No one is prepared for when THAT office co-worker to completely wreck the day with a nasty comment. How does one put up with someone who is insanely condescending? How is it possible for someone to be so mean? These stories show the triumphs and pitfalls of those trying to confront their workplace bully. They either end in sweet revenge or lots of tears. This content has been edited for clarity.
High End Mean Girl
“I once was working a temp job that one of my old managers recommended to me. I apply there and I am super elated to start. Mind you, this was an upscale retail store called ‘Barbara Jean’ that sells all the high end fashion, jewelry, make up, and small home decor. Whenever I walked in, I was super nervous because I have never seen any luxury items in my life, let alone heard of some of those brands that they had. I was young, and I was an African American girl in a wealthy, predominantly white part of town. I made a quick observation of who worked there, and to my surprise, there was me and another full time employee there that was African American (we quickly bonded). So after the first day, I figured out what the objective was of my job, which was to wrap gifts.
After the first week, everything was cool. Everyone seemed ‘nice,’ but deep down I knew that these were not my people, and that we came from a different world. Three weeks into this job, the store manager, Christy, starts talking to everyone really casually. Christy turns to me and looks at me up and down like I was scuff on the bottom of her shoes. She loudly says to everyone, yet looking directly at me, ‘I don’t understand why there is so many people that are on my clock. Someone needs to volunteer and go home.’
The room is completely silent. I look at her like she was stupid and said, ‘Well, I was scheduled for today, so ask someone else to leave.’
The room still silent and she’s still looking at me. Now be aware you guys, that the manager that recommended I work there is in the room on her phone, listening to all this happen. She didn’t look up not once to help me out.
I look back at her Christy and said, ‘You know what? I’ll go ahead and leave. I have homework to do anyways. Y’all have a good day.’
I got all of my things and left. I was so embarrassed and shocked about what had just happened. I had never at that point in my life dealt with anyone being that rude to me. I had no reason why Christy would treat me like that, when I had never said anything to her but ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye.’
The next day I come in, and she does the same exact thing to the other temp. The other temp left, but the next day she and I talked about it and she told me that Christy is just a major hag and talks to EVERYONE like that, even customers. I was dumbfounded by that. I don’t understand why anyone would want to put up with that for luxury items that will be out of style in a blink of an eye.
The moral of this really long story is that Christy made a judgement about me that she prearranged about me in her head without even getting to know me. She looked at me like I was trash without even know that I am an extremely intelligent young woman with a lot under my belt. At the time, I was in environmental engineering working my butt of to keep a 3.0 and had a full ride at my university. I still at this point in my life can never understand why she felt the need to approach me that way, when she could have kindly asked me to leave. I never knew why the women that hired me didn’t say anything. I had so much respect for her, but at that moment she lost all of it. Thinking about this memory still hurts me to my core.”
The Baboons Finally Realized It
“I was practicing law at a computer engineering firm. We could literally wear anything we wanted to work. It was a bit difficult to discern various job duties or titles. This was California — most of us surfed, and the atmosphere was very laid back. Additionally, this was a large company, we all didn’t know each other personally.
I had just leased a new Range Rover. I got to work, parked, and made my way in. As I was making my way to my office, two engineers approached and made a snarky comment. ‘I think we pay secretaries way too much,’ said one to the other.
I said, ‘I’m sorry? Come again?’
The other chimes in, ‘Yeah — how much are they paying you? I mean seriously? You know, I went to college for my job, you don’t see me in a Range Rover!’
I didn’t really know where to begin. Part of me wanted to unleash a fury of verbal assaults, the other part wanted to burst out laughing. Ironically, we were standing outside my office. I didn’t say a word, I simply pointed to my name and title posted on the outside of my door.
The two baboons stared at the name on the door, stared at me, stared again at the name and title for what seemed like hours. I just kept eye contact, thinking that eventually they would catch on and go away. Nope, the louder of the two chimes in, ‘Oh, so you’re a secretary lawyer.’
