how should I deal with a pompous, sexist coworker?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I’ve recently started a new job, I love my team, the work is engaging, my manager is amazing, the company culture really suits me, and they’re super flexible around Covid. But (there’s always a but) I’ve run into an issue with a coworker that’s impacting my work, and I’m finding it really frustrating.

I work in marketing, and there’s a man at my company with a kind of silly title, for this letter we’ll call him Fergus, “International Innovation Manager.” Let’s say that he’s in charge of thinking of and creating new teapot types, and I’m one of the people marketing the teapots. I had to work with him for the first time a month or two ago, and it was a really bad experience. I asked him a simple question via IM about a new product so that I could make sure I had all the information straight in new promotional materials and he called me immediately, saying that if I had to ask questions like that, he had to question my ability to fully understand the way the international teapot market works. He said he would rather I didn’t work on any promotional materials until I’d had a presentation from him. I was a bit shocked so I agreed to the presentation, in which he explained very basic concepts (I have several degrees in our field) in a very condescending way.

After that call and presentation, I felt really, really down. I changed my whole content plan to be exactly as he’d requested, frankly because he intimidated me. When I presented this to our marketing director, he told me he was shocked that this was my work, as it wasn’t up to my usual quality. I explained I’d done it to Fergus’ specifications, and he was very clear that there is a good reason I’m in charge of promotions, not Fergus. Then I felt even worse, for not sticking up for myself and handing in sub-standard work!

My boss told me that other women in the company, including her, have had similar experiences with Fergus. A male coworker said he thinks Fergus has a bit of an ego problem and doesn’t like it when simple marketers try to reduce his grand concepts to snappy slogans.

How can I deal with this going forward? I’m working on another project with him now, and every snarky bit of feedback from him feels like he’s questioning my intelligence and it’s making me so much less motivated. This is really impacting my work! I get that how he makes me feel, is mostly a “me” issue, so I wonder if you or the readers have any tips for mentally getting out from under this guy’s ego (and my own bruised ego!).

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 353 comments… read them below }

  1. NoviceManagerGuy*

    My first question would be asking the manager what she has tried, since she has more power than the LW.

    1. WellRed*

      yes. That “amazing” manager is really missing the point, here. Stay strong, OP. You were hired for a reason, whether the sexist dude likes it or not.

    2. Littorally*

      Bingo. The manager should not be shoving responsibility to manage Fergus’ gross attitudes off onto the LW. If LW is encountering hostility from stakeholders, and that hostility is a known problem with said stakeholders rather than any reflection of the LW’s work, her manager needs to take that in hand, either by speaking directly with Fergus or by bringing in Fergus’ manager.

      1. Marcy Marketer*

        As a marketer myself, sometimes it’s the job to deal with challenging stakeholders and trying to make the supervisor manage the stakeholder could make it so the supervisor doesn’t think you have the right skills to get the job done (stakeholder management is a skill).

        In these situations I think the marketer should figure out what would get her the best outcome with this guy. Should she be snappy back? Should she be 100% professional, using the miss manners brush off? Should she be super evasive with her marketing plans and keep him on a need to know diet? There are lots of ways to work with challenging stakeholders.

        1. NeverComments*

          This isn’t an outside stakeholder. This is another employee who being difficult and sexist. It is absolutely the supervisors responsibility to deal with this.

          1. merula*

            Who said stakeholders had to be external? I’m responsible for managing stakeholders in my (non marketing) role; they’re in other departments and not in my direct chain of command.

            While I can get advice any time, and extra support in specific situations, I can’t wash my hands of my stakeholder management responsibilities entirely for one person and still actually do my job.

            1. Artemesia*

              I agree. You will be judged if you can’t wrangle Fergus. Figure out what you need to know from him? e.g. you need pictures of the new designs; you need to know when new product is being rolled out; you need to know what he thinks the unique market for the product is (you don’t need to agree). Then you figure out what good marketing would look like and ignore and foofing from Fergus. Just reframe his attitude as noise and sign off with ‘Thanks so much Fergus, that was soo helpful.’ Be bland. Don’t rise to his bait. Get the information you actually need and do your job and ignore his blustering if he doesn’t like your material. The test of marketing is always in the success of sales.

              1. Anonymous Koala*

                This. If it wouldn’t create a ton of work for you, I would also consider outlining your plans before you contact Fergus and making a specific list of what you need from him for each stage of the project. Then ask him (by email, whenever possible) for just that information. For me it’s easier to ignore other people’s snark if I’m laser focused on what I need from each communication with them. I would also try to communicate with Fergus exclusively by email if possible as a way of documenting his sexist comments.

    3. Letter Writier*

      LW here, since I wrote in my manager and I had a chat about this and she’s basically restructured the current project in such a way that if he has an issue or feedback he needs to go directly to the marketing director mentioned in the letter as well. So far that seems to be working fine, but I question how sustainable it is to just essentially avoid the guy.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        That still doesn’t *manage him*, though. It’s just created a missing stair situation where everyone works around him. I assume your manager is not responsible for him, but whoever is should be rapping his knuckles.

        1. Knope Knope Knope*

          Maybe, maybe not. The director may be more comfortable or at a level where they can more directly shut Fergus down. You can’t just fire someone who isn’t in your chain of command for being condescending but the manager here can protect her team. That sounds to me like what’s going on.

          As for OP, you can’t avoid him forever but rely on your manager and document what you can, especially how it impacts your work. If a narrative develops that his attitude is actually hurting the company it will become harder for Fergus to continue to get away with this attitude.

          1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

            That’s what I was thinking, especially after reading downthread that he’s not only not in her manager’s chain of command, he actually outranks her (though not in the same reporting structure). Honestly, this is exactly how I would handle it, in her shoes – I’d be routing everything up through the Director.

        2. David*

          That’s the end goal, not the starting point. If senior marketing people have to deal with this, you can be sure that Fergus’ boss is going to be hearing about it from people who “matter”.

          For now, the manager and director’s job is to ensure that OP is sheltered from shit rolling downhill, which this plan does.

          Whether they can remove Fergus entirely is unknown as yet, but this is how they start that journey too.

      2. Anonapots*

        So they are restructuring how things function on a basic level rather than addressing the big issue of Fergus being a sexist boor? This is classic Missing Step. Have you seen any other indications that management tends to avoid managing difficult people rather than addressing their issues?

      3. anonymouse*

        You seem to be looking for polite/within social norms way of letting his mistreatment roll off your back.
        You can instead use polite/within social norms ways of telling him that he needs to stop prefacing every reply with a question about your ability. You’re both here to do a job and the more effectively he communicates with you, the faster you can get back to it.

        1. JSPA*

          Depends if he has the self-awareness to easily pivot.

          And on whether OP has the rank and capital to burn on fixing him, and wants to use that capital, to that end.

          If he has a skewed or damaged pereception of the universe, it a) may not be fixable (in which case, OP is burning capital on having him fired or fully bunkered?) or if fixable, it’s quite probably not the letter writer’s skill set nor her job, to work with him on fixing that.

          Personally, OP might do well to put this in a gaming context. Or a mental VR filter. He has no standing to behave as he does (she and we sort of know this to be, in fact, true!) and also negative points, as far as perception and charisma (and marketing) per the boss.

          Think of him as a character. Maybe a dwarf character from old D and D, or Tolkein. Loyal to a fault to his first principles; hidebound; intelligent in a very specific subset of ways; extremely useful in those ways; bit of a disaster when you need a hobbit, elf or human. Or a character from Dickens. Pick your genre, and a stereotype that makes you find him laughable but tolerable at a distance (or in small doses).

          Or pretend that he’s a brilliant intern with all the entitlement in the world, and no sense of work norms. But he’s not your intern, so you can feel bad for the person who’s stuck managing him…and know that he’s not what he thinks he is. (This is not to say that young people don’t deserve respect, or are intrinsically full of themselves. But a part of OP’s problem is, “feeling naturally obliged to take his opinions seriously” (or perhaps, confused about how to take his product seriously, but not the accompanying attitude and conceptual blather.)

          Another option, pretend that he’s a devotee of some philosophy that you find risible. (I won’t hurt people by giving examples of what would work for me, and I’m secure in the knowledge that my own operating philosophies no doubt fall in that category for others.) Then internally think of his stances as a product of that (clearly ridiculous to you, but not open for discussion) philosophy. You don’t need to get it right–this isn’t an exercise in actual understanding!!! It’s a way to game yourself into thinking, “well, he believes Peter Pan is a documentary; what do you expect?” when he gets on your case for not understanding the universe–as he sees it.

          If he ever explicitly mocks you for anything female specific, that’s a different story; but “I think most people are idiots and that I’m god’s gift to humanity” (while potentially a basis for firing, if it bugs his boss) is not, at least in the USA, a basis for any sort of harassment complaint. (And don’t be the one to bring up gender to him.)

        2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

          Surely the best person to tell him that OP’s work is better when she does her marketing thing rather than when she follows his guidelines would be his boss rather than OP or even OP’s boss?

      4. Employee of the Bearimy*

        I actually think it’s pretty sustainable, because it puts the problem in the hands of managers, where it should be. If your manager already knows he’s difficult (and especially difficult for women to work with) and your marketing director now has to manage the relationship, then either that setup will insulate you appropriately from him or they’ll get tired of dealing with him directly and find a way to get rid of him or marginalize him further.

      5. Forrest*

        uuuuufff. We have had a Fergus problem– not misogyny specifically since the majority of people in our team are female and he’s not ~noticeably~ nicer to the men– but just making every interaction so unnecessarily hard and combative that it’s a case of, “X isn’t working. Fergus is responsible for X. Let’s just — have X not work.”

        I think the thing to remember here is that the sustainability or otherwise of this Fergus non-solution is Not Your Problem. Your management have decided to try and manage around him rather than solve him: your role here is to not to absorb any Fergosity, but to make sure it all gets flipped up to management, so they know precisely the scale of the problem. And if that puts any delays in your work, because you can’t get in touch with him quickly to find out something you need to know for a deadline, to make sure that your manager is aware of that too. Just — decline to cover up how bad the Fergus problem is, and hope that your managers decide to manage a bit more actively sooner rather than later.

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          +1

          I haven’t had to do this with very many people in my work life, because I generally maintain good working relationships and don’t like to complain about what feels like personality conflicts that I should be able to resolve myself. But when it’s something like OP is experiencing, realizing that it’s a management issue and approaching it as one is hugely helpful.

        2. AnonEMoose*

          This…OP, it’s not your responsibility to absorb the Fergosity (love that term) to make it more comfortable for everyone else. It’s hard to not do that – women are strongly socialized to prioritize others’ comfort and “not make a fuss”, and we often experience negative consequences for not doing that. But in this case, you’ve been told it’s not your issue to deal with…so follow your manager’s instructions and try not to feel like Fergus being a misogynist jerk is your issue to solve – it’s not.

        3. Brett*

          Similar problem in our org, and I realized over time the issue has been the Fergus driving away the tier of managers that have to deal with him.
          But the larger issue is that this has made promotable lower-tier people, especially women but not only women, unwilling to move up and deal with him. Instead, they move out.
          Oddly, this turns him into a high performing manager, because he has a bunch of experienced rockstars underneath him who should have moved on to higher level roles. These people have bonkers productivity and are pretty much self-managing.

          1. JSPA*

            This strikes me as a major insight into how people “fail up” (or prosper in place, despite being bad managers and difficult people). Difficult managers are otherwise inexplicably over-represented in the world. I wish there were some way for Alison to highlight comments other than her own, because this one is total gold.

        4. The Starsong Princess*

          We have a Fergus too! He is awful to everyone but he reserves his particular awfulness for women, especially female project leaders, and the external vendor resources. Like all Ferguses (Fergusi?), he has a lot of technical and institutional knowledge that was considered key to the project’s success. At one point, I had to attend hours of extra meetings every day to make sure he didn’t berate the external vendors for not reading his mind or hang up on them. He hated me for it too and every time I spoke up in a meeting, he always found a way to nitpick something or tell me I am Doing It Wrong. He made life at my otherwise lovely job incredibly stressful.

          So what did I do about it? I have a low tolerance for crap and some political capital so I went to leadership and complained with specific examples. I had some leaders listen into our meeting calls without telling him.
          I got to attend a dressing down where he was told that he needed to stop these behaviors (I enjoyed that a great deal). He improved somewhat and at least stopped hanging up on people. He still drips with contempt when he talks to me . I’ve continued to raise the issue with leadership and good news! He’s retiring at the end of the month. I suspect he was offered the choice of retiring or being moved towards termination. I couldn’t be happier but I wish this happened a year ago – we would have managed withou his expertise. I even have a countdown app on my phone – only 20 days to go!

          1. Seeking Second Childhood*

            I propose a Latin-based plural.
            –One fungus, 2 fungi.
            –One Fergus, 2 Fergi.

            1. Sanity Lost*

              I initially read this as “Ferengi” and thought it was very apt. I re-read it and still haven’t changed my mind.

      6. Smithy*

        I work in fundraising, where a lot of my work is taking the technical programs and translating that into the right kind of language for donors. Sometimes donors want the wonkiest of the wonk language or completely general audience content, but more often than not it’s somewhere in the middle.

        The best working relationships with technical teams are ones where they respect my ability to find that ideal middle point for a successful relationship. Or let them run technically loose.

        And then the worst ones are exactly as you describe where they see no value in my work product, condescend, etc. My tactics for the worst offenders is to prove to them and my bosses that I know when to bring in the right level of seniority to back-up my authority. Sometimes its my boss, sometimes higher on the authority ladder, but to say “I need to push back on X, can I copy in you/grandboss/grandgrandboss in case there’s pushback?”

        It certainly can become a bit of a war of the cc’s, but it’s allowed me to still assert my own technical expertise, not have my boss answering questions I’m able of answering, but giving me that seniority support.

      7. meyer lemon*

        What is going on at your company that they’ve basically accepted Fergus acting massively sexist and wasting everyone’s time to preserve his over-inflated ego? Assuming that he’s not vastly senior to your manager, why hasn’t she done more to deal with him, if she has experienced his awfulness firsthand? I have so much second-hand frustration.

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          I do too, but probably what’s going on is the same thing that goes on at most companies: he’s good at his own immediate job, and they don’t care as much about the well being off their female staff (or about the wasted time, or about *keeping* their female staff, etc etc) as they do about that job getting done at that level (and it doesn’t occur to them that they can probably find someone else who can do the job at his level without being a sexist ass). This is often particularly true for creative jobs like thinking up new teapot concepts.

          None of this is what *should* be going on — there’s a reason why companies which implement the No Asshole Rule tend to thrive disproportionately. But that’s sadly what we’re dealing with here, it seems.

      8. Carlie*

        It might help your confidence in holding firm by thinking of it this way: In life you have to be social polite. At work you have to be professional polite. Professional polite doesn’t mean deferring to his bombast in the way that social polite sometimes does, it means holding firm to boundaries and respect for each position because that is how the company best functions. That’s kind of what your manager was trying to say, in an ineffective way. The company has hired YOU for YOUR expertise in marketing, not Fergus. You know what information you need from him and what you don’t, and it doesn’t matter one bit what he thinks of that situation. The company does not want Fergus’ ideas about marketing. You will both do your jobs better if he sticks to his lane. Professional polite is to remind him of this if he needs it, and to cut him off when he’s wasting company time explaining basic concepts to you.
        I know it’s difficult to do given the dynamic, but sometimes it’s easier to be that person who pushes back if you can frame it in your mind as you defending the company and efficient work rather than the more “mushy” arena of how he’s being rude and sexist at you. You’re not waving your credentials in his face, you’re reminding him of your respective functions and expertise areas.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          This! Sometimes, I get Fergus-type feedback and call my boss to see how she wants me to handle… and her advice is essentially to ignore it and apply my own expertise. I have learned that there are simply times you thank someone for their input and then just do your job (and direct any complaints they have to your supervisor, which a good boss will happily take on). I love my boss. I can watch her peppily make someone feel valued and important while telling them there is no way in Hades we’d ever do that, but thanks!

      9. Susana*

        Avoid him. Seriously.
        He’s not your boss, and you don’t answer to him. Do you job, get answers elsewhere when you can. And if he complains, tell him *your* manager wants it done the wya you are doing it – that you are teh expert in marketing after all – and if he has a problem he can go to her. Then hang up the phone or stop answering his IMs.
        I totally get why you humored him at first – ironically, a very female thing to do, which I have also done and regretted. we’re taught to accommodate and peace-make. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it now.

        1. Susana*

          And I know it’s too late for the first episode, but nothing wrong with saying, Fergus, I’m disappointed – you’re telling me very obvious things that someone with my extensive background and degrees already knows. I need to know X details to market this product successfully. Can you provide that? If not, I’ll go ahead with the marketing plan I was hired to do.

          1. Bibliothecarial*

            +1! I am a baby faced woman who has dealt with plenty of mansplaining. The first time, I’ll say pleasantly, “Oh, don’t worry! I have a master’s degree and x years of experience in the subject.” “Nah, I don’t need a presentation – I’ve handled this many times.” I tend to get imposter syndrome when anyone challenges me, so it’s as much a reminder for me as polite smackdown for them. This is more a first step or for mild offenders though.

      10. Momma Bear*

        I was in the middle of a comment when I saw this.

        Remember that there’s a reason they hired you and this is about Fergus’ ego and not your intelligence or work.

        If this is the workaround that the boss has created, then roll with it and see how well you can your own work done without dealing with him directly. Maybe he needs a few projects where he’s contained to tone him down. I would also document everything and ensure that his impact on your work is understood.

      11. Keymaster of Gozer*

        That’s…bad. Classic missing stair syndrome. If you’ve got a known misogynist on staff the correct method to deal with his mansplaining/condescending arse isn’t to just warn women and route them away from him.

        The good news is, surviving this complete dickhead IS achievable. Goddess knows I’ve done it enough times. You basically give them nothing but the absolute bare minimum required – they ask how your day is, you say fine. They ask you to do something you say you’ll look into it and end the conversation. Think it’s called ‘grey rocking’ or something.

        Essentially you turn your professional personality up to ‘high’ and the helpful, go the extra mile, friendly personality OFF when dealing with him.

        This, btw, is bloody stressful to do. Make sure you have a good way to decompress at the end of the day and it really really really annoys me that we still have to use these kinda self preservation tactics as women in the office in 2021.

        1. Celery Top*

          I’ve been using this approach with an immediate team member for about six years straight. It helps, but I agree it takes its toll after a while. I’m completely exhausted.

      12. Eat My Squirrel*

        Yo, I would have gone to HR immediately after this conversation.
        “Hello, HR? There’s this horrible sexist guy who talks down to all the women, my manager knows about it, and she basically just told me to avoid him. Can you actually do something to make him stop?”

        1. Nanani*

          That’s great but HR is just going to say “have you tried being ~nicer~” and “are you SURE it’s sexist? maybe it’s just you”.

