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How to deal with a contemptuous colleague…

Dear H2

Whenever I have to deal with a particular colleague I usually come out of the exchange feeling undermined and insulted. She is exceptionally good at certain aspects of her job, but can be rude, abrupt and unprofessional. She behaves as though she has no respect for my work or for me as an individual.

For example she manages a team of junior staff, of whom many have been co-opted into working on a discrete project that senior management have deemed a priority, and on which I lead. I am at a level between her and her team. I liaise with her on what resources the project needs so she can discuss with her team how best these can be met and balanced with their other work.

In this particular instance the problem arose when I asked my colleague if she could update me on how staff resources were being allocated to the project after a team discussion on the topic, and she said "I don't mean to be rude but.." and then went on to say in a challenging tone that she would not appraise me personally of the outcome, that one of the junior staff could brief me and hinted that I was being hierarchical and over-complicating the process.

The thing is, I have no problem with receiving information from one of her team, but feel I was being sensitive to her in inviting her to let me know the outcome and that that she could have said what she said in a less aggressive way eg - "I thought that perhaps J could let you know after the meeting - would that be OK?"

A friendly co-worker has hinted that this particular colleague makes no secret of her low opinion of me and others in our office who are very different to herself. She appears to value colleagues who are aggressive, voluble and enjoy playing power games at work and that she has no respect for those who operate differently. This colleague, who also has HR responsibilities, has been heard to make cruel comments about those attending interviews for positions in our office based on their weight, appearance and personality.

Any suggestions on how to deal with this person? I try to be prepared for discussions with her, but find that her rudeness, agression and power-jockeying leave me speechless.

Many thanks



Dear A

Sadly you are not alone! We meet so many people these days who have to deal with aggressive and contemptuous colleagues. The most important thing to focus on here is what you want to achieve... realistically, I think it could be along the lines of: maintaining your own self-esteem and reputation with others.

This colleague doesn't sound like the sort of person who you can change - in fact most people won't be up for changing if you tell them to, so this will be more a matter of self-preservation than completely fixing things. At the heart of any solution I believe, is the ability to communicate assertively - this is based on high self-esteem and is extremely respectful / non-confrontational. From what you say, there are a lot of insinuations going on and not a lot of direct communication between you... if you're able to ask for a chat with this person, and to deal with the issues one by one - calmly and directly without making accusations, but pointing out the impact of the negative dynamics on both of you and possibly on others, then this could be a good way forward!

It sounds like she may respect you more if you adopt a slightly more direct approach anyway. Preparation for this kind of meeting is key, so you're not left speechless. Note down your key points if necessary - there's no shame in having them with you...

You might also consider attending a course in Assertive Communication for Women - our open course will take you step-by-step through a simple but effective process for planning and carrying out such meetings/confrontations with difficult colleagues, and should help to improve your confidence!

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