Sticky Work Situation - Worth Bringing Up?
September 8, 2014 7:58 PM   Subscribe

I'm in a sticky work situation. My account manager, who I'm partnered with, is pretty great overall - tries to be understanding, gives me enough rope to succeed but enough support to perform, even spends extra hours with me for development. But we're all in our early to mid-twenties, which can be kind of a rough age. One of our other account managers is pretty blunt, quite potty-mouthed, abrasive with terrible delivery. For example, she will regularly say people "shit the bed" "absolutely fucking suck" "is a sack of shit" as a reason not to work with them.

This is honestly sickening, upsetting, and anxiety-provoking for me. I've told my account manager, A that I have a hard time working with this person, let's call her B that she upsets me with her delivery. He understands. The only problem? B sits in our office. I have to interact with B everyday. She's also very good friends with A - they go to the gym together, joke around, make potty-mouthed jokes together. It's kind of funny.

Until it starts getting anxiety provoking.
Almost every conversation I have with A in our morning meeting, B butts right in. "You know what I would do, rhythm_queen? I would tell him to go suck a bag of nuts."

Today I was speaking to B, and I asked her about someone I was working with, as she'd worked with this individual in the past. It's common to ask each other for opinions on potential clients. She immediately insulted the individual, calling him a loser. This really bothered me. I pressed for details. She really waffled but came up with the excuse that he's annoying, then said she personally wouldn't work with him. I told her I'd take her feedback into account, but that it wasn't enough details for me.

Then, A came over as I walked to my desk and asked me "What's wrong?" ...the thing is, he often asks me "What's wrong?" when I've not displayed any displeasure/pain. He says I make weird expressions or I seem upset. I am often stressed and tired at work, yes, but it's pretty stressful to have him keep asking me.

I explained to him that I don't like people being insulted the way they are, and how negative that other account manager, B is. He said "Wait til you have a client backstab you, then you'll understand, but I get it. I understand" and that he thinks I should still continue to work with the client. He'd meet and approve him (a normal business function)

He is defensive of B and I can't work with her anymore. There are members of higher authority I can speak to. How do I approach this with my boss, A? We have a very close schedule, meeting twice a day for at least 15 minutes at a time to discuss my goals and my results. However, we're not close. I have very little credibility in this workplace. I want to be able to stand up for my personal business habits and not have her butt in. I just don't want to make waves while doing it... She's been here for a few years, me a few months. She is aggressive and could definitely overpower me in front of our senior team.

How do I handle this? My boss A is too friendly with B. B is kind of toxic to be around. While I can and will work with her occasionally, and can totally be friendly with her, I want to move offices. Or at least have someone speak to her about her delivery. Can I go speak to some senior members of office? What would you do?

Btw, in my last question many sussed out that my company is definitely a churn and burn corporate machine with 4 too many HR violations. But it's also a really fun place to work. I have an overall very supportive team, apart from B, and I'm doing quite well. I've also been making good money - the compensation is fair and commission is motivating - I definitely want to stay for a while.

Thanks so much.
posted by rhythm_queen to Work & Money (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I think I would laugh off as much as I could of this, and suck up the rest, because I don't see how you can win if you make it into a fight. You've got less seniority, and she's already accepted and liked. You're out of luck.

FWIW, I've worked in environments (blue collar, admittedly) where that kind of language was almost standard issue, so it just doesn't have any impact on me anymore.
posted by jon1270 at 8:12 PM on September 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Have you brought up your objections to the way B talks about these people with B? It seems like you want A to take action when you haven't made any attempt to let the person who is offending you know that she offends you.
posted by xingcat at 8:12 PM on September 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

Just become a brick wall to her propeller mouth. It's surprisingly easy to condition yourself to ignore absolutely everything another person says - just ask a married couple!
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:20 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

The person you need to speak to is B.

Your boss sounds pretty good. And caring!

The obvious answer is you don't escalate this because that is the wrong move! Especially because your boss keeps checking in, you'll make yourself look bad to upper management!

Shut B down when she's too vulgar (Hey! Language, please!!) or just ignore it when the vulgarity is not directed at you.

I really think you need to use your words here directly with B. Do it in front of your boss.

If that doesn't work, then you escalate.

PS. I have a potty mouth like that. It's OK to tell me to knock it off. Really.
posted by jbenben at 8:26 PM on September 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

Best answer: I feel like it's a mix of two things.

