I work for a small software development team, and recently things have started getting extremely uncomfortable for me at work.

We have a couple of girls who seem overly dramatic for no reason at random. I've been with the company for a little less than a year, but these girls have been with the company for years. They aren't programmers, they're secretaries.

We used to get along great, then for some reason, they abruptly stopped talking to me.

A few times I've asked where my supervisor was because I needed his input on a project we're working on, I asked one of the girls where the supervisor was. She snapped at me and with a long, drawn-out sigh, said "I don't know!" I figured she must have been having a very bad day. Recently, towards the end of the day, I said "Good night," as I normally do, and she stopped, slowly turned her head without looking back, then kept walking. She's even been glaring at me, or looking away/refusing to talk to me when I need to ask about something.

So I decided to ask if everything is okay. "Yep, everything's fine! :-)"

I also recently decided, as a peace offering, to buy lunch for the whole company. She got up and walked out the door, and didn't return until we finished eating. Everyone else was thankful for it, though. Since then, she's snapped at me a couple times.

Today, she locked herself outside of the company building, so I went to open the door for her. She immediately freaked out big-time, yelling at the top of her lungs through the glass door, "NO! NO! NO! STOP! STOP!!!!!! DON'T OPEN THE DOOR FOR ME!!! STOP!!!!!!!!!!!!", so I just went back to my chair, sat down and wondered what the hell was going on. She was literally freaking out on me.

At the end of the day today, she stood and stared at me through my office's glass door for what seemed like 10 seconds, and waved at me without showing any emotion. Like the engine was running, but nobody was behind the wheel...

Suffice to say, this is creating a really creepy, scary, and uncomfortable work environment for me. I just sit in my chair and code, and solve problems, and try not to get in anyone's way, but lately I've been feeling too uncomfortable to focus on work as much as I used to.

I just want to code, but I'm tired of being fearful every day of making her angry, or setting her off, losing my job, etc.

Should I bring this up with my supervisor? He's basically 2nd in command to the CEO, but I'm afraid I may end up losing my job -- since she's been here a lot longer and has a lot of friends here -- or even worse, creating an even more hostile work environment. My first reaction was to update my resume just in case, and just start looking for another job at another company.


Yes, you should bring this up with your supervisor, because obviously, this will not get solved otherwise.

However, the question remains of how to bring this up and how to resolve this situation. If you complain about her unconstructively, your boss will need to decide who he wants to keep. It's a random chance who he will decide for and you should not take random chances with your job.

Instead, try to remain neutral and talk to him about all the instances of weird behaviour. Then tell him that you assume you did something wrong and you want to apologize or make up for it, but you don't know what the problem is. Ask him if he can find out what you supposedly did and how you can rectify this.

The difference is that you offer him a constructive way out to keep you both. Should he notice in his talks to the secretary that she's a freak and there is no way to keep you both, then it's pretty clear that you are the teamplayer that wants to stay constructive and she is not.

On the other hand, maybe you did something wrong and maybe he does find out what it is and maybe you can apologize to her. Great. Problem solved.


First a remark: Assuming that the minimum age for employment is 16 years, someone who has been with the company for many years isn't a "girl". So if you are located in the UK or the USA, using that kind of language would explain things. If you are elsewhere, I wouldn't know if that kind of language is acceptable.

Everything else: If you are quite young and your supervisor older and presumably more experienced, you can go to him and not complain about your female colleagues, but ask him for advice how to cope with this work-related problem, not because he is your superior, but because he has more worldly experience.

If that superior is any good at his job, he will keep his eyes open and eventually find out what is going on and sort things out. Which may be good or bad for you, but the problem should get solved.

  • Thank you. I actually tried to put "lady," or "woman," but I've had people get upset at me for using those words before in a multi-cultural environment. In quite a few cases, it was considered offensive to make a woman feel old, so I left it out. – Groop Feb 14 '15 at 16:49
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    I'd also note that this can very geographically - in some areas (particularly in the north of England) Girls or Guys can be quite acceptable use for groups of female/male colleagues. – Jon Story Feb 14 '15 at 17:08

I know the norm here is to "goto supervisor" as step 1, but this seems like something that is strictly between you and the admin assistants. YMMV but you generally can't expect management to handle sensitive interpersonal stuff with any finesse. It would be like trying to repair a clock wearing oven mitts.

There is something here that you're not seeing (or which you haven't shared). Your concern is naturally to just "fix it", but such attempts will always be a shot in the dark unless you understand fully what is going on. There is a reason for their change in behavior, it is not random.

It is nice that you tried a peace-offering of buying lunch for everyone, however that is a rather oblique way of addressing the problem. It might even be seen as over-compensation which some can see as an offense in itself.

Two possible courses of action for this problem:

  • (harder) Have a 1-on-1 discussion with at least one of the people involved. By this I don't mean a quick, in-passing chat in the hallway. I mean face to face discussion where each person tells their side of the situation. Tell her it is important to you that you get along and that you want things to go smoothly. You may have an opportunity to find the actual problem here and you might not understand it immediately. Whatever the case accept what they say without judgment and think about whatever you might need to do. It might be as simple as saying "I'm sorry" and not do something which has ticked them off in the past. It could be that there is NOTHING that you can do.

  • (easier) Let time pass. Just do your job with minimal interaction. Be cordial, say good morning, don't ask them for anything unless it is absolutely unavoidable. Over time, the grudge will soften and hopefully you'll slowy develop some rapport with these folks.

  • +1, although the OP did note that he asked if everything is okay. This may have been the "chat in the hallway" type of conversation which indeed would not be helpful. – Stephan Kolassa Feb 14 '15 at 14:25
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    I would go with option 2. This is toxic - that is just not stable behavior. What if you go to her desk and ask to discuss it she may start screaming "get away from me stop harassing me." – paparazzo Feb 14 '15 at 17:38
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    @Groop, by "hallway" I mean any kind of brief conversation. "Is everything OK?" would definitely be too short form. Perhaps if you had started with describing your alarm at her response when you tried to open the door for her? – teego1967 Feb 14 '15 at 20:53
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    Overall I like your answer but there is a risk to gaining a better understanding. – paparazzo Feb 14 '15 at 20:57
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    The possibilities: 1. You've done something badly wrong at work. 2. Something happened in private life that upset her (like your brother made her sister pregnant then dumped her, and you don't even know). 3. She heard bad, false rumors about you (someone else with a similar name did something badly wrong). 4. She dislikes you intensely for whatever reason. 5. She is mad. If you ask her, it must be a direct question for the reason for her behaviour. If she says "you know why", you need to insist that she tells you. (Or leave it to your supervisor which may be better). – gnasher729 Feb 15 '15 at 9:54

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