I currently work in an office that houses two separate companies that are owned by the same person. I work for Company A. Annoying colleague works for Company B.

Annoying colleague has pretty much been on my nerves from the moment she came on board. She's the kind of person that tries to turn every single thing into a joke, and always tries to be funny and loud. She is a middle-aged single mother, at least 15 years older than me. One of the first days she worked here, a bunch of us from Company A and Company B were out on a work lunch break, and while we were sitting at the table, I was quickly answering a text message from my partner. Annoying colleague was next to me, and snatched my phone out of my hand and proceeded to message my partner things like "gotta go baby x". She thought it was hilarious.

Over time, she has rarely ever called me by my name, calling me things like "Jack in the box", or "Jesus" (I had medium length hair at the time). Every time I walk by her desk (which I have to, in order to get to my desk) she says "hey" but intentionally waits until I am far enough past that I would need to stop, turn around and walk back to say "hey" back to her. There are some cases of this where I am far enough away that I ignore and keep walking, and hear her giggle to her workmate next to her. It seems weird, but I'm the only person she does this to, and I know her enough to know that she is doing it intentionally to try and get a reaction or to be funny.

These are just a couple of the annoying things she does. There are generally multiple instances of targeted annoyance per day. As it is a small-ish setup, we don't have a HR department, and everyone directly reports to the boss/owner, who unfortunately is personal friends with her. I don't think talking to him will help.

What can I do? I don't work with her on anything, we just share an office. I already avoid her as much as possible, but this has been going on for over a year and her quest to be as annoying as possible has not let up.

  • 5
    If this immature lady is chummy with "everyone's boss" then your options might be limited. Does her harrassment have sexual overtones? Have you met with her one on one to discuss your frustration? Have you raised a formal complaint? In my experience, these sorts of people tend to drift from one target to another if they don't get enough of a reaction. You might need to ramp up ignoring her to the point of not acknowledging her whatsoever.
    – ChrisFNZ
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 5:57
  • No sexual overtones thankfully. She does do that with other colleagues though. Due to her being friends with the boss outside of work, a formal complaint may affect me more than her. Hopefully she drifts to somebody else.
    – Gherkin
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 7:02
  • @ChrisFNZ please don't post answers in comments Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 17:17
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    @nick012000 Australia. My understanding is it's not illegal, just annoying.
    – Gherkin
    Commented Nov 24, 2019 at 8:52
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    If someone used my phone to send a message "gotta go baby x" to my wife under my name, I'd have to follow it up with "that wasn't me, that was the stupid new colleague I've got who apparently thinks it's funny", send it to my wife, then show it the colleague.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Nov 25, 2019 at 1:24

7 Answers 7


Sometimes it is enough to just tell the person what is wrong. Go gradually.

  1. Tell the person in private.

Rebeca, please stop this attitude and behavior of yours, at least towards me. Even though it seems amusing to you, it makes me feel very uncomfortable.

  1. If 1. was not enough, repeat the request in a loud voice (be polite, do not scream), when other colleagues are around, and as a consequence of her behavior - works best if it is as a reaction of her behavior targeted at you (like the thing with he phone).

  2. If 2. is not enough either, in presence of colleagues tel her that if she does not adjust her behavior, you will report her to your / superiors and to HR.

  3. If 3. does not work, go on and report her.

Please remember to be polite and respectful at all times, regardless of whatever she says or does. Control your voice and movements, to not appear violent.

It will be of great help if you have your colleagues on your side. If the other colleagues actually enjoy her unusual behavior, then you should ask a new question, because that is another situation.

  • I have thought of telling her in private. My main concern with that is that she doesn't take anything seriously. As mentioned in my question, reporting to her superior (the owner) is likely not to be productive as they are friends outside of work and go a long way back. Realistically, I can try option 1 and option 2, but if that fails, the other options are not really feasible sadly.
    – Gherkin
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 6:59
  • 1
    That can be tough, indeed. Maybe you should talk to her superior, but as a friend. Tell him that she is disruptive, at least towards you, and maybe he can assist you somehow. Ask for an advice from him, instead of asking him to do something. You might get lucky.
    – virolino
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 7:03

She's a bully, and she knows that her position is secure due to her friendship with the owner.

You've already tried reasoning with her, and found that it didn't work. This was very predictable - she's a bully. She gets a kick out of teasing people, and making them miserable. And no adult, not even bullies, act that way unless they know that there will be no consequences.

If you call her on her behavior she will simply escalate until you back down, or you match her tone, at which point she'll run to the boss and say you're overreacting/bullying/aggressive. Either way, you're playing a losing game.

The reason she's targeting you is because you show that it bothers you. The solution is to either grow a thicker skin, and thus take the fun out of it for her, or remove yourself from that environment (quit).