Thing 1: Deaden yourself to this/laugh it off. They're ridiculous and speak like a child in a work environment as they can't really express their feelings. (And this is coming from someone who loves to curse like a sailor - outside of work.)

Thing 2: Deadpan to those responses and outbursts.

"You know what I would do, rhythm_queen? I would tell him to go suck a bag of nuts."

You: "Well, since I'm not going to do that .... " and back to what you were talking about. (And/or ignore all together.)
posted by Crystalinne at 8:28 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One thing I've learned in terms of coworkers and putting up with them is that you don't have to like the people you work with.

Assuming swearing isn't intensely triggering for you for Reasons (in which case the answer to your question is some combination of find a new job or talk to your therapist about strategies to cope), this is just one of those things you just have to deal with. Christina swears like a sailor. Tim is a Republican. Taylor uses her baby as an excuse to weasel out of work responsibilities. Jason is on a strict gluten free diet that he makes everyone else's business constantly. You don't have to like any of these people. You just have to put up with them.

I'd risk a "that's not a very nice thing to say" or "you kiss your mother with that mouth?" every once in a while, but honestly "the Hilton account can suck a bag of dicks" and "I could eat the fuck out of a bagel right now, Jason's fucking diet be damned" isn't really hurting anyone and, depending on your industry, may very well be par for the course. This is especially true if you work in a male dominated field.

Certainly being visibly upset, refusing to work with Christina The Swearing Account Manager, or making an argument of it with her is not going to work out. Swearing in a professional context -- unless you're a kindergarten teacher -- is not nearly that severe an offense, and making a scene about it is going to make you look bad, not her.
posted by Sara C. at 8:39 PM on September 8, 2014 [24 favorites]

I agree with taking the high road of professionalism here, and maybe it's because I'm currently watching Six Feet Under, it sounds like gallows humor.
posted by rhizome at 8:41 PM on September 8, 2014

Yeah, get some help with your anxiety outside of work. She's rude but I'd either be rolling my eyes or laughing at her. Because she's acting ridiculous.

Hugs to you, though, because anxiety stinks.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:44 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can recalibrate your response. Instead of finding her 'sickening, upsetting and anxiety-provoking.' rename this response "personally irritating" and make it a point of professional pride to rise above personal reactions and get along well with everyone on your team. In truth the responsibility for getting along well is yours, even more than theirs, because you are the newer employee. As one gains experience, one can usually look back at the things that used to cause trouble and, if we're lucky, recognize that we've grown in our personal and our professional lives because we've faced things like this and figured out how to handle them. Everything is an opportunity for growth. Keep growing.
posted by Anitanola at 8:46 PM on September 8, 2014 [19 favorites]

Best answer: She's also very good friends with A - they go to the gym together, joke around, make potty-mouthed jokes together.... He is defensive of B...
I want to be able to stand up for my personal business habits and not have her butt in. ... I want to move offices. Or at least have someone speak to her about her delivery. Can I go speak to some senior members of office? What would you do?

I would learn to stand up for myself, starting by asking her not to butt in during your meetings with A (unless I misunderstood and they are meetings that she is expected to contribute to?). I would also, and just as importantly, learn to cope with someone having a potty mouth and I would definitely NOT go to senior people about it. If this is seriously causing you so much stress, I would get therapy, because "can't be around negative people who swear a lot" is quite likely to be a real crippling problem in your career, especially a sales job.

Asking to move offices or going above A's head to get his friend disciplined would be a great way to utterly alienate him and make sure he no longer tries to be understanding or spends extra time with you. And from your last question and the nature of the business overall, it really doesn't sound like you have room to be a difficult employee at this job, you'll just get canned.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 8:48 PM on September 8, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you're more upset by her bad mouthing others than you are by the actual potty mouth. I feel the same way you do. I avoid such gossipers to the extent possible, and remember that I don't want success on those kind of terms.

I counter this at work the same way I do with friends. "Hmm." Or "that's weird. I've worked with her for a while and haven't had a bad time. Must have been a bad experience." Or "she's a character, but she's part of the team!"

I've also had good success with "that's a tough one!"
posted by samthemander at 9:06 PM on September 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Just hang in. People who speak like B does will eventually hoist themselves. They'll fat-finger their hold button and an important client will hear her calling them a sack of shit, and then you can sit back and watch the fireworks.

