Please help me to navigate a difficult situation at work
August 6, 2017 6:40 AM   Subscribe

How can I work with 2 women who I find difficult to work with and who undermine me and make me feel uncomfortable.

I've got my 'dream' promotion in a large organisation 6 months ago. I started here as a temp and before that I worked as an EA for a smaller company but was made redundant due to the place closing down.

There are 4 of us in our office A, B, C and myself. A & B are part of my team and C works to a different department.

A & B were lovely to me at first and gossiped a lot about C. I tried to ignore this because I wanted to make my own impression. As time has gone on I've not taken sides and am friendly to C - who does occasionally help me when I'm very busy.

For the past couple of months A&B have been doing things that I find a little bit upsetting. Just a couple of examples.

Me to A: This place is busy today I can't get hold of anyone in Department XX.
A: Calm down, calm down
Me: Sorry, but I am calm was just making a statement.
A: Calm down, calm down
Me: A. Have I done something to offend you because earlier on I asked you a question and you never answered
A: No but calm down calm down

Me to another girl talking in the office after returning from holiday. 'It's like you've never been away after a day - but all the backlog of work is hard - imagine working in a shop - you wouldn't have millions of email.
B: Well get a job in a xxxxing shop then

Me to B: The Chief Officer needs this information today but the file is out at another location . Do you think if I phoned that office they would give me that information?
B: Don't be such a xxxxing idiot. She then goes to promptly get that information from the other location and forwards it to the Chief Officer.

They do call me 'funny' names but think of it as banter. C hears a lot of what's going on and insists that I'm being bullied. I didn't think so at first but now I'm scared of asking for information (that I genuinely need) from them because of their sarcasm. They are very clever and act so helpful to me when other people are around however another couple of women who deal with us in the office are also concerned about the way they speak to me.

The women who did this job previously left and I've been told by C that she was in tears a lot in the office and couldn't cope with them.

I definitely don't want to go to HR about this - I'd really like to deal with this on my own but it's upsetting me and eating into my family life at the moment.

How can I answer them without becoming the aggressor myself. I love the work I do - I get on well with my manager and have had great reports from staff that I have assisted but I feel like I'm under constant scrutiny and if they had a chance they'd throw me under the bus if they could.

Any hints would be appreciated
posted by Flowerpower to Human Relations (36 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I suspect you have an error in your post. You say that A and B are the ones that are mean to you, and C is helpful, but your examples are of A and C being mean to you. Did you write "C" when you meant to write "B"? I think that will affect how people answer you.

(And calling you a "xxxxing idiot" is egregious. Don't let the backdrop of smaller aggressions accustom you to that kind of abuse so that you overlook just how out there it is!)
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 6:52 AM on August 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Sorry - yes I got it wrong I meant B instead of C - don't know how to change it though.
posted by Flowerpower at 7:04 AM on August 6, 2017

Ooooh that calm down thing is just about the meanest thing anyone can say.

I don't know if it's politic, but since the "calm down" thing is calculated to make you defensive, the only response I can think of is to play offensive. "Hm, seems like you're not sure what that word means" with a smile and then a turned back. "Get a job in @@#$ shipping" gets a response like "you have such interesting ideas." These women do sound like bullies to me, and I doubt that taking it lying down is going to improve things.

[edit - and don't complain to them anymore, or say anything that sounds like complaining. Even reasonable people don't like hearing that, especially from someone new.]
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:32 AM on August 6, 2017 [15 favorites]

You are new, you make a lot of comments about how hard things are. They put their heads down to work and probably do not think you are going to survive six months. Your best bet it to imitate them and learn how they do the job so you can survive. The longer you stay, the more likely they will be less defensive to you.
posted by parmanparman at 7:33 AM on August 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Me to A: This place is busy today I can't get hold of anyone in Department XX.
A: Calm down, calm down

I think a first step might be to adjust how/what you communicate with A and B. What you said here was in no way wrong or inappropriate - but what were you hoping to get in return? Commiseration? Or advice? If the former, A clearly isn't the person for that (neither is B). If the latter, a direct question is more likely to get you what you need.

