So there's two people, let's call them Fred and George, who are picking on one of our office mates - let's call him Ron.

To be fair, Ron does have some habits that are quite annoying for some people, like not being able to understand social cues - when to stop talking and bugging other people when they're busy with work, among other things. Fred and George also make fun of him sometimes because of things like being obese, or that he's still living with his mom (he's 40), or his overspending on the occasional travels saying that he doesn't know how to handle money.

For reference, Fred and George are about 30-40 years old. I'm 21.

I'm not directly in the bickering, but it makes things really awkward in the office. When I'm with Fred and George, they keep ranting about Ron's faults.

I tried to talk to Ron about this, so he could try to stop some of his annoying behavior (of course, I didn't word it like that), so that he wouldn't be the target of Fred and George's behavior, but he seems immature as well in his thinking. "Why would I be nice to people who are not nice to me?", he said. Fred and George shares the same mindset. This is an endless cycle.

I've had thoughts about leaving the office just because the environment is toxic.

It's also hard to bring it up to upper management, as the bickering and the tension is not evident enough in the general view. Only if you have inside knowledge of Fred, George, and Ron's relationship do you see the tension. But when you do know the background, you can see that a lot of their language is disguised as an attack to the other party.

As a fellow office mate, what is my role in this?

Edit : To be fair, I also talk with Fred and George so that whenever we're together and they talk about Ron in a bad manner, I try to defend Ron.

  • The workplace is for professionals to work together. Whatever heppens among Fred, George and Ron is a social club issue. As long as all of you can work together professionally, why do you care about this situation? My advice is to mind your own business.
    – Nobody
    Oct 29 '15 at 3:19
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    @scaaahu But what do I do when it comes to a point (it slowly is) that it affects my work? The negative office aura is toxic and I'm uncomfortable at times.
    – Zaenille
    Oct 29 '15 at 3:21
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    Your question lacks the point: How does this situation affects your work?
    – Nobody
    Oct 29 '15 at 3:23
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    Rather than defending Ron to Fred and George, ask them to stop talking about Ron that way when you are together.
    – Resigned
    Oct 29 '15 at 21:28
  • If F and G were merely to stop bickering about R in your presence, would that cease to be a problem or not? Are they actually overtly or covertly bullying him, as opposed to just talking about him behind his back? Is this affecting R or his work? Basically, what is the root of the problem?
    – smci
    Aug 21 '17 at 3:36

This doesn't sound like bickering at all, it sounds like bullying. And advising the bullied person to be less of a target seems a poor way to handle it. It's not like it hasn't occurred to him already, for one thing.

Defending Ron isn't working either. The reason they shouldn't pick on Ron is not because Ron's not that bad really it's because picking on people in an office environment is wrong.

If you don't like hearing digs and snarks and "jokes" about someone, then when you hear them, speak up plainly and say something like "I would rather not hear that kind of talk" or, if it's a conversation you're in and it's work-related, "can we stay on topic please?" If you're having a nice little how-was-your-weekend chat and someone starts snarking on the let's-say-mean-things-about-Ron train, you can just take that as your cue to head back to your desk, or put your fingers on your keyboard if you're at your desk, and get back to work.

You can work your way up to this with a little wincing, a little "kind of over the top, Fred", a little "really?" with a raised eyebrow, but you need to get yourself to a state of "don't talk that way to me directly, and don't talk that way where I can hear it."

If you're in a situation with the three of them, and you can see something like "Fred/George wants this conversation to be over, and Ron doesn't get it and is still going on" you can step in and redirect. "Well, I think we've got that sorted, thanks Ron" and eyes-meet with Fred/George not in an eye-rolly-man-can-you-believe-he's-so-dense way but just in a right?-we're-done-aren't-we? way. If that feels too pushy given the age difference, you could phrase it as a question. "Fred, is that all we needed to know on that?" and when Fred says yes, you thank Ron and you and Fred leave Ron's desk. If you're not at Ron's desk you can say something like "thanks for coming by for this" to Ron so he gets a firmer cue to go away.

You don't seem to mind that Ron bugs people, but if you did you could ask management to speak to him about needing less help. His appearance and living arrangements are nobody's business. It's possible he would love to live away from a parent, but cannot because the parent needs to be cared for, and he's gained a lot of weight by eating his feelings of sadness and of missing early adulthood in order to perform a duty to that parent. For thoughtless office mates to pile on that with teasing over it is really cruel.

Since you're at the point of considering leaving, the risk to you of standing up to Fred and George is fairly small. It's a great opportunity to learn how to advocate for the kind of office environment you would like to work in. You can learn what kinds of things are too subtle, and what are too blunt, and what might trigger pushback from people who say it's just humour, and everyone should learn to "take a joke" and the like. You might fix this environment, or you might not, but ideally even if you leave you won't be haunted by the thought of poor sad Ron, who everyone thought it was ok to tease and mock.

