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I work as a qualified dental technician. I started about a year ago at my current lab and a few months after, a trainee joined. I work part time (30 hours a week) and she works full time.

She is hard-working and does have talent for her job. However, we both work in a relatively junior position within the lab (the plaster room). I have 4 years previous experience (in a similar role in a hospital) and already have full qualifications.

Outside of work we get on very well, but whenever I am given work in the main lab (to learn new skills), her mood quickly changes. She will stop talking to me and often complains about this to our manager. A few months ago, she lost her temper publicly with me in the office: she shouted at me that she was doing all the work in the plaster-room and that it wasn't fair (although the argument started over a petty complaint directed at me). Our managers sat us down later that afternoon to resolve the fight (and took my side), but this didn't resolve things.

My managers want me to learn new skills (and work in the main lab) and I want this too, but every time it makes me nervous because I know she will be cross about it. She is a naturally pushy person and now pushes our bosses to give her new work that involves learning new skills (which is fine), but at the same time she still fumes (openly to me) when I take on work. Today, she was being shown a new skill by a colleague and I asked to watch. I had a go (making a certain type of dental appliance) and she did not. When the colleague asked how the work had gone, she butted in and scorned my work in front of me to the colleague (he commented the work was quite good).

Moving forward, I want to resolve the situation. Soon I will be starting full-time in a slightly different role, with the plan of advancing my skills and moving up the lab hierarchy. Because she is so competitive and pushy, I am worried that she will basically elbow me aside - that I will end up doing the grunt-work that i already do and she will be the one to advance her career. In her mind, I think she sees me as a junior. She doesn't seem to appreciate that I am actually a lot more experienced (and qualified than her), even if I a still relatively junior within our company.

My managers are still not fully aware of the situation and I don't know how to raise the issue without seeming petty (which concerns me, because she does raise any petty complaint to them). I am not a naturally forceful personality like her.

What course of action can i take?

closed as off-topic by gnat, JasonJ, scaaahu, Michael Grubey, Mister Positive Sep 14 '17 at 12:57

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  • Management seems to like your work. Bring more of it to their attention, not to say "look how good I am", but with a "hey, am I doing this right?" attitude (even though you know it's right). That will reinforce to management that you're doing good work without you having to brag about yourself, it will show you're still looking to improve, and it will show that you're mature enough not to get involved in the petty bickering of the coworker. – FreeMan Sep 14 '17 at 12:40
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It is not rare to find people like this in any workplace. It is a fact that some people have a hard time seeing others succeed (probably just envious, or maybe sociopaths), and sometimes they will actively do things to damage the reputation of others for their own benefit.

It is also really common that those people have few (if not zero) chances of changing their ways so it is not advisable for you to try reason with them. You may even worsen the situation.

I advise you ignore their negative behavior towards you. Don't let other people mess with your inner peace and self-confidence. Let your actions and skills speak for themselves. As you have indicated, others have noticed your good work even though she insists on scorning your efforts. This only makes her look bad and unprofessional, as any manager will quickly notice when someone is throwing dirt onto someone else's work.

I also must warn you to keep your distance from this person. You say you get along outside of work, which makes me suspicious to think that she is probably faking it, by apparently being kind and supportive. Be really careful, as she may stab you in the back the first chance she gets.

  • The OP has stated that they want to resolve the situation. I suspect that, for the OP, simply ignoring it doesn't count – Conor Sep 13 '17 at 19:01
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    The op asked "What course of action can I take?". Ignoring her behavior is a course of action that can be taken here, and is probably wiser than arguing with this unstable person. As suggested, the OPs good work will speak for herself, as the coworker negative attitude will come back to her. – DarkCygnus Sep 13 '17 at 19:09
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    My girlfriend (the actual question asker) does want to resolve it (she will be moving to full time soon, and the situation could only get worse). In spite of the argument that happened, I think the managers actually haven't really noticed this behaviour. Some other colleagues have. My girlfriend believes she wouldn't have made the same criticisms of her work directly in front of the managers. – Robominister Sep 13 '17 at 20:59
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    @Robominister Sounds like your girlfriend should bring this up to the managers. As "mean" as it may seem, her co-worker doesn't seem to have any issues complaining about your girlfriend's progress. If it escalated to the point where your girlfriend feels uncomfortable progressing at her workplace, then that needs to be brought up to the manager. Don't let unjustified guilt prevent your girlfriend from progressing - it's not your girlfriend's fault she's progressing and her coworker isn't. I'm sure theres a reason managers aren't choosing the coworker. With what I'm hearing, I don't blame em. – Vince Emigh Sep 13 '17 at 23:57
  • It's not just that there's often someone like this, it's also that everyone also knows who it is and largely ignores the eternal moaning coming from that direction. – Separatrix Sep 14 '17 at 9:18
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The best thing you can do here is to make sure your own accomplishments get noticed by management. You don't need to put her down (and you should not), you need management to see you as valuable enough that they take any complaint from her with a grain of salt. Many people feel uncomfortable pushing their own accomplishments, but if they never hear the good things, then the only thing they will hear are her complaints. Eventually they will believe them unless you counter with the good things.

