my coworker yells and is disruptive — and we’re afraid to confront her

A reader writes:

I work in a very small office with an open floor plan.

Most of us are friendly enough and get along well, with the exception of Jane. Jane is one of the unhappiest, most negative people I have ever met. She complains almost constantly about anything and everything — and the complaining itself is very loud, often to the point of yelling. She gets extremely worked up over things that most people would feel are a minor annoyance. She also has very strong opinions and often goes on a one-sided rant about things, but goodness forbid anyone have a different opinion and they express it.

My coworkers and I are getting sick of it, but no one wants to go to HR and no one wants to confront Jane about her behavior out fears of how she might react. Jane has said she hates being told to “calm down” and more than one coworker has expressed concerns about her “going postal.” I myself dread working with Jane and often lose sleep on nights before we are in the office together.

To make things worse, we are still on a rotating schedule because of Covid, so our manager, Fran, is rarely in the office at the same time as Jane and has no idea just how bad things are. And even if Fran did know, she is very non-confrontational and refuses to ever do anything to address employee problems (I think she might actually be afraid of Jane).

What advice do you have on how to handle this situation? Working with Jane is causing me so much unnecessary stress but I feel like there’s nothing I can do.

Well … you feel like there’s nothing you can do because you’ve preemptively ruled out all the possible solutions!

When a coworker is being this disruptive, you have two options: You can address it with them directly or you can address it with someone over their head. But you said you and your coworkers don’t want to do either of those things. That means someone has to change their mind about that, or you’re all going to be stuck living with it.

I can understand why you’re writing off Fran as an option. If she has a history of refusing to ever address problems, you have good reason to think she won’t address this one either. That said, sometimes with a very non-confrontational manager, you can push them to act by making not acting an even less attractive option. That might mean that you all meet with Fran as a group and insist she do something about Jane’s behavior … and then meet with her again when she doesn’t do it … and continue to push her on it as a group until it becomes easier for her to speak to Jane than to have to keep talking to the rest of you about why she won’t. Of course, if she does finally speak to Jane, it might be so wimpy and watered down that it won’t do much good … but it could be worth a try.

Normally this would be a manager job and not an HR job (it’s Fran’s team and she’s the one charged with managing it), but if Fran isn’t an option then HR is a decent runner-up. As we discussed yesterday, HR won’t necessarily get involved in the way you want, but they might — even if it’s just relaying to Fran that she needs to actually do her job and manage. When you talk to HR, it will help to explain why you’re coming to them for help and not Fran — but it will also help to say that you tried Fran first, if possible.

Also: Are people genuinely afraid of Jane? I wasn’t sure from your letter if the “going postal” comment was hyperbole or not, but if people genuinely fear violence from her, you absolutely must go talk to HR right now, today. It’s not an option to choose the comfort of not making waves over protecting people’s physical safety. I’m going to assume for the rest of this answer that this is not the case, but if it is, stop reading right now and go talk to HR about what’s going on. But assuming that’s not the situation…

The other option, of course, is to speak to Jane directly. I get that people are afraid of how she might react, but unless you’re afraid of actual violence, getting this to stop might mean risking her wrath. If the worst thing that will happen is that she yells or sulks or is angry — well, that’s not really worse than what’s happening now, is it? And even if she reacts badly in the moment, the message might still sink in. It’s worth a shot. Things you and your coworkers can say:

* “Jane, please stop yelling. This is really disruptive.”
* “Can you please keep it down?”
* “Whoa, this is so negative. Can we not do this today?”
* “I don’t want to hear this while I’m trying to work. Can you please take it somewhere else?”

If all of you are committed to pushing back when Jane is disrupting your shared workspace, it might have an impact. That’s not guaranteed, but it’s the logical thing to try. You’re allowed — even expected — to assert reasonable boundaries to defend your workspace and what you need to focus on work.

But there are no other options. You and your coworkers need to be willing to talk to someone or this isn’t going to change.

{ 202 comments… read them below }

  1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    I can offer condolences–in my office, it’s James, not Jane, and we fear the day his blood pressure claims him. I’m listening (reading) for crowdsourced solutions on this one, and wishing I had a proposal to offer.

    1. Portabella*

      Me too, my former office had a “James.” He was constantly saying how he was going to quit because he hated everything so much, so one day I said, “So are you actually job searching then? How’s it going?” And then he chewed me out for that. My survival method was to go “gray rock” with him – I made myself completely boring and only interacted with him when necessary for work. He would talk to me in a passive-aggressive way and be sulky about that, but eventually just left me alone. I got another job after a while, and he was definitely a contributing factor to my job hunting.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Your story illustrates something a lot of managers never get — that by tolerating bad behavior from one employee, they motivate all the others to look elsewhere. And the employees managers most want to keep usually have options.

        1. AKchic*

          Yep. We had a Jane at my last place. She is still there. Everyone who has to sit next to her in the (first cubes, now open plan) has left, one by one. I was the longest-serving person, and I had outlasted a lot of other problematic people. The drama llama manager had no intention of fixing the problem because they fed off of each other and the manager was in an office away from the constant complaining.

          I was more than happy to take a job at nearly 3x my former wage, with better benefits, even if it meant leaving what I thought was going to be a career, a decent employer, and otherwise good coworkers and networks. I have never looked back.

    2. DuPont Circle Travel*

      Same! We have a James. Addressing negativity/yelling/rants in the moment (or after tbh) only leads to a spike in yelling and anger, and prolongs the misery (or leads to a simmering sulk that will blow up shortly). Not sure why our grandboss or his boss (we’re in different departments thankfully, but fall under the same umbrella) haven’t dealt with it more sternly -honestly I’m not sure what they have or haven’t tried doing – but we all now treat him like a Missing Stair, which ultimately is… pretty problematic.

      Definitely paying attention to any crowdsourced coping ideas!

      1. Jzilbeck*

        Ugh, we also had a James. Was extremely loud and confrontational on calls, all day everyday. My noise canceling headphones weren’t enough! Also, anytime he was called out on his poor quality work, or lack thereof, or other forms of serious insubordination, he’d file a complaint of discrimination against the person with our EEO rep. Our management tried hard to keep him in line but to no avail. All that could be done was to ignore him as best as possible. His desk eventually got moved to the other end of the building. He went on some rotational assignments, but eventually got sent back to our group. A few months before the pandemic though, he died under mysterious circumstances. I think he was an extreme case of the disruptive type of coworker but I’m curious as to whether any of the suggestions in this letter would’ve worked.

        1. Librarian1*

          This is ridiculous. Filing a discrimination complaint shouldn’t get him out of having to deal with the consequences of his actions. Do you work for the federal government, by any chance? I feel like this type of thing happens a lot there. and probably in state and local governments, too, but idk.

          1. Jzilbeck*

            Yes, this does happen in gov jobs. And it’s super unfair to those who produce terrific work, which a large majority of my colleagues do and are regularly commended for. Some of them were the subjects of these unfounded complaints…and stupid bureaucracy lets guys like James stay.

            I say mysterious circumstances because no information was ever released by the family. No cause of death, no service details, not even an obituary. Only reason our management even found out was because he didn’t show up to work one day, and they requested a wellness check.

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          oh you’ve just reminded me of my former boss with the “extremely loud and confrontational on calls, all day everyday”. One day he even made a client, yes, a CLIENT, cry.
          The client’s boss called to try to sort things out, I picked up and said “sorry no can’t put you through, he’s just calling someone else. I know it’s important to you, so let me just eavesdrop for two seconds, see if it’s a call I can interrupt.”
          Those two seconds may have been stretched somewhat, because of my uncontrollable laughter: the boss was now shouting down the phone at the phone company, for delivering a malfunctioning phone that amplified his foghorn voice. His proof that the phone was the problem was that nobody complained about his staff’s voices – he was forgetting to factor in that we were all females handpicked for docility and sweetness.

      2. LittleRedRiding...Hu?*

        Almost got fired once because I popped when office James went on the umpteenth war path. I had ignored him most times, but one day I snapped, saw red mist decending and told him to shut his pie hole before I had to make sure he’d never be able to use it again.
        Not my proudest moment and I got a deserved written warning ( had to talk my Manager out of firing me) – totally worth it though.

        1. Jan*

          It was understandable though, and I bet your colleagues (and possibly your manager) were secretly pleased someone told him! That’s why your boss didn’t fire you.

          1. Am I Jill? Yikes!*

            What’s really obnoxious is that LittleRedRiding had to talk their manager out of firing THEM, but apparently firing James the Team A-hole wasn’t an option? Why does this happen so much, I ask rhetorically? The problem employee gets to leave wreckage in their wake on the regular, but anyone who finally responds in kind, *they’re* in trouble? Why?

        2. Anne Elliot*

          In one of my very first jobs as a restaurant server, I did this too. There was another server who had been there forever who was just a big bully, especially to new/younger people like I was then. I took it and took it and then one day I was like THAT’S IT, WE THROW HANDS. Voices were raised and the phrase “you’d better leave me the bleep alone” was fiercely uttered (by me). The bully server complained to the manager who just told her, “well, leave her alone then.” That’s how I learned an ineffective manager may not protect me but might not care if I protected myself. Even then I thought “wow, this is not how this is supposed to work.” I hated that job.

    3. Dancing Otter*

      If the blood pressure bit was real and not hyperbole (or wishful thinking), use it. When he gets hot under the collar and red in the face, profess your concern for his health/BP. Offer to fetch him a glass of water. Ask if he has a BP monitor, does he need you to get it for him? Would he like a couple of aspirin and a cool compress? Maybe he should go lie down, or at least rest in an empty conference room with the lights off, until he feels more himself. (Never mind that this IS his normal.) Make a big production of your concern.

      Either he’ll rush off to his doctor or he’ll be embarrassed enough to shut up for a while. He might even be touched by your concern, and at least not yell in your direction, however he treats others.

  2. Jellyfish*

    I’m not sure anyone reacts well to being told “calm down,” but Alison provides good suggestions on wording. Don’t tell Jane that her emotions are wrong or too big. Instead, tell her that this is not the time / place / method for expressing them. That’s professional, reasonable, and kind.

    1. Lance*

      Even besides that, they wouldn’t even really be asking Jane to calm down; they’d be asking her to quiet down, which is a more than reasonable request in a small, open office. It’s not about her feelings, or even about the contents of her griping; it’s about the frequency and noise level.

      1. Jellyfish*

        Agreed. I wonder if OP feels like they’ll get sucked in to all the complex habits and motivations behind Jane’s outbursts if they tell her to knock it off. Maybe that’s projecting, but I could see myself thinking that way. Addressing the disruptive behavior without getting into the rest is doable though.