          1. Keymaster of Gozer*

            Sad, but also quite likely. Lost all respect for one HR bod who told me if I was less of a ‘b*tch’ then men would find me easier to get on with (2016 was a hell).

          2. Eat My Squirrel*

            Not if they’re halfway decent at their job and I tell them my manager said other women have had this same problem.
            Also, my company is big enough that if HR sucks, I can go to the ethics department. Which is staffed by attorneys. Who understand sexual harassment law. Perhaps LW has a similar plan b available.

            1. Hillary*

              Not necessarily. Is this a sexism problem or an a**h**e problem? I hate saying this because I’ve dealt with this problem more than once, but if it’s not quantifiably sexual harassment it’s not necessarily HR’s problem. It sounds like this guy is an all-around a**h**e. That’s a manager problem, not automatically an HR problem.

              I work with a couple guys like this right now – my response is to pull rank (because I’m lucky enough to have it with them), borrow authority from leaders, and when I have to get their managers to jump in. It works because I cultivate relationships and I know their managers will back me when I ask.

              1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

                I trust the LW that it is a sexism problem.

                Also, sexism and a**h**e problems are not mutually exclusive. It’s a comorbidity.

              2. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Being condescending and questioning ability is often reserved for women. Remember the story of the guy who had to answer emails for a female colleague, using her signature, and discovered that people started questioning his answers a whole lot more than before?

              3. Database Developer Dude*

                If it’s an a**h**e problem, that also is definitely in HR’s lane. “Hostile Work Environment” is a thing, even if it doesn’t stem from any kind of bias.

        2. PersephoneUnderground*

          I agree with Squirrel- this BS is not acceptable, and HR can only intervene (as they should) if someone actually *tells them* this is a known, ongoing issue. It was laid out very clearly in the letter, I encourage OP to lay it out just like that for HR as well.

      13. Koalafied*

        As you sense and others have highlighted this is not the best approach. But if it’s the best your company can do and you’re not willing to move on over it, my #1 piece of survival advice for sticking it out in a problematic workplace: Find someone you can vent to when needed who doesn’t work there. Partly because it nearly eliminates all risk of anything you say blowing back on you professionally, but the much bigger reason to follow this rule is to protect your own mental health.

        When you start venting to coworkers about systematic/persisting issues that you can’t do anything about, there’s this feedback loop that can occur where one of you vents about being angry, the other agrees and is angry on your behalf and maybe adds their own story of the latest thing that happened, and then instead of feeling any better from venting you sometimes even leave the conversations more mad about it than before you went in. And because your coworker is nearby or easily reachable all day every workday, the sessions will have a tendency to become more frequent over time. Then one day you wake up and realize you hate the company you work for and every single conversation you have with a coworker is about how much you both hate the company, and having all that resentment built up inside you makes it so much harder to just keep your head down and do your job.

        Whereas if you have a friend outside of work, when something pisses you off, you’ll tend to give them an abbreviated summary of the thing that happened because they don’t have enough background information to understand the details of the story. They’ll tell you that sucks, but they won’t respond with, “And here’s something else I hate about them.” The conversation will probably move on or end pretty quickly because they don’t have much else they can say, and then you can get back to your work satisfied that at least somebody is sympathetic to your plight and you’re not crazy for being upset about whatever happened. It doesn’t fix the problem, and ultimately it may come down to a decision about whether you’re willing to keep working there if management doesn’t fix it, but in the meantime keeping your venting strictly to people outside the company protects your mental health by minimizing the mental space you give the problem.

        1. el*

          this is such a level-headed diagnosis of such a common loop that we all get into. thank you for laying it out so clearly.

        2. Letter Writer*

          This is a really great bit of advice, I’m also very conscious of not wanting to gossip/bitch too much (read: at all) at work, because I just don’t want to be that person, you know? I did tell my dad about this, who had a few choice words about Fergus and then moved swiftly on, as you said, but I did feel better afterwards! Also getting this validation from the commenters here is already really helpful.

        3. vlookup*

          This is great advice! I have some friends on retainer for this purpose. Another benefit is that they can give you a reality check on your problem that’s not filtered through your company’s norms — whether a “bummer, that sucks” or a “that seems really inappropriate and out of bounds, you should escalate that.”

      14. Working Hypothesis*

        LW, you don’t have to avoid him so much as you have to make his assholery your manager’s, or some other manager’s, responsibility instead of yours. This isn’t passing the buck… that is part of what managers are there for! They have the tools to handle this kind of jerk, you don’t.

        So you get really clear with your manager that every time he gives you the slightest pushback you’re going to say, “Oh, you’d need to talk to Y about that; this is the way she told me to do it.” About everything. And it’s true! She *did* tell you to do your work up to your usual standards and according to your own judgment, not the way he wants you to.

        After that, you become a broken record to him. As long as he’s cooperating, you’re normal and polite and talk like a human. As soon as he starts complaining or giving you a hard time, “You’d need to talk to Y about that, this is the way she told me to do it.” He continues to grump at you? You say it again. Exactly the same way. Even in the same tone. Make it super clear that he won’t get anything else out of you, and he’ll probably either take it to Y, or more likely stomp off and give up. Repeat the next time you have to work with him.

        1. LilyP*

          I think another good repeatable phrase is “I’ll think about it!” or “I’ll take that into consideration”. You don’t have to really think about it or do it, but it might be easier to smile-and-nod your way through unwanted advice/input and then do the marketing your way anyway. At the end of the day, is he even going to see your final product to know the difference?

          1. Pennyworth*

            Saying ”I’ll think about” it etc is giving Fergus the impression he has the right to interfere in the work OP is doing for her manager. Now she knows what he is like and her manager has her back, it would be fine to politely cut him off at the knees and tell him straight up she just needs information from him, nothing more.

            1. Working Hypothesis*

              Yeah, the “I’ll think about it!” it’s usually best when you’re dealing with somebody in a social context where you will face consequences for offending the person, no matter how reasonable you’re being. In this case, you’ve already been told pretty clearly that you won’t face consequences if you do your work properly (aka the way YOU know how to do it!) and behave professionally… even if Fergus happens to decide on his own to take offense at your so doing.

              This makes it both unnecessary and unhelpful to yield verbally, even if you do it without obedience. You aren’t *supposed* to yield to Fergus, and you don’t want him thinking you are, or he’ll come down harder on you when you don’t actually do things his way. You’re going to need to be a bit more direct about not doing things his way… but that doesn’t mean you have to take his crap on yourself for it. “Boss told me to” gets you out of responsibility for Fergus’ bad mood, without actually having to give in to Fergus (or even give him reason to believe you will).

      15. CowWhisperer*

        To me, it sounds infinitely sustainable.

        Let’s run through the first (crazy) interaction:
        1) You contact Fergus to ask a sensible question about the specs on a new product line.

        Fergus had two choices:
        a) Send you said specs and get back to doing whatever he was hired to do in the first place.
        b) Make himself feel like a big man by pretending he was teaching you about crap.

        Fergus chose b – which is nuts.

        You had two choices:
        a) take Fergus’ instructions seriously as a more experienced colleague and adapt your marketing campaign accordingly or
        b) Take the specs and do what you were planning to do all along.

        You went with a – which is a very normal choice for non-crazy colleague like Fergus.

        The good news is that your boss and your boss’ boss both told you that you were hired to do choice b – get the specs and make a killer campaign.

        Why did the boss make Fergus report directly to a director? To take Fergus’ option b away and make him give you the specs without all the jazz.

        How do you deal going forward? By looping in manager ASAP as Fergus tries to power-play you. If management is looking to get rid of Fergus, a paper trail of him refusing to do his job in a timely manner is nice for that. If not , the manager can apply pressure to make him knock it off. (Personally, I hope he gets fired – but who knows.)

    4. CatCat*

      Yeah, definitely, especially since the manager knows Fergus is targeting women for his condescension and snark. (It would still be had if he was an “all purpose” a-hole, but targeting women specifically adds a new dimension that is a big problem.)

      “Boss, you’ve said that my experience with Fergus is not unique and that Fergus treats women specifically like this. This is very concerning. What is the company doing to ensure that Fergus is not allowed to target women for belittling in the workplace?”

      Also, OP, please do not internalize Fergus’ misogyny as a “you issue.”

      1. anonymouse*

        OP, it is not a YOU ISSUE at all.
        “my coworker treats me badly, how do I manage my reaction to it?” vs “my coworker treats me badly, and I’ve been told that I am not imagining it, he does this to all women, so what can I do to make the situation stop?”

      2. Employee of the Bearimy*

        I also agree with this – I suspect you’re still working on developing a relationship with your boss, LW, but you can definitely push back on the idea that Fergus just gets to condescend to all the women and they have to deal with it.

      3. SarahKay*

        +100 to the statement that Fergus’s misogyny is absolutely not a “you issue”.
        Fergus is the problem here; no-one should need to work out how to be tough enough to cope with rude, snarky condescending feedback from co-workers, especially not with an added layer of sexism.

    5. Beth*

      Definitely. Especially since apparently “other women in the company have had similar experiences with Fergus,” the manager better have some kind of workaround developed already! Unless their solution, in practice, is for the women in their company to put up with sexist mansplaining from a guy who doesn’t know how to do their job without any recourse? But if that’s the case, there are bigger concerns here,

    6. tamarack and fireweed*

      Yes! I don’t feel I have deep insight here into what might work, but my immediate reaction is that this is a “the LW’s manager should talk with the problem co-worker’s manager” situation.

      Of course, people who are allowed to let sexist egos flower often have sexist managers. But by focussing on clear expectations (for form, volume and, importantly, collegiality levels in the dealings between the two departments) improvements can happen. Are both departments report into the same grandboss? The frame “product visioning/design needs to respect and improve relations with marketing” can help – EVEN if the underlying issue is sexist attitudes.

  2. el knife*

    Remember that you answer to your manager, not this guy! Also, tell your manager about all of this, so they know that this guy is being like this (not just that you followed his specifications, but that he questioned your competence, tried to delay your work etc. etc.)

    A lot of the time these people chose new employees to pick on, because the older employees know to avoid/ignore/sideline someone like this. So build relationships with your coworkers and check in with them about this guy. Does he have any influence, or is this just one of those guys who most people in the business ignore? Find coworkers who support you and remind you this guy is ridiculous.

    1. ursula*

      This. Remind yourself early and often that this guy has limited cultural capital in your workplace because of his shit, and you are building your own career and reputation entirely separate from his. You can filter through his comments for the facts and insights you need and freely disregard the rest. I think a lot of the work here is just emotionally turning down the volume on his guy, in your own head.

      When he pushes you on things that are yours to decide, I like language like, “I’ve noted your concerns. At this point, this is ultimately a marketing decision, so I’m going to continue with [X] unless I hear otherwise from [boss]. Thanks for your input!” and then fully disengage.

      1. Forgot My Last Username*

        This.

        While you’re boss hasn’t adequately managed Fergus, she nonetheless has handed you a valuable gift: empowerment. You could tell Fergus “[Boss] is fine with how I’m approaching this. If you have any concerns you can raise them to her.”

        1. Working Hypothesis*

          Boss isn’t Fergus’ boss, and in fact Fergus outranks LW’s boss. So it’s not really her fault she isn’t managing him. Empowerment will have to do in this case.

    2. Bagpuss*

      This.

      Next time, if you get a similar response, my suggestion would be:

      When Fergus calls you, respond by email.

      “Dear Fergus, further to your call. However, I confirm that at this stage, I simply need you to respond to the question I asked, namely [repeat question] . Please rest assured that if I need further information about the international teapot market I will seek further advice” (you don’t need to say whether that would be from him!”

      If he continues to press for you to attend a presentation then again, go back to him with
      “I note your offer of a presentation but as requested, simply need an answer to my earlier question. Do let me know if you are having difficulty understanding the question and I would be happy to clarify what is needed. Can you let me have that by [date]. If you are unable to answer the question please let me know so I can make enquiries elsewhere. For clarity, I don’t need advice at this stage, simply the specific information I requested in my original e-mail of [date]. ”

      If he doesn’t then answer, or continues to try to tell you how to do your job then then send the e-mails to your boss and let them know that you’ve asked Fergus three times, that he is seeking to demand that you attend a presentation (and make clear that you don’t have time and that last time you agreed, he wasted x amount of time telling you basic stuff which you are very familiar with.) and (if it is the case) that his refusal to provide the information needed, without wasting hours mansplaining to you, is delaying the project.

      I think if he is making comments about you which question your competence it’s appropriate to raise that formally with your boss and explain that it is sexist and demotivating and ask that they address it.

      You could address it direct -“Fergus, you’ve just said “whatever” as if you assume I’m unaware of it – given it ‘s a very basic part of my job it’s something I’m very familiar with, as is everyone in my department. IS there a reason you are assuming other wise? ” call him out each time.

      1. Bagpuss*

        sorry, missing words – meant to say “further to your call, I note your assumptions about by marketing knowledge and your suggestion that you provide a presentation,. However…”

  3. Tek5508*

    I would email Fergus, with a CC to the Marketing Director, to state clearly that you are working under the MD’s guidelines as requested, NOT Fergus’s. (you might run this by the MD first)

    1. Butter Makes Things Better*

      Ooh, I like this in combination with the above advice because then LW has yet another venue for making this more of the MD’s problem, not just her own.

    2. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

      Yeah, would definitely run this by the marketing director.

      Speaking from similar experience at a former job, one of the things I did was, with permission from my boss and the VP, cc them into my normal communications with Fergus. Fergus would reply only to me and it was inevitably rude, and I’d then bring all parties back into communication. It’s very indirect, and to this day I don’t understand why my work didn’t deal with the root of the problem (i.e., replace Fergus, who is not in possession of any specific skillset that makes him invaluable). But it was the only recourse I had. So at least when my Fergus was being a dick, he was doing it in front of the VP.

      1. Littorally*

        I don’t know how long they had you doing it for, but that to me sounds like the kind of thing that is creating a paper trail toward firing.

        1. Anti anti-tattoo Carol*

          In retrospect, I suspect so. At the time, and because it dragged on for months, I’d thought that it was them attempting to tacitly signal to him that he was under scrutiny. Alas, he’s still there and still being a pain in the neck to all who listen. The VP and I left for promotions in our relative jobs.

          (Interestingly enough, outside of our work situation, Fergus was a warm and engaging person. It was odd; you could be swapping stories about the weekend whilst walking in from the parking lot or bonding over mediocre wine at the staff holiday party, but once you were in the office, it was a 180 in behavior).

          1. allathian*

            It’s not all that unusual, really. People can be perfectly pleasant to others in a more social setting while thinking they’re incompetent (because of their gender) in a work setting. But I’d imagine that it’d make dealing with the unpleasantness at work harder.

      2. Smithy*

        This is similar to how I’ve approached these interdepartmental dynamics. I’ve also managed to get respect from bosses/VP’s for being able to come to them with the “plan” for how to handle it. Where I’m still managing my work and the situation, but this is the short term tactic to deal with an interpersonal/interdepartmental problem.

      3. Bagpuss*

        YEs, I think this is helpful as it creates a papertrail, both of his dickishness AND of the fact that he is clearly aware of it as he hides his replies from the PB.

        It’s also why I would keep all communications with him via e-mail not calls. If he phones, it’s fine to say to him, “can you just reply to my e-mail / IM, it’s handy to have the information in writing”

  4. TechLady*

    NO NO NO NO

    This is not a you problem. This is a fundamental Fergus issue, and a corporate issue if they are not dealing with it. I’m sorry that your manager’s comment is that she experiences this as well. I would explicitly state what you intend to do. If Fergus pushes back, lay out the rules. He will fight and make your life hard. Escalate, escalate, escalate. He does not get to get away with telling you condescending things.

    This does have an explicit issue in that you need to have every t crossed given the visibility. It’s not fair, and it’s limiting. But there is no solution when you’re dealing with someone who is literally negating your value as a professional because of your gender.

    1. Ms. K*

      I’m jumped into the comments to also reenforce this is a FERGUS problem not a you problem! Unfortunately it sounds like his gas lighting is starting to get to you. I know most of your manager’s comments weren’t very helpful, but maybe try to at least take away from them that when not listening to Fergus, you do excellent work.

    2. ThePear8*

      Yes, came here specifically to say this – this is 100% NOT a you issue, it is very much a Fergus issue.

    3. LilyP*

      Here’s the part you CAN control though: believe down to the bottom of your soul that your boss is right and you know how to do your job infinitely better than Fergus does. Really *internalize* that his ego/other qualifications/domineering attitude/seniority/whatever else made you go along with him at first are meaningless and YOU are the expert on how to do your job. He can sneer and mansplain until the cows come home and you’re going to quietly roll your eyes, ignore him, and do your job your way, the way your manager wants you to (skillfully!) because he has no authority over you.

      If you’re struggling with that part, maybe write down exactly what your manager said about his work vs yours somewhere and look back at it whenever you need to? Or memorize a short mantra like “Fergus may have been here a long time, but he’s not a marketer so I’m the expert here” to repeat if your brain starts to doubt itself again?

    4. Software Engineer*

      Yes. Every single person senior to you and with more power than you who KNOWS “that’s just how he is” and lets it continue is completely failing to do their job. If his manager and skip-level know this is happening and haven’t fixed it then they are BAD AT THEIR JOBS

      I would go back to your boss and ask them for support and say that since this is not your issue but an issue with another employee who repeatedly treats people terribly, what is she going to do about it. And if she says you have to just suck it up after she’s admitted that he tests the women in the office horribly make her say that explicitly. “So you’re not going to do anything? You want me to continue to try and work with someone who is making my job harder because I’m female, do I have that right?”

      If everyone keeps stepping over this broken stair just leave if you can. You can’t make your Leadership do their jobs if they refuse

  5. Web Crawler*

    My approach would be to journal about Fergus or talk to friends about what’s happening. Sometimes spelling out exactly what’s happening- “Fergus is mansplaining my job and doing a very bad job of it” will help you find perspective. At very least, it’ll help change the narrative in your head from “I’m doing a bad job” to “Fergus is terrible”. And at best, maybe you’ll find some humor in it.

    1. Web Crawler*

      Edit: everyone else has good advice for dealing with the actual problem (which is all Fergus). This advice is for your mental health in the meantime

    2. Hare under the moon with a silver spoon*

      Yeah while there are the practical issues of management others have explained totally agree keep yourself “topped up” self esteem wise in the meantime. Journal is a great idea, also brainstorming your ideas with colleagues perhaps so you have peer validation – not just for Fergus projects but so you can start to place yourself firmly in your new company eco-system and calibrate genuine feedback – it’s hard when your new to know generally let alone deal with a missing stair situation – I’m sorry you had to experience this.

