Office Etiquette: 4 Ways to Handle a Mean Co-Worker

Office Etiquette: 4 Ways to Handle a Mean Co-Worker

I wish I could say that I have never worked with a mean co-worker but I would be lying!  Today’s post about handling mean co-workers is written by Melanie Slaugh. Melanie writes extensively for internet providers and also topics related to internet service providers in my area for presenting the consumers, the information they need to choose the right Internet package for them. She can be reached at slaugh.slaugh907 @

Just when you thought that high school mean girl drama was behind you, you are faced with a not so nice coworker. This coworker finds every way to make you want to scream or just cry. So what do you do when you are faced with the cast of ‘Mean Girls’? Here are 4 ways to handle ‘that girl’:

  1. Be kind: I know, I know. You have tried that and it’s not getting you anywhere. But don’t give up, just keep smiling with each low blow remark she throws your way. If she suspects she is getting to you, this is just fuel to her mean fire. Smile and be kind and insert all those mom-isms here like ‘walk a mile in their shoes’ and who knows, the mean girl could just be going through a really rough time at home. Ride it out.
  2. Keep your mouth shut: Whatever you do, do not run and tell the whole office that you are being bullied. Talk about coming back to get you. Remember that game ‘Telephone’? Yup, still rings true even at our age. Your simple statement of ‘Ugh, I think she hates me’ will snake its way through the office rumor mill and come back with, ‘Omg, I hate her so much and she smells like cheese.’
  3. Reach out: Tread lightly. This is a tricky beast, you go too far- that could make her meaner, go too little- then you are the mean one. I know, I know. Silly. But it’s true. This doesn’t mean you have to suck up and give her your lunch money. This means you do small things to show her that you aren’t affected by her shenanigans. Small gestures like ‘Hey, want a Diet Coke? The vending machine gave me two’ or ‘Cute headband’ and then leave it.
  4. Become a non-threat: When women act caddy in the workplace it tends to be because of two reasons, they feel threatened by you or they are jealous of you. The best thing to do is to try to connect with her and show her ‘Hey, I am human and not so bad’, without her catching on. Example: Mean girl is listening and toe tapping to a song at her desk; you walk by and causally say ‘Ha, that was my first concert ever. Good song’ and keep strolling along. This intrigues the mean girl and for a brief moment she thinks ‘wow this girl I am mean to likes the same music I do…hmmm’.

Give it time and let the mean girl get to know you from a distance. Chances are she is just intimated by you and her only way to feel better is to, well, just be a big meany head. Don’t let it get to you, you have plenty of people at your office and at home that adore you and respect your successes at work. Take the higher road and be the bigger person, this too shall pass. Until then Netflix ‘Mean Girls’ and laugh.

How do you handle a mean co-worker?

Photo Credit: Jerry Bunkers



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  1. This is NOT good advice. If someone “finds every way to make you want to scream or just cry,” then it’s obviously going to get in the way of your work. You can’t just passively hope it’ll work itself out. Additionally the advice to kiss up to the mean girl and fetch her diet cokes sounds like something Gretchen Weiners would do. When does rewarding bad behavior EVER make it stop?

    • Thanks for the comment Katrina! I appreciate your thoughts on a very tough work situation that I think we will all face at one time or another, unfortunately.

      Good point. If someone is treating you like crap, you should definitely stand up for yourself and possibly even go to HR. But I do know that I have had to deal with people that make me want to scream and cry. When they are your client and you can’t get out of the situation, you have to find some way to deal with it. I have learned that staying positive and not letting them get to me is the most important thing that I can do. I had to learn to not let this person get in the way of my work and I actually showed my boss and teammates that I could handle it which even got me promoted. So I would say that even if someone makes you want to scream or cry, you have to rise above it and take it as challenge to be a better person than them. There time will come and everyone else will figure out who they really are with time. That is what happened to me, the person who made me want to scream and cry eventually lost all of their privileges when her boss found out what she was doing to everyone.
      I totally agree that fetching the mean girl diet cokes is probably not the best idea. But being nice to them and offering them things can make them be nicer to you and may even stop their bad behavior which will make your work environment MUCH better. Since we all want a positive atmosphere in the office, it doesn’t hurt to try to get on their good side so you don’t have to feel like screaming and crying everyday. I would rather do something nice for them than feel like I was treated like a piece of crap everyday. The point is that sometimes you just have to deal with working with crappy people and mean co-workers and sometimes you have no option but to just deal with it. This post gives some ideas to be able to deal with it in case anyone is ever in that situation and doesn’t want to quit or can’t go to the boss because the mean co-worker is the boss.

