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I was in a Zoom Meeting at work. Sue was sharing her screen, Bill was leading the discussion, Anne, myself and two Data Engineers were in attendance. We are all peers and individual contributors. Anne is the Product Owner to my development. The discussion went 5 minutes over, but not because of me. I was asked a direct question and began to respond. 15 seconds into my response, instant messages from Bill began to appear on Sue's still-shared screen. "We get it already!" "Shut Up!" "Let me out of here!". I stopped talking mid-sentence. Bill became aware that his private messages to Sue where being projected to the group. I said, "That's all I had to say" and closed my laptop, but remained connected to the meeting. (I have a laptop that is connected to a docking station with 2 screens. I only really use the laptop as a camera for Zoom meetings. When I closed my laptop, I stopped projecting video to the meeting, but remained connected to audio and video via the docking station. I watched on my desk screens and heard via my headset.)

I watched and listened as the 5 remaining participants howled with laughter. I disconnected and ended the day. I received an apology from Bill that night. This was a singular incident, not part of a pattern.

Today I filed a formal, on-record complaint with HR for having been hazed and bullied. The complaint is as of now still being investigated. My boss has spoken with me multiple times today, being supportive and iterating organizational support for me and respect toward me. However, he also has an agressive timeline. He expects my relationship with Anne, with whom I work closely, to be "smoothed out" by tomorrow and seems to put the onus upon me to make that happen. I'm still angry that Anne laughed after I was attacked. My boss is also referring to "my future relationship with Bill" as if it were a forgone conclusion that he will not be terminated. Bill and I work together on projects perhaps twice a year, but I encounter him regularly around our large office of maybe 1,000 employees.

The prospect of having to regularly confront my attacker leaves me filled with rage and dread.

Did Bill really bully me and create a hostile environment or am I just being too sensitive?

If the rage / dread feelings don't subside, how do I handle future confrontations with Bill?
Would my only option be to quit at that point?

My goal is to not have a terrible fight / flight panic engage every time I see Bill at work. I'm wondering how one handles regularly confronting an attacker without being eroded by it.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Jul 9 at 11:46

15 Answers 15

87

This was a private communication between Bill and Sue and you only saw it because she was sharing her screen.

Have you ever made such a comment like that yourself to someone else privately? Now did he do it on purpose, knowing that you would see it? Short of a confession from Bill, that's an impossible thing to say.

But either way, having filed a complaint with HR will ensure that he can't make that kind of mistake a second time (intentionally or not). And considering that this was the only incident with this person, by complaining to HR, you did all you could do on that front.

Would my only option be to quit at that point?

Are you serious?

Do you have such a thin skin that you will quit over a single incident like this? I'm sorry, but I think you're overreacting.

Sometimes, meetings run over and participants get impatient. And a comment made "to finish the meeting already" has nothing to do with the current speaker themself.

Even the laughing, there is no evidence they were laughing at you. They might have just been laughing at Bill for being such an idiot with instant messaging, and/or for acting like such an impatient child in the first place.

What about you, would you have laughed if the situation was reversed? What if Sue had received a private lovey-dovey instant message from her boyfriend/husband instead? Would you have laughed then?

Laughing is also a way to release tension. And yes, by stopping mid-sentence and shutting your laptop screen the way you did, you did contribute to the increased tension Bill's "mistake" generated.

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71

I'll go a bit further than the other answers here and say... you're the bad guy in this situation.

Bill did something stupid. He was trying to vent about a meeting going too long, and did so in a manner that he didn't realize was accidentally public. Everyone laughed - and chances are, they were laughing at Bill doing something that stupid.

I can understand that you might be embarrassed at that - even if they were mostly laughing at Bill, you did happen to be the person talking at that particular moment.

But that's when things go really pear-shaped.

  1. Bill apologizes to you. I don't get any sense from your post that this wasn't a legitimate I-am-actually-sorry apology - so presumably he feels bad about what happened and wants to make things right between you.
  2. After Bill apologizes to you, and with the recognition that this isn't part of any sort of pattern of workplace harassment, you then go and make a formal complaint to HR that you were... not merely harassed, but Bullied and Hazed.
  3. You're currently interpreting everything from an extremely ego-centric vantage. The laughter couldn't have been at Bill - you didn't even entertain the possibility; it had to be about you. Bill's comments couldn't have been at the person who asked the question - it had to be at you who were answering them. The laughter couldn't have been benign at the situation itself - it had to be malicious, with them attacking you (even to the point where you're calling them 'Your Attacker' several times in your post.)

