and need to figure out how to say something so you don’t create drama, that’s affecting business communications. I hope the situation gets better for you.

  37. AnonAcademic*

    Oooh, yeah this sounds like really amateur attempts at bullying. My program director in grad school was like this – we did a faculty vs. student challenge at the end of every year, and he would send all-department emails about how faculty were going to wipe the floor with us – until we actually beat them. And then he kind of sulked about it for a while. It was definitely a weird way for him to channel relational aggression at subordinates. The department actually gave us both an award certificate for “Most Competitive Faculty-Student Challenge Players” to diffuse the tension (which I thought was hilarious but I think made him kind of mad).

  38. Jennifer*

    I think you should re-frame this in your mind. When I read this, I felt sorry for you, but I felt sorrier for Ethel. Clearly, this seems to be the most important thing that has happened in her life in months since she won’t stop talking about it. I mean that in a non-snarky way. I guarantee you most people seeing this are mortified for Ethel so I wouldn’t worry it reflects badly on you.

    The next time she starts up, I’d smile sadly to myself, try not to look at her with pity, and ignore her.

          1. CDM*


            My child died at 11 because he was born with a three chambered heart. The ten year survival rate is around 50% in the US. Many other countries only offer comfort care and those infants die within a week.

  39. Underwater Teapot Making Teacher*

    I have a group of students that compete in an academic event–let’s say underwater teapot making. My kids are from a Title I campus and they are amazing. Across my district is a very rich, very snobby school where most students are given luxury cars for their 17th birthdays. My colleague there has a major problem with my students beating hers at any sort of underwater teapot making. She has said to myself and my students, “the only reason your kids are here is because they’re not in jail.” She has made comments like, “your kids must’ve cheated because they’re too poor to have (insert item we bought with school money).” Reporting her to her principal didn’t do much good. She just amped it up and was less careful about saying those things IN FRONT of my students.
    Anyway, we just keep beating her kids at various types of underwater teapot making. She takes this VERY personally and LOVES to snark at me or show off the one trophy she did manage to win. I get great pleasure watching her face as semi-finalists are called and her kids aren’t there. At one point, I offered to help her kids with a certain type of underwater teapot making that they struggle with, but she declined.
    Ah well. LW…these people are exhausting, but they eventually burn themselves out. And, they don’t make YOU look bad, they make themselves look AWFUL.

  40. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This is aggression being shown and it’s targeted to you, for who knows why. That’s an issue that really should be put into HR’s sights. She’s harassing you at this rate and it’s not just exhausting, it’s unacceptable. We’d fire someone for this.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      Any suggestions on scripts for HR? Should Medal Hater request an action?

      The fact that Ethel makes review / pay decisions does put this at a different level, of higher concern, for me.

  41. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    Silence is probably best. On days you cannot take it one. more. time. Maybe silently shake your fist in the air (feigning rage) while you continue doing whatever you are doing.

  42. Alex*

    Ethel is a bully. There were two teams, but Ethel singled out LW for her “jokes” and taunts. Unending taunts, mean-spirited “jokes” and accusations of “you can’t take a joke”, and “oh, are you mad? You’re so mad!” are classic bully behaviors. Ethel, like all bullies, delights in trying to get a rise out of their victims. She will never stop bringing this up because she enjoys it so much. Even the suspicion that it’s annoying LW will be enough to keep her going. It’s not OK in the schoolyard and it’s beyond unacceptable at work. If it were me, I’d be going to Ethel’s boss and describing the ongoing behavior and how it’s affecting me and my ability to do my job, to say nothing of being able to work effectively with my actual boss. Any halfway decent manager would tell her to knock it off with this immature crap.

    The Ethels of the world will always have their justifications why it’s OK for them to torment their victims. They’re all nonsense, of course. The goal here isn’t to change her mind, because you can’t. The goal is to get her to stop picking on LW. Ethel can believe whatever she wants, but she can’t keep bullying LW every day at work.

    1. ragazza*

      YES. Thank you. It’s unreasonable to expect employees to try to ignore this kind of behavior.

    2. AKchic*

      The fact that this is over a bonding exercise and a childish medal highlights just how schoolyard bully the behavior is, and should get any half-way decent manager to act. But the LW has to initiate the contact with the supervisor/HR to get them to act.

    3. Jennifer*

      This doesn’t read as bullying to me. Just weird. It seems too petty to take to HR or upper management.

        1. StaceyIzMe*

          Exactly. If Ethel were a peer, it’d be unpleasant but not quite as egregious. Because she’s the boss and also acting as the ring-leader of this very inappropriate “joke” AND taking the trouble to spread the tale to new hires months after the original event, there’s no reasonable way that she can be supposed to be innocently overstepping the bounds of common sense in dealing with coworkers.

      1. L.S. Cooper*

        Bullies will find plenty of “petty” things to bully others over. In fact, I’m pretty sure they prefer petty things, specifically because then you’ve got no way to tell people that you’re being bullied without being called over-sensitive or a tattler. They know what they’re doing.

        1. Jennifer*

          The description of Ethel as being socially awkward and super excited over her ONE win in an office competition doesn’t read “bully” to me. Sad was honestly the first word that came to mind.

          Plus, what would you say to HR? “Ethel is still celebrating her win from six months ago and rubbing it in our faces.” It just sounds silly. I agree with AAM. Let it go. Let it goooooooooo.

          1. ragazza*

            “Ethel keeps bringing up that win, which is fine if a bit odd, but she also continuously calls me a loser and insisting that I am angry about the loss, which I’m not, in front of other people. I’m concerned about how this portrays me in front of other employees as well as how they perceive Ethel openly calling her employee a loser, even though it sounds jokey. How do you think I should handle this?” Then at least HR is aware of the issue even if they don’t do anything.

            The LW says she is thick-skinned but enough people have suffered this kind of bullying at work (and have mentioned it in these comments) to show that this is a problem, and HR ignoring it only adds to it.

          2. MattersSeen*

            Calling someone a loser and insisting on that they are anger/mad when they aren’t is bullying. The focus isn’t on how she won, the focus is on the op’s loss and trying to make her upset over it.
            Trying to push and control people’s reactions is a form of bullying. Or in more correct terms, a form of emotional abuse.

            1. Jennifer*

              I don’t see her as trying to push or control anyone’s actions. There’s a difference between someone behaving like a fool and being a bully. I think we’re too quick to jump to the b word sometimes.

              1. StaceyIzMe*

                There’s another storied contender for that moniker and it’s not as kind as “bully”.

              2. PVR*

                I think if Ethel were a peer this would (maybe) not be bullying, but Ethel is the manager and holds the power over OP. A manager repeatedly calling an employee a loser and trying to create a narrative to all new hires (and rewrite history) that OP has a temper and is very angry about losing is pretty terrible when you consider the power issues at play.

                1. Jasnah*

                  Agreed, the power structure at work here is what makes this really not acceptable. Percy Peer calls you a loser every month? OK, knock yourself out Percy. But when the person in charge of your raises and career does it? That’s not OK.