      2. ALM2019*

        I think it depends on the situation and how its said. I have a coworker who screams, points in peoples faces, and slams his fists about everything. He was in my face one time yelling and pointing about something (that i had nothing to do with, he was just mad). I very calmly but sternly said “if you’d like to discuss this you’ll need to step back and calm down”. He stopped, looked completely shocked, and then stomped off. I did not see him again until the next morning and he apologized. Does he still yell and slam his fists now? Yes. But he’s also quicker to back off when he realizes what he’s doing.

        1. Bagpuss*

          I had a boss who was light this. He was a terrible bully, and would scream, shout, and throw things. And then lie about it afterwards.
          He once came into my room and stating screaming at me – I said something along the lines of “I can see you’re upset about this – could we talk in a little while when you are feeling calmer?” It wasn’t premeditated but it totally took the wind out of his sails and he never did it to me again.
          I think in his case he did it to provoke people and then he could make it their fault – e.g. he would shout and or throw things, and when his victim responded in kind he would then blame them for acting unprofessionally (He was one of the owners of the business and the others didn’t care. We were in a branch office and their attitude was that it was his office and he could run it as he wished)

          Not quite the same situation as OP but sometimes a very calm response to someone who isn’t calm can work!

        2. Mel_05*

          I used to do this with a roommate who would throw a fit when she didn’t get her way. I’d just calmly say, “I can’t talk to you when you’re yelling. We can discuss this later.” And, we did. Much more quietly.

    2. AnonEMoose*

      I don’t think anyone in the history of ever has actually calmed down in response to being told to “calm down.” Alison has definitely suggested better wording. But I think that talking to Fran not just about how Jane is behaving unprofessionally (she is), but about how Jane’s behavior impacts your ability to get your work done might be something to consider.

      1. Ashley*

        So if you are willing to approach Fran individually maybe ask Fran if you can switch days from when Jane is is in the office. Let her know how Jane is impacting your work and give Fran a possibly low key non confrontational solution. This doesn’t help your other co-workers but if everyone approaches Fran with the same request at some point she should put two and two together.

      2. Uranus Wars*

        I also think including the piece about losing sleep the night before can be helpful. I had a Jane in my office once – not a yeller, but someone who made working just hard in ways it shouldn’t be. What finally got my boss to speak with her was me saying “everyday I pull in I just hope that her car won’t be here and when it is, I have to give myself a pep talk to come inside”. I think boss finally saw I was on a short rope and likely job searching (which I was).

        1. Observer*

          I don’t think so. Fran is going to be looking for an excuse to not do anything, and I’d be willing to bet that she’s going to see this as the OP being “too sensitive”.

          Don’t get me wrong – the OP has a legitimate beef here and is NOT being “too sensitive”, but when you KNOW that someone is going to try to find any and all excuses to not do anything, don’t hand them something to twist. Make it as hard as possible for them to make excuses and make it even harder for them to sell it to HR, when you need to go over her head.

          1. Not A Girl Boss*

            I agree. We had a situation where we told HR and grandboss “Boss is so bad that I cry every day on my way into work.” and similar stories, and it was basically like “stop being an emotional female.”
            We had much better luck when we focused on the actual impact of our work – that it was consuming time in our day to listen to his rants, and there were a few embarrassing incidents where clients overheard.

            1. Windchime*

              Yep. We had this situation at work and same thing. Grandboss, Great-Grandboss and HR all pooh-poohed us until we banded together and started making noise about a lawsuit; then HR was interested and finally got rid of our Jane. In our case, though, Jane was someone who also had power over the group.

    3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Agreed. I wouldn’t tell anyone to calm down, because no one likes to hear that, but “Hey Jane, you are being a bit loud, can you take it outside/into a conference room?”, “Jane, can you be quiet, please, I need to concentrate”, etc. are ways to get what you want without commenting on her emotional state.

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        Used to work near a person who would have “quiet chats” in the hallway outside my office (Spoiler: NOT QUIET)
        More than once I had to break in and say “Can you move this to the conference room? I’m on the phone and $Clientname can hear you in North Carolina.”

        1. Zombeyonce*

          $Clientname could probably hear them in North Carolina even if you weren’t on the phone with them.

    4. LadyByTheLake*

      Agreed — “calm down” is fightin’ words, because it can be heard as telling a person that their feelings aren’t valid, which no one in the history of ever wants to hear. Instead of using that language, focus on the action — Allison has provided good language. Focus on the disturbance rather than the emotion.

      1. DoubleE*

        Yes, this is such an important distinction! Jane is entitled to feel however she wants; she is not entitled to express her feelings in ways that disturb or frighten her coworkers.

    5. Not A Girl Boss*

      I actually had success using lines similar to Alison’s wording with a similar situation. I had a coworker who would complain out load “to herself” for hours on end, and when you tried to actually address what she was complaining about she would look affronted.

      Then I started addressing every single instance with a remark that conveyed “what you are doing is inappropriately interrupting my work day, and needs to stop.” Honestly, my tone was bored-mom-correcting-toddlers-behavior, I’m not sure if it was the most appropriate tone for work, but it was effective… and over time she either 1) got shamed into realizing that what she was doing didn’t make her look extra important, it made her look like whiny child, or 2) realized I wouldn’t stop nagging her about it so it was easier to rant in her head. Either way, happy result.
      -“Jane, can you lower your voice? It’s interrupting my work.”
      -“Jane, I would love to talk to you about this issue if you want to schedule time on my calendar, but right now I have *priority thingie* to get done.”
      -“Jane, I don’t know if you realize this, but I can hear you swearing ‘under your breath’ right now. Please either address the issue to the offender, or stop so I can focus.”
      -“Jane, its not appropriate for you to be raising your voice right now.”
      -“Jane, I need to call a client so I’m going to need you to take this conversation elsewhere.”
      -“Jane, I don’t think complaining to me is the right avenue to get this resolved.”
      -“Jane, I really don’t have time for chit chat today.” or “I need us to put a moratorium on complaining for the next hour”

      1. wee beastie*

        These are wonderful scripts to say it!! They do exactly what Alison was advising because they don’t diminish Jane’s feelings, but show a firm, confident hand in telling her to take it elsewhere. I like the calm tone you said you employ. The important thing is to believe that you can handle her. Getting wound up and upset ourselves is generally because we are scared we won’t be heard. But if you’ve the confidence to just keep saying—without defending yourself, because there’s no need to defend—“fine you are upset. I hear that, but take it elsewhere.” Do not be nice and try asking her “would you please….” because that’s a way to engage her and cede ground to her. Be calm and unemotional yet firm “I can’t hear my phone call over your discussion, take it elsewhere.”

    6. addiez*

      Here for exactly this – I despise being told to calm down. Lower my voice? Sure. Discuss elsewhere? Sure. Calm down? No way.

  3. Mannheim Steamroller*

    I’m recalling a key quote from Ann Landers: “No one can take advantage of you without your permission.”

    You and your coworkers are giving Jane all the power, and thus giving her permission to rule the office. STOP THAT RIGHT NOW!! Reclaim your right to stand up for yourselves. Share Alison’s script with your coworkers, use it, and take back your collective sanity.

    1. WellRed*

      Yes. How do you expect Jane to change her behavior (I doubt she will but that’s another problem) if you don’t address this? And how specific have you been with Fran about Jane’s behavior?

    2. Nea*

      I have never liked this quote, because it blames the victim for things outside their control.

      I have worked with a Jane. I did lodge a formal complaint which was taken seriously by our management. Jane then escalated, occasionally to physicality.

      At which point was I giving her permission? Was the permission to escalate implicit in making the formal complaint?

      OP – Alison, as usual, has a brilliant script, and it would make more of an impact to have a group making the complaint. That said, based on my personal experience, I’d go straight to HR and copy Fran on the message, not the other way around. Or send Fran an email saying “I am about to contact HR and tell them that Jane has been doing X” so that Fran isn’t blindsided – but don’t leave the matter in Fran’s hands.

      1. Amethystmoon*

        Right, on my old team there was another manager who was not my boss. She frequently lost her temper at small things. A few times, she yelled (yes, actually raised her voice) at me over small things. Several months before I left that job for a new one at another location, she raised her voice at me over a small thing. The one witness who was there lied about it to my boss and my boss gaslit me. It was not the only reason I left, but her inability to control her temper was a huge reason on the list. Most good employees will not stay in a situation like that. Look for people to be jumping ship if nothing gets done.

      2. Abogado Avocado*

        Except this situation is not outside the OP’s control. OP has personally observed Jane’s behavior, Jane’s behavior occurs regularly, Jane’s behavior is unreasonable in the work environment, and Jane’s behavior at work (indeed, Jane’s employment) will continue unless that behavior is brought to management or HR’s attention or both. OP, therefore, has a choice about whether to continue to live with this behavior or to initiate the process of changing the work environment by saying something about it to management or to HR — and also to warn management and/or HR of OP’s justifiable fear that Jane may escalate her behavior.

        And what if Jane’s behavior gets worse? OP still doesn’t have to live with it. OP can continue to escalate the complaints or even call the police and/or quit. Bad behavior that escalates to threats of physicality or physicality itself is called assault in the US and it is a crime. Workplaces that allow one employee to assault another can be found civilly liable for damages to the assaulted employee. Workplaces that allow one employee to assault another so that the assaulted employee must quit have engaged in constructive discharge and can be found civilly liable for the loss of income to the discharged employee. These are not small consequences.

        As Alison has pointed out, OP and OP’s coworkers have choices. Declining to exercise those choices in this situation gives Jane the power to continue her victimization of OP and OP’s coworkers. The quotation applies to this circumstance.

      3. Beth*

        Yes, exactly. “No one can take advantage of you without your permission” is a statement from a place of privilege and power.

        Everyone who has had power over me in my life has been able to take advantage of me to some degree, and many of them have done so. My unwilling capitulation, mostly based in socialization, made it easier for them to do so, and also gave me a foothold to push back in some cases. Not everyone has that foothold.

        Silence is usually taken for consent, which doubly damns those who have been terrorized into silence. Silence allows people who are already taking advantage to take even more, and feel themselves entirely justified.

        The LW does have some options, and I really hope she’s able to get some results.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          yep, I agree with you that the quote really is coming from a place of privilege and power, and really oversimplifies matters.

