two of my employees won’t speak to each other

A reader writes:

I’m managing a department of eight people and two of them won’t speak to each other. I’m new to my position and it took me a couple of months to figure out that they weren’t talking.

They literally won’t speak to each other. If we have a meeting, they won’t participate if the other person is in the room, unless I address a question directly to one of them.

I’ve been managing them for three months, but from what I can gather it’s been like this for at least two years. There seem to be a couple of other people in the department who are on one person’s side or the other and it is affecting the department’s work.

Everyone who has been with the company for a while shrugs it off with a that’s just how it is. However, it is affecting their work (and the department’s), so I need to address it. I’m just not sure how. How do I address two adults who won’t speak to each other?

You tell them it’s unacceptable and needs to stop.

Meet with each of them individually and ask what’s going on. You want to start there because knowing what’s at the root of this might make you realize you shouldn’t be assigning equal blame. If it turns out that Jane doesn’t speak to Lucinda because Lucinda bullied her for years and Jane finds it easier to pretend Lucinda doesn’t exist, your approach with Jane should be different than if they just had a spat years ago about a communal candy dish.

Assuming there isn’t something like that, though, then you should say, ” “Having civil, cooperative relationships with coworkers is as much a part of your job expectations as any work I assign you. The situation with you and Jane is causing tension on our team and getting in the way of work conversations that need to happen. You cannot continue freezing her out. Your personal feelings about her are your own to determine, but when it comes to your behavior at work, you need to speak to each other, participate in meetings even if she’s there, and generally be civil and professional with each other. This is a requirement of your job, with any colleague. Is there any reason you can’t do that?”

I can’t imagine any answer to that that would change that stance, but it’s worth asking because it’s more respectful make this a conversation than to just swoop in, issue a ruling, and leave. (To some extent, at least. Having a conversation about it doesn’t mean it’s a debate. Your ruling is final.) That’ll also allow you to respond to any objections and make it clear that “I don’t like her” doesn’t exempt anyone from standards of professional behavior.

You should also make it clear that it won’t be acceptable to treat the other with an exaggerated and coldly pointed form of politeness, since that’s likely to continue making everyone around them uncomfortable. They need to truly be civil.

If it does turn out that one is much more the instigator in this situation than the other, your conversations with each should reflect that. While you’d still tell them each that you expect them to behave pleasantly and professionally to the other, it’s especially important to tell the non-instigator something like, “I’ve made it clear to Jane that she needs to treat you pleasantly and professionally. Please let me know if that’s not happening and I will address it.” (Actually, it’s worth saying that to both regardless.)

But from there, you hold them to that just like you would any other performance expectation. It really is a requirement of their job to get along with coworkers and not be a source of toxicity on your team, in the same way it’s a requirement of their job to show up at work or not yell at clients, and you can make it non-negotiable just like you would with those things. That means that if you see the problem continuing, you have an even more serious “we discussed this — I’m deeply concerned that it’s still happening” conversation, and be willing to remove them from your team it continues on.

If you’re thinking “well, they do good work aside from this” — that’s like “they do good work aside from cussing out clients.” This is toxic, it’s impacting the rest of your team, and it’s unacceptable. Treat it as non-negotiable.

{ 253 comments… read them below }

  1. thanks*

    I wonder if the previous boss had “resolved” the conflict by telling them to not talk to each other. Would be worth checking on it.

    But what if it’s something serious like harassment?

    1. sacados*

      I think Alison’s answer covers even something serious like that. Harassment isn’t just solved by them not ever speaking to each other. In a case like that, the manager would also have to address the harassment itself as a separate issue.

    2. WellRed*

      Then the harassee should have said something to the new manager. But this is still unworkable, it needs to be addressed, up to and including firing the harasser.

      1. lemon*

        If it’s a more dysfunctional work culture, the harassee may not feel comfortable disclosing this information, especially to a new manager. Good companies should deal with harassment appropriately. But a lot of companies don’t. If someone is being harassed and isn’t speaking up, it’s a good bet that they’re afraid that their company won’t handle the issue appropriately.

        1. Public Sector Manager*

          My office is like this. My boss and the head of our agency are terrible about addressing performance issues, harassment issues, etc., with managers. I’m a manager and I’ve reported problems that I’ve witnessed, I’ve forwarded my direct reports’ problems, and it all goes unresolved. And this inaction simple emboldens the offending managers.

          I guarantee that when I leave, my team will not feel comfortable reporting their concerns to my replacement. The culture of my agency won’t change until the head of the agency changes.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          Harassed person may have been ordered not to disclose.
          Both times I was stalked at work HR wanted me to sign documents that I would not discuss the issue with anyone. I refused, but I could see others being intimidated because it was HR.

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        If it’s harassment, and the harasser is *still there*, then the harassee has a very good reason not to talk about it anymore…

    3. Amy Sly*

      I can definitely see an inadequate manager decide to “solve” a problem of two incompatible personalities by simply giving both a gag order. The current situation is exactly why that isn’t really a solution.

      1. Nyltiak*

        It is something that my (terrible, toxic, horribly managed) old job did. There were two employees on 2nd shift (notoriously hard to staff, plus the shift differential was something comically low like %0.07/hr) who were both irrational and weird and who couldn’t get along. Because they didn’t want to try finding someone else willing to work second shift (with the weirdos!) they just told them not to interact with one another. I also worked 2nd shift (there were 4 people) and it was awful and all I could do was remind myself that I was just using the tuition waiver to get into my preferred grad program (which I did). Everyone else they put on shift with these two yahoos lasted a year at most.

          1. Nyltiak*

            They were both completely ridiculous. Like, no one believes me when I relate an anecdote about them.

              1. Nyltiak*

                So, we worked with animals, and had BSL (bisafety level) level 2 and three facilities. Cecil was approved to go into the BSL 3 area, which required wearing, among other things, a powered air-purifying respirator. He still held his breath the whole time he was in the containment area, and then spent over an hour in the decontamination showers scrubbing. When they told him he was being taken off of BSL 3 duty because- shocker- it’s not safe to have someone holding their breath, and an hour of the work day in decontamination each time he had to go in (sometimes multiple times per day)? Is stupid- he threw a tantrum because he was also losing his $0.50/hr hazard pay. He complained up the whole chain to the director of the center, throwing his father’s name around, the whole nine (his father had been a professor at the university, but was now deceased. Cecil was in his late 50s).

                Cecil also had a mail-order bride from Thailand (she was 30 years younger than he was), whom he loathed, and spent night after night telling me how awful she was. It was gross and awful. (There were certain tasks which required two people, so I couldn’t always get away).

                When they were trying to replace one of the second shift people Cecil had driven off by lying about her (lies management chose to believe to placate Cecil), they tasked me with training a new hire, Octavia but there were a few tasks that Cecil did which I didn’t have experience with, and since they were I the purview of Cecil and Octavia’s work, and not mine, Cecil was supposed to train her. On the first day of training, they had such a huge argument that Cecil and Octavia both had to leave early to cool off and I ended up doing their work and my work (because Samuel had not shown up that day, see below). Nothing happened to Cecil. Octavia quit the next day.

                Cecil was a yuuuuge fan of Donald Trump, and he would not accede to any requests to keep politics out of the workplace. When one day I finally lost my temper after he was on another speech about how great trump was and how he was going to make America great again etc., I snapped and asked him how Trump was going to make America great, he thought about it for a minute and responded that when he was a teenager in the 60s, hitchhiking was safe, and somehow trump was going to make hitchhiking safe again.

                Samuel, on the other hand, was a lazy whiner. He “fell” in one of the animal rooms one night (the employee who was with him at the time has expressed that he finds the circumstances behind the fall highly suspect) and then got his doctor to diagnose him with sciatica and fill out FMLA paperwork. but even if I believe his story to be true, he spent the next 4 years telling everyone who would listen that his “doctor would sign anything [he] wanted” and explaining how he doesn’t care about turning in leave requests because “FMLA will take care of it”. He would inevitably run out of FMLA days early and magically be able to work every day he was scheduled until the year reset. He would also constantly complain about how he had no vacation time and they kept on taking money out of his pay because he had no leave. One day he left early without telling me, leaving only a note that said “I left. Enjoy!”

                Samuel also filed harassment complaints against any employee who he disliked. He filed one against me because I didn’t inform him of a change in procedure while he was out (for a week) on FMLA because I “didn’t respect his experience and seniority” (he started 2 weeks before I did). We also got promoted at about the same time, which he threw another temper tantrum over because I got paid more (largely because I had taken several certification tests to get raises).

                He also claimed to have all this experience which happened to all be at businesses which had conveniently closed and which no one could even verify to even have existed.

                It’s been about 6 years since I worked with them so the memories have faded, but they were both incredibly unpleasant people to work with, but what was worse was that management kowtowed to their idiosyncrasies.

                1. Heather*

                  I worked with animals in a similar context with biosafety and such (it was my first job directly out of college), and these stories surprise me not at all! I lasted a year before I couldn’t take it anymore…those jobs seemed to draw some very odd folks.

                2. Third or Nothing!*

                  Whoa, what kind of animals require wearing air purifying respirators and decontamination showers?

                3. JustaTech*

                  Third or Nothing!: Could be all kinds of stuff. I once interviewed for a job working with mice with tuberculosis where I would have to wear an air pack. the rest of the work sounded interesting, but the air pack and extra gown-up and decontamination for the same pay I was already getting and no room for advancement? Nope.

                  Some places you have to shower before you go in because the animals have weird or missing immune systems so you have to be super clean to keep them healthy. One place asked the staff to wash their hair in gold Dial soap. That got a resounding no! so we got better hair caps instead.

            1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

              Gurl. Do not think we wont believe you, we’re AAM readers.

              Bosses dump urine in the sink around these here parts!

    4. Kella*

      If the only way to get one of them to stop harassing the other was to make them stop talking to each other, then the person initiating the harassment probably needs to not work there anymore. A person who is happy to harass one person can easily begin harassing someone else that they are still speaking to.

      The more serious the cause is, the more important it is to get to the bottom of this and find a solution that *actually* resolves the problem, rather than just putting it on hold.

    5. Quill*

      Honestly that would be bad management, and current manager needs to know that and fix the actual harassment situation… which is why it actually is important to know, to quote my mom “who started it.”

    6. Shrugged*

      This actually happened at my company.

      At the company Xmas party, one of our Senior Teapot Designers got super drunk. He hit on several women, touched them inappropriately, and threatened to fight the company owner, Ben, when Ben objected to the STD hitting on Ben’s wife. I personally had to shove him with both hands when he wouldn’t end our ‘hug,’ and I’m far more senior than most of the women he chose, who were young and asian. The guy was a creeper.