    3. LegendaryBobcatTaxidermy**

      So…my take would be a little different. Spending time discussing him with others, journaling, processing your feelings about Fergus is going to take up more of your energy than this guy warrants and create more negative feelings focused on Fergus. I would put him in a bucket in your head of “write off” or “dingbat” or whatever, and then just get on with the job. I just don’t know that concentrating on processing your relationship to this guy is going to improve things for you, when you should be focused on building strong relationships with peers/allys/sponsors, and learning the kind of sh*t that makes you excel at your job, and builds your confidence and competency. Don’t waste time on this guy.

      1. LegendaryBobcatTaxidermy**

        also, you shouldn’t have to do this…but just because it makes things easier, you can always flatter Fergus a little bit and play into his ego by asking him for his “thoughts” or “input,” and say things like “that’s a great point.” (internal eye roll) People with egos love to give input and they’ll give it whether you ask or not. Doesn’t mean you have to use it.

      2. Ari*

        I think this really depends on the person. Some people really find the “don’t let people live rent-free in your mind” mentality to be helpful. Other people, like me, need to process the emotional reaction around the sexist asshat because of the large emotional toll experiencing that kind of indignity often creates.

        OP, you know yourself best. Go with what will be the most helpful method to you.

  6. BlueBelle*

    You need to talk to your manager and ask how it is best to deal with him. I would also push back on him, make him explain HIS perspective and expertise instead of feeling like he is questioning you. You don’t need to explain your qualifications to him. Ask him “Why do you think that is the best approach?” “What makes you think I don’t know that?” HE is the one who has to explain himself, you are the expert and your boss has clearly said your marketing expertise is why you have this job, not Fergus.
    Good luck and please update us!

    1. Bagpuss*

      I like this. Also steer him back to the question you actually asked him -e.g. “Thanks, I’m not actually asking you about the marketing strategy, I’m dealing with that. I just need to know from you whether the new teapots will have 1 or 2 handles”
      or even “Fergus, it sounds as though you misunderstood my question. All I need from you is xxx”

      1. Elaine Benes*

        So much this. He’s getting away with re-framing the conversation and the terms of your interaction with him with all this vagueness. I would decide your (very specific, limited) questions ahead of time and just keep coming back to those. Shut down all his attempts to wrestle the narrative, like managing a press conference. Prep yourself ahead of time so you can really come in with energy of “I’m totally confident in my work and the boundaries of where our jobs need to overlap, and I’m not going to be swayed by whatever BS you’re inevitably going to be throwing my way”. Calm strength for the win!

    2. JokeyJules*

      +1 on not explaining your qualifications.
      you work there. in your position. because you are qualified and competent at your work /at minimum/
      your bosses are clearly happy with your work and your work standards. you are doing your job well as is – there is no doubt about that. i know how easy it is to question that when someone questions you! but you are where you are with the accolades and appreciation you have from your management because your work is good. thats enough in and of itself.

      please remind yourself that op :)

  7. Marie*

    Your manager straight told you that when you followed his ideas, that your work wasn’t up to YOUR usual standard. Reading between the lines here, your manager told you that you have better ideas than he does. SO STOP LISTENING TO HIM. You can adopt the classic “I’ll take that under advisement” strategy as a comeback to anything that he says, but honestly just think like The Dude and mentally repeat “That’s just like, your opinion, man” whenever he says anything about what he would do or what you should do or criticizing why you didn’t do what he said you should do.

    If he’s so freakin fabulous, why isn’t he doing your job?

    1. fposte*

      I was thinking a cheerful “Okay!” can be very useful in that situation. In a situation like the one the OP describes, where Fergus withholds information until he can give her a presentation [!], it’s fine to say “I won’t be able to do that–does this mean I need to get the information from somebody else?” You also don’t have to sit through the entirety of a phone lecture. “Sorry, Fergus, I have to get back to work. I look forward to seeing your email with the data.”

      And it’s okay if that makes Fergus unhappy. He’s only made happy by unreasonable things, so there’s no point in your spending your time on that.

      1. Momma Bear*

        This. I think we often forget that not everything will make someone happy and happy is not always the goal in a job/project. The person to “make happy” is the boss, who prefers LW’s work to Fergus’ edits.

      2. Ama*

        I have worked part of my career in academic administration and currently in a position where I have to interact with a lot of very senior academic faculty (I’m in a more senior position now but still definitely not an expert in their field). The polite and simple “Thank you for the input, I’ll keep that in mind,” in reply to a bunch of unusable feedback (or even usable feedback when given in a condescending or rude tone) has always served me very well.

        Keeping it in mind doesn’t mean that you’ll actually ACT on the feedback, it just acknowledges you’re aware of it.

    2. Threeve*

      Another good phrase is “I think there’s been a misunderstanding. All I need right now is [x], [x], and [x].”

      That can be used for “nope, I don’t need your input, I just need this information” and “nope, I don’t need the background knowledge you want to condescendingly bestow, I just need this information.”

      1. ceiswyn*

        And if (when) he refuses to provide that information, you loop in someone who has authority so that they can manage him appropriately.

        1. Threeve*

          It’s also bland and polite enough that you can use it in an email, CC’ing anyone you need to.

      2. Daria*

        +1 for interrupting and redirecting. I had a coworker who would frequently over-explain her job to me when I asked simple questions. (Though we were both female and similar ages, so the dynamic was a little different.)

        For example, me: “Hey Fergusina, what day is the new teapot spout shape launching?” Fergusina: “Well the history of teapot spout shapes is…” Five minutes later maybe she would actually get to my initial (simple! straightforward!) question. I wish I had interrupted her and said something like, “Sorry to cut you off but, I’m already familiar with teapot spout history/I’m actually in a bit of a rush/all I need to know is the date.” If Fergus gets defensive when you do this (like Fergusina got the one or two times I tried this with her), it’s just more of his ego issues and not you doing something wrong or unprofessional.

        1. kt*

          The jerk way to do this is to cut off the person and say, “Oh, are you saying you don’t know? That’s alright, I’ll ask [other person]/I’ll see if I can get the info from [other person].”

          Fergus: “But first you need to understand that..”
          You: “No no, sorry for bothering you when it’s not your area of expertise!”

          1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

            Or you can just hear what you know they don’t want you to hear.

            OP: “Is Wakeen here today, Fergus?”
            Fergus: “Well, Wakeen was hired in 1998 for his specialized skill in making waffles while standing on his head, and we were in the same onboarding sessions. I saw him at the coffeemaker a few hours ago grinding his own beans with a machete and quoting Shakespeare…”
            OP: “Sorry to hear that Wakeen’s still out with the flu. Thank you; you’ve been very helpful.”

            And it usually only takes a few seconds before you hear… “Yes, Wakeen is here today. I saw him in the break room a few hours ago.”

            I try to reserve this for those with a pathological fear of “yes” and “no.” It doesn’t create friendships… but Fergus has already relieved you of that concern.

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      You can adopt the classic “I’ll take that under advisement” strategy as a comeback to anything that he says, but honestly just think like The Dude and mentally repeat “That’s just like, your opinion, man” whenever he says anything about what he would do or what you should do or criticizing why you didn’t do what he said you should do.

      Classic Mel Brooks. Agree to everything, implement nothing–if it’s good enough for Blazing Saddles, it’s good enough for your campaign.

      You have final cut. Don’t let Fergus steal it from you again.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        Or as Captain Awkward says, “I’ll think about it.” Which you absolutely will — you’ll think about how stupid an idea it is, you’ll think about how your favorite marketing prof would roll on the floor laughing if you told her about it, you’ll think about what cocktail you’ll make for your weekly catch up zoom with your friends where you will tell this story…

    4. MissGirl*

      Yes! You have clear permission to just ignore this guy. I worked with a client who told me my design skills were obviously community college quality because I cropped a photo of his. Jokes on him, I didn’t go to college for design. ;)

      Take what you need from him and ignore the rest. Vent to your coworkers now and then about the latest crazy thing he said and laugh it off.

      Also, expect him to act like this. When I expected that a difficult client would behave in a normal way, I would get so frustrated. When I said, “That’s just Fergus being Fergus. Oh, well,” my sanity returned.

    5. merp*

      This is a great comment thread. OP, I completely understand feeling intimidated and giving in, this is not your fault. But going forward, you know that whatever this guy has to say is not important. I’m sure over time (if management continues to ignore this problem and he stays/keeps doing it) it’ll become easier and easier to filter out the info you need and ignore his bullshit. But I would also complain every time he gets in the way of your work in the meantime!

  8. Jess*

    Your co-workers have your back in this, and your manager should have your back in this.

    Beyond the information you need from Fergus, beyond the standard friendly and co-operative communication among coworkers of a basically equal rank, all he is noise, and his unreasonable objections that seem in any way actionable should get passed on to your manager.

    In the meantime, just imagine him as a big, angry goose, hissing and charging at people, but fundamentally just food.

      1. Momma Bear*

        This is GREAT! I have a kind of Fergus at work and I’m totally going to think of this goose analogy when dealing with him.

      1. Nea*

        This is the perfect comment. Just perfect. *chef’s kiss*

        And I am absolutely stealing it for dealing with my own Fergii.

    1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      “I’m sorry, Fergus, I didn’t catch any of what you just said because I was imagining you as a flailing angry waterfowl. The ducks are now completely gone.” >.>

    1. Great Grey Owl*

      What a great idea. Sun is an important source of Vitamin D. The OP would be demonstrating her concern for a coworker’s health.

      1. Great Grey Owl*

        And you probably didn’t think that skill would translate into the working world.

        As for Fergus, realize that he was trying to intimate you because he doesn’t want to be bothered to do his job. This is not your problem because you are dedicated to doing your job. In fact, you are good at your job and you don’t need his approval.

        Remember that he is like this with other women and his sexism is his problem not your problem.

      2. sacados*

        Hey me too!! Did shot and discus.
        My absolute favorite thing to do was when you’re kinda tossing the shot put around, from hand to hand or whatever (cause you get used to the weight pretty easily). And of course everybody always wants to try and hold it, right. So you can be all “yeah here you go, try it” — and then the reactions are just hilarious cause they’re expecting it to be a lot lighter than it is. XD

  9. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

    Obviously there is some level of sexism at work here, but I am in a very similar situation with our in-house counsel analogous to Fergus, condescending to me (20 years in the general field). She gives obnoxious comments and veers into giving me direction (she is not my manager, we are both women within 10 years in age of each other, but only worked together about 6 months since I moved into a new role). My manager knows all about it and shrugs, yep, she’s like that. So I am reading the comments for overall tips on forging a productive work relationship with someone patronizing, who unfortunately is someone you cannot avoid working with. (In my case, she reviews my draft documents for projects so clearly considers herself to be the senior partner in the relationship.)

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      FFS. She reviews your drafts? Sounds like an SME to me… Which is to say, not the senior partner, just a recognized authority on a given topic.

    2. No Sleep Till Hippo*

      In my experience, the more you can mentally re-frame it as “This person needs everyone to know how smart they are” rather than “This person wants everyone to know how dumb I am,” the easier it gets.

      In this instance I would mentally summon Peter Falk from his role as Grandpa in the Princess Bride: “Yes, yes, you’re very smart. Now shut up.”

  10. Joel Mangrum*

    Push back. You were hired to do a certain job. Just tell him “Fergus, this is what I need to do my job and I need it by XX date.” He doesn’t give it to you get your manager involved.
    You are being paid to do a certain job and to NOT get in the weeds with him.

    1. Snark No More!*

      Definitely push back. In my head, I hear myself saying things like, “Well, if you don’t know, I’ll find the answer somewhere else.” Or “Why would you say that to a colleague?” Or, “Is there some reason you don’t want to answer my rather simple question?” Pushy people deserve to be pushed back.

    2. Great Grey Owl*

      Exactly. In dealing with people like Fergus, I have found that being politely blunt is the best approach. Don’t make it personal. Just stick with the facts and be brief.

      As for his comments about the OP’s ability, they are irrelevant as he is. And, it is past time that the manager remind him that if he is unhappy with his coworkers’ abilities, perhaps he should seek employment somewhere else. After all, we wouldn’t want him to be unhappy, would we?

  11. Susie*

    I’d lean in to the feedback from the Marketing Director–He’s basically telling you that Fergus is incompetent in an area that is your strength.

    So any time Fergus is condescending, you can think to yourself that Fergus is so unbelievably full of himself that he actually thinks he is good at this…but is not. Turn his condescension into a joke.

    It is hard–I dealt with a bully at work who appeared, at first, to have more power. Every time she pulled a stunt to make me look bad, I made sure I laughed to myself and thought “wow, she’s resorted to this *eyeroll*”

    So hopeful the above is helpful advice for mental framing–but also make sure your manager is looped in. In the AAM archives, there are some good scripts for how to frame issues like this with a manager.

    1. fedupmarketer*

      Absolutely this. Embrace the in-ward eyeroll. ‘Great suggestion Fergus i’ll bear it in mind’. If he asks why you didn’t follow it, ‘Marketing Director and I decided to go in a different direction’.

      FWIW I work in marketing and the number of people who think they can ‘do’ your job is incredible. I had engineers writing advertising video scripts last week! Sadly this won’t be the last time you encounter a tool like this.

    2. Slipping The Leash*

      I’d go further — Thanks for your input Fergus, I’ll consider it while I decide on the best course of action from a MARKETING PERSPECTIVE. Then exit stage right, not pursued by bear.

    3. Data Bear*

      Yes! Fergus clearly has terrible judgment when it comes to promotions; your boss said exactly that. That means there’s no reason to pay any attention to or place any value on his snarky feedback — you KNOW that it’s junk. You don’t need to care about his opinion of you or your work. Remind yourself of that every time his criticism starts to make you feel bad and just let it roll off you like water off a duck’s back. It takes some effort at first, but it gets easier with practice.

    1. Blinded By the Gaslight*

      Thank you for the belly-laugh this morning! “You pop that gum ONE. MORE. TIME . . . “

    2. Queer Earthling*

      My initial response to the question was “Eat him” so, yeah, similar wavelength here.

      1. Morticia*

        I enjoyed that. Thank you.

        LW, I am so sorry you have to put up with this. I wish your company wasn’t enabling Fergus’ bullshit. He should have been HR’d the first time he said something so completely outside professional norms.

    3. OrigCassandra*

      See also the Chicago comedy troupe Tiny Muscles’s “Cell Block Mansplaingo” on YouTube.

      Absolutely apropos to the OP’s situation.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I just watched that for the first time after reading your comment. SO. GOOD!

  12. Glomarization, Esq.*

    I’d work as hard as I could to minimize phone calls with him. Also, whatever feedback he gives you on the phone, ask him to send it in e-mail so that you can properly address his input.

    On phone calls, he has a one-on-one, no-witnesses opportunity to browbeat you. Minimize his opportunities to do that.

    1. Hawkeye is in the details*

      Ooh, I like this! And it has the added bonus of being forward-able as a thread. Either innocently (“Manager, here are the latest steps we’re undertaking, please see discussion with Fergus below.”) or as documentation if he tries to throw you under the bus.

    2. Nonprofiteer*

      Totally agree – avoid situations where he can do this unseen, and provide an annoying level of documentation when it happens. If a call does happen, I would take lots of notes and email them back to him. But mostly, just be too busy to take a call.

      Sounds like the dude has a silly title for a reason!

    3. Momma Bear*

      Yes. This was a control tactic. I would keep meetings/conversations with him short and if necessary follow up with “per our discussion” emails so there’s a paper trail.

  13. bunniferous*

    Others are giving great suggestions. What I want to say to you is this-part of the issue is you need to make sure you own your own competence. Don’t let him get into your head.

    1. Anne Elliot*

      Yep. My advice for getting better at holding your ground/advocating for yourself, and/or being less intimidated, is to consider what you would do if it wasn’t happening to you but instead to someone you wanted to help or were responsible for managing. What if you were not the person this was happening to, what if that person was your subordinate and YOU were the manager? What if you were trying to support and protect a good friend who was in this position — what would you tell that person to do? How would you build them up? What would you opinion of Fergus and his power be, if he was trying to squash someone else? Thinking about what you would do or say or recommend if this were happening to someone else, might help you to step away from fright or emotionalism, and to be more objective about what you are facing and what you reasonably could be expected to do about it. How would you encourage someone else, and what would you recommend they do? Encourage yourself, and do those things.

  14. animaniactoo*

    When he oversteps and asks for review of promotional materials or to specifically include things you do not think are necessary/not important/whatever – route that through your boss and his. He is trying to overstep, your job is to go get back up that he doesn’t get the privilege of what he is requesting.

    At which point, he can accept it or lump it – but you have the standing to say “as per previous conversation, I simply need the information that I have requested from you. Please provide by [deadline].” and stonewall him on his request. “I’m sorry, I won’t be providing that – please speak to [people whose authority you previously borrowed] if you would like that. In the meantime, please provide the information that I have requested. I need to move forward with this phase to meet the product launch deadlines.” and if he continues to stonewall you – that’s when you go back to your boss and say “I’ve been trying to get a simple answer from Fergus, but he’s refusing to give me the answer I need unless I do [x]. I’m concerned about doing [x] because I think it will create [y] situation. How do you want me to handle this?”

  15. els*

    Agreed with looping in your manager (and possibly the marketing director?) and asking them to speak to Fergus. Maybe documenting the snark–whether it’s already in written form, like an e-mail, or writing down what he says to you–will help them see the scope of the problem.

  16. PolarVortex*

    You ever work in food service or retail before you ended up in your career? And you’d get those customers who would yell at you endlessly about how you should do it a specific way or why don’t you carry christmas wrap in july, and you’d have a Teflon-coated skin and a glazed over look where you’d look pleasant and nod and say you’ll be sure to bring that up to management while thinking “no way in heck will I do this, this is the dumbest thing ever for x, y, z reasons”.

    Start treating Fergus like that. He’s there for specs, not for marketing. Any meeting, you look pleasant, nod, and think “why on earth would we do that, it makes no sense for x, y, z reasons. I’ve now considered it as I told him I would and time to move onwards with what I originally planned to do.”

    Also yes to all the stuff about how this is your manager’s problem too. And maybe see how you can reduce meeting with Fergus, if he’s adding stuff on your calendar because he thinks he can walk all over you now, work to stop that.
    But in the meantime, smile, be pleasant, do things how you know they should be done to your manager’s specifications.

    1. ten-four*

      This is the winning advice. Absolutely put your shields up! This guy is perhaps good at his job but he sounds like clown shoes in every other capacity. Don’t let him past your shield, and focus on getting your work done well.

    2. Jo*

      This. I’ve not worked customer service, but I have absolutely learned to create the Teflon skin around myself. But I’ll be honest OP – this is a skill you have to learn. And part of it is things like taking your managers feedback on board that you *do* a good job, and remembering that the next time Fergus is being rude.

      To me its just another aspect of self confidence – why are you letting someone who knows nothing about your job, skills or background tell you what you are good at? Why do you believe him? Because he’s a man? Because he speaks louder and uses big words and appears confident? There’s a quote that does the rounds every so often about how if you wouldnt take advice from someone, you shouldnt take their criticism either – and I think that applies in this situation.