        2. Cheesehead*

          I remember that comment, and I do like it, but I just don’t think it applies in a situation like this. I think it’s more for when someone keeps expecting you to do or provide something, and they act like you don’t have a choice. Like a parent who assumes that the grandparents will just drop everything and babysit whenever they want, or someone who expects that their brother, the plumber, will always provide plumbing services for free. I have one of those professions (part time) where anyone can theoretically do it, but the level at which they do it varies widely. I’ve had people expect free ‘services’ from me, and that quote has popped into my mind many times as I’ve tried to navigate them not taking advantage of me.

          I don’t think Jane is necessarily taking advantage of the OP and her coworkers, but I would say that it’s more of a bullying or hostile (not in the legal sense, just unpleasant) environment that she’s creating.

        3. SimplytheBest*

          Okay, but Jane doesn’t have power over them. just because she’s an asshole doesn’t mean she has power over them. OP has options in which to deal with Jane, but doesn’t want to do them. How else is this going to change?

      4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        Thank you for saying this. It’s similar to Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote that “no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I understand that it is meant to be empowering, but it is just not a truthful statement. If I feel bad after someone bullies me, now that is suddenly my fault as well? I understand the purpose of the quote is to build self-esteem and not need to rely on someone else to feel good about yourself, but it greatly oversimplifies things.

        That said, I agree with you and Alison that in this case, OP and her colleagues are dismissing their options before trying them. That said, I think if she is going to alert Fran by copying her on her HR email or advising her in advance, she ought to give Fran a chance to handle it first. Fran may have a bad history of conflict avoidance, but to be fair, it sounds like she is not actually physically around to witness this situation, and HR would really want OP to try talking to Fran first. So I would address it with Fran directly, see if anything happens, then, if there is no indication that any action has occurred within a couple weeks, go to HR and tell them the situation. At that point I would also be able to say that I did discuss it with my manager, but the situation remains unchanged and it is making it difficult to work effectively with Jane or even when she is in the office.

        1. NeonFireworks*

          Yeah, I got teased a lot as a kid, and all of the advice was tantamount to “don’t let it bother you.” Whether or not I showed external signs of it bothering me, the problem was that others were mistreating me, not that I was reacting.

        2. Spencer Hastings*

          Yeah! Same with “Don’t let someone live rent-free in your head.” Sometimes you do legitimately have problems with a person’s behavior, because they’re bullying you or otherwise making your life harder…sometimes you learned something important from going through that experience and kept it as a reminder of How Not to Be, or for the purposes of Telling Someone About a Time When…you shouldn’t be made to feel needlessly guilty about that, which is what these quotes do.

      5. Paperwhite*

        Well and truly said. Whenever I’ve heard that quote and its variants I’ve imagined someone using it as a reason to vote against abolitionism or to excuse a sexual harasser. And I really like your advice on going to HR and copying Fran on the message.

        1. Cedrus Libani*

          There’s an entire genre of quotes that are good advice for living in an imperfect world, and are also the sort of thing that assholes use to justify their own behavior. That’s one of them.

          Personally, I imagine these quotes in the mouth of the Universe. And the Universe is a very well-known asshole. (That’s what insurance is for, after all. And I can’t refuse to deal with the Universe – I live here!) But the advice is still valid.

          It is true that we don’t have much control over what choices we get. We didn’t hire Jane, we can’t fire Jane, we probably shouldn’t sneak Valium into Jane’s coffee, so she is what she is. But we still get to choose. We’re not helpless, we can do something, even if it’s a choice between bad and worse.

    3. Pippa K*

      That quote applies here because the problem is among equals, and I agree that a firm rejection of Jane’s behaviour is the way to go. It’s one of those times when people would benefit from having a colleague who’s fairly comfortable with confrontation.
      (But otherwise I really really hate that Ann Landers quote! It’s the worst advice in situations of power disparity, and in the workplace I’ve seen it used by someone in management to basically victim-blame employees affected by inequitable policies and management demands.)

    4. Jean (just Jean)*

      I tried to source this quote and instead fell down the rabbit hole connected to a similar quotation from Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” The first site that emerged in my Google search was quoteinvestigator (dot) com (slash) 2011 (slash) 03 (slash) 30 (slash) not-inferior (slash).

      I can see how neither quote applies 100% in situations with a power imbalance, but I also find it empowering to be reminded that no matter what happens, we own our own minds, can assert our own worthiness, and deserve better circumstances. Not easy, not always, but not completely impossible.

      1. Jackalope*

        I’m glad that you have found comfort and strength in this quote. Anyone who finds it helpful… more power to you! That being said, in my experience this quote is crap, even more so than the Ann Landers-attributed comment previously. Just about every human being at some point in time has someone tell them something that makes them feel inferior or lesser than. If they aren’t of the majority group (for example, in the US straight white rich men), or don’t meet standards for what someone should be (not attractive, visible disability, unpleasant voice, whatever), they will hear it more often. This generally starts in childhood. Some people get that from their families from the day they’re born. No one has the resources to withstand that as a baby or a small child; we just DON’T. And those places of shame last, often throughout our entire lives in some way, and when someone pushes that button again, out comes that feeling of inferiority. This can happen even if we have worked on that area and have tried to have a positive self-image and tamp down lies that people tell us. They still work! So while I won’t say there is absolutely no way to combat this, it’s certainly not the 100% under our control business that Eleanor Roosevelt suggests here.

        1. Asenath*

          Sayings like those can encourage someone who does have buttons to trigger feelings of inferiority that, hey, maybe this isn’t the only way to react – and then to work on disengaging those buttons.

          1. Jackalope*

            Again, for anyone who is helped by this quote, I’m glad. I can understand that that’s something that could be helpful for some people. My feeling towards this quote has always been a feeling of shame when I hear it. I mean, not only do I feel lousy because someone’s being a jerk to me, but now I’m ashamed because apparently it’s my fault that I feel lousy when someone’s a jerk to me. Much more helpful for me has been people telling me, “That’s not true; that person was being a jerk,” or “I think you have worth & value,” or even just something like a hug. That helped change the scripts in my mind so I could find a different way to think about myself in response. Obviously this isn’t something everyone would have to say to me, but if (generic you) you’re going to say something, that’s more helpful than the above quote. (And helpful self-talk when someone’s a jerk is reminding myself that it’s okay to feel upset or down if someone insults me or treats me poorly; it’s a normal human response to someone being a jerk! That way I can move on to figuring out my response instead of just despising myself for being upset/down.)

            1. PVR*

              I think though that both things can be true—someone can be a jerk but ultimately it’s up to us how we choose to respond. I also don’t think you (general you) have to automatically feel confident after someone has triggered feelings of inferiority in you. It’s natural to need time to work through whatever was said or happened. It totally helps to have someone else confirm that yes, that someone was a jerk. But ultimately the healing can only come from inside ourselves regardless of whether we have external support or not. So it has to be our responsibility to do the work to get there, because only we can manage the way we feel. That is what these quotes represent to me, not an expectation that hurtful words or action will just bounce off a bulletproof exterior automatically, but that eventually we find our self worth is greater than the external forces that try to tell us otherwise.

          2. Gazebo Slayer*

            Sayings like those can also encourage people who are being hurt to feel weak, guilty, and bad because they are apparently complicit in their own bullying, and can encourage awful people to keep being awful because after all, if anyone is hurt by the things they say and do, it’s the victim’s fault.

    5. Paperwhite*

      “No one can take advantage of you without your permission.”

      Doesn’t this pretty much blame abused children, disprivileged people, and so on, for our situations?

  4. Jcarnall*

    You don have tp be afraid of violence to be afraid of how people will react.

    I would absolutely be the person who wanted to keep her head down and let the angry negativity flow overhead. Still, Alison’s right- you have to talk to someone or nothing will change.

    One point I would be wary of: it makes sense for you to all act together, but you don’t want to be accused as a group of bullying Jane. If you’re not afraid of physical violence, it does make sense to ask Jane directly – “hey, tone it down” – but only if you can say it calmly and moderately. If Jane won’t, then Alison has (as usual) the best advice: talk to Fran, talk to Fran again, talk to HR about why Fran isn’t doing anything – and document everything so it’s clear Jane is not being bullied by you.

    1. Threeve*

      I typically hate these hypotheticals, but this situation would feel very different if the yelling, unstable coworker was a man.

      1. Artemesia*

        Not clear how. Men like this are usually allowed to rule the roost in my experience. Women tend to face greater consequences for this kind of behavior — although too many poor managers allow both genders to get away with absurd workplace behavior.

        1. Threeve*

          A man angry and shouting is way more likely to istantly read as “threatening,” rather than “disruptive.” It sucks, but many managers and HR reps would be less likely to brush it off.

          And then if it’s not taken seriously–if it’s a man, bringing the issue up to management/HR might get you labeled as oversensitive; if it’s a woman, there’s a bigger risk of being gossiped about as oversensitive and/or a petty, backstabbing tattletale.

          1. Not A Girl Boss*

            Meh, I’m with Artemesia. I’ve had my share of coworkers who were yellers of both genders, and I never found the men extra threatening. If anything I was more likely to roll my eyes at their egos, but judge women for their lack of control.

    2. hbc*

      Well, you can fear anything, but the question is whether your fear is well-founded and is a true sign that you should avoid the thing that you fear. If OP and colleagues don’t fear violence from Jane, then what exactly is it that they’re fearing? More negativity?

      It’s fine to make the calculation that this level of Jane ranting is worth tolerating versus the risk that she’ll get worse if someone says “Please keep it down, I’m trying to work” or puts on noise-cancelling headphones and ignores her mid-rant. But then you live with your choice and don’t let yourself get worked up about her rants.

  5. achoos*

    Jane sounds like a nightmare. Does it help to frame it as, “Pushing back can’t make things worse.” I used to be as conflict averse as anyone else but I finally reached a point where I realized being silent wasn’t doing anything. So I told my co-worker, “Please stop x, it’s not cool.” He was highly offended and told our boss he NEVER did x. I documented our initial conversation, documented my conversation with our boss, and looped in HR. And guess what? He never did x to me again.

    It wasn’t easy- I wanted to throw up through the whole conversation- but things turned out better.

    1. irene adler*

      Good job!! That was a hard thing to do. But you did it.
      There are folks out there who are grateful that you did this.

    2. achoos*

      It really taught me that sucking it up and having the difficult conversation right away is the best course, and since then, I’ve been much more proactive. I’m alive to tell the tale!

