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I am Indian, working in Germany for the past 5 years. For the past year, I have been working in a team where everyone else is German. Since I am the most senior in the team; I'm always invited to meetings where management wants to know the plans/status of the team.

I think this has made one of my colleagues (who joined the team a few months ago) jealous. He is older than me. I think he doesn't like the idea that an Indian who is younger than him, is leading the team. He always makes fun of my small mistakes, and sometimes my accent. He makes "local" jokes and laughs hard.

I know German but not enough to use it in a work environment. He talks to other colleagues in German and speaks negatively about me. I can sense that he is triggering other colleagues against me, because I can see the difference in their behavior lately.

This has made the work environment difficult to cope with for me. It is affecting my productivity and health, as I'm stressed thinking about this.

My question is - How should I deal with him and/or the situation?

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    What are you asking? How to approach him to get him to change his behaviour? How to approach management, if he's not changing, and is making you uncomfortable? – Hazel Oct 29 '15 at 16:14
  • I'm assuming English is the language of the workplace? – DJClayworth Oct 29 '15 at 16:16
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    I just updated the post with my question. And yes, English is the language of the workplace. – user43457 Oct 29 '15 at 16:17
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    No, I don't have a formal position as leader. In fact there is no role of a Team Leader in the team. – user43457 Oct 29 '15 at 16:19
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    The root problem is no team leader. It's basically sending out a group of carpenters to build a house with no architect. It's bound to lead to this eventually when more than one person feels he/she should lead. Plus all the other problems it causes. – Amy Blankenship Oct 29 '15 at 17:04
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This sounds like it is workplace harassment, but that can be a tricky thing. However there are standard approaches to workplace harassment that you should probably follow.

  1. If he makes fun of your accent, or anything else about you, in a way you can understand and don't like, take him aside and ask him not to do it. If he says something like "It's just a joke" say "That doesn't matter. I don't think its funny and I want you to stop.". Be non-confrontational but firm. Also keep notes of specific things he says about you.
  2. If you've asked him to stop a couple of times and he doesn't stop, take this up with your boss. Tell her you think you are being harassed. Tell her what was said (that's why you kept the notes), and that you asked him to stop. If appropriate tell her you think this might be racial discrimination.
  3. If your boss does nothing about this, take it up with HR.
  4. If this person (or anyone) says something in a meeting in German, where the language of the meeting should be English, ask them right then to repeat it in English. Again, be non-confrontational but firm. If they say "it was nothing", tell them you need to know everything that is said in a meeting. If they say "it was just a joke", ask if they can share the joke with you. If there is someone at the meeting you get on well with, ask them later what was said.
  5. If this persists, also talk to your boss. As them to enforce the rule that English is always used.
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    Thanks @DJClayworth. I'll follow this. Hope this is useful in resolving the matter. – user43457 Oct 29 '15 at 16:43
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I can sense that he is triggering other colleagues against me, because I can see the difference in their behavior lately.

Exactly what is changed in their behavior? You say you are the most senior person the team, and I'd imagine you'd have a lot of input on material. Are they starting to refuse your ideas/comments?

I concur with DJClayworth's answer and I will add that since there is no team lead, I would bring up your concerns with your boss now, rather than later. Explain that you're noticing one of the team members turning on you and you fear it's going to have a negative effect on you, if not already.

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Making fun of someone's accent is not harassment nor is it groupism. It is simply making fun of their accent. I for instance have an Indian co-worker who I have made fun of for his accent 100 times. Now he has made fun of me 1000 times for 100 different reasons. We are good friends and respect runs both ways.

And that is what the key is. Even when we are brutally making fun of each other it is all in good fun and often doesn't end until his laptop reboots remotely (by coincidence of course). He actually did ask me to stop making fun of his accent once - and then promptly made fun of me for the next few weeks for me believing that I had upset him.

Now what you are describing is a person making fun of you and demeaning you in front of the team based on your age or race. We "internets" people are not at your work so we don't understand the subtlety or level of this but if your question is 100% accurate then this is clearly racism.

I would not confront this employee in any way. If they are indeed racist and you confront them they will either continue while being more subtle or make fun of you even more. I would approach your manager and very gently throw your issue out there while not pointing this person out as racist yet. Just throw the facts out there and mention that you believe the person is treating you different based on your race.

Really this is not an easy thing for you or your manager to deal with. But really the only way to squash this is for the manager or some upper level manager addressing the employee as it is their issue not your issue. If the employee thinks a manager is labeling them racist (I am sure the manager would phrase it nicer) then they would very likely stop. If they think you ratted on them then they will likely hide their racism better while trying to get even with you.

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    It's only a good-natured joke when all parties truly think it's funny. Here, one of the parties doesn't agree. – Kathy Dec 8 '15 at 19:36

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