What can I do about a senior colleague who is always playing petty mind games, e.g. routinely ignores me, is very slow to respond to messages, work queries etc, sometimes by days!

He is cold and aloof. Makes no effort to educate... so for example, if further clarification on something is needed then it's a sign that I am just incompetent and that task should be taken off me.

Escalating this issue has not worked. He has been directly and indirectly responsible for several team members leaving, and contributed to mental health issues in one colleague that I know of. This has already been through a mediation process, but with little change in the long term.

Like other people working under him, the only option I seem to have is to jump ship. This has gone on for a couple of years now and is draining beyond belief. Persuing this through HR is not an option I am willing to consider.

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    "the only option I seem to have is to jump ship." It seems you have already made up your mind. Do you have an actual question for us? – Stephan Branczyk Jul 1 '20 at 17:39

If your only option is to jump ship, then jump ship.

If escalating the issue is getting no results, and he's responsible for others leaving then you know:

  1. Senior management is aware of the problem
  2. Senior management will do nothing to address the problem.
  3. You won't go through HR.

Given that, it is best for YOU to move on to an environment where you can grow and prosper. Being in the kind of environment you are in will slowly eat away at your confidence and will eventually wear you down damaging both your physical and mental health. You will always bee on alert, waiting for him to pull additional antics and making your job more difficult than it needs to be.

Any effort you put in to your current situation could be better spent on finding a better one, and it's best to do this while you still blame him, and not when you're questioning your own competence, because that doubt will show through in interviews.

Since you are unwilling to go through HR, you have exhausted your options that allow you to stay with the company. Move on.

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    Welcome back!!! – guest Jul 1 '20 at 13:41
  • @guest thank you – Old_Lamplighter Jul 1 '20 at 14:05

I'm sorry you're experiencing this. Behavior that explicitly interrupts collaboration and goes un-addressed is both demoralizing and disenfranchising to team members.

You could consider a few different options, including less formal conversations with HR which may be less objectionable than your current thinking around how and HR team can help:

  1. Take the conversation "AFK": Use in-person or phone communication as much as possible. Avoid email/Slack/text whenever possible. Emails/messages can get lost and are easy to set aside, a phone call is not.
  2. Set explicit team norms: If your team doesn't already have expectations around behavior and collaboration, you could suggest creating some. Some norms you might include are: communication preferences, email response time, clearly defined responsibility, etc..
  3. Provide direct feedback: Engage your colleague in a direct discussion about their behavior. Ask them to set aside 30-min for a discussion physically removed from usual work (e.g., getting a coffee together, a walk outside, or a phone call instead of a Zoom call if you're working remotely). Share 1-2 specific observations of their actions, how those actions impacted you, and what you would like to see this individual do differently.
  4. Engage other colleagues for support: Discuss your feelings with other peers and ask for help. E.g., you could ask your peers to explicitly call out your colleague for ignoring you in group discussions when they notice.
  5. Talk with a trusted leader: Speak with someone other than the leaders at your organization with whom you have a relationship and whom you trust. Ask for advice and for help in the situation.
  6. Ask to change teams: Ask other leaders if there are opportunities on adjacent teams. Even if not formally posted, there may be open roles that leaders are working to fill that could be a good match for you.
  7. Create distance between you and your colleague: If you expect to work on the same team in the near future, you can decrease the level of collaboration you need from your colleague. Take on tasks that your colleague is not involved in. Ask to be moved to projects that involve other senior colleagues.
  8. Document specific events: Keep a page in your notebook dedicated to logging specific interactions and the impact on your work. Your manager or another leader in the organization may be more responsive to complaints about specific behavior over a general complaint about an individual.
  9. Have an informal discussion with HR: Reach out to a colleague in HR and ask for an informal conversation about an issue you're having. Ask for advice and how they would suggest navigating the situation. Be aware that a member of your HR team is likely required to report any serious misconduct, but should be explicit about when they need to do so.

You describe a tough and frustrating situation. We all have colleagues that are challenging to work with, some especially so. I hope you're able to find a more collaborative solution quickly.