Stopping a Coworker Who Makes Your Job a Living Hell


I’m a single mom, low on the totem pole, and can’t afford to make any of the engineers who give me work upset. I format their written reports and create accompanying graphic presentations to illustrate their key points.

One makes my job a living hell.

The other engineers email me clear instructions with the projects they need me to work on. They occasionally stop at my desk when they need to provide materials they need me to pull together and organize. One, however, persists in only providing oral instructions. He says it’s easier for him.

His instructions are often rambling and never clear. When I ask him questions to make sure I understand what he wants, he asks “Exactly what part of this don’t you get?” as if he’s overwhelmed by my incompetency. If he’d ask, “What don’t you understand?” it would be okay. It’s the complete condescension in his tone that flattens me.

When I try to puzzle out what he wants on my own and without asking him questions, I waste time doing work incorrectly and fall behind on everyone else work. Worse, if I don’t guess correctly, he throws a fit and comes into my office with what I’ve provided him tore into pieces.

I have to pass by his office when I leave for the evening. He regularly stops me at 5:01, and although I’m clearly leaving, he’ll shove a document into my hands and start explaining what he wants.

Many times, I’ve said, “I’m really sorry, but I have to leave. Could you give me this tomorrow? Or leave it on my desk with a few notes on what you want done?” He then huffs and says, “It only takes a minute to listen.”

But it never does. He starts rambling. I say, “I can’t afford to be late picking my son,” and he responds, “I don’t know why you can remember something this simple?” in a tone that implies I’m stupid. Lately, I’ve decided my only answer is to run get my legal pad, take notes on his assignment and be late to picking up my son from my neighbor.

I’ve always treated others professionally, but nothing I’ve done works with this man. How do I handle this?


The next time he hands you torn papers or speaks condescendingly, say, “Stop right there. I’d like to bring our supervisor into this discussion.” Then, invite your supervisor to meet with the two of you, and as best you can, explain the situation, imitating your co-worker’s tone of voice. If your co-worker clears it up in front of your supervisor but then condescends to you again, repeat this process.

Alternatively, ignore his voice tone and answer his jibes directly. This eliminates the reward he potentially gets from spreading condescension on you like butter. For example, if he asks, “What part of this don’t you get?” tell him what part of his directions need clarification.

When he says, “Can’t you remember something this simple?” at 5:00 as you’re on your way out the door, respond, “No, I wouldn’t ask you to leave me notes if I could remember it overnight. I’ll be glad to meet with you in the morning. I’ll take notes then. Or you can leave me notes.” 

If none of these strategies work, ask your supervisor for assistance. You don’t deserve poor treatment when you’re trying to do a good job. It’s in your supervisor’s interest to not let this co-worker destroy your morale.

This question came in on the “Ask a Coach” feature of this blog. If you a situation for which you need a strategy, you can present it there anonymously.

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3 thoughts on “Stopping a Coworker Who Makes Your Job a Living Hell

  1. re such sensible comments! This coworker seems to hope that by being loud, rude, obstreperous, and otherwise condescending he can scare the rational thinking ability out of the coworker. Hang on to your senses!

  2. The engineer likely sees the assistant as his inferior in the chain of command. His treatment of the assistant reinforces his place in the chain of command, at least in his mind. Bringing his superior in forces him into an inferior position. Bringing the superior as necessary is a good way to make the engineer think twice about the way he treats the assistant.

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