      The harasser claimed he was black-out drunk so he didn’t remember anything he did. Several of the youngest staff members, the ones he’d been most handsy with, refused to speak or work with him. They wouldn’t take assignments from him, and if given an assignment that involved speaking to him (by a manager not in the know), they would go over the manager’s head to the COO to get reassigned.

      The company was having trouble firing him; in the end they basically talked him into leaving. The reason they were having trouble firing him? They were concerned he’d sue over wrongful termination. Apparently he was claiming that these women refusing to work with him and talk to him constituted harassment …of him.

      The thing is, I can see both sides. There was a whole lot of wrong the company did, in not protecting the most vulnerable staff members, in having such an open bar, in allowing his semi-creeper behavior ahead of time. Just about the only thing they did right was say the women no longer had to work with him. But the creep found a way to turn their fear and disgust into an ‘in’ to keep his job as long as possible. And while I think the COO was justified in allowing the young women to switch around assignments, avoid him, and not have to speak to him, I could see why it would have been better not to, overall – they’d have been able to fire him outright.

      There’s not a good answer, when it comes to harassment. Would you have allowed the younger staff to refuse to speak to him and refuse to work with him? Or would you say that, because this is a professional setting, they must behave professionally and continue to work with him, including following his instructions when so directed?

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        Abbreviating his position as ‘STD’ makes me think of him as a walking syphilis bacterium.

      2. Anonymous Penguin*

        There actually is a good answer. It’s to have fired him immediately after the behavior. Getting blackout drunk at a company party, sexually harassing multiple employees (and their spouses), and threatening violence are each compelling reasons to fire someone.

      3. Nanani*

        There is always a good answer to harassment. Fire the harasser.

        It’s not actually that complicated unless you somehow want to protect harassers.

      4. Aitch Arr*

        A bs lawsuit filed by STD would be cheaper to fight than several ones with merit by the female employees.

      5. Librarian1*

        “there’s not a good answer???” Yes there is. It’s to fire him immediately for being a creepy jerk.

    1. Mrs. Wednesday*

      I wish I thought this was extreme but it’s happened in maybe 3-4 (different-sized) organizations I’ve worked at. All involved senior-level people who simply refused to acknowledge a colleague, one of whom was a superior in a newly created position. All were well-respected professionals. Who, in my then-lowly opinion, were allowed to get away with ridiculous behavior that a support person, for example, wouldn’t have gotten away with. Conflict resolution skills were seen as part of my job supervising line staff but not for executive directors (who often lacked an HR person).

      The saddest thing? There was nothing at all interesting about why these feuds existed. A couple seemed like seriously ancient tiffs that were nursed into grudges and the others amounted to you’re-not-the-boss-of-me.

    2. Junior Dev*

      we’re coming up on a year since I transferred departments within my company and my previous boss still won’t speak to me. I’ll say hi to her and she’s only once said hi back, then run out of the room. Otherwise she pretends I don’t exist or awkwardly smiles too big and then leaves immediately.
      I don’t depend on her for any aspect of my current job so I mostly find it 1) entertaining and 2) confirmation she was a terrible boss.

      1. banzo_bean*

        Yep! The silver lining to having a terrible boss is that they normally continue to act terrible far after you’ve left which 100% validates your decision to leave.

    1. Filosofickle*

      Yes! I’m so curious about this! So curious, actually, I can’t imagine not having already called them in to ask. I wouldn’t have lasted a week sitting on this question.

  2. MuseumChick*

    Had this on a much smaller scale recently at my job. Two employees who just refused to act professionally with each other. Alison’s advice here is spot-on: “You tell them it’s unacceptable and needs to stop.”

    With the two guys at my work, one took the talk to heart and his behavior improved. The other one did not. Spoiler alert: somebody got fired.

    1. sacados*

      Yeah I had something similar on my last job too. Two of the coordinators on the project that I was in charge of managing — so I was their manager in a team lead sense — actually, it turns out, HATED each other. Or rather, I should say Jane hated John; I never really got a sense of whether John had any particular feeling about Jane. But the key here is that I actually didn’t know for a long time that there was any animosity at all — because they still communicated when necessary to do their jobs (they were each in charge of separate but related functions and so while their daily work was separate, they did need to share information and updates both with each other and with me).
      When I had a 1 on 1 with Jane, she was very blunt. Just flat out told me, “Yeah, I hate him. I think he’s a terrible person. But I can work with him.” Lol

      1. Quill*

        Sounds like Jane has a great support system that means she doesn’t take out her BEC feelings on John at work, then. :)

      2. Avi*

        I’ve lived that. My John was a complete scumbag who felt free to talk about his experiences with hookers, repeatedly called out with no coverage when he gave himself an upset stomach by doing things like eating a whole pizza right before bed, and who literally moaned and groaned about anything that inconvenienced him. Other coworkers thought we got along because I tolerated him and his antics, but I just put up with him because he was on a difficult to fill shift. In reality I hated his guts and was glad to see the back of him after he threw a tantrum one day over still being expected to work even if he was coming in after spending all night at the casino.

        His replacement has his own problems, but he’s at least likable as a person.

    2. Antilles*

      I actually had this happen around me in grad school. Two of the department professors so strongly disliked each other that they literally would not be in the same room or talk.
      They were both on my thesis committee and I had to run to grab some extra copies before they came in. I found out from a couple of the other students that while I was gone, they had both (separately) come in. Apparently, they sat on complete opposite ends of the room, and stared daggers at each other every second while the entire room got dead silent and super awkward for a solid 2-3 minutes before I came back and broke the ice.
      In my entire two hour thesis defense, they literally did not ever talk about the same point. The first professor would ask a question, then after I answered, the second guy would barrel in to completely change to a different question…then when I answered that, the first guy would himself jump in to prevent a follow-up question.
      Fortunately as a student who was liked by both individually, none of it fell back on me, but it was still really odd. It’s been over a decade and they’ve moved on to different universities, but rumors within the industry (yes, it was *that* well known) indicate there’s still the quiet anger on both sides.

      1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

        In my experience in academia, this is really really common. In the first place I worked, the competing factions would have proxy wars on top of the poor job candidates giving their required presentations. In the second place I worked, the department chair took the refrigerator and table out of the “lounge” (leaving a bare room) because two professors kept having fights while eating their respective lunches.

        1. details scrubbed away*

          In a department I was in, Professor A was (believed to be) sleeping with Professor B’s wife, so Professor B tried to run over Professor A with his car in the parking lot.

          Professor A then transferred his affections to his research assistant. Who apparently returned them and continued to be his research assistant.

          By the time I heard this, A and B were cranky old men and it was all very hard to picture, except for the residual animosity.

      2. D'Euly*

        Yes, depressingly common. I actually appreciate their (ahem) professionalism in bringing up different points in your defense – it’s miles more awkward when the second one objects to the first one’s question and thence the defence devolves into two professors screaming at each other while the student awkwardly waits for them to finish.

        Not that, you know, this ever happened to me or anything.

      3. Artemesia*

        I had two warring profs on my committee as well and during the defense, they chewed up a big hunk of the time to grill me about my study, snarking at each other.

        In the LW’s case, the key here is to line up management support. The fact that this has been allowed to go on suggests weak management — maybe it was just her predecessor or maybe it is weenies all the way up. She needs to sit down with her superior and lay out her plan to correct this behavior and if they don’t become more professional to fire them. You don’t want to launch this operation without your own boss supporting that as a possibility. Having that confidence going in will make the counseling and feedback more convincing; there is something about knowing the ducks are lined up that makes action more powerful.

        1. Artemesia*

          It also helps to have a very matter of fact ‘of course this can’t be allowed to go on and I am not quite sure how it came to this point’ attitude. She who hesitates doesn’t get support. It is ‘we need to get this done and here is how I plan to do it.’

          1. Not So NewReader*

            This! So much this!

            Yes, OP, “I am going to do something here as this is unacceptable and detrimental to the work effort. It cannot be allowed to go on unchecked any longer.”

            You aren’t asking them, OP, you are telling them.

    1. Sylvan*

      I once had someone give me the silent treatment at work. She had a nonsensical yelling fit after something stressful happened outside of work and then stopped talking to me. I was satisfied with this and left her to it.

      I wonder what could be in play here.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I once had a coworker give me the silent treatment. First she’d started acting weird towards me when the two of us were put together on the same project. The project lead liked me and liked my design suggestions, but Tangerina always spoke up whenever I opened my mouth in a meeting. Without fail, she’d say one of the two things after I finished talking. “Do we *have* to do it this way?” and “What did she say?” It was annoying and I blame myself for not having nipped it in the bud (but also wonder why the project lead never said anything). Past me was a lot less assertive than present me, and I just kept pretending I didn’t hear her anytime she did that, until one day I exploded. We were having a work picnic outside in the parking lot. Tangerina and her friend were not at the picnic because as contractors, our lovely job did not extend an invite to them (again something I would have done differently) and I was at my desk because I was a source control admin and got called back to work during the picnic to resolve a source-control DB issue. Tangerina heard my keys clicking, looked over the cubicle wall, and said to her friend, “hmm, I thought the smartie guys were back” (my teammates) “but it’s just the hardworking Bathroom” and I lost it. (Which is why I should’ve said something months ago, rather than waiting for myself to snap.) I yelled at her and asked her, in a raised voice, if she’d ever considered thinking before she opened her mouth. She never said a word to me again. Would’ve been bad if we were still on the same project, but we weren’t anymore, so the silent treatment happily continued until she found another job and left. Personally, no matter how I disliked a person, I would never refuse to talk to a coworker about work in a situation where work needs to be done (as it is in the OP). Cannot even assume that Tangerina would. I honestly kind of enjoyed her silent treatment, but that’s only because we did not need to work together at that time.

        1. Important Moi*

          I do love stories.

          Curious, did your boss notice the silent treatment? Were you required to engage with Tangerina after this incident? Also, I’m sympathetic to staying quiet until you explode. I try to not to do that (anymore).

          1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

            Thankfully, no, I was not. And we never had the same boss to begin with! (whew)

        2. Amber Rose*

          I had to double check your username, because if someone called me a hard working bathroom I wouldn’t just be yelling at them. =P

          I sympathize with not wanting to speak up, and I’m glad at least in this story it more or less worked out for you.

    1. Diahann Carroll*

      Right. And like someone mentioned above, it’s possible the previous manager told them to stop speaking to one another if they couldn’t get along and do so respectfully. Or, even if the directive didn’t come from the manager, it’s possible the manager just didn’t care because it was a seemingly workable way to keep the peace. OP inherited a mess.

    2. Marthooh*

      “Yeah, that stair’s been missing for years, just jump over it like the rest of us … oh, sorry! I should have warned you the next stair’s gone, too.”