      His opinion of you is irrelevant, all you need is his knowledge on a specific topic – let anything else slide right off that non-stick coating!

    3. MechanicalPencil*

      There’s definitely a lot to be said for nodding, smiling and saying “I’ll take that under consideration” and pulling the Nick Fury “given that it’s a stupid idea, I decided not to” (paraphrased).

  17. Sondheim Geek*

    he was very clear that there is a good reason I’m in charge of promotions, not Fergus

    Make this your mantra. When Fergus tries to steamroll you, you can reword it to a simple, “Thank you for your input, but [Marketing Director] wants me to take the lead on this marketing plan. I’ll certainly keep your suggestions in mind, but right now we want to go in another direction.” If Fergus continues to push feel free to CC your Marketing Director.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Sadly, us Marketing folks have to deal with this kind of thing a lot. Often it is sexist as well, but not always so.
      Everybody is a Marketer. Like literally, everyone thinks they can so SUCH a better job of marketing and promotion and graphic design. NOT.

  18. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    Since this seems to be a company known problem, they don’t seem willing to fire Fergus over it, and your manager seems to be on your side, I’d see about slinging some of that crap back at Fergus. No need to be polite and deferential to someone who treats you poorly. Tell him, “Bless your heart. Don’t worry Fergus, us professionals will handle the big details. You just focus on your little drawings.”

    1. Snark No More!*

      I agree 100%. “Oh Fergus, the last time I followed these types of suggestions, my work was rejected.”

      1. Working Hypothesis*

        “If you’ve got any questions, feel free to talk to X; she’s the one who told me never to do that again.”

  19. C in the Hood*

    A couple of things: 1 – I’m disappointed in the manager merely saying “yeah, I’ve run into that problem with Fergus too”. That’s it? She’s aware of it & hasn’t done anything about it? No word of warning to OP?
    2 – Is Fergus required to OK OP’s output? If not, then I’d just tell him, “thank you for your input”, extract the needed information from his pontifications and then do what you do best.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Fergus is technically senior to my manager (but in product dev, we’re in marketing) and she told me that even women at C level have had issues with him and it’s been brought up to him in his performance reviews. Candidly, he’s also under a lot of pressure as some of his recent ideas haven’t taken off, so between his sexism, ego and flagging performance his days may be numbered..

      Also since I wrote in he has berated a (female) teammate in a group call (I wasn’t there) and my manager intervened and called him out, she’s now routing all of his ‘feedback’ directly to the marketing director so that he doesn’t have direct contact with the women in her team.

      1. LizzieB*

        Be like Sarah at the end of Labyrinth. Repeat in your head “You have no power over me” whenever he speaks. And then remind him that if Apple marketed their phones by listing the (inferior to competitor’s) product specs, they would never have sold a single iPhone, whereas the cool, sexy, elite brand they created has built a modern empire. Smile sweetly while doing it.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          I was thinking just that and that whole thing is one of my favorite quotes ever:
          “My will is a great as yours, my kingdom is as vast. You have no power over me.”

      2. Employee of the Bearimy*

        Aha – so this in fact may be your manager protecting you to extent possible while Fergus plays out the end of his time with your company.

        1. Nea*

          This is what I’ve been thinking. Ignoring Fergus is a short-time proposition, because he’s a short-timer, whether he knows it or not.

      3. Guacamole Bob*

        If the up-and-over rerouting is for everyone on the team, it’s actually a pretty good strategy in many cases. It elevates the issue in a way that makes it someone else’s problem, and puts pressure on management to fix it.

        But if it’s just for the women on the team, that’s a huge issue because it affects team members’ ability to do their jobs based on gender. Is your team all women, or are the men still going straight to Fergus on things?

        1. Properlike*

          My concern as well. If you have to exclude an entire group from doing their job based on gender, to protect them from this guy, then there are bigger issues than Fergus.

          1. Twenty Points for the Copier*

            It sounds like the “job” in this case is just listening to his useless feedback, though, not anything actually helpful to getting their jobs done.

      4. Boof*

        If this is clearly and easily documented to ONLY occur against women, please consider going to HR and/or flagging it as legal liability under hostile working environment to the powers that be.

      5. Tehanu*

        Why is he still around? He is the classic ‘broken stair’ – all these people managing Fergus. I understand this is not up to you or your manager – but I like that she is basically punting the Fergus problem to the marketing director. It’s now the MD’s problem.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          It reads like he’s high enough, has a strong enough history, and it’s a bro enough industry, that the company hasn’t figured out that the legal liability is greater than the value he brings.

          A surprising number of companies haven’t figured out that ‘hostile environment’ or ‘gender based harassment’ isn’t limited to sexual harassment.

          1. Properlike*

            They seemed willing to put up with him when his ideas were making them money, no matter how terrible he was to all the women around them. Be a shame if they lost that money in a lawsuit.

      6. Momma Bear*

        Wow, he’s digging his own holes. I would be surprised if Fergus was still there in a year.

        1. LTL*

          I’m amazed that he’s still around at all. He even pulls this with women in the C suite? Leaving aside the extraordinary self-sabotage, how has HR not put a stop to this? It seems like a significant liability to the company.

          I’m wondering how long Fergus has been in his position because if it’s been a while, I’m not sure why they’d fire him now. Seems that the company has accepted his attitude.

          1. Letter Writer*

            He’s been at the company longer than the women higher up, over the past year there’s been a big shakeup, the company’s owners realised they needed to break out of the ‘tech-bro’ phase and I think it’s gone well, but there are still some hold-out’s from the old days. Most of the old guard moved on before I joined but Fergus is someone who I think has been coasting on his early successful ideas at the company and now won’t adapt to the organisation’s changes. I agree with all the commenters comparing him to a broken stair, he is, but he’s still got a lot of social and political capital at the company. I feel like the benefit of the doubt is really wearing thin at this point, but they should have already cut the cord in my opinion.

            1. PersephoneUnderground*

              All the more reason to add your report to HR’s file and help get him that much closer to being fired already. I’d make a point of mentioning that retaining him means the company’s big move to shake up the culture is failing- if the big brass thinks that’s a priority, they need to can him. Framing things in terms of the company’s goals never hurts.

              1. Ellie*

                I disagree – if his days are already numbered, then its best to stay out of it as much as possible, and let someone else deal the final blow. Taking something through HR is hard and very time consuming, I’d only do it as a last resort. If management is already dealing with it then there’s no upside for the letter writer to get involved.

      7. Detective Amy Santiago*

        If everything is being routed through the marketing director, make sure that you forward any and all correspondence you have with Fergus to that person so they have a full picture of what he’s doing.

        Unfortunately, it sounds like there’s not much you can really do besides wait it out and hope that he really is on his way out the door.

  20. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

    How much do you need buy-in from Fergus to move forward on your project, or how much approval power does he have? If you can’t get stuff done without his sign-off, that would unfortunately make it more of a situation where you have to tolerate his condescension, flatter him occasionally while internally gagging, and choose which of his suggestions you can incorporate while still producing good work and which hills you need to die on, diplomatically.

    If he’s not the one evaluating the final product and you can get your work done without needing to change it to accommodate his bad ideas, that’s both easier and harder: easier because yay, you can ignore his crap suggestions, and harder because most women (including myself) are socialized and/or expected to see this as our problem, not the dude’s problem, and it can feel uncomfortable to push back.

    What’s worked for me is to be as charming as I can be (smiling, joking, friendly teasing, genuinely trying to find SOMETHING to like about Fergus or some topic of mutual interest that you can connect with him on) to maintain a positive relationship while being blunt about what I will and won’t do or put up with: “Fergus, you know I love you, but I’m not sitting through this presentation, I’m way too busy/I learned all that in my first job 20 years ago!” “Fergus, I see where you’re coming from on this, but best practices have really changed in the past couple of years, so now ___ is the standard.” “Fergus, you’re too much! Love your optimism but there’s no way Boss would sign off on that approach.”

    I don’t love having to spend time on ego management, but I see it as pragmatic: I’m getting my needs met while preserving the relationship in a way that benefits me.

    1. introverted af*

      Another option would be to point him towards focusing on the work he does control, ie teapot design. My still-somewhat-snarky response might be, “Oh wow, well I wouldn’t presume to tell you how to design teapots. You’re really good at that, and I would trust your judgment. Can you trust mine on the marketing for them?” But however you can massage that to emphasize to Fergus that you value his work on teapot design and want him to treat you with the same respect for your expertise in marketing is best.

  21. BeenThere*

    Also, document and date every incident. Who was there, what was the context, what did Fergus say and do? How did it impact your ability to get the work done? A PITA to do this, but if the excrement hits the fan somehow, you’ll have a record to combat anyone saying this is just a “he said, she said” situation.

    1. Econobiker*

      Yes document everything with interactions with him not just for your company HR but for your own protection if your manager or the company DOESN’T run interference against him which creates a hostle workplace for YOU. Even if you have to privately resort to recording conversations with him for your protection if he gets “bad” about his boundaries. Just tell him “if it’s okay if I write down , like, record some notes of our conversations as you talk”.

      [I once worked under a manager whose immediate boss was a psychotic VP who ordered me around like a child because I was yet another underling in his division. He even had a company provided “executive coach” (read psychologist) who was working with him because he was such a wack job. Surreptitious recording was a MUST with that VP guy because he’d change his mind about what he’d told you before. Never did catch him out on any specific threats except maybe some subtle age discrimination. I sat with the VP of HR for an hour and a half one evening after regular business hours because of the crazy VP. IT WAS THAT BAD! Psycho VP finally got walked out after he was rude and disrespectful to a lower level customer company representative who was attempting to give a training class to us vendor employees.]

  22. Properlike*

    “Wow. I’m sure you don’t mean to be as condescending as you sound right now.”

    “You’re a teapot expert, but I’m a marketing expert. Here’s the information I need and my time is short.”

    “My boss is fine with how I do my job, so you’ll want to take that up with her separately.”

    Basically, you have to alpha dog him. He’s likely not used to it, especially from younger people. The more calmly and assertively you approach him — think of him as a grown toddler — and the more detached you can be from his drama, the better off you’ll be. Usually, these types roll over when called on their shit, or at least shape up. If he goes ballistic when you’ve been reasonable, then just communicate with your manager.

    They can smell fear. He’s not the boss of you. You know what you’re doing. It’s a Fergus problem, and it’s everywhere.

    1. Dog Coordinator*

      Yes! I’ve seen some great advice about adopting a different “persona” for situations like this. When responding to Fergus, respond as though you had the same confidence and ego as Fergus. Well, maybe not the same amount of ego, but the confidence for sure. Adopt the email voice of a cis white male who has never doubted his own work, just like Fergus is doing. You don’t need to soften your language or cater to his ego, because, like your boss said, there’s a reason you’re in charge of the marketing and he is not.

      I’ve adopted that mentality when dealing with men who decided I was too young/female/alternative-appearing (tattoos/piercings/colorful hair) to know what I was doing. I was in charge of a department, they got a “no” answer from me on a question, and tried to go over my head. It definitely takes some practice, but if Fergus thinks he knows better than everyone else with no justification for that, you’re allowed to believe in your work too!

  23. Troutwaxer*

    I don’t have any brilliant advice, but I can quote Bugs Bunny re Fergus: “What a maroon!”

    1. Nonviolent Dove*

      A heads up: the term “maroon” is quite derogatory and should be put to rest. If you Google “maroon slang”, some good explanations come up as to why.

  24. Campfire Raccoon*

    It’s not a “you” problem. It is a Fergus problem. He’s already gaslighted you into thinking his behavior is acceptable and got you questioning yourself. He’s a jerk and you need to loop your manager back in. “I’m working with Fergus again and I catch myself letting him steamroll me into choices/decisions I would otherwise not make. His attitudes are impacting my work, which I do not want to happen again. I am going to push back in a professional manner to ensure the quality of my work remains high. Before I did so, I wanted to make sure you were aware in case Fergus responds negatively.” If she doesn’t have your back, it’s a Fergus and Manager problem.

    Other things to remember: “No.” is a complete sentence. You do not need to qualify every decision. You are the expert in your field. That’s why you’re there! It is your work and it needs to meet your standards of quality, as well as your manager’s, not Fergus’. Communicate via email and CC your boss whenever appropriate.

  25. Guacamole Bob*

    OP, I feel you. I’ve worked with someone like this, and it look a long time as a woman (despite the username, I’m a woman) earlier in my career than my Fergus to have confidence in when I was right and how to trust my own judgment where he was concerned. My Fergus isn’t sexist, but is arrogant, inflexible, and can be condescending, and lots of people have trouble working with him.

    Over time, what’s helped is to really develop some self-awareness about my own strengths and weaknesses and do some thinking about his. I can follow his lead on the things where he genuinely has expertise, follow my own instincts where I’m stronger, disregard his grandstanding or big ideas that don’t have solid foundations, and understand where we’re on equal footing.

    Another thing that’s helped is developing bright lines (in my mind and also with my manager) about what’s my responsibility and what’s Fergus’ – when he does something I disagree with but it’s his responsibility, I’ve learned to back off and let it go. When it’s mine, I’ll hear him out but ultimately do what I think is best because I’m the one who has to stand behind the work.

    My manager acknowledging the challenges with working with Fergus helps enormously, and he’ll step in if it’s really needed (less and less as I get more confidence in dealing with him). Knowing he’ll back me up gives me more confidence in myself. It took me a while to be willing to discuss these things with him openly – I generally get along with people, and “so-and-so is being a jerk” is not the kind of thing I’m used to having to take to a manager. But being able to strategize with my manager about how to work with Fergus has been really helpful. (There are complicated organizational politics about why we don’t just go to Fergus’ manager about this.)

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I agree with this. Sometimes staking out your area makes sense if the person is somewhat reasonable.

      I had to work with someone like this who was in a Regulatory function, which I have no expertise in, and so had to rely on their experience in that capacity, but not with other areas of the copy and art direction. I also positioned it as: “I know you are very busy, so I only expect you to review this from point A and B to ensure it is factually correct. You do not need to read and review the entire project, only your parts, and it’s much quicker for you to glance through it.”

  26. Silly goose*

    Agree with comments to stop listening to him.

    If he is being condescending, belittling, unpleasant… Make that his manager’s problem (because it is). That might mean you have to first make it your manger’s problem, but it sounds like this is a known issue people are punting on dealing with. Make that less of an attractive option. If Fergus explains how, say, a stapler works, go back to your own manager and say, “I know you’ve said you are aware Fergus can be difficult, but he has been treating me like an idiot. For instance, he just explained how to use a stapler. This makes it hard to get any work done and is really demoralizing. Moreover, you mentioned that this is an issue known by many women, so it could become a legal issue if it isn’t addressed. How are we going to approach this so we get it to stop?”

  27. Hawkeye is in the details*

    I hesitate to suggest this, given it’s more work in the now, but it does sometimes work: prepare two plans. Do one to his specifications, and one that is your best work. Present to him and your manager at the same time, so manager’s feedback is given in real-time in front of him.

    You may have to do this once or twice, but then manager can step in officially and say it’s costing you too much time, please just move forward with your own plans from now on. (Ideally also in front of Fergus.)

    It’s best if you have a good relationship with your manager and can get her buy-in in this plan, of course.

    1. Boof*

      I would only do this if it was somehow essential to please fergus and manager at the same time and no other options were available to address that fergus is unreasonable.

    2. Knope Knope Knope*

      The manager had really already said this though. OP doesn’t report to Fergus so she doesn’t need to bend to him this way.

  28. Sam*

    Ugh. This isn’t your fault, but unfortunately it ends up being your problem.

    Get into the habit of emailing questions and encourage him to email back. Be explicit in your email: “it’s helpful for me to be able to refer back to your answer down the road, so I’d really appreciate you taking the time to write back.” This can help lower the aggressiveness of the sexist abuse, but if he’s the kind of jerk who’s happy to create a paper trail for himself, let him.

    For when you have to talk on the phone or in person, practice phrases like these at home, with a loved one or even in the mirror: “I’m looking for the answer to X, not your advice on Y.” “I’m familiar with Z, so I don’t need you to explain it to me. Let’s stick to discussing X.” “Sorry, I only have a few minutes. Can you give me the most important details?” “I don’t have time to meet with you. Are you able to provide me with X or should I ask someone else?” “I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me about A, but that’s my area of expertise, and I don’t have time right now to chat about it.” After conversations, send a follow-up email to briefly confirm the conversation and his advice. Keep that paper trail going!

    You’re also allowed to call out rudeness. “That’s rude”, “that’s a really condescending thing to say”, and “please don’t talk to me like I’m a child” are totally acceptable things to say. It can feel weird, but he’s the rude one – not you! Also allowed is “you seem really upset about this, and I don’t want to bear the brunt of it. We can try again tomorrow if you’re feeling calmer but I’m not comfortable right now.”

    All this being said – how he makes you feel is not mostly a “you” problem if he’s being rude, sexist, or otherwise inappropriate. It sounds like everyone at your office has figured out how to work around this guy and his bad behaviour, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Sometimes a new person is able to shake things up and make others realize they don’t have to put up with the crap they’ve tolerated for so long. At the very least, keep track of what he’s doing and keep your manager in the loop when he’s not treating you respectfully.

    1. Sam*

      Also, this is just a personal take, but: I find it both personally satisfying and professionally beneficial to be aggressively kind to rude people in the workplace. From being extra polite in emails to making sure to say hi to them every morning to thanking them effusively when they actually help you or do the right thing. It makes me feel good to know I’m being the better person and helps me to focus my behaviour and resist the temptation to snap at them. It also means that my complaints are often taken more seriously because it’s patently obvious to those around me that I’m not part of the problem.

      This isn’t mandatory or expected. It’s okay to be mad or curt with people who are rude to you. It’s just an approach I like!

      1. knitcrazybooknut*

        I have used this approach to great success. It can feel fake, but it starts to do wonders for your mood when they start getting aggravated at your kindness. Sometimes these folks are trying to trigger an angry, frustrated response, so when they don’t get it, they try more and more poking to get the badger to come out.

        When you respond with all kindness, they get meaner, and it’s utterly obvious who is being the mean one. Even though you’re reveling in how mad you’re making them the whole time!

        (I must admit to watching Hell’s Kitchen recently and thinking that if the red team would just use that tactic on Elise, it would drive her completely nuts.)

        There’s a certain type of person who likes disagreeing with everything. The best way to handle them is to agree with them, and watch them flip their position entirely.

        I once had an officemate who did NOT like me. I was using aggressive niceness. One day she was complaining about something, and I agreed with her. There was a pause, and she started ranting about how the opposite thing was worse. If nothing else, it can be entertaining.

        1. OrigCassandra*

          I have a colleague who… I respect her work and we’re civil to one another, but she doesn’t mind taking the occasional suitably-disguised dig at me.