            2. Lissa*

              I don’t really know that trying to tease out whether this fits a particular definition of bullying, annoyingness or emotional abuse is going to be really helpful here, though. If LW thinks that escalating it would work, then she should do so, but trying to figure out how to correctly label the behaviour is probably not likely to improve things for her. If there’s a specific policy and she believes Ethel’s behaviour falls into that, and she can use that to stop the behaviour, great. But if her reading is that escalating this up the chain will NOT help, then it really doesn’t matter if it could be called bullying or not, because that is *extremely* subjective as we see here.

              1. MattersSeen*

                It’s not extremely subjective. A weird look is subjective. A comment taken out is subjective. Someone pointing at you and calling you a loser isn’t. Even if no one does anything and she chooses to not pursue this, it still doesn’t excuse the behavior. Too many people justify poor behavior. We all deserve a future where this kind of behavior isn’t allowed.

        2. many bells down*

          Once, in the same day, I was told that I had a “huge nose” and then a “pug nose.” Those are pretty much opposites. I also used to get called “Brooke Shields” on account of having dramatic eyebrows. It was not intended as a compliment.

      2. Heidi*

        Maybe the LW should ask Ethel, “Are you bullying me?” I wonder what she would say.

        I’d be on the side of de-escalation, not going to HR or doing anything that could be interpreted as retaliation. You can laugh when she brings it up (there is something weirdly humorous about a grown up woman who keeps a plastic medal in her desk from a team-building activity). No one could interpret that as seething with rage.

    4. CM*

      This reads as bullying to me too. It’s not about trying to be funny or being awkward — awkward people and people who accidentally make unfunny jokes care whether what they’ve said bothers someone and they stop saying it if it does. In this case, the exact oposite is true. She thinks it bothers the OP and openly admits that that’s WHY she’s doing it. Repeatedly doing something on purpose just to upset someone, because you think it’s funny to hurt others is pretty much the definition of bullying.

      My advice would actually be to point out that that’s what’s happening in public. Like, “If you think I’m upset about it, I don’t understand why you keep bringing it up. Are you trying to hurt me on purpose? That seems kind of mean.” Or “If I really was upset about it, it would be pretty mean to keep bringing it up like this.” Change the focus of the conversation to be about what she’s doing and not what she says you did or felt.

  43. L.S. Cooper*

    Ugh. I hate people who get competitive like this. It seems like LW is taking this well, but this could so easily veer into bullying. I *would* be furious in this situation. Not because I care about winning, but because Ethel is desperately trying to put down the LW. It’s completely unacceptable, it’s not funny, and I really hate people like this.

  44. That Guy*

    I’m also someone who tends to be very calm and unflappable. It’s an asset for me, since a big part of my job is calming down people who are really distressed. However, I’ve sometimes had people who are naturally very emotional react badly to my demeanor. They can interpret my calm reaction as hostility or as a judgment on their own emotionality. And then they start doing the types of stuff LW describes Ethel as doing, out of a need to provoke an emotional reaction from me.

    There’s really nothing to be done about it except just acknowledge that it’s the other person’s issue and not yours. And of course to try not to react to it.

    1. Arts Akimbo*

      Some people get weirdly threatened by things outside their expectations and experience. I was once called “phony” by a colleague because I “seemed too happy all the time” and therefore must be hiding my true feelings. Or… I could just be a generally happy person?

      1. Helena*

        Oh I had this too! “You are so friendly to everyone so they let you get away with murder!”

        No, I’m just friendly to everyone. No ulterior motive.

  45. AKchic*

    Yikes on bikes. What a sore winner. Grey Rock her in the moment. If someone brings it up, tell them “I’m sorry she keeps going on about that, I don’t know why she’s so fixated on it. Maybe I shouldn’t have let her win, but it seemed so important to her in the moment, y’know?”

    Also, talk to her boss or HR. This is ridiculous. She has kept that medal as a dang trophy to lord over you and rub in your face and is trying to undermine you to new staff (!!) and the other employees. There is something going on that is more than “I won, neener neener”. This is “I see you as a threat, so I’m taking my minor victory and using it in any way I can”.
    It needs to be shut down, and a supervisor needs to step in and remind her that she is being childish and that she needs to take her toy home and stop bringing it up because she is undermining her own authority with her reports.

  46. sofar*

    We had a guy like this we used to play boardgames with. All this stuff was coming from an insecure place, so we doubled down on the praise. As in, praised him like a toddler.

    Him: I WON! You all SUCK!
    Us: Yes! You did awesome. Like, that move you made toward the end? We didn’t see it coming. Good job, man!
    Him: But did you see how I owned you by doing XYZ?
    Us: Yes! So awesome. You’re so good at this!
    Him: I don’t know why I play against you dummies. The people at the boardgame cafe are so much better. Like, it’s laughable.
    Us: We’re so grateful you play with us. We learn so much from you.

    When he’d bring up his victories at later social gatherings, my husband would be like, “Yes, man, you’re so good” and then say to anyone else around, “You wouldn’t believe how amazing this guy is at board games. Like, he’s on another level.”

    Wouldn’t you know, this guy found another group to game with. Because, turns out, he found it more fun when people got angry at him for winning.

    1. TootsNYC*

      I actually kind of like this as a strategy.

      Ethel is trying to force some kind of engagement from the OP (since the OP was so matter-of-fact and neutral at the event).
      Negative engagement is the easiest to provoke (like little kids misbehaving in order to get their parent’s attention).

      So give it to her, but make it positive! Be a bit relentless.
      (Don’t agree that you’re a poor loser or anything, just talk about how amazing she was at winning, and sound happy and admiring)

  47. Jules the 3rd*

    I tried to come up with a script for Ethel’s manager that didn’t seem like Medal Hater was overreacting, and I couldn’t. What words would you use to Ethel’s manager?

    My attempt:
    “Ethel’s *still* fixated on winning that team competition thing we did months ago. She tells every new hire about it. She looks so divisive doing that, like she wants the team to be winners vs losers.”

    But you’d have to be prepared for mgmt not to do anything, as that’s pretty weak sauce.

    1. Jennifer*

      I agree. “Ethel is celebrating too much and it’s getting on my nerves.” I’d be internally rolling my eyes if someone came to me with that complaint. It’s just one of those things. People are weird.

    2. Turtle Candle*

      Yeah, she has sort of evil-brilliantly picked something you can’t really complain about or even respond to. TBH this would drive me to anonymously mailing her and envelope of glitter.

      (This is probably a bad idea.)

    3. Lissa*

      Yeah, this sort of thing is really really hard to come at, because her constantly insisting you are the one who’s mad makes you really not want to seem to be proving her right. This is why I think the grey-rock style strategies are going to be a better idea than escalating it. If you think that other stuff is going on or other staff really *are* having a hard time with you because it then it’d be time to escalate but I don’t get that impression here. I agree with Alison that it’s making HER look bad, not you.

      1. PVR*

        It makes me wonder about Ethel’s true motivations here. If OP loses his/her temper in front of the team, what is Ethel’s next move?