  6. BadWolf*

    On the “She gets extremely worked up over things that most people would feel are a minor annoyance” front — Sometimes you can cut people short by taking their exaggerations seriously. Suddenly the end of the world is no big deal. Of course, some people would love nothing more than for you to jump in the drama, so use with caution. Something in the realm of:

    Her: We sent out out this department emails with typos. OMG! Why would we do that!! So unprofessional!
    OP: Oh no, do they need to send a correction to the department? What meaning was changed with the typos? Did they get the link to the Llama website wrong?
    Her: No, they used teh instead of the, but still
    OP: Oh phew! I thought maybe they made it seem like had shouldn’t go to the Llama groomer when we really should. You’re talking about the internal department email, right? Not one that goes to customers?
    Her: No, that’s fine, but there was a typo still. Grumble.

    There’s someone in my hobby group who often makes things Seem Like a Big Deal and when you offer solutions, she backpedals and/or pulls out some mitigating circumstance that somehow makes your suggestion sound heartless. I just try to avoid engaging in her Drama Stories as I only come out burned in the end.

    1. juliebulie*

      I can confirm that this is an effective approach… it certainly worked when someone tried it on me!

    2. Ashley*

      I would be tempted to sing “it’s the end of the world as we know it” when things start getting blow our of proportion but that would be the pre-2020 me.

  7. anon73*

    You can’t have it both ways. You either need to take action to try and fix this, or deal with the behavior. And the “My manager doesn’t like confrontation” excuse needs to be nipped in the bud. You can’t let someone like Jane hijack your work day by letting her vent and yell all day every day, creating a very negative environment for all. I would start with Jane. It’s true that telling someone who’s worked up to “calm down” isn’t helpful, but Alison has provided some good responses when it starts. If it doesn’t stop, go to Fran. It doesn’t matter that she’s not witnessing the behavior. If she won’t address it, then take it to HR.

    This is all assuming that you aren’t truly scared of Jane – if that’s the case then go directly to HR and do it now.

  8. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    I’ve worked with people like Jane before. There’s nothing you or her manager can do to remove the causes of her unhappiness – if you magically fixed everything that was ‘wrong’, she’d find something new to complain about.

    The only thing that you can hope to get changed is how she expresses herself. A small victory is getting her to go from loud complaining to muttering under her breath. A major victory is getting her to just have an angry or sour look on her face.

    And I think you need to go to her manager with something more concrete than just her volume or the overall impact on morale. She’s actively impeding you from doing your jobs, right? You can’t talk on the phone or converse with a coworker when she’s ranting in the background, you can’t concentrate on a tough issue because of her interruptions, etc., and therefore work isn’t getting done.

    1. Nea*

      There’s a thought… OP, can you call Fran when Jane is in full yell, allowing Fran to hear what’s going on?

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        This. I had a coworker whoop like a banshee in the background on Thursday last week – while I was on the phone with an external client. Client got concerned that someone in my office had just gotten hurt – and rushed me off the phone to go help the hurt person (I just hope they heard what I was trying to tell them while they were rushing me off the phone).

        Coworker wasn’t hurt – she had passed a training course knowledge check. And celebrated that fact by making such a loud and high pitched noise that they were overheard by every client who was on the phone…..and 85% of our job is contacting people back with next steps which happens over the phone.

  9. HR in the city*

    If as coworkers you don’t want to confront Jane than first try talking to your boss. If that doesn’t spur her to action than absolutely go to HR. Most people think HR doesn’t do anything but HR will absolutely tell Fran to manage her employees. Some managers never want to manage and expect HR to do it. That isn’t really HRs job. HR will certainly help Fran if she needs it but we want to see action from the manager first. It doesn’t do any good for HR to do the managers job since we aren’t in the day to day. If Fran has managed and issues continue go back to HR. HR most times isn’t afraid to look into things if needed when things aren’t right. This is absolutely not okay behavior by Jane.

  10. Letter Writer*

    I personally am not afraid of violence from Jane, and I’m pretty sure the coworkers who made the “going postal” comments were indeed talking in hyperbole. They do tend to exaggerate things and can get a little dramatic sometimes.

    1. Emi*

      I hope this doesn’t come across as refusing to take you at your word, but sometimes people joke about things like this as a way of expressing genuine fears that they either don’t feel comfortable verbalizing straightforwardly or don’t fully acknowledge to themselves. This is one of the big points in the workplace violence section of The Gift of Fear — people joking about someone else committing workplace violence is a predictor of actual violence.

      1. old curmudgeon*

        I echo this comment. If “jokes” are being made about possible violence in the workplace, it needs to be brought to HR a.s.a.p.

        My elder kid experienced an episode of workplace violence (a shooting that left one person dead and multiple injured) two years ago. There were “jokes” about the shooter at that office, too. At least people thought they were jokes, until the day when the guy stood up from his desk, pulled out a gun and started shooting. My kid survived by hiding under their desk, shaking in terror as the shooter stalked past looking for more targets, and to this day is still dealing with PTSD, as are many of their colleagues.

        If Jane’s behavior has reached the point that people “joke” about her engaging in violence, you have a responsibility to alert the relevant areas immediately.

        1. Jean (just Jean)*

          Yikes. Sending healing wishes to your kid and the others. So sorry they had to experience that, and that the shooter could not find a less destructive way to vent their emotions.

        2. Paris Geller*

          That is horrible. I’m so sorry. Echoing my response for good thoughts for your kid and their coworkers.

        3. nonegiven*

          Don’t I remember reading something like that in Gift of Fear, too? People only joke about things like that, if they really deep down consider it very possible.

        4. Iconic Bloomingdale*

          OMG. I am so sorry to hear this. I hope your kid is able to fully recover from this horrible incident.

          Yes, if colleagues are making “jokes” about the potential for violence from this employee, then it’s time to report the behavior to HR. The face that multiple people are “joking” about it, means that at minimum, it is a latent thought or concern in colleagues’ minds.

        5. Frustration Nation*

          Yes, I used to work with a Jane of sorts, though he was generally much quieter. You could tell he was always seething about something, though, and often disagreed with the boss and the execs above her about every little thing. We produced a TV show, and there were specific requests from management about how it should look, what graphics they wanted used, etc, and he always tried to push back. He very quietly terrorized everyone on our team, and one of our editors finally told us he’d gone to HR to complain about what he felt were threats. That’s when we all sat together and “jokingly” discussed how we’d all planned our escape routes for when he brought a gun in, because we’d all decided separately that he was definitely going to one day. He was fired abruptly one day, because it turned out that he’d been going to HR about US once a week or so, to complain about how we were following him around on weekends, threatening him at work, excluding him from activities, etc, and fortunately HR realized he was projecting. Obviously, there were a lot more issues there, but the point is, we coped with him for about a year by “jokingly” discussing our interactions with him. I am absolutely convinced he was capable of violence, and if we’d been at a smaller production company, it probably wouldn’t have been handled at all. Listen to your gut, and take troubling “joking” seriously. I wish we’d done so sooner.

    2. Like a Boss*

      They do tend to exaggerate things and can get a little dramatic sometimes.

      This is kind of burying the lede, though. It’s one thing if Jane is being a drama queen and that’s out of step with the office culture. It’s quite another if being opinionated/loud is kind of a norm in your office, and Jane is acting consistently with that. If that’s the situation, you have more of a workplace culture issue.

    3. Cobol*

      LW would you describe yourself as the opposite of Jane, as in all the rest of the office falls between the two of you?

      I don’t doubt that Jane needs a course correction, but sometimes a reframing is good so it doesn’t impact your life. E.g, almost yelling could be described as extremely animated.

      I’ve noticed this a lot between “positive” and “negative” people. I fall into the later group, but when I say something isn’t good, it doesn’t mean it’s bad. It means it can be made better to become good. My boss is the opposite, and won’t admit anything isn’t perfect (not saying you do this), and it causes the same reaction to me as Jane is for you. Just as a non work example, saying that step is creaky doesn’t mean we need to rip out the staircase. It’s also something that won’t bother some people.

      This is way too long, and isn’t meant to replace any of Alison’s advice, just it might help you be less stressed if you don’t put yourself in Jane’s shoes, because her reaction to something that is a level 8 annoyance will be very different than yours, but she’s not necessarily more upset.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I’m not sure how this helps the OP. Jane might not feel as upset as she comes across, but should everyone there have to put up with her outbursts and constant negativity because her outside behavior isn’t matching her inside feelings?

        1. Cobol*

          Fair point, and I was trying to toe the line. I do agree that if letter writer says Jane is disruptive she is, but I do think it’s worth (and helpful for the letter writer) to see if reframing is possible. That way it’s not Jane is angry, but that didn’t go as Jane hoped.

    4. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

      Hi LW, how do you think Jane would respond to Alison’s scripts or the ones listed above? Do you think she would quiet down on the regular, quite down for a bit and then be back to normal, or would she completely ignore you? How has she responded to requests for behavior change other than “calm down” in the past?

    5. Sylvan*

      I mean, yes, but has she ever thrown things or hit the wall? I had a coworker like that who did. (The problem solved itself: She talked herself into quitting during a tantrum one day. Shouted herself into it, I guess.) If she has started getting physical, you’re probably better off going to your boss or HR, not because your safety is necessarily at risk (you can gauge that better than we can) but because a conversation with her is just going to end in a tantrum.

  11. irene adler*

    I’ve got a co-worker who complains about anything and everything. No raised voices, however. But it is constant. And, she follows people around, dogging them until she’s had her say on things. It is trying at times.

    So what I write may not be entirely useful. I find that expecting or offering action to resolve the complaint takes the wind out of the complainer’s sails, so to speak.

    When I’ve had my fill, I have asked her, “okay Jane, I get that you don’t like X. So, what are YOU going to DO about X to resolve it?” This tends to get Jane upset-but she doesn’t discuss X with me any more (but there’s always another topic to complain about…).

    I’ve even offered to help resolve X. That gets a fair amount of back-pedaling from Jane (“can’t because…”). Which I respond with, “All right then. No need to bring up X ever again.”

    But if Jane is as formidable as described (genuinely going postal part), then maybe confrontation is not the best move.

  12. Malika*

    She will never change of her own volition. She either explains her behaviour away to herself as being assertive, straightforward, telling it like it is, etc, etc. The I am not screaming, you are just too sensitive school of thought. Or she is an outright bully and while no one pipes up, she feels she can do whatever she wants. Bullies thrive in environments with non-confrontational managers. Colleagues can also collectively convince themselves that they just need to toughten up, that by not saying anything they are taking combative behaviour like a man bla bla bla.