How might you take the fun out of it? For example, preemptively say hello to her, such that you won't have to turn around after you've walked past her. When she calls you names, just roll with them.

Going to the owner with your complaints is likely to go very poorly for you. For one, she's been there for years, and has been making a nuisance of herself for a long time. Surely you're not the first one to have spoken to her privately, or go to the boss with concerns. The fact that she's still acting this way should tell you something.

Second, she's even older than you, and acting in a very socially unacceptable manner. When an adult can't control their antisocial behavior in such a public setting as an office, that means that they've likely got some pretty big issues. She's unlikely to change her behavior short of a major intervention, which no one (not even the owner) is likely to be willing to administer.

Third, faced with dealing with the bully (who is his friend), or you, the owner will likely tell you to suck it up, or find a reason to get rid of you. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. In other words, she will get what she wants, because she's more dangerous to p!ss off than you are (she will throw a tantrum, or otherwise make a nuisance of herself, you're unlikely to).

Generally speaking, a manager who tolerates this sort of BS on his watch is a terrible boss, and you should start looking for a new job, because things are clearly out of control around there.

  • 1
    She's not a bully, that's how her personality type deals with stress.
    – BoboDarph
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 15:53
  • 3
    @bobodarph - let's agree to disagree. Whether she's acting that way because of childhood trauma, because she's a sociopath, or because she's simply "dealing with stress", it's still bullying behavior, and unacceptable in a professional environment (or anywhere). The OP should not have to put up with that crap
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 15:54
  • I don't understand why this was downvoted. It sounds like solid advice if both reasoning with her and complaining about her is unlikely to work.
    – Llewellyn
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 17:54
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    @llewellyn - some don't like accepting that there exist people who are not to be reasoned with. They have an excess of empathy, and have likely never had to deal with a serious threat in their lives. To them, this woman - who is treating the OP in a terrible way, and getting away with behavior that would even get her in trouble on a children's playground - is simply a victim of stress, misunderstood, or maybe needs someone to give her a hug. And then, you see, she will finally understand that she's hurting others. Reality has a way of inconveniencing this point of view.
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 18:15
  • In addition of just rolling with the names is to ignore anything that was said to you when addressed using a "name". When you would be confronted on why you did not respond to a question/comment/whatever just give a blank look and say "you were talking to somebody else, I did not pay attention, what did you say". And if a "name" is used again you can discard the statement again and request a repeat. With enough patience the person would be forced to call you "you" or the name you prefer if they want to get your attention. And if you call you names behind your back...completely ignore that.
    – AlexanderM
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 2:55

Bullying in the workplace is legally prohibited. The Fair Work Australia recommends talking to your WPHS officer or union.

To quote Fair Work Australia's official webpage on the subject (which I recommend you read in its entirety):

A worker is bullied at work if:

  • a person or group of people repeatedly act unreasonably towards them or a group of workers

  • the behaviour creates a risk to health and safety.

Unreasonable behaviour includes victimising, humiliating, intimidating or threatening. Whether a behaviour is unreasonable can depend on whether a reasonable person might see the behaviour as unreasonable in the circumstances.

Examples of bullying include:

  • behaving aggressively

  • teasing or practical jokes

  • pressuring someone to behave inappropriately

  • excluding someone from work-related events or

  • unreasonable work demands.

I am pretty sure that your coworker's behavior would qualify. As a result, since you can't report it to your supervisor or your company's HR department, the logical course of action that the site recommends is reporting the behavior to your workplace's Workplace Health and Safety officer, your union representative, your state-level Workplace Health and Safety regulatory body, or, if you're still employed, the Fair Work Commission.


Friendship is friendship, and business is business.

Just because the annoying person is a friend of the business owner, that doesn't mean a complaint to the business owner won't be successful. Because that's not about friendship, it's about business.

So find things that she does that are not just annoying you personally, but things that should not happen in a business, then talk to the owner. Look for things that are objectively wrong. There's a good chance that the owner is not aware of her behaviour, and will tell her that during business hours she has to behave professionally.

We had one case here a while ago where the owner's best friend got hired and started harrassing female employees. It was hard to get the owner to believe what was going on, but the end result was that the person suddenly was the owner's ex-best friend and became an ex-employee.


As you haven't tried it yet: Talk to her. Pick the most annoying behaviour of hers and talk to her in private. Describe what she is doing and describe how it impacts you, be as concrete as possible. Then ask her whether she would be ok, not doing it anymore: "I noticed that you rarely call me by my name. For example you called me 'Jesus' multiple times, last time being yesterday during lunchtime. This makes me feel disrespected and I would prefer, if you would call me Gherkin. Will you do that?"