          This is the tactic I use on her, and it sure does work. She can’t complain about it, and it has reduced her digginess.

  29. Invisible Fish*

    Having worked “under” someone similar to Fergus, I advocate doing your best to NOT avoid him. Doing so can require more energy than just showing up and nodding randomly at his foolishness before forgetting about it and moving on. Push back against his pomposity when you have the energy; when you don’t have the energy, respond with empty platitudes like “thanks for the head’s up on that” and block him out. Don’t let him use up one ounce of your personal energy if you can.

  30. Invisible Fish*

    Oh, and I forgot this advice from my mom:

    “No” is a complete sentence all by itself!!!! Don’t be afraid to say it!!!!

  31. Boof*

    Wasn’t the exploitative (and fairly misogynistic) cult that was NXIVM all about working on oneself to tolerate abuse rather than actually changing the situation to stop the abuse?
    Gross oversimplification I know – some things are worth tolerating, some things are personality clash more than anything else, and I too always question myself first before questioning others. Introspection is good.
    But LW1, this does not sound like any of those things; it sounds like the person is obnoxious to work with, to a degree that I question their ability to do their job, and the one who should change or be shown the door. If your manager had similarly bad experiences I wonder why this isn’t being escalated and worked on. Fergus needs some HR 101, and perhaps a PIP until they can interact with others.
    I can’t tell from the letter if Fergus treats everyone this way or just the women, it is perhaps an even bigger legal issue to highlight if Fergus just does it to women (harassment/hostile working environment). LW, please 1) call out Fergus in the moment. If Fergus goes on because you asked a question, push back (calmly, professionally) and say you think their response to your question was unprofessional and you need to be able to clarify things to have a successful product 2) document and save any egregious incidents 3) be open with your manager about what is happening, and if you can talk to Fergus’s boss share your concerns (politely, professionally, with documentation). Finally, go to HR if this seems to fall under hostile working environment and no one else is addressing it.
    This is predicated on the assumption that the organization is generally good and you feel safe with these steps, LW; you of course know more about the organization and culture than we do. But hopefully the organization will recognize this behavior from Fergus is not acceptable and either train him out of it or let them go.

    1. Boof*

      And I want to highlight with the part about changing abuse – it is of course ALWAYS the fault of the aggressor/abuser and the one who should change. It wasn’t meant to imply otherwise; rather that NXIVM seemed to actively advocate against basically any self advocacy, especially by women. And that is terrible, even when wrapped in a psychologically seductive package that gives a false sense of control over the situation.

  32. Lizy*

    BE BLUNT, keep it short and simple, and let his antics roll off your back. Also, as others have pointed out, ask your manager what she’s done / how she interacts with him.

    Fergus: I can’t believe you don’t know this. If you don’t know this, I seriously wonder if you’re able to understand the teapot market.
    OP: I just make the marketing materials.
    Fergus: Well you have to know how the market works to make the right marketing materials!
    OP: haha not really but ok – so do you like this logo better or this other one?

    Fergus: You need a presentation before you can do anything else.
    OP: Unfortunately I don’t have time for a presentation. I just needed to know if you wanted X or Y, and then I can go from there.
    Fergus: Well I don’t trust you to do a good enough job without a presentation.
    OP: I just need to know X or Y.
    Fergus: I can tell you that after the presentation.
    OP: *send email to your boss, cc Fergus, and say “Fergus would like me to have a presentation before I work on X or Y. I honestly don’t have time for a presentation, so please advise how you would like this project to move forward.”*
    –> this puts it back in manager’s court, as it should be.

    1. Data Analyst*

      I love that about declining to see a presentation and sending it on to your manager if he refuses to let you do your job. Great suggestion.

  33. Lucious*

    There’s A Big Question unanswered- why is Fergus still there?

    It’s clear his condescension is impeding productivity ,to say nothing about his blatant and historical record of sexism as per LWs boss. Yet the LWs manager is downplaying this business impact as if he’s beyond accountability. This question impacts what to do next,because if Fergus is truly “beyond accountability” due to political factors LW is going to have to work around him.

    If he isn’t beyond accountability, document these issues, take them to HR and burn him at the stake- figuratively speaking .

    1. Threeve*

      Sadly, I’ve never worked anywhere that didn’t have a missing stair of one kind or another. And there are plenty of workplaces where people don’t have to be particularly special to be beyond accountability unless they do something outrageous, and plenty of hierarchies where one department’s manager often has 0 power over anyone in another department, regardless of their respective seniority.

      1. Guacamole Bob*

        Yes. And often these people have good relationships with enough people that the problems they create aren’t visible or the people in charge aren’t motivated to fix them. Or they’re perceived as having some value that makes up for the downsides.

        I have a Fergus in my job – not sexist, fortunately, but arrogant and hard to work with, good at thinking up big ideas but weak on execution. My department director keeps giving him additional projects and staff despite his track record of projects flaming out and being transferred to others, and staff members requesting reassignment to a different manager. I don’t get it, my manager doesn’t get it. But our department director loves Fergus’ big ideas and innovative thinking and sees the genuine flashes of brilliance he has sometimes, doesn’t see the day-to-day challenges with his peers, and seems willing to overlook the messes he creates and the way he alienates those around him. Maybe not enough people have complained? I don’t know. It’s a mystery.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          In my experience, they also tend to have a lot of institutional knowledge which makes them valuable despite being out of touch with more modern things.

      2. RagingADHD*

        It’s entirely possible that Fergus’ “silly” title is because the role was invented as some kind of dotted-line individual contributor or department-of-one, to keep him from managing anyone directly, and to keep people with normal departments to run from having to manage him.

        If he consistently comes up with product ideas that make enough money, the Powers That Be will put up with an awful lot. And if they silo him enough, they can avoid legal liability for his attitude.

  34. TheSaddestSquonk*

    Others have already said this, but I’d agree that your manager should be the one, well MANAGING this. If it is a known issue, then it needs to be dealt with. That said, your manager may be actively trying, but is meeting resistance from her superiors, and is reluctant to bring you up or her other direct reports, up to speed because of some cocktail of internal politics and social landmines.

    So, my advice would be this: document EVERYTHING! Every microaggression, every impediment to your work, all of it. Review your list periodically and ask yourself, honestly and objectively as you can, “does the level of awfulness I see here warrant me escalating this issue?” Don’t get me wrong, this guy sounds like an unequivocal ass, and in a perfect world, you’d be able to call him out for his behavior and he’d either stop or get the smackdown from his boss. However, as we all know, this isn’t a perfect world, and the truth is that there will almost certainly be consequences for escalating this issue. It may be as simple as losing social or political capital at work, or may be as ugly as other designers icing you out in some kind of twisted solidarity with this dude.

    So, after you’ve reviewed, if you decide it’s not worth it to escalate this issue, then talk with your manager and other coworkers about how they deal with this ass and employ the tips and tricks you hear from them. If you review your list and ever decide it has risen to the level that you are actively suffering in the hostile environment created by this ass (which you may already be), then take your list to your manager and use words like this, “I know that our company values equity, diversity and inclusion, and would want to know if an employee is creating a hostile work environment. The issues with Ass that we’ve previously discussed have escalated to the point that I no longer feel that I can safely continue to work with him. Here is my evidence of his behavior. [Show the list] I would like to see X, Y, and Z change, and if we can’t make that happen, then I think I may need to find out how I can escalate this serious EO issue.” If you decide that you are willing to spend capital to get this issue fixed, then make it clear to your boss that it’s very serious, affecting your mental health, and more than just a run-of-the-mill disagreement between two coworkers. As it stands, she may not realize exactly how seriously this is impacting you. The org as as whole may have become so used to dealing with Ass that they aren’t clocking how bad it is. Serious language about the discriminatory nature of his behavior, along with a long list of specific incidents, might wake them up enough to instigate serious change.

  35. Ace in the Hole*

    Email communication is your friend, because of CC, BCC, and Fwd.

    If you need to ask him something, but don’t want to deal with his garbage… cc’ing his (or your) supervisor(s) can make him think twice before he says something nasty. And if he does say something nasty… he’s saying it right in front of the boss.

    If he’s been nasty to you when no one else is around, or if he sends you a nasty email, Bcc your manager in your reply or forward it to her. Or if you have the energy to get into it that day, copy your and his boss on a reply professionally calling him out. Using your example of his questioning your fundamental knowledge, you could reply and CC the managers saying “That’s a strange reaction to an ordinary question, Fergus. Could you please provide the information I requested? Bob, Margaret, would you like me to delay working on Teapot Project until I get a presentation from Fergus?”

  36. Millennial PR Pro*

    I have to deal with someone very similar – I’m in PR and we have a product manager who think they should be able to write releases and other materials where they miss what the public and media are going to be interested in. We often take his comments (some are helpful as they clarify the product better), but ignore the rest. I’m the expert, not him. (I’m female, and about 20 years younger than him so it’s taken me 6 months to get comfortable doing that).

    When he starts in on a long rant, I tend to just say that if I have any more questions I’ll let him know, and thank him for his help. I’m lucky because my male, older manager backs me up, but it sounds like the marketing director would be open to you enforcing boundaries to deliver the best work.

    It sucks, your company should be doing more to rein him out, but I hope the example helps! It’s really hard and I second guess myself every time I set boundaries in an email – BUT it works and my job has been easier.

  37. WindmillArms*

    From a comment above, it sounds like you’ve already done the most effective thing: Hand the problem to your manager. HE is unable to work effectively with you, so HE needs to dealt with directly by managers who have the power to manage him or cut him loose.

    I used to tie myself in knots for these kind of workplace bullies, but now that I am old and cranky, I try my best but ultimately hand them to a manager. The secret bonus to this strategy is that once you stop worrying about pleasing this guy, he loses his power over you and might behave himself.

  38. bopper*

    Fergus: I can’t believe you don’t know this. If you don’t know this, I seriously wonder if you’re able to understand the teapot market.

    You: Gee Fergus…if I didn’t know better it would seem that you don’t know the answer and are trying to push it back on me. Can you get me the answer?

  39. Maisie*

    Is Fergus a self-described “thought leader”?? At my previous job at a toxic company that was very much hard to succeed unless you were a white man who sucked up to management, most of those men were “thought leaders” which meant they debated everything, created problems out of nothing, talked in circles without answering questions and didn’t really do their jobs.

    It’s a red flag your company has had issues with Fergus and hasn’t done anything.

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      I’ve never heard of this, but its so true.

      1-4, check, check, check, and check

      Added number 5 – create gobs more work for anyone in their blast radius.

    2. Guacamole Bob*

      And it’s easy to let this kind of situation make you doubt yourself and it can be really hard on the self-esteem. In this thread it’s easy for people to talk about brushing Fergus off, not taking him seriously, not caring what he thinks about you, etc. But if he presents himself as smart and a leader in the company, and at least some other people in the company treat him that way, and he’s had some real successes over time, then when he treats you like you’re an idiot it can be really hard to emotionally distance yourself from that. Even more so for women, who are socialized more to try to get people to like them.

      It can be really hard to go from “Fergus knows a lot about XYZ and has been here for a long time and his opinion matters to others in the company. If he thinks I’m messing this up, maybe I’m not as qualified for this new role as I thought” to “Fergus is a jerk, I’m great, I don’t care what he thinks about me, and I’m going to ignore him and tell my friends about his ridiculousness”. Hopefully this thread of people talking about the Fergi in their lives can help OP and others make that transition.

  40. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Laugh

    To yourself, obviously, and not when Fergus is around.

    But laugh. Laugh at his bluster, his insecurity, his transparent ego problems.

    1. Dasein9*

      Keep score, even. Start competing with past weeks for categories, like “Most Absurd Comment” and “Most Sexist Comment.”

  41. TaterB*

    TLDR: I left and felt no shame about it.

    Long Version: I really enjoyed my job and I was making a great deal of progress in spite of Covid-related difficulties. However, my predecessor made my working life hell.

    –He continually made changes to the Policy & Procedure Manual based on his whims.
    –He insisted on working in the office everyday during the lockdown and believed that anyone working from home wasn’t really doing anything.
    –He ALWAYS copied the whole team in his e-mail diatribes, including one to an outside vendor who made a small error in marketing materials.
    –He called me lazy and said “she can’t do her job sitting behind a desk all day.” This, despite the fact that I increased referrals by over 60 percent.
    –He made simple meetings–scheduled for maybe 30 minutes–twice as long based on his questions.
    –If I got up to go do something, I would get sticky notes on my desk about something he said I had done wrong. He even sent my Admin a picture on her cell phone of a perceived error.

    His ire was only directed towards women. When I went to my boss about it, he told me that he was just “military-minded” and he didn’t mean any harm. I don’t care what he meant–I had no desire to be continually demeaned and disrespected.

    I was offered a different position and I gladly accepted. On my last day, he told me that he understood the company culture could be difficult. I just smiled and told him to have a nice life.

    Sometimes, the only option is to bounce.

  42. greycat*

    “My boss told me that other women in the company, including her, have had similar experiences with Fergus.”

    Then this type of crap needs to go to Fergus’ boss if not HR. This kind of toxic coworker should not be allowed to continue treating people so unprofessionally.

  43. PunkRock Product Owner*

    This isn’t just a “Fergus” problem, this is a company problem. By tolerating people such as Fergus in this environment, it encourages other Ferguses and good people will leave. Next thing you know, you have a company of all Ferguses.

    1. Generic Name*

      This. The book The No Asshole Rule is a great book and explains how to deal with assholes in the workplace and discusses why it’s to a business’s detriment to tolerate assholes.

  44. Temi*

    Easier said than done (I know) but you have to make the project the objective and force condescending Fergus into the sidelines. You can do this by asking open-ended questions, for example:

    How does that direct customers to (insert call to action)?
    Tell me more about how your idea worked and how you measured its success?

    Remember YOU are the Marketing Maven/Guru/Expert. Tell your stories and share your successful experiences as a way of letting him know your contribution has value and a way of reminding yourself that you got this!

    Stop giving him airtime; don’t be afraid to interrupt in keeping with the project timeline and deliverables. “Let’s focus on (insert objective). I want to respect everyone’s time.” Keep it professional.

    This is counter-intuitive, but a sign of your success will be if Fergus complains about you to your boss (or his boss)! Everything you’ve said or done will have been to produce the best work in support of Fergus’ grand ideas. He will come off as the sexist adversary he is and they may take action to limit exposure to someone so toxic (just keep it to ideation and hand off to Marketing/Sales) or decide his ideas are not worth the aggravation.

  45. Blinded By the Gaslight*

    Unprofessional but satisfying come-back, courtesy of Elvira, “If I wanted your opinion, I’d beat it out of you!”

    I suppose the more acceptable version would be, “Let me stop you there – I asked for the teapot specs, not your assessment of my capabilities. Let’s move on to the info I actually requested . . . “

    1. Lunch Eating Mid Manager*

      “Let me stop you there” is great and I have used that recently. It almost sounds polite in the moment but clearly is you reclaiming your time and space.

    2. Yellow Rose*

      Very unprofessional, socially unacceptable, but oh so satisfying come-back from my Dad, only to be said silently in one’s inner voice: “If I want any $h!t out of you, I’ll unscrew your head and dip it out.”

  46. Generic Name*

    I would argue that this is actually a Fergus problem and not a you problem. Fergus is being an insulting jerk to you, so OF COURSE you feel insulted and don’t want to work with him. It’s tough because you’re new. If you had a long tenure of good work under your belt, I bet you’d feel more empowered to do your job and not listen to his crap. Can you ask the other women in your office for advice on how to deal with him? I’d be inclined to listen to his feedback but then do what you know you are supposed to do. If Fergus were so great at marketing the product, he’d be the marketer for it. I’m guessing there’s a reason why it’s not his job. Can you invoke your boss’ authority every time Fergus questions your judgement? “Sorry Fergus, Boss wants it done this way. You can talk to him if you have issues with it.”

    I’m sorry that you have such a sucky coworker. My company has a client like this, and all the women PMs refuse to work with him, so the man on the team gets all the projects with that client. That solution works when it’s a client, but Fergus had better be fuckin’ amazing to justify why he still has a job (and maybe not even then).

  47. Sparkles McFadden*

    LW this is tough. I feel for you. I know that feeling of dread when dealing with someone like Fergus. It’s so grating because you are so on guard with such a person that you don’t feel like yourself and you second guess everything. This ends up bleeding over into everything else.

    I have found that it’s best to reframe the situation. Whenever you have to deal with Fergus, replay everything he says in the voice of someone you respect at work. Choose someone who makes as if you can speak freely. This removes the intimidation component. If you replay a suggestion from Fergus in the voice of a trusted coworker, you will be better able to say “Yes, I see where you’re going but I know what will work better. Let’s move on to the next topic.”

    I also used to imagine that the conversation was being videotaped. How would I want to appear to someone watching a video replay of the conversation? This provides some objectivity and distance, and Fergus will seem much smaller and more inconsequential.

  48. Sir Smarm*

    Sometimes a bully needs a punch in the nose. “Fergus, you are not smart enough to have an opinion about this. Please confine your comments to those areas I specifically asked for. Coincidentally, those happen to be the few things in the world in which you are *slightly* more expert than I am. Otherwise, keep quiet. OK? OK. Glad we have an understanding.”

  49. tinybutfierce*

    I don’t have much advice to offer that hasn’t already been said, but I just wanted to add that this is definitely not a “you” issue, OP. This is a “my coworker is being an asshat who chooses to make himself difficult for multiple people to work with” issue.

  50. Infiniteschrutebucks*

    I’m also in marketing after years as a rank and file engineer, so I know that you probably need a lot of information and engagement from Fergus even if he doesn’t have authority over your plan (value prop, target customers, product fit into organizational goals, etc.). I agree your leadership isn’t doing what they should to address this, but it does sound like they’re at least willing to back you up on your authority to circumvent his preferences to create the marketing plan that the company needs vs the one he wants.

    My advice:
    1. Work your standard processes to get the information you need from him. Keep it by the books
    2. Feel free to ignore all snark and condescension. Roll your eyes, make it a running joke with a friend, whatever you need to do. It might help to think of this as a chance for you to observe, in an almost scientific way, the behavior of a complete office ass in his natural habitat.
    3. Ignore until that snark becomes a functional problem i.e. Fergus refuses to engage in the value prop workshop, Fergus won’t sign off on the product website without completely redoing it, whatever. When it impacts your work it needs to become a problem for your leadership and his
    4. If he questions your intelligence and wants a marathon mansplain session again: “I’m not sure I can agree with you there. I’m sorry you think it’s an impertinent question but it’s pretty standard fare when developing a marketing plan. I’d need to check with *boss* before committing billable hours to further discussions about the basics when I think I’ve got a fairly good handle on things. In the meantime if you could let me know your answer to *initial question* that would be helpful- a quick explanation will do since I know your time is valuable”. If he insists on an hour meeting to answer the question and refuses to answer it without one, that is now a boss problem. “OK, so we’re on the same page, I won’t be getting this information from you right now. I’ll check in with Boss about setting up more time with you if she has concerns about my understanding or approach, but to keep things moving in the meantime can you give me a timeframe on when you might be able to provide *simple info you asked for originally*?”.
    5. Other helpful phrases to be said in a neutral, pleasant tone: “I’m not sure that’s an effective use of my time”, “hmm”, “I’m sorry to hear you feel that way”, “that’s something to consider”, “thanks for your feedback”, and “my schedule is swamped, let me check with boss on carving out time to *engage in absurd mansplaining session*”

  51. TWW*

    As a tech writer/illustrator, this strikes me as a familiar story.