    You are doing everyone, including Jane, a favour by speaking up collectively. With the classic I statements about how it makes you feel when she is doing specific acts. She will then try the ‘assertive, straightforward’ defense, and you can reiterate that this is how it feels and things need to change. Prepare for sulks, more defensiveness, gloating about how she scares you and how you are so weak/sensitive, monologues, shouting down and so forth. She has gone by unchecked so long that it is really likely that she will try to shut you up. You just keep on going, and things will change. Alternatively, she will be mollified for a couple of weeks or months. The behaviour will then start to creep back in, with sighs of you all being sensitive. If this happens you can escalate to (upper) Management.

    Sooner or later, colleagues, and even management, like this manage to harm themselves and their careers badly. It is best to speak up before then, because right now she is slowly bringing down everyone with her.

    The good news is people like this can change. A friend turned into a terrible bully and alienated his whole circle of friends. He woke up that he was repeating destructive patterns of behaviour, went to therapy, and has turned himself around. He needed to be faced with consequences, though. Without them, the behaviour would have just intensified.

    1. CatWoman*

      Very good points made here. Jane isn’t going to curtail this behavior if her teammates sit by and allow it. Consider, “Jane, the shouting is very disruptive to the rest of the team and counterproductive, so please stop. Is there something I can help you resolve? Do we need Fran’s help?”

  13. LTL*

    You didn’t provide specific examples of Jane’s behavior, but the effect she’s having on you and others indicates abusive behavior on her part. Alison’s advice is spot on. Go to your manager and/or HR. If they’re incapable of handling the situation or you don’t have an HR, you and your coworkers need to assert some boundaries. Long term disempowerment is much worse than short term reactions from Jane.

  14. DG*

    Putting in a plug for going to HR if talking to Jane directly doesn’t work. I know people write off HR because they think their sole purpose is to “protect the company” but a decent HR rep will know that protecting employees, clients, vendors, etc. from an abusive or hostile worker IS in the best interest of the company.

    I had a direct report who became hostile after being passed over for a promotion years ago, and I informed HR once it became clear I couldn’t address his issues in a one-on-one setting. HR didn’t escort him off the property or immediately fire him, but they were able to document his behavior, join certain conversations with him, and advise me on how to interact with him. It also protected me when this employee went to HR with a list of his own (false) grievances – they knew what he was about and took his complaints with a grain of salt.

  15. bleh*

    I don’t think it is a coincidence that Fran is not in the office when Jane is. She is letting you take the brunt of her unwillingness to manage. Perhaps one of your solutions could be to suggest to Fran that if Jane is not a problem, then Fran should work with her. Or somehow, as Allison suggests, make it Fran’s problem by asking that Jane not be there when *you* are there.

  16. CookieWookiee*

    OP, I feel your pain, and wish I had advice to give you. Our office has two Janes that feed off each other. They’re the reason I keep noise-canceling earbuds in the office.

    Even when they’re working from different sites, the Jane in our office will call the other on speakerphone and they’ll snipe at each other at top volume. My absolute favorite is when they’re in the same office and one calls the other on speakerphone to yell because they don’t want to walk the dozen or so feet to the other’s desk. So it’s arguing at top volume in quadruplicate.

    (Yes, we’ve gone to management, and yes, they’ve been spoken to. But because we’re managed using missing stair philosophy, they continue to act this way without repercussions, and the rest of us have to suck it up. Not having to listen to them is one of the many benefits of WFH during Covid.)

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      My absolute favorite is when they’re in the same office and one calls the other on speakerphone to yell because they don’t want to walk the dozen or so feet to the other’s desk.

      I have nothing useful to add. I just lost ~15 minutes trying to stop laughing from the mental image of this.

      1. CookieWookiee*

        I have to laugh, or I’ll cry.

        I used to have an actual office with walls and a door and windows. It was great. I was :so proud: when I earned it. I could close my door and concentrate. I had my own space.

        Then we moved sites, and now it’s a small open-plan office with desks, not even proper cubicles. (They toyed with the idea of hotdesking us, but I think were surprised at the amount of pushback they got and dropped it).

        The Janes used to be on one end of our floor far away from everyone else (guess why?) but now we’re all crammed in here together. Seriously, once they get started it’s impossible to hear yourself think.

    2. Dream Jobbed*

      Being ADD this would bring me to the point of insanity at some point. I can see myself (usually very nice and getting along with everyone) just losing it and telling them to shut up over and over again.

      :D On the other hand, that may do the trick

      1. CookieWookiee*

        Ah, I wish. It has been attempted. But anything that could be construed as criticism of their behavior is met with immediate and furious retaliation.

        Case in point: Jane 1 likes to watch movies on her phone in the office. On speakerphone. During work hours. She does not lower the volume or mute during, ahem, racy scenes. Her neighbor complained. Jane retaliated by bringing her grandchild to the office on a day Neighbor wasn’t in. Evidently, she sat said grandchild at Neighbor’s desk and fed them potato chips and cookies. How do we know this? Because Monday morning, we came into the office, and Neighbor’s desk and floor was COVERED in crumbs and her things ransacked.

        Neighbor was incredibly upset and wanted to start cleaning. I, and others, suggested she take photos first and complain. She did, and was then allowed to move desks.

        As far as I’m aware, that’s all that was done. Jane 1 was not disciplined. Because she’s a Broken Stair and we’re expected to hop over her.

  17. LifeBeforeCorona*

    We had a literal screamer in my workplace. She screamed and/or shrieked about everything and I mean everything, no fresh coffee, reports were late, raining outside, etc. Finally, the manager told her, “You can express how you feel but you must use your indoor voice.” That worked. “Jane, please use your indoor voice.”

    1. irene adler*

      I like this!

      It may be Jane feels so much at home, while at work, that she feels free to ‘let it all hang out’. Unfortunately that results in behaviors that upset others.

      Maybe she needs that reminder that she needs to act professionally in the work place. Indoor voice, be mindful of others, don’t create upset through our words and actions, etc.

    2. Jean (just Jean)*

      Yes! It’s like the old preschool teacher technique: “I’m not shouting at you, so please stop shouting at me.”

  18. Bopper*

    or pretend to be on the phone…”Jane, could you lower your voice? I am on a call.”

    or “Jane, you seem to have a number of complaints…today you complained about the printer, order lunch and having to do the TPS report. I can see you are frustrated. Would it be better to talk to Fran about this as nobody here can help you with these items and complaining loudly just disrupts our work.”

    or “Jane, you really don’t seem happy here. Have you ever wondered if this is the right job for you?”

    or talk to Fran…”Fran, I was wondering if I can be scheduled in the office when Jane is not there, or at least not every time. She is often complaining about minor things very loudly, to the point it is disrupting our work. Maybe if you could talk to her about that it might help as well.”

    1. Dream Jobbed*

      “Jane, you really don’t seem happy here. Have you ever wondered if this is the right job for you?”
      This. Hourly.

  19. Reality Check*

    I used to work with someone like this. One day I couldn’t take it anymore and said “OH WOULD YOU JUST SHUT UP.” Not very professional perhaps, but it worked. They shut up. And a few thanked me for it afterward.

    1. MMMMmmmmmmmMMM*

      That is truly the dream. You did it! If you’re thinking it, there are probably others thinking about saying it as well.

  20. CatCat*

    If Jane goes off on you, maybe try putting up your hand and say, “I can’t talk to you when you’re raising your voice at me.” And if she persists or goes off even more, “I’m going to excuse myself from this conversation and we can resume when you’re ready to stop raising your voice.” Then turn your back, put on some headphones, and ignore her.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Wow so helpful.

      I have several ideas but I wasn’t sure what the best course of action would be, which is why I wrote to Alison for a professional opinion.

      If you don’t have anything helpful to add, keep your mouth shut.

      1. Pippa K*

        Hey, turns out you *are* pretty comfortable with confrontation! Maybe aim that last line at Jane and see if it works.

        1. Helen J*

          Agreed. Just keep a chair/table between you and Jane so it makes it harder for her to get to you should she actually decide to get physical.

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Just keep a chair/table between you and Jane

            I think I’d want something heavier than a chair; chairs are ready projectiles for many people.

      2. Observer*

        Shrug. The comment you reacted to was snarky, but it’s a pretty good summary of what you wrote.

        I get that you are frustrated, but instead of letting it out on internet commenters who are a bit more blunt than they should be, focus your ire where it belongs – on your obnoxious coworker and MIA manager.

        1. Fieldpoppy*

          Yeah, it displayed a kind of defensiveness that made me wonder about your contribution to the overall office dynamic.

      3. Alexis Rose*

        I wonder if you could channel the energy you used when writing this comment into asking Jane to cease her problematic behaviour? It certainly seems that you are able to address concerns you have in real time, so maybe if you took the lead in your workplace to firmly and professionally (key piece here, I wouldn’t suggest you tell a coworker to “keep their mouth shut”), others would follow suit?

      4. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

        It was a good idea to write in for advice. And really, one does ask for advice prior to taking the action, usually anyways.

        Please update us on what happens. We all love an update, and this is a situation where it would be interesting to see how it is handled by you and your coworkers, by Fran, and by HR.

      5. EventPlannerGal*

        Ooh, okay.

        Along with your comment above about your other coworkers being overly dramatic – is this an office full of big personalities, by any chance? It’s just that my mental image is kind of morphing from “office full of regular people and Jane yelling in a corner” to “office full of dramatic people, one of which is Jane”.

      6. Dream Jobbed*

        “If you don’t have anything helpful to add, keep your mouth shut.”

        This might have been a posting error. I’ve started to write something, hit the wrong button and it went without completing my thought. Maybe not, but a possibility. If I got this reply I would stop trying to find a solution, that is certain.

      7. emmelemm*

        Yeah, it doesn’t seem from your comment like you should have as much trouble confronting Jane as you are, quite frankly.

      8. NotAnotherManager!*

        It’s bluntly phrased, but it’s a pretty straightforward paraphrase of what you wrote. The advice you received in response leads of with the same thing. Whether you want to hear it or not, the options for addressing are the exact things that you stated you and your coworkers do not wish to do. There is no magic solution for a Jane – either you address it with her directly, you address it with Fran, or you address it with HR… or you find a job where Jane does not work.

        The downside to writing into an advice column is that you don’t get to dictate other people’s responses to your letter. All you’re doing by being snippy is making people wonder if you’re part of the problem.

        1. Anonymous At a University*

          +1 I think most people in a situation like this (or in a situation where they’re concerned about expressing negative feelings or rejection in a “polite” way, by hinting) don’t want to hear that the only thing to be done is to speak up. They want a solution that will only involve Jane, not anyone else in the office. But there is no solution like that. Speaking up to Fran might not be useful, speaking up as a group might not be useful, but it needs to be at least tried, whichever one it is, rather than saying, “Well, Jane is horrible, how do we get her to stop being horrible without saying or doing anything?”