    3. Rugby*

      Right. This is an issue with the company culture as much as it’s an issue with these 2 employees. OP should talk with her own manager and/or HR before talking with the 2 employees to get background information and find out why nothing has been done about it before. I’d be surprised if they are not already aware of it. It might be that senior management and HR prefer for OP to maintain the status quo rather than try to resolve it. That’s not right, but it definitely happens.

      1. MonteCristo85*

        Obviously to each their on own styles, but I would 100% not ask their own manager or HR about this. If I think the plan of action I’ve come up with the right, and the correct way to handle it, I go forward with it, and if someone objects, they can come to me. Asking ahead of time almost encourages them to tell you to leave it alone, and we all know that’s not the right thing, so why open that door? Proceed as if the right thing “of course” has to happen, and then they have to come explain and/or justify why the “wrong” thing should be done instead. But again, that’s me, and how I’d handle it. I’m firmly in the forgiveness over permission camp.

        1. Ego Chamber*

          Your confidence leads me to believe you’ve never worked at a toxic hellscape. I’ve worked at places where a manager giving the (perfectly reasonable!) ultimatum Alison suggests would result in the problem employee going to the manager’s manager and the manager being written up for some nonsense reason.

          (LW probably knows whether they’re working in a toxic hellscape but if there’s any question, it’s worth chekking ahead of time because having a problem employee go over your head on something like this and then be backed by your manager is v embarrassing.)

  3. Knitter*

    If it is indeed a bullying situation, I have a couple of thoughts.

    My colleague bullied me for a year and colleague have definitely taken sides. She is still employed at the org and we do have interact occasionally, which is excruciating.
    But I know my supervisor has had convos with the bully and has put some very tight boundaries on her behavior. I am willing to be professional with the bully given these boundaries exist, I don’t have to set them, and I need to do my job.

    1. sacados*

      Exactly. Manager tells both of you, you need to be professional and communicate when necessary for work. Then manager also separately keeps an eye on the bullying behavior and addresses it/imposes consequences on that person if it doesn’t stop.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        Yeah, but at a lot of workplaces, bullies aren’t handled. They just say, “Well you have to get along with each other,” or they equally “punish” both the bully and the victim, or worse, since the bully is unreasonable and the victim is reasonable, they just pin the blame on the victim and let the bully get away with it.

        1. MassMatt*

          I’ve seen and heard of this at a couple bad organizations. It’s as though crappy grade school teachers left and became equally crappy bosses.

        2. Maria the Medical Librarian*

          Agreed. And the situation gets labeled as “personality conflict” with both parties assigned equal fault.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            In my org, whoever whines to HR first is “right”, even if it’s someone with a stick so far up their backside that it is coming out of their nose. I, OTOH, prefer to work it out or just ignore the person, except when I have work to discuss. Guess who gets “talked to” most?

        3. Glad I'm Not At That Job Anymore*

          I had a similarly worse situation. My manager went to bat for me against the obnoxious treatment I was getting. They then changed my manager to someone who was long-time friends with the bullying coworker. Nothing got better, and then finally, months later, when the stress of it all finally caused me to slip up in my work, they fired me for it. I’m sure the side upper management took had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I was just a lowly proposal guy and the coworker was the company’s top salesman, bringing in a couple hundred million dollars worth of work each year.

          I wish I had known about AAM back then because I would have handled everything so differently…

        4. Amethystmoon*

          True, especially if bully is a manager. Even if bully isn’t the direct manager, not doing anything about it, and blaming the victim, will just cause decent workers to leave. It happened to me.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Well…it’s the same way in the workplace as in school. You do get away in school because you leave schools. You do get away from a workplace bully by getting a new job. Which is gross and not acceptable. I fire bullies and I enjoy it.

        1. Aggretsuko*

          You may be the only one who fires bullies!
          I’ve never been able to find another job and neither has the bully….

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          Can I come work for you?

          I’ve left a couple of jobs because of bullies. Apparently there is a sign on introverts that says “Bully Me!”

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            I luckily have only had a couple over the years, one ended up in an actual fist fight so…that’s what’s in the wings in this industry if you don’t address it swiftly, I never want another visit from a state trooper.

            I’m truly flabbergasted by these posts where people speak about their bullying situations.

            We’re a bunch of misfit toys just about everywhere I land, so being picked on for being “different” isn’t a thing that tends to happen, we’re all different, why would we start throwing stones?!

          2. Amethystmoon*

            Yes, and it seems to be there for most of our lives, even if we thought we removed it years ago.

    2. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, been here, done this. I still have to deal with my former bully on occasion and we don’t speak to each other unless we absolutely have to for work reasons (at this point, just email), but we do when we have to.

  4. Eshrai*

    I have a coworker on the team who is so toxic she has most the team looking for an exit. My exit is coming any day now, yay! We are all super pleasant to each other face to face, but in that southern “well bless your heart” sort of way. It’s a complete nightmare and has resulted in the reputation of the whole team being dragged down, and odd restrictions being put in place due to her complaints about us. I hope for the sake of the team that they sort her behavior out sooner rather than later. Our job is already super difficult without the added drama.

    OP I do not envy you (or my boss lol) for having to sort out that interpersonal mess. Some people unfortunately have not progressed socially beyond high school. Hopefully you work somewhere where performance issues like that can be dealt with.

    1. mike_b*

      I’m dealing with the same thing except that management has decided that it’s our fault for not working with her. Also she’s not fake-nice.

      1. Eshrai*

        Ugh, I’m sorry. I don’t know what is worse really. Fake-nice throws me off sometimes because my natural inclination is to just get along with everyone. Then I lower my walls a bit. Shes nice to our faces (most of the time), then writing down nonsense complaints to give to the bosses. Sorry you are going through this too! Don’t you love the “just get along” pep-talks?

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          At my academic job the ethic is “Go along to get along”, so of course the biggest egos run roughshod over everyone else.

          As a result we often do things in a cargo-cult manner because some thought leader puts forth some newish “conventional wisdom” and we’re all supposed to think it’s the greatest, most innovative thing since sliced bread. (Our “architect” guru is a bully on technical subjects, where he seldom accepts any outside input and is insulting if you disagree with him. Then he complains to HR if you respond with anything but sycophantic agreement.)

          1. Leela*

            That’s EXACTLY why management needs to take it seriously, good lord. I’m female and a genuine work issue that came up has been written off as a catfight if another woman is involved instead of looked at as a work issue, which it was. We were basically told to “just get along” which resulted in me continuing to have my things stolen, to have messages that were supposed to get passed to me never get passed resulting in us losing candidates, etc.

        2. mike_b*

          yeah i’m not sure how to “work on my relationship” with someone who insults me to my face if no one else is around so I’ve pretty much given up on trying to please my manager

  5. Detective Amy Santiago*

    OP – If you have an HR department, it would be worth checking in with them before you follow Alison’s advice and find out if there is anything official in either/both of their files.

    1. irene adler*


      When I was being bullied by a co-worker, I contacted the EAP folks. Their advice was to avoid the bully if at all possible. If not, do not engage- don’t do anything that would cause the bully to strike. And, get away from the bully at quickly as possible.

      So for me that meant not talking to him. Yes, I had to do so for work stuff. So I emailed whenever possible. And kept conversations with him as brief as possible (tried to include a third party whenever I could). And I kept quiet during meetings (just the minimum talk from me).

      Be open to the possibility that at least one of the persons involved may be following advice from EAP or HR or the prior boss.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Yup, that’s what I thought too. Bullying probably has happened here and this is the best outcome the office has come up with with them both still here.

  6. patricia*

    I would LOVE an update on this. I can’t even imagine what would drive me to continue working with- but not talking to!!- a colleague. I have a lady at my office who I think is a terrible person and I don’t acknowledge her if I can help it, but we don’t work together day to day. If we did, I’d be polite and professional without any angst on my side. So I’d love to get this backstory!

    1. Important Moi*

      A backstory would be interesting but possibly not relevant. This could be a broken stair step situation given how many people know about this. The current resolution is 2 employees don’t speak and that’s just the way it is.

      I’ve had a long working career and people not getting a long and/or not speaking to one another was not unusual. This must be affecting work output somehow. The only thing a manager could do would insist people be respectful and responsive for work issues. A manager can not order people to be friends.

      1. aebhel*

        There’s a difference between not speaking socially (totally normal and okay!) and refusing to speak in meetings or in a business context if the other one is present (really not okay). The manager can’t order them to be friends, but they should still act like civil adults.

        1. No name this time*

          I chose to stop speaking to a co-worker after she threw me under a bus by pretending to take offense on behalf of someone else for something I said. Rather than have to self-censor everything out of my mouth with her, I chose to not engage in conversation with her except if necessary for work. If we were in a meeting, I would interact as necessary; our jobs only touched occasionally, mostly to forward calls to her.

          I do not regret in the least both my remark nor the silent treatment. I do not need a so called friend who fabricated an excuse to stab me in the back. I was able to continue do the work I was hired to do without having to deal with a co-worker who I realized had been seeking an excuse to hurt me to boost her own standing.

          Many of you will probably jump on me about this. Even though I’m the kind of person who values what others think about me, I never lost any sleep over this .

          1. Important Moi*

            I will not. I’ve known of similar sitiations.

            Sometimes the responses these letters are very idealistic.

            1. No name this time*

              Thank you. The co-worker’s actions clued the rest of the unit that she could turn on them too. The tone in our workplace changed after that. I have no direct information but I got the impression that the co-worker was told to mind her own business (this was not her first offense) and the person on whose behalf she complained was cautioned that the work-related reason underlying my statement was valid.

              Our management was remote in both distance and attitude. Had there been better communication channels and an acknowledgment of a number of chanllenges we were facing, the whole situation could have been avoided.

          2. aebhel*

            That’s… what I was saying? The important part of your post here is ‘except if necessary for work.’ That’s not what’s going on in this letter, though; these people are refusing to speak to each other even in a work capacity, and that’s unacceptable.

          3. MCMonkeyBean*

            “except if necessary for work”

            That’s the piece that makes this very different than what the LW is writing in about.

  7. RC Rascal*

    My hunch is the root cause of this is a conflict management issue. Either Party 1 did something to Party 2, who didn’t know how to handle it and froze out Party 1. Second option is that one party is punishing the other for something by not speaking to them. My experience source on this is a childhood friend who used this as a coping strategy. In high school, she once stopped speaking to me for the better part of a semester because she didn’t like who I was dating. Once we hit the work world, friend would deal with workplace conflicts by just silently seething in anger. It was not a pr0ductive strategy, but she just didn’t know any better.