  48. Booksalot*

    While many coworkers in AAM letters require the Dwayne Johnson eyebrow, Ethel seems more of a candidate for the Aubrey Plaza “WTF is wrong with you” face. Check YouTube for examples, particularly when she’s on Conan.

  49. AKchic*

    Having had some time to think about it… I’d be tempted to confront this more aggressively next time.

    “Ethel, you’re right. You have been so keen on ensuring that I don’t forget what a loser I am, and ensuring that all staff, including the new ones know I’m a loser, and assigning emotions I didn’t feel at the time to this designation you put on me, that I think you should be the one to let HR know this designation you’ve given me. Let’s head over there now so you can inform them. Bring your medal, too. They’d love to see that you’ve kept your trophy to highlight my loser status. Well, c’mon, I’m headed over there now.”

    And make good on it. I know… it’s a wonderful movie-style hypothetical, but oof would it feel great!

    1. Essess*

      I would also try adding … “Ethel… I thought the game was supposed to be a team-building exercise. I’m not sure how it improves team morale to keep calling your coworkers ‘losers’.”

  50. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

    I’d carry my phone and queue up “We Are the Champions” and throw an exaggerated “we are not worthy” bow her way every time she mentioned it. Ridiculous? Yes. Extreme? Possibly. But the whole situation is so weird I’m not sure it can be made any more ridiculous or extreme.

    LW, I am also one of those who was born without the competitive gene but at this point I would also be frustrated with Ethel and wanting to yell, “I don’t care about your stupid medal. Shut up!”, so my sympathies

  51. Unknown*

    I had a coworker like this before (I’ll call her Karen). My whole team got cute plants as a gift from a higher up for Christmas one year. Everyone’s plants slowly died from neglect over the next few months except mine and Karen’s. When mine started to get a bit unhealthy, I brought in liquid Miracle Grow from home and added a few drops to the water I gave it that day. I did this one time, and might have kept doing it, but realized all my plant needed to perk up was more frequent waterings (I went from watering it on Mon/Thurs to Mon/Wed/Fri). The plant really took off and grew a ton. I had to replant it in a bigger pot.

    Karen’s plant didn’t really grow or look as healthy as mine. Every time someone came to my desk to admire my plant, or if Karen stopped by my desk on her own, she would go on and on about how mine was doing so well because I was giving it Miracle Grow every week and I was “cheating.” I told her I only used the Miracle Grow once and had realized the plant just needed more water because the office environment was so dry, but she became a broken record player about it. Don’t know if it was supposed to be an inside joke or what, but it was very awkward and annoying, and made me regret having a plant.

    1. PVR*

      I mean, that is beyond annoying, but also? Pretty funny. Sometimes when things like this happen in my own life, I try to take solace in the fact that it will make a brilliant story later, and then I’m weirdly grateful that it’s happening. Sometimes I will even picture a good friend’s face and reaction to the story I will eventually get to tell, so then my inward dialogue is almost egging the other person on more so I have an even more ridiculous story to tell later.

  52. LaDeeDa*

    I have loved all the comments about people dealing with something similar, people are nuts!! LOL! I work with a lot of socially awkward engineers, and what I find with most people who are socially awkward or on the spectrum, is that they work so hard to NOT do sh!t like this. They KNOW they are socially awkward, they know they are on the spectrum and can’t read a room and tend to be overly polite and formal. The leader in the OP is really pushing it. My response is likely to be along the lines of Alison’s advice of “how weird, what are you talking about?” It is so true that this kind of behavior reflects badly on Ethel, not the OP.

  53. Essess*

    I would put her on the spot in front of people next time she’s waving the medal around…. “Ethel… why is the ancient winner of a team-building game so important to you? The rest of us were having fun just getting to know each other.”

  54. MuseumChick*

    You could try this strategy from the blog Captain Awkward, it’s called “Bean Dip” basically you refuses to engage in the subject the other person is focused on. Example: “Why don’t you have kids?” “Hey, this is some good bean dip, have you tried it?” “You’ll have kids when you meet the right man!” “Do you know who made this bean dip? It’s so good!”

    In your case it might look like:

    Ethel: “Remember when I BEAT you???”
    You: *slow blink* “Anyway, Jessica and I just finished project X but we had a question about Y.”
    Ethel: “SEE you are still mad about it!”
    You: *confused tone* Jessica and I really need to know about Y to finish up X.”
    Ethel: “You are so mad about this!”
    You: “Is there a better time for me to come back to go over Y?”

  55. Veryanon*

    I have always disliked card and board games (I’m weird that way), but every so often, my daughter will guilt me into playing UNO with her. Every single time, I remember why I hate card and board games.

    1. animaniactoo*

      If it helps, (and you haven’t already figured this out) the secret to having a better-than-average shot at winning Uno is to try to gain at least one and have a minimum of one wild card in your hand. This will mean that you end up continuing to draw to find something to put on a red 7, but hopefully you pick up some other useful cards to use as well. If your competitor is down to relatively few cards, it becomes obvious what their preference is and you can often find something in your larger stack to play away from their preference until they’ve had to draw more and you’ve whittled down your hand some. Along, of course, with hitting them with the penalty cards. The reason for having that wild card is that it’s what will allow you to go out at the end, no matter what color is in play on the board at the time.

    2. Amber Rose*

      I have one cooperative board game I enjoy. Technically you still kind of have winners and losers based on what you do, but if you don’t work together then everyone loses. It’s way more fun. It’s called Castle Panic if you ever wanna give it a shot.

  56. LaDeeDa*

    I have a hard time dealing with overly competitive people. I am not competitive. My entire life, personal and professional, is helping other people be better. I want them to WIN! I don’t not perform, I do my best, but I am truly happy when other people succeed.

  57. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

    I used to have an Ethel – he’s since transferred to a different unit.

    I had known him back in the day and something weird happened with a key ring. 20 years later he would bring it up to random people about how hilarious the key ring incident was, and how I was so funny and did you hear about the key ring. HAHAHAHAHA.

    I can assure you, EVERYONE found him to be bizarre not only with this, but with lots of other things and my professional reputation wasn’t damaged at all. If anything people will commiserate with me about the weirdness.

    Ethel is only making herself look absurd. With Kyle, I just wound up nodding and agreeing. ‘Yep, you sure got me. That key ring thing. Woo, such a hoot!’ He never figured out I was being sarcastic, but every other more socially aware person had no trouble picking up on it.

    So maybe next time Ethel brings it up try agreeing with her. ‘Yep, you sure did beat me Ethel. You’re the unchallenged queen of photo copier pong for sure.’

    1. londonedit*

      Yeah, I had a friend like this. One time, we were at a tube station together and I saw a ‘tube mouse’ (I believe they have actually evolved into their own little species – they are super cute little dark-brown mice that live in the tube stations). I remarked ‘Oh, look! A tube mouse!’ And for some reason, my friend heard that as me *freaking out* about seeing a mouse, and from then on *every time* we were at a gathering together she’d insist on telling the story of the time londonedit saw a mouse at the station and *freaked the hell out*, how she couldn’t believe it, how ridiculous I was, hadn’t I seen a tube mouse before, how ridiculous, what sort of Londoner freaks out over a tube mouse, etc etc etc. At first I tried defending myself but it just made her ramp up the story – ‘Oh nooooo, you should have *seen your face*!!! You practically SCREAMED!!!!!’ so in the end I’d just shrug and say, deadpan, ‘I don’t remember it quite like that’. People found her weird insistence on retelling the story bizarre, and it was her who looked like the odd one, not me.