Me to C: The Chief Officer needs this information today but the file is out at another location . Do you think if I phoned that office they would give me that information?
C: Don't be such a xxxxing idiot. She then goes to promptly get that information from the other location and forwards it to the Chief Officer.

Did B [given your correction] get some sort of credit out of that? If so, I'd be more careful about only asking open-ended questions for advice instead of suggesting solutions - if you think you know the solution, just solve. If not, the action itself isn't terribly important, the information was gotten as needed. But in either case, "Please don't call me a xxxxing idiot or a xxxxing anything or any kind of idiot." Maybe with a bonus "I'm surprised I have to make this request in a professional setting." And then if she does it again, record as many details as you can for as many examples as you can and report it as a pattern of creating a hostile work environment. That is just not ok. I mean, I understand your instinct not to want to go to HR, because their primary purpose is to protect the organization - but what she is doing is bad for the organization. Your interests align here.
posted by solotoro at 8:07 AM on August 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, it sounds like they think you complain too much, so as soon as you open your mouth, they think you're complaining even if it's a straightforward request for information. What some people see as bonding or making funny observations, others experience as negative or toxic. That's no excuse for that "calm down, calm down" shit which is absolutely obnoxious. But you can only keep your side of the street clean. It may be to the point where it would help, if you see one of them get that "here we go" look on their face, to say something. "Sorry, that came out more negative than I intended."
posted by BibiRose at 8:10 AM on August 6, 2017 [8 favorites]

In lots of offices people complain as a form of bonding - I'm not sure why but I do it too.

Anyway, I wouldn't complain to them or ask for help unless really stuck (I know how hard this is). For example, the bit with the file in the other location - it seems like calling the other location would be a really low-stakes thing to try. I'm not saying your approach is wrong at all - it's something I might do - just that you can't really trust these coworkers and you're better off relying on them as little as possible.

I'm not so good with the assertiveness so I won't venture to give any advice there.

Good luck - I hope the situation improves.
posted by bunderful at 8:11 AM on August 6, 2017

Solotoro - B got credit - because my boss came in chasing about it - and B intervened saying that she had a contact at the location and would get the information immediately. Must admit I felt rather foolish.

Another time I asked A where I could get information for a report and she gave me the wrong area - so I put in the wrong figures. When my boss asked about it A said she would sort it and fixed it.

Regarding what I said about how busy the place was - yes - I see what you mean. I wasn't wanting commiseration but was just making a statement it was the way she said it to me. Very dismissive - but yes I need to change my communication with them.

I really just want to fit in and make sure it's not taking time from me at weekends/evening. That's me that needs to find coping mechanisms but I'm finding it difficult.
posted by Flowerpower at 8:14 AM on August 6, 2017

It sounds like you might tend to be anxious in general, and this job is bringing that out in you at the moment. And you're right, this is at least partly about you needing to find general coping mechanisms. For instance there is no reason at all why this should be affecting your family life. As an anxious person myself, I have found that merely acknowledging the anxiety and taking some steps to help yourself will pay off pretty quickly in terms of work relationships. There are certain kinds of behaviors people do at work out of anxiety that drive co-workers crazy, even sympathetic co-workers. Asking a question and then trying to answer it yourself is absolutely classic. But the good news is it is pretty easy to catch yourself and stop doing it. Even sort of making an effort to step back and manage your own overwhelm is really appreciated when it's noticed.
posted by BibiRose at 9:18 AM on August 6, 2017

This is interesting. I'm not sure why people are blaming you for this: "You must be anxious, you must be complaining too much." None of your examples sound like complaints or being anxious to me.

The calm down comment is flat out insulting. You know A & B are gossips. I'd be friendly but professional to them and avoid asking them questions or commenting on work to them when at all possible.

I try to keep a couple things in my work space to act as Talismans - a card from my daughter, a picture of my dog, etc. And I try to turn off thoughts of work when at home, though I know, when you have a bad work environment, this can be hard to do.