    1. Laika*

      Ugh, reading the headline I actually wondered if this letter was written about me, embarrassingly enough. I’ve frozen out a colleague at work (although we still manage polite “hello”s and we actually don’t collaborate on projects to necessitate much more than that), and it’s exactly because of this – I just feel unable to deal with this colleague after an escalated, high-stress encounter they initiated. I’m actively working on not doing that, but… it’s just easier to pretend like they don’t exist rather than worry whether they’re going to blow up again.

  8. Ilima*

    This happened to me. A woman at my previous job disliked me and would just pretend I didn’t exist. I was young, dumb, and tactless, so I completely understand why she found me obnoxious at the time. But it got kind of ridiculous, like if there was something I needed she would hand it to my boss instead of me. She would not speak to me directly. I once ran into her in an elevator in another part of town and she didn’t acknowledge I was there, even though there were only two of us in the elevator. It was weird. Like I said I had poor social skills at the time so I didn’t know how to handle it. So I just started avoiding her because I didn’t know what else to do. It was so uncomfortable. This went on for 10 years.

      1. Ilima*

        Absolutely. But in retrospect, I see now that there were bigger problems going on at that place, and other issues that weren’t being managed.

    1. Ktulu*

      Yeah, that happened to a former coworker (Z) as well! Another former coworker (A) decided that Z was annoying and refused to speak to Z. Z tried to be friendly and all, but gave up because A refused to even acknowledge Z’s existence. It got to the point where A even changed seats to get away from Z, which made it even more awkward to everyone else in the division and Z. They were managed by multiple managers (there were a bunch of reorgs) and I think only one manager tried to address the issue. This went on until one of them left.

  9. Frustration Station*

    What on earth. I would very much like an update/explanation. I am very very interested what could motivate such a radical social agreement.

    1. My Highnessness, fka juliebulie*

      I am fascinated too!

      Alison linked to the candy dish story, which still has my shaking my head, but the first situation I thought of my own was the one where someone tickled a coworker, and the victim responded by bullying the tickler and anyone who treated the tickler in a civil manner.

      But I suspect, as others have speculated, that somehow this overextended silent treatment was originally mandated by bad managers to act as a “solution” to a feud that should have been resolved or quashed in another manner.

      1. My Highnessness*

        “thought of ON my own,” that is – it was an AAM letter, not something I witnessed in person.

      2. Clisby*

        I thought of the tickling incident too. Not that I had an ounce of sympathy for the tickler – anyone who assaults a colleague should be fired on the spot. The employer didn’t see it that way, though.

  10. Sara without an H*

    Hi, OP — I’m puzzled as to why this situation has been allowed to fester for two years. There are several possibilities: 1) the previous manager was lazy; 2) your firm’s culture is such that conflicts between women are dismissed as “personality conflicts,” rather than performance issues; 3) your firm’s culture is one of misguided “compassion” in which employees aren’t held accountable. If you have an HR office, check with them and see if they have any information that would provide some context.

    While you’re talking with HR, get current copies of all policy manuals or handbooks. Make sure you read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest all documentation regarding progressive discipline, PIPs, termination, etc. You need to be thoroughly up on whatever policies your employer has in place before you try to unwind this situation.

    You should also brief your own supervisor, and make sure they have your back on this. Emphasize the effect on your department’s output and the fact that it seems to be spreading to other employees.

    Alison’s script is a good one, but I warn you, one application may not be enough. Be prepared for back-sliding, or the substitution of snark for silence. Don’t back down. This is toxic behavior, and it will get worse if not stopped.

    1. Ktelzbeth*

      “Read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. . .” You wouldn’t happen to be another Episcopalian, by any chance? It’s one of my favorite collects.

      1. Sara without an H*

        I used to be. I swam the Tiber a few years back, but I still love the old Book of Common Prayer.

  11. SomebodyElse*

    I walked into a situation like this… but worse. Instead of two peers it was a supervisor/employee team that wouldn’t talk to each other. On my second(?) day as a new manager, the employee (the supervisor reported to me, so I was grand boss to the employee) sat down in my office and told me that she didn’t take direction from the supervisor, she just worked directly with my predecessor.

    I can’t even imagine the look that I must have had on my face, I’m sure it was similar to this O.o … anyway, I thanked her for making me aware there was an issue and asked her why she wouldn’t work with her direct supervisor… she couldn’t really give me an answer other than … “I know better than her and she doesn’t know what I’m doing” I asked if maybe that had something to do with the fact that she went around the supervisor… I didn’t get a great answer from that question either.

    Ultimately I told her that reporting structure was her, the supervisor, and then me. She should expect that chain of communication and direction but my door was open if there was anything she wanted to talk with me about, but it would not be day to day direction/activity.

    To be fair, the supervisor wasn’t the greatest, but she was a solid supervisor and managed her team well outside of this one employee.

    This wasn’t the only weird employee issue I inherited, which really made me side-eye my predecessor, whom I thought was a solid manager… Let’s just say that I learned a lot that first year or two of managing :)

    1. My Highnessness, fka juliebulie*

      How did it work out? Did she end up working well with her hated supervisor, or did she end up moving on?

      At any rate, I admire your taking a direct and sensible approach, especially as a newly minted manager. That couldn’t have been easy. (Though perhaps a little easier when you thought about how things would be if you didn’t do it.)

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You skipped the ending ;”(

      Did they start working together after all once you set it straight?!

      I’ve had this somewhat happen before with people refusing to answer to a supervisor/lead, the response was the same as yours and the next step to refusing to report to your manager properly is to be terminated in the end. Unless there’s harassment issues and then the harasser gets removed, not the victim, etc.

    3. SomebodyElse*

      Sorry got pulled away…

      Well, I caught the employee trying to sabotage the supervisor a few times to make her look bad. The supervisor was generally unphased by any of it (which is one of the reasons she wasn’t a great supervisor). While I was documenting for a future PIP for the employee (wasn’t sure at the time if she would get with the program or not) the employee put in her notice because she decided to move closer to family. So she was gone within 6 months.

      The employee wasn’t a bad employee (she actually got rehired, unbeknownst to me as a supervisor in the location she moved to and by all reports did well), she ran her area pretty autonomously. I just think it came down to a personality difference and the employee didn’t see the value of the supervisor. I was willing to coach on the interpersonal stuff, but the documentation started when I found out about the sabotage.

      It was rocky when she left, because the supervisor had no clue what was going on in the employees area, so there was a learning curve. But in the end she got there. I really do blame my predecessor for allowing it to start and go on for as long as it did.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Yikes. It sounds like you handled it pretty well, although I would have been pretty concerned about the seemingly-oblivious supervisor. I hope you were able to coach her successfully.

  12. KD*

    I had a former colleague who would give people the silent treatment for a week or two if she was upset about something. Luckily, no one was immature enough to give it back to her… but come on! GROW UP.

    1. WS*

      I did too – unfortunately she was the big boss’s daughter and everyone was meant to be sympathetic to her because obviously she was having a bad day (to be fair, she was otherwise good at her actual job and very reliable, she just…got in huffs and wouldn’t talk to people for weeks on end). Eventually she quit dramatically, expecting tears and begging, and we all very happily signed a goodbye and good luck card for her.

  13. Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.*

    I have a couple of women in my office that I avoid whenever possible, but I definitely speak to them when I have to when in a professional capacity. (The reason I avoid them is some very, very sly bullying on their part that I just do my best to stay out of the way of. The biggest offender was a pot-stirrer that left about 6 months ago, the other two are likely loyal to her. I just keep my distance and pray that one of my recent interviews works out.)

  14. ACDC*

    If this came to a point where the OP would need to fire them – would she fire one of them or both? Asking as someone with no management experience but hella curious to how this would turn out if they didn’t stop.

    1. Librarian of SHIELD*

      I think it would depend on how they react to the directive to interact civilly with each other. If they both get on board, no one’s fired. If one of them listens and accepts and is clearly trying but the other is not, you fire the one who’s not following directives. If neither of them agrees and the situation keeps going as it is, or devolves into something worse, you’d probably have to fire them both.

    2. I'm A Little Teapot*

      whoever isn’t being polite and professional. If it’s A and B, you’ve spoken to both, and A is willing to be civil, etc, but B refuses – then B goes.

    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It would depend on how they both responded.

      As noted, if one was willing to be civil and one wasn’t, then only the refusing party is terminated. If it still boils down to a horn locking contest, they both go.

      It makes me really wonder if the OP’s position is even allowed to fire people or what. Since it’s been going on for so long, the other manager may have had their hands tied by the upper level or they may have just been awful at management, who knows.

      1. ACDC*

        OP said in a comment further down that her employees are represented by a union and she can’t meet with them without a union rep present. I wouldn’t be surprised if that dynamic played into not being able to get rid of people, like you mentioned.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yep. I’d put money on the fact that the former management didn’t want to “bother” with it because they weren’t…I guess murdering each other or something that you can call the police about.

          This is why unions get a bad name.

          In the union world, you go by the rules for disciplinary action. It’s not impossible to fire people, you just have to have the ducks all rowed up and knock them off one at a time.

  15. Military Prof*

    I have a couple of colleagues with whom cold and polite is the best I can do–and even that is a stretch on some days. Thankfully, we work in different departments–and since they can’t even muster up cold and polite, I’m slightly ahead on the “who’s being professional” scale. But given that one has a history of violence toward coworkers (and threatened to kill me, in front of witnesses) and the other has a history of filing false grievances against anyone and everyone who crosses their path, I think I’m doing pretty well to reach this level of interaction. Civil and cooperative are definitely a bridge too far, though.

    1. My Highnessness, fka juliebulie*

      Uh… when someone threatens to kill a coworker, they shouldn’t be allowed to work there anymore. Filing false grievances is also a type of threat.

      Since your management has neglected to deal with these people, no one can blame you for keeping your interactions to a chilly minimum.

      1. Eshrai*

        You’d think threats would result in firings…but add in incompetent management or government unions and you’re stuck with it.

        I work for the government and someone I know has a staff member who threatened to shoot up the building. Buuut, until he does, there isn’t anything that can be done. I have a co-worker who threatened to fight someone in the parking lot. She got a promotion.

        1. Fiddlesticks*

          What kind of government office do you work for?! I also work for government, and when nuts from the public come in here and make threats to our workers, you better believe we call the police. We have also called the police about workers making threats of violence to other workers, and those people have been fired. Basically, there is a zero-tolerance policy on this campus. Nothing less should be acceptable.

          1. Pobody’s Nerfect*

            I also have reported a government coworker for making threats against other people and demonstrating intimidating/threatening behavior, and I just got shrugs from management and “don’t worry about things that aren’t your job.” People are crazy and bad managers are everywhere.

        2. Observer*

          Sorry, I can believe that incompetent management is an issue. But it is absolutely not true (at least n the US), even in government, that you can’t act on threats made in the workplace till someone acts on those threats.