    2. Jules the 3rd*

      I totally just googled photocopier pong to see if this was a thing.

      It is not. I has sad.

  58. JJJJBBB*

    She’s a bully who wants to make you her permanent target. She’s super competitive, but she really is seriously insecure and threatened by you. There would be no other reason to single you out. Anyone who calls you a loser is not a professional. Is there upper management that can get involved?

  59. Exhausted Trope*

    LW, next time Ethel does this, you might try whispering “it’s so weird she keeps bringing this up” to the nearest colleague just softly enough so that the boss can’t tell what you said but definitely notices. I predict that Ethel will demand to know what you’re whispering about. That’s when you tell colleague, “go ahead and tell her.” Colleague will remark that it’s so weird that Ethel keeps mentioning something that happened so long ago that isn’t interesting or funny at all.
    Ethel just might be embarrassed enough to stop.

  60. It's all good in the end*

    I work with competitive people. My ‘go-to’ response for people that won’t drop it after the fact is simply to make a one sentence statement agreeing with them. “Yeah, you played really well that day.” Then I change the subject and move on. It generally ends the ‘fun’ of poking at sore losers, and just comes across as a statement of good sportsmanship.

  61. S*

    So in Ethel’s defense, maybe she’s a giant dork and this is her way of socializing with you. I’m not saying it’s right but her intentions may not be nefarious. My boss right now is such a giant jackass we avoid talking to him at all costs. If he attempted to converse in anyway that wasn’t, hey look at what you f-uped now, would be welcome, even jesting over a plastic medal.

    1. MM*

      Yeah, I kind of wonder if she learned somewhere in her life that competitive trash-talking is a bonding formula, and maybe doesn’t quite have the social skills to deviate from formulas she knows. The problem, of course, with this kind of trash talk as bonding is that it depends HUGELY on non-verbal cues, because the actual words literally are going to be negations, denials, and pushback. You only know if it’s working for the other person/people by their tone, body language, expression, and whether they start avoiding you. But if you’re their boss then all of those cues are also muted. I mean, most people would have definitely picked up that this isn’t successful. But I can see how someone who has trouble in this specific area might either not be clear on it, or not really know how to dismount.

      The thing is, though, OP can’t exactly coach Ethel on any of this, so I think the advice for OP remains the same.

      1. Bunny Girl*

        Yeah I’ve met a few people who were really socially awkward that seemed to really latch on to one sort of communicating and stick with it, even if it clearly didn’t work. For instance, we met up with a friend of a friend once who for some reason just kept saying “Hey wouldn’t it be funny if…” and then would suggest doing something super annoying to some random stranger. Like we were walking past a group of women and he said “Wouldn’t it be funny if we just ran right through the middle of them?” and I was like no that would be really annoying. He did that all night until we went our separate ways. I don’t know why some stuff people just cling to.

    2. Medal Hater*

      Perhaps, but as my manager I feel if that’s the case she needs to understand that I’m her direct report, and it creates an uncomfortable dynamic because I can’t really rib her back in the same way.

      1. Close Bracket*

        She should understand that, but it sounds like she doesn’t. Because you are her direct report, you aren’t in a position to explain that to her. Since you are in this situation, instead of talking about what your manager needs to understand, use possible explanations to reframe her behavior in your head. You can’t change her, but you can change how you view her, and you can change your narrative surrounding the situation, which can change your feelings on it.

        If she were being discriminatory or inappropriate sexual or something, the advice would be different. But for jerks and the socially awkward, reframing is the strategy that is most likely to bring you peace.

    3. Observer*

      That’s not much of a defense. It’s reasonable to expect that by the time a person reaches the stage of being a manager they know that telling people how ANGRY they are, what sore losers they are, and how they are just LOSERS har har, is not a reasonable way to “socialize”

  62. Hermione Stranger*

    Honestly, what I’d suggest — and I’m surprised it’s not more of a popular option — is to take a route that gives her no purchase. Every time she starts up again, give her the most sincere smile you can muster, and tell her “Yes, Ethel. You are the winner”/”It’s a good thing you’re such a gracious winner, Ethel”/”Don’t worry Ethel, I’m sure your trophy is on the way”

    And then just move right on to something work-related. This has the double effect of displaying how little you care without any obvious snark, while making you look gracious and tolerant of her weird obsession.

    Another possibility is to have a “serious” conversation with her where you ask what “you’ve” been doing wrong because she’s clearly very, very upset about how you acted at the team-building exercise — this could alert her to the fact that what she thinks is a joke has damaged your relationship instead of improved it. (But it might be a little late in the game to switch tactics like this.)

  63. Airy*

    Ideally there will be another round of team-building games, LW will win without apparent effort, receive the medal calmly and pleasantly and never mention it again.
    It will drive Ethel mad.

  64. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I can relate to this story, but not from the winning/losing angle, but rather from the “group leader regaling new people with a story about something ridiculous I did that never happened” one. I was in a hiking meetup group and frequently went on Saturday morning hikes one person organized. He and I got along pretty well. Until one day another hiking friend came out to a hike, who shares my native language, and the hike leader tried to prank us by pretending he knew the language, but in reality reading the words from google translate on his phone. The prank did not work, because he’d confused the Latin and Cyrillic alphabets and messed a word up pretty bad and confused us both. I thought it was cute and funny, but he started telling the story to every new member that joined our group, except he was not telling it the way it happened at all. In his version, there was no google translate involved, and also he’d read the word correctly to us, but we failed to understand him, because (reasons?) Again no big deal, but I got tired of hearing that story at every. single. hike. Anytime a new female attractive member would show up, she’d get The Story. I tried to correct him the first time he did it, but he talked over me until I shut up. After he did it three or four weeks in a row, I stopped coming to his hikes, haven’t seen him in over a year, and likely never will – I don’t take well to gaslighting. So yeah, this part of Ethel’s behavior – the gaslighting part – makes me really angry. The rest of it is just bizarre – new hires can see it for themselves that the LW is unflappable, why would they believe Ethel’s story, no matter how many times she repeats it? especially with it being that LW is not the one waving a six-month-old medal in their faces.

  65. JSPA*

    Can you laugh hysterically on command (to the point of having to wipe your eyes)? If so, do it, next time. There’s a small chance it’ll make her decide that she’s finally “loosened you up” and she’ll be all pals-y, from here out. There’s a significant chance that It’ll dumfound her, and she’ll just stop. There’s a microscopic chance that she’ll write you up for it, and you can go all grey rock in the follow up (or rather, she’ll thereby be crossing the line into actual, verifiable harassment, which is in some ways, easier to deal with than unfunny supposed jokes). Regardless, you’ll have the sweet, sweet memory of having laughed in her face.