Best of luck to you.
posted by mulcahy at 9:29 AM on August 6, 2017 [21 favorites]

(I'm lost on A,B,C. Too late to change it in the original post, but you could add a correction. You can always email the moderators; link is at the bottom of every page.) Stop arguing, start ignoring. Calm down is a stupid thing to say to anyone because it is almost never effective, and is just a way of being a bit of a jerk. Ignore it. Acknowledging it in any way reinforces it. You may want to be less open, less overtly friendly. This is a fiercely aggressive group who will not respond in kind. You need to start compiling a list of people and roles in our office and other offices, and start reaching out and making contacts. Don't ask co-worker X about how to get information, call the other office. Assume that your 2 troublemakers are just that - troublemakers - and be outwardly super-friendly but do not trust them in any way. You can't fit in with sharks; they only respect strength. Be better and tougher; then they'll suck up to you. If you show weakness, they'll attack.
posted by theora55 at 9:31 AM on August 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

I have a different take on this. Something similar happened to me in a female-dominated office (I'm also female). I think that when you refused to join A and B in their scapegoating of C, that A & B decided you were a scapegoat too. These behaviors are inexcusable. Adults do not call each other names or gaslight each other. You are being bullied. I would get out--this sort of thing never ends well.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 9:31 AM on August 6, 2017 [12 favorites]

Sorry about the mix up regarding A,B,C, - I have emailed the MODS and asked if they could edit it.

I would like to explain about 'complaining' - I really don't complain as such - although perhaps to them it sounds like it. I get on well with all the other staff in the offices and (not being big headed) but am really liked and some other departments are saying they want me to work for them because I do work really hard.

As for them getting their heads down and working - unfortunately most of the time they are on the internet or on their mobiles - which is distracting and I don't get involved in any of that or interrupt them.

I am anxious about this. I don't want to be seen as a trouble maker but am worried that it might sabotage my performance.
posted by Flowerpower at 9:48 AM on August 6, 2017

Based on recent experience, I would say you should talk with HR and your boss, and make it clear that you cannot deliver with these people in office, and that you do not recommend keeping them onboard at all. Before you do this, build up a case about their gossiping and lack of productivity over a month. This is harsh, but having them around even somewhere else in the organisation may make things worse. Prepare for a fight. If other people in your organisation like you, they will have your back and probably agree.
If you don't feel you can handle this, start looking for another job. Otherwise, this will end in a bad way. It's not just my own experience, I'm seeing a lot of people getting into exactly this situation. There must be a structural reason, but that is not for an ask.
posted by mumimor at 10:02 AM on August 6, 2017

This is reminding me of the crap I have to deal with.

* Don't speak to them unless you absolutely have to. If they think you are complainy, that gives them ammunition to complain about you to higher-ups. Do not say anything about your work, if you are slightly stressed, anything at all. Even if YOU don't complain as much, even if they complain even more than you do, they're labeling you as one and anything you say is added to their evidence pile. Everything is fine and happy around you now! Happy happy happy! No stress here!
* Do not count on them for help and assistance. Do not ask them for help unless you absolutely have to, work around them when you can. If you are forced to ask them for help, assume that they are going to throw you under the bus, give you wrong information, etc.
* Since you and C are actually in the same boat about being picked on by them, stick together.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:05 AM on August 6, 2017 [8 favorites]

Based on recent experience, I would say you should talk with HR and your boss, and make it clear that you cannot deliver with these people in office, and that you do not recommend keeping them onboard at all.

A new hire recommending the firing of people who do not report to her? That is NOT going to go well.

They've already decided they don't like you so I think it's best to respond to their remarks with cold professionalism. "My demeanor is not the subject of discussion." "Don't use that kind of language with me." Etc. It won't make them like you but it may make them realize that you will push back on mistreatment, which might cause them to cool it. You should be prepared for it to turn out not to be a viable situation, though.
posted by praemunire at 10:08 AM on August 6, 2017 [12 favorites]

I'm sorry you're going through this, it sounds both juvenile and hellish. I would start keeping a log of each of these incidents, with time and date. Be dispassionate, as you have been here, just record exactly what is said. The "funny names," depending on what they are, might be harassment. C and the other women are witnesses of sorts, but I wouldn't get them actively involved until you are ready to escalate.

