Your coworker snipes all day long, making you feel you’re experiencing the workplace equivalent of waterboarding.

Here’s what Pia wrote me,  

After I returned to my office from a staff meeting where each of us reported on recent and upcoming projects, he told me, “You made a mess of that.”

I didn’t ask him what he meant, as that would have been an open invitation to him to dish out more disparaging remarks.

When I continued working, he snickered. I kept working, but every thirty or forty seconds he snicked again. I ignored the sound for a while, but it grated on me. I gave in and asked, “Can you stop?”

“Sorry, it’s just so funny.”

I resolved to ignore him, but he knew I could hear him. Then he said, “The break room’s latest rumor is you’re sleeping with the maintenance supervisor.”

What do I do?

Let’s assume you face a situation like Pia’s and have tried the normal solutions.

You’ve tried diplomatic truth, and told your office mate his constant remarks bothered you.

He just smiled and said, “You took offense? You can’t take a joke? My bad!”

You’ve pretended you don’t hear him. He just escalates, often repeating what he initially said, but louder, until you give in.

You’ve gone to your supervisor so often you’ve worn a rut in the hallway carpet.

You’ve spoken to HR and asked to be moved to another work area, even a closet, only to be told no viable alternate work area exists.

You’ve asked for remote work, but your job duties don’t allow it.

You’ve considered quitting, except you like your job and aren’t willing to leave a good job because of him.

If you work next to a workplace sniper, use these strategies to end his games.

Stop rewarding

Snipers watch their victims for signals their comments have struck home. When you pretended you didn’t hear your sniper, he knew you did. He saw your flush, your jaw or lips tighten, or shoulders raise.

If you want to ignore a workplace sniper, make it real. Here’s how. Let your mind flash on the face of a joyous baby or a peaceful site in nature. Do you relax?

Now, imagine one of your sniper’s comments and notice your breathing. If you’re like most people, your breathing becomes rapid and shallow and your chest tightened.

Let’s see if you can change your instinctive reaction to one that no longer rewards a workplace sniper. Allow yourself to notice your breathing exhalation in the way you would watch a wave moving away from the shore. Continue focusing on your breathing and notice your inhalation as part of the same seashore wavelike process. Once your breathing slows, imagine your sniper’s comment and this time concentrate on your breathing and bring your child’s face to mind. If you can do this, you can eliminate your sniper’s rewards.

Turn the tables

Workplace snipers love playing “one up,” but hate being bested. Take the fun out of your sniper’s game. Create an arsenal of comments that let him know “game over.”

When he next makes a comment, couple your relaxed breathing and mental vacation with a “done and over” phrase such as “Give it a rest” or “Don’t you have any new material?” Let him know his gibes no longer work, that he’s become both boring and laughable.


If turning the tables and eliminate his reward doesn’t work, give HR or your supervisor evidence rather than anecdotes on your next visit. Your sniper’s comments about your mythical sleeping around, if frequent, may constitute illegal sexual harassment. Start pressing your Smartphone’s record button when you return to your work area. Provide your HR office a fact-based case.

Let your supervisor hear the same recordings and let him know your sniper erodes your productivity daily. Make the problem a bottom-line concern for him and no longer a “you” issue.

The result—when you effectively handle a lowlife workplace sniper, they look for easier targets elsewhere.

If you’d like more on handling workplace snipers, you might enjoy chapters 7, 8, 9 and 10 from Beating the Workplace Bully: a tactical guide to taking charge.

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7 thoughts on “When the Workplace Sniper Won’t Let Up

  1. A voice activated digital recorder can be a good solution for something like this, also. Set it somewhere where it’s not easy to see but can pick up sound, and let this guy torpedo himself.

  2. What this lowlife is doing is classic gaslighting.

    “You have no sense of humor.“ “It was just a joke.”
    “You’re too sensitive.”

    A gaslighter’s goal is to make you doubt yourself and even believe what they spew.

    Call a spade a spade. A direct, “Are you a natural gaslighter or do you practice?” or “You are very good at gaslighting others. You must practice several hours a day.”

    When someone makes an inappropriate joke and accuses me of not having a sense of humor, my favorite response is, “That’s a time joke. [pause] When I have time I’ll laugh!”

    It’s vital not to allow the verbal bully to rattle your emotional cage. Bullies win when we are upset.

    Paulette Dale, Ph.D
    Author, Did You Say Something, Susan? How Any Woman Can Gain Confidence with Assertive Communication

    (Many thanks to Lynne for allowing me to self promote!)

    1. Paulette & Dee, great comments.
      I particularly like “are you a natural gaslighter or do you practice?”

  3. Thanks for these tips. Working with a sniper is stressful, because you’re hyper-vigilant, self-monitoring for appropriate and best comebacks, and distracted from what you’d rather or should otherwise be paying attention to.

  4. What about using AirPods or headphones? He can snipe all he wants, you won’t hear it. Plus I find them essential in any open type office. But the accusation of sleeping with the maintenance man is another matter. That needs follow up…..

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