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What do I do when someone at work doesn't like me and is rude to me?
March 20, 2009 7:27 PM   Subscribe

How to deal with person at work who obviously dislikes me?

Hi:

I work at a veterinary clinic with a doctor-owner, his wife, one nurse, a receptionist, and some part time help. I am the new doctor, straight out of school. The receptionist got hired a month after I did.

For some reason, this receptionist is afraid of me, or doesn't like me, or has no respect for me. When I arrive in the morning and greet her with a sunny "Good morning", she barely musters up a grunt and does not look up. When I talk to her, she looks at someone else.

This is a small enough office that I can't avoid interacting with her. In addition, I am concerned that her incivility interferes with my ability to do my job. What verbal or nonverbal cues is she giving my clients about me?

I am leaving this job in two months, and I will be only working two to three days a week until then. Do I just suck it up? It is rather unpleasant to work in this miasma of bad vibes. The whole office is like a dish that went wrong after throwing in too many ingredients.

My husband says to just ignore it and get through it. What do the mefites think? Do I continue saying good morning and acting civil to her? Or do I cut my losses and stop bothering to interact with her?

thanks!
posted by metaseeker to Work & Money (30 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Does the receptionist do this to you, or to everyone? In either case, kill her with kindness. You're there for another two months, so it's bearable. Additionally, for practical purposes, she's your subordinate, and any subordinate that's a dick to a manager gets noticed by other managers for having that quality. Get out of the job with fond memories of everyone else and good experience and let her ice-queen her way into getting let go.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:30 PM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Suck it up. You can't win with someone who obviously hates their job, or spends their time trying to find people to hate. If you were going to be there longer then I'd suggest a different course, but for your time remaining it's best just to roll with it.

Not that you've "reached out" to her, but you have been friendly and outgoing. If she isn't interested in that there isn't much you can do.

Act civil, continue to say good morning to her as you would anyone else.
posted by wfrgms at 7:34 PM on March 20, 2009


Ask her out to lunch.
posted by rhizome at 7:44 PM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Treat her professionally. To give into the temptation to treat her as she treats you will reflect badly only upon you. So, civil tones in greetings and departures, and otherwise communicate with her only in regards to work, e.g. "Helen, I'll need the Smith files; Helen, call the Jones with these test results." There's no need to extend yourself with personal sharing under these circumstances. Not nearly as much fun as having a coworker with whom you can exchange "what happened last weekend" stories, but sometimes that's just the way it goes.

Her own boorish behavior will stand out even more in the face of your seamless professionalism.
posted by jamaro at 7:45 PM on March 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


That sucks. I'm sorry.

Not everyone has to be your friend, but coworkers should treat each other professionally. Using this lens can help you view it from a bit more distance too.

Do the things she's doing affect the clinic's work? e.g. not responding when you talk to her -- if she's not responding when you ask her to do something that is part of her job and that you need her to do in order to for you to do your job, that's something that needs to be addressed with your boss. Not in terms of "she's not being nice to me" but "there's a problem in the handoff of this piece of work -- what can be done to get this back on track?"

But if she's not responding when you try to make friendly small talk, well, that's not cool, but making small talk is not a job requirement.

If she's actively attacking (e.g. insulting) you, that needs to a response too (Probably first by you speaking to her directly). But if it's more passive, that' something that, at the very least, takes a longer time to address -- possibly longer than you have.
posted by winston at 7:49 PM on March 20, 2009


The fact that you're leaving so soon means you have no obligation to reach out further, and makes this a great learning opportunity in preparing to handle the difficult co-workers you'll undoubtedly encounter in the future. Pride yourself on being nothing but utterly civil, knowing that it will only make you look better.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 7:50 PM on March 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


What? You're only there three days a week, for two more months. Completely suck it up. Were you signing up to this practice for the foreseeable future, this would be worth rocking the boat enough to get it sorted out, but seriously, just let it go.

Continue to be nice because it is incumbent upon you to do so as someone higher up the pecking order, but let her be.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:50 PM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


You don't lose anything by continuing to be polite, and you could probably could get away with doing nothing because of the short duration of your remaining time there. Her attitude is more likely to influence patients' views of the office as a whole than of you in particular, which may be how you could bring it up with the doctor or his wife.