Does your company have an ombudsman or some other confidential party? That might be a good first stop, but I think ultimately HR may need to get involved regardless. These people are actively sabotaging your ability to do the job you were hired for, just as they did to the woman who worked there before you -- the company needs to know about that.
posted by basalganglia at 10:21 AM on August 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

With bullies, it might change the dynamic to push back. "Don't be a *!ing idiot." "Excuse me??" Mostly ignore them, don't do anything that puts you in a junior relationship to them if you don't have to (like asking advice), go be super resourceful and competent, and await the next phase of this bullshit (they might decide you're alright and treat you with respect, or they might get competitive and try to scheme to undermine you).
posted by salvia at 10:33 AM on August 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

salvia - that's what I want to happen - I want them to respect me and realise that I am not a threat and I'm only trying to do my work and to be the best I can.

I think it's really helped reading everyone's input and I do appreciate it.
posted by Flowerpower at 10:52 AM on August 6, 2017

I used to be an administrative assistant, and this dynamic is unfortunately common. Escalating / taking this to HR is not likely to help - it's your word against theirs, and they've been there longer and have all the institutional knowledge. HR is there to protect the company from lawsuits, and you are nowhere near lawsuit-level evidence. Just avoid them and let it roll off your back when they're rude. Imagining how unhappy they must be to treat someone like that helps me. If they see it doesn't bother you, they'll either quit, or they'll push harder and hopefully get caught.

They may be behaving this (wrong, mean, unprofessional) way because they think you should be working more independently by now - work on solving your own problems, look at previous months' reports to figure out what numbers go where, ask your boss for assistance if you're really stuck since you clearly can't trust them.

If you can bear it, be really visibly friendly and creating a positive office culture - bring in treats, compliment and thank people a lot, take on process improvements / documenting procedures (to avoid having to ask them things in the future). Be excruciatingly positive and cheerful.

On preview: you cannot control whether they respect you or view you as a threat. This is not a useful goal. They're not your boss, their opinion doesn't matter from here on out.
posted by momus_window at 10:56 AM on August 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

I can't understand why you're saying the things you're saying to these people. You've attempted friendly non-work-related banter and they aren't going for it. Just avoid talking to them at all unless your task absolutely requires it and you're sure no-one else can help. Of the examples you've given you could have simply not interacted with them (except for the one about calling another location, and you could have simply called instead of asking whether you should).

Bringing in treats isn't likely to suddenly fix these people. Keep building up data for when someone who matters asks you about them.
posted by tillsbury at 1:09 PM on August 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

It sounds to me like you need an ally against these two women. There are two of them and one of you. And that's before all the who's-in-charge and who's-been-there-longest dynamics and so on.

What about becoming really good friends with C? Or at least making some kind of agreement that you have each other's back? I'm not saying create a hostile environment or anything, but you will probably have an easier time of it if you know someone at work is on your side.

I don't know about you "complaining." Some people interpret simple questions, neccessary questions about work to be intrusive and annoying, and respond in kind. They expect you to figure it out on your own, without giving you assistance, indeed making sure you feel like *** and performing more poorly as a result. Whether or not providing such assistance is in their job descriptions, ideally people in a work environment should want to facilitate a colleague into doing good work, rather than sabotaging them, since ultimately, hello, the survival of everyone's job depends on how well the composite product, whether services or widgets, is produced. And no, I am not saying anyone should hold anyone's hand or spoonfeed them, but a reasonable amount of assitance to a newish employee never struck me as a bad thing. That said, I would follow the advice of others on this thread and limit what you say to them as much as possible. Don't give them the satisfaction of letting them feel they are making you feel bad. It just isn't worth it.
posted by Crystal Fox at 1:53 PM on August 6, 2017