  • I should clarify: the colleague hasn't formally complained about my girlfriend to management, but does complain out loud (informally) to co-workers about petty things involving my girlfriend. The colleague has raised a number of formal complaints to the managers about the general situation (which is that the colleague doesn't appreciate being left with the grunt-work jobs when my girlfriend gets to do the advanced jobs that take a longer time). That situation however, does not seem unreasonable (and when the colleague does the advance jobs, my girlfriend does the grunt-work without complaint) – Robominister Sep 13 '17 at 20:46
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    @Robominister, first, it is insulting to your girlfriend that you posted this here. If she is an adult, she needs to handle her work problems herself and you need to butt out of them. She needs to learn to speak up for herself or I assure you the coworker will gradually change everyone's mind about her. No one can afford to be timid in the workplace. This is something she needs to work on and something you cannot do for her and trying to get advice for her is encouraging that timidity and thus us not helping. – HLGEM Sep 13 '17 at 22:14
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    @HLGEM There is no harm in being supportive. Leaving people out to flounder when they are timid is not a solution. You don't drown them and say "oh well they didn't help themselves". The boyfriend is here looking for logical advice. Just like asking a friend. There is nothing wrong with that and with a timid person, you build up their self confidence over time. It doesn't happen at the drop of a hat. – Shiv Sep 14 '17 at 2:43
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    @HLGEM: Personally, I find it insulting when strangers assume that something is an insult to me. I can decide whether something is an insult or not by myself. And shouldn't it be in the responsibility of the asker to decide whether asking the question here is teamwork or not? If your egocentric view of relationsships work for you and your SO, fine. But please don't generalize/project your own view on others. For my taste, I see no problem to grow together, in professional and personal life; but I don't claim that your viewpoint is insulting to whomever. PPL are different. – phresnel Sep 14 '17 at 8:47
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    @HLGEM She dictated the original post, and we used my account. The updated comments I have added are based on her feedback. – Robominister Sep 14 '17 at 10:00
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I like to tell stories that answer the question. So here goes another one.

When I was young and out to sea in the Navy, I was given the midnight shift with a few moderately good guys and the rest misfits including one being kicked out of the Navy dishonorably.

Some time before my Senior Chief once explained that he liked to put me in charge of projects that make good use of these misfits because I can motivate them and get good work from them. So this move was not at all a complete surprise.

I began our first night explaining that my evals would be stellar no matter what they do. How their evals would come out is up to them. I also explained that someone else would be writing their evals. Then I made a promise. If they bust their butts, I would advance their education in the field and would make them the best of the bunch and not the worst. They would be kicking everyone else's butts and setting a new standard.

For a while, predictably, this did not work. I knew this, however, my evals were coming up and it was a fine opportunity to prove that what I said was right. After my evals came out it was clear that there was nothing they could do to hurt me and there was real opportunity to advance. They all got to work. And as I promised, I began teaching them everything, explaining everything, challenging them, making them more efficient, etc.

In the end, they were the best. In fact, the best in the Navy. So much so that we began to pioneering new technologies that was used across all of the fleet. And the one guy being kicked out? He remained and became a 4.0 sailor.

So what am I saying?

Bring your coworker along with you. Make it clear that it is your intent to make them better and advance their career along with yours. The attention alone will really help. However, proving that they can take the ride with you will really make the difference for the both of you and your employer.

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It's unacceptable for a colleague to publicly criticise the work of another to senior staff, more especially when the one criticising is more junior!

I would assume that your manager already has a view regarding your colleague's carping (from the attempted resolution of the earlier blow-up). Also, I think that the other more senior staff will form a similar poor view of her behavior (when she tries to undermine their opinion of your fine work).

I advise that you should have a direct conversation with your colleague that you want her to stop this behaviour because its extremely unprofessional and disruptive. And, if no improvement ensues, I think that you should take the issue directly to you supervisor, and ask for help in finding a resolution.

