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I have a colleague who is making unrelated non-professional remarks (for example she criticized the socks I was wearing last time). It looks like that she is frustrated and this is her strategy to relieve stress.

We are not on the same project, we don't even talk and she is sitting at the opposite end of the room. I don't have the slightest idea what could be the problem but this is getting pretty annoying.

Last time I confronted her with her behavior she made obscure comments about astrological topics and told me that it is her way or the highway. None of which made any sense to me. What can I do to solve this problem?

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35  
Ignore her and buy lots of the socks that she commented on and wear them every day! –  Richard Dalton Nov 14 '12 at 12:12
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Ask her to buy a good pair of socks for you. –  Sahil Mahajan Mj Nov 14 '12 at 12:30
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Sometimes people behave annoying like this because they have a crush on you! –  wim Nov 15 '12 at 0:39
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What is love? Baby don't hurt me~ –  Milky Weather Nov 15 '12 at 5:01
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Ask her out on a date, that should end it fast. –  Greg McNulty Nov 16 '12 at 0:57

7 Answers 7

up vote 31 down vote accepted

Two part answer:

If you do not need to work and interact with this person - don't. Ignore and block her out - as completely as possible. Do not answer any questions. Do not respond to anything she says. Don't answer emails from her. This should help as if this is a bully, getting no reaction will most probably make them stop as it is not a satisfying result.

If, however, you do have to work with this person:

Since your colleague persists in spite of being confronted by you (I assume you have asked her to stop this behaviour during your confrontations), it is time to take this to a higher level.

Talk to your manager - if your manager is also the manager of this person, all the better.

Explain the problem, explain how this behaviour makes the workplace an unpleasant place and that the remarks are unprofessional and demeaning to both yourself and the colleague. Tell your manager that you want this behaviour to stop and explain what you have already done in order to try and stop it.

If your manager agrees with your assessment of the behaviour or that this person is indeed the problem (they may not agree... think about this possibility before moving on). It is possible that for political or professional reasons, they can't do anything, but assuming they can, this will now be their responsibility. You can report future transgressions to your manager, as they happen and hope things will turn to the best.

What you should not do, under any circumstance is engage in reciprocal behaviour - that will just fuel the behaviour of this colleague and will end up in a tit-for-tat escalation.

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I just told her that I don't really care about her non-professional opinions and she either stops it or I'll start to ignore her. –  Adam Arold Nov 14 '12 at 12:22
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@Adam - fine. If you do not need to interact with her, don't. Completely block her out. Completely. –  Oded Nov 14 '12 at 12:23
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@AdamArold do record any inappropriate emails from her so when it gets out of hand you have evidence –  ratchet freak Nov 14 '12 at 16:57
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@AdamArold You may not email her now... Don't be afraid to make these statements via email. I would lean towards sending these messages via email, to show prior efforts if things escalate - your intention or not. Verbal contact is step one. Document everything after that. Notarize. BCC your boss. CYA. –  WernerCD Nov 14 '12 at 19:56

There may be a number of reasons why she is doing this. She may just be an eccentric person with a bizarre personality. If this is the case then there is probably little you can do but just ignore her. We are forced to deal with people in the workplace that we otherwise would never associate with.

The other possibility may be that she likes you and this is her poor attempt at flirting. It is not uncommon for people to be picky and hyper critical towards others they are developing feelings for, especially for nonsensical things like the socks you are wearing. If this is the case then take it as you will.

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@AdamArold that sort of behavior is never acceptable. Unfortunately if your colleague's opinion is widely held by the company getting management intervention may be difficult to impossible; and the situation may come down to working with a jerk or finding alternate employment. –  Dan Neely Nov 14 '12 at 14:41

Having worked with some unpleasant people I simply suggest you ignore this behavior, she is probably trying to get some reaction from you. If you don't react you take the fun out of it.

If you need to work with her, do your tasks as usual but whenever she makes an unpleasant comment you simply shrug and go away. You don't need to like every person you work with and you don't need to entertain their uncivil behavior, you need to do your job.

However, you do need to update your manager about it, unless he/she is already aware of it, you need to say that you are going to perform your work but this behavior is making you extremely uncomfortable.

Good luck

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Have her supervisor, or the first "common" link in the chain of command between you and her, disillusion her of the notion that it is "her way or the highway"; it is in fact her manager's way or the highway. If that discussion does not occur (first common link in the chain is too high up to care about the drama of the little people, or more likely her immediate supervisor likes her or is afraid of her too much to be direct with her), then you take it to HR.

If someone is making personal attacks against you, and direct in-person confrontation including a direct request to stop did not resolve the issue, then you escalate the issue until it gets dealt with. That may or may not include termination of anyone's employment, and if your co-worker keeps her job she will resent you for whatever disciplinary action actually occurred. She should be smart enough to keep that to herself; if not, you know where to go if the unpleasantness continues.

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Unless there's some sort of cultural difference I'm missing (I'm from Australia), I find it weird that nobody has brought up the very probable reality that you're taking offence over nothing.

The fact that it's something like an insult over sock colour suggests to me that she's just trying to lightheartedly jest with people, to lighten up the workplace a little bit. Some people are better at this than others but I find it impossible to believe that anybody would do this with the intention of harassing or embarrassing you. Just laugh it off and take a stab back at her.

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The keyword here is harassment (which she is doing).

Tell your manager she is harassing you - legally he will have to do something to end it.

The employer will be liable for harassment by non-supervisory employees or non-employees over whom it has control (e.g., independent contractors or customers on the premises), if it knew, or should have known about the harassment and failed to take prompt and appropriate corrective action.

So basically your boss will need to address it.

EEOC

Harassment in the Workplace: It's Against the Law - www.state.ia.us

What Speech Does "Hostile Work Environment" Harassment Law Restrict?

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3  
This is a simple and good answer that may not be right. Think about the outcomes-if HR (or whoever investigates) thinks you are right they need to solve it. If not, you get a downgrade. What are the odds, how much better off are you if you win, what is the cost if you lose? –  Ross Millikan Nov 15 '12 at 5:54
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The legal route is long winded and the end of the day there is rarely winners on all sides. However the manager is obligated to do something about it, because if it does turn into a harassment case it is the company that gets sued, not the person causing the harassment. –  Simon O'Doherty Nov 15 '12 at 8:07
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If you are going to make a claim like legally he will have to do something to end it. this you need to back it up with a link to the law that requires it or something else to back up that statement. Harrassment laws do no protect you from someone else being a jack ass. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Nov 15 '12 at 16:29

IGNORE her completely. Don't even answer her, or show any reaction. That's the way I got rid of a cranky lady around my me. I know its very annoying, use your headphones even if you don't hear any music. Pretend that you don't even see her!

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