Given the word 'Hazed' you used and your... reaction... to this situation, I'm going to assume you're relatively new to the workforce. So let me break down what's going to happen now:

  • Everyone in the office is going to be walking on eggshells around you. From their perspective, you started filing grievances with HR for the smallest perceived infraction - one that's certainly ambiguous, and one that's obviously not indicative of a hostile workplace (it's never happened before, and the main actor made a point of apologizing personally by the end of the day.) The fact that you managed to turn that incident into "bullying/hazing" (which it isn't remotely close to) is going to make them wonder: how easy would it be to do something you twist into another infraction? It's going to be much easier to just not be around you and not have to take that sort of risk.
  • HR and Management are going to treat the incident with a degree of diligence that it doesn't deserve. Because the last thing the company wants is an accusation of 'Bullying/Hazing' that then morphs into 'Company didn't take accusation seriously and is being sued'. A good piece of evidence to that is that your boss is telling you multiple times that "the organization is behind you"... while, on a personal/relatable level, he's letting you know that you need to make peace with Bill and Anne.

My personal advice?

  • Contact HR and withdraw the complaint. The fact that you took something that doesn't rise to the level of harassment (let alone bullying/hazing) and put it into the HR sphere isn't going to end well.
  • Mentally recenter yourself. I want to say "Apologize to Bill", but the fact that you're calling him "Your Attacker", saying he "fills you with rage", and that you don't know whether you can deal with a "fight or flight" response lets me know that... you're really not in a spot where you could apologize (despite what him doing being an accident that he quickly apologized for.) So instead, figure out a way to readjust how you're not on such a hair-trigger.
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    The "what's going to happen" is the future. It might not be today or tomorrow, but it will happen eventually. – nvoigt Jul 9 at 5:55
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    "Everyone in the office is going to walk on eggshell around you" is a nice way to put it. While small arguments or disputes might happen between coworkers, making it an HR complaint will come as a very strong agression towards Bill and people that likes him will start to strongly dislike and shun OP. Removing the complaint and having a conversation with Bill where both apologize seems to be the only solution in my eyes. – Echox Jul 9 at 9:36
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    The OP is certainly not a person I would interact with ever again...egg shells is an understatement. – morbo Jul 9 at 11:32
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    @Echox I agree, and if I was Bill, I would ask O.P. to have HR present. This shows that the complaint is being withdrawn because it was a misunderstanding, and not because Bill bashed/coerced/forced/bullied O.P. to withdraw the complaint. – Ismael Miguel Jul 9 at 12:01
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    This is dead on in it's analysis, and advice – Old_Lamplighter Jul 9 at 14:16
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Did Bill really bully me and create a hostile environment

No. Reasonable people won't agree that sending a chat message to one person about you that is accidentally viewed by several others was intentional or directed at you.

am I just being too sensitive?

You are you. Your feelings are real. All I can say is that I would have reacted differently based on my personal experiences and place in life. If you had not reacted to Bill's chat I think the focus of everyone on your team would have been on him being unprofessional. By going to HR you shifted the focus to your reaction which most people would say is something they would not have done given the same circumstances. So now people at work are looking at you and thinking about that.

You are right to have boundaries. But can you become less sensitive or channel your feelings into things more likely to help you build your life? Can you set the boundaries such that you don't have to go to the nuclear option (HR) at the first rude action by a co-worker? Absolutely.

If the rage / dread feelings don't subside, how do I handle future confrontations with Bill? Would my only option be to quit at that point?

Out of all the companies I have worked at, the vast majority didn't have any type "a-hole" personality co-workers. Some companies have a huge percentage of rude people. I mean way more rude than your 'Bill' co-worker. So the odds are that you would find a company with less problems. But then again you could end up in a place with 100 times worse environment & there's no way to know before you get there. Your best move is to learn how to control your emotions or channel them into constructive activity that builds your life up. Then each "Bill" you run into will just make you stronger.

Honestly I'm not sure if it can be taught or if it is just learned by experiences.