[Edited the A/B/C text to clarify, per asker's request.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:57 PM on August 6, 2017

I would not bring in treats or behave in an ingratiating manner with A and B. I too am an anxious person, until I get angry, then all anxiety is out the window and watch out! If you cross me I will make you sorry. Try getting angry. These people have no right to treat you like this. I agree with people saying you should not ask those two for help of any kind. Be as creative as possible and find ways to get any help/information information you need without them. Refuse to speak to them at all in fact, except about work related subjects, and then only if they speak to you first. Use only calm professional tones. Never apologize to them for anything, never accept blame from them. Stay calm, but let your inner anger fuel you. After awhile they will either leave you alone or trip themselves up trying to damage you. Start keeping reccords of everything they do that you think is shady /unprofessional. Be prepared to bite back if you have to.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:21 PM on August 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

You have to go to your manager immediately. This isn't high school, so being a bigger bitch to them or silencing them with a rude remark won't get you clout among your colleagues. Or it might, but this will surely create an aggression spiral that will be tiring to you in its own way.

The little trickery and credit stealing is mean, and a definitive "you're not our friend," but perhaps that's common for offices.

The "go work in a fucking store" though is much. It is much too much. Do not let anyone gaslight you into thinking it's not.

No, you have to talk to your boss. This isn't a dream job if you're going to work and people are being obnoxious to you. This isn't normal. People don't pinch you on your morning commute or try to trip you at the grocery store. I am livid on your behalf.

It's not too much trouble to go through. You perform a shitload of emotional labor every day at work, I bet, and are judged on how well you do it.

And I will tell you this - there is a good chance your colleagues are already talking to your manager, telling her you're difficult. People who act this way do it alllllll the time. Place them in any social setting and they know how to cause trouble.

So do yourself a favor and start looking for new jobs, but speak up to the manager. It's important to set a precedent, and it doesn't speak ill to your dignity at all.

Your boss may not want to help you deal with a bully - it may not ingratiate them - but your company also doesn't have an inherent interest in making sure you get paid fairly, or any of that other stuff.

The situation will turn out well for you to the extent that you complain first, and loudest, and maintain the ability to leave.

You've included that you're a diligent worker and have value for the org. Cash it in. Cash that in now. Maybe you can ask to transfer. You work hard for the legitimate right to complain when people are rude. You are not doing a bad job, so people should help you protect your shit. That's the deal. It's also your manager's literal job to help you perform well.

If it makes you feel any better, I would be surprised if in a couple of years, when you've moved up the career ladder, they have made any progress. Let's say they are dirtbags sitting in front of your stoop, not threats. But you still have the right to keep your stoop clean.
posted by benadryl at 3:23 PM on August 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't suggest going to HR, either, or ignoring them. Instead, I would engage them in the most superficial of ways, mainly by asking pleasant non-committal questions, or making pleasant comments. "Lovely day, isn't it? Did you have a pleasant weekend? I hear it's supposed to be cold/windy/rainy/sunny later."

I also wouldn't depend on them for any information - or, if you do, cross-check the source. One person didn't give you a connection, but gave it to your manager? The other person gave you incorrect data? Start a log of all of those occurrences, but, in the meantime focus on finding other ways to get your data, and being a rock star in your other assignment.

Which brings me to the last point. Be a rock star in your job. Get to work early, figure out what your supervisor wants, and give it to him; make allies, and, in general, just do your best to kill it. Oh, and keep your resume up to date.
posted by dancing_angel at 3:25 PM on August 6, 2017

I will also say this - don't worry about how you talk to your manager, just do it. If you can make words come out of your mouth in most social situations, you already have the skills. What is to lose. The job? No, you're good at it. They will not fire you. The reference? No. What kind of monster would refuse you a good reference for not liking a rude work setting?

They might still be bitchy as hell and you might still be unhappy. I'm sure most managers have no idea how to discipline a bully subordinate.

