I'm a foreign woman in Germany working in the IT field, as provider for another company. I sit in an office with a guy who is loud, despises some groups of people, and sometimes even insults me. We don't work in the same project.

About the insults, so far I have frozen, and the last time, last Monday, he changed the subject so fast I didn't really have time to react. To avoid this attitude from him I avoid talking to him at all, but he keeps talking to me.

About despising some groups of people, he once told me he finds foreigners shitty, he once began to criticize women for always criticizing people and got really nasty on it, he once even began talking disdainfully about nerds on how they believe to be important. Just to give some examples.

I have been practicing in front of a mirror on how to tell (not yell) him to stop insulting me. And I promised myself to pretend to feel self-confident with the hope he doesn't dare to be nasty.

But now I feel weak, and I am afraid that he will smell it and be especially nasty to me.

I also fantasised on telling our PM about it. However, there was a case of sexual harassment directed at me (from an other co-worker. Now I'm in a different office), and while there was a talk with the perpetrator, it was told to both of us that the PM didn't believe he was doing it on purpose, and that I was being too sensitive. After that I don't really trust my PM to take me seriously. Adding after eddit: I believe the PM cares about my well being, he just has problems understanding why constant starring/commenting on breasts is not a compliment or why regular comments in the direction "all women are/do insert here something negative" send the message "women are not welcome here".

Now, what can I do in a short term? On a long term I know I might have to leave if things don't get better.

Edit: on a short term it helped a lot a call from a good friend, where I could cry on his shoulder. Using headphones and making myself unavailable to talk about non-work-related stuff was also great. Seeing anonimous people caring also helped to increase my mood. Now I feel stronger, which gives me the hope to be able to stand up for myself. So thanks again for your answers and questions.

On the long run, it helped to imagine him each time I see him in a pink tutu and a clown nose on his face. First I was seeing him as less threatening, and after a few days as a ridiculous arseh****. Last time he was disrespectful to me I waa able to defend myself. After that he was clearly quieter.

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    There are lots of related questions on here and related answers...have none of them helped? It sounds to me like you're already doing everything you can in the short-term. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 9:06
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    I am so sorry. You already did very good steps for yourself in planning and even practicing how to deal with him in the best way. If you feel you cannot talk to your PM, is there any other person in the company you could go to? Someone might actually be responsible to mediate in this kinds of situations. Or even someone you trust that could guide you in the right directions without necessarily being a manager, just maybe someone senior that knows all the options? If you are in Germany and your company is not small, someone from Betriebsrat or Personalrat could also help.
    – skymningen
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 9:11
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    @FrançoisGautier Men CAN be sexually harassed. If the colleague in my room would talk shit about a specific target of population, it would poison my work-environment even if I am not part of this target. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 9:19
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    This is Germany. A well-directed sharp tongue can work wonders here (all in the bounds of legality/professionality). Clearly, this is not OP's natural ability, or OP wouldn't ask the question, but different things may work. A relatively minimal form would be: "Thank you, I am quite aware that you detest foreigners/women/<his favourite ethnic group>, this is not novel, as you made it clear sufficiently many times. Now, I'd like to concentrate on my work and productivity, please, and I suggest you do the same." Practice only minimally in front of the mirror. Try to ignore him in your free time. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 10:32
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    Miss Manners recommends a flat look (like the "teacher look" HLGEM mentions), and an equally flat "Wow.", "Really." or "Okay..." as the only answer. It clearly conveys that what was said was so unprofessional, unreasonable and/or obnoxious that there is no way to make a reasonable and courteous answer to it. My German isn't good enough to suggest what word would be best for you, but I've found the practice useful.
    – Jenny D
    Commented Jan 26, 2018 at 10:34

3 Answers 3


Two important things that you should always do:

  1. Document everything! This'll be very helpful for discussing your situation with your PM etc.
  2. Whatever you do, don't wait too long. Being exposed to a toxic environment for a long time can be very unhealthy.

I see four possible ways of dealing with this issue. Each way has its benefits, as well as possible drawbacks. Note that these don't necessarily rule out each other.