          And, OP, one way to think of it is this: if the idea of speaking up to Jane, or going to HR, or any other solution Alison recommended, is worse than listening to Jane dominate your job with this kind of nonsense…then I think you’ve found that Jane isn’t unendurable.

    2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah, maybe blunt, but accurate. The letter reminded me of a life lesson I got, before even entering the work world, when I was 20 and lived in the dorms. (Not the US.) The dorm had suites; two rooms, a bathroom, a shower. For my first three years living there, I had the same two roommates, and we had the same person living in the second room. We were female, and 17yo when we first started living there, and our suitemate was a big, angry, 30-year-old international student from an all-male community that was famous around campus for being sexist, and, depending on how outgoing a person in the community was, either rapey or misogynistic. Our neighbor was the misogynistic type. He was not a great person to live next to. Messy, confrontational, loud at the wrong times (like playing loud music at 7 am on a Sunday, which in college-student hours is the dead of night). Finally, to quote someone upthread, “blood pressure claimed him”, he dropped out for medical reasons and moved back to his home country. That was at the end of a school year. We started the next year with the second room in the suite being vacant. One of my roommates joined the dorm’s student council specifically to have control over who they decide to move into our suite. She missed one meeting and that was the meeting when it came up for discussion. Somebody said “we have two male students from (same community as our former neighbor) that we need to find a room for. No one wants to share a suite with them. What do we do” and somebody else replied with “(Myself and my roommates) had a guy from (community) living in their suite for three years, and ” (this is the important part) “they never complained, so they must’ve liked it.” I came back from classes the next day to find two older men moving into our suite. (Thankfully they were a rare exception, nice and respectful.) What did my roommates and I learn that day? That, no matter how miserable you are, if you don’t tell anyone that situation X is making you miserable, everyone will assume that you are okay with situation X, and maybe even enjoy it. All of you need to speak up. If you talk to Fran and to HR and no one does anything, that’s the next problem. But they won’t do anything if they don’t know anything is wrong.

    3. Filosofickle*

      i love this saying. i mock myself with it all the time, about my own fatalistic complaining. :)

  21. Toxic Waste*

    I have “John” who does this, instead of Jane. Boss also yells and complains loudly. I don’t get it because my coworkers either ignore it or don’t seem bothered by it. They acknowledge that it happens, but don’t seem to want to do anything about it.

  22. Fran for today*

    Ugh. We have a Jane on my team. She yells at everyone. She slams things. Several of my faculty have told me refuse to work with her anymore. The difference is I’m Fran. It may be that your Fran isn’t doing anything, or it may be that Fran just hasn’t shared her actions with everyone. I don’t share personnel discipline matters with my team so for a long time, they thought I wasn’t doing anything.

    I did confront my Jane. Several times. She even told me in an email that she would not do her assigned work. When I went to HR, I was told I “obviously” needed more training to understand Jane. They saw nothing wrong with her behavior (even the email-they said I couldn’t expect her to do her work. Yes, they actually said that.).

    One of my other team members figured out what happened, though (our HR is usually the source of the rumor mill). I’m pretty sure the only reason we haven’t had a mass exodus is because we’re mostly working remotely now.

    I say all this not to discourage you (most HR sections aren’t as inept as ours), but to encourage you to have some grace when you talk to Fran. Do ask her to manage the situation, but keep in mind that her hands may be more tied than you know.

    1. CatCat*

      So what did you tell your team when they complained about Jane yelling at them and them and slamming things?

      1. Fran for today*

        Also, we are a government entity with all the bureaucracy that goes with that. I’m not even allowed to complete any disciplinary actions (ie-writing up an employee) without HR approval. Without write-ups, I can’t even document her behavior on her annual evaluations. It’s very frustrating. I’ve asked that she be moved to another team. I’ve asked to be removed as her “supervisor” even if it means me being demoted. I’ve been told no every time. And yes, I’ve started looking for work elsewhere.

        1. Observer*

          Actually, you CAN document the problem, even though you cannot take any disciplinary actions. You can probably put it on her evaluation, but even if you can’t do that because that’s “disciplinary action”, you can document it in other ways.

          And you SHOULD do that. At some point something is going to happen where having this documentation (including documenting that HR knew about this) could be very, very useful.

          Also, not all government agencies have such incompetent HR or such tight policies. But I am very glad that you are looking to leave – this sounds like a nightmare for you.

          1. Fran for today*

            Oh, I keep a personal log and keep all the emails. I need it every time I have to defend myself when she reports me to HR. When I did mention her behavior in her evaluation, HR actually sent it back to me and told me to take it out. They’re afraid of her because she’s the union president and a member of several protected classes. She threatens discrimination lawsuits if she doesn’t get her way on anything, so HR rolls over. This has been going on for five years. I’ve been in government work for most of my career, so I understand the rules and that all the documentation takes time. For a long time, I had faith in the system, and then I just hoped that HR would get tired of it and do something. Let’s just say that this has been quite the education.

            1. Observer*

              Well, your HR sounds seriously incompetent.

              One day this will blow up and they will try to throw you under the bus if you are still around. So it is REALLY good that you have the documentation. I would just make sure that you have copies of everything where HR can’t delete them (even if it means physically printing out the emails.)

        2. CatCat*


          I think acknowledging you are addressing it is a small something. Are you able to empower the other employees to shut Jane down? (“When Jane starts doing that, you can tell her to stop and then walk away if she doesn’t”… sometimes people feel captive by a Jane, especially if they think the higher ups are okay with Jane and “not doing anything”). And ask them to keep reporting every incident to you? And you keep writing it up and sending those to HR? (Like make it a pain in their ass, even if they do ridiculous things like agreeing Jane can’t be expected to do her job (!))

          I get the pain of bureaucracy (I used to have to defend disciplinary actions against public employees), such a dragged out process, but the heavy documentation was necessary to make an action stick because the oversight body would reverse the actions otherwise. When I started working for the system, it was kind of shocking: “What do you mean we can’t immediately fire that person who rolled in to work drunk off their ass?”

          1. Fran for today*

            Definitely. Thankfully, when we ARE in the office, most of us have individual offices. When she starts, we all close our doors. I’ve even assigned our receptionist an office with a door so he can use it to get away from her (we’re not a public facing department so even though he’s called a receptionist, he’s more of a general staff assistant. He doesn’t have to be out front.). Our faculty know the situation because they’ve all complained to HR about her too. They support us keeping our doors closed and know that we’re still available. It’s much easier to deal with now that we’re working from home. She usually doesn’t show up for meetings and when she does, she’s hungover to the point of staying off camera and not speaking much. And yeah, we still send every incident to HR.

    2. Not So Super-visor*

      Fellow Fran here — employees need to understand that HR isn’t always willing to move the way that you want them to, and sometimes, they want a long list of recorded incidents before they’ll do anything at all.

      1. Fran for today*

        I saw your story below, and kept thinking, “Yep”. I’m glad you were able to get rid of your Jane. My team would work so much better without ours. They’re good people and good employees, but they’re definitely drifting into the “why bother” mindset.

    3. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      We’ve had that too. We had a James. Multiple people went to HR multiple times and got a “he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to ” (yell in a coworker’s face, threaten a coworker, tell a dirty joke in a work meeting). James ended up being let go for performance reasons. I shudder to think if James had been a good performer. We’d still be stuck with him, it seems? You have my sympathy. I don’t know why HR reacted like that (both yours and ours). I would love to know, to be honest.

      1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Adding that “multiple people that went to HR multiple times” included James’s manager (so, Fran), who had no patience with the way James treated the rest of her team, and wanted James gone. And Fran was not able to do anything. Fran asked me if I could tell HR about my own incidents with James if they reached out to me. I said sure, send them my way. And then they never reached out to me at all.

      2. Fran for today*

        I’m pretty sure they’re afraid of her because she’s the union president and a member of several protected classes. She threatens discrimination lawsuits if she doesn’t get her way on anything, so HR rolls over.

  23. Vermont Green*

    How about “I get stressed when I hear you talk in this tone of voice, and I can’t tolerate it any longer,” or, “can you please use your inside voice?” If she doesn’t modulate, follow up by, “I’m going to get a coffee/ put you on mute/ take a walk/ put on my noise-canceling headphones/ now.” Then do it. Do it every time without fail. Refuse to listen to her. Plus document every single time, so that you have a clear pattern to show HR or whoever. “At this time and date, she said this, I said that, and then I left the room.” Extra points for getting your colleagues to do it as well. Good luck!

  24. Helen J*

    As I see it these are your options:
    1. Go to HR as a group (conference/video call if going in-person is not an option). Employees are scared of another employee and that needs to be addressed. “We are afraid to go to work because Jane spends all day complaining and yelling and we are scared of her reaction if we ask her to quieten down/stop. We need help”.
    2. Go to Fran as a group or call her every time Jane goes on a rant. Leave a voicemail if she doesn’t answer and/or email her. Everyone should call and/or email. Perhaps let the voicemail be Jane ranting and going on. Alison said it best- make it uncomfortable for her to not act.
    3. Speak to Jane as a group. Tell her that you are sorry she is having a rough time, is stressed out, etc., but her yelling and constant complaining is make it hard to focus on work.
    4. Continue to let Jane make you all miserable. Jane acts this way because she is allowed to act this way. No one will tell her to stop and make her behavior unacceptable. All of you have to speak up because if you don’t, Jane will continue to rule the office with her rants and actions. Speaking up against an employee like this is scary but if you do it as a group, she can’t deny she is a problem and say she is being bullied. I guess she can but you all stick to the fact that her behavior is a problem and an impediment to getting work done. How is she even getting any work done with all the ranting, raving and yelling?

    Personally, I would ask her once to stop it and if she became aggressive, I would call Fran and say I needed to WFH indefinitely because I cannot work with someone ranting, raving, yelling and being aggressive because I asked her to lower her voice. Sorry if this sounds uncharitable, but as some point you have to either try to make changes to what is making you miserable or stay miserable.

    I hope you find a solution!

  25. Like a Boss*

    These polite scripts (“Jane, please stop yelling”) are unlikely to work with bullies, opinionated people, or direct/blunt people. You need to make it clear you mean business. (“Jane, so that we’re clear, stop yelling now. If you can’t do that, leave the meeting.”) Note the absence of the word “please.”

