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I am a manager with several direct reports. My manager also manages another team. One of his direct reports is continually rude to me in front of other employees.

We have a work from home policy, and when I am in the office he makes comments like "Jane Sighting, everyone we have a Jane sighting today!" He is getting more aggressive, as today in a combined team meeting -- during the roundtable of both teams -- he stated his question as "I'd like to know where Jane is sitting now that her new employee is sitting at her desk". The room and conference call became extremely quiet. I stated that I am working in the private phone booths, or Flex space, since I have many business conference calls during the day.

If I confront him in public, it is not considered professional. If I confront him in private, then I feel the other employees will think it is okay to treat me poorly.

How do I stop this person from making aggressive, rude, and embarrassing comments while also letting others know it's not okay to treat me disrespectfully?

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    Talk to them in private and tell them you want them to stop. They may not even realize they are being rude. – Simon O'Doherty Jul 26 '14 at 5:54
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    You also might take this as (poorly formed) feedback that you need to be more available. It's extremely rare for this sort of behavior to occur if nobody else is thinking what the loudmouth is saying (because then the loudmouth doesn't have an audience). – Telastyn Jul 26 '14 at 14:06
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    Everyone became silent because they feel its really awkward. In your position, I would reply like this : "What is your problem ? Are you okay ? If you have issues, then please talk to the management. This is not the place for ranting. Grow up." – Steam Jul 26 '14 at 14:31
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    Hi Jane, I'm curious, are there others in your office who are targets of abuse such as this? If so, what are those situations usually like? Do the targets of the abusers call out the behaviors or take any actions? Thank you! – jmort253 Jul 29 '14 at 5:40
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    I think rudeness is a different problem than lame attempts at humor, though the solutions may be similar. We should judge duplicates based on the question, not the answers, so after consultation with another mod I'm reopening this. – Monica Cellio Aug 17 '14 at 18:01
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  1. Escalate to the manager, and tell the manager that this individual is crossing the line into harassment and bullying. Tell the manager that you feel strongly enough about this issue that you WILL confront this individual if the manager doesn't do anything. But that you want to give the manager a chance to resolve the issue quietly and that it is your preference that the manager resolve the issue of this individual's behavior quietly. Before this individual's next outburst.

  2. If the manager fails to intervene before this individual's next outburst, talk to him in "private" at his desk - Make it loud enough and hard enough that everyone can hear it.

  3. Repeat 1 and 2 until the individual quits making your life miserable. Escalate to the manager's manager and to HR if you have to.

I have to warn you that this individual will be unhappy, so don't link your happiness with his happiness. In fact, the more he wallows in his unhappiness, the less time and energy he can devote to making you unhappy. He started it by making your happiness and his happiness a zero sum game. Unless he quits the game, finish the game that he started.

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    Agree - I have to warn you that this individual will be unhappy, so don't link your happiness with his happiness. – Steam Jul 26 '14 at 14:32
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    I agree with this, with the proviso that you may want to consider speaking to the rude person first. If you've not told them that their behaviour is unacceptable then they can argue that they were not supposed to guess, and it will make it 'easier' to expect your manager to take firm action to resolve the matter if you can say you've already spoken up yourself and nothing changed. It's possible to just tell someone firmly, but also quietly and politely, that what they are doing is unwelcome without it having to be a "public confrontation". – Rob Moir Jul 27 '14 at 21:44
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    @RobM If I were in a boiling rage about this individual's behavior, I'd speak to the higher-up first. Because if I were to speak with that individual first, ANYTHING could happen if he said anything that was out of turn. Speaking with the higher-up would allow me to channel my rage in a more constructive way and dial it down. The higher-up could tell me that they'd handle the matter or they could make a judgement call that I have calmed down enough to speak with that individual without exploding. I usually find that talking to a higher up or even to a third party has a calming effect on me. – Vietnhi Phuvan Jul 27 '14 at 22:12
  • @VietnhiPhuvan I agree with not speaking to the person while enraged; clearly nothing good would come from that. But the OP can wait until they're not upset and then have the talk, right? – Rob Moir Jul 27 '14 at 23:08
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    If you reach 2 I could advice to be extremely direct. - in fact I did it in a meeting where my manager was there - telling a person 'cracking a joke' about me taking sick days (since I was, you know, sick) that it was out of line (it was not the first time he did this). Everyone felt that it was appropriate to call him on it, that was clear. In your situation you could say something like: I am following the company's WFH policy, and you are out of line, it is not funny. – Ida Jul 29 '14 at 18:11
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I come from the line of thinking that, when boundaries are crossed, the time to address the issue is immediately. In the case of this person asking where I'm going to be sitting, I would probably say, without getting emotional, rude, or confrontational, the following statement:

I have that covered. You can find me in the flex space area if you have anything you need to report to me. Now, let's get back to business on X...