  66. Akcipitrokulo*

    “You are correct. As a result of this humiliation at you hands, I have taken a solomn oath never to indulge in such games again. My mother says you have ruined her family Christmas Day forever. Now, about the MacKenzie file…”

    But seriously – your reputation is safe. Hers is not.

  67. Miss Petty and Vindictive*

    I would start being really excited for her about it. She WON?! Oh wow, that is so cool! She is so good at that game! Find local tournaments and suggest she enter them. Find local tournaments in similar games and suggest she enters them. Find national tournaments and tell her how she is sure to win. When she hasn’t brought it up in a few hours, directly ask her about it. Start pre-empting her discussing it with you – go to her office and ask to see her medal, and ask her to tell you again about how she won. Become her biggest supporter that you can.

    Aggressive positivity is one of my favourite things. It is amazing how quickly it shuts people down from doing stuff like this. Because suddenly, you’re the one constantly bringing it up. And that ruins the fun.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      This… is a good blueprint for the ‘positivity overdose’ response, way better than sarcasm. It’s very easy to read sarcasm as repressed anger, but this? This is lovely.

      I hope Medal Hater sees this post, and considers it. MH: You’d have to choose between Grey Rock and Super Positive, you can’t go back and forth. But I’d have fun just *planning* the Super Positive bits, not to mention doing them.

      Hunh – just realized, this is how I’ve been reacting to my annoying person, though my Super Positive has been more ‘Here’s the thing you need way before you need it’ and ‘That person you’re bad mouthing is globally known and respected.’

  68. Sciencer*

    I’m on board with Alison’s response until the “let it go” part, only because OP has said Ethel turns silence into “Look, she’s so mad she can’t talk!” Some form of response is required, so the trick is to find the one(s) that will shut this down as soon as possible. There are some great ideas here but I have one to add if it hasn’t been said already.

    “Ethel, I wasn’t actually mad when your team won, but I *am* getting frustrated now that you keep making it sound like I was. I’m not sure what I did to make you think I was upset, but I’m telling you now that I was not, and I’m asking you to stop bringing this up at work.”

    This is best said in a private meeting, so Ethel doesn’t feel embarrassed in front of everyone (which will make her want to tear OP down more to save face). Ideally, wait for a moment when she has just made a comment about the game/winning/medal/etc., but if she never does that in private it will have to be brought up as a Thing I Need To Talk To You About.

    OP, I’m so sorry you’re dealing with this bizarre form of bullying from a superior. I hope you can get it resolved soon and move on with your working life!

  69. Forrest Rhodes*

    How about sort of stealing Ethel’s thunder? As soon as she says the first two words that indicate she’s going to start the tirade again, you jump in.
    “Oh, good! Hey, everybody, Ethel’s going to tell it again—go ahead, Eth. Y’all, get on over here, Ethel’s got the greatest story!”
    And even if she hasn’t started it yet but has That Look on her face: “Hey, Ethel, would you mind telling that great story about your medal? I do love hearing it! Gather ’round, gang!”
    Optional addition: “Grizelda, would you drag a couple of chairs over … and Fergus, do we have any popcorn left in the break room? I dearly love hearing this story!”
    Of course, all this should be said in an eagerly excited voice (kinda like the department-store Santa in David Sedaris’s classic department-store Christmas story: “Little elf! Oh, little elf!”) and definitely with floppy “Ooh! Ooh!” hand gestures. Hopping from foot to foot excitedly while making the request is also optional.
    Yeah, probably wouldn’t work (or help the situation), but I like thinking about it.

    1. StaceyIzMe*

      (I don’t know about stealing her thunder but I’d be tempted to steal that darn medal…)

  70. sheworkshardforthemoney*

    Several years ago I bought new glasses and they happened to look like the style worn by Harry Potter. (I had never seen the movies so I didn’t get the reference right away.) A co-worker latched onto the glasses and every day the same joke “Hey, it’s Harry Potter!” It got old really fast and now 3 years and different glasses later I still hear the same tired joke.
    Perhaps someone can “borrow” the trophy and lose it.

  71. Megasaurusus*

    I once got caught in the rain and my straight-ironed hair returned to its curly state, which astonished a co-worker who made jokes about my frizzy curls and that one episode of Friends where Monica goes to Florida and her hair frizzes out. For the next two years, every single time I saw her she’d make a joke about my hair or call me Monica.

    It got to the point that all my other co-workers were weirded out with how obsessed she was with my hair. It was always really irritating and I always wondered what she was up to. In the end I just chalked it up to mean-girl behavior. It never occurred to me (and I don’t know now why not) that she was just super awkward and clinging to her only conversation point. Former work mystery solved! Thanks AaM!

      1. Delta Delta*

        This reminds me of the line from “Laid” by James that goes, “She said I’m so obsessed that I’m becoming a bore, oh no.”

        And I know now it’s stuck in everybody’s heads. You’re welcome. Just pretend you’re at a college party again.

        1. Leems*

          Ah, you think you’re so pretty–EEEEE-EEEEE! EEEE-EEEEE! EEEEEEEE!
          Where’s my red solo cup of terrible lite beer? :)

  72. JSPA*

    Get a giant, cheap trophy inscribed, “best loser ever.” Put it on your desk. If your office is casual, do a T-shirt, too. Basically, if it’s your joke, she’s either laughing with you, or she has to let go. She may bray with laughter and punch you in the arm, but that’s…about as good a resolution as you’re going to get.

  73. Kendra*

    Note to all of the managers out there: if you’re somehow roped into playing a team sport with your staff, either be a spectator, the referee, or mostly hang back and let them play. You don’t want to be a dead weight and make your team lose or anything, but the game is 100% Not About You. You’re not there to win singlehandedly, or to show off your skills at whatever, or to be their mascot or “lead them to victory” (or whatever bizarre thing is in the heads of the Ethels of the world). You’re there to be present and show them that you enjoy (or at least don’t mind) spending time with them in a less formal setting, maybe get to know them a little better, and that’s it.

    Sit back and enjoy not having to be in charge for once!

  74. ket*

    There’s been some discussion about “letting it go”, but no one has yet suggested just humming a phrase from that song very quietly… three notes should suffice… even as you’re walking away from the interaction….

  75. SigneL*

    The boss who persists in calling LW a loser – after months! – will not evaluate her fairly.

  76. Mockingdragon*

    Geez….that sounds like possibly the most annoying thing I can imagine. It doesn’t sound like there’s any point in talking to Ethel any more about it. Kudos for staying unflappable for so long because it would have me visibly raging by now!

    Is there anyone you can escalate to? Is there an HR person, or does Ethel have a manager? It may be worth trying to get someone with authority over her to tell her to cut it out but even that might not help…If you ARE able to just ignore it, escalating may be an unwanted risk for things getting worse instead of better. But if you’re like me and you couldn’t take it, it may be worth the risk.