          1. Eshrai*

            Well, I do work in government in the US, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was specific staff in charge of investigation workplace violence at my agency that allow this stuff to happen. I know of a staff, who, with the help of a union steward, physically prevented a manager from leaving a building so they could air their grievances with the manager. They did get escorted off the premises by police, but 6 months later and the incident was expunged from their records.

            1. Observer*

              Yeah, you have bad management. This is the kind of stuff that gives unions and government work a bad name…

    2. EPLawyer*

      why do these people still have jobs? Call me old fashioned but death threats at work are pretty much a firing offense to me. Not a “just avoid the person if you can” sort of situation.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        He’d actually have to commit the murder to get fired, of course!
        Seriously, what people get fired for vs. what they don’t get fired for is ridiculous.

  16. LadyTesla*

    This is so interesting to me. Especially considering they are both women. I once listened to a Women at Work podcast talk about how women are afraid to “push back” since they fear the perception of a cat fight. It must be huge for this to happen.

  17. Donkey Hotey*

    See this? This is why I love Ask A Manager so much. Because my answer would be, “ARE WE TWELVE?”

    I am currently observing this situation play out in my office. Since I started here (two years ago), I have two male engineers who won’t speak to one another. Thankfully, they handle different areas of teapot design, but if there is ever a chance of overlap, our boss will divide out the work such that they will not work together. Not the healthiest choice, but then again, there are times when I think my manager needs a spinal transplant.

  18. MassMatt*

    I think everyone has worked with someone they disliked, or probably hated. Sometimes there’s a good reason (colleague lies, bullies, or tries to steal credit, etc) other times it’s just that someone rubs you the wrong way. Key in that case is acting professionally, ideally they have no idea how you feel about them. I once won a service award based on the nomination from someone I worked with I could not STAND.

    This issue with 2 employees (out of eight! A QUARTER of the team!) not talking to each other has got to stop, especially as lines are being drawn and the team is splitting into warring camps.

    1. tangerineRose*

      Yeah, at a previous workplace, there were only a few people I disliked, one was rude to anyone who they thought wasn’t “important”, one slacked off (and management frequently assigned the slacker’s stuff to me when it became an emergency because the slacker had basically ignored it), etc. But yeah, I doubt that any of them knew how I felt about them.

  19. Antilles*

    “There seem to be a couple of other people in the department who are on one person’s side or the other and it is affecting the department’s work.”
    I’m surprised this wasn’t addressed in the answer, but after addressing with Jane and Lucinda, I’d ALSO make sure to tell the rest of the team to cut this Jane’s side/Lucinda’s side crap out too.
    I’ve spoken with Jane and Lucinda and as manager, I’m addressing it with them directly, but as for the rest of you, I still expect you all to be professional and polite towards both of them.

    1. My Highnessness, fka juliebulie*

      Oh god, yes. It might be easier for these two people to behave properly if they didn’t think they had the implicit endorsement of their respective “sides.”

      But get to the bottom of this feud first and find out what it’s about. And then tell us! I beg of you!!

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      This is a really important point. The worst case scenario I’m envisioning is one of them leaves her meeting with OP and goes and tells her friends about it, and they all escalate together and fracture the team even further.

      OP, I think this situation calls for one-on-ones with the entire team. Meet with Jane and Lucinda first to lay down the law, and then meet with everybody else and tell them you’re aware of what the situation has been, but going forward conflicts like this will not be allowed to affect working relationships in this way, and that all members of the team are expected to treat one another with civility. Make it clear to the entire team that this is not optional and that they will all be held to this standard. I’m certain there are some members of the team who will be so grateful to know that you’re actually addressing the elephant in the room.

  20. Today's OP*

    Thanks Alison for answering and for all the thoughtful responses in the comments!

    There seems to be is a culture of ignoring issues by management here. I was hired to this position because I have experience in a specific process. Since coming on board, I’ve mostly been working on the cultural piece and managing, less so on the technical side that I was hired for.
    I don’t work in the same building as this department, which creates an added layer of challenge. That, combined with that fact that I can’t (according to our HR) sit down with anyone without ensuring they have union representation if they so desire. There’s lots to wade through.

    I will send an update when I have one!

    1. Rugby*

      Does that mean that you can’t have ANY face-to-face meetings with your direct reports with out a union rep or you just can’t discuss performance issues with them without a union rep?

      I definitely think you should talk to your own manager and HR before meeting with these 2 employees. The whole culture sounds unhealthy, but you want to make sure you understand the culture and why this hasn’t been addressed yet before you proceed.

    2. EPLawyer*

      oh heavens. You can’t even do 1:1s without a union rep? How does anything get done?

      OP, I say this with all the support in the world to you, you have been dumped in a mess without the ability to fix it. Realize this and don’t kill yourself trying to fix this system.

      1. Mike C.*

        It’s basic due process, this is the case all over the world. It’s really not the big deal you’re making it out to be.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        It’s the same idea as having a lawyer present if you’re being charged with a crime. This isn’t a crime of course but it’s contract law in the end. The union rep knows their CBA, most union members know they have protections but aren’t sure exactly what they are and how to make sure they’re being treated properly, etc.

      3. TheFacelessOldWomanWhoSecretlyLivesinYour House*

        Really. it’s not that hard. Management and unions can work together,

      4. SarahTheEntwife*

        They’re guaranteed the right to a union rep *if they request*. I have the same right, which I’ve never taken advantage of because I get along well with my boss and having someone sit in on our utterly routine check-in or planning meetings would be incredibly weird. But if I ever were in some sort of grievance or disciplinary situation, I probably would ask for representation.

    3. Today's OP*

      They have the right to a union rep in any meeting that *might* lead to disciplinary action. So far, it’s been about 50/50 with folks opting for a rep to be with them.

      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I actually think it is to your benefit to have a union rep with when ever you talk to them. Based on how these two are/have acted you want to make sure they don’t misconstrue anything you say to them or that they can try to lie to others about what you said. If there is a union rep present you have a witness that you acted nothing but professional.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Oop, yeah I was wondering if your hands were tied either by being a government entity or union. And that clears it up.

      You’re fighting an uphill battle but it’s possible. Get those reps in line and start the documentation trail. It’s been 2 years already and it’ll probably be another 12-18 months before any issues are actually dealt with given the former hands off ignoring BS that was going on prior to your arrival.

      1. Today's OP*

        It’s not inherently an issue. Some of the union reps are awesome and help their members understand management rights vs. contractual rights. It can be really helpful to have a member of the person’s union say that management is correct. Other union reps can make schedule coordination difficult, create an adversarial environment from the start and generally bog things down.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          But you don’t have to put up with the schedule coordination BS. They don’t get to demand the specific union rep they want, if that specific rep would delay the meeting unreasonably. You say, “Lucinda, we need to meet. I have times X, Y and Z available.” IF Lucinda exercises her Weingarten rights (she needs to request a rep; you don’t have to inform her of that right), and they don’t have one available for times X, Y or Z, you can offer times A or B, but you’re not required to tie yourself up in knots. The union reps need to make reasonable effort as well.

          What’s “reasonable” is determined on a case-by-case basis, but offering 5 different time slots and having them reject each one would certainly tip the reasonable standard in your favor.

    5. Arctic*

      I work in a union environment and I always welcome union reps to be present in meetings. As long as you are following the process they can be a real asset to you. If you have to terminate one of these employees you’ll be glad they were there.

    6. Observer*

      So, tell the each on of them that you need to discuss a performance issue with them and to bring a union rep to the meeting if they want to. Do it in email so they can’t say you didn’t tell them.

      If you know your stuff and keep to the CBA the union rep is not going to be a problem for you (unless your CBA is bonkers, in which case you have a much bigger problem.)

    7. Not So NewReader*

      Can you get your hands on a union handbook?
      There should be a part of the book that describes what the union WILL provide to the management. Read that carefully, incubate it for a bit then read it again. I’m betting you will find something in there that will help you.

      IF and when you find it, you can start with the union rep and say, “I am going in on this one because, blah, blah, blah.” I don’t have much to work with as I read here but I am guessing you can say that two union members are slowing down the workflow processes as everyone tip toes around them and their spat. You could say that if there is a serious legal issue then the victim should report it to the union, then to management, so it can be resolved. Instead they opted to handle it in a manner detrimental to the company and, surely, the union does not want to encourage behaviors that sabotage the company. It’s in the union’s own best interest that company stay solvent and thrive. Behaviors such as ignoring another person and causing people to take sides also hurts the union.

      Annnd the rep may say something like, “I’m not a UN diplomat. It’s not up to me to resolve world peace.” Then you say, “That’s right. It’s only up to you to make sure that the company stays profitable and keeps its doors open. We can’t do that if this type of behavior is allowed. What if everyone had a person they would not speak to and we all used charts so we could remember who was on speaking terms with whom? It’s in the union’s best interest and management’s best interest to deal with stuff like this and not let it continue.”

      1. Mgr in a union shop*

        Or…OP could just let the employees know she would like to meet with each of them and, if they exercise their Weingarten rights, she’ll have a union rep in there. It’s perfectly fine for her to require that they don’t bog down with scheduling issues—they’re entitled to A union rep, not the union rep of their choice. There’s really no need for the long preamble and the imagined conversation with the rep. I’m not even sure where you got all that.

  21. Everdene*

    I had a situation like this when I first started my current job. Luckily about the 2-3 month time was annual review time and they both had a goal for the coming year to ‘develop and maintain good working relationships with colleagues’ etc . I explained it was part of their job to talk to each other and not create an atmosphere within the team.

    They both bristled. There was much sickness and ‘bullying’ allegations (Me: “That is very serious, let me write this down and investigate fully.” Them: “Oh no, probably not that bad.”) from both sides. One of them nearly got fired for excessive absence* but pulled it back from the brink and is now a great employee. The other was also about to get fired for excessive absence but got another job and quit. It could’ve gone either way who would leave but it was quite clear one, or both, had to go.

    *From a very fair and generous policy.

  22. Miss May*

    For all that is holy, please DO NOT sit them in a room together and ask them “work it out.” It makes things very awkward, and just doesn’t work.

  23. CastIrony*

    I see myself in this one. I work with a man who really doesn’t like me since we had a confrontation, and I freaked out because they were accusing me of insubordination, and didn’t let me explain what happened.

    Now we try our best to be civil to each other, but he will always be too happy to be mean about something I do that he doesn’t like, so now I don’t talk to him as much as possible because I’m scared of another shouting match.

  24. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I’ve had to separate men who are old enough to know better who then decided to ice each other out. So nothing surprises me about this at all. It’s a technique some people do use when handling people they dislike or have had a disagreement with, grinding axes…so much grinding.

