Last week I got a phone call from a user accusing me of treating her unfairly and disrespectfully because according to this user "I have a personal issue with her" She pointed out how new I was in the company and that I was in any position to be treating her like that and that my emails are unprofessional.

All of my emails are respectful, polite, and to the point. For example:

Good morning user's name:

I have attached for you the information you requested in your previous email. Please contact us if you need anything else.


And basically I have the same treatment with all the users, I make no difference among them and although I talk to some of them outside work, I give them the same equal treatment once we're in the office.

I apologized(I don't know why) to this user telling her that I was sorry she felt this way but that there might be a possibility of her misinterpreting my emails. Then she immediately raised her voice saying that I have a personal "beef" with her, when I don't know anything about her other than her name, username, and what she does. I tried really hard to not "tilt" and react the same as her.

She repeatedly pointed out how new I was in the company compared to her and that how she depended on me doing my job in order for her to do hers (which really ticked me off, cause I basically do all the work for her, she just runs an application I designed. I haven't been given "the go" to pass on the duties.). Although I was getting really annoyed by her attitude, I kept it inside and proceeded to apologize again and promised to be more sensible to the way I write my emails. She then said "I don't need you to treat me better! just treat me like everyone else!" (Again, I've always treated all users the same way) so I said, "Will do, and I thank you for bringing this up to me and letting the department know".

And I thought it was the end of it, but now my boss called me and reprimanded me cause apparently this user had to escalate this non-existing problem and I'm really bugged by it but I just kept put and took the reprimand. My boss said that we'll talk about this when he's in the city.

Should I point the finger on this user and say I was falsely accused? I'd hate to be the reason for someone's reprimand but when this user decided to also bring my boss into the equation I feel like I have the need to defend myself. But I don't want the issue to get any larger than it is.

As for the possible dupe, I think this question is not a dupe. I'm not facing a disciplinary infraction, although I know I will have to present my paper-trail to prove the accusation has no basis. Even if some answers might overlap, that doesn't mean the questions share the same context.

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    If you choose to apologise, I don't think it's wise to suggest that the person you are talking might have misinterpreted your emails. It does not matter how wrong that person is, it just sounds like a typical "non-apology apology". Either say that you weren't clear or something like that or say nothing at all. It does not really matter if you were actually perfectly clear and the person is not reasonable, if you feel uneasy about apologising about something that you don't think deserves an apology then don't. But do not blame your interlocutor while "apologising", it's pointless.
    – Relaxed
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 22:14
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    I'm playing devil's advocate here, but I've had plenty of emails from technical support people which start with a nice professional introduction like your quote, but the actual information which follows is utterly irrelevant for resolving the problem - either it's generic trivia like "try logging off and logging back on", or the person who sent it appears to be technically clueless and/or semi-literate. From the OP's question, it's hard to know what the true story is here.
    – alephzero
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 0:53
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    To add to what alephzero says . . . it can be very difficult to gauge tone over e-mail, and your e-mails may have contained things that seemed reasonable from your standpoint but not from hers. (For example, I automatically bristle every time an Indian coworker sends an e-mail asking me to "kindly" do something; I've eventually concluded that in Indian English, "kindly" must simply mean "please", but to my American ears it sounds incredibly patronizing, and it's hard to get used to even though I consciously understand it.)
    – ruakh
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 4:24
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    Don't expect that everyone (or anyone) has read your previous posts. Commented May 3, 2016 at 15:20

2 Answers 2


The very first thing you should have done after the initial complaint was immediately go to your boss. The second you hung up the phone you should have been pulling together what you needed to show your boss and then requested to urgently talk to him; a user complaint of this nature is an emergency for you and your boss. Explain what happened and bring copies of the emails that you sent her. It's always bad to let a complaint get to your boss from an escalation that he was never told about.

Then, you need to collect all of the email exchanges between you and her and let your boss review them. Ask him how you could have worded them better. Be sure to collect examples of the emails you send other users to show that you don't treat her differently. Give everything to your boss and ask him to assess what you should have done differently, and if he gives you a suggestion than act on it.

