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I hope that this is the right place to ask this question. I've only used SO for programming questions so far.

Update: As per the feedback comment, to clarify, I am not asking a general "What should I do?" question. Given the situation outlined below, where I am explaining the difficulties I have with a coworker's anger management issues making my work unduly difficult, I would like to know whether these difficulties are so severe that I should leave and seek a new job, despite my reasons stated for wanting to stick around. So literally "Should I stay or should I go?" That is, are these difficulties insurmountable, or am I overreacting, meaning I should accept this as a challenge and just do my best despite the difficulties? I can not see any solution to the problems by my sticking around, other than simply doing my best. But maybe others will see a solution where I fail to.

I am a senior c# developer working in a very small company. (Only two developers.) I have been here about 9 months, while the other, whom I shall henceforth refer to as my colleague, has been here for about three years. He is my immediate and only senior (apart from the company director who isn't a developer) - every line of code I write is reviewed by him. He also reviews every decision I make, and he sits right next to me. Henceforth I'll also refer to the company director (and owner) as "the boss".

My colleague has OCD, is a workaholic, and tends to lose his temper every day. When others we have worked with externally don't meet his stringent and often unrealistic expectations, he takes it personally. He takes a slow response as a personal attack, even when it obviously isn't so. He sends totally unprofessional, angry and sarcastic emails, sometimes resorting to personal attacks on individuals while copying several others, and often alienates them, risking destroying the business relationship completely.

The latest angry mail nearly destroyed our relationship with the electronic banking head of a major bank in this country. To save the relationship, I have been tasked by our boss with handling all correspondence with them from now on. We (myself and the boss) also had a conference call regarding outstanding issues with that bank, which was difficult as I am not familiar with all the systems and services relevant to my colleague's questions (going back a year).

Earlier on today, I tried to approach my colleague after the call, to ask him some questions. He mumbled something unintelligible. I have a meeting at the bank in two days, to find the answers regarding issues we have with their account CDV algorithm. When I asked him about this a few minutes ago, his response was "Shhh". It's OK, I can read his code, but dealing with the man is becoming increasingly difficult, and I have to deal with him every day.

In addition to the extra responsibilities, I still have my development tasks and deadlines. My deadlines don't move.

It seems no use speaking to our boss, who is hardly ever here, and very close to my colleague. (They studied together and go back many years.) The bottom line is that he will lose money if my colleague messes up business relationships, so he's content to push the problems onto me. He tells me that I must see this as a challenge and step up.

However, I am becoming extremely uncomfortable working with these people. Today I dare not even ask him to review some code so that I can commit it to source control, for fear of a violent retaliation.

If I believed in karma, which I do not as an atheist and skeptic, I'd say I was getting my just deserts. For 7 years I was a methamphetamine addict. I burned a lot of bridges in my active addiction, and left too many jobs too soon. This means my resume looks bad - "job hopping" as they call it. I really need to stay in one job for a long time, but being in this position, caused by the instability and substantial anger management issues of my colleague, is making me so uncomfortable, it is effecting my sleep and my family life. I have enough problems to deal with in my personal life, and another one caused by a coworker is quite unnecessary.

I like my colleague as a person, and I can often see the source of his anger; but his responses to certain situations seem many times exaggerated. So I empathize with him, but that doesn't make his behaviour acceptable, especially when it affects everybody around him. Back in the day, I was considerably less aggressive and temperamental even when I was high on meth and awake for several consecutive days. For years I was always notoriously bad at communication so I find it extremely ironic that I have to communicate with 3rd parties rather than him.

What should I do? They pay me well but this isn't about money. Should I take my boss's advice and see this as a "challenge", or get the hell out of here? Another issue - since the company is so small (5 employees), I won't be able to seek alternate employment without being noticed. (I found out after I started that the boss has fired the last 3 developers before me.)

  • hello, consider editing the question to make it better fit site topics laid out in help center. In particular, this guidance may help to learn what is expected of questions here. Good luck! – gnat Mar 4 '15 at 12:41
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    Thanks. I'll update the question by clarifying what's being asked up front. It's not a "what should I do" question really, but might come across that way. – Jerome Viveiros Mar 4 '15 at 12:45
  • It's a pretty bad situation to leave as this would be seen as a continuation of your job hopping past and it's not generally acceptable to cite toxic environment as a reason for leaving. The flip side of that is that your mental health also has value, so taking the status quo isn't a great option either. If your efforts to fix the situation don't work do your best to line up the next job before you quit this one. – Myles Mar 4 '15 at 16:24
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I think you're undervaluing yourself in this situation. The boss and your colleague go way-back to college friends and he still pulls him off of a deal and has you represent the company. Obviously he values you in the face-to-face aspects of the business. This is very important.

The boss isn't around, so you have no choice but to stand up to your colleague. There is no law that says you have to sit there and listen to his little fits and tantrums. Just get up and go take a break. If you get an email with an insult, respond that you want a version with the insult removed. Document everything. If you feel threatened or actually are threatened, report that to the boss. I don't know where you're from, but in many places there are laws against this.

The boss is more aware of the situation than you may think. He's trying to make the best out of a bad situation (your colleague has the technical skills but zero people skills) and you are part of the solution. You're too valuable to think you need to leave when you are in good standing with the boss. Your colleague may not like you standing up for yourself (most bullies don't) and could possibly go to the boss, but he's going to look pretty foolish. With his bad reputation going around the industry as someone who doesn't get along with others and is extremely unprofessional, he'll struggle finding another job. He's working for his friend for a reason and I doubt it is because of the high wages.