    It’s like when you have two animals with their horns locked in a deathlock, it won’t break until someone says uncle and someone decides they’re tired of it. Never underestimate the power of two stubborn people who have the same mentality.

    I agree that you need to just chip away at this, get the union reps in there and have the discussions you are required to have. Document. Document. Document. Read that CBA and get a mediator if necessary. In the end someone may be fired but since it’s a union position, it’s a tedious journey that will be worth it in the end.

  25. Goldenrod*

    I agree with the person who said this is likely related to people not managing conflict well. I suspect one person is *more* at fault, but likely they are both behaving badly.

    I have a funny story along these lines. I used to work in an office with one VERY passive, covertly aggressive co-worker. She tattled on people, monitored/judged everyone’s work, but smiled all the time and created the most repressed, toxic, fake atmosphere you can imagine.

    It unfortunately brought out similar passive-aggressive behaviors in others, although this one woman was the ringleader and the worst one, by far. So there would always be SO much underlying tension in that office. It was unbearable.

    But THEN, this wonderfully weird woman got hired. The great thing about her is that she was a weirdo and did a lot of things “wrong” (by the passive-aggressive woman’s standard), but she was (I suspect) on the autism spectrum and so literally COULD NOT PERCEIVE any of the tension, subtexts or undercurrents. It was HILARIOUS to watch, because it was like her superpower. She just literally could not perceive it, so it rolled right off her.

    It was amazing!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It unfortunately brought out similar passive-aggressive behaviors in others,

      That’s the really big thing in the end. We’re herd like creatures who will follow leads like that. It’s why it’s so crucial to keep things in check when it comes to office cultures and what’s allowed/disallowed.

      It may have seemingly rolled off of her shoulders but many people who are not neurotypical or who have cognitive delays do still feel the negativity and bullying that’s around them. Just because they’re conditioned to smile and “take it” in some way doesn’t mean it’s not impacting them deeply on a personal level. I say this as someone with a long history of working with develop mentally delayed and who grew up with those with these kind of diagnosis. They feel it. They are internalizing it.

      1. Goldenrod*

        Oh, that is interesting to know.

        Well, even though she never appeared to me to be bothered by it – the nasty ringleader did manage to get her fired in the end. So she definitely felt bad when that happened….and I felt sad for her.

        1. Close Bracket*

          Mentally delayed and autistic are not the same thing, though. People on the spectrum and also people with mental delays (is that the language we use now?) and also mentally typical people are all able to perceive undercurrents to varying degrees. Somebody who appears to be unbothered could be blind to it all or could be conditioned to smile. You can’t get inside their head, so best not to project what you think they are going through. However, you were there observing her, and some people really don’t perceive undercurrents, so I’m going to assume you are correct in your assessment. I would avoid attributing diagnoses, though.

          I do have a diagnosis of autism, and I don’t perceive a lot of things. Somebody called me an iconoclast of giving no fucks, but most of the time, it’s that I can’t tell that there are fucks I’m supposed to be giving bc I just don’t read situations.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Argh there’s toxic and there’s wicked, that woman getting people who are different than her fired is just plain evil in the end. I hope that she found a much better kinder place to be at least, I find firings like that in the end to be for the victims benefit, even though it’s not apparent until much later!

          My word of caution about the seemingly oblivious mind is just that, just cautionary. I hope that she wasn’t actively hurt by it, I know just as many people who happily accept abuse and don’t truly do not understand they’re someone’s punching bag and it’s not okay [like people who swear “he loves me…he just gets so angry sometimes but you know….he loves me, so I just try not to make him mad…]. But I’ve had personal conversations with people before where they know “something isn’t right” but cannot advocate for themselves. Sometimes it’s really that they don’t know how to vocalize “That’s not okay, I don’t like that.” because they’re so used to being brushed off and not taken seriously.

          1. Goldenrod*

            Honestly, I didn’t know her well enough to really understand (I realize now) whether or not the abusive behavior did bother her in some way. Also – point taken – I couldn’t possibly diagnose her. All that I observed was that she didn’t appear to perceive passive aggression and subtexts. She was not the kind of person who seemed to notice any subtlety.

            I will say, though, one thing I am sure of – her seeming obliviousness drove the passive-aggressive woman NUTS, and this was very funny to see. For once, her sneaky underhanded attacks and shitty veiled insults were not hitting their target (or at any rate, not that she could tell)!

            One more thing: the passive-aggressive woman was SO judgmental about this woman’s job performance and all the things she did “wrong.” But you know what? The oblivious woman successfully supported an executive who was notorious for not being able to keep assistants because she (the exec) was so bitchy and mean. But she LOVED the oblivious woman and specifically requested her, saying, “She’s the only one who can put up with me!”

            I think that’s a really good example of how we shouldn’t judge another’s abilities, because this woman’s lack of sensitivity (seeming!) was actually a huge job asset, and allowed her to succeed in a situation where everyone before her had failed.

  26. amianai*

    I had something just like this happen to me at a college internship except that I was willing to talk to/work with the other intern, so the awkward freezing out was one sided.

    We had worked together/been around each other in the same degree program for three years and she was one of those people who always has to be the best and everyone has to know she was the best. We had been pretty evenly matched (though I’m much more introverted and don’t care about being The Best), but her performance started slipping junior year and she reacted by taking it out on me. She wrote a paper about her plan to murder me so that she could have the highest grade in the class (the professor stopped handing back papers with grades written on the front after that, thank god), was super snippy with me, would literally sit sideways in her seat so that her back was to me during work meetings, attempted to spread a rumor that I was “androgynous” (pretty sure she meant nonbinary, but untrue either way), and on and on.

    When our boss tried to address it, she told him in a 1:1 that *I* was bullying *her*. When my boss told me that, I was floored and asked how, specifically, I had bullied her. He had no examples, but insisted I was on probation and that he would be watching for any signs of bullying.

    Meanwhile, her work quality just got worse and worse. She continued to act completely petty and uncooperative towards me anytime we were working together and stopped showing up to a lot of the events we were supposed to be setting up for/running. My boss kept insisting that she was just 1 strike from losing her internship, but she kept not showing up/leaving mid-event and he never let her go. Fortunately I didn’t get fired for the bogus (and as far as I know, undefined) bullying claim and she didn’t get rehired the following semester, but it was still an unpleasant several months.

    1. Goldenrod*

      “When our boss tried to address it, she told him in a 1:1 that *I* was bullying *her*.”

      This is a common tactic, I think!

      1. tangerineRose*

        I’m annoyed with the boss for apparently believing this without having a single example to share.

          1. amianai*

            I don’t think so. I only know that is what the paper is about because she was telling everyone about it and people were brushing it off as “oh she’s so competitive” rather than a real threat.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        Very. I get hit with it a lot when I’m being bullied, because I usually don’t think it warrants whining to my boss or HR.

    2. amianai*

      All that to say that it’s quite unpleasant to have a one-sided interpersonal work issue portrayed and discussed as if both people are equal participants, and nerve wracking to have the person causing the problem pretend like it’s one sided in the opposite direction. I can’t stop bullying someone I never bullied, and I can’t create the illusion of mutual civility in a relationship with someone determined to be uncivil towards me!

      1. Goldenrod*

        Totally, it is crazy-making! But it sounds like you handled it perfectly, even though your boss was an idiot.

        I’ve found that with crazy people at work, they eventually do reveal themselves – so if you just keep doing your job well and acting normal, EVENTUALLY people figure out who the real problem is.

        It’s traumatic when you’re in that situation, though!

    3. Kate R*

      “She wrote a paper about her plan to murder me so that she could have the highest grade in the class”

      I’m sorry, but what? Did your professor report this? I mean, I get that your point was that it was a one-sided conflict apparently created all in your coworker’s head and backed by a crappy boss, but still, what the hell with that paper?

      1. Forrest Rhodes*

        Apologize for the digression, but this makes me think of Violet Newstead’s comment in the hospital ER: “I’ve murdered the boss! You think they’re not gonna FIRE me for that?” (9 to 5, 1980)
        Carry on.

        1. Nessun*

          Thank you for reminding me that I need to rewatch that gem! Why haven’t I thought of that movie in ages, when it fits so well with AAM on a daily basis?

      2. amianai*

        No, I don’t think it got reported at all. It was a pretty messed up situation, but a lot of things about that school and environment were messed up and left unaddressed. At the time, I didn’t even realize how bad of a situation it was.

  27. $oO*

    Dollars to donuts some previous “manager” said to them, “If y’all can’t get along just leave each other alone.”

  28. Anon for this one*

    This happened at my work. I’m an attorney and my assistant and our receptionist got into a fight because some of the staff went out to lunch and my assistant hadn’t been invited. Instead of apologizing for the oversight my receptionist got mad at how the assistant addressed it and escalated the issue. This resulted in them doing everything possible to avoid talking to each other. My office manager put a stop to it. Basically, she said I don’t care why you guys are fighting but you can’t do it here and you have to work together. Stop finding excuses to avoid each other and do your jobs. Not sure that was the best way to handle it but it worked.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I don’t see any part of how your OM handled it as being the best way. Unless she did this in public, raised her voice, swore or called names, it sounds like she just approached it, squashed it and it was done with.

      As long as she didn’t actually stand in the middle of the office [or saying it private isn’t okay but you get my point] and say “Listen up, shitnecks! You’re going to work together and you’re going to deal with it. Do it or get gone.” the summary you shared is pretty standard stuff!

      It depends on the people too. I can’t sugarcoat and tiptoe when bringing bad behavior to a stop because it dilutes my authority and they think they can push the envelope. It shouldn’t be too weak and sound like a suggestion and it shouldn’t be too heavy handed.

      1. Close Bracket*

        Well, but just shutting down the behavior without addressing what led to it leaves people feeling unheard and can let resentment fester. In this case, it sounds like each person did have a legitimate wrong that wasn’t addressed — Receptionist was rude to Assistant by omitting them from the lunch, and Assistant was rude to Receptionist in the way they complained about it. That’s where Alison’s step of asking what’s going on comes in, although it’s not about assigning blame in this case, it’s about addressing the need to constructively bring up and respond to grievances to create a harmonious work environment. OM skipped that part, which means they missed an opportunity to repair the relationship, which would get the two working together again with much less resentment than just bringing the hammer down. And sure, you can say that we’re not at work to like each other and we have to work together regardless, but that overlooks some pretty fundamental ways that (most) humans interact.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          It depends, given that the comment includes what happened in this case. The lack of an invite and then the poor reaction to that issue, there’s not need to dig into it deeper. They know what happened.

          Unlike in the letter writer’s case, where it’s a mystery that needs to be dug around and figured out, since the OP didn’t have a first row seat to the happenings. You can skip that step when you know what happened. And since hopefully this happened in a safe private space with the manager and each person involved, they had their chance to plead their case. In the end sometimes it boils down to “you need to speak with each other regardless of this difference. And Receptionist, you need to remember to invite everyone next time.”