    An important thing to keep in mind is that (if I’m understanding the roles correctly) Fergus provides you with technical inform but does not sign off on your finished product. (If his role is more of a product manager rather than just a designer/engineer, things would be more complicated.)

    Sometimes you just have to hold your nose and let yourself be condescended to by a subject matter expert. Get the info you need from him, accept feedback on works in progress, but remember you don’t have to do what he says. His critiques are suggestions, not directives.

    When I design a document production workflow, I make sure that exactly one person has final sign-off before we send files to the printer. In your case, that person should probably be your manager, not Fergus.

    1. Luke G*

      I said something like this as well (technical info vs actual signing off). What makes the Ferguses (Fergoi?) of the world extra obnoxious is the fact that sometimes, a marketer DOES need to hear that subject matter feedback and adjust the marketing materials accordingly. A good expert frames that so the marketer can use the feedback as needed, but by talking so much crap Fergus puts the OP at risk of dismissing everything he says and missing something important.

  52. Knope Knope Knope*

    Ugh. I’ve worked with this guy. I hate this guy!

    First off, this is not a you problem, it’s a Fergus problem.

    Second, you to draw attention to how his attitude is impacting the work. As others have said, if he’s preventing you from getting the answers you need to produce work loop in your manager and when possible do it by email to create a paper trail. If others tell you they are having similar issues encourage them to do the same.

    Basically you need to flip the narrative about this guy. He is hindering work and harming company productivity. Not some expert who knows better than everyone.

  53. irene adler*

    Only thought I have is to bring in a “go-between”, that will deal with Fergus directly, to ask your questions and obtain the info you need to complete your work. Yeah, that’s more work for someone. But why should you have to bear his boorishness when no one has instructed him to behave otherwise? That’s an even bigger burden.

    Don’t let his ‘methods’ cause you to deviate from your assignments. Or take up room in your head. He’s a speed bump. That’s all.

  54. TeenyTiny*

    I really struggle with this kind of thing, too. I work in a context where there are a lot of weird hierarchies and it’s very easy for me, a small, young-looking female who talks more casually, to be overwritten. People just assume you don’t know a lot. It’s sad and it does take a toll.

    I think it’s just really important to know you were hired for a reason, you have expertise that doesn’t need this butthead’s seal of approval, and that the one time you did follow his specifications his ideas were reviewed terribly.

    The other thing is there’s usually not one “right” way to create a work product. I have a couple of coworkers who focus more on poking holes in anything that doesn’t directly align with their own approach (but of course they won’t actually step in and do that work, they’re just suggesting…lol). You have to learn to evaluate whether a critique is happening in good faith, and feel free to set it aside when it’s not. The other thing is that you can simultaneously get pieces of feedback that are great, but are mutually exclusive. So in the end, you still have to make decisions about any feedback you get, even if it’s all really solid.

    Just trust yourself, allow yourself to see this person for what he is–someone who would be terrible at your job but is convinced otherwise. Learn to say, “Thanks for the feedback, but I’m going to go in this direction,” and with him specifically, don’t feel the need to explain yourself. Cut him off if he starts ranting.

  55. CRM*

    Oof, this is a rough situation LW. I really dislike people like this, and I honestly have no idea how they get to be in positions where they are allowed to have such influence, despite everyone knowing that they are difficult to work with.

    My advice: loop in your boss on every conversation with Fergus. If you have a meeting with Fergus, and he tells you to do something, your response is “let me run that by my boss and get back to you”, and hold to that regardless of what Fergus says. Then your boss can say no, and you get to say to him “Sorry, boss wants me to stick with X, my hands are tied!”. If you are sending Fergus an email, cc or bcc your boss so that they know what is going on and can help you manage him. You don’t have to go through this alone. Good luck!

  56. Hosta*

    If this is at a STEM company (and I’m betting it is) you are dealing with both the gender issue and the “engineering versus marketing” problem where engineers think marketing is easy and dumb.

    First off, Fergus is in the wrong. Second, there’s no right way to handle this. What you choose to do will depend a lot on how much patience you have for this kind of crap. In a perfect world Fergus wouldn’t do this and if he did there would be consequences that would force him to change his behavior. But I’ve never found that perfect world.

    Personally I’d do my best to ignore Fergus’ snarky comments and just keep telling yourself your boss believes you are good at your job and don’t need to listen to him. That isn’t necessarily the “right” answer and isn’t necessarily the best for your mental health. It is terrifying the first time you have to tell someone with a fancy title “No, I’m going to stick with my original plan, my experience in marketing makes me confident that this the right approach”, but it does seem to be the most effective method in the long run for shutting down this behavior. I’ve had to do this multiple times, with folks up to VP level, and it has never had negative consequences for me. Jerks complain to my boss or escalate to their boss, but if their argument is “So-and-so won’t let me tell them how to do their job” it isn’t going to go very far. And you know your boss has your back.

    You could also ask your boss or a woman on your team for advice on how to deal with Fergus and see if there’s a magic phrase or approach that makes Fergus back off. Or you could ask someone you trust to back you up by also reviewing your plan and leaving positive comments. On multiple occasions I’ve asked colleagues to say nice things about my work in front of sexist jerks to get the sexist jerk to realize I’m good at what I do ].

    You could talk to HR or Fergus’ boss. In my experience that rarely fixes the issue, but it is a valid option. You could also ask your boss or Fergus if there’s a different subject matter expert you could work with.

    1. Hosta*

      Also, everyone of these people I work with was eventually either fired or called on the carpet for their crap. We’ve got one of these jerks on my team right now and we’ve been isolating him so he can’t negatively impact others and we’re working on managing him out. It is just taking forever because after every HR complaint he cleans up his act for 6-12 months.

    2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      “engineering versus marketing” problem where engineers think marketing is easy and dumb.

      I get this between different divisions of engineering. What is it about STEM that makes too many of them think the rest of the world can only be morons?

      1. Luke G*

        Defending my STEM a bit- it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because your job and duties rely so heavily on measurable, quantifiable, hard numbers and data, that other “softer” fields are less rigorous or require less training. It can also go into a feedback loop in companies where charisma-based jobs like marketing seem to get all the prestige and recognition and power. It can end up making the STEM tech feel like they’re breaking their back generating facts, only to get overruled by the random hunch of someone who just happens to be more personable and a better talker.

        1. Luke G*

          To clarify, I don’t mean that jobs like marketing are solely based on charisma rather than skills, just that strong people skills are a much bigger deal for a marketer than they are for an engineer.

        2. Letter Writer*

          I think this also betrays a misunderstanding of what marketers actually have to do (and yes this is a tech scale-up…) I spent all day today running analyses on a year’s worth of email communication to determine what does/doesn’t resonate and why. I have to use the stats to prove my hunches. I don’t just whip up an opinion out of thin air and I can’t get by on charisma alone. Marketing is a field with so much research that we know that using ‘that’s’ resonates better with a majority of our target audience than ‘that is’ or which specific shade of pink works best for what we’re trying to communicate. Marketing research has been done right down to the apostrophes and a good marketer knows, understands and implements that.

          My master’s thesis was an experiment timing people’s reactions to word and image prompts to try and determine their subconscious responses to small differences in labeling on products, for example. If I sound defensive it’s because I have to hear this all the time and also because I’ve worked hard to develop beta skills to compliment my more ‘god-given’ skillset. It’s why they hired me and why I’m actually quite good at my job. If we let the developers promote the products, nobody would buy them and we’d all be out of a job. That’s the beauty of working together!

          1. Luke G*

            Hey, I hear you! My current position puts me into tension between technical people who want to go strictly by their numbers, and marketing people who sometimes want the products to do the impossible because it will appeal to customers. My own training is on the tech side, and I am SO glad that somebody else is out there to design packaging, write press releases, and word things so they’re both true and have customer appeal.

          2. Ellie*

            I think you sound brilliant and you should definitely keep doing what you’re doing and ignore fergus – he doesn’t sound like he knows one tenth of what you do.

            But you’ll never convince an old-school engineer that what you do is important by calculating statistics or measuring people’s reactions. Many engineers hold core beliefs, that things like colors shades and labeling should not matter, and they won’t ever admit that they do matter to a lot of people in a lot of ways. Also, you study statistics as part of a pure mathematics degree, and computer science degrees, and its easier than the rest of the mathematics they teach you. Engineers can be huge snobs about whether people have done a 3 year engineering degree or a 4 year engineering degree – marketing is so far away from what they do, they’ll either get it or they won’t. You can’t convince them.

      2. Ellie*

        Well, you do have to be fairly smart to work in STEM… nearly every engineer I know, including myself, started out as the smart, nerdy kid at school that the popular kids ignored. So you go through school getting straight As without really trying, doing coding and computer games at home, on your own, and not really fitting in, and then you go to university to study engineering or mathematics or physics, etc. and suddenly you’re surrounded by other very smart people who are just the same as you and actually do want to socalise and hang out. It can take a bit of adjustment. And lots of people act dumb around computers, and mathematics, claiming they don’t know how to do x or y, just so that you’ll do it for them (they’re not really dumb of course – I’ve had architects and lawyers pull that trick). So you’ve got the early inferiority complex, coupled with eventual success that comes from being intelligent. If you’re at all the arrogant type, its going to bring it out.

  57. Des*

    Ignore him as much as you are able while remaining professional. Get advice from your manager on how to work around an incompetent person in your workplace. Loop in your manager on conversations.

    >I get that how he makes me feel, is mostly a “me” issue

    No, it’s a him issue but he’s making it your problem.

  58. Observer*

    Do you have competent HR? If so, start documenting his behavior. And also, talk to others who have to deal with him.

    Then go to HR with your documentation. The thing is that your manager should be the one actually managing this guy, and protecting you from his garbage. But since she’s not, you need to loop HR in.

    Now, the fact that he seems to have an ego problem in general would incline incompetent HR to treat this as “interpersonal problems” that you should “workout between yourselves.” Good HR will recognize, however, that this behavior has real work impacts that you don’t have the capacity to “work out” because it requires cooperation from someone who sees no reason to cooperate.

    Also, if he treats the women worse than the men, which sounds likely if he’s giving your manager a hard time, then they should recognize that they also have a potential legal liability issue, even though he is ALSO an all purpose jerk.

  59. Grig Larson*

    We had a guy like that at a former job. He was a someone with a PhD in an unrelated field, and his job was “an idea director” for certain software solutions that may not have had problems to match them up with, and he never had an effective demo that worked properly when you asked step-by-step instructions, only “it works when I do it.”

    In this case, it wasn’t a sexist thing. The nearest I can figure is that he was defending his job in a scary situation. First, the C-level that hired him was sent overseas rather unexpectedly, and what was supposed to be a 3-4 week trip lasted 3 and a half years, so he had been operating without any direct supervision in a position that had no specific goals or purpose. And that C-level was finally coming back. Also, he had a director level, but no one under him. I suspect he wasn’t doing much of anything day to day, and suddenly wanted to seem important.

    The C-level got involved with him when she came back, which caused him to freak out even more, and act irrationally, including coming to my desk and verbally berating me, threatening me by private e-mails, and when I reported him for various vague threats, he doubled down and implied that he watched me leave work, and knew what kind of car I drove. When my next job review came up, he demanded to be included, and gave me 0 out of 5 stars, saying I was unhelpful, a waste of time, and should be terminated. This rating lowered my overall score so I was not eligible for bonus, the first time in years.

    In the end, it was that pettiness that was the final nail in his coffin. When asked to explain why he did that (I was not present for this), it apparently went SO poorly, that they fired him. Because they fired him, his rating was no longer considered eligible for being in my review, so it was removed, and I got bonus after all. I was later told it was a trap they had set for him as an excuse to fire him, and were really sorry they gave me such a scare.

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Wow. Just… wow.

      If we have to live with at-will employment, it *is* nice to see it used for good every once in a while.

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      These sorts of people always blow themselves up. It just takes a long time and they do a lot of damage along the way. Glad you came out of that OK.

  60. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    OP, you were caught off-guard last time. And that is a big part of why you did not advocate for yourself. But this time, just push back when he tells you how to do your job. You can even say, “Fergus, last time I tried it your way to give it a shot, and management was not impressed and advised me there is a reason you have your job and a reason I have mine. So, let’s be professionals, meaning you answer my questions and get me the information I say I need when I ask for it, and I will do my best marketing work for your designs, which are quite innovative.” This can be hard to do in real life, but honestly, sometimes the Fergus’s of the world respond surprisingly well to this type of direct approach. And if he responds badly, well, you are already dealing with him acting badly, but that is when you talk to your manager again and possibly HR if sexism is really apparent.

    Also, I agree that you need to go back to your manager, mention that you are working with Fergus again and he is behaving in a hostile, unprofessional, and demeaning manner, and ask what the management team has done or plans to do to address this issue, especially as it is an ongoing issue and one that has affected many people, not just you.

    Good luck, and please update us!

  61. Honor Harrington*

    Many years ago, I had a Fergus just like yours. He was so rude – it was infuriating. Eventually I realized the was all ego, so I started using that against him.

    “Well, Fergus, as I’m sure you know, the FRED theory states that we have to market in the xyz manner, and that was validated in the famous study in 1905. Now I know what you’re going to say – that Smith-Smythe review felt that the data was problematical, but the post-colonial neo-cruciate conference was able to prove it was correct. And therefore I’m going ahead with the XYZ marketing approach. ”

    Essentially, I’d talk about theories and methodologies that supported what I was doing, always noting that I was sure that Fergus was already aware of them and that he’d agree it was the best way to go. Since Fergus had never heard of anything having to do with my profession, he couldn’t disagree, but also couldn’t bring himself to look stupid in front of me by asking about it. Eventually he just stopped pushing me. It was immensely satisfying when he stopped.

  62. hbc*

    “I’m working on another project with him now, and every snarky bit of feedback from him feels like he’s questioning my intelligence and it’s making me so much less motivated. ”

    He *is* questioning your intelligence. The way to get okay with that is to realize that his opinion doesn’t matter, and you have plenty of evidence for that–your manager’s reaction to the work done with his guidance when she didn’t even know he had a hand in it, her experience with him, his being completely wrong about what your initial question signaled, your coworkers, etc.. You should feel as bad about his opinion as someone who tells you, “Hey, idiot, if the earth is round, then how come we don’t we fall off the bottom?”

    I know, it’s not particularly motivating to know you’re spending time with a pompous windbag, but overall, I think you can get some energy from it. Be motivated by leaving him with zero traction for his snipes. Be motivated by finding responses to his common attacks and comments. Be motivated by knowing that it’s really hard at first, but, as with exercise, it gets easier and you get stronger.

  63. Girasol*

    I’m with the folks who say, “Push it up to managers and HR,” with documentation of whatever direct quotes and copies of emails are particularly good examples of his behavior. “Don’t listen to him!” seems like logical advice but that’s like telling someone who’s depressed to just cheer up. Trying to ignore him will wear you down and you don’t deserve that. If it’s not possible to get action from someone above your pay grade, consider moving on. It’s not that great a job if they’re coddling the ego of a guy like that when they already know there’s a problem.

  64. Secretary*

    Sometimes you can’t make everyone happy, and you have to decide exactly who you’re there to serve.

    I work in an environment where I work directly for the owner, but I also have to work with his son. The son is awful to work with, and if he were to take over the company I would quit on the spot… and I say that having read Ask A Manager and understand that’s a big deal, it would be worth it not to work for him. My mindset is I don’t care if the son thinks I’m incompetent, or doesn’t like me or my work, because he doesn’t sign my paychecks. If what he says and what the owner says are different, I listen to the owner.

    So with this guy, there might be power to just deciding that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about, that you don’t need to look good for him, look good for everyone EXCEPT him. I hope that helps!

    1. vlookup*

      I think this is spot-on. OP, it sounds like the marketing director and your boss are the people whose opinion of your work actually matters, not Fergus.

      I think it’s fine to directly or indirectly escalate stuff to them as long as you trust them to have your back. If Fergus criticizes your work or orders you to make changes, you can tell him that it’s in line with the strategy you discussed with the marketing manager/your boss and tell him to bring it up with them. Part of what a good manager does is to run interference for their team, and this shouldn’t be only your problem.

      I have been known to go out of my way to get my boss’s buy-in or keep them in the loop about my work, so they can protect me from the Ferguses of the world if need be. Of course, where this breaks down is if they’re not willing to go to bat for you with Fergus, and if that’s the case you have a much bigger problem.

  65. Temperance*

    I’m a lawyer and a woman. I regularly deal with men like Fergus, both at work and in some of my volunteer gigs. I actually had something blow up in this vein last night; a man who does not do my role (managing fundraising and volunteers) went behind my back to set up a fundraiser with a corporate partner without involving me, and suggested it to the rest of the board. To which I called him out for organizing with sponsors without involving me, also in reply all.

    I always manage myself by thinking “how would a mediocre, average man handle this”, and then do that thing. So in your case, I would CC your boss every time you have to interact with Fergus. No more IMs. No phone calls. Challenge him. Like when he demands to give you a presentation geared towards children who don’t understand your industry, ask him why. “Fergus, I have a master’s in Marketing from X, and Y and Z certifications. Why do you think I need to be trained on Marketing 101?”

  66. Revolutions*

    A couple of years ago, the New York Times did a story on a dominatrix who was teaching classes on how to handle men. It’s easily google-able, but mostly comes down to always responding to their crap with a question. You might want to check it out. She was teaching safe for work techniques. I haven’t had to use them, but your situation sounds tailor made for testing them out!

  67. SummerBee*

    LW, this is pure speculation on my part, but in my many years working at large companies, I’ve seen that any older man in an “innovation-and-ideas” type role with a silly title is only there because Senior Leadership wanted to fire him but instead put him on a “special project” where he would have no real influence on the company, in the hopes that he would get frustrated and quit or retire. He probably used to be a VP of something, realized he has been stripped of power, and is now lashing out where he can to reassert authority, but it’s the cry of a caged animal who can’t really harm you.

    In terms of how to navigate conversations with him, it would be great to just firmly say “No,” or “I disagree”, but if that invites too many personal attacks that you don’t have the energy to deal with, maybe employ some phrases like, “Current best practice is…” or “The data shows us that xyz”.

