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I have a coworker who uses "pet names' when addressing me, such as "Yes what do you want, baby cakes?", "little baby" and so on, and even sings my name. I feel this is intended as a form of intimidation.

I tried to ignore her and asked her not to address me in that way, but she continues to do so. She has been the workplace for over 15 years while I have only been here 3 years. I work next to her, and she is loud and very congenial with other workers. Since we both do the same job, I think it is a way to affect my concentration and belittle me.

I have raised it with management but they kind of laugh and told me to ignore her. She has a close relationship with one of the owners, which is why she can get away with this. I cannot leave my job; I am over 58 and do enjoy working there. The job is convenient, but this coworker is very annoying.

How may I try to resolve this situation?

closed as unclear what you're asking by Jim G., Chris E, gnat, Lilienthal, Masked Man Dec 4 '16 at 16:11

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • In many subcultures, that's just a casually friendly mode of address and has absolutely no meaning beyond that. The waitresses at the local diner address me as "honey", and it's just their way if saying we know each other well enough that it would be silly for them to still be addressing me as "sir". It really is likely that you are being oversensitive. That being said, if it really bothers you, ask her not to and tell her what you would prefer (eg, your name). – keshlam Dec 4 '16 at 4:51
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    @JoeStrazzere It sounds like she already did but was ignored. – AllTheKingsHorses Dec 4 '16 at 9:39
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    How did you ask her before? Was it an offhand remark that she could have inadvertently brushed aside? For some things you need to sit down face-to-face and let her know it's serious. – Brandin Dec 4 '16 at 11:29
  • What is your geography? What is her age? What is your gender? – MikeP Dec 5 '16 at 21:04
  • Stereotypically, southern (US), mature, women will refer to anyone as something like "honey", 'sweetie', 'darling'. or something of that sort. "Little baby" seems insulting, though it could be that she is 'mothering' you. Figure out if she is talking down to you or thinks she is friendly. If she is friendly, and you are in the south (US), you might have to accept it. As others have stated, the best way to win is to not play the game. – MikeP Dec 5 '16 at 21:06
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Try "mind over matter" - I don't mind and you don't matter.

You say that you are ignoring her. Given that you are complaining here about her, you're doing anything but what you say, which is that you are ignoring her. If you were truly ignoring her, you wouldn't be playing her game. You are playing her game. You can't play someone's game, go by the rules of their game including how they score the game and expect to win. The only way you win is by refusing to play no matter how much you are baited into it. You wouldn't allow yourself to be baited into playing a poker game with card sharks no matter what they call you, would you?

Ignore her as a rule, and I mean ignore her as in "she does not exist" as far as you are concerned - If your mind is still acknowledging her physical presence, then you are cheating on your assertion that you are ignoring her and you actually are not ignoring her. Take the attitude that if she is not calling you by your name, then she is not talking to you - she is talking to anyone but you. Conversely, acknowledge her the minute she calls you by your name. Waive the rule when it is in your interest to do so and when it suits you, and only when it is in your interest to do so and only when it suits you. No matter what you think of her, the requirements of the job go first. If your doing your job does not require at the moment that you interact with her, ignore her.

Do NOT engage in open conflict or in fact, any type of conflict with her. She has management's backing and you absolutely, positively don't want to put your management in a position where they have to choose between keeping her and keeping you. Given the imbalance of power between her and you, you win by going asymmetric, and you go asymmetric by ignoring her while avoiding an open conflict that you most likely cannot win. As my favorite actor Clint Eastwood used to say: "A man's got to know his limitations" :) So that he can work effectively within those limitations.

And last but not least, be determined to be happy at work even with your co-worker as-is in the workplace even if you have to learn how to be happy with her as-is in the workplace. Because much or most of your ability to successfully cope with her is dependent on your attitude. If you can lead a happy life despite news of various catastrophes around the world, you can certainly learn to be happy at your workplace with her as-is in it. Again, don't let her get to your head and into your mind just as you don't let the various catastrophes around the world get into your head and into your mind and color your outlook on life.

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Consider the possibility that this is not at all meant to belittle or intimidate you, but is meant in a genuinely friendly way. Especially if that person is very congenial with other employees. And since your management seems to think that nothing is happening that is meant to hurt you.

Have a look at the other employees. Does she use pet names for them? Do they seem to be annoyed by it, ignoring it, or laughing about it? There is the possibility that this person is just a bit loud and a bit eccentric, and everyone else finds it funny. So check this possibility out seriously, because if that is the case, you are worrying about nothing, and complaining and trying to stop her will just put you into a bad position, without any need.