If, though, you find that the quality of the care you are providing is suffering because of the lack of clear communication between you two, then it's best to talk to her directly. I had a similar issue with one of the women in the hospital call center I supervise. She rarely acknowledged anything job-related I told her, and stared at her computer screen whenever I addressed her. I dislike confrontations, but this wasn't something I could let go because of the nature of our work- I needed to be able to know that instructions I gave her were getting across, something that was impossible while she was virtually ignoring me. I basically stopped what I was doing at one point (during an attempt to explain a procedure to her, while she pretended she couldn't hear me from five feet away) and said in effect, "I don't know if you dislike this job, or just me. But this is information I need for you to understand, and I need to know you understand it. I do you the courtesy of paying attention and looking at you when you ask me something, and I expect the same from you." I felt like a complete ass through the whole speech, especially when she just muttered "okay", but things did get steadily better afterwards.
posted by notquitemaryann at 8:01 PM on March 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


I used to be a client service manager at a large veterinary hospital, and I'm sorry to tell you that she probably is affecting your performance. I would be stunned if her attitude was not affecting your clients' perception of you.

Honestly, I'm not sure I would waste too much time on this, given the temporary nature of your position, but if it were a longer-term situation, I'd recommend first talking to the technician and seeing if they know of any reason that the receptionist is bearing a grudge against you, then I'd talk to the owner. If they have some specific information about the problem, you can act on that information. If not, I'd suggest approaching the receptionist directly. "Hey Helen. I think we may have gotten off on the wrong foot somehow. I'm not sure what happened, but I'd love to sit down and chat with you sometime about it. Can we get together sometime -- lunch, coffee, after work drinks -- and try and iron things out?"

Finally, I came to veterinary medicine from another field, and my wife has been a technician for years, and I can confidently say that veterinary practices are almost universally among the most dysfunctional workplaces I have ever seen. If you are just starting your career, it would be wise to get some skill in ironing out these kind of difficult interpersonal situations under your belt -- you'll need it in the future.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:03 PM on March 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Agreeing with above to maintain your civil and sunny disposition at all times, her jerkiness speaks for itself. Ignore it.

Her being the receptionist, she is actually a vital part of the office. Taking calls, making appointments, basically being the face and voice between yourself and your clients, and the other people in your office. I always make it a point to get on the good side of ANY receptionist/secretary/front desk person. I just consider this to be a preemptive strike on my part.

That being said, whenever I am faced with someone like this that I have to interact with on a daily basis, after a particularly non-friendly exchange, I ask them outright, "Did I do something to offend you?"

I have done this enough times to know that it works really well. It completely puts the onus on the other person, to explain why they are being so unfriendly. This has opened up many a discussion with people who I thought didn't like me, only to find out that they are going through some hard time in their life, or, yes, I had actually done something to them that they didn't like. Usually it's the former.

Either way, they were put on the spot and gave me some info I could actually work with. 100% of the time it has made the other person completely change their attitude towards me, making the work situation much less stressful.

On preview, Rock Steady, yeah.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 8:10 PM on March 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


Don't bother trying to win her over. Just avoid her when you can and be very civil and professional when you can't.
posted by orange swan at 9:38 PM on March 20, 2009


Seconding "killing her with kindness" if only to satisfy curiosity about what other grunts she provides. Ask her if she wants a coffee, ask her how her day is going, compliment her work with a customer, relay compliments from other workers. Don't let her initial reaction turn you into a rude or distant person and certainly don't let other co-workers see you react to her stony silences.

notquitemaryann's idea of calling her out on it is a good one as well... if it comes to that.
posted by cranberrymonger at 11:03 PM on March 20, 2009


Only anecdotal, but I've never once seen the kill-them-with-kindness thing work in my own life experience - in fact, exactly the opposite. When I've tried harder to be extra nice (why? I'm already very nice and warm to everybody, whatever is going on is their problem), it has no effect, or even makes them worse - but when I go total ice-queen on them, they become almost fawning. People are weird, sometimes.

Killing with kindness can sometimes work with the simply terminally grouchy, but someone who has specifically picked me out to (try to) abuse, no. This pretty much never even happens to me any more; somewhere along the line while learning how to deal with these types I seem to have magically acquired an invincibility shield... nasty people now seem to figure out before they even start with me that it won't be a good idea.
posted by taz at 1:46 AM on March 21, 2009


Some people are very suspicious and cynical about kind, friendly people.

So the 'killing with kindness' might actually make thing worse. In fact I might act a little more cooly towards her, you might be surprised how she reacts.

Be polite and civil, but yeah, you can't win them all.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 2:28 AM on March 21, 2009


Taz, the kill-them-with-kindness thing isn't usually a method for turning someone's dislike of you into a like. Instead, it's to set up contrast, and to limit/eliminate any fallout on you from this person treating you badly.