  77. Memyselfandi*

    This reminds me of a man who broke off a relationship with me and then was convinced that I was devastated. Nothing I could say would convince him and since we were part of a group I continued to see him in social situations. The pitying looks and murmured condolences when we encountered one another were infuriating. In fact, I was anything but devastated. He was from Germany, I was from the US and we were both at a university in Canada where I was a researcher and he was doing some post-graduate work. We were all returning to our origins in about a month, and to me the relationship was more recreational than anything else. Time solved the problem for me, but it is very difficult to have emotions attributed to you that are not your own. I have no advice, there is plenty in the comments, but I sympathize. It is a hard situation to be in.

  78. LGC*

    To anyone who saw a tall dude re-enacting the “flames on the side of my face” scene from Clue at Hoboken Terminal about an hour ago: this letter is why. I have strong feelings about Ethel, and although I can’t say that I hate her (since “hate” is a strong word and she’s the pseudonym of a problem supervisor some person wrote to a work advice blog about, so I definitely don’t know this lady), I certainly do not feel warmly towards her.

    …okay, yeah, I hate her as much as it’s possible to hate someone written about in an advice column. Anyway, moving on.

    So, like – I think everyone is in agreement that it’s Ethel that’s the weirdo, not you. But…I’m probably going to get commented at for suggesting this, but I don’t think it would be inappropriate to go over her head. (From the context clues given, I’m pretty sure Ethel has a boss.) On one hand, the instigating incident is hilariously trite, and I can’t believe that you have to deal with this. Further, going over her head would certainly feed into Ethel’s internal dialogue that LW is a JELUS H8R.

    On the other hand…the way I’m reading this, the real issue (for me, at least) isn’t that Ethel’s gloating about winning a team-building exercise that happened months ago and that no one else cares about. It’s that she’s repeatedly pushing LW’s buttons, regardless of what she does (whether she asks her to stop, jokes alongside her, or ignores her entirely). That’s a really bad characteristic to have at work, and especially as a team leader. Even if LW was the only one she’s done this to, it would still be pretty bad and worthy of correction.

    And yeah, Ethel will probably be mad if you go over her head. Trust me, I really dislike that when it’s happened to me! But also, I’ve…deserved it when it’s happened to me. The same thing applies here – the way it sounds to me, the issue isn’t Ethel winning, it’s Ethel continuously antagonizing the LW, which she cannot do.

    1. Jules the 3rd*

      The only concern is that it’s not clear if this is egregious enough that LW won’t face blowback for going over Ethel’s head. Any suggested scripts? I couldn’t think of a good one.

      1. LGC*

        That’s the tricky thing and if I was sure how to answer it perfectly, I’d have my own well-known advice blog and column in The Cut.

        I guess…LW would have to focus on the fact that Ethel is persisting even though LW has stated her wishes clearly and repeatedly, and her insistence is making her uncomfortable. So something like stating that she’d told her to knock it off in different venues (in the moment and in a 1 on 1) and ignored her, and Ethel’s response has been to escalate her behavior.

        (I did read it as egregious because of the escalation, but I can definitely see it not being taken seriously!)

      2. c-*

        To HR:
        “My boss is repeteadly calling me a loser to my face and to other team members. I’m worried this behaviour may be undermining my work or affecting future evaluations. I’m not sure how to deal with it, do you have any advice?” And then, when they ask for context, you explain as matter-of-factly and briefly as possible.

  79. Lilysparrow*

    You could try the extreme boredom/dry tone with, “Okay, whatever you say, Ethel.”
    “Yeah sure, if you say so.”
    “Okay, right.”

    It’s not a sure-fire solution, but sometimes people like this get bored if you just agree. And it’s not like you’re going to change mind with reality anyway.

  80. Hopping to it*

    I think I’d be tempted to talk to Ethel and say, let’s say you’re right and the tournament was a terrible experience for me – and even if it wasn’t at the time, I’m beginning to feel that way now. Every time you bring it up it’s distracting and demoralizing, which is not good, especially now that we’re on the same team. Can I ask you to stop, and help me focus on being part of a team doing awesome work?

    1. Hopping to it*

      If you really want to hammer it home, you can follow up with “Because right now, you, my boss, are calling me a loser regularly to our team. If you haven’t thought of how that impacts my daily work and frame of mind, I hope you will now.”

      1. nonegiven*

        That’s what a bully wants, they want to impact you, depress you, anger you, etc.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          Yeah, I have to agree with nonegiven. Ethel clearly *wants* this to be upsetting to LW, even if it’s in a ‘friends tease each other’ kind of upset. Admitting that it worked is not going to get the result LW deserves.

  81. tiasp*

    I liked the suggestions to reply “Bless your heart” or “I’m glad it means to much to you” every time.

    If you are worried about the new people, if it comes up with them, I’d just say something like “[sigh] yeah, she didn’t really know me at the time and misread me there. I was just uncomfortable about how competitive it got. But don’t say anything. I can handle it and I wouldn’t want anyone else drawn in.”

  82. All Outrage, All The Time*

    She’s harassing you. She calls you a loser and undermines you with other employees. It’s unacceptable. I’d go to her boss stat and say something like “Ethel has a bee in her bonnet about a team building game her team won and my team loss. It was x months ago but Ethel still routinely shouts out that I am a loser and tells new employees that I have an anger management problem. This feels like harassment to me as I have asked her repeatedly to spot and I am concerned her completely unsubstantiated view of me is negatively impacting her view of me as an employee and may play into not receiving unbiased performance reviews.” Or similar. This is so not a joke any more.

  83. RUKiddingMe*

    “Is this the only thing you’ve ever won?”

    Ok, don’t really say that…I guess. Ethel is wacked!

  84. Leenie*

    I come from a family who use teasing and banter as a way of connecting. So I have a hypothesis about what could be underlying this pattern of behaviour. First, I think Ethel is socially awkward and feels threatened by you. You said that you are quite calm and unflappable, and for some people that can take some getting used to. If she comes from a family where people were frequently in a flap, paradoxically, unflappable people can on some level feel scary and different. Perhaps your unflappable nature feels like judgement to her, particularly if she is prone to being insecure.

    I think Ethel may feel very uneasy around you, and on some level, she persists with the teasing because she is trying to elicit a response from you that (to her) will feel safer and more predictable. If she manages to make you frustrated she achieves two things (a) she takes you down a peg and makes you less threatening (to her) because you show some emotion and (b) your behaviour becomes predictable (I tease you, and you get frustrated = this feels familiar to me, I feel more in control). It’s important that you don’t get hooked into this and actually show frustration.

    The other interesting thing is that you mention you are starting to experience a sense of rage, even though you genuinely weren’t bothered by losing the competition. This sounds like projective identification. Ethel is not getting the response out of you that she seeks, it’s frightening for her and elicits some primitive rage in her, which she projects onto you. If you start to experience the rage, you are identifying with the projection. Try not to do that – this may not even be your anger at all. It’s just part of a dynamic she is trying to create.