It's really incredibly unprofessional.
posted by zadcat at 9:20 PM on September 8, 2014 [8 favorites]

for the most part you just have to deal with it. that's what jobs are like. there's often someone you don't like in any group and a job is no different.

she does what works for her and you do what works for you. as long as neither of those things interferes with getting work done, there's not much to be done. really this all sounds like stylistic differences. it doesn't sound like she's gossiping or stirring up drama. you have to find a way of dealing with it socially. make a joke next time she says something negative, or tell her to lighten up, or ask her who pissed her off this morning. anything, it's pretty easy to steer people around in conversations. divert her from being negative if it really bothers you or just learn to deal with it.
posted by Conrad-Casserole at 10:48 PM on September 8, 2014

The only thing you could do is try to get B to stop being so abrasive, but it sounds like that's going to be hard given that this is how she seems to interact in all situations, even professional ones. You could try, when she calls someone "a fucking loser" or a "sack of shit" to say, "That is not really helpful. Did he do anything specific I should be aware of?" If she continues insulting them you can say, "Whoa, that's really harsh. I'm just looking for pointers on how to make things go smoothly."

But I do think you need to toughen up a bit. People swear a lot and use hyperbole. I swear all the fucking time. I'll say to my coworkers that someone is a piece of shit if they've done something inappropriate (not to their face, obvi). I'll call someone a douche-bag (again, just in conversation). (For the record, not my co-workers. If I'm talking about other random people.) I mean, this is how a lot of people talk and you will probably need to deal with it.

If you try to speak to your boss' boss or elevate this and your only complaint is "B uses harsh language when talking about other people," you will look hypersensitive and, sorry, like a killjoy. She's joking around and it doesn't sound like she has ever insulted or attacked you/her co-workers. She's just snarky and abrasive, which you clearly are not into.

You should try to figure out why this bothers you and then stop letting it bother you. Is it that you find her annoying, or do you have some sort of problem with foul language? If it's she's annoying, you just need to deal with it. Everyone has co-workers that annoy them and you just gotta minimize interaction. If you have a problem with foul language, you should find a way to work through it because the adult world is full of it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:57 PM on September 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You: B, can you tell me about your experience working with so-and-so?

B: Blah blah donkey balls blah shit muncher blah.

You: I meant, what's your professional opinion?
posted by ktkt at 11:36 PM on September 8, 2014 [14 favorites]

I swear a lot at work. Every time we get a new person on staff I ask if they mind swearing. Occasionally there's someone who does mind and I do my best to not swear in front of that person (hitting my thumb with a hammer may still result in a few choice epithets). I do avoid swearing in front of the public with whom I interact at work.

If I worked with you and for some reason you hadn't been asked how you felt about swearing, I'd be perfectly happy if you walked up to me and told me that swearing made you uncomfortable.

Ask B to stop swearing.

As to the situation where she referred to someone as a 'loser' in trying to explain why she didn't enjoy interacting with them in a professional environment ... your response seems colored by your other interactions with B. She didn't call the person a @#$%-bag loser. Sometimes it can be hard to describe exactly how a person is difficult to work with to someone else.
posted by sciencegeek at 3:13 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Until it starts getting anxiety provoking. Almost every conversation I have with A in our morning meeting, B butts right in. "You know what I would do, rhythm_queen? I would tell him to go suck a bag of nuts."

I'm going to suggest you seek professional help for your anxiety, because I think your response to her commentary is well outside the bounds of healthy. Someone else uttering a "bad word" should not cause you this much anguish. And even the tenor of her comments - that some people suck and aren't worth working with - is unpleasant and unprofessional, but not heinous or anything.

By all means ask her to tone down her language, but the real issue here is your anxiety, not her swearing.

Then, A came over as I walked to my desk and asked me "What's wrong?" ...the thing is, he often asks me "What's wrong?" when I've not displayed any displeasure/pain. He says I make weird expressions or I seem upset. I am often stressed and tired at work, yes, but it's pretty stressful to have him keep asking me.

Then you need to firmly ask that he stop checking in on you. The thing is, though, that he is probably trying to compel you to stop making these weird expressions...and I say this as someone who wears her feelings all over her face. You are probably in serious of danger of appearing to be a delicate flower at work, which is going to seriously hurt your career.

