I have a colleague who holds a higher position than myself and is very very abrupt and rude, in particular to people who are in lower positions than she is. I believe the management dont really see this because she treats them in a different way and makes sure she always looks good.

I have no idea how to deal with a person who behaves like that, especially when they are in a higher position than I am. Any suggestions?

I did try to discuss this with one of the main managers but they may have thought I am just being overly sensitive.

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    What specifically is she doing? I think there might be a kernel in there that might make it possible to give you more specific help (if you want it--I see you've already marked an answer correct). Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 22:22
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    Have you considered that you might be overly sensitive? You say abrupt, she might say she's direct. She might be really busy and not have time for social niceties. Do you have any specific examples?
    – Andy
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 23:18
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    Hey Anne, and welcome to The Workplace! Is there any chance you could clarify the problem a bit better, and what sort of solution you're looking for? Are you trying to find out how to get her to stop? How to bring it up to management? How to respond to her when she does it? If you could edit the post to explain what you're trying to do, I think you'll get much better answers! Thanks in advance.
    – jmac
    Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 2:34
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    You haven't told us what she's doing that you consider rude. Remember in particular that many engineering types are borderline-Aspergers (some well past the borderline), and tend to prefer to communicate the essentials as quickly and directly as possible so they can move on to the next task.
    – keshlam
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 1:57
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    @keshlam, I think the aspergers/autism-spectrum "excuse" for rude behavior in technical folks is getting overused. There are some people who get diagnosed with this disorder and it is a serious problem for them, but to say that "many" people in a particular profession have this is just not right.
    – teego1967
    Commented Aug 28, 2014 at 11:21

6 Answers 6


Is this any help? Point being is that the work environment often rewards such behavior, even if such rewards are unintentional. In such a circumstance talking to other managers won't get you anywhere.

As a male, I'm not well equipped to make suggestions in this narrow context. I grew up reading books and spending a lot of time riding my bicycle along back country roads - it wasn't exactly Little League or high school football. Therefore I stood out as 'different', and never made any attempt to suggest otherwise.

In the workplace, the people that resent me think I have some sort of 'unfair advantage' - I seem to know things and be able to do things that others can't. This happens when a software developer is working around people in chemical reprocessing plants or food packing operations. I saw the female to female side of this when my (now-ex) wife was telling me that her boss explained to her that she (the boss) hadn't gone to an Ivy League school or had a debut, etc., etc. My wife, of course, had grown up in one of the rougher parts of town, had total recluses for parents, and only got into the school she did by spending months filling out financial aid applications.

Perhaps the behavior of this co-worker is designed to suppress competition. If so, such effort is only worthwhile when invested at competitive threats. This suggests she thinks you could eventually crowd her out. An appropriate approach then is to differentiate - you don't do what she does (professionally) and vice versa. Carve out a niche where you aren't a threat, but could become 'equal' to her as your skills evolve. This would mean looking carefully at what she does, so you can structure your role to complement it.

Eventually this creates a situation where she can't prosper unless you do, and this would attenuate a lot of the harassment.


These kind of situations is not rare thesedays. Always keep your calm and try not to be reactive, even when it's really hard. Don't engage in any sort of fight or argument, always maintain a professional disposition. Limit your contact with her as much as possible. And don't overanalyse this situation, relax.

  • Thanks Kimmy, the thing is I have to work with her more often now and have no idea how that is going to work especially with her poor behavior and no guidance.
    – J. Anne
    Commented Jan 5, 2014 at 18:18
  • I can understand your situation. Why don't you take this matter to your boss and amicably sort out it? Its also better to talk to her infornt of your boss, if she agrees. Commented Jan 6, 2014 at 14:52

Based on your question it's hard to determine how your roles interact with one another but a couple of things come to mind...

If it's performance related - you could be proactive and schedule a meeting with her to get her feedback. Is there something that you're not doing or something you should be doing differently? Do you have the same understanding around whatever it is that you're working on? Is there something she needs from you that she's not getting?

If it's work related - you could talk with someone in your HR department and ask for their advice. They would understand your working environment better.

If it's personality related - you could try making polite small talk with her. She may feel that she needs to be stern or direct with others so she's taken seriously. There could be things going on in her personal life which are causing her to be come across short tempered. This has worked for me in the past when I've worked with a very direct manager.


In this situation, I would put your worries into writing, and formerly describe your issues. That way you have backing if anything happens. Plus you don't need to openly say to them you have a problem.

In a professional workplace, 'bullying' will not be tolerated, and anything of the sort will be taken seriously.

If you feel you are having any sort of issues, I would greatly advise you to put it into writing - I can't stress it enough!


I am a rude senior. I never shouted a co-worker, but there are things what I simply can't tolerate. It is a big disadvantage for me. I am trying to fight it.

Everybody can have bad days and a rude senior, if he is not a boss, are much more threatened by such a situation as you would think.

However, you have a common interest: you want to make your projects success and your company success.

Never make final decisions, or commit unrepairable acts on single cases. React always the habit.

If it is not a habit, then forgive it.

Also I think that you are over-sensitive. Using over-sensitivity as a weapon, is a particularly evil weapon. Reacting badly for single events is always over-sensitivity. It seems as if you would like to punish him by using a single mistake.


I partially agree with Kimmy. What I don't think is a way to go is to:

"limit your contact with her as much as possible"

How I try to approach people that are hard to deal with is not to try to avoid them but learn how to talk to them and understand them. That will most likely work for you in the future as you become more connected with them - then you can try to talk to them personally about your concerns without making them feeling offended.

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    I dont know why the down votes. The best way to deal with difficult people is to learn to deal with difficult people. Odds are you'll run into a lot of them throughout your career and avoiding them is only occasionally an option. Avoiding does not provide the opportunities to learn to deal with. Dealing with also doesn't necessarily mean "more connected" or sharing your "concerns" either. It simply means learning how to work effectively with the person despite your personal opinions/feelings about the person. That is most easily done by adopting a "all business" mindset when around the person.
    – Dunk
    Commented Sep 4, 2014 at 18:42
  • @Dunk I guess the downvotes are because you run the risk of being vulnerable if in the future your relationship with the said person changes after you have shared concerns. They know how they would be able to push your buttons easily now. Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 17:11

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