    My suggestion: Look for the need underlying Ethel’s behaviour. I think at the core of this is something quite vulnerable – a bid for connection. She finds you scary, she knows of no other way to make a connection other than banter, she keeps persisting in this futile way because this strategy is the only one she has got. What she needs is (a) to feel safer around you and (b) to have some other way to connect with you. Can you work to find some other topic of conversation that you can reliably bring up with her? Something she can cling to when she feels insecure. Replacing the winning/losing story with another go-to story that you both share, and hopefully something more positive. I also wonder if you can make yourself seem less threatening to her. Amy Edmondson has some great brief videos on youtube about professional ways to model vulnerability and fallibility to enhance feelings of psychological safety in a team.

    I know it seems weird to ask you to change your behaviour, given that you are not the problem here. But your behaviour is the part that is actually under your control, and i wonder if you kindly try to shift the dynamic it might actually stop this from recurring.

    1. c-*

      Or maybe Medal Hater is angry because they’re being continually harassed by their bully of a boss?

  85. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

    If you want to go the “yes, Ethel, you’re right” route, I’d suggest “that’s right, Ethel, you’re the best team-builder” (she’s not, of course, but it moves the emphasis away from the win/lose of the game, and toward something that yes, someone can be better at, but isn’t supposed to have any losers).

    Or, if you think you can sound at least a little sincere, maybe “Ethel, can I ask you, as my manager, to help me get better at my job? I try to keep calm at work, of course, and it would help me if you didn’t keep reminding me that my team lost that contest.” That script doesn’t deny that you lost, or argue with any of how she’s (mis)labeling you, or accuse her of bad intent. It would be hard for her to complain about that request without admitting that she wants you to get upset.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      Oh I like this. I don’t think I could pull it off, but asking her advice could derail Ethel.

  86. cheluzal*

    This would freak/annoy me and have me consider HR (hostile) well before someone moving my garbage on the recycling bin (who doesn’t even confront me and has no to say my raises, etc.).

  87. Zipzap*

    Ethel sounds downright mean. Maybe socially awkward and clueless in addition, but mainly just mean. I know plenty of socially awkward people who would never dream of acting like the complete jerk Ethel is. If ignoring her behavior and acting bored doesn’t eliminate her behavior, you’d be well within your rights to speak to her boss or to Human Resources about it. What she’s doing is uncomfortable for you and bad for your unit’s morale on top of that. If she won’t stop, then she needs to be stopped (and preferably sacked) by someone higher up.

  88. Not So NewReader*

    OP, I have not read all the responses but my thought is to find a way to go into it deeper with her.

    So here’s my two cents: If she starts in about winning the game in front of others, you can say something like, “You are the champion, Boss! Hey everyone, big cheer for the boss!” Get a couple people who will cheer with you — “yea!”. BUT, do this EACH time she says something. Yes, it will require you to step outside your safety zone. But the alternative is do nothing and blow you temper one day. So perhaps an idea like this is better than losing your cool.

    [See the one who grants acknowledgement of success is the one who has the power. Think parent talking to a small child. “You did very well, you got the pee in the toilet. Good for you!” In my example here you can say, “Big cheer for the boss!” out loud. And then do a toilet joke in your head.]

    OTH, I might be tempted to put a segment of “We are the champions” on my phone and play it for her each time she says something.
    Boss: Game, I won, blah, blah, blah…
    You: “Boss, this one is for you!” [ And we are the champions. We are the champions of the world..etc.]

    I am sure there are other rowdy, stirring songs you can use.

    Here’s the deal though. This person has issues. Once you get her off of the game thing, she will move on to something else with yet another baseless claim about you or someone else. This is who she is. It looks like she is going to be a bully boss. Decide how much you will put up and what your next plan is. My bully boss is still at old job and still being a bully. It’s been well over a decade. If you cannot figure out anything else to do, then promise you that you will lose this job to a better job before you lose your temper and have NO job.

    Maybe reading up on workplace bullying would be a supportive activity you can do for yourself while you incubate all this.

  89. MeMeM*

    If it is as Alison says, something “fun” she has seized on to talk about, can you redirect it to something else you wouldn’t mind that you could bring up proactively? So when you see her you say “there’s my long commute buddy – I spent 49 minutes on the road this morning” or “I made 25 doilies this weekend – bet you only made 20.”

    1. Airy*

      I feel like this just invites Ethel to be weirdly competitive about commute times and doily productivity.

  90. OhNotAgain*

    If that is how Ethel behaves after winning, I’d hate to be anywhere near her after she loses.

  91. Jack V*

    Ugh. I definitely wonder if Ethel feels jealous of OP, like worried OP could do her job better if no-one says so, and latched onto this.

    There’s definitely a thing of “don’t know how to build camaraderie so latches onto one joke” but just because there’s a reason why it started, doesn’t mean she didn’t choose a mean-spirited lying joke, or excuse “I keep hammering on this joke that gets a rise out of someone” as unacceptable for an adult and ten times unacceptable for a boss.

    I definitely think it *justifies* escalation to Ethel’s boss. “My boss repeatedly makes a joke about how I get really angry, and nothing I can say will get them to stop” is a real problem. Doing something that might be not be a big deal once but doing it again and again and again when someone can’t fight back until you destroy their composure is what bullying IS. That’s the situation: you have a bullying boss. But if no-one will help and Ethel is likely to retaliate, then there’s nothing much you can do. Do consider leaving: “everything is fine except my direct manager bullies me and I wish they dind’t but they do” is a reason people have to leave otherwise good jobs :(

    Is there anything you can say that will get her to stop? Probably not. Especially if you find it hard to stay calm now it’s gone on so long. If you haven’t already, it’s probably worth saying, “this is making me more and more uncomfortable, can you stop emphasising my role in this”. That would be reasonable even if you HAD (once) been inappropriately angry. Reminding you about it every two weeks for the rest of your life wouldn’t help! But I think you’ve already done this and she didn’t take it as important.

    That leaves manipulation. Nothing much seems likely. If you do stay in the job, it may be worth brainstorming what response would work, and then roleplaying it with a friend or partner. Like physically acting it out, until you can make a “bored” response without showing how much it bothers you that she’s found a button that will hurt you. You shouldn’t HAVE to, but if you can manage it, having a “neutral” reaction is probably the best thing, and it’s hard to fake on the spot: even if you don’t say anything, people can often sense that you’re angry *now*, even if you don’t act out and weren’t then.

    The other thing I can think of, which is a really bad idea but would be really satisfying, is to start running a pool on it. Have a calendar to track when she brings it up. Get people to guess how many days it is, and have a chocolate bar or something to give the person who get closest. Wait until she does it, and have everyone cheering “sixteen days! Well done! Mary, good guess! Well done Mary!” :)

    1. Klingons and Cylons and Daleks, Oh My!*

      Having an “Ethel pool” sounds tempting, but Ethel might rig it by having an ally in the pool.

    2. RUKiddingMe*

      “My boss repeatedly makes a joke about how I get really angry, and nothing I can say will get them to stop…”

      This is good but I would make sure that the bigger boss knows this as well:

      “Which, to be completely clear, I did not at all get angry over losing, however this constant bullying has worn as thin as it can go. This needs to stop, not only for me, but for the team as a whole.”