  • I suspect that, given the colleague's behavior, asking her to stop or similar could worsen the situation. The colleague clearly has personal problems and is taking it against the OP, trying to make her look bad and hopefully steal her success. – DarkCygnus Sep 13 '17 at 18:45
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    @GrayCygnus Very possibly so. However, you have to start somewhere, and if one is going to escalate the matter, it's always best to have started with a reasonable, soft first step. – Conor Sep 13 '17 at 18:57
  • I agree with talking to the colleague but I wouldn't start off with confrontation. I think a better approach would be to start of with asking why she does it. Some people with caustic personalities aren't even aware of it much of the time. – Chris E Sep 13 '17 at 19:09
  • The way my girlfriend describes it, she and the colleague do get on well personally (at work) about 80% of the time, and this is mostly what the managers see. The colleague's behaviour changes in relation to what is going on with the workload (essentially: which one of them gets to move on to the more advanced, exciting jobs). Her carping has been noticed by some members of staff, as she publicly criticised pieces of my girlfriend's work on other occasions (directly in front of my girlfriend & other staff). 2 co-workers approached my girlfriend once to express their surprise at the behaviour – Robominister Sep 13 '17 at 20:27
  • @ChristopherEstep I wouldn't expect the direct chat to have a lasting effect. If it has a positive short-term effect, then it can be referred to when a relapse happens. If it has no effect, then a necessary first step in escalating to management will have been taken. – Conor Sep 13 '17 at 21:00
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Kill it with kindness.

People say this a lot, and I think it's not always applicable, but in this case I really it might be the best approach. My read would be that she is a little insecure, and because of this sees the workplace as a zero-sum-game: a win for you is a loss for her. Maybe she eases her discomfort about this with a narrative that she is better than/as good as you but getting less chances, she makes you the enemy in a small way rather than focus on the anxiety about progressing. This is a guess obviously and hard to tell without actually being there, but certainly it's a thing that happens.

She may behave better if she feels less of a need to compete. Also she will find it harder to be rude or critical when you've just been nice to her. So perhaps just make an effort to complement her on her work, ask her advice on small things, say good things about her when other people are present. Also ask her about her life outside work - again the more connection there is the harder it is to be a dick to someone. It has to be more-or-less genuine, or it reads badly, but most people have some good qualities and do decent work so there should be occasions for this.

This won't work with everyone of course, but it may be worth a try. And after a while of doing this you can combine it with meeting the issue head on. Just sincerely express hurt when she says something bad about you. Or maybe a bit later when you're out of the situation when she's said the rude thing, so she is less primed for conflict. Do this as non-accusingly as you can, just say it makes you feel bad, and you wish she wouldn't - don't use language which explicitly criticises her for it as that can raise hackles. Sincerity and willingness to admit hurt (effectively a small admission of someone's power in a situation - if only to hurt) is disarming.

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Bring it up to the managers

Don't risk your own potential to progress for her sake, when clearly she wouldn't do the same for you. And even if she would, is it worth slowing down your own progress?

You need to separate work from your personal life. Otherwise, it could impact your ability to climb the corporate ladder.

How is this "petty"?

A few months ago, she lost her temper publicly with me in the office: she shouted at me


I don't know how to raise the issue without seeming petty (which concerns me, because she does raise any petty complaint to them)

She's becoming a distraction, which the managers shouldn't see as petty - there's work to be done, yet time is being invested into personal matters.

As long as you don't make it seem personal...

The managers should see it as initiative. The only reason you're doing this is because you're afraid it may distract not only you, but others around you. It's that simple.

You either bring it up to the manager before it escalates beyond what it currently is, or risk your own potential for progress. The co-worker has shown immaturity, so whose to say she wouldn't attempt to sabotage? It's a serious issue, don't let your personal relationship with this person interfere.

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What course of action can i take?

First off - don't go complaining to your boss. This is an issue you can deal with on your own.

If you are really friendly with this coworker, you can talk to her in a quiet, non-competitive moment. "Look, I have seen that my trying to advance myself bothers you. I'm sorry to see that happen. I would prefer we remain friends and coworkers rather than competitors."

If you aren't friendly, or if a pleasant discussion doesn't work, then you'll just have to ignore her and look out for yourself. Do the kind of work that will let you advance. If she doesn't like it, that's her problem and not yours.

  • Apparently they have had a few open discussions about the subject, and the colleague has even shown awareness that she is envious when my girlfriend gets to do advanced jobs. The colleague doesn't seem to make the further link : that when my girlfriend gets to do the advanced jobs (and not the colleague), that this is when the colleague stews, and becomes aggressive over petty things. One day the colleague will be talking about leaving the company (or even the country), the next day she is very jolly (when she gets to do the advanced work). – Robominister Sep 13 '17 at 20:38

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