But let go of the idea that legitimately complaining is wrong. A group of people who will make your life harder out of meanness are not people you want to work with. Really deprogram you from the cultural messages that suggest this is ok or normal. A lot of people are out there living gray sludge lives and thinking that is all there is. I think you know better.

So many people don't speak up out of anxiety, but frankly if your manager is an unsympathetic person who is still expecting you to prove your worth vis a vis these people, you're not going to have a good time. So you need to push back and find out.
posted by benadryl at 3:40 PM on August 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Someone I know at work with 30 years experience (continental director level) once said that if he wanted to thrive in that highly stressful corporate environment, he needed to be clear about who he worked for (even at that level), and have a laser focus on what things mattered to his bosses, and what things did not. He had a small list of 3-4 people he put as absolute #1 priority, the implication being that pleasing anyone else was optional.

Granted we're not robots. But I do keep in mind that I'm paid to deliver organizational goals for my boss, and I'm not being paid to spend time and energy managing my relationships with my colleagues or making them like me.
posted by xdvesper at 5:44 PM on August 6, 2017 [6 favorites]

Is there anyone else around when they make these comments? Are they said quietly so only you hear it? If so, I would be tempted to bring it into the light. The next time one of these b;$&@;: says one of these comments to you (and pick the most offensive ones that can't be misinterpreted), gasp and say very loudly as if you are really shocked, "OH MY GOSH, DID YOU SERIOUSLY JUST CALL ME AN INCOMPETANT FUCKING IDIOT AND TELL ME TO GET A LIFE. WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT?!"

Manufacture a few tears, cover your hands with your face and look incredibly upset. Everyone in the office will stare and your persecutor will be completely put on the spot. She'll have no defence for such unprofessional bullying language and sympathy will immediately be on your side. It will make her look like a nasty bitch and she'll know not to mess with you again because her behaviour is going to be publicly broadcast.

Believe it or not, this was the advice I gave to my husband years ago when his supervisor was bullying him under the guise of friendly banter. I told him to bide his time and then pick a public moment where she made a nasty comment to him. Sure enough, she was showing a new colleague around the office and introduced my husband to him, as something like, "Here's Mike, our resident incompetent idiot". Now socially, it's not seen for a man to appear offended so that was his cue to brush it off and smile awkwardly. But I told him to gasp, look really taken aback and act really stung.

He did and I think he made some remark about how much it hurt him and how tired he was of these constant comments.This woman wanted to sink into the floor. My husband deliberately make the whole exchange awkward and hurtful instead of brushing it off and made his supervisor seem like a bullying asshole in front of all her peers. Because it was a man showing his emotion as well, it made it even more powerful. She never did it again and steered well clear from that day on.
posted by Jubey at 6:49 PM on August 6, 2017 [11 favorites]

One of the problems with having to deal with people like that is that you get preoccupied by what they say and do and they start to take over your thoughts. Start a journal and keep track of all of the good things that happen in a day - all of your accomplishments and all of your positive interactions with other people. The brain tends to pay more attention to bad news than good. Writing it down will help shift your focus. As a bonus if/when you decide to leave, you will have a record of your accomplishments to brag about as you update your resume.
posted by metahawk at 8:49 PM on August 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Izzy Kalman's golden rule approach might work for you. (I can't find a good link but here is his main website)
This is my interpretation of his approach:
- Act curious and confused by their behavior.
- Take their words literally and then respond as if you live in a world where people don't go around being deliberately hurtful so you are trying to make sense of their words in a curious and caring way.

B: Calm down, calm down
You: I'm sorry, is there something too emotionally intense for you?
B: something attacking you for being too upset
You: OH (in a good news voice) No, I'm not upset but if you're feeling emotional, I can try to use a more soothing voice.

B: get a job in a xxxxing shop then
You: Why would I want to do that?
B: You just said you did!!
You: No, I like working here. What about you? Do you like working here too?

You: ask necessary question
B: You ***idiot.
You: I'm confused. I asked you that question because I thought you would know the correct procedure. Was I wrong? If you weren't the right person, please tell me.
B: You are an idiot because you should have already known.
You: I guess we have different styles. At any rate, if you don't want to help me, I'll direct my questions to someone else next time.