If the receptionist treats metaseeker badly and metaseeker either reacts in a hostile manner, or just meekly accepts it, perhaps there's something to it when the receptionist complains later in private about metaseeker.

But if metaseeker is always kind, friendly and helpful to the receptionist, and she isn't reciprocating, outside observers to this dynamic will tend to believe that she is the problem, and any bitching she does about metaseeker in private will be seen as reinforcement of this, since metaseeker has been nothing but kind and friendly to her as far as anyone else has seen. People will naturally tend to see her in a negative light the more this goes on.

When doing this routine, keep interactions brief as you can reasonably do, but always sunny from your end. An additional benefit from your perspective is that the killing-with-kindness bit almost invariably makes the other person absolutely incandescent with rage they can't do anything about since you're not giving them anything actionable to latch onto. If you were a prick to them they'd have an opening for an attack, but by being nice all the time it's like you're wearing teflon and they can't begin to get a grip.
posted by barc0001 at 2:59 AM on March 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Rock Steady says: I'm not sure I would waste too much time on this, given the temporary nature of your position and If you are just starting your career, it would be wise to get some skill in ironing out these kind of difficult interpersonal situations under your belt -- you'll need it in the future.

Actually, I think that the temporary nature of your position makes this a perfect opportunity to use this as a learning situation. Try one thing, try another, see what works, buy her presents, confront her, ask around the office discreetly, be authoritative with her, be submissive -- find a logical order in which to try these things, keep track of any outside variables, and run experiment after experiment until you a) learn something, or b) solve the problem, or both.
posted by amtho at 3:20 AM on March 21, 2009


Rock Steady favorited for the suggestion to quiz another employee about what might be bothering her.

I had a somewhat similar problem with a coworker, and was able to nip it in the bud and dramatically improve our working relationship because I got someone else to explain what was bothering the other guy. It was pointed out that I was new and young, a little to proud of my smarts, a little too dismissive of the knowledge the other guy had gained over a long career. I thought about it and realized that this characterization of me was correct. I was intimidated by my new job and had been trying to project confidence by blabbing about my talents. A couple of hours later I screwed up my courage and approached the problem guy privately. I DID NOT ask him to confirm my understanding of the problem. I admitted my insecurity in the new job, acknowledged I'd overcompensated by talking about my abilities, told him I didn't mean any disrespect, and apologized. He was blown away. I soon became one of his favorite coworkers.

Perhaps you're the only woman Doc in this practice and she can't help weighing herself against you? Maybe she's a little older and painfully aware of your youth and status? At this point I'm just making shit up; I obviously don't know what's bothering her, so I don't know what button you should push. But there's a good chance that she vents to a coworker when you're not around.
posted by jon1270 at 4:23 AM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I am leaving this job in two months, and I will be only working two to three days a week until then"


9 - 12 more days? Just suck it up.
posted by sic at 8:21 AM on March 21, 2009


Er...more like 27-36 more days, sic.
posted by hippugeek at 9:29 AM on March 21, 2009


I agree with many of the comments about killing with kindness.

The trick is, is that it has to be sincere and motivated by goodwill.

If you try to be friendly to a person who seems to dislike you, and they perceive that their disdain is hurtful to you, that's power for them and they will keep acting like they don't like you. And you will keep feeling bad, and think, huh, it's no use being nice to this person... !

If you are friendly and pleasant and truly interested in the other person, and you make the decision to not take their attitude personally in any way, you are the one who has the power. And they will eventually start liking you. You on the other hand, will feel good whether the other person warms up to you or not.

Everyone wants to be liked, even if they don't know how to like others or express it.

I think it's almost fun to start being friendly to people like this. Make conversation, learn more about them, show small kindnesses and considerations to them... and watch them get blown away... !!! THEY KNOW they are being jerks, and they can't believe that you like them in spite of that... !!!

At the same time, there are people that just provoke you and you can't help feeling being affected by their rejection. This is when you just have to be professional and courteous.
posted by Locochona at 12:11 PM on March 21, 2009


Minor personal anecdote about one aspect only: I am emphatically not a morning person, but I am always the first person in at work. I've been there for 5-15 minutes, prepping, before anyone else gets in (late! arg!) One of them is a Super Sunny Good Morning Sunshine person. I hate that. I actively try to avoid her until I get my coffee (1-1.5 hrs in).
posted by cobaltnine at 4:23 PM on March 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Go to her supervisor, explain the situation, and have this straightened out. The secretary that works for me (and a few others in my department) is a head-case. Her moods, etc are inappropriate for the workplace. They still go on, but she gets my work done without the b.s. And, believe it or not, we now get along fine. She needed her supervisor to speak with her about her attitude and behavior. Address it, and then give her a change to improve -- move forward like nothing happened. Don't kiss her butt.
posted by inkyr2 at 9:42 PM on March 21, 2009


Thank you, everyone, for the reality check and the advice. Your comments have helped me immeasurably.