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  • So it's not bullying if it's done behind your back. Gotcha. – dan-klasson Jul 10 at 22:33
  • @dan-klasson It's not even clear that Bill was directing his comments at OP so much as expressing frustration with a long meeting. Secondly, even by the definition of bullying used in schools (stopbullying.gov) Bill didn't bully. If we say that bullying is when someone does something that upsets us regardless of their intentions or them doing it in private then everyone on earth is a bully. – HenryM Jul 11 at 15:05
  • "Reasonable people won't agree that sending a chat message to one person about you that is accidentally viewed by several others was intentional or directed at you." You might want to rephrase that then. Because that is not what you're saying – dan-klasson Jul 12 at 21:29
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    @dan-klasson Updated to spell it out better. – HenryM Jul 12 at 22:19
26

Life becomes much better when you don’t take things personally

This has happened to me, although instead it was someone who just forgot to mute their mic and was talking to themselves. I just promised to be brief and that was the end of it.

Bill is not an attacker. Bill is someone who was frustrated about a meeting dragging on (as they often do for no real purpose) and just wanted it to end. I doubt his comment was meaningfully directed at you rather than just him generally being frustrated. I have seen “shut up” many times during long meetings in the chat and almost never do they care about a particular speaker.

I also think they were laughing at Bill for having his chats leaked.

Accept the apology and move on.

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    I think you are working at weird organizations if you see "Shut up" regularly in chats during business meetings (online or in-person). To me that seems incredibly impolite (and I see you are from Canada, I thought you guys are the definition of being polite) – dirkk Jul 9 at 7:28
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    @dirkk regularly is closer to 6 times in total and it is by other bored people in the meeting in a private chat. It is not directed at the particular speaker but more just frustration about the meeting. – Matthew Gaiser Jul 9 at 7:59
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    I've been the one muttering 'shut up' after forgetting to mute before, and it had nothing to do with the speaker... – Bwmat Jul 9 at 17:10
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    I can confirm, as a fellow Canadian, I have definitely, in the middle of a (live, not Zoom) meeting, turned to a friend and confidant who happened to be sitting beside me and said something like "hey, this meeting is so stupid/useless/other similar statement" before. – Ertai87 Jul 9 at 17:47
15

The short form is that you need to grow a thicker skin and get over it.

Yes, Bill was being an idiot. It doesn't seem like he intended those messages for you, which doesn't make them right but also means he wasn't trying to attack you directly.

It's fine to bring that to HR, though you might have started with your manager. You could not have, since he apologized, but you're entitled to mention it (in case it's part of a larger problem).

But no, of course he's not going to be fired, unless he's built up a truly huge amount of more significant complaints. He's going to get a tongue-lashing and probably a point docked on his "collaboration" or whatever segment of his next performance review. And that's all that's merited.

Everyone laughed because it became a funny situation. Was it mean-funny? Yeah. But objectively, the mistaken reveal plus you scurrying off seems like a scene from Community or something - it's a funny situation. So they laughed. Should they have? No, but again, they didn't know you were still on the call. If you're looking for a job where no one ever talks behind someone's back, you will be largely unemployed for your entire life. By rapidly leaving and acting like a victim, you bring out the latent part of all of us that likes to see assertions of dominance. People feel guilty about that, so the stress is released by laughing.

What to do in a situation like this:

  1. Just keep talking, and charitably ignore the messages. The "high road." People might roll their eyes and say something after but they wouldn't be laughing like that.
  2. Say "Well, it sounds like Bill would prefer to answer this question. Bill, can you fill us all in? No? Shall I continue? <silence, waiting for someone to say yes or no or something>" The alpha play. No one'll be laughing at you after this and Bill will either avoid you or come over to apologize tout suite. Normally I wouldn't recommend this but if you're slotting into the role of "the aggrieved victim" you may want to try it out to reclaim some power.

What to do now:

  1. Bill already apologized. I'm sure he's ashamed at being caught behaving badly and this should make him think twice in the future. There's no need to "avoid him".
  2. There is no problem with anyone else. Don't make it their problem. "They laughed", so what, grow up. Accept any overtures gracefully and make it clear it was no big deal and you don't hold anything against them.
  3. Do your work. Don't let yourself be victimized, but also don't act like a victim. One, it's not merited by something this small, and two, if you seem weak people will treat you like you're weak, either by victimizing or overly coddling or whatever.