  • Good points. He always brags about the other offers he's received, but I doubt many people would put up with his shit. He's been very quiet today, sulking and refusing to talk to me. I find this working situation bizarre though, and tend to want to run away because I have my own problems and don't need his shit. But I guess it's not perfect anywhere. – Jerome Viveiros Mar 4 '15 at 14:42
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    I'm struggling to decide between this and Voxwoman's answer. But this is the one that I'd like to believe. Also, I really don't want to leave this job. Not yet; but I hope I'm not making a mistake. – Jerome Viveiros Mar 4 '15 at 14:57
  • Also, I feel bad for the guy. I hope this situation can improve. – Jerome Viveiros Mar 4 '15 at 15:00
  • Unfortunately, this guy has been rewarded for his bad behavior too often, but that doesn't mean you should suffer. You may find if you confront him, things could get worse before they get better. I just think you need to know there is something you can do about it and don't have to take it all the time. If not this one, it will be good practice for your next job. – user8365 Mar 4 '15 at 17:35
  • Bad ass people like this still get jobs in IT, its not a problem as long as they are good specialists. Employers do know know their people skills, plus some do not care as much if they see he has high skill. I had one boss also hugely annoying that I left after 2 months when he became my boss. And he gets along with people he wants to get along. – Will_create_nick_later Mar 26 '17 at 9:01
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Whether you ultimately or not is your own decision. I think it depends on how long you can stay in this toxic environment. Does the company have a handbook of rules and procedures? If so, is an unsafe workplace addressed?

If you attempt to stay, you are going to have to communicate with your problematic colleague directly. It seems your boss is enabling him (permitting him) to vent to the rest of the employees. Try to find out if the other developers were really fired or if they quit (or if they got themselves fired to get out of there).

Read up on communication techniques: The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense by Suzette Hayden-Elgin (and other books in that series - she's written many over the years), is a handbook of "how to communicate with angry people" and could help you alter your working relationship with angry guy over time, or at least let you survive it.

Influencing with Integrity (Laborde) is another really useful book - a crash course in NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) which will also help you deal with angry guy.

I also think that you should seriously think about moving on as soon as you can. Work environments like this are not healthy, and you've already stressed your system with the drugs you were doing in the past.

  • Thanks for the answer. I fear it is correct, and I really do need to get away from this toxic environment. (I've updated my question not to refer to him as "angry guy" throughout. Perhaps that was my own anger coming through. I do not need to be disrespectful to him.) I'm going to delay marking this as the answer until I'm sure. – Jerome Viveiros Mar 4 '15 at 13:09
  • Regarding the stress: Yes, I hadn't even considered that. Stress can be a trigger, or an excuse to relapse, and I can't afford to let that happen. – Jerome Viveiros Mar 4 '15 at 13:11
  • No handbook of rules or procedures. I don't even have a formal contract because my boss, who has ADHD, forgot to give me one. – Jerome Viveiros Mar 4 '15 at 13:25
  • The other developers were juniors, and he was unhappy with their performance. But as I say, his expectations are very high. So it's difficult to say for sure, and I can't contact them. – Jerome Viveiros Mar 4 '15 at 13:27
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Thanks for the great answers. This is just an FYI to say what I am going to do...

Yes, this situation may be toxic, but after going home and thinking about it last night I have decided to stay for now, and see where this goes. Yesterday my colleague may have felt bad and hurt after being excluded from the conference call. Maybe he thought he should be given a chance to make amends. After all, it was the legacy of his work and his questions that were being discussed. Of course this made him more angry, so in a way the director is enabling him to continue. So this sorts out the issue of our business relationship with the bank, but the situation in the office is even worse.

With retrospect, I do not know why the other developers really left, but I do know that even the recruiter who got me this position refused to deal with him, because he is so difficult.

But I really do need to stay in one position for a while. I've been through a lot of difficulties in my life, and I'm not going to admit defeat because of one person's destructive anger management issues.

I'll stick around and see how this goes. I'll do what I need to do to understand his code and work with 3rd parties to improve the relationship that this company has with them. I'm going to give it six months and then rethink my decision, but if the everyday working situation deteriorates, if it doesn't improve and working with the man continues to be so stressful and difficult, then I will move on.

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    Best of luck! Please do check out at least the first book, it gives specific, concrete tools to defuse and de-escalate situations. – Voxwoman Mar 5 '15 at 14:37
  • Oh, and he is so much better behaved today (although he stayed home yesterday - feeling sick apparently), I feel this weird guilt about writing all this. :( – Jerome Viveiros Mar 6 '15 at 13:14
  • In my (limited) experience, anger always comes out of frustration, a feeling of not having the power to change things you can't accept. If you really want to resolve this, I think you will somehow need to get together with your colleague, figure out the cause(s) of his anger outbreaks, and what both of you can do to defuse this and work together more smoothly. – reinierpost May 10 '16 at 6:55
  • I see one big problem. If you are able to deal with dificult people, then they do not have motivation to become not dificult. He might think that it is not his fault, others are able to deal with him, so everyone should be able. So it is allowing him to continue to act like this. If not a short working time and history of short work times, I would first advice to leave it, to show him that it was his fault (or company fault having such teamleader). But I understand that you have problem, I also have problem with my current boss, but it happens like once in 2-3 days. – Will_create_nick_later Mar 26 '17 at 9:14

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