  • 4
    Thank you for saying that not only is picking on people in the office wrong, but that we all should make it our responsibility to do what is right. Oct 29 '15 at 15:24
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    +1 for the "speak up". I had the same problem in a former company. Everytime the bully would start picking on someone in my presence I would only look irritated at him: "stop that, it annoys me."
    – jwsc
    Oct 29 '15 at 17:24
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    This is good advice. I think it is important to focus on what the problem is from your perspective, the negativity, and not necessarily the problem from someone else's perspective. I don't think it's possible to remove the source of their bickering. They'll just find something or someone else. If it's not "cool", they'll stop it. If you speak up, other folks it bothers will be more likely to also.
    – ColleenV
    Oct 29 '15 at 18:13

If Fred and George's bickering is directly affecting your ability to perform your job, then you should absolutely bring it up to upper management. By "directly" I mean that the situation has escalated beyond annoying and is making your ability to be professional and work with Fred, George, or Ron hard or impossible.

Otherwise, you should really leave it alone. It's not your business, and you shouldn't interject yourself into someone else's business. If Ron is being prevented by Fred and George from doing his job, then it's Ron's responsibility to report that to management, not yours.

Furthermore, trying to get Ron to stop his annoying behavior solely so he won't be a target of Fred and George is tantamount to victim-blaming. Sure, Ron might be annoying (almost all offices have that man/woman), but he's not the one creating the toxic environment; Fred and George are.

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    +1 for Fred and George being the problem, sound like a gang up, but either way not the OP's business unless he chooses to make it his.
    – Kilisi
    Oct 29 '15 at 6:28
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    There is a TREMENDOUS amount of skill (soft-skill to be precise) involved to intervene, successfully, in toxic dynamics. There is a reason why hostage negotiators are rare. The general consensus will be to "mind your own business" not because we're bad people, but you must have multiple requirements met before you have any chance of diffusing the situation.
    – Nelson
    Oct 29 '15 at 9:18
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    @Nelson While I agree with what you said, I think most people don't want to be involved in petty disputes because they simply don't know enough about the person involved to really take sides. I also think that people feel inclined to take a side when trying to be a third party in a dispute as evident by the fact that OP tried to talk to both parties in a attempt to pick a winning.
    – Dan
    Oct 30 '15 at 13:32

I tried to talk to Ron about this, so he could try to stop some of his annoying behavior (of course, I didn't word it like that), so that he wouldn't be the target of Fred and George's behavior, but he seems immature as well in his thinking. "Why would I be nice to people who are not nice to me?", he said. Fred and George shares the same mindset.

It sounds like you already tried to intervene and failed. It also sounds like a hint of you taking Fred and George's side on this issue and blame Ron's immaturity/social ineptitude. You're trying to "fix" Ron by talking to him and hoping the situation will stop.

Whatever it may be your choices are as follow:

1) Drop it and continue with your work so long as it doesn't affect you

2) Join in and potentially cause Ron, or Fred, or George to take your side or be against you thus further alienating the work environment

3) Tell it to your manager and potentially cause #2 to happen but they instead begin to target you

My advice is to take option #1 and just let it be. So long as it doesn't affect your work. Ron is an adult, and unless he is somehow incapable of defending himself at this point he is choosing to stay in the situation and allowing it to continue. With that said, you are not ethically or morally obligated to help Ron or take sides in this issue.

However, you can say you're not interested in the situation should they bring it up around you and you do not wish to hear it or participate in it. Here's how you saying, "I'm not interested in this conversation and do not wish to hear it any longer. Can we please discuss about work."

  • To be fair, I also talk with Fred and George so that whenever we're together and they talk about Ron in a bad manner, I try to defend Ron. I should have included this in the main post.
    – Zaenille
    Oct 29 '15 at 13:43

As a fellow officemate, what is my role in this?

To ignore it and let it go. Whatever the issue these people are bickering over is their problem and you shouldn't make it yours. You should emotionally distance yourself from the situation, even these colleagues if you have to. There are plenty of annoying and hateful people in the world and you're going to run into a few of them over your career. You should learn how to handle (i.e. ignore) them as I'd consider it a vital social skill. World-improving idealism is nice but also a good recipe for the kind of stress and discomfort you currently have.

I've had thoughts about leaving the office just because the environment is toxic.

Frankly, bickering and mild animosity between a few colleagues doesn't even come close to what I would call a toxic environment. Working around (minor) personal conflict is part of being a professional in the workplace.

Caveat: from your description this doesn't sound like outright bullying. If the behaviour escalates an argument can be made for notifying HR or a manager, but it's still not really your concern. Ron is an adult and should generally fight his own battles. You should only report this kind of behaviour if it crossed an ethical or legal treshold or, as others have mentioned, if it actually impacted your work.

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