- They will most likely backtrack (because they don't want to be called out as blatantly hurtful) but if they don't, you say "Well, if that is what you think, that is your opinion." An obvious true statement so you aren't arguing with them but you are also clear that you don't agree with them, you are just accepting the difference.

Note: In real life, I think it is almost impossible to have these great comebacks in real time. However, I think it might be fun for you to figure out some great responses when you are stewing about this whole thing. Since people usually don't have that much imagination, sooner or later they will repeat themselves and you will be prepared. The hope is that the responses will tone down the bullying as they see that it doesn't work. Even more important, it shifts you to a place of calm power where you aren't feeling intimated by their bad behavior.

Note 2: i think there are some real issues with Kalman's approach in general but it seemed like it might fit particularly well in your scenario.
posted by metahawk at 9:21 PM on August 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

I want them to respect me and realise that I am not a threat and I'm only trying to do my work and to be the best I can.

I hope I'm wrong, but I think the chances of them respecting you are rather closer to 0 than can-occur-as-a-result-of-any-action-you-take. They are not respectful people; they are bullies and very much into one-up/one-down relationships. They don't find you threatening, IMO; they find you to be a potential victim.

I second all the comments recommending self-care and assertiveness. HR almost always protects the status quo, and the status quo in that office for a long time (back through at least one predecessor) is a toxic work environment.

If I were in this position, I would be looking for a better job, very carefully and quietly. But I am old and done with putting up with other people's poor behavior.

I wish you well in whatever path you choose, you sound like a caring and considerate person.
posted by dancing leaves at 7:10 AM on August 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I want them to respect me

Attempting to extract respect from dipshits who express their current lack of it in such petty school-playground ways is a recipe for misery. I'd let go of that goal if I were you.

and realise that I am not a threat

...except that you absolutely are a threat, because you're not a lazy complacent bully who would rather give shit to their co-workers and muck about with their phones than get their work done, so you're making them look bad by comparison.

and I'm only trying to do my work and to be the best I can.

Keep doing that, and you should find that you become a valued colleague of those whose attitudes are similarly professional.

If that's showing no sign of happening in a year or so, find a better workplace.
posted by flabdablet at 9:56 AM on August 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would consider leaving. I know it's not easy to find another job, explain a short period on your resume or start again. But we spend most of our waking life at work and these assholes are making you miserable. You shouldn't have to wake up or go to sleep with that sick knot in your stomach and A + B aren't going to change.

If you do stay, become coldly professional towards them, stop expecting them to be kind humans, be totally focused on service excellence for your boss, and leave them and all thoughts of them behind when you walk out the door at the end of the day. Stop trying to please them, essentially. Find other allies.
posted by wreckofthehesperus at 1:47 PM on August 7, 2017

1) work diary: diarise all the incidents. Use a diary with dates in. Very useful in court of law.
2) silence is incredibly powerful. Be totally silent to them except when you have to speak, minimum necessary. Use nice tone of voice, but try to stick to a policy of total silence with them. Talk softly to other people around them, so they can't hear what you're saying.
3) mentally, you need to feel powerful and get back at them. Pick something nobody will find out about eg spit on their seats when they're out, block them on facebook. You will only then stop feeling anxious and powerless, which is the killing thing and will make you unable to cope with them. And i am being serious, those aren't joke suggestions.
4) the big worry to me is they're after your job. You need to - using the comments above and your own wits - make sure they can never get between you and your boss, he needs to know you work and work well, you need to keep them out of the way: don't let them know in any way at all what you're achieving and doing. Don't lie, keep silent, use simple replies that don't tell the truth
which is a help with 3) as well
posted by maiamaia at 4:41 PM on August 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

UPDATE: It's over - I've got another job in a different department. This has been a valuable lesson for me and I will start how I mean to go on.

Reading all your replies has helped me through this. Thank you to everyone
posted by Flowerpower at 8:54 AM on August 18, 2017 [4 favorites]

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