The degree to which you are offended needs to correspond to the severity of the offense. For general rudeness like this, once there's been a complaint and apology, further histrionics on your part are unprofessional and will be seen as negatively as the rudeness in the first place. Proportionality is an expected part of a professional workplace.

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  • So in substance what you say is "at the end you are the guilty one, it's you who need to change, Bill is an idiot but that's perfectly fine, he doesn't need to change, just an hypocritical apologize and good to go". Nice way to put the blame on the offended IMO. The answer's reasoning may be allright, but at the end this is more or less your conclusion.. – Kaddath Jul 9 at 9:37
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    As far as 2. Bill should apologize. goes: He already did. Even before the complaint was made. – Mark Jul 9 at 9:57
  • @Mark ah, I missed that. Will edit. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Jul 9 at 16:22
  • @Kaddath Not all degrees of offense are OK, snowflake culture notwithstanding. To a minor offense, minor being offended is OK. But if for this, someone is worrying about "seeing their abuser" and thinking he should be fired - yes, that is a problem with them that they need to fix. In the real world things aren't always starkly black and white, and aren't 100% one person's fault and 0% the other's. Bill was rude and should be reprimanded and apologize (which he did). Further histrionics from the OP are not professional. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Jul 9 at 16:27
  • @Kaddath This answer is putting the blame on the person in the wrong. Someone can be both a "victim" (in quotes intentionally) and also be wrong. As an example, I can be offended at your username because it's a portmanteau of "Kaddish" (a very important Jewish prayer, I am Jewish) and "Yog-Soggoth" (a Lovecraftian horror monster), and therefore you are offending my religion. Would that compel you to change your username? Do you expect if I made a "formal complaint" to a moderator about your username that they would take action? In such a case, I am both the "victim" and also wrong. – Ertai87 Jul 9 at 19:41
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Okay, I will start with the obligatory:

HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND!

What Bill did was a but unprofessional and a bit immature.

However, your response was an overreaction of the first order.

In your question, you stated that this was a one-off event, and not part of a pattern. Additionally, he apologized. Instead of accepting the apology, you went to HR and reported him.

Is a snide, rude comment worth getting someone fired over? That could be the result of your actions. In the very least, you've damaged his career by putting a permanent mark on his record.

Now, here's the part where it may backfire. There is a growing unease about false or exaggerated complaints. This is something that should have been settled between the two of you, and HR knows this. You run the risk of being labeled as "difficult" or "easily offended", and future complaints to HR may be treated with some skepticism.

If you are still getting angry every time you see him even AFTER he apologized and even AFTER you complained to HR, the problem lies squarely with you at this point.

He is not your attacker, he is your coworker who made a mistake and apologized for it.

Let it go. Get counseling if you need to, because if you don't you are going to poison your own career.

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I work in HR, and I can tell you this is NOT considered harassment, bullying or definitely not a hostile environment (I really wish people would look up what that means before coming to me to accuse people of it). Another poster suggested 'dropping' your accusation with HR, but I'll tell you that isn't possible. Once we know, we know and we need to follow up on it.

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    Amie Lynn, What do you think about the "HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND" argument that has broken out in this thread? – Michael McFarlane Jul 9 at 18:08
  • @MichaelMcFarlane deleted that comment. – Old_Lamplighter Jul 10 at 14:06
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    @Old_Lamplighter me too then. Save everyone their 4 seconds of life I suppose. – Michael McFarlane Jul 10 at 16:46
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Unfortunately based on what you wrote, you were not 'hazed, bullied' or attacked. Here are some examples of them:

A superior yelling and berating a staff in the middle of the office in front of everyone. Multiple times.

Being ignored and denied details, then blamed for it later. Intentional sabotage.

Bill inviting everyone for drinks out, excluding just you. Repeated.

Being called racial slurs or mocked for a disability.

If Bill actually shouted and yelled at you through zoom, while you were talking, then that may have been considered hazing. But if Bill just sent immature text messages to your collegue, without intending to show you, its probably not. What if Bill is always like this to everyone, and not just targeted at you, and he just 'hates' meetings? I would recommend to brush it off and not take it as a personal attack, unless there were repeated and specific incidents targeted solely at you.

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3

Once the messages came up on the screen that you could read, right then and there you should have said something.