He is defensive of B and I can't work with her anymore.

No, you are choosing to be unable to work with her, by letting her swearing get to you. As others have said upthread you don't have to like your colleagues, you just need to find a way to work with them. That means not letting B's acid tongue get the better of you.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:20 AM on September 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

You have to figure out what makes her tick and then destroy her ever so slowly.... no, wait, that's not it.
Whenever she says these awful things, treat as you would a naughty child. Give her the look. And then tell her that you are used to a more professional work place and her cussing makes you uncomfortable. Say it again and again. They will laugh at you. They will make fun of you. Don't smile and join in. Document it. And after 2 weeks of them making fun of you every time you ask for less cussing in the office, bring your documentation to the higher ups and report the bullying behavior, along with the potty mouth.
posted by myselfasme at 4:31 AM on September 9, 2014

Another thought: She may enjoy pushing your buttons.

Some people in stressful work situations don't handle that stress very well. Some people slam doors, some people slam desks, some people swear... and some people take their stress out on other people.

I would practice giving her a blank face when she swears. (This will be helpful even if she's not enjoying your reactions, btw. But it sounds like she is.) Don't give her feedback on it. Just wait for the swearing to be over, and then repeat your question. "No, I meant how is he as a client. Anything I should be aware of?"

The other thing is that it sounds like she's taking everything with clients very personally. I get that it's hard not to do that sometimes, but it's important to take a step back. It might also help for one of your neutral phrases to be "Look, it's just business. So [original question]?"
posted by pie ninja at 5:11 AM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

B sounds like a boor, but that's not really the problem here. Between this question and your last, the outlier here is you. You don't get this company's culture. Maybe it's a bad culture (as I certainly believe it is, at least in terms of how it treats employees), but it's you with the problem, not B.

Many, not all of course, but many, sales roles have this sort of atmosphere. And a somewhat abrasive person who makes fun of clients behind the scenes is really not a big deal. (Try retail if you want to hear really nasty comments about customers.) Your last question had a lot worse things about your company (long days, low pay) than a mildly annyoing blowhard.

Regardless of the merit of your complaint, I would be very unsympathetic to this issue if I were your boss. The new-ish employee who can't get to work on time now thinks they're in the position of saying they "cannot work" with other managers? See how far that gets you. Going above your boss' head would make it a thousand times worse.

You aren't going to last here. You hate this job, and it seems like the job hates you. Your job is to keep your head down and stay out of trouble until you find a job that suits you. There's no point in trying to change a company that you don't understand from the bottom. You will fail, make enemies and possibly get yourself fired sooner. You're already a "difficult employee". You really don't need anymore work problems.
posted by spaltavian at 6:10 AM on September 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

What spaltavian said. You're outnumbered and outpowered and you're the only one that cares about this. The rule of work is that you have to put up with ANYTHING and EVERYTHING a job dishes out until you find another job (or possibly quit or get fired). You're going to have to learn to find a way to put up with what you can't stand, because that's what life is about. Sorry. If the worst thing you're dealing with is a foulmouthed coworker, that's....actually pretty good for the workplace.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:24 AM on September 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

(Please pardon my rudeness on that last one, but I have a job where they bring in cops to lecture us on what happens if our clients decide to shoot us. Really, it could be worse.)
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:27 AM on September 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Based on your story, I'm concerned that while A is very supportive of you, you may be coming off as a difficult employee who needs coddling. The fact that A asks you "What's wrong" a lot tells me that he perceives you as someone fragile. While it may feel nice to have your manager so involved in meeting your emotional needs at work, the fact that A thinks you need that level of involvement is a big red flag for your employment security.

In fact, it sounds to me like A is very much like B, and is curtailing his natural style in order to work smoothly with you. It could mean he isn't as sympathetic toward you as you might think, but is instead just trying to smooth out your working relationship by not doing the things you don't like. He's being a good manager; you're not being a great employee right now.