  26. I edit everything*

    If you don’t need to interact with Jane in person, could you rearrange shifts so she’s essentially working alone? If all of you talk to your boss and ask to work from home or be on opposite shifts from Jane, and emphasize how much more productive you’ll be, maybe something will sink in.

  27. Not So Super-visor*

    We had a Jane. She would yell, slam her fists on things, and snap her fingers at me to get my attention. As a manager, I addressed Jane many, many times. This turned her towards becoming increasingly aggressive with me and complaining to anyone within earshot that I was biased against her. I had multiple HR complaints against me by Jane ranging from creating a hostile work environment to discriminating against her based on protected status — neither were true based on the definition of these types of complaints. My director and HR didn’t want to terminate b/c Jane had personal circumstances that would make finding another job difficult. Eventually after a particularly aggressive confrontation, I’d had it. Jane no longer works here

    Long story short: your manager needs to step up

  28. animaniactoo*

    “I understand that you hate being told to calm down, but I hate having your lack of calmness inflicted on me. I’m just trying to work here, I didn’t sign up for the daily rant/yelling that I can’t escape without jeopardizing my ability to pay my rent.”

    You may not like your options, but failing to act on any of them realistically means that you are choosing to continue to live with this. So now you need to decide – which option among the disagreeable options is most likely to get you a result that you are willing to live with? Pursue that one first. All others after that one.

    Also – your manager may be non-confrontational, but right now, for lack of any of you indicating this is a problem for you, it’s not a problem for her. Jane’s yelling/rants aren’t within your control. Making it your manager’s problem is.

  29. Secretary*

    Jane may be worse than this… but this reminds me a lot of my Mom. She can be really negative, and she can reasonably say she’s not “yelling” but the word I use in my brain is “harsh”. As in, her tone is harsh. She’ll explode in a harsh (but not yelling) tirade over something that’s really not a big deal. As a child I was afraid to incur this wrath, as an adult it just puts my shoulders up to my ears and makes me not want to talk to her. Thankfully she’s mellowed with age, so now sometimes I get nice Mom, and sometimes I get high strung Mom.

    When I get high strung Mom what’s been helping:

    1) Reacting as if she’s yelling to her harsh tone: I will put my hands up, take a few steps back and say “Woah Mom! I wasn’t attacking you, all I said was I’m going to move that chair a few feet.” Her: [not yelling, harsh tone]”WELL IT’S A REALLY CREAKING CHAIR IT’S GOING TO CREAK.” Me: “Wow ok ok I won’t move the chair! Or you can leave the room while I move it?”
    And importantly, I remind myself in my head that she’s being unreasonable and needs to calm down, even if I don’t say it out loud.

    2) Being way too positive and obviously Pollyanna until I can get away from her. I smile really big, turn literally everything she says into a positive, and find a way to leave ASAP. I ignore any sulking, tirade, angry looks, heavy sighs, or offhand negative remarks and continue to act as if it’s the best day ever. I’m pretty sure she finds this infuriating, but it sometimes calms her down. It takes a lot more work for her to be harsh at Pollyanna then to be civil.

    3) When I was living with her in my late teens/early adulthood, I would basically tell her don’t-take-that-tone-with-me-young-lady but in a really respectful way.
    Her: [first time asking–harsh not yelling] “YOU NEED TO UNLOAD THE DISHWASHER RIGHT NOW.”
    Me: “I’m happy to do that for you, but please speak to me in a more respectful tone. I don’t appreciate being spoken to that way.”
    Me: “I’m having a hard time hearing you when you speak to me that way. Please stop.”
    Usually at this point she’d take a breath and calm her tone down. If she didn’t, I would GTFO.

    Maybe GTFO is headphones, or a screen by your cubicle, or hanging up the phone.

  30. Trek*

    We had a loud person on our floor that was a huge issue. She would talk so loud we could barely work but the moment anyone else was loud she would complain and make snide comments. We complained but little was done. Finally one of our team members was on the phone with grand boss and he could hear her through the phone even though there was a cubical wall separating the caller and the loud employee. That and her being on a call and being so loud that I finally told her to be quiet, a supervisor came out of her office and told her to be quiet, did the trick. Sometimes there is safety in numbers. Also realize that She will not change on her own. I recommend getting someone higher up on the phone even if that is HR so they can hear it as well.

  31. christine*

    Captain Awkward had a recent post on a similar subject: the LW was dealing with an aggressive, screaming coworker and was suffering a lot from stress outside of work. Not all of the advice applies here–the LW there was remote, while you’re in person–but I think her advice about diplomacy and how to move the levers of power is really, really applicable here. (Link in reply.)

    Ultimately, your employer is unlikely to care that you’re losing sleep or unhappy in your role. You need to demonstrate, to your boss and/or to HR, the effect this is having on your productivity. Are you spending extra time on things due to Jane’s temper tantrums? Is Jane turning in her work late or incomplete because she’s spending so much time complaining? Document everything: the effect on your job, what she says and when, how you’ve tried to resolve it on your own. Then go to your boss or HR and present your business case for why Jane needs to be dealt with. Loss of profits or productivity are, sadly, far more likely to motivate an employer than an employee’s unhappiness.

      1. nonegiven*

        That’s could be actual ADA accommodation, nobody is allowed to yell when the person is in the office

  32. I'm not the LW's Jane but...*

    Seriously, I could be the OP’s Jane. I’m not though.

    I have big reactions to things. I’m loud. Even when I’m in a good mood, I’m loud. I have to work hard on this. And like many people have said, telling someone to calm down, especially someone like Jane, may just enrage them more. I know it does for me. I get quiet now when people tell me to and ask them to not tell me to be calm, but it took recognition.

    A lot of times this type of seemingly overreaction is because Jane doesn’t have a way to deal with the stress that’s manageable under professional and working standards. I went from a private office environment to an open office system. How I handled things literally behind closed doors in my own office no longer worked in an open office environment.

    And I also understand everyone’s concern about if Jane would actually act violently. I would hope not, but if there is physical intimidation it needs to brought to HR. Seriously.

    OP – By pass your manager and go to HR. HR can help with training, EAP, and other treatments and education that Jane can learn to use to help manage her stress.

    1. Observer*

      What exactly do you expect the OP to do differently if there is a mental health disorder in play?

    2. EventPlannerGal*

      What “solution that takes into account this reality” is there? “Allow your employee to yell and sulk and intimidate her colleagues into dreading going to work” is not a reasonable accommodation. OP hasn’t even gone to HR yet, so how will diagnosing her with a personality disorder based on an internet checklist help other than giving OP more reasons to do nothing?

      1. An*

        EPG there are strategies for dealing with people with these disorders. It’s not perfect, but it’s one tact that you can use. I have a paranoid coworker. Until I actually understood the traits of paranoid personality disorder , it just seemed like craziness coming from nowhere. Now, I do what I can in my interactions to be reassuring and non-threatening. It’s me trying to understand and meet her where she is. I still enforce boundaries, but I also try and be compassionate.

  33. Anon Stoner at Work*

    Why not just say, “Knock that shit off!”? She owes people apologies. Like, a lot of them. I cannot imagine tiptoeing around a grown woman having a tantrum. She’s making a fool of herself. Why not say that as well? I wouldn’t give a rip about saving her face in public if she’s willing to lose all character over an out-of-place stapler or whatever.

  34. LizardOfOdds*

    For what it’s worth, I just experienced a remarkably similar situation with a team my group works with. One of the team members was being flat-out abusive to another team member and there were many witnesses to this totally inappropriate behavior, but despite multiple attempts to get her manager to intervene, he refused. I escalated to HR and, because HR was aware that the manager who needed to intervene is non-confrontational and it’s risky to the business for abusive behavior to continue, HR had a conversation with the abusive team member directly. Your mileage may vary because it requires a proactive and risk aware HR person to volunteer for a conversation like this, but it is absolutely in HR’s wheelhouse to have that conversation if the manager won’t.

  35. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Wow, my sympathies. I have an exaggerated startle response and a bad history with being yelled at. One day with Jane, and I would be hiding under my desk crying (assuming she really is yelling multiple times a day).

    It’s strange, but I can handle any type of feedback without showing distress as long as it’s in a normal tone and volume (firm is OK). Above normal when not for the purpose of calling to someone farther away, and all I hear is DANGER, WILL ROBINSON. The chances of getting me to actually pay attention to the content are next to nothing, and I just start frantically apologizing.

  36. Aphrodite*

    Jane isn’t going to change–ever!–unless all of you decide to do something. Either learn to live with it or do what needs to be done with Fran and HR.

    1. Anon Stoner at Work*

      Right. She can get mad all she wants but she still does need to calm down. I believe in not telling a panicked person who has a legitimate reason to be excited to calm down but an unreasonable blowhard stomping her feet? Calm. Down.

      1. Random Commenter*

        I think that chewingle’s point is that saying “Calm down” is not an effective way to get someone to calm down.

      2. Artemesia*

        Calm down is almost always a misogynist put down by an entitled man to a woman. The very words enrage most women I know.

        There are all sorts of ways to phrase be quieter, be less aggressive, don’t yell etc that do not involve those two words.

  37. TheNonAuthorativeNonConfrontationalManager*

    I’m glad Alison didn’t write Fran off just yet.

    As a manager with a lifetime history of avoiding confrontation and conflict, learning to handle conflict in my team has been one of the hardest things I have had to do. It still doesn’t come natural, but I am getting better at it.
    On top of that, I also used to manage a Jane (they recently quit) and although I was fed up with her behavior at times, I had no idea about the impact it was also having on the rest of the group.
    I once brushed aside a complaint on a busy day many years ago, not realizing how serious the situation was and after that nobody ever raised the issue again. It took years, but ultimately I was struggling to manage a SNAFU.

    If at any point in time more than one person would have complained, or people would have come back to me with repeated comments, or the team as a whole would have done so, I’d like to think that I had actually recognized how bad the problem was and I would have either felt encouraged to act or pressed to seek help from others to put Jane on a PIP. So please speak up to Fran, tell her how it is impacting the work of multiple people and tell her you need her help/need her to do something (by all means don’t go to her venting and angry and frustrated, because that will just shut down anyone who hates conflict and it won’t get you the action you need). Does Fran need to learn this? Yes. But in the mean time, do her a favor and manage up.
    Good luck!

  38. Office Rat*

    I have a coworker like this, and literally ended up talking to my therapist about it. Turns out a combination of being as boring as possible to them and the phrase, “That sounds very frustrating for you.” was the key. They didn’t get what they were looking for when would come to scream-vent about their frustration to me, and therefore they go to someone else for that now. It’s a win for me because I don’t particularly like folks that are that negative polluting my already difficult job with extra stress.