    Good luck! And rest assured with the knowledge that he will be gone soon, one way or another.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Why justify at all. The relation ship here is that Fergus provides data to OP. OP produces awesome marketing. She doesn’t need to justify how she does her job to Fergus and doing so invites his commentary.

  68. Renee Remains the Same*

    He may be a chauvenist, but he’s also just an entitled, arrogant $#@. I find when dealing with entitled, arrogant $#@s – the best offense is to keep all communications in writing to avoid misunderstanding/misinterpretation/misdirection. Provide regular updates to your supervisor – during your 1:1 or in a general email, so they are aware of any significant issues that you’re addressing or that you might need help in addressing. And, rely on your experience and what you know. Do not let someone who knows nothing about your job, tell you how to do your job.

    I once worked with a woman who basically treated me like I was her chess pawn and expected me to anticipate what she wanted, how she wanted it, and make it happen. She knew my grandboss and had pushed through her project. The project itself was perfectly reasonable, her disorganization and lack of awareness made it a living nightmare for me. At the time, I had been working with my company for over 5 years and had a pretty firm grasp on how a project like hers needed to be done. And yet, she consistently refused to share information with me, felt that she should be able to circumvent various processes, and was overall an awful person to work with. This was confirmed when she told me about a very important aspect of her project – one even more importantly that couldn’t be done in the way she wanted to do it – 2 weeks before launch. She had not mentioned it during the month of discussions we had. I told her we had to adjust how and when it could be done. She did not like that.

    So she went to my grandboss. Who fortunately had been somewhat aware of the machinations of this horrible person. Backed me up very wholeheartedly and she had to work with me on finding a solution. (Or rather, I offered her a few solutions and she sulkily agreed to one while continuing to tell me how it would be detrimental to her project)

    In the end, I had to continue to work with her. I learned I had to put everything in writing. I learned she usually only read half of what I had written and misinterpreted the other half to suit her needs. I clarified and clarified and clarified until I was blue in the face. And after awhile it became a little bit of a game. I still hated working with her, but her insistence on being awful and entitled was almost comical. I remained super professional and almost robotic in my replies to her. There was no emotion involved, I just told her the facts, Ma’am. And we rolled towards the end of our working relationship.

    Not surprisingly, while we launched the project, it never got past the BETA stage. To my knowledge, 5 YEARS LATER, she’s still trying to get the project finished and fully functional. Even better… I still hear from her. Every year I get an email about some other detail or minor thing she needs from me to complete her project. Even betterer – my grandboss left the company, so there’s literally no one who cares about this project anymore, so I don’t have to do her any more favors and if I’m honest, I kind of relish the times I get to tell her no.

  69. AndersonDarling*

    Document what was said as legit communication and email it to your boss and his boss asking how you should proceed.
    “Fergus believes I do not have the ability to fully understand the way the international teapot market works. He said he would rather I didn’t work on any promotional materials until I’d had a presentation from him. I would need his presentation by Friday so I can make the publishing deadline. How would you like me to proceed?”
    I only ever did this once and the “Fergus” stormed in the next day and ranted a bunch of nonsense and then I didn’t hear from him for months. The next time I encountered his attitude, I made a big display of typing up his insults, “…okay, I am too stupid to read and I’m ugly…and what was that last part? I want to make sure I document it correctly.” He stormed out and I never, ever heard from the guy again.

  70. Miss V*

    Have you tried actually pushing back against Fergus when he acts like this? Way way easier said than done I know, but I once worked with a Fergus and after months of being talked down and condescended too I one day snapped ‘do you think I’m stupid because I’m younger to because I’m a woman?’

    Somehow, that actually made things better. He still wasn’t nice and he still treated every other woman in the office like they were incapable of having intelligent thought, but it did seem to earn me some begrudging respect from him.

  71. Squirrel*

    If you do have to interact with this guy again one phrase to keep in mind is “When you say that it sounds like you are thinking…..” and fill in the blank with the unspoken part. “…that my verifying materials meant that I needed a detailed presentation of everything.” Or whatever the conversation is about. You get to name the behavior in a non-judgmental way which puts him on notice that you are aware of what he is doing. Sounds like this bag of garbage is a master in making his problems feel like they are yours/other people’s, so don’t take his outbursts personally if you can help it.

  72. DJ Abbott*

    You need to get into a state of mind where you see the whole thing as Fergus’ problem. He’s petty, oblivious, full of himself, sexist… he’s a huge jerk and his opinion should not matter at all.

    Trust your instincts and experience and do the work as you see fit. Listening to someone like Fergus will take you down with him. Protect yourself by seeing him as what he is and considering the source of what he says. To reinforce, the source of what he says is a petty, oblivious, self-involved jerk who has no idea what’s going on.

    It will take practice to reach a point where he doesn’t affect you, and if you can’t do it on your own you might need a therapist to help. I think that’s worth doing because there are lots of jerks like Fergus and learning to ignore them is a worthwhile investment. I would probably be laughing at him (quietly to myself), but I’m old and have had lots of practice. :)

  73. Katherine*

    I’m not generally a fan of a passive-aggressive approach, but if management is failing you, that might be the only option. “Sorry, Fergus, I just needed some simple information about X, but it’s OK if you’re unable to provide that. I will just ask [insert name of someone else here, preferably another woman by whom this jerkwad is intimidated] Thanks anyway!”

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Unless Fergus has more authority than he appears to I say screw the passive aggressive approach and go with the aggressive aggressive approach: “I’m sorry Fergus but marketing plan is my project and I’ll handle it. I just need data ABC from you.” and “I’m sorry boss, I can’t meet deadline on project XYZ because Fergus refuses to provide the information I requested”.

      Make it the bosses problem if Fergus won’t do what he’s supposed to.

  74. Jules the 3rd*

    It seems like mgmt is getting notified of his bad behavior, so while it will help them ease him out if you keep documenting it, focusing on your interactions is going to be the most help to you.

    In general:
    1) Do practice some phrases, like “I know the background, I just need X detail from you right now” and “Thanks for the offer, but I only need the brief answer to X right now.”
    2) Seems like phone’s his preferred method. Call him first. Often that surprises people enough that they only give the specific answer, not a long spiel.
    3) Start everything with a small Fergus-ego-boost related to the question. Example: If you’re checking whether Swedish phones have fish recognition software, start with “The customization you’ve designed for Swedish phones is great.” then say, “I just wanted to check if we got around to that Swedish Fish software.”
    4) Have an ‘after-Fergus’ cool down ritual, focusing on how great you are, not how bad he is. Maybe a trusted co-worker where you can say, “I just got Fergused – remind me what I do well?” (keep it to five minutes or less, but make it immediate – break the downward spiral)

    If you think it’s worthwhile to build a positive relationship with him:
    Spend some time listening to his war stories / history. Invite him to lunch in the cafeteria (NOT AFTER HOURS / DINNER – he will totally think that’s a date) and say, “you’ve done a lot of great work, I’d like to hear about it.” Ask him what his pet peeve is with marketers, or what the current situation in X is / how it’s been affected by Y (eg, “how are domestic Chinese designers affecting Apple sales in east Asia?”). Engage him in a few substantive conversations that are focused on him, and he’ll end up eating out of your hand. It’s hard, and less fun than organic back’n’forths with respected peers, but it works. The #3 Fergus-ego-boosts are especially important in this scenario. And once in a while, he actually provides some useful info.

    Signed, Woman who’s worked with a lot of Ferguses over the last 30 years.

  75. HR Exec Popping In*

    The OP has gotten a lot of good advice already but here is how I would handle it. Yes, this is Fergus problem but it is also a role clarity problem. OP should not differ her role to the OP. The OP may be a jerk, but his job is not to create marketing plans. His job is to create products. You should understand the product he created and thank him for information but draw a hard line on simply implementing his ideas for marketing of the product. That is your expertise. As other said, keep the Marketing Director informed if he does things that make your job more difficult like refusing to provide needed information, but the OP needs to keep in mind her own expertise and responsibilities and not defer to someone who is not qualified.

  76. Lobsterman*

    I would consult a labor attorney about my options and be very aggressive in pursuing them.

    1. Lobsterman*

      In the Year of Our Gritty 2021, this is not a thing that it makes sense to allow to continue. This company absolutely deserves to get sued.

    2. RagingADHD*

      What on earth do you think LW could possibly sue for? Last I checked, being a condescending prick was not actionable. There has to be some kind of quantifiable damage or wrong done to someone in order to sue. Being pissed off is not a tort.

      Fergus doesn’t have any power over LW’s salary or job assignments. Even if he did, he hasn’t actually done anything to damage her job or career. He hasn’t done anything that meets the definition of sexual harassment or hostile work environment. Particularly because there is no pattern of behavior. The LW dealt with him *one time.*

      If every woman in the company was willing to get together and prove an ongoing pattern of sexism, it might be theoretically possible to patch something together. But “our obnoxious pedant with no authority over anyone is noticeably more obnoxious and pedantic to women than other people” is a serious stretch.

      When LW spoke to her manager, they took action to address the problem. It may not be the action you, or I, or the LW thinks is most effective in the long run, but they did something. And there haven’t been any negative repercussions on her for speaking up.

      The world is full of assholes and sexism, and there’s no way to outlaw every possible flavor of sexist assholery.

  77. Abogado Avocado*

    This guy’s snarkiness is fear. OP appears to be much more educated than he is, with lots of excellent practical experience and an excellent reputation. Basically, the guy is afraid of OP and trying to dominate her. Now, OP can document all his sexist BS, etc. to build a case of hostile work environment (and I’m not ruling that out). However, she also could try to overcome his fear — and, interestingly, that can’t be accomplished by dominating him.

    I’ve been in this position many times as a well-educated, experienced cisgender woman lawyer, in whose profession sexist jerks are as plentiful as ants as a picnic. When presented with guys like this who I had to work with, I heard them out (even when they were bellicose or offensive), repeated a fair summary of what they told me, laid out the challenges (e.g., law, court rules, etc.) that their strategy/objections to my strategy didn’t address, and then asked if we could partner on addressing those challenges. This strategy — which I got from a psychologist named Xavier Amador, Ph.D. — helped them see I was treating them as an equal (and not looking down on them for whatever reason that made them afraid of me) and it helped me get good team work out of them.

    Now, legal work is different from OP’s work in the respect that clients often hire lawyers from multiple firms to work on a big case and if the work environment is hostile, the solution (for lots of legal and practical reasons I won’t discuss here) is to quit the big case. And, in fairness, OP has sat through her coworker’s presentation and OP may well feel that she has tried to meet her coworker halfway and it hasn’t worked. If so, then, yes, document the hostile work environment in writing and report the guy to HR in writing without delay!

  78. Luke G*

    One point that I’m having trouble understanding is: does Fergus need to sign off on/approve of your work? Or is he just in a position to comment on your work?

    If it’s the former, then obviously there has to be some sort of solution that ends with him approving of your work when you’ve done it correctly, not withholding of approval until you’ve remade it in his image. But if he just is someone who gets to review your work, and his comments/approval are neither binding nor mandatory, you can just… say no. It’s a mental hurdle to jump, it’s natural to want everyone to like your output, but if all of your essential approvers sign off on your design for an 8-cup bronze teapot and Fergus comments that it really should be 4 cups and pewter, you don’t have to reconcile that to anything! Just proceed with the 8-cup pot. Fergus might not like it, but who is he going to complain to- your actual boss and the other decision makers?

    It took a long time for me to learn the lesson in my job that when we send around a teapot blueprint that everyone likes and my own personal Fergus says “couldn’t you add a light-up top?” I just thank him for the feedback and never think about the feedback ever again.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      My guess is that Fergus is some type of product designer and/or engineer responsible for the products. So he probably has to sign off that whatever Marketing does is fundamentally correct when it comes to product specifications.
      But some of these types also try to throw their two cents into the creative copy and design… because they THINK they can do marketing better, or because it’s a control thing.

      1. Luke G*

        The best strategy we found when people like Fergus had to actually approve of things was (with backing from management) stonewalling them and just repeating versions of “I just need you to sign off that the technical specs in Part C are accurate.” If he wants to bloviate about design alongside that approval… well, that’s on him. You need a management chain willing to impose consequences on Fergus, though, when he holds technical approval hostage until you agree to his unrelated design whims.

      2. Kevin Sours*

        It doesn’t sound like he does have that authority from the letter, just that he thinks he should.

    2. Letter Writer*

      So I was asked to create some public facing documentation on a new product that he was responsible for creating (think brochures, website landing pages, launch email, launch event etc.) So I was advised to go to him if I had any questions as the rest of my team had no experience with this product. So he’s the one in the company with the most functional and up to date knowledge of this particular product. What I need from him is factual info and to sign off anything we say about the product for accuracy.

      1. Luke G*

        Does he withhold the required approval until you incorporate his “suggestions?” Or does he sign off on the accuracy portion and just serve up a big side of useless opinion?

        If he’s doing the signoffs you need, your answer may be as simple as acknowledging he’s frustrating and ignoring the useless advice. If he’s withholding signoffs, are you able lay that out to your manager? “We have all of the signoffs except Fergus, who is being unresponsive when I specifically ask him to sign off on the tech details?” Said in a matter of fact way, that can neatly dump the problem right into his lap and the laps of those above you, who can and should manage him. Good luck!

  79. drpuma*

    Sounds like the awesomer you are, the more triggered Fergus will be. Any way you can mentally reframe the magnitude of his response as a counterintuitive seal of approval? I’m thinking, like, “Oh man, this powerpoint I just sent out only got a couple sentence email response from Fergus. My last one he wrote back a three paragraph email and called me twice! I need to get this new one up to snuff!” With the caveat that while you may note the volume of his “feedback” you never actually pay attention to the content.

  80. RagingADHD*

    My instinct (and I’m not sure if it’s correct, but just based on my fairly long history of operating in highly chauvinist environments) is to never, ever, present anything as a question.

    Make statements, and if his input is required to confirm details, add something like, “Please confirm that this information is correct.” Or if there is something you truly don’t know, present a multiple-choice or fill-in-the blank. Anything to avoid a question mark. Nothing open-ended.

    From what I’m seeing, it looks like he does not have approval power over your work. He had the original idea, and you are getting information about the product.

    As soon as you ask a question, he’s going to act like the whole campaign is his to approve or disapprove, and milk that to put you in your place and throw his weight around. He needs to stay in his own lane, and the best way to do that is only present him with a very narrow lane to operate in.

    Other than that, if you absolutely have to ask open-ended questions, I would interrupt him and correct him when he starts to go off with the condescending training. “This isn’t helpful. Please stick to the point. I asked you about X.”

    Or, “We seem to have got off track talking about theory. I just need information from you about this specific aspect of the product. If you don’t have the details to hand, maybe we could save time if you just send me the file of product data, and I can look it up for myself.”

    Either way, you have to be assertive or he will run all over you.

    I mean, if you don’t take things personally, the path of least resistance is to let him flap his mouth until he says the part you need to know, ignore the rest, and let him have all his imaginary superiority points to play with. But that can wear on a person, and it takes up a lot of time.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      Channel communications via methods that allow you to skip to what you need to know without listening to the BS. If he refuses to engage over text or email, bounce that to management. Do not be shy about naming him as a obstacle to your getting the results your boss wants.

    2. Luke G*

      “Make statements, and if his input is required to confirm details, add something like, “Please confirm that this information is correct.” Or if there is something you truly don’t know, present a multiple-choice or fill-in-the blank. Anything to avoid a question mark. Nothing open-ended.”

      Even in an overall healthy work environment this is a great instinct. The more open-ended questions you ask, the more likely you don’t get an answer (because people think it’s too much work) or get a bunch of extra work added into your lap because you opened the door for suggestions. If you say “I plan to do X” most people will just agree with plan X.

      1. RagingADHD*

        Open-ended questions can be really important in a collaborative environment, where you want to draw out nuanced feedback.

        But in a dynamic where one person is hijacking the process with stupid power games, it’s best to avoid giving them that much leeway. If possible.

  81. Been there*

    I’ve learned that it’s important to let others be the crazy one. This guy already has a reputation as difficult. Do NOT let him bait you. Do not be crazy back. Always be professional. The comments above like, “Thanks for your input,” will work well. It’s hard, but being Zen will buy you a lot of credibility.

    1. Pineapple on pizza*

      This is true but maybe also look at some Captain Awkward posts. Sometimes someone like Ferguson will escalate when you set boundaries. Be prepared for that & STILL stay Zen.

  82. Margaery Tyrell*

    I just wanted to add a script for LW to shut down Fergus Lecture Hour, especially if you’re educated in the field. If he starts waxing poetic about Teapot Making 101, you can very easily be like, “I actually studied Teapot Manufacturing, so I’m familiar. I just needed more guidance on what you need for Fergus’s #1 Special Teapot.”

  83. Wrangling SMEs*

    It takes a bit of capital to pull it off, but when I come across those guys, I positively steamroll them with technicalities. I am extremely good at my job, and I’ve been doing it a long time. They come with their silly suggestions? I just blandly, pleasantly, and WITH AS MUCH TECHNICAL DETAIL AND JARGON AS POSSIBLE, talk right over them about why it won’t work and why your solution is correct. This is not my go to for average everyday silliness, but I would positively bury Fergus is such a wash of technicalities that he’d never try it again (I have subdued at least three Ferguses in my time). It highlights that your job is Real and requires Real Skills and Knowledge (caps intentional) that they don’t have. They cannot push back because they don’t have the vocabulary (these guys LIVE for vocabulary in my experience). It is critical to *keep talking*. Don’t give them an opening once you start. The tone must be pleasant and educational – obviously if they care this much about what you’re doing, they want to know more about it, right? You’re just helping them out. It’s worked for me every single time I’ve tried it. Good luck!

  84. Beth*

    I would document every damned micro-aggression as if you were gathering evidence for a report to HR on persistent sexist harassment. Pay special attention to every minute of productive work lost because of something this asshole has wasted your time with. Encourage every other woman in the office to do the same. Check in monthly with the others and see if you’ve accumulated enough to make an official complaint.

    In particular, if he makes those “snarky” comments in writing, save a copy to the file. If he makes them in person or over the phone, write it down verbatim and note the time, place, and circumstances. You are a professional and he should not be treating you with disrespect.

  85. Smuckers*

    I had to work with a Fergus. He undermined and second-guessed every woman he worked with. He was extra nasty to a coworker who gives off less of a “don’t mess with me” vibe than I do. He interrupted her in a spectacularly rude fashion one day and I couldn’t take it anymore. I went to our mutual boss and laid it all out for him, emphasizing the blatant sexism. Our boss put in a formal complaint to HR on our behalf.

    This guy got walked out a few months later for gross incompetence, so maybe you’ll get lucky and Fergus will continue to shoot himself in the feet. If not, please remember that this is a Fergus problem (for being a misogynist), and a company problem (for tolerating a misogynist) and 100% not a you problem.

    If you can show a pattern of behavior in his treatment of women, any halfway manager is going to want to do something with that information.