  29. AnotherAlison*

    Negative work implications aside, I admire this pair and their ability to maintain 2 years of silent treatment. I have never been able to last more than 5 minutes. I excel at other types of dysfunction, though

    1. Goldenrod*

      :D hahahahha!
      Yeah, I don’t have the stamina to maintain the silent treatment for any length of time either. you’re right, it’s impressive!

  30. Julia*

    I have two co-workers I don’t talk to.
    One (on my own team) doesn’t acknowledge anyone newer than her, but it took me a while to figure that out, so at first I thought I’d done something wrong.
    The other is a guy I reported for sexual harassment. He was apparently warned and kept on (he’d done it to a few other women before) and I was told I had to be civil and greet him, which he blatantly ignored. He would literally turn his head whenever I said “good morning”. My supervisor said I needed to greet him nonetheless, and I pointed out that she let our team member get away with just ignoring half of us. Answer: “She’s just different and doesn’t like new people.”
    So yeah, fun times…

    1. Crabby Patty*

      “He was apparently warned and kept on (he’d done it to a few other women before) and I was told I had to be civil and greet him”

      This makes me want to positively scream. How AWFUL it must be to have to – HAVE TO – greet him and be polite. Sorry, Julia. Really.

      1. Ted Mosby*

        Yes this is truly one of the only instances I can think of where ignoring someone actually makes sense. How awful.

        1. Julia*

          Thank you.
          In my previous job, I would get yelled at by people I was supposed to “manage”, and then told by my own manager that I had communication problems, so I think I just don’t have the fortune of working for functional employers…

    2. Ted Mosby*

      I can’t stop laughing at “she’s just different and doesn’t like new people.” Is your coworker a Pomeranian??? How is this an explanation?

  31. Crabby Patty*

    I’m in a similar situation but not a freeze-out, per se.

    A coworker is the busybody nannying type, and, worse, retaliates against those who appropriately don’t let her do for them, fix for them, rescue them, and otherwise people-please. She’ll engage in in misinformation campaigns, soft sabotage, etc. as revenge.

    Additionally, while she is not a stupid person, she is quite dense where boundaries are concerned. Building loose boundaries to give her a chance to know what they are does little good, as she comes roaring right back once one has taken an iota of a step back from those boundaries. Her desperation for acceptance really is pathetic, something I’d feel sympathy for if not for the fact that she’s such a knowing manipulator.

    Accordingly, very strong and thick boundaries are necessary to have any semblance of a working relationship with her. I don’t advocate not speaking to a coworker, but I do get – very much so – the necessity to limit conversations to what’s necessary. Add in a no-boss boss who would rather watch paint dry than actually manage, and she’s able to play both instigator and victim, coming at the rest of us like a raging monster while we’re all supposed to be careful of her fragile feelings.

    Yes, I am on the job hunt.

  32. The Meow*

    Even if one was a bully it doesn’t excuse the other person freezing her out like this. I have a workplace bully who used to harass me over dumb issues, usually due to her own misunderstanding. (I don’t use the word ‘bully’ lightly but that’s what she was, as she would scream at me on the phone and send outrageously inappropriate texts and emails at all hours). While I’ve arranged with my boss to stop working on the same projects as Bully, I still greet her when we see each other and engage in small talk during work social events. I do this because giving her the silence treatment is disrespectful to my colleagues and would make *them* feel uncomfortable.

    Maintaining a civil, professional atmosphere in the workplace (or at least not creating tension) is not negotiable. I would seriously consider firing anyone in my team who behaved like this even after directly addressing these concerns.

  33. Miss Muffet*

    Where I worked once, we got rated on our work separately as “what” and “how”. The “what” were the technical aspects of the job – Did you hit deadlines? Was your work quality? and the “how” was exactly this stuff – did you work well with the team? did you go above and beyond without being asked?
    I had never seen things broken out quite that specifically before – everything had always just been “did you meet your goals” but I think it’s a very useful approach to work (and management) to at least think about the “how” as you assess people.

    1. Goldenrod*

      I really like this!

      One of my new year’s resolutions last year was to stop worrying so much about what I did at work, and really be intentional about how. I started realizing that in many ways, the “how” is the only part that matters (i.e. if you fail but handle it well, it somehow is actually a success.)

  34. Dasein9*

    Once upon a time I had a colleague who bullied me and told lies about me. He had a history of that sort of thing and was generally not liked. When I pointed out in a large meeting that he’d made a good point, I could just feel the 25 points going to Ravenclaw as my own reputation rose. I hope these colleagues give this technique a shot.

  35. Cautionary Tale*

    I once worked at a place where there had historically been two employees who refused to talk to each other. During the time they were there, the company made plans for a new building. They split their work into two service points, built a separate space for each, and included a (locked) door in between. I started almost two decades after the construction project and that door was still locked and the service points still separated even though both of them had long since retired. It took a lot of time and effort to rethink the workflows that had been diverted and simplify things for our customers. It was absurd and existed solely because their supervisor wanted to avoid drama and never did anything about it. Don’t be like that supervisor.

  36. karriekaboom*

    I’m going through something similar with one of my coworkers. She is mad that I have a reasonable accommodation for a medical issue that is slightly affecting her. Think ‘I need cooler working temperatures or my condition will flare up, so management accommodated everyone in the office by buying them sweaters to keep at their desks‘. Ever since I got upset when I saw her changing the thermostat when nobody was looking, she has moved her desk away from me towards a warmer area of the office and has completely ignored both myself and the coworkers which she knows that I’m close with. We are on the same team but everybody works independently, so technically I don’t have to talk to her most of the time. It’s like she is punishing me for having a medical condition. But I suppose not having to talk to her isn’t that much of a punishment.

      1. Polaris*

        Some offices don’t allow the use of space heaters, either because of the additional energy use or because of potential fire hazards. At least, those are the arguments I’ve heard against them in the past.

        1. Third or Nothing!*

          Ours doesn’t because of the fire code. It’s a huge bummer for me because I’m anemic so I get cold much easier than everyone else. Sometimes even my wool coat doesn’t keep me from shivering.

          1. Eirene*

            What about an electric blanket that has an automatic shut-off? I use one at work and it’s been a lifesaver.

  37. The Other Dawn*

    “If you’re thinking “well, they do good work aside from this” — that’s like “they do good work aside from cussing out clients.” ”


    I recently has this situation at work with someone I inherited. The woman was on top of her work, was very knowledgeable, and was great at thinking on her feet. But she was very immature, frequently had emotional outbursts, cried about the littlest things, and would avoid certain people within her own department because she couldn’t get along with them. She was also very petty and fueled gossip. She quit without notice awhile back. Although probably 95% of people breathed a sigh of relief, there’s that 5% that have commented about how “she was such a great employee,” etc. I just ignore it. No, she was not a great employee–people worked around her, she was prone extremely sensitive, and was unapproachable much of the time. Getting your work done is only half the job. You also need to be able to work with people and communicate professionally.

  38. Not So NewReader*

    While I do think that listening and finding out what the problem is can be a good thing, I have also seen this blow up spectacularly.

    The story goes back and back. “Well in 2013 they did x, but before that in 2011 they did y and before that in 2007 they did z.” Before you know it you are back to 1964 trying to unravel this mess. What I have tried to do with is just to say, “There is too much there that I cannot fix. What is needed here is for the two of you to be civil to each other and carry on necessary, work related discussions. This is required of everyone who works here. Can you do that?”
    It’s okay if you can’t fix it all. It’s okay if you cannot fix any of it. Try not to get to tied to fixing it.

    The other type of story I have seen involves everyone and their cat. Sue tells me, “So Joe told Jane that I was mad at her. And then Cindy said she called Jane’s mother to try to help. Jane’s mother called her neighbor who called Joe and reamed him. Joe got ticked and called Jane’s cousin Bob, who called Jane and made her cry.”
    omg. omg.
    With this, I go for containment. “A work problem must be addressed in the workplace itself and not outside the workplace. Jane’s mother, mother’s neighbor and Cousin Bob do not work here and should not be involved in this process at all. If you want help with a problem at work, you need to come see me, HR or EAP [if applicable].”
    Throwing lots of people into the mix is a good smoke screen. So you want to weed out as many extra actors as quickly as possible.

    Then there are times where I could not tell who was lying. But if one says X never happened and one says X happened then some one is either lying or unaware. Here, I targeted the X. “The next time X happens, I want you both to stop and come get me. I want to see X and see what is going on.” This works okay if X is a recurring problem. If X is not a recurring problem perhaps your solution is to just tell them how you want problems like that resolved in the future.

    Sometimes they sit in total silence and tell you nothing. ugh. “Okay so you don’t want to talk about it. If that changes you can come find me and we can talk. However, what is needed here is for the two of you to resume basic civility toward each other and the two of you must be able to discuss the work itself. Can you do that?”
    Tricky part, remember you opened the door for a discussion later. It could be months, then they appear in your door way. Make the time to finally talk about it.

  39. Engineer Girl*

    Thank you for mentioning that it could be one sided!!! So many times people assume that “it takes two to tango” and punish both. I had one person in my life that used to enjoy creating problems just so she could see me punished. It didn’t matter if she was punished too – it was worth it to see me get in trouble for things I never did.

    It takes two to make peace but only one to make war.

  40. cheeky*

    I was in a similar situation with a (former) coworker- he was the bully, and despite my repeated talks with my bosses, his behavior never changed. I didn’t refuse to talk to him, but I did limit my interactions with him to what was strictly necessary. I was always polite and aimed to be the better person. Ultimately, what changed was that I got new bosses, and that the bully broke his leg in a golf cart accident, was out of work for 6 months. In the time he was gone, the whole mood of my group improved dramatically, so my bosses actually saw the impact he was having on us all. When he came back, my bosses put him on notice, then changed his work assignments, which prompted him to leave.

  41. Maude*

    I started a new job and a month later another new person joined our team. I was excited to meet her and while she was pleasant during our initial introduction she made it clear in subsequent interactions she had zero interest in speaking to me or dealing with me in any way. Any attempt at polite conversation was shut down with one-word answers or very short responses. She would talk to the other team members, though! It was hurtful and confusing so I gave up trying, so of course our relationship became very awkward and strained. Little did I know at the time that she and our supervisor were great pals (a fact kept quiet during the hiring process), and once I found that out I knew I couldn’t bring this wierdness up to my supervisor who was never going to find fault with her friend! I was let go after 6 months because I “just didn’t fit in”. Um yeah, but only because our supervisor created this weird dynamic in the first place by hiring her friend and then playing favourites over the other veteran team members (who I got along fabulously with). I still wonder what was really going on, it was all truly bizarre.