  1. Confrontation
  2. Ignoring your co-worker
  3. Leaving (the office)
  4. Leaving (the company)

Confrontation is risky, yet the potential outcome is massive. I would probably go through with your plan at first. Tell him what you dislike about his behaviour (i.e. him being rude), why you dislike it (because having to listen to someone rude isn't enjoyable), and that you'd prefer he'd stop, now.

If that doesn't work out, either because he's just laughing at you (not taking you serious) or falls back to old habits quickly you should definitely inform your PM. Don't wait too long with it either. You've tried to communicate your disapproval to your coworker, and it didn't have the desired result. Talk to you PM. This'll most likely result in a meeting with your PM, your co-worker and you. Prepare yourself, and don't let yourself get pushed down.

Ignoring your co-worker is another route that's worth considering. Headphones are very helpful in this case, especially noise-cancelling (you won't actually have to listen to music with those, you just won't hear anything) or in-ear-headphones (which also cancel noise quite effectively).

Using those should be perfectly fine as you don't really have an obligation, from a business standpoint, to communicate with that co-worker (since you're not even working on the same project).

Leaving (the office) also seems like a good idea. The viability fully depends on your company & the culture though. I'd suggest asking your PM about possibilities of switching to another office. Always worth a shot.

Important to note here is that you shouldn't go about it as "I don't care where to, just get me out of here!". Chances are that you'll end up in an office with an equally annoying co-worker, so you probably should check the possibilities - if you have a choice - and try to figure out which fits you most.

Leaving (the company) is always an option. However, I'd suggest that - if you enjoy working for your current employer (apart from the annoying co-worker) - you should try the other possible solutions listed above first.

If you indeed intend to leave the company, make sure you have either enough money to support you for the time being (~3-4 months) while searching for a new job, or find a new job first and then quit.

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    I wouldn't go to meta-level (what you call confrontation). This is Germany. A sharp (but not unprofessional) riposte works usually well here in my experience (see my comment above). Repeat and rinse as needed. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 10:35
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    @CaptainEmacs If you're comfortable with doing so, yes. However, given that the state the author is in ("weak"), I think that isn't going to work out.
    – Seth
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 10:37
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    In my experience those people are so full of themselves, that the well-aimed response will accomplish nothing. Even if they stop loudly complaining, they'd find more stuff to irritate you Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 10:58
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    @CaptainEmacs I am german, and, from what I know, ethnic insults are not what we are comfortable enough with in order to be relaxed. Jokes, yes. Rude insults, no. May very well vary based on the location.
    – Seth
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 10:59
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    Today I used in-ear-headphones and it worked great for my situation for today. Not only it didn't do anything worse, but it helped to take emotional distance and now I'm feeling much better. If once I can finally tell him to stop, he keeps his bad behaviour, I will have another try with my PM. Thanks.
    – Purrrple
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 17:05

We could argue on the best way for you to impose your character on his, but if you don't feel confident, or you don't want to, it may not matter. Please DO talk again with your PM about it, and possibly in written. Save a copy of each communication. Also save anything written that may prove his bad attitude towards you.

If they do not take you seriously and if you are honestly distressed by his behavior, you can go to your doctor and ask for a psychological assessment for nervous breakdown. If that is positive, it will result in you having something like 3 months home-time to recover. DO NOT EVER do this if you are way before you break-point: it would be unethical and unprofessional. During this time do some meditation, try relaxation-techniques and look for a better job.

Consider sending a copy of the report to the PM, asking them to take action againist the guy, and if you have proofs consider going through legal action against the company. Mobbing is taken seriously in Germany.

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    Documentation is the most important thing here. Document it all! You will not regret it.
    – Seth
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 9:35
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    The PM is unlikely to help, judging from the response on harassment (which is actually a no less serious thing). Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 10:36
  • @CaptainEmacs I read it as well, but it doesn't exempt you from going there and warn them. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 10:52
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    Depending on the place, the warning can have little-to-no effect and will make the OP's position harder, especially if they sense weakness. This is not the US. That's why I wouldn't apply US-relevant approaches 1-to-1. However, I do not live in Germany for a while and things may have changed. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 10:55
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    @SliderBlackrose I think the OP wrote PM as "Personal-Management" or basically HR. Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 13:22

You don't deal with these sorts of people from a weak position, it just gives them a bigger target. Work on building your self-confidence first.

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