I made a fast call to the HR director and put together some basic sensitivity training — 101 stuff. I was a good sport, but they may not be so lucky next time around. To drive the point home, the HR director and I brought both of them in for a brief education. By this time, the insult had truly marinated. The baboons put everything together at this point and I was sure I could hear them sweating. Once they put it all together, I finally got an apology.”
“I showed up to a tech class that I was teaching much earlier than necessary so that I could make sure all the systems were in proper, working order. I was finishing up when a few older men walked in. One detached himself from the group and let me know, quite loudly, that I should let the real men and professionals fix the machines. The others all laughed.
I ignored him and went to sit at the front of the class. A few minutes later, the district trainer came in and introduced me. During the intro, he explained that for the next two weeks, I would be teaching the group how to install, troubleshoot, and integrate the computer systems. The rude guy’s face was so red I thought it would explode.
Sadly, he later accused me of giving a female tech a better grade than him, because we’re women. So, with her permission and with the district head there, I showed the whole class both of their tests plus the answers. It was done on the computer, and I had no way of tampering with the grades. He got very embarrassed and the Head asked him to leave because of his rude behavior throughout the class. I hate when unnecessary attitudes like that happens.”
Gremlin College Dudes
“I have a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience and multiple research publications. I am tenure-track professor and have taught at the university level for about a decade. Once, I had an undergraduate research student tell me that my information was wrong (it wasn’t), and that they didn’t need to learn anything from me because they already knew how to do research (they had zero publications and zero degrees).
I’ve also had a senior undergraduate student ask in front of the class at the end of the semester why I was allowed to teach by myself, if I was only an ‘assistant’ professor, and what were my qualifications. The ‘assistant’ part is just a label in the tenure-track process. All professors have it for at least their first seven years of a tenure-track position. Little gremlins! Pretty sure my male colleagues don’t have to tolerate this garbage.”
Hiding The Truth
“I used to be a VP at a large national bank chain, but on Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, I would take time off work and help my wife out at her flower shop. I would help deliver flowers in some upper end neighborhoods around her store.
We had one guy picking up flowers for his girlfriend/wife say to me, ‘You are a courteous fellow, you know if you applied yourself more, you might be able to do better than a menial minimum wage job!’
I smiled a walked away…knowing the truth.
Fast-forward two weeks later, I had an interviewee come in for a position my group was hiring for. My assistant brought them to my office and….
The look on the same man’s face was unforgettable. All I said was, ‘Your inability to look at realities beyond the surface view of a situation makes you an unqualified candidate for this position. I wish you the best.’
But I Desperately Need A Man!
“I am an IT teacher who lacks the Y chromosome, and that has caused a few condescending moments over my years of teaching. Personally, I have never found that my lack of Y has kept me from repairing a computer, setting up a network, or teaching.
The first day on my current job, which is sweet—half day program for high school students who are interested in careers in IT—I was the new teacher. I replaced a man who had taught there for many years. All students in our school must apply and be interviewed and be accepted into the program, so even though most of the students had not had the previous teacher, they had all met him. One of my new kids walks in, stops dead in his tracks, and stares at me.
‘Where’s the man?!’
‘He moved. I’m your teacher now. My name is Tory.’
‘But I need the man.’
‘Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll do fine with me. I’ve been teaching this for many years.’
‘But I bonded with the man!’
Of course, he’d talked to ‘the man’ for about ten minutes about five months before, and they’d bonded so much he couldn’t even remember the man’s name. But apparently, that bond was important to him.
‘I’m sure you’ll bond with me too.’
‘I don’t think so.’
He did. He was fine and enjoyed the year.
Another year, I was in my classroom after Open House straightening up when a gentleman comes in, obviously in a hurry and obviously looking for someone. Somehow I just knew he was looking for me, but not the actual me, a male version of me. I watched him jet about the room, looking in my office, looking in the storage room, completely ignoring THE TEACHER STANDING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROOM.
Finally, after letting him suffer for a few minutes I said, ‘May I help you?’
‘Yes. I’m looking for the teacher of this class.’
‘That would be me,’ and I stuck out my hand for a handshake. The look I got. I am petite, blonde, and not a man. He slowly raised his hand and shook mine (weakly, I might add), ‘Oh. Uh. Okay. My son is in your class.’
