Lessons from a Recovering Doormat

Jenna wrote: My boss recently got burned by her boyfriend and is very bitter toward men. I’m married to a wonderful guy and she knows it. She constantly snipes at me with comments that include a reference to my “perfect life.” She does this to another co-worker who’s in a good relationship, and happy. It feels like she can’t stand happy people since she’s miserable. How can I stop her nastiness without losing my job, which I love except for her current behavior? We did have a good relationship when she was in a happy place.

FIRST: I’d try to talk to her directly. Find a peaceful time and ask if you can buy her a cup of coffee/tea if that’s possible. It’s best to talk away from the work environment. Share that you’ve always enjoyed working with her but lately she seems angry at you. Did you do something wrong that you don’t know about? Of course you know why but play dumb. Don’t try to analyze for her. Just address her behavior, not the reason you believe is causing it, and how it doesn’t feel good.

Emphasize how much you respect her and want to keep a good relationship. Ask if there’s something you can do to change the vibe between you. Tell her how uncomfortable you feel when you feel her negative vibes. “I really want to get back to the great place we were in as I like you. Is there something I can do to help make that happen?” Saying this in a nice, positive way might wake her up that she’s behaving unfairly. Otherwise you might have try something more serious.

There are several things you can do, depending on your circumstances at work. Does your company have any policy against harassment? Either way, it’s good to keep a log of the date/time and details about anything she says or does that you consider unacceptable. Depending on what happens in the future, it’s good to have a record of her behavior, especially if she tries to fire you.

If she has a superior, I’d ask for a meeting with that person. DO NOT COMPLAIN! The best way to get someone on your side is to ask for advice. Start by telling the person you respect their wisdom and thought they might know of a good way to handle your situation. Then praise your boss and express your desire to have a good relationship with her. Ask for suggestions for handling the unacceptable behavior. Emphasize the good—hat she’s otherwise a good boss and does good work. You understand she’s going through a rough time but aren’t sure how to respond to her comments or being picked on for no reason. The less it sounds like a complaint, the more cooperation you’ll get.

If the situation escalates, use the log you kept as proof of harassment. Try to get others who she does this to to join you in taking some action if there is a company policy in place. If there’s an HR person. try to get advice from them too. If nothing changes, you can try to find ways to avert her as much as possible, or you might have to look for another job. Most of the time, my suggestions will work. Try to keep a positive attitude through it all. That creates a better environment for taking action.

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