"hey guys, I can see what you're writing. I was asked a question so I'm answering it. Do you want me to stop?"

And then you should have just stopped talking and let them talk/apologize/ignore what they wrote and pretend it didn't happen/let you continue

This is not an HR matter nor is it harassment. It's rude behavior and hopefully you all can move on from it. You need a thicker skin and when something like this happens again, don't fold up your computer.....call them out on it.

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I agree with most of the other answers, but not with their tones. As someone who also has "thin skin," I don't think you should be condemned or berated for it; it's okay to be offended, you feel how you feel. I do think you should have reacted much differently, and you really ought to forgive Bill.

Sure he's not the nicest person, but I find most adults feel genuinely remorseful once they realize their actions have hurt another's feelings, and I really doubt he's any different. Even if that's not the case, it won't hurt to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one.

And, assuming that everyone was laughing at Bill's foolishness (you can tell I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, it really helps take the edge off of hurtful situations), I definitely think a formal complaint is overkill on the first offense in relatively minor incidents like this. I find it helps to confide in someone before taking action; after work, tell someone you're close with what happened, and how it made you feel. Bringing your feelings out into the world has a way of shrinking them to a far more manageable size.

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    I agree totally. Personally, I'd handle Bill by making an effort to talk to him. Just friendly at first without mentioning it. Then when you're getting along, bring it up playfully, have a laugh together, tell him no hard feelings. Cancel the HR complaint. Then you guys should be totally cool, in fact, you've made a friend out of it, win! And I think this would help you handle minor conflicts like this in future - when you realize these mostly are a decent person who slipped up, you'll take them better. Lots of silver linings in this scenario, you go grab them. – paj28 Jul 9 at 9:41
  • @paj28 You can't "no hard feelings" a formal complaint. That goes on Bill's permanent record at the company, and he could be passed over for promotions or raises because of it. If I told you that you could have had a raise of $10K/year this year, but you didn't because I screwed you out of it by making an untrue formal complaint against you, would you be ok with "no hard feelings"? The absolute first thing OP needs to do is cancel the complaint, and make sure all parties involved, including Bill, Bill's manager, HR, and possibly senior management, know that the complaint is cancelled. – Ertai87 Jul 9 at 19:31
  • @Ertai87 - Agreed, the complaint needs cancelling, and properly. And you're right, this should be before reaching out to Bill, not after. – paj28 Jul 9 at 22:38
2

The prospect of having to regularly confront my attacker leaves me filled with rage and dread.

My goal is to not have a terrible fight / flight panic engage every time I see Bill at work.

This whole situation is clearly getting under your skin. With everything else that's going on in the world right now, I would urge you to take good care of yourself and prioritize your mental health.

Consider taking a few days off (without checking your work email/Slack...), or do whatever you think will help you get to a better place mentally.

For how to resolve this particular situation, I'd suggest to review the answers here (with a grain of salt) and then do whatever works best for you.

More importantly though, take a step back and ask yourself: why did you react so strongly when, by your own account, this whole episode was

a singular incident, not part of a pattern.

You can't just "grow a thicker skin" like that - the human mind doesn't work that way. What you can do though is, with the help of family, friends, and possibly a psychologist, understand yourself a little bit better and add a few more tools to your toolbox to better deal with situations like this in the future.

Good luck!

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Did Bill really bully me and create a hostile environment or am I just being too sensitive?

Bill was being immature and unprofessional. If you disagree with what's being said then say that in a calm and respectful matter. You don't say:

"We get it already!" "Shut Up!"

Sometimes people lose their civility at work. I even slipped up called someone's idea stupid before. However, the reaction from everyone else is not to laugh, but to acknowledge what happened was not okay. The offender apologizes and we move on.

In this case, I think the best step would have been to discuss with your manager or his manager on what happened and discuss next steps. A formal HR complaint could have been an option. Only you can be the judge of how severe the offense was. The fact that everyone else thought it was appropriate to laugh in this case tells me the group in the meeting lacks maturity on the whole.

The prospect of having to regularly confront my attacker leaves me filled with rage and dread.

Having been in a similar situation, I understand what you are feeling. I think continuing to talk to your manager and putting some distance between you and Bill for a while will be good. I don't see why your manager would expect you to immediately patch things up with Bill. What happened may be an isolated incident, but it was embarrassing and hurtful.

