I started working on this big company last February as an external consultant. I'm in an office with 3 other external consultants and we all offer a similar service for our client.

From the start, the other 3 members were told to mentor me and teach me how to interact with the company's instruments, and one of them in particular was assigned to train me. She is an older woman in her 50s so I always tended to pay more respect than usual.

The problem

Sadly, I often bite my nails when I'm nervous or when I'm overthinking something, and that's one of the reasons she started harassing me, telling me that I could not touch her desk until I was more respectful. I have no need to touch her desk and sure it is bad that I bite my nails so I tried to lessen the problem of the nails and kept distance.

But then she began to complain to me about my methods, or how I conducted my work. I even got blamed for things she taught to me. Occasionally I could demonstrate my actions were the direct result of her instructions (we have internal emails) but she dismisses the issues without even apologizing to me.

Today I had enough of it.

She arrived at work and immediately started to moan about how stinky the air was. I said hello as usual and returned to my business. She then attacked me with the following:

Her: You should be ashamed of yourself Why is that? What's the problem? Her: The problem is that you do not wash yourself. It's a form of disrespect I had a shower this morning. The problem is that you should think before accusing someone. You're the one that's disrespecting me.

Then she continued moaning and harassing me and so gave in and told her:

Yeah, you're right.

And kept going on with my business.

This is not acceptable. I can't stand her behavior. Talking to her doesn't seem to resolve the problem, she only talks to me to blame me so I have no hope of reasoning with her.

How should I defend myself? Should I report it to my manager or HR? It could be difficult since we are from 2 different companies, working for the same customer.

  • 1
    English is not my native language so feel free to edit the question.
    – A.Danzi
    Sep 4, 2018 at 13:48
  • Can you ask your manager for another mentor? Sep 4, 2018 at 15:00
  • Actually no, I cannot. Only 4 external consultants are assigned to the Assistance service. Maybe one of the other 2 could teach me, but the problem would still be there since we're in the same room and she is not able to mind her own business. For istance, even if I'm talking with another colleague about our own things (maybe even not work related) , she will intervene.
    – A.Danzi
    Sep 4, 2018 at 15:15
  • 4
    Re close votes: There is a very clear question at the end of this post. Please read carefully before exercising your voting privileges, else do not VTC at all.
    – rath
    Sep 5, 2018 at 12:48
  • 2
    @rath this is the first time someone complains about my smell since I was a kid, I see a lot of people that are close to me (This includes my father, my mother, my girlfriend and her parents, and some close friends) that would have almost 0 problems in telling me that I smell. I find it pretty strange that only her noticed this since we know each other, even stranger that she noticed 2 hours after I took a shower. Edit: As a side note: she is a heavy smoker and often smells like an ashtray, I doubt that her senses are so acute.
    – A.Danzi
    Sep 5, 2018 at 13:05

4 Answers 4


Should I report it to my manager?

Yes, she has no reason to be behaving like this even if she had a problem with you or not it is completely unprofessional to express how you feel about someone on a personal level.

Even if you were for different companies your manager may pull you out of this job and swap you with someone else or even just talk to the client about it. Then this colleague may get a word from your client or worse (or neither depends on reaction)

But on your job you do not have to put up with this, even in life this is bullying regardless of how old or what you do.

This colleague clearly has a personal problem with you and if that's the case she needs to keep it to herself or just get over it. If she's not going to be constructive with work you need to raise this point immediately so you can get on with your job and get the best results for your client.

  • 1
    Sadly I cannot accept 2 answers, but I will document everything form now on, as @Richard U said, and then report at a later time when I have enough evidence with dates and decriptions.
    – A.Danzi
    Sep 10, 2018 at 7:25

You should not approach your manager until and unless you have a list of incidents with dates and times.


If you haven't already done this, do this going forward.

  1. If she tells you something is black, write an email to her repeating what she said "Per our conversation, I am confirming with you that 'ABC' is black. Please let me know if anything changes.
  2. If she is rude or abusive, write down the incident and note the date and time.
  3. If something is particularly egregious, send her an email stating as such. "This morning you told me I smelled bad in front of other employees. I find this unprofessional, please do not do this again."
  4. Avoid talking to her and write emails instead. This creates a paper trail. If she does talk to you, send a followup email noting what happened as per 3 above.
  • Gotta have very specific, granular detail, to defend oneself to superiors. Vital advice. +1. Sep 4, 2018 at 22:00
  • 2
    To point 3: I would not write "Please". It's not a favour she is doing you by not saying it. I would put it stronger: "This is unprofessional, and I must ask you not to repeat this again." Sep 4, 2018 at 23:13
  • start recording her. I would also document her work hours. Any yes avoid talking to her, ask her to send you and email for anything if possible. Don't go to your manager, they can not help you. Document and file a complaint with local labor authorities. Sep 5, 2018 at 0:43

It should never have gotten to this stage.

As a professional you need strategies to get on with almost any colleague. This is best done from the outset. Particularly as a consultant it is very important that you do not have personal conflicts. Even more important in a position which puts you at a junior and vulnerable level.

6 months is a long time to get familiar with your work to the stage where you don't need a mentor all the time but that is another question.

Your strategy is back to front, you're analysing what happened after it happened, and then wondering what to do about it. Then you're analysing the next thing that happened etc,. etc,. Instead as soon as you recognised this lady is going to be like this you should have been making proactive steps to prevent it or deal with it.

I have periodically worked with a lady exactly like this as an external consultant for over a decade and it doesn't bother me, because everyone knows she's like that and so no one pays her childish rubbish much attention. I've been asked how I put up with her and the reason is I just don't care, she doesn't handle my pay and she is very good at her job, just obnoxious in other ways. Once I realised that I changed my own perception from being offended to amused (the easiest person to change, is yourself).

At this stage there isn't much recourse except to let it wash over you and do what you're doing unless you're prepared to get into some unprofessional seeming office drama. If this is too much of a toxic situation which isn't going to improve, you may want to move on to a job you can actually do without needing constant assistance and oversight from this lady. But at the end of the day you don't answer to her, it just may require a change of mindset from frustrating, to mildly amusing.

  • +1. Being professional doesn't mean tolerating any kind of abuse. Actions may be too little, too late at this point. Sep 5, 2018 at 7:33
  • My words might have been misleading. I usually am autonomous on my daily job, but when I need assistance, I ask my colleagues. Even if I ask another colleague, she will intervene, sometimes even on matters that are not relevant to her.
    – A.Danzi
    Sep 5, 2018 at 12:50

The only reason she harassed you is because you let her.

In the manual case, for example, the correct reply would have been “You asked for the ABC manual, not the XYZ manual. You seem to be very unfocused and forgetful”.

Since she is rude and blames you for everything, including things that are not your fault at all, blame her back strongly whenever it is her fault.

In the smell incident don’t be defensive and say “but I showered this morning” but say “there is something wrong with your nose”. She makes everything your fault, so make everything her fault.

  • 7
    How is this going to help? It sounds like this'll just escalate things further.
    – Erik
    Sep 4, 2018 at 15:11
  • 5
    This seems like child behaviour and it'll only escalate into worse behaviour. About the manual case, I told her that she asked for a different thing in the first place, but she insisted that she was right and indeed she felt in charge of blaming me, without even listening to what I had to say.
    – A.Danzi
    Sep 4, 2018 at 15:17
  • 1
    This would be excellent advice if OP was living in a television sitcom.
    – DealWithIt
    Aug 28, 2019 at 18:03

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