Some people thrive on creating drama where none exists, and this user sounds like that kind of person. If she is, then likely no one is taking her complaint very seriously. If, however, she is not, or if she has a lot of political power in your organization, you will need to work out with your boss exactly what needs to change and then make the change. Let your boss guide you in how to handle this person. She says she doesn't want preferential treatment, but, likely, she really does and is making you and your boss uncomfortable in order to get it.

@WesleyLong makes an excellent point in the comments:

A friend of mine once observed, "The problem with sanity is that being sane in an insane world looks exactly the same as being insane in a sane world." This will not boil down to "right or wrong." This will boil down to perception. Objective data and comparison messages is absolutely the best first step, but don't think it's the last step. You need to make sure you're PUBLICLY treating her calmly and respectfully. Others' perceptions will be VERY important if this gets ugly.

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    @JustDoIt - She's probably failing at her job and is looking to create an excuse.
    – user8365
    Commented May 2, 2016 at 18:33
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    @JustDoIt I've dealt with those types. Be careful, she's probably BCCing people too. Commented May 2, 2016 at 19:18
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    A friend of mine once observed, "The problem with sanity is that being sane in an insane world looks exactly the same as being insane in a sane world." This will not boil down to "right or wrong." This will boil down to perception. Objective data and comparison messages is absolutely the best first step, but don't think it's the last step. You need to make sure you're PUBLICLY treating her calmly and respectfully. Others' perceptions will be VERY important if this gets ugly. Commented May 2, 2016 at 21:10
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    It's worth pointing out that if this complainer was to seek legal action for harassment (wrongly or rightly), the company may infact be vicariously liable depending on local laws, and not the individual. This is so in the UK, so your boss needs to be informed urgently. In UK, harassment needs two or more incidents, and case law states that it could just be two emails! Though the concept of "the reasonable person" comes into play and questions would such a person feel the same way as the complainer given the same evidence as they present? Commented May 3, 2016 at 12:08
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    A good reason you should go to your boss first is that if/when the user escalates, and it reaches your boss, your boss can reply to the user that you already brought it to his attention, seeking advice on how to correct your actions. This should reflect positively on your intentions to the user. If the user is just out to get you, it won't really matter. However, if it is just a miscommunication or a case of "you got off on the wrong foot", then this should go a long ways towards remedying the situation. I've had bosses do this even when they weren't already aware of the issue.
    – crush
    Commented Jun 27, 2016 at 15:14

I'm sorry to hear about your experiences. I had to deal with a similar situation at my previous workplace, and would like to impart the lessons I learned:

Don't Back Down In Front Of A Bully

A bit of a long subtitle, but it's 110% true. You have performed your job well - from your point of view - and are being polite and professional. Yet this person is being hysterical and verbally aggressive. Whether she has valid concerns or not is beyond the point when she starts acting in this manner. At that point you're dealing with a bully, plain and simple - especially when the truth is not quite as single sided as she is trying to make it out to be.

Bowing down to them as a tactic to get rid of them is absolutely the worst thing you could possibly do. When you do this you are acknowledging their point of view as valid, and feeding both their paranoia and their self-righteousness.

This makes it far more likely that this person will target you in the future, and also that everyone will hear - and there's no way to keep this sort of screaming match a secret - about how you are in the wrong, and bowed down to this person's righteous anger.

Basically, you lost both the battle (the in-person match), and the war (public opinion and company politics) in one fell swoop.

The way to address a screaming lunatic in the office, whether they are in the right or not, whether they are your boss, or a coworker, is to immediately put them in their place:

I don't who you think you are, or what gave you the impression that you can talk to me in this manner. I will not be yelled at by you, or anyone else. Address me professionally, and in a civilized manner, or this conversation is over, and management/HR/the authorities will be called in. (say this as calmly as you can manage)

I've had to resort to this sort of tactic twice in my relatively short career (both times against very difficult, and entitled people who had been there much, much longer than I), and it worked wonders both times. Bullies are typically shaken when their victims stand up to them.

