Often times, this is a very clandestine and collective effort, and is meant for you not to detect it.

When you walk into the room and they start looking at each other without saying anything, or suddenly shut up, I suspect is the beginning of trouble. You then notice that messages are not getting to you, or your recipients are not receiving your work, for example... And you have no proof of foul play, although it is obvious that foul play has to be involved.

If you address this to your boss, they often say "work that out with your colleagues." So you, as rationally and objectively as you can, address your colleagues and they act clueless.

For one, what could've I [not] done that entices them to do this to me? I know I never gossip. I'm neither a dummy (that they'd love to make fun of) or a ninja (that they'd be jealous of, or feel threatened because I would raise company standards). Goodness - is it my word choice? Accent? That I refrain to curse or trash-talk?

Furthermore, is this a message saying that they don't want me there, want to fire me, but won't, so they'll hope I would resign? If so, is this a valid reason to leave? And if I leave because of that, how do I mask this to an interviewer of the next company? Should I still ask for a reference from my current supervisors knowing they strongly dislike me?

What is the normal way to handle this situation?

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    I would first question my assumption that it is obvious foul play is happening. On more than one occasion, something odd happened that made me start looking at other events in a different light, but it turned out I was completely wrong about what was going on. The best antidote for gossip and clandestine backstabbing is open and honest communication.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 16:37
  • @ColleenV. I think you're one of my favorite responders here. It certainly is tempting to suspect deliberate foul play, but it has happened to me. A co-worker told me many years later that the supervisor (who no longer is with the company) pulled stunts against me, and it answered some of my questions. Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 16:40
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    Well sometimes it really is people being unprofessional. I think it's a good idea to get more confirmation than your intuition before you decide on a course of action. It can be hard to do in a non-confrontational way, but usually there's someone who knows what's going on even though they aren't directly involved.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 19:40
  • If you can get concrete evidence of a problem, that's actionable. Suspicion is only actionable by looking for concrete evidence. In most cases this turns out to be ungrounded suspicion, self-reinforcing because you start treating them weirdly.
    – keshlam
    Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 21:01

3 Answers 3


I started a contract recently. I have pretty intense social anxiety and am EXTREMELY introverted. My contract has a pretty narrow scope, and I only really report to one guy and work on my own, but I have been seated in a "command center" with about 30 employees who are all part of a tight knit team.

I do my best to focus on my work and do my job. I have no interest in making friends or socializing. As a result, while my boss LOVES my work and is telling me to keep doing what I'm doing, the people around me are getting increasingly hostile. Never feels good to take off your headphones and hear "you know, he should just kill himself and get it over with. Notices I took my headphones off. oh, s***."

I do my best to remember "they don't need to like me, they just need to work with me when necessary". If a bully clique mentality is causing your coworkers to interfere with your ability to do your job, you need to report this obstacle to your manager, and get the problem resolved. He doesn't need to make them be nice to you, he just needs to make them work with you.

  • Which is all wonderful in theory, but when you are dealing with bullies, if you pick at it, you just increase the hostility. I think the more important skill than tattling and putting everyone on high alert is to be a grown-up and be okay with people not liking you. Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 19:17
  • Being bullied active-aggressively, yes, some experience - they were just mean up-front, but that was way easier because I don't have to suspect/accuse. It's also easier to address when you definitely know. They left me alone when they got the message that I didn't really care and still interacted with them because it was necessary. Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 20:54
  • Sorry, there was another guy who was having a back and forth with me. He deleted all his comments. He was of the opinion that the best way to deal with a bully is head on. The comment was aimed at him. Ya, I agree with you. I'm in the same place. If I could say exactly what was said when and where, id totally be bringing it up, but when you are dealing with mental teenagers who are talking (mostly) behind your back, your options become a lot more limited. You can attack the wasps nest so they can deny, but then get more aggressive because of your accusation, or... Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 20:58
  • You can just not give them what they want, and be your own contentment. Interfered work, address that issue. As far as them being mean? Who cares? Its a reflection on them. Not you. Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 20:59
  • @user2989297, being bullied in the workplace is intolerable. Saying "just deal with it and ignore it" is not only impossible, but in the long run may cause you permanent harm. My advice is to get out before this happens. I've had a lot of jobs, and about halfway through my career had a two week job with a nasty bullying little man for a boss. I knew the problem was him and not me, but it still shattered my self esteem, maybe permanently. My husband had an even worse experience, and I've heard about others. Unless you are desperate, this job is not worth the cost. Commented Oct 9, 2015 at 20:29

If you address this to your boss, they often say "work that out with your colleagues." So you, as rationally and objectively as you can, address your colleagues and they act clueless.

I recently advised someone to focus on behaviors, not motives, in order to have their complaint taken seriously. In your case, you can't actually prove that certain behaviors are occurring, so you need to focus on outcomes.

You should say to your boss, "My clients are not receiving my work, can I use [alternative delivery method] instead?" and "I'm noticing that messages are not getting to me, can we figure out why that is happening?"

Hopefully your boss will support you in solving specific problems. If not, you need to document everything. If you're mysteriously not getting included in meetings, start emailing people asking if there's a meeting. Do it regularly. If your work is normally sent to the client by someone else, follow-up with an email asking if the client got it.

Putting this in writing forces them to either:

  1. Be honest
  2. Ignore it (thus giving you proof you're being ignored)
  3. Lie (thus giving you proof of deliberate sabotage)

This is how you can tell if it's deliberate. If #1 happens then they're all terrible communicators and this will have to be how you work around it. If #2 happens it's likely deliberate but you have documentation proving that you were trying to make sure these things didn't get missed. If #3 happens then you can show your boss that they're literally lying to you.

If so, is this a valid reason to leave?

"I don't want to work here anymore" is always a valid reason to leave. It doesn't really matter why you don't want to, it only matters that you want to leave. If you don't want to put up with your co-workers' behavior, you don't have to come up with some other "better" reason before you quit.

...how do I mask this to an interviewer of the next company?

You don't have to completely mask this. You can say that you left because your team, department, or the workplace culture wasn't a good fit. If asked to elaborate, you can say that you didn't feel supported by your team and/or by management.

But if you don't want to bring it up at all, you can say that you wanted to change to a job that's more [thing company you're applying to has that your current job doesn't]. This doesn't (and shouldn't) have to be a lie. You can leave your current job for multiple reasons and you don't have to name them all in an interview.

Should I still ask for a reference from my current supervisors knowing they strongly dislike me?

No. Right now you're worried they're sabotaging your work. Asking them for a reference and then having to worry that they're sabotaging your job search kind of defeats the purpose of leaving.


Now, in this case - I'd start asking myself questions probably. Questions like "Do they have any valid reasons to talk about me? What are they?'

Can you simply ignore the behavior? You may appear the better one. But if they interfere with work, you need to let management know.

After this self-analysis, you probably want to have a one-on-one with your direct manager. Probe, find out where you stand. It's Ok to ask "How am I doing here, from a performance point?"

IF you feel the need to , then look elsewhere. Some workplaces just might clash

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    This answer has somethings to do but does not explain why they are the correct actions to take. I am not sure they are wrong but they do not seem right to me and lacking any explanation of why they are right this answer is not complete. Please update you answer to explain why and when each of these actions you suggest are the right thing to do. Commented Oct 8, 2015 at 19:11

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