On the other hand, she may in fact be playing some weird kind of mindgames with you - Viethni has the answer to that.

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    I don't see how anyone can take "little baby" in a workplace context as anything but belittling or intimidating. – alroc Dec 4 '16 at 0:55
  • It may not be intentional, but "little baby" and "babycakes" are derogatory - tell this person you'd prefer they did not use these names – HorusKol Dec 4 '16 at 1:16
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    To me, it all depends on the tone used when she says it. If it is used with heavy sarcasm or if it indeed sounds like it is being used as a term of endearment so to speak. Some people are just like that. Not to say it cannot be annoying as all heck. But in the grand scheme of things, are there not way worse things to deal with? – NZKshatriya Dec 4 '16 at 8:15
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    Whether intended as an insult or not, it becomes aggressive as soon as the OP asks her to stop it and she doesn't comply. To me, it sounds like this already happened: " asked her not to direct me in that way but continues to do so" If I'm well-meaning, why would I continue to address somebody in a way that they already told me they don't like? – AllTheKingsHorses Dec 4 '16 at 9:43
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    @SurprisedEuropean many people have habits they find hard to break. To interpret "absent mindedly doing what you've done for decades" as "aggressive" will mean higher adrenaline levels for you all your life. – Kate Gregory Dec 4 '16 at 13:45
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There are many different reasons why somebody might use pet names for you. One key piece of information, which you have not supplied, is whether she uses pet names for everyone. Some of the reasons are:

  • she wants to make you feel like a child, and to assert her power over you, whether her title gives her that power or not
  • she has trouble remembering names and uses "sweetie", "honey pie" and other nicknames to cover that. (Ask yourself: are all the names infantilizing such as "baby" or are some neutral?)
  • she uses the nicknames because she likes you and wants you to know it

She has habits built up over many years, and motivations you don't know. Just saying "please don't do that" is unlikely to change her behaviour. Certainly if she is trying to intimidate you, it won't - you've basically told her it's working.

You have said you don't want to leave your job. You've tried asking her to stop, and you've tried going to management. Therefore what you are looking for is no longer a way to make her change her ways, but advice on how you can cope with her ways. The best is to change your story about why she is doing it. Think of my three bullets above and see if you can add another three. For example, if she doesn't do this to everybody, does she do it to all the women? All the people younger than her? All the people who do the same job? All the people with the same manager? Does she only do it when she's happy? When things are very busy in your department? Slow? On Fridays when she's looking forward to the weekend? Don't try to be a detective finding the one true answer, try to be a creative poet finding many possible answers.

Chances are, this is not about you. People often think behaviours are aimed at them, caused by something they've done, and designed to induce certain feelings in them. This is a normal human reaction. But while she may be trying to hurt and belittle you, and she may be doing that because of some item in your relationship so far, she may not. And if you can embrace the possibility that what she calls people is something about her, not something about the people she uses nicknames for, you may become much happier. This is her issue - she calls people silly things. You're not a baby or a child or doll. You're a grown adult with a job you're good at. When she calls you something, it doesn't change you. Don't let it change you. Be you.

I hope this enables you to focus on the job and interact with this coworker without carrying her quirk around in your head as something that is about you.

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How about asking her why she uses the terms she uses to refer to you?

That way you learn something, and then after that you can tell her that such terms make you feel uncomfortable, for whatever reason, and that you would prefer to be called by full first name, last name, nickname, etc

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Tell her directly and clearly that you don't appreciate it. "I do not like when you speak to me/address me that way. Please stop."

If she continues to do so after you've told her to stop, it's harassment and you need to escalate it. Tell management what you told her - that you don't like it and you want it to stop. Get it documented that you've made this demand.

If that still doesn't work, take it to HR. They're engendering an uncomfortable, disrespectful, bordering on hostile work environment and they have to address it.

  • There is a problem with their having to address it. If she has seniority, and no one else has issues with her.....it could be OP on the outs. – NZKshatriya Dec 4 '16 at 8:12
  • Seniority should not be a factor when it comes to harassment and hostile workplaces. I'd even say it's more likely that a longer-tenured employee would engage in it due to complacency or even feeling threatened by someone newer possibly taking their job. – alroc Dec 4 '16 at 11:15
  • seniority shouldn't be a factor, but depending on the company, sometimes it is. Just like race/gender/religion should not be issues in this age, but discrimination based on those topics still crop up. – NZKshatriya Dec 4 '16 at 15:15

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