Since you're not responsible to this person, you need not provide any explanation; instead, just matter-of-factly move on. People like this say things like that to try and get a rise out of you, so if you keep your cool and keep your power by not getting defensive, then it takes away their power and may hopefully make them stop. It also just makes them look bad if there are undertones of hostility on his part but not on yours.

Afterwards, it may be a good idea to talk with this person in private, ideally after the meeting. Remember, the sooner issues like this are confronted, the better. After the meeting, take this person aside and calmly explain that you don't appreciate the "Jane sightings" and that you'd appreciate the person stop. It may be possible he doesn't know he's doing harm, and even if he does know, calling him out on it privately may get him to change his behavior.

As others have said, if the behavior doesn't stop, then you'd need to escalate it to your manager or HR, but I also believe that, as a manager, you need to demonstrate that you are capable of handling personnel issues and personality conflicts on your own.

Dr. Henry Cloud, clinical psychologist and leadership coach, in a Forbes article titled "How to Manage Boundaries in the Workplace" answers the following question:

What happens when a co-worker oversteps your boundaries and does something that upsets you? How should you respond to them?

This is a great example of when a team has a vacuum of leadership boundaries. The best thing to do would be to use the “symptom” as an opportunity to talk about some values and behaviors that the entire team could covenant together to implement in situations like this one, and then they would know what to do. For example, the value might be “Honest Conflict Resolution” with some agreed upon behaviors that would bring that to fruition, such as “when we have an issue to resolve with someone, we go to them directly and seek resolution. We receive and listen when someone brings an issue to us. We always seek an answer that is good for both.” That kind of value before hand, with these specific behaviors, would lead someone to know what to do, not only in that situation but others as well.

In summary, what Dr. Cloud is saying is that you need to set the expectations on how you will be treated, as well as how other employees are treated when there is a conflict. You have an opportunity to set that standard. Lead by example, and don't allow people to treat each other this way.

Finally, on that same note, you can also start by addressing these issues between subordinates on your team. If two of your subordinates call each other out publicly or if employee A announces an employee B sighting or does something similar to embarrass that person, this would be a great opportunity to call out this behavior, but without you being the target of the bullying or the conflict.

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    In ideal world, when the colleague said 'I would like to know where Jane is sitting now ...', Jane's manager would intervine with something like 'Why do you want to know?' – greenfingers Jul 28 '14 at 16:22
  • @greenfingers Yes indeed! And what I left out is sort of what Dr. Cloud covers in that this is a leadership problem that could very well go all the way to the top. Barring that, we must establish boundaries on our own as best we can... – jmort253 Jul 28 '14 at 20:18
  • @greenfingers - Just FYI, you did get me thinking more about this and wondering if the issues are more complex than I make them out to be. You should consider hanging out in The Workplace Chat every so often, as we could definitely use more help with the ins and outs of what to do about certain posts. – jmort253 Aug 7 '14 at 3:35
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Talking to them may not be the worst idea - if they're approachable, and wish to open a dialog with you, then you could inform them that what they are saying to you isn't taken in jest, and that you find it comparatively rude and unprofessional.

If you're not comfortable talking with them, then inform your manager and let them have a private word with them. It'd be a discussion in a similar vein - you find that what they're saying isn't professional and that those kinds of jokes aren't appropriate.

The final stopping point would be HR. if you feel that this sort of banter is harassment, then let them know about it. If your manager won't take action that you feel is satisfactory, chances are that HR will.

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You could joke back with, "you must not have enough work to do if you're keeping tabs on me" or something like that. You can try that approach and see if he backs off. I would feel okay responding that way in front of others. If his comments are that blatant then other people won't think less of you for responding in a lighthearted way.

This person is clearly being a bully. It's possible that your manager won't let him work from home because he's not productive and is jealous of the trust that your manager has in you.

Regardless - I would mention this to your manager. If you don't have regularly scheduled one on ones meetings with him then I'd set one up. If you don't get any traction with your manager then I would talk with HR. If you do reach out to HR then definitely let your manager know so he's not surprised when he hears from them. There's absolutely no reason for anyone to work in a hostile work environment. This includes you as well.

  • this doesn't seems to offer anything substantial over points made and explained in prior 3 answers – gnat Aug 18 '14 at 21:10
  • I thought it was worth mentioning using humor in some instances like this one. I think "we" get caught up in trying to confront people that we forget that we're all human and sometimes appealing to that element gets us further than confrontation. But I appreciate your comment. – Amanda H Aug 19 '14 at 13:54
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It's usually best to handle these scenarios outside of HR, so it won't be in your "file." I would strongly advise you to have a witness present if you confront this person. Your boss deserves to know if it's become this bad, so make sure they know. Use phrases such as "I feel" and "I inferred," because no one can argue with how you feel. State facts and circle back to how factual events affected you. Your working arrangements are generally an agreement between you and your company, not you and other employees. As long as you're satisfactorily doing your work, at whatever scheduling/locale agreement you have, it's your boss' job to handle negative perception of you on those fronts.

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