I hope that you could approach the situation assuming that Bill can change and that one day you all may work together peacefully again. I mentioned I had an incident like this one (but mine was recurring with multiple instance and he did to multiple people) and to be honest it took me a couple of months to get over it. And I got over it because the person started changing for the better and now we have a relatively peaceful working relationship.

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I agree with the other answers here, with regards to this particular incident.

Bill was in the wrong, but it was only a small indiscretion and he apologised promptly, directly and (in as much as you haven't said anything to the contrary) sincerely.

You over-reacted and are now also in the wrong, and you should address that.

HOWEVER...


One thing that I would say that I don't think the others have said, is that you should pay attention to future events.

It's entirely possible (though IMO unlikely) that your hair trigger reactions were actually correct, even if there wasn't evidence to support them.

It's possible that your workplace is generally mildly toxic and messages like those would be considered normal. That would be a bad thing.

You shouldn't let the fact that you were wrong in this instance prevent you from speaking up in future if you establish a prolonged pattern of behaviour like this.

But you need to examine these interactions very neutrally - far more neutrally than you have in this case (see Stephan's answer and point 3. of Kevin's answer). You mustn't go looking for pattern of trivial slights. You'll undoubtedly find things that can be misinterpretted as so, if you search for them.

But if they are there, then document them, and review them (on your own!) carefully to decide whether there's a real problem. Then take that to HR.

It's easy to let yourself become gaslit, if you've been wrong once. As you're already second-guessing yourself.

And to repeat there's no current evidence that they are, or will in the future, gaslight you. I'm only raising this to pre-empt a possible future that ends poorly for your mental health.

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I'm sorry to say that whether this is a hostile environment is ambiguous based on this one incident you described. We don't know the personalities and histories of these characters. Bullying, however, I doubt because the negative interactions were accidental.

However, the "howling laughter" from everyone worries me. It suggests, perhaps, that they are on the same page in sharing negative perceptions of you, and, perhaps, lack sympathy with you after being insulted. Of course, there is a ton of uncertainty here, so don't take my impression as correct necessarily.

What's not uncertain is how you feel, so I recommend two things. One, you did, go to HR, talk and listen*. You can almost always have more faith in HR over strangers on SE. The other is move in the peaceful direction: allow other employees to make amends, whether through apology and/or nicer more respectful treatment going forward. If they do so, accept it, and reciprocate the positivity. You will not gain from hanging on to your negative thoughts, so embrace every opportunity for the situation to improve. People make mistakes, and you can see how they really are by how they respond and improve. If they do not improve, you certainly have a problem and should once again approach your boss and/or HR*.

* To clarify, bring this out to your boss first and foremost. Follow boss's guidance before escalating to HR. If you wind up at HR, whether you feel more comfortable with HR or your boss has not helped, I advocate starting a conversation about how you feel, not filing a complaint. Allow HR to engage in conflict resolution first before considering further escalation. This could backfire. (Thanks Old_lamplighter)

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    HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND – Old_Lamplighter Jul 9 at 14:44
  • @Old_Lamplighter, no that's BS based on a small number of extreme cases. In the vast majority of the time, HR will help you when you feel uncomfortable at work. Consider going to boss and/or HR if you are uncomfortable at work, unless you have explicit reasons not to! – Michael McFarlane Jul 9 at 16:30
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    You do realize that there are articles written as to just WHY HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND right? Forbes has one, as does Inc, as does marketplace. People like the OP, who go running to HR as a first resort end up shooting themselves in the foot as often as not. It's not just a phrase, it is a warning, ignore it at your own risk. – Old_Lamplighter Jul 9 at 16:43
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    Do these articles relate to OP's case? Perhaps you could provide one. Note, BTW, the events in which HR performs properly do not inspire articles, thus the collection of articles is biased, and not representative. Thanks. – Michael McFarlane Jul 9 at 18:06
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    Those articles are definitely worth pursuing, and clearly demonstrate why HR IS NOT YOUR FRIEND and one of them points out the simple fact that this is true if HR IS working properly. HR exists for the benefit of the COMPANY not the employee. That's why it's human resources now, and not PERSONnel any longer. But, I'd love to hear the sources for your wisdom. – Old_Lamplighter Jul 9 at 18:12
-7

OP, you do need to quit this job. But not for the reason you think. It has nothing to do with this scenario, but it has to do with you as a person. You are not cut out for being in the workforce. Please leave the workforce and do not return. Get married, find a spouse with a good job, who can baby you and coddle you and support you so you don't have to be around people, because you are not able to handle it.