  86. Yayaya*

    Since the company has already made it clear that they’re OK with protecting, and thereby enabling Fergus, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT, DOCUMENT!

    Keep your interactions trackable as much as possible (ditto on responding to phone calls with emails), but also make prompt, detailed notes (incl. date/time/participants/observers/outcmes) about sh*tty interactions and store them off work computers.

  87. Kevin Sours*

    Management has made it clear that this is your job and they expect you to do it. So do it. Channel your inner asshole. If doing your job get’s Fergus’s feeling bent, that’s not your problem. Making Fergus happy is not your problem. His snarky comment are his problem (though feel free to report them as you see if) — you know you know your shit and so does your boss. If doing your job requires stepping on Fergus’s toes wear your boots.

    The way you describe it, he only has power over you if you give it to him.

  88. Essess*

    Since your boss already stated that YOU are in charge of the promotions, not Fergus, then you decide which of his feedback to incorporate. Anything that is just mansplaining or you don’t agree with, you simply thank him for his input and do it the way you believe to be correct. If he complains, you remind him that you are the final decision-maker and again thank him for his input.

    If he demands to know WHY you didn’t follow his choices, you simply thank him for his input again and let him know again that you evaluated all feedback and made your decisions.

    If his feedback is simply snark, and not useful then you can ignore it.

    1. Essess*

      Adding one more scenario… if you are requesting information that you need to do your job and he’s not giving it to you, then you do the same thing you’d do to anyone else. You send a follow up request for information cc:ing your boss and his boss. And/or, you send an email to your boss explaining why you will miss a deadline due to the refusal of Fergus to supply the information that you requested on x day and y days.

      If Fergus become hostile, then you report his hostility to the bosses and HR. He is not your boss, so don’t give him power over your decisions or actions.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      Also if you attend another presentation that ends up being “I’m going to explain how your job works using a third grade vocabulary” politely excuse yourself and walk out. Your time is more valuable than that.

  89. blackcatlady*

    Fergus sounds like a major pain. Try and imagine him as an alien species or time traveler from centuries ago. A curiosity to be studied as odd man out. If possible keep telling yourself this: I am a competent knowledgeable person and his opinion of me is totally meaningless to me. I do not need him to validate my work. He obviously thinks he is special since he has enough digits to be able to count to 21.

  90. Kansas City Girl*

    Marketer here. The way I handle difficult stakeholders is an “information diet”. They don’t get any more info than they absolutely need. They can’t argue with what they don’t know.

    I also make sure to be extra prepared with reasoning for why I’m going to do things my way. Sometimes you gotta throw a bone and try their way but document it fully to show if it worked. If you come in extra prepared and stand your ground every time, the behavior usually lessens considerably as you become too much of a pain for them to argue with.

    Also naming what you’re seeing. “Are you really explaining the basics of our industry to me?” And “oh this is embarrassing, I actually have a degree in this topic, so I’m well versed. Can you cut to the meat of your idea?”

    None of that to say that you should have to deal with it because you shouldn’t. Your manager should be taking a stronger stand. Jerks shouldn’t be allowed.

  91. A Collingwood*

    Trust yourself. You have this position because you are good at your job and experienced. People like Ferguson thrive on their ability to intimidate. As long as your manager has your back, and it seems they do, do the work you are capable of doing. Not the work Ferguson wants you to do.

  92. Manana*

    Rely and trust in the things you know:
    1- you are more educated, skilled, and experienced than him in marketing
    2- he has known issues working with women
    3- your boss likes YOUR work and YOUR ideas and does not like Fergus’ marketing ideas
    4- Fergus will never “come around” and it isn’t necessary for him to do so for you to succeed in your work
    5- Fergus does not own any of the designs or ideas he has, your employer does. Your employer wants YOU to market THEIR products. They don’t care what Fergus thinks about the marketing of his ideas
    6- you owe Fergus professionalism and courtesy, nothing else

    Find resources outside of work to deal with your uncomfortable feelings of this dynamic instead of making this a work issue/bringing these feelings to your boss going forward. They are aware of Fergus’ behavior and have no intention of addressing it, which sucks but gives you an idea of where to channel your frustration when friction happens.

    1. Kevin Sours*

      This. Especially #4. Fergus isn’t something to be fix, he’s an obstacle to be worked around.

  93. Khlovia*

    Fergus “[20-min dissertation at kindergarten level of topic in OP’s wheelhouse.

    OP: “[20-min dissertation on Dunning Kruger Effect]” (the SAME 20-min. dissertation EVERY TIME he says something stupid, rude, or merely incorrect.

    1. Working Hypothesis*

      Oh, that’s beautiful. Probably impractical to implement at the office, but beautiful. (And if I’m wrong, LW, go for it!)

  94. Seeking Second Childhood*

    This not a “yiu” problem — Fergus is giving you feedback contrary to your marketing director’s. This will be the director’s Fergus problem when you bringet it to the MD’s attention. Do it repeatedly.
    And keep us posted.

  95. Llama Wrangler*

    I think you’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on how to actually deal with Fergus. I want to address this part: “I wonder if you or the readers have any tips for mentally getting out from under this guy’s ego (and my own bruised ego!).”
    This is more about changing YOUR attitude which I want to write about.

    Fergus is insecure. This is why he has to tear others down instead of mentoring or building up team members.

    The approach I used was to focus strictly on technical details (I was in engineering). Whenever someone moved to a non-technical angle like getting angry or moving to personal attacks, I interpreted to mean they were out of technical arguments and/or realized their technical arguments had failed, and they were expressing frustration in what I treated as a concession speech (They’re venting; they are out of arguments; my approach “won”). There were plenty of times too when others had the better technical approach and they persuaded me, and I could say, “You’re right, we should do it your way,” and one memorable time (to me at least) when I lost my cool, but it was exactly that: I was wrong and didn’t want to admit it.

    So my response when I read this: “and he called me immediately, saying that if I had to ask questions like that, he had to question my ability to fully understand the way the international teapot market works,” was a laugh / snort, and I wish I could somehow channel that response to you, though it may not be an ‘appropriate’ response for someone who outranks you. But if you can at least get to the point where that’s your mental response, I think you’d be out from under his ego. “Fergus is feeling threatened and acting out on that.” And the better you do your job, the more he will be threatened and the bigger his reactions will be. At some point his reaction will be a barometer or reflection of your own strength / capability. Your boss is happy with your work and you just got a huge reaction from Fergus? You’re nailing it! Listen enough to make sure there’s not some important technical detail you’re meeting. But personal attacks? Fergus is threatened, and scared.

    Have you learned any valuable technical / industry details from him? I’d consider the answer to that question in how to go forward with him.

    Developing the ability to handle / shut down /work with / get the information you need from obnoxious people is a good way to distinguish yourself from your peers. They are out there, and learning how to handle them is a valuable skill and will help you rise in the ranks if that is what you want.

  96. Academic*

    Immediately report him to HR. They might not do anything on the first instance but you do want a paper trail. As for Fergus after you’ve gone to HR can you not ask to work with Fergus? If they say no then put your foot down (I’ve had to do it with nearly every job in academia). Start with simple points like ‘this is your job role and if you can’t manage it let us know so it can be assigned to someone else’. If he says anything verbally follow it up with an email so it is in writing. I had to go all out war with one twit and humiliate another one and it feels grand!

    Your manager is great so don’t be scared!

  97. your LGBTQ work friend*

    Refuse to consider any of his ideas or suggestions until he has attended your marketing workshop. At the workshop, spend the first few minutes doing to him what he has done to you (i.e., painstakingly explaining things he already knows) before launching into a whirlwind of marketing argot, data, and high-level concepts that make his head spin.

  98. Aly_b*

    I’ve dealt with milder forms of this in two ways depending on how much I feel like I want to engage, and on how much I have the political capital and manager support.

    Option 1 that I’ve used is to overexplain right back. If he has a presentation, I’m happy to take each slide and add depth and commentary, edge cases where whatever he said is not quite correct, or discuss from my area of expertise’s point of view how we would approach the problem he’s discussing. So history of teapots might turn into how studies have shown that in marketing, customers are ACTUALLY much more focussed on the colour of teapots and can’t consistently tell the difference between Art Deco and modern style teapots. Maybe he’ll start respecting you and shut up in the future, or maybe you will have wasted an hour detailing totally useless knowledge, but if you’re feeling feisty, it’s kinda fun. For me it’s a way to not be intimidated because I’m busy fluffing my feathers right back even though I know it’s silly.

    Option 2 is find someone more junior who is probably the person actually doing the work that you can ask instead. If you have to get this guy’s approval on the final whatever, put together an extremely bare fact sheet and send your manager over to get the ok. This option needs some manager buy in. I have definitely gotten faster and better answers from junior people if it’s a basic fact about the thing they’re immediately involved in, though.

  99. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    So that’s where Todd Packer went.
    OP, you are free to take whatever advice you want that works for you, but if it were me, I would nod and smile and takes notes and let him say whatever he wanted, then throw it all in the trash without a second though and forget about it. There is no reason to care about this guy. He’s a chore, sure; so is doing the dishes. Right now, this is a chore you have to do, but it won’t be forever, and clearly nobody else takes this guy for real either.

    I don’t think it’s worth trying to “push back” or make a point about how awful he is, because he won’t take you seriously, which is wasted effort you can spend better on your own work. I’ve dealt with this. All I did was bide my time, do a great job using no part of his BS, and eventually — sooner than I thought — his supervisors dealt with him. It’s the best possible resolution: he’s gone, you never had to pick a fight (and risk the misogyny of being reported as “difficult”), AND everyone will marvel at your Smooth Balls of Steel in having been able to cope with him without breaking.

    Your issue is not a referendum on sexism in the workplace. It’s just one inconvenient douche that you, the rock star, have to brush away from your face. Think of him as the gnat he is and stop wasting any further effort on him.

  100. Anon attorney*

    There’s quite a few comments here saying you should complain to your boss/HR. While I agree that organizations should not accommodate jerks like this, in practice, there’s no evidence that this company has any desire to get rid of Fergus and I’m not sure it’s a good use of your time and political capital to try and get him reprimanded or fired. The sad reality is that a lot of assholes work in a lot of organizations and nothing happens about it. This is wrong but so are many other things we can’t really control. Unless he does something which crosses the line into harassment, complaining about him is likely to be a waste of energy AND it hands over responsibility for resolving the situation to someone else – whereas learning to let the Ferguses of this world bounce off you is a great skill to have.

    I think your instinct to seek advice on how to avoid letting Fergus put your self-esteem and confidence in the blender is accurate. Why, when faced with a bloviating jerk, was your first instinct to doubt yourself? I feel your pain because I have had to fight a similar instinct. I realize it’s trite to recommend therapy to everyone but I’ve found it to be helpful in unpicking the roots of my own precarious self confidence. If you don’t want to do that or its not possible, maybe a mentor who can work with you to reinforce your sense of professional gravitas? There are also seminars on developing and projecting self confidence out there. Keep a file of successes you can look at when you need a lift. Find a co-worker who can remind you that you got this and schedule lunch on a day you gotta Fergus. Plus all the ninja tricks on this thread for neutralizing his BS. You can do this!

    1. Medusa*

      I agree that therapy will be helpful. Not because LW has done anything wrong, but because it will give you coping techniques for your anxiety caused by Fergus’ sexist condescension.

  101. Res Admin*

    I get your frustration. My suggestion would be to refuse to acknowledge his bad behavior. When he goes off on a tangent or ego trip, redirect back to what you need. If you need tech specs, then when he starts talking about you needing a presentation or whatever red herring he comes up with, immediately stop him and bring back to what you need. In person, for me that means looking over my glasses, a very dry, “That’s nice. But what I need is… Is that something you can provide? Or is there someone who is more knowledgeable that I should contact?” Via email, I would reply, copying those necessary, with pretty much the same message. “yes, Fergus, I am aware that you can grow mushrooms on your bum, but what I really need are the tech specs for x. Do you have those? Or should I contact someone else who may have more info?” or “Hi Fergus, I think you have misunderstood, I already know about y! We are both busy so no need to waste time explaining it again. Please send me x. Thanks!”

    Depending on who I am dealing with, the above would be either very dry, business-like, matter-of-fact or very sweet and chipper–which ever I think is most likely to work with that person.

    In this case: Use your marketing skills! Market yourself as the consummate professional you are both to him and to those around him. The more he tries to talk down to you, the worse he will look and the better you will look.

  102. Been there done that*

    When I have to deal with any kind of jerk, I smile (if possible), and silently tell myself “Thank God I don’t have to go home to THAT”. That thought makes almost any interaction bearable and puts their existence into perspective.
    I hope that helps ;)

    1. Loves libraries*

      I also have said to myself that I just have to work with them and not be married to them.

  103. Cats for brains*

    Folks have talked about using the reporting hierarchy and making it clear to Fergus that you report to your MD, but I’d also add that if Fergus can’t respect your expertise or that of your MD, it’s time to use data as a shield. Do you track conversion rates/leads generated/engagement or some metric that would let you compare doing it Fergus’ way to the way you do it when you’re using your whole expertise? If so, when he tries to overrule you on how to accomplish a task, you can point him relentlessly back to core metrics rather than his opinions on how it ought to be done.

    “We’ve found that this style of communication increases teapot related email open rates by 15% and that’s a core metric for my department.”

    Hopefully, this can depersonalize some of his snark and help him focus on the actual business objective. If you’re feeling a little shady, smiling and assuming he agrees that of course you both want the communication plan that’s best for the business (we’re not bringing gender or emotion into it, just business stuff, yes) has flustered (if not totally diffused) egocentric folks in my line of work. And good luck. I’m sorry you’re dealing with this boor.

  104. Raida*

    This is how I handle crap people like this: He doesn’t matter. How could he matter, when he’s so clearly a foolish, petty, making-himself-feel-smart, unable-to-do-marketing person?
    His opinions hold less water.
    His opinions of my abilities even less so – how could they carry much weight when he’s so obviously trying to big himself up? Digs like that just show he’s a little person. Laughable that he’d try to make me, the bigger better person without these personality flaws, feel even lower than him.
    Genuinely bewilderingly laughable – sometimes I’ve literally laughed in their faces because their suggestion is so obviously a joke. “Hah! Sure thing! And then I’ll clean the office kitchen, get Katie’s dry cleaning and mow your lawn! Hahah, yep, you just get that to me when it’s done, thanks mate.”

    Practical advice for your specific question:
    Look into ‘status’. Do an improv class/exercises/games on it.
    You’ll find that you can, as an option, be nice to him in a way that makes him lesser OR you greater.
    And continue in that tone, if it’s your preference to be kindly and nice, when he’s wrong about something – straight-out ask, while visibly taking notes, “Well Fergus what is it about X that makes you feel this would be an issue?” and he talks, then you explain how it’s all under control, finishing with “Thanks for bringing it up! Feel free to ask me questions about anything else you’re worried about Fergus, we’re happy to help.”

    If he makes a pointed personal remark you can respond with a “mm-hmm, of course Fergus, so the teapot handles are granite…” making it clear you’re not giving it attention.
    Or make it a joke where you can, nobody wants to illicit a smile and ‘hah’
    Or make it a hit back “oh Fergus of course I know this, I’ve marketed in the Hungarian regions across twelve launches!”
    Or make it that you’re concerned about him “Fergus I’m surprised you think [manager] wouldn’t have assigned the right person to this project from marketing, do you often feel like other areas aren’t up to speed?” with big open eyes encouraging a conversation about how he should feel comfortable raising issues.
    Or be straight about it with “If you think I’m really that stupid Fergus you should be talking directly to my manager [name] about your concerns the teapot launch isn’t on track and that I’m not qualified.” (do this after confirming with your manager they’ll list your achievements, experience, qualifications and that Fergus is not in Marketing because it’s not his strong suit.

    Obviously this is all about handling your feelings and handling his behaviour – my advice outside of that is complaints. Preferably coming from the highest person in other areas as possible so it comes down to his manager with “expectations Fergus interacts with other staff as though the business has experienced, qualified and proven in all areas who deserve to be treated with professional respect.” By putting the onus on his manager’s manager’s manager who will have female counterparts in the business the issue will be addressed.

  105. Not helpful at all*

    This is totally unhelpful, but nonetheless I hope you have an occasion to call him (or at least refer to him) as ‘Spec Boy.’ Or have an opportunity to say, “Fergus, I’m the marketer, you’re just my spec guy.’

  106. judyjudyjudy*

    There are so many great suggestions here, but to add to the theme I will quote another favorite advice columnist: “grey rock it.” That is to say, you are a grey rock, unmoved by his aggressive rudeness and condescension. When you have to communicate with him, give him nothing but bland, neutral, clear statements. Make requests and ask questions as neutrally as possible and CC the marketing director when he tries to berate you or is being obstructionist. Best of luck!

  107. Letter Writer*

    So much great advice in the comments, thanks to everyone for contributing! Most of all this has helped me put into perspective that someone else’s bad behaviour is not a ‘me problem’ and given me some really useful language to shut down this type of thing at the outset.

    You lot rock!

  108. Erin*

    First, don’t let this guy get to you (I know, easier said than done) but you are a professional who was hired into your role for a reason. Don’t forget that!

    Next, escalate this issue more to your manager. It isn’t enough for them to just agree with you, and tell you to shake it off. After all, this behavior is impacting the work you produce. Your manager needs to give you guidance on how to work with Fergus. Your manager also needs to remind Fergus what acceptable and respectful communication is, and how to effectively collaborate with others on the team.

  109. EngineerMom*

    After how he responded the first time, this is a coworker I would “manage” (not as a manager, but as “I need specific information from you”) by asking specific questions, and mentally trashing anything that’s not the answer I asked for.

    I’ve had to deal with a lot of this kind of crap over the years as a woman in engineering, and though there is definitely a time and place for fighting back (reporting to managers, HR, etc.), there is also a self-protective “choose your battles” mentality when dealing with sexist a**holes.

    He doesn’t even deserve the rights of a positive response oriented to protect his ego: “I’ll think about it!” (you won’t) or “That’s a good point!” (when it’s NOT). Ask specific questions, get specific answers, and toss the rest for the garbage it is. Hopefully he’s older than you and will retire soon.

  110. Former HR Staffer*

    i dealt with someone like this, and the fact that he CALLS in response, is because he wants no paper trail of his behavior.

    it got to the point where i refused to pick up the phone if i saw it on the caller ID. if he did manage to get me on the phone, i would immediately summarize what was said, and email it back to him saying “i just wanted to clarify our discussion that you said ABC and this is what you want,” and BCC my boss.

    of course he never responded. then things came to a head, and he tried the ol’ “she never informed me of this, and i never told her that.” then my boss whipped out ALL the emails saying “she sent you this email on mm/dd/yyyy alerting you to ABC and you said you were fine with it.”

    although he never responded to my summaries, he had nothing to back up that he told me any different. BUSTED.

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