The conversation went on, and he felt the need to ‘quiz’ me on my knowledge, apparently to ensure I was intelligent enough to teach the class. I passed because I do know my stuff. The next day I said to the kid whose dad it was, ‘Hey, you didn’t tell your dad I was a woman, did you?’
He laughed and admitted he didn’t because he was afraid he’d pull him out of my class. But he did say his dad was pretty impressed. My hope is that my boys (and I do teach almost all boys) learn that women can do anything men can do, and there is no such thing as a ‘man’s job’ in my classroom. They do all have, or will come to have, respect for my knowledge. I also try every year to bring more women into the program, but alas, it just isn’t happening the way I would hope.”
Sub Zero Botch
“I had recently received my bachelors in history and I needed some experience working in schools to be accepted into the master’s program I wanted. My husband is a Native Alaskan, so we decided to move to the village he was from for a year. I could work in the school there, and we could decide if we liked the winters there or not. We were young and still deciding where we wanted to eventually put down roots.
I was hired as a paraprofessional. I had several different jobs in the school that were cobbled together to make about a 5-hour day, which suited me fine because I needed a well-rounded experience.
The headteacher of the school didn’t work with me on a daily basis, but he was in charge of signing my time sheet and paperwork. Unfortunately, he looked down on the villagers. He must not have read and/or remembered my application, because he made it clear that he assumed I was just one of the poor, uneducated people who lived in the village (even though many people in the village were not poor or uneducated). He always talked down to me and acted like he was doing me a big favor by giving me the time of day.
At one point, he pulled me into the office and very slowly explained that if I wanted to work on some basic college courses while I worked here. I could see the counselor and the school district would reimburse me. He explained that he is supposed to inform everyone on the staff of how much it would help our futures. This was said with a lot of sighing and eye-rolling, like he would never expect me to do anything like that.
I looked at him weirdly and explained that I already graduated from college, and I was applying to a masters program for that fall. All the teachers I worked with on a daily basis knew this, one of whom was his wife, so I had assumed he knew. He perked up as I told him both my parents were alumni, and my father graduated from law school there. He was shocked that my father was a lawyer.
The worst part was that he treated me totally different after that. He treated me with respect, but I lost all respect for him. He chose to work in a small village in Alaska. He should have treated everyone in the town with respect if he was going to work there. Going to college and having a lawyer for a father should not have made a difference in how he treated me. I still see him as an example of how not to behave.”
“When I graduated with my degree in computer science, my first job was making pizza on campus so that I could pay the bills while I went through the grueling process of getting my first programming position.
I graduated in 2009, right after the economy completely collapsed. Despite having sent hundreds of resumes out every week for months, very few people were hiring kids fresh out of school. I made $10/hr, and only that much, thanks to my previous kitchen experience.
It was a hard job for me to take. I’d just spent the last 7 years completing countless nights in the lab, using all my sweat and tears, a 16-month internship, tens of thousands of dollars, struggling through poverty for most of adult life, all for this moment. $10/hr. To this day, I maintain that school was the hardest I’ve ever worked and the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
One day a friendly gentleman was sitting at the bar and I happened to be finishing my shift. We got to talking and somehow ended up on the topic of the chemistry of his drink. And then he said to me, ‘You’re pretty smart. You should go to college!’
I had a big laugh and told him about my situation. I’ll always remember that moment and his blatant assumption about my life.”
Painful Paint Argument
“I’ve always been a scruffy type. Not into fashion or trends. I have long hair that I wear in a ponytail or a messy bun, and I’m not into shaving too often. About four years ago, my wife got laid off from her HR management position and was seeking a new job. During this time, I took a part-time job at Home Depot, just for the extra cash until she found something.
I was in the Paint department, which was fine by me. I loved mixing paint. It’s just so satisfying (weird, I know). Put drops of stuff in a can, toss it in the machine, and voilà—a can of smooth, creamy blue or green or purple paint. It’s like magic. Anyway, one evening I was mixing up a batch for this woman, and she has the audacity to