I'll be blunt - my first reaction is that you're a bad fit for the culture of this office, and that if someone has to adapt or leave, it's more likely to be you than B. If B is a solid performer at a higher level than you, who gets results and has more tenure and credibility in your office than you do, then it's part of your job to figure out how to work with her. It doesn't sound to me like A is particularly impressed with your attitude toward B, and he's your manager; you want to impress him. At this point, I suspect the only way to do this is to show that you don't need special treatment and that you can deal with B on your own.
posted by kythuen at 6:41 AM on September 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

I am another person who regularly uses lots of profanity at work. But I know who in the office appreciates it and who doesn't. I am perfectly happy to watch my language around certain people. You just need to talk to B.
posted by Librarypt at 7:52 AM on September 9, 2014

I used to swear just to piss off an old pseudo-Christian guy who would flinch when I dropped my little f-bombs. I think B knows she's getting to you & may be laying it on a little thicker in your direction. You can be sure A has spoken to B about this outside the office, and you can see it has had zero impact, which means as others have said here, it's the company's culture that is really at the heart of this, and your own insecurities.

In sales all that matters is getting the deal, the clients are second to the money, and you'll never be able to protect all the clients who get bad-mouthed by B and anyone else who comes along like her. I think for your own well-being you should be looking for different work, you'll be happier in the long run. Being more sensitive isn't a bad thing it just doesn't fit with this company.

The things you reference would upset me too btw. I was fired from the worst job I ever had, and those people were rotten from the top down. Thieving, rotten, amoral pieces of crap really, and I never did fit in with the group. I almost leapt for joy when they canned me, why I allowed myself to associate with such a group of losers is still beyond me. Desperate for work is my defense. For six months afterward, I got emails from clients who were surprised I was gone, as nobody had told them their only contact person had left, and they couldn't get any assistance from the company. Five years later, I see an ad at least annually for the position. I usually call and leave a laughing message for the woman who dogged me the most, reminding her what a wretch she is as well as the company she represents. Small victory, but the big victory is not having to work with them, and feeling proud of what I do now. (I will never work in that field again and have no fears of any bad reference or anything else from this group of cretins-they're going to hell soon enough).

Three months of awfulness, I was drinking as soon as I came home from work and I'm not much of a drinker. That should have been my first real clue, my own reaction to them. Your clue is your own deep discomfort, please listen to your own voice.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 11:09 AM on September 9, 2014

Nah, it's not just you, although it does seem like a poor cultural fit.

B kinda sounds like kids I've been around who try to see how far they can push boundaries. And hope they're being cool.

I would probably deal with B by saying (in your example) "calling the client names seems to help you deal, but I have a hard time translating that to my point of view. On a scale of 1 to 10, how difficult was this client?" And similar.

And for B interjecting in the conversations with A, I'd probably say something like, "sorry, do you mind? I'd really like to get A's thoughts on this."
posted by zennie at 12:47 PM on September 9, 2014

I have a reading of this where B is just a really angry person, and you're picking up on this anger more than the actual swearing. And if so, yes, your reaction is totally understandable and healthy. But if you label it as 'B is an angry person and it's natural to find that frightening', then you may well find it easier to deal with.
posted by ambrosen at 2:48 PM on September 9, 2014

Response by poster: to be honest, I didn't word this very well clearly. I'm not concerned about the swearing, which is annoying but not too bad. It's the consistent negativity, petty gossip, bad delivery - she is just so hard to work with. Its very well known that she's like this, rude, negative, quite fake *and*
pottymouth. I really appreciate everyone's feedback though. I should've worded this better.
posted by rhythm_queen at 4:44 PM on September 9, 2014

She probably is all of those things. But she's still there and still gets the job done. At the end of the day that's what matters to a business. What someone acts like inside the company and what they say can be completely different to how they interact with and appear to clients themselves or people outside the company. If she's been there much longer then she's valuable to the company and anything you say won't really matter to the company. Once again, I think you're under the impression that somehow company culture can be adjusted to meet your needs and the company is demonstrating that isn't the case. Two choices: 1) adjust your needs b) find another job.
posted by marylynn at 6:07 PM on September 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

The way you worded the question really makes no difference. Whether it's swearing or you just plain don't like her, it doesn't matter. You have nothing you can complain about legitimately and you're the one starting drama. Do not go to your bosses with this complaint. Just find a way to deal with it or look for a new job.
posted by AppleTurnover at 6:33 PM on September 9, 2014

It's the consistent negativity, petty gossip, bad delivery - she is just so hard to work with.

Since you work in sales for a large corporation, it is not surprising to me that you have a toxic coworker. Even more so, considering the details outlined in your previous question- that type of work atmosphere really breeds a lot of negativity amongst staff.
posted by invisible ink at 6:41 PM on September 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

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