    1. The Supreme Troll*

      I’m really sorry you had to go through that nonsense. I’m wondering if you weren’t accused of something through second-hand info (somebody, for whatever reason, trying to deliberately smear your name).

  42. Dysfunctional Deb*

    Many years ago I worked in a small business (under 20 employees) in which employees were divided into camps. Sarcasm, insults, exclusion and dirty tricks were the norm. One day two of us from different camps got to talking and it dawned on us that the general manager had deliberately created the situation by lying to both camps. It did no good to confront him because he just started lied more. Eventually we each left, one by one, some to competitors, others to other industries, others to retirement.

  43. NicoleK*

    I was in a similar situation with BEC coworker. I semi froze her out. I still communicated civilly with her about work, but stopped socializing and sharing personal information with her. She was an user who treated me like her assistant. She acted like my boss and tried to micro manage my work. She’d tell me that she valued me as a coworker, but repeatedly threw me under the bus (in my presence). She was incompetent at most of her tasks and expected everyone to drop everything to help her out. I got sick of her bullshit and semi froze her out. It made our boss uncomfortable, but I didn’t really care as our boss propped her up and enabled her behavior all these years. I got a new job a couple of weeks ago and have never been happier.

  44. LL*

    Confession: I have been in a similar situation. I did not speak directly to a colleague for about 8 months, but it was easier for me to get away with because I work in an agency setting and the person & I were not put on the same projects in that time. In “all hands” type meetings we simply didn’t interact. It was probably weird but I don’t think anyone really noticed. However eventually we were rotated onto the same team and I had to address it. We did so with the help of senior colleagues who offered to mediate between us but in the end we’ve managed to come to a friendly-er place, although it does help that my colleague is often remote so we mostly communicate via Slack etc.

  45. No name this time*

    Thank you. The co-worker’s actions clued the rest of the unit that she could turn on them too. The tone in our workplace changed after that. I have no direct information but I got the impression that the co-worker was told to mind her own business (this was not her first offense) and the person on whose behalf she complained was cautioned that the work-related reason underlying my statement was valid.

    Our management was remote in both distance and attitude. Had there been better communication channels and an acknowledgment of a number of chanllenges we were facing, the whole situation could have been avoided.

  46. Third or Nothing!*

    There’s a Mean Girl who sits like 3 feet away from me (cube farm) who I would loooooooooooove to just ignore completely. But, alas, I am an adult and so act accordingly.

  47. Amethyst*

    I am in a similar situation. “Brenda” has been at my job for much longer than I have been & has had such a history of antagonizing people that she’s got an HR folder several inches thick of complaints & whatnot. She’s such a polarizing figure that half the building hates her & the other half loves her. I fall into the former half, although I was just fine with her until…

    I was assigned to be her backup 3-4 months after I started. We both had similar positions, just with different clients, & each one we had needed different things from us re: their deposits. She walked me through her most anal client. Halfway through, she stopped & said I already knew the rest (posting to accounts) so I went back to my own work. She told me she’d provide me her computer password so I could use the spreadsheet she’d created for each of her clients & so I could make bank deposits under her user name (the machine was hooked up directly to her user name), & all other passwords to access & print the necessary EOBs for others to post. If she didn’t get around to it before she left for vacation, I could contact “Beth”, who kept master lists of everyone’s passwords as a just in case measure.

    She left. She didn’t leave me the list of passwords. I emailed Beth. She ignored me. I emailed again & CC’d our boss. She never responded. So I said fuck it & did my best with the spreadsheets I found on the shared drive, & did a bang up job for the week. I made physical deposits at the bank because I couldn’t use the deposit machine.

    What I didn’t know, & no one told me, was that those spreadsheets were extremely outdated. What I also didn’t know was that she had kept the master spreadsheet on her own computer & never updated the shared drive with the most accurate information for the rest of us. So when Brenda returned from her vacation, she spent Monday-Thursday charging up to my cubicle every 5 seconds yelling at me because I did XYZ wrong. She also aggressively puffed up her body while I was working, making it so I couldn’t leave my own cubicle if I wanted to (unless I charged her). I reported her behavior to our boss, who made it stop, but I kept getting called into Boss’s office asking me why I did ABC & I pointed out that no one responded to my emails, I was not given access to Brenda’s computer nor her passwords to print EOBs, her how to manual was written differently than she’d shown me how she does things, so I did the best I could under the circumstances. I was questioned on my own work history & if I’d ever been spoken to previously about making sure my work was accurate. (No. This was the only time it had happened; everything else was as close to perfect as possible.) When Friday rolled around, Brenda finally looked at the shared drive spreadsheets & figured out I’d used those. Brenda got a slap on the wrist for that. But I kept finding things out after the fact during conversations with our boss: “Brenda said you were off $1500 on this day because of X.” Wait, what? I wasn’t told this.

    I spent that entire week crying as soon as I walked in the door & dreaded going back in the next day. I went through 2 bottles of wine that week + an additional one over the weekend. After things settled down, I began asking around to see if this was normal behavior for Brenda. To my shock, it was. No one had had as bad of an experience as I had though. Everyone was just gobsmacked at how things went down for me that week. I learned that it was an open secret that Brenda deliberately sabotages all of her backups when she goes on vacation. Additionally, she doesn’t pass on information about a client *to the people who specifically handle those clients.* I’d been caught with my pants down in the interim because Brenda never informed me of a change pertaining to my client until I’d been questioned why I was doing something This Way when they’d changed the process to That Way. I also learned that Brenda does “drive by” answers, in which she answers your question & leaves. She doesn’t stay to answer the follow-up question you have. She books it so fast that no one can ask her any additional questions unless they chase her down. After the umpteenth time she’d done this to me, I emailed her a follow-up question & CC’d our boss. She said that “Amethyst didn’t like my answer so [blah blah blah].” I finally lost it. Mind you, I’d kept quiet & tried not to make waves when she deliberately pushed buttons I didn’t even know were there for the weeks after the implosion, but after she put that in my mouth I just had to fire back. So I did. I laid it all out in a long email & called her onto the carpet for no less than a dozen things I’d noted she’d done & told her she needed to stop.

    We were called into a meeting with our boss. She had a Come to Jesus talk with each of us, where I told her that this has been going on for a while, nothing is changing & I’m frustrated as hell because Client A is MY client, NOT hers, & she needs to give me ALL information on Client A as it comes in.

    Did she? No. Client A had been in the process of merging with Larger Company in the last year or so prior to me working with them & the merger was finalized the next month. It wasn’t until I got an email from Big Boss attaching an entire two-week long string between him & Brenda that I learned what the new process was for handling Client A now that it was quadrupling in size. So I sent an email to Big Boss, CC’ing my boss & Brenda, saying I needed to be in the loop with everything concerning my client. Big Boss stormed into Brenda’s office & got into a yelling match with her, which ended in “This is NOT your client, Brenda!” “I KNOW that, Big Boss!”

    After that, I had enough. I adopted a polite manner with Brenda in which I extended the basic courtesies (“thank you”, etc.) but never engaged in conversation. If I had questions, I went elsewhere. I reported every single microaggression Brenda did toward me–there were many–& kept my head down & did my job. I did the minimum of her job when I had to. Everything kept going wrong every time she left for vacation so I just didn’t care anymore how I did it as long as I got it done. 1.5 years later, after multiple conversations with my boss, I finally was removed as her backup…but not really. The other two split what they could & then I got hauled into the mess when they couldn’t or there was a scheduling conflict with one or both of them. But I was never told of when I was needed until that very day. I told my boss multiple times that I needed to be informed at least 2 weeks ahead of time for coverage needs. She apologized the first few times it happened, then escalated it to Great-grandboss, who smacked me down for asking for advanced notice.

    Then I got laid off last November because Brenda lost her anal client & they were told by my client that they needed to trim staff. Now I’m back, but in a completely different position where there’s minimal overlap with Brenda. If I have any issues with her work, I take it to my supervisor, who handles it, as Brenda won’t listen to me when I tell her there’s a problem.

    (Yes, I’m looking for a new job. I’m glad to be back as I’d had zero luck in my job search, but the position I’m in isn’t as fun as the work I was doing when I got laid off & I want to go back to that.)

    TL;DR: Brenda has a history of sabotaging all her backups. I got seriously burned & after a series of events, I resorted to minimal polite interactions when necessary. This might be why LW’s coworkers refuse to communicate with each other.

  48. Ciela*

    So I know I’m a day late and dollar short, but…

    I have a coworker, Bubble, with whom I have not had a non-work conversation since 2005. This a small company, 12 employees, and we’re the only 2 women.
    I don’t like her because she is anti-Semitic, homophobic, generally unpleasant, and so bad at her job that she creates extra work for almost everyone else. She also will complain about non-issues.

    And now my favorite example of said complaining…

    Bubble: Is this job done yet?
    Me: No, I’m still waiting for pieces. UPS shows the package as out for delivery today.
    (Bubble goes to boss’ office. Boss then comes storming out)
    Boss: Bubble said you refused to do this job?!?!
    Me: No, I said I’m still waiting for pieces. UPS shows the package as out for delivery today.
    Boss: Bubble, is that true?
    Bubble: Yes, but I thought we could do the job anyway.
    (Boss sighs, and goes back to his office. What even do you say to that?)

    And then she doesn’t like me because she thinks that I can do her job and my job. Well I do do my job, and about a third of her job. She does about a third, but then half that needs to be re-done. And the production boys do the other third.
    Give me reasonably bright high school grad for about 30 hours a week, and I could train them to do all of her job in about 4 weeks. She should not be on the clock for 60-70 hours a week. I know, not my business.

    Just today, she had a question for me, so instead of asking me, she asked 3 other people (in our wide open floor plan) and they all said, “I don’t know. Ask Ciela.”

    But wait, there’s more! There are 2 people who will not talk to her at all. The production manager is officially tasked with running interference on internal communications for her.
    And then I have quietly taken over the external communications with all the customers that can’t stand her.

    No, she’s not sleeping with either of the bosses, doesn’t know where the bodies are buried, etc. She answered a Want Ad.

  49. Overagekid*

    Does the fact that this has been going on for several years change the way to handle this? Should the manager expect/plan for this issue to not be immediately resolved?

  50. Sabrina Spellman*

    Something quite similar happened to me, but very suddenly. I was friends with one of my coworkers and she had been doing a number of things that were not in good faith and it all got back to our boss. Jane assumed that I tattled on her when a number of individuals had reported the issues to the boss. She froze me out immediately, refused to speak with me, and tried to sabotage a number of things we both had to work on. If she wasn’t ignoring me, she was bullying me so she could get her way and force me to do work she didn’t feel like doing. That was not a fun year.

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