It's great to get different viewpoints and see the common themes in them.

Yes, this is a dysfunctional workplace. Thanks, amtho, for pointing out that it can serve as a great laboratory for developing interpersonal skills.

It's so easy to get caught up in indignation and injury. Thanks to all for helping me dial the emotions down.

You guys are great. Truly.
posted by metaseeker at 11:04 PM on March 21, 2009


I'd love to hear more specific phrases and wording I can use. Now that I have a sense of the strategy, some tactical assistance would be much appreciated.

For example:

* If I come in and say good morning, and she doesn't respond, what then? (Once I tried a friendly hand on the shoulder and a cheerful josh "Hey, how about a good morning?" She was better for a while, then slipped into surliness again.)

* If I address her with a question while we're standing in a group and she looks at someone else while muttering a short answer, what then?

* If I come into the room and she gives me a dirty look or turns away, what then?

* If I bring pastries for everyone in the office and they glance at the box with disdain and suspicion and continues going about their activities while ignoring my presence, what then?

* How do I compartmentalize this and not take it personally so I can enjoy my weekend?

I freely admit that I'm not blameless in all this and that I started the job with too much of the cloying enthusiasm and arrogant idealism of the freshly minted graduate. My assessment is that she's not suited for this job and I'm sure she senses that somehow. And there are other dysfunctional dynamics in this workplace that are way beyond me.

I am so very tempted to go to the owner-doctor, whom I consider a close friend, and saying "Thank you for hiring me and being the mentor to me that you never had yourself. I want above all for you and this clinic to do well. I think it's clear to both of us that this isn't working out. What can I do to help make the transition a smooth one and make sure that the business doesn't suffer in any way?"

Which goes back to the original question - is it still better to just suck it up and keep my mouth shut? Or maybe I should invite my boss to dinner, both get a bit drunk, have a good laugh, and go from there?
posted by metaseeker at 11:30 PM on March 21, 2009


If you're close friends with the owner-doctor, she may be jealous of you. Please don't judge her for this; it's a natural human emotion that we all need to work through from time to time. You may never have experienced it, but you will someday.

Is the vet/owner single? Is she? Are you? No need to answer, just factor that in to what might be happening.

Humility about yourself and sincere compliments of her (even her clothes) - not fakey compliments, but real ones, so you may have to work a little to find her virtues -- can sometimes help.

Here's an attempt at some tactics. I'm not the smoothest, but it was fun making this up:

"Good morning Jane" [silence - don't let it go on too long or be obviously awkward] "I've always liked that blouse; I know my fashion sense is lacking, but you always look nice. Well, see ya." [leave the room]

"I brought pastries!" [people look at them, don't eat them] later that day: "I guess it was a little silly of me to bring pastries without asking first when people might have different food preferences or be eating healthier than me. Guess I'm stuck with them now. I guess I'll be OK back at home with all my pastries. Think of pathetic me, metaseeker, alone with all these pastries..." (you can only pull this off if you are funny/humorous, but modify to suit - the gist is that you take responsibility, maybe more than you need to. Even if other people bring pastries and they're gobbled up, and you are obviously being singled out, make something up, some possible reason other than people being petty and mean, and attribute their finickiness to that reason).
posted by amtho at 5:51 AM on March 22, 2009


metaseeker: "I am so very tempted to go to the owner-doctor, whom I consider a close friend, and saying "Thank you for hiring me and being the mentor to me that you never had yourself. I want above all for you and this clinic to do well. I think it's clear to both of us that this isn't working out. What can I do to help make the transition a smooth one and make sure that the business doesn't suffer in any way?"

I'm not really sure of how to say this any more softly, but:

Toughen up, cookie. The fact that you are considering quitting a part-time job with a two month clock because the receptionist isn't nice to you says so much more about you than the receptionist. The fact that this woman isn't polite should not ruin your weekend.