  92. Melanie*

    What if you just called out her awkwardness in the moment? Or invite her to take the high road by saying “Ethel, do make sure our colleagues know that you’re joking! Can you imagine how mortifying it would be if people thought that you cared about this competition for real? How cringe-worthy, right Ethel? Wouldn’t you be such a pathetic dork if you actually cared about this stuff?
    Then she has to: go with it, admit that she is a pathetic dork, or argue that it isn’t pathetic and dorky to be emotionally invested in such a trivial matter.

  93. Lindsay gee*

    I had something similar with my old retail boss. We had a slight difference of opinion over directions to a city, of all things, and after a point I shut down the conversations and said politely “Look, we obviously have different opinions on this and we’re not convincing each other of our own ‘rightness’, so why don’t we let this go?” or something similar. Because it had been DAYS of having this convo back and forth and I was sick of it. I knew I was right (confirmation from others), and I just didn’t care to prove to her I was right anymore. Her repsonse forevermore? “Wow you must be hangry today! I can’t believe you think X! You’re clearly upset because you know you’re wrong!etc. etc.” It was so dumb, and she always brought it up. I legit had to just ignore her and have zero reaction, or pretend to be helping a customer

  94. SpellingBee*

    A little late to this discussion, but I feel for you LW – this would drive me insane. I can’t imagine why Ethel is so bizarrely fixated on having won, but I think that the reason she’s so adamant that LW absolutely must be angry about losing may be that she’s secretly (or even subconsciously) afraid that the other team “let” her team win. See, if LW isn’t angry, then they didn’t care about winning; and if they didn’t care, then they didn’t try that hard. And if they didn’t try that hard, then Ethel’s win really didn’t mean that much. So in order for her to believe in her own superiority, someone else must be unhappy about it.

    As far as what to do about it, I’d probably go with a bored “okay” every time she brings it up, perhaps accompanied by a slightly pitying expression. I’m quite sure everyone around her finds it inappropriate and ridiculous, so I wouldn’t worry about it undermining your reputation at work. Even new hires will quickly see the light on this one.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      Yup. “Okay” would have started being my response a looonnngg time ago. That’s how I generally respond when someone is just being ridiculous or it’s obvious that we aren’t going to agree. Either that or “you win,” or a combo of both.

  95. Lily in NYC*

    My coworkers like to go to trivia nights and I never join them because I know I would get weirdly competitive. It’s the only thing I’m competitive about! Confession time: I got dumped 20 years ago for calling my boyfriend a “fucking idiot” during a game for not knowing that Hannibal crossed the Alps with elephants (we were on the same team). I’m sorry Jason, wherever you are! I deserved that dumping.

  96. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    I have just realized that I’m not buying it that this behavior is caused by Ethel being socially awkward. BG, one of my two adult sons is on the spectrum, which I strongly suspect he got from me. So not only is my close family member socially awkward, but I spent my childhood and teen years being the same. My field of work and the social organizations/groups I belong to are all filled with socially awkward people. What I have never seen a socially awkward person do is go out of their way to pick on another person, especially the same person every time, especially from a position of power. The last thing a socially awkward person wants to do is to deliberately create a new socially awkward situation. Ethel is not one of us. Also, I think I don’t like Ethel.

    1. Close Bracket*

      “Spectrum” and “neurotypical but socially awkward” are not the same thing. Lots of awkward people are not on the spectrum and lots of spectrum people are socially adroit. Light hearted teasing is a form of social bonding that a socially awkward person might do wrong. It’s conceivable.

      “The last thing a socially awkward person wants to do is to deliberately create a new socially awkward situation.”

      Of course, it’s also conceivable that Ethel is both socially awkward and an asshole. That’s a combination that absolutely exists. Neither all socially awkward people nor all spectrum people are automatically insightful into their own behaviors.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        Yeah, one of the biggest assholes I’ve ever known was also quite socially awkward. It’s a nasty combination.

  97. boop the first*

    Since the employees are so “melded”, it would be really tempting to get everyone together to gaslight the boss over this. “Huh, I don’t remember any games, do you Fred? Deep? Sorry boss, can you explain when this might have happened?”
    “Are you…. sure it was us, and not some other round of hiring?”

  98. Tan*

    I’m not sure any ignoring, engagement or hints will do the trick in getting her to move on in life. Although I’d try again and see I think I’d email her, saying your are tired of if this talk (as suggested) but asking how we can move on. Perhaps cc her boss and HR even estimating how much time has been wasted in the office i.e. “In the past 6 months since event you’ve brought it up no less than 60 times and wasted no less than 5 hours of my time, not to mention other coworker’s on this subject. I’m just tired of it, what for of celebration / reaction do you need /desire?” If maybe you can get away with it, you could maybe take on a sarcastic approach “For example, I think it would at least be easier if I knew when and how this topic would come up. As you seem to want to relive you epic *xxx* team building victory. Maybe boss and xx in HR can approve a small fund so we can reserve the meeting room and have food brought in on the first Tuesday of every month at midday. Then and there you can regale one and all with your tale of success against all odds. Perhaps on yyy, the anniversary of this victory we should have a parade. People can dress their cars and we can do laps of the car park.”
    Although I also suspect that you could annoy this person simply by buying /using a “best boss mug” and telling her it was “a gift from the boyfriend (or whomever)” but you don’t seem the type to fight fire with fire.

  99. Well*

    Its been over a day and I still can’t stop thinking about this and how frustrating this would be.

  100. JT*

    New suggestion! My husband had advice from a mindfulness counselor once about dealing with people who insist on judging/accusing you wrongly. You listen to the accusation then repeat it back to the accuser as a question. In this case, something like “Wait. I want to make sure I’m understanding you correctly. Are you saying I was angry about the team exercise and am still upset about it after X months?” (Wait for answer, which I guess would be affirmative.) Then you could either ask another question or make a statement showing that you’ve heard the response. For example: “Wow. Do you honestly believe that?” OR “Hmmm, what makes you think that?” Making Ethel answer these questions might get her to see/experience the absurdity of it all, and hopefully will give you a way to follow up with an affirmation of your own sentiment, letting her know that actually, she has misunderstood you, and you’d kindly request that she stop misrepresenting you by introducing you to newcomers in this way. Hope you see this–I think it’s worth trying!

  101. Robin*

    I’m surprised at the “let it go” advice for this one – clearly LW has tried that and it hasn’t worked. They’ve also tried bringing it up directly with Ethel. At this point they need to take it up with Ethel’s boss or HR. Otherwise all Ethel will learn is that she can get away with this level of bullying, and then she’ll be eyeing the next level.

  102. Peter*

    Sorry if this is too blunt but such amazingly juvenile behaviour sounds to me like evidence of a genuine mental health issue. I don’t think it’s right to downplay it as a quick of a “bad winner” or something. This lunacy is a symptom rather than the real problem. Probably something very difficult for you to fix.

    1. Peter*

      Look at it this way: which of us wouldn’t be very embarrassed/concerned if we had a five year old child behaving in this way? Now put that same behaviour in the body of a grown adult in a position of authority.

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