    1. QuinleyThorne*

      I want to stress that you should definitely follow Alison’s advice first, but here are some other options that have worked well for me, and could tide you over while you wait for Fran or HR to deal with Jane:

      In my experience, nothing takes the wind out of a complainer’s sails more than the person their complaining at not being remotely invested in the the complaints. If you ever find yourself on the receiving end of one of her rants, make it a point to look and sound as bored as possible. You don’t even have to disagree with her, just give the most non-committal responses, “Yep,” Mhmm,” “Okay…?” “Sounds rough,” and “I don’t know what to tell you.” Or if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, don’t respond at all. Stare at her, shrug, or (if you’re feeling bold) look at your phone. Just become an impassable wall of boredom.

      If you don’t feel comfortable doing that (or have tried and it just made her worse), you might want to try wearing earbuds so you can at least drown her out that way, if your office allows it.

  39. Colorado*

    Why not tell her to knock it off in the moment? Confront her. Go back to your boss with specific examples until she does something. I’d take a few days of someone being rude and disrespectful before I tell them what their behaviors are doing to the office. Talk to her in private? Maybe I’m getting old and crotchety but I wouldn’t put up with this shit for one minute.

  40. EnfysNest*

    What would be the ideal response from HR if OP and/or their coworkers *were* worried about an actual potentially violent outburst if it’s just a gut feeling and not a specific threat or something? The “James” at my office has been getting steadily more and more overreactive and vehement in his complaints/rants. He makes me really uncomfortable and the rest of us all regularly try to calmly help him see each situation from a new perspective, but his outbursts continue to get worse in a way that does make me worry what the eventual outcome could be. He hasn’t hit or broken anything or done anything that would count as evidence or threatening behavior or anything that would point to immediately firing him or anything (and we’re in government, so firing is the much harder here anyway). But if he did do something violent, I don’t think anyone in our department would be surprised. I have this lurking/nagging fear anytime he starts ranting, but I don’t know hoe to turn that into an actionable request.

    What sort of course of action could we ask for in dealing with him if anyone did go to HR about him? What would we be asking them to do about him? My boss tries to redirect him, but his approach is very gentle and this coworker does not seem to be toning down his reactions at all, no matter what my boss or anyone else says.

    1. Sylvan*

      I’d describe as much of his behavior to HR as possible, and keep your descriptions simple and unemotional so the focus stays on his behavior and not how anyone feels about it. Don’t use euphemisms or leave room for misinterpretation. If he says something particularly egregious – something that kinda makes you grimace if you imagine it appearing in a news article about your office – quote it. If he disrupts the office for a while, say how long.

      You have gut feelings for a reason, and they’re worth listening to. You can’t bring them to HR, but you can bring up *everything* this guy has done. You can also do it by email instead of in person or by phone, so there’s a record of it.

  41. Sparkles McFadden*

    1. Document everything. Start with every incident you can remember.

    2. Speak with Jane. I know this will be difficult, but the first thing you will be asked anywhere else you bring this is “Did you speak to Jane directly?” If it will help, think of this as something you’re doing so you can get more documentation.

    3. Speak with Jane as a group. This is more difficult as you have to get other people to agree to this and that’s often tough to do. Also, it may make Jane feel ganged up on. You may just have to skip to the next step.

    4. Speak with your manager as a group. Ask to meet with her and bring your documentation.

    Repeat step 4 as often as you need to. Eventually, your manager will want this to stop. She won’t be able to write it off as just one person and she really will want you all to go away. This worked with a terrible manager I had. She finally spoke with the problem employee and he screamed like a maniac, threw his company ID at her and ran out. We didn’t actually expect that and were surprised and relieved. He tried to come back during the night shift but had no ID. He told Security he forgot it and to call us and we told Security “He quit and threw his ID at the boss so please don’t let him up.” They called the boss to confirm and that was that. Sure, this is a rare outcome but you never know.

    If none of that works, keep documenting anyway because, sooner or later, you will need that. I never like the idea of going to HR, especially for peer level stuff. The exception is if you truly think Jane is dangerous. They probably won’t do anything in any case, but, again, you’ll have more documentation.

    I’ve had several Janes in my work life and, surprisingly, step 2 usually defused them for awhile. It kind of depends on how you do it. “I know you’re frustrated. It’s hard to deal with but the yelling is too much. Maybe you want to take a walk? That always helps me.” I don’t know your Jane so maybe you don’t want to do that or can’t but it’s worth a shot. I found that easier than worrying about setting my Jane off, which is what started to happen, which made everything more tense. I tend to feel sorry for people, wondering what their lives are like to make them into that screaming maniac. That doesn’t help in the moment when you have a screaming maniac in your face, though.

    Good luck LW. I wish you well.

  42. Jo*

    What a nightmare – hope you manage to find a solution. I don’t know if it’s an option to try to see Jane as a comedy figure – I don’t mean that to sound harsh but it sounds like her behaviour is well outwith what most people would consider normal. If it’s any consolation, I used to have a housemate who was like Jane so I know what it’s like to be around someone like this (and I had to live with her!!)

  43. TeapotNinja*

    Explain the situation to Fran and ask her to change her schedule to see the behavior for herself.

  44. NicoleK*

    This reminds me of my colleague “John”. John has a short fuse, anxiety, complains all the time, and is extremely nitpicky about everything. When he get stressed or anxious, he’d take it out verbally on his teammates. There are three of us who are his usual targets. We were always walking on eggshells around him. I felt attacked on a regular basis. I even started calling it, “battered coworker syndrome” because I was changing my work habits in order to avoid setting him off. My manager is aware of John’s behavior (she’s managed him for over a decade), but she’s very conflict avoidant. When he would go off on me, I’d say nothing, give him a wide berth, or use facts to defend myself. It reached a boiling point one day where I finally told him that I wasn’t going to be his scapegoat that day. Thought it’s only been a couple of weeks, since that incident, he has not gone after myself or the other two colleagues. I have no clue if my manager addressed the issue with him (I informed her after the incident). And I don’t know how long this “peace” will last. But sometimes, you just have to say something, when everything else you’ve tried has failed.

  45. Miriam*

    Ugh, so much sympathy. I have worked closely with a Jane before, as well. In our case, nobody was scared that she could be violent. But she was so negative and toxic that I started having physical symptoms of anxiety. It was miserable working with her, and honestly felt like being in an emotionally abusive relationship. (In retrospect, she was emotionally abusive. Full stop.)

    Also had a supervisor who was conflict avoidant and ineffective at improving things or enacting consequences. And it was a slippery thing. There usually wasn’t a specific rule broken, I guess? I don’t know. It was also hard because there was another co-worker, Joan, who tended to mirror Jane. So when Jane was around, Joan was also a miserable, toxic fire ant.

    Another co-worker, Wendy, finally got to the point where she would start taking some of the advice given here, to just confront it and ask her to change/stop. What that did was make Jane stop in the moment, usually just through silent treatment. Which might fix things for an hour or so, but didn’t do anything in the long term. Usually what it meant was Jane would stomp away and go complain to people about how mean Wendy was to her. It got to the point where Jane was randomly finding any tiny thing Wendy ever said or did as a way to manufacture insult, and then put in an official complaint about it. (We haven’t worked with Wendy in over 5 years, but Jane and I still have in-jokes that we exchange emails about on certain holidays to commemorate specific instances of these manufactured crises. Things on the level of “you mentioned your brother in casual conversation, and my brother who I never told you about was mean to me as a kid, so you obviously talked about your brother to hurt me.” And then it would turn out she never even had a brother. It was… bizarre.)

    Looking back, I wish I had been more stern with Jane as well. It was a little more complex for me to do what Wendy did, for reasons completely unrelated to any of this. But in the end I think it would have been fine, and possibly more effective to have a united front instead of me trying to disassociate in the corner. At the very least, I think Wendy and I should have gone to our supervisor together, and more regularly (I only said stuff when I reached the breaking point), and maybe that would have been more effective? I feel a lot stronger about my ability to advocate for myself and others than I did several years ago, before I started reading AAM and realizing that so much of what I experienced in the workplace was actually not okay, and should not have been normalized.

    1. Miriam*

      Um, whoops, at some point I lost the thread about which co-worker was named Jane and which was named Wendy. You get the point though, I hope. Still friends with Wendy, not Jane!

  46. TinaLevinTwelve*

    Unfortunately, our office screamer is well known to management, documented, reported, etc and it doesn’t matter a bit.

    She was grandfathered into her position because of how many decades she’s spent working for one particular teapot repairmen when he joined our group.

    She screams, curses, once even screaming (she was shaking, she was so upset) at me 3 times over the course of an hour. (I only mention that bc she walked away multiple times… so she had space to chill out or make a different choice but did not.) Told me I was worthless, lazy, a liar, and wasn’t doing my job. Why? Because I couldn’t (immediately) find a fax receipt.

    She openly admits to deleting (without listening to) the office’s voicemails when it’s her turn to check them. Her desk (visible to clients all day, it’s an open format) is a nightmare (think makeup smeared on every paper, coffee stains, and … a couple boogers – I had to use her space for a week and gagged every day, even after using cavi wipes).

    Our manager is well aware and just blandly says “She (Screaming Banshee) has to be handled with kid gloves. It takes a special touch. She can be … a lot.” (Note: I even self-disclosed my C-PTSD in the conversation after her screaming at me, along the lines of “Screaming at someone with PTSD is about one of the worst things you can do.” If it ever happens again, at least I have ADA paperwork on file…)

    So… I’m almost hopeful for LW that because management doesn’t know, it will turn out differently?

  47. Elsajeni*

    So, this is not a suggestion for how to make Jane knock it off. But ultimately, if you decide the suggestions on how to do that — talking to Jane directly, taking the problem to Fran, or taking it to HR — are lousy or unlikely to work or you aren’t willing to do them for whatever reason, it may help to think of that as a choice you’re making. I know this can sound sort of heartless, like, “well if you don’t do those things then you’re choosing to let Jane be a jerk to you,” but what I mean is more: you’re not just sitting there helplessly. You have taken the control that you have in the situation; you have considered all your options, and you’ve decided some version of “ignore it” or “live with it” (or “ignore it while job-searching”) is the best of them, so that’s what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s just easier to live with a crappy situation when you can remind yourself “yep, this sucks, BUT I’ve thought about it and I’d rather deal with this than any of my other options.”

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