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Your Office Coach

Treat Disrespectful Coworker with Respect

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Question:  Recently, a coworker's highly inflammatory email was accidentally forwarded to both me and the owner of our business. I got quite upset, because the email contained disrespectful and libelous remarks about me. The owner told him to apologize, but that never happened. Now this person has sent another email defaming my character and professional skills. I have forwarded this message to the owner, but I can’t continue to sit back and take these malicious comments. Do I have grounds to tell the owner that he should terminate this employee? - Not a Wimp

Answer:  Take a deep breath and try to calm down. You seem ready to challenge this guy to a duel over a couple of emails. In fact, he may actually be enjoying your outrage. You’ve already told the owner how you feel, then told him again. If you keep telling him, eventually he’ll tire of hearing it.  

Since your colleague is behaving like an angry child, your best countermove is to act like a mature adult. Try to unearth the real issue with an actual conversation, not an email exchange. For example: “I can tell from your emails that you’re really upset with me. If I’m making your job difficult somehow, I want to try to resolve the problem. What would you like me to do differently?”

Give your fuming coworker a few minutes to rant, then continue to probe for the business issue. But if no business issue exists, you’re simply dealing with an immature individual who’s not worth this expenditure of emotional energy.  

If you feel that you have been treated badly by a coworker, see Trust and Betrayal at Work.

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