      • This reminds me of my old job. HR I had gone through a lot in my personal life and had become much more quiet and somewhat withdrawn after a dog literally ripped my nose off of my face and I didn’t take enough time off of work to deal emotionally as well as physically…I also had a surgery 2 weeks after that incident and was told I may not be able to have children…at 24 yrs old.

        I was always very outgoing and laughing and joking – my co-workers were like my family. Or so I had thought. I began excelling quickly and started geting promoted to positions that my co-workers weren’t getting after being there for much longer. That’s when everything started going downhill. Then there was a reorganization of the company and one of those coworkers who didn’t feel as though I deserved my job became my boss… then one of my “best friends” offered me a job in her department promising that I would be doing the projects that I loved to work on within a couple of months….I was hesitant because the job I had was my dream job but I didn’t see it working out with my current boss and I was depressed and crying nonstop so I took it… I trusted this girl with my whole career (never a smart idea) and took the position. Sure enough I had gone from managing high profile accounts to working in a call centre…I couldn’t get up and go to the bathroom without someone yelling at me… I contacted HR and they forwarded my email to my boss and told me to talk to her about….which I had tried and clearly didn’t work…that was a major breach of my privacy… It got so bad that I couldn’t sit at my desk for more than a couple of minutes without crying…it was degrading, embarrasing and I was reaching out for help…to anyone I could and quickly realized there is nobody protecting employees and unless somone gets phsyically hurt nothing will be done. HR would do nothing. Even the family assistance program we used told me it will get better…umm…ok?? Eventually I just stopped being able to go in to work. I basically locked myself in my room for 4 months in hysterics every single day. I had a nervous breakdown as I identified myself with my job. I was so proud and worked so hard to get there and it was all ripped away from me in the end… Had i not been already been going through so much to begin with maybe I would have been able to handle the siutation better…anyway, I left and went back to school…got a new job in a totally different field…but I still feel ripped off, and violated. HR isn’t there to help the employee whatsoever…they are only there to cover the employers A$$. It’s effected my whole life and I will never be the same. I hope hearing my story will give you some perspective…and there are employers out there who truly do care and will not put up with this kind of abuse…

  2. If you’re feeling bullied by a co worker, you should go to your boss or HR. Just like with children, bullying is a serious thing and shouldn’t be ignored or pushed under the rug. A bully is a bully and won’t stop because you’re nice to them. This advice would work for a one time “mean girl” moment, but not for consistent, relentless bullying. I agree fully with Katrina.

  3. Ever since day 1 (2 years ago) at my current job, after moving here from SoCal there are several women who have been bullying me and trying so hard to find any minute error I may make and bring it to everyone’s attention. I first kindly stood up for myself, then went to a supervisor, then went to HR. ALL of which came right back to bite me as they then spread the word I’m a snitch. Well, I’ve never in all my life had an issue with any women or co workers anywhere until this job. I came here over qualified, but I wanted a position that was more low key and less stress than my previous employment and I wanted to start the descend of my career into retirement a peaceful direction. The supervisor advised me the other women were just jealous and insecure and have no life, as did HR. ive been told because of my haircolor (blonde) that im ‘F’n Stupid, i have been told my religious belief of Buddhism is weird and dumb & that buddha is ugly, i was directly from coworkers that they hate people from LA. Ive had 4 people pass away in my family since I’ve been here and the day after the funerals, co workers have harassed me for being sensitive & ” why am I crying”!? That I need to suck it up that we all have problems and can’t bring it to work. I cried on my break & my lunch- my own time. Tonight, I was yelled at by a bully who blamed me for something ‘she said ‘ ! Yelled in front of everyone and continued to blame me. All in front of a supervisor. On going problem with same bully to another co worker, no one seems to care & management tell us not to worry about it. I was advised by HR it’s been an ongoing problem with the same people bullying others and that management had assured them ‘the situation’ was under control. This particular bully has a huge HR file from complaints against her, yet I’M the one that needs to stop !? I’m so lost & discouraged and disappointed in the supposed humanity of this office, management & HR. but I enjoy my work and enjoy most of the people and I continue to be nice and bring food and cupcakes for everyone!!

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