Dear New Shrink,

You know those people who are rude no matter what. I can normally tolerate this behavior for a short amount of time, however, the person I have in mind is someone that I work with. I have a good relationship with most of my colleagues, but one woman is rude beyond belief. She spends most of her day complaining and when I ask her to contribute even the smallest things to a project I’m managing she responds in a very sarcastic tone and often says rude things about me as I walk away. I know I need to be careful of my behavior toward her because this is a professional workplace but it’s to the point now where I feel like I’m about to snap at her. What can I do to get this rude woman off my case and get on with my work?

Sincerely,

Polite Professional

Dear Polite,

It is surprising that this woman would be gutsy enough to be so openly rude in the workplace, but you are right, there are those people who seem to have a negative attitude no matter what. I applaud you for maintaining your cool for this long but can only imagine how frustrating it must be to deal with this woman on a regular basis.

Ideally you should look for ways that you can reduce your contact with this woman. While it may be impossible to cut off all contact you may be able to find new ways to go about your work without having to deal with her. For instance, when involving her on projects it might be helpful to e-mail her instructions and details on the project rather than engaging in a physical interaction. This way you can reduce your emotional involvement in the conversation and there will be a paper trail of any unprofessional responses she might send your way.

While your colleague is obviously behaving unprofessionally, it might be helpful to reflect on your own behavior to be sure you protect yourself from further negative interactions. Some individuals are rude to test their boundaries with other people and others express this when they feel threatened or insecure in their relationship with others. Unbeknownst to you she may be reacting to what you represent to her or your own success at the company. While you cannot control others’ behavior, you can act to prevent yourself from being tangled up in her negative mess. When you do interact with her it is important that you remain firm and neutral on your comments and behaviors. While it might seem natural that you should follow the old phrase to “kill her with kindness” she may interpret this behavior as passive and it may actually even worsen her behavior. Remaining calm and collected will help ensure that you are treated in the professional way you deserve.

While you may not feel comfortable reporting your colleague, it may be possible for you to casually explore how she treats others in the office by asking open-ended questions to her supervisor and others in direct contact with her. Monitor her interactions and behaviors with others, in particular those who have a positive working relationship with her. Perhaps this will help you gain insight into how you can best interact with her and reduce the rudeness.

Sometimes in these situations you have to take the higher road. Talking directly with this woman may be the fastest way to resolving the tension. Rather than acknowledging her insults or responding with your own, it may be helpful to focus on what you can do to strengthen the relationship. Consider having an open conversation about what each of you can do to improve communication. Putting it out in the open may be the best way to acknowledge the tension and may help to enlighten her negative behaviors. Even if the behavior does not improve immediately, the more steps you take to remain professional in this setting will help from making this situation any more damaging to your work. While it may feel easy to slip into a habit of gossiping about her or responding in a similar tone, this may only escalate her behavior.

Finally, if you have vacation or personal time saved up it might be helpful to take a few days away from the office to take care of yourself and re-energize. Sometimes breaking the routine and gaining a new perspective on the situation can produce surprising results. It will take patience and professionalism, but I am confident that you have what it takes to reduce rudeness, one coworker at a time!

Katrina Davy is a professional career counselor holds degrees from Cornell and Columbia universities. Got something on your mind? Send your questions to newshrink@gmail.com. All questions will be kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!