Immediately Follow Up With Higher

If the person throwing a fit is a fellow coworker, such as in your case, I would immediately go over to my boss and inform them of the incident. And I mean immediately. In your case an e-mail informing him/her of what happened, and asking them how the heck you should react is appropriate.

You need to do this not only to protect yourself, but also in order to protect your boss.

You see, by apologizing to this lunatic you made her feel both invincible, and that she is 100% right in her suspicions. This probably gave her the confidence to go straight to HR and report you ("He even admitted it!" I can imagine her telling them). HR is then obliged to start an investigation into this situation, and inform your boss that they are doing so. This blindsides your manager and puts him in an extremely uncomfortable situation. Now he's probably angry at you regardless of whether you're guilty or not.

Also, the absolute worst that this person might suffer at this point is that the accusation is found to be "exaggerated". Had you put her in her place immediately she would have probably reflected on her chosen path a little more, and come to the conclusion that she screwed up and should shut up now. She might have even gotten in trouble when your boss got involved. But now she's painted you the villain, and no one ever punishes "the victim".

What Should You Do?

As the others have suggested, immediately set up a comprehensive report on your communications with this user, as well as with other users. Unfortunately you are now in a position where you will have to defend yourself, and whether nothing comes of these accusations or not, your reputation will have been stained, and your boss will be upset that you put him in this situation in the first place.

Since there's an extensive paper trail you will probably survive the incident, however if you don't start playing your cards right I wouldn't be entirely surprised if you were let go (some companies may rather get rid of a the new guy who's stirring the pot rather than the well established crazy person who would demand a large payout to leave the office).

Basically, stop being apologetic, clearly express that you feel that this person was verbally abusive, and bullied you, and claim that you were so polite because you feared her aggressive attitude. These are all key HR terms which will raise alarm bells regarding your accuser, and give you some leverage in the process. Any witnesses willing to back you up should be urged to tell the story, highlighting how aggressive this person was (even by phone someone would have heard her yelling at you).


Never, ever allow someone to walk all over you like that again. Stand up for yourself, set boundaries, and be as courteous as possible, even to the biggest idiots in the office.

Good luck!

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    +1, Up you go. I'm not sure I like the exact wording, but it's extremely important to let the other party know that regardless of how right or wrong they are, they have no right to treat you incorrectly.
    – Cronax
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 7:59
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    I'd like to add: "Never Apologize When You're In The Right" is correct. Still, you can express regret about hardship someone experienced. As in "I am sorry to hear that my response disappointed you" (which is different from "sorry for disappointing you"). Showing empathy can (sometimes) defuse a situation; giving in when you are in the right, on the other hand, generally only makes things worse, as you explain.
    – sleske
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 8:40
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    The problem with "never apologize when you are in the right" as a rule is that sometimes you are not in the right even though you may think you are. Sometimes you may need to reflect or gather more data to understand why a person is upset or angry. I have had this attitude from service personnel when I know far more than they do about an issue, and it can /really/ piss you off. Commented May 3, 2016 at 9:54
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    Maybe I need to reword that subtitle, but the point was not to bow down to someone who is being aggressive and verbally abusive: "whether they are in the right or not, whether they are your boss, or a coworker". No one should take any kind of abusive behavior lying down. If I screw up at work and my boss comes up and yells at me he will get the exact same speech. In a professional environment any sort of issue should be resolved in a civil manner - even if the end result of your actions means that you're fired, it should still be done with civility.
    – AndreiROM
    Commented May 3, 2016 at 13:28
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    +1. Far too many bullies learn exactly the wrong message in school when teachers and administrators fail to show them that their behavior is not acceptable. If they made it all the way to the professional world without learning to behave like a civilized adult... really the only rational thing to do is to crush them. It's not pleasant, and I'm grateful I've only had to do it once, but the one time it happened, I'm glad I did it. It made our workplace a better place for a lot of people, not just for me. Commented May 3, 2016 at 15:19

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