Honestly, you sound like a chronic people pleaser, and while there's a lot of strengths in that, you have absolutely got to have some perspective and survival skills. Not everybody is going to like you all of the time, and there is nothing you can do about that. I think this is a valuable opportunity, early in your career, to indulge in some self-examination and perhaps pick up some books to help your personality type survive and thrive with some better coping skills out there in the big wide world.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:25 PM on March 22, 2009



  • If I come in and say good morning, and she doesn't respond, what then? (Once I tried a friendly hand on the shoulder and a cheerful josh "Hey, how about a good morning?" She was better for a while, then slipped into surliness again.)

    Well, "good morning" is kind of pithy and rhetorical. "Hey, how was your weekend?" is better, or anything else that implies that you give a shit about their response.

  • If I address her with a question while we're standing in a group and she looks at someone else while muttering a short answer, what then?

    Let it slide. Optionally, ask her for more detail/input. "What do you mean?" yadda yadda.

  • If I come into the room and she gives me a dirty look or turns away, what then?

    "I was just talking to [boss's name] and totally farted!"

  • If I bring pastries for everyone in the office and they glance at the box with disdain and suspicion and continues going about their activities while ignoring my presence, what then?

    I don't know, but whatever you do don't act like you need them to praise you for bringing a box of dough into the office. Be matter of fact and/or send out an "TREATS IN THE BREAK ROOM" email if you want. Be lowkey about it.

  • How do I compartmentalize this and not take it personally so I can enjoy my weekend?

    It's just a job. You're leaving soon. Think of it like you're taking your last days to set a good example, and it's no reflection on you if they don't take to it.

  • posted by rhizome at 1:10 PM on March 22, 2009


    Congratulations on becoming a veterinarian. You have achieved something really difficult and special that so many others only dream about. The essential problem is that no one teaches any of us in our professional training how to run a business or deal with organizational behavior -- including bullying by someone who is supposed to be on your support staff.

    It helps to think about an organization in comparison to the military. Everyone has a rank. Whether you like the person or not, respect goes with the rank (salute the uniform). You are entitled to respect here because you are the vet -- whether the support staff personally likes you or not. This means you MUST assume the confidence and authority attendant to your position in the organization. (Would a private in the army treat a general this way? Would a general put up with it? Does a general bring in pastry?)

    Stop acting as though you are on the same organizational level as the receptionist. Breeze in and say hello to every one. Keep walking. Do not stop for a reply. Assume she (and everyone else) has acted appropriately vis-a-vis your rank. If you ask her a question and she fails to answer. Redirect -- "I asked you a question Sally. I need an answer."

    The work place is not a democracy. Not everyone has an equal voice or vote. You're education and accomplishments put you in charge. You're paying school loans, malpractice insurance, and you're responsible for the health and lives of all those animals. If you start acting the part, you will start living the part. You must do this or you'll get walked on where ever you work, sorry to say. It's only hard the first few times you do it. You'll adapt.

    "Cowboy up!"
    posted by inkyr2 at 4:13 PM on March 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


    There's plenty of food for thought here already, but I can offer the perspective from the bitchy receptionist (though it pains me to recognize myself this way). Not so long ago, I had a real problem with one of my coworkers. I found her condescending, rude, and all manner of other unpleasant things. But because I felt this way about her, I myself acted very rude toward this girl. Nevermind any wrongs I felt she might have committed against me - I was undeniably abrasive with her.

    And then one day she asked to have a talk with me. We basically spilled everything we didn't like about each other and agreed to work together civilly because it was best for the organization and both our consciences and careers. After that, we worked together much more effectively. We certainly were not best friends and I would do no more than nod hello if our paths crossed in the kitchen but we weren't talking trash about each other with the rest of our coworkers or, admittedly, our clients.

    The lesson here is that you can't make it worse by talking about it. At the very least, receptionist may agree that she doesn't like you and there's nothing you can do about it and that's that. Which is pretty much what you think now.

    As much as I still dislike my (ex) coworker, I really respect the fact that she came to talk to me about my "attitude." It showed a lot of maturity on her part and it made our working situation a lot more comfortable.
    posted by AquaAmber at 12:45 PM on March 23, 2009


    I am amazed at the prevalence of the "ignore it"/"kill her with kindness" advice. Precisely because this is short-term, you can afford to experiment with the cleansing power of honesty. If I were in your situation, I would calmly, politely but very candidly ask her about/comment on each and every incident of rude behavior, something along the lines of "Do you not like to be greeted by anyone, or just me?"

    Best wishes, this kind of crap is far more debilitating than it "should" be.
    posted by Lizzle at 2:14 PM on March 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


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