My Co-Worker Can be Beyond Mean — I Can’t Take Much More

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Reader’s Question

My co-worker, a 47-year-old woman, seemed very nice at first. But as time went by things got bad. The first issue involved a phone call. I answered the office phone, as this lazy woman was on the other line. The caller was the woman’s son. I said “your mom’s on the other line; I’m sure it’ll just be a minute.” The son told me to tell her he’d call back in a few minutes. When my co-worker ended her call I said her son had called and he’d call back. She literally went nuts and screamed at me saying to never tell him to call back. I told her “I didn’t tell him to call back, he said he would.” Her reaction was totally out of whack.

Since then, we have good and bad days. Her bad days are REALLY bad. She can be beyond mean, yet somehow hyper-sensitive. I started thinking something had to be wrong. Let me also add that the woman is really paranoid and feels people at work try to make her look bad on purpose.

After seeing the book Walking on Eggshells, I thought that might be the issue. Thus, I’m asking, does my co-worker’s hair-trigger temper and paranoia sound like borderline personality disorder?

I’m at my wits’ end. I know her behavior has driven several people to quit. She is very rigid regarding procedures, e.g. we can’t as much as change the location of the copier paper without her getting angry. I can’t take much more.

Psychologist’s Reply

We can’t tell from this what her diagnosis might be. Further, it doesn’t matter what it is. Her diagnosis is a matter for her and her psychologist. What we can tell is that her behavior is creating a hostile work environment, and you might find that your worker’s union and management policies give you protection against this.

If you feel like you can’t take any more, then don’t try. Give the concern to the person who rightfully owns the issue: your boss. Once you report a hostile work environment, then it becomes his obligation to address the issue. In my experience, it is usually against company policies to retaliate against you for making such a claim and it is probably also against the law, in which case if you can’t take any more then you should have nothing to lose. Recruiting your management to your cause might help the situation. Indirectly, it might help your co-worker get the help she needs. At the very least, it will get you out of this ‘holding’ pattern with her and force a change.

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