Being concrete gives her little wiggle room to deny what you are saying. If you focus on how that makes you are feel, there is also no way to say otherwise, as you know best about what you feel. If she insists that she is only joking, you can repeat that this is not how you perceive it. If she keeps being defensive or doesn't take it seriously you can leave it with that, and hope that she will reflect on what you said later (some people need to take some to let it sink).

Most people want to be liked and do not want to appear annoying, and hopefully that is motivation enough for her to stop her behaviour. I wouldn't imply escalation or embarrass her in front of colleagues, as this could just make her react more defensively.

If this doesn't work, try it again once or twice before thinking about other options, if it works you can focus on other annoying behaviours (but ideally she will realise herself that you don't appreciate her antics and will the other stuff on her own).


Other answers are very serious about how you should approach her.

I suppose someone thinking to be the perfect clown could react startled if you come too serious. From this moment probably you are the over-serious person who doesn't understand any fun and is in bad mood all day. It could stop her silly games but on the other hand could harm your relation to her more than you want and make her talk about you behind your back.
Or she starts to be even more not-funny because you presented yourself as the perfect toy. Avoid that!

What she needs to understand is she is the not so funny person. Best is to make her feel that on her own, not tell her directly.
Based on both experience with wannabe funny people and also being glad about subtle hints about myself when I was completely wrong about another person, I want to suggest something different.
Show you have a sense of humour too, but she doesn't match it. Be not-funny back to her.

You should adapt this to the situation, as I have no idea what person she really is. But perhaps you can take some basic idea out of it.
If it doesn't work you can still take other steps. But, again depending on the situation, perhaps it's worth to start a little more subtle.

If she calls you some stupid names, give her a post-it with your name spelled on it and say

Look, others are able to say that too, a little practice and you will also manage to do so

Or in case of the late hey, first of all if you are already past her I wouldn't say something at all. If you still do, do not walk back for it, this makes you the perfect toy!
Next time you walk towards her, show you expect the invitable. Slow down, stop until she looks at you. She may ask what's going on, even if after a sufficient while she doesn't, explain

Oh I am just giving you more time to realize I am walking by. That's your big moment, say hey.

or if you like it harder replace "realize" with "wake up when" :-)

If she tells you that was quite stupid, keep in mind to say

Cool, then it was a good match!

If you did that a few times, walk normally again and watch her reaction. If necessary repeat it. There is a good chance she will be so annoyed from this extra break and talk you force her into so that she will stop.
If you accomplished that, treat her normally. Perhaps she just needed a small hint towards not making an idiot out of herself.


The first thing you should do is try to understand why your colleague is behaving the way she is.

How you do that is up to you, but if I were you, I would try to find a quiet place and ask for a few minutes of her time just to talk.

Before doing that, make sure you are within eyesight of another colleague, just in case I'm wrong.

IMO your colleague is showing telltale signs that she is in distress in all the situations you mentioned. It might or might not have something to do with you, but her responses are masks of a Rebel personality in distress. Her personality type deals with stressful situations by cataloging things/people into "it's cool\It sucks". Something you did or didnt' do in those situations caused her "you suck, I need to fix you" response.

For example, the first situation is a social context. For rebels, that's their playground. When they are relaxed and on their +/+ mode (efficient communication), they will joke around, be funny to everyone, try to keep everyone's spirits up with their antics. When someone in the group does something to put them in distress (like not pay attention to them, like you did, when you picked up the phone), they will go into +/- mode (I'm cool/You suck) and try to fix you by doing or saying something funny. Like lifting your phone and getting rid of your distraction by sending a message in your stead. Funny as shlt to a rebel, a pain in the azs to anyone else.

But unfortunately, 90% of all people don't just pick up a stranger's phone. This person clearly has some boundary problems. She could be a High Conflict Personality. There are ways to deal with those, basic method is Listen with Compassion and empathy, Analyze with logic, Respond/BIFF and Set Boundaries. That is why I asked you to make sure a colleague is around when you confront her.

I would recommend reading into Process Communication Model and make up your own mind. A book that helped me is "Understand to be Understood", you can find it on Amazon. I would also recommend "5 Types of people that can ruin your life" to read more about High Conflict Personalities.

  • 5
    I think that there is some good practical information in this answer, but the armchair diagnosis based on information in the post alone is overdetermined. As written this answer relies on that diagnosis being accurate, but doesn't need to for the practical advice to be helpful.
    – Upper_Case
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 16:27
  • 1
    Armchair psychology at its best. The OP is not her therapist, and shouldn't have to step up as such. He is being bullied by a person with issues, and if she needs to go off and get therapy, or on meds, that's fine, but in the mean-time, we're here to advise the OP on how to get this woman off his back. Engaging in half-baked attempts at helping heal someone's damaged psyche is bound to go wrong.
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 18:19

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