If Bill wanted to be aggressive with you, he wouldn't have done it on Sue's screen. He would have sent you the message directly, and it would have been a lot worse than what he said. He did not "collaborate with Sue to try to haze you" or whatever; just as easily as you can take a chat record of the conversation and send it to HR, you could also take a screenshot of Sue's shared screen and send that to HR. There is no benefit to Bill for sharing his angry message with you via Sue, over just sharing it with you directly himself. This message was directed, if at anyone, then it was directed at Sue for keeping the meeting dragging too long, and you unfortunately saw it.

This is fairly ordinary when meetings drag over: Someone gets upset and sends a frustrated/irate/sarcastic message with someone who they are close with to express their frustration. The other person, because they are close, shrugs it off and doesn't say anything to management, as it would make them both look unprofessional if it got out. But it happens, at every workplace, at every time, in every meeting, and if not in the meeting then certainly after. I have almost never left a meeting in my life where nobody said "that meeting sucked I wasted my time" or something like that; there is always "that guy" in every meeting, and if you're going to be part of the workforce you need to appreciate that and deal with it. One of these days, you will probably be "that guy" yourself, if you haven't been already.

As for the laughing: It's embarrassing when these messages become public. Not saying these kinds of things is a measure of "being professional". What Bill said was not professional. The fact that Bill thought that Sue would not share the message was unprofessional, of Sue (for portraying that image). The fact that Bill sent the message to Sue despite Sue's screen being shared was unprofessional. The fact that Sue showed the message was unprofessional. But these things happen, mistakes happen, and usually you laugh them off and move on with your life, like "haha that was silly wasn't it, ok move on". Only the most uptight of uptight people even make a comment about it, and those are the people you absolutely don't want around, those people fail in office politics and are usually the first on the chopping block when downsizing happens.

As for the apology: Bill did not apologize for his comments. He apologized that his comments were made public. Because he has nothing to apologize for, to you. His comments were directed at Sue, not at you, and you happened to see them. His comments were not about you, they were about the meeting. He apologized because he did something unprofessional and you saw him doing something unprofessional, so he apologized to you for being unprofessional, and that's all. He did not apologize for "hazing" or "bullying" or whatever. He is not an "attacker".

What you should do: As above, you should leave the workforce immediately and never return. You are not cut out for being around people and working collaboratively. Your skin is much too thin to do that, and if you show people you have such a thin skin, and at the first indication of any sort of slight that may possibly even close to resemble something against you then you will launch a formal complaint with HR (seriously who does that?), you will never succeed because nobody will ever want to even be in your presence, nevermind collaborate with you on anything. So please, just fire yourself and don't come back.

What you should do if you decide you need money and can't just not work for the rest of your life: Get close to Bill. Bill knows what's going on. Bill seems like a cool guy who's not afraid to be unprofessional if it means he gets to be more sociable. Accept Bill's apology, go to HR and revoke your formal complaint immediately, and do your best to become friends with Bill. I would even go one step further: Find Bill's manager (in person, not by email, schedule a meeting if you have to), explain the situation to his manager, and apologize to Bill's manager for launching a complaint against Bill, and do it in Bill's presence. Revoked or not, a formal complaint could come up on an employee's annual review, and it could affect Bill getting a promotion or a raise when he did nothing wrong. You need to inform Bill's manager that the complaint was ill-founded, and you need Bill to know that you reported this to his manager so Bill can follow up if he needs. Then, you should accept that this is company culture in your company: Your coworkers are not robots who have to be mechanically professional all the time. They have personalities and they get frustrated or angry (or happy or excited) just like the rest of us, and sometimes they voice their opinions and their emotions, and everyone at the company accepts this and feels free and open to sharing as well. You need to accept this, not only at this company, but at every company, because every (good) company has this culture as well. Bill seems used to this sort of thing, so you should become friends with Bill and watch how Bill acts and emulate him, he'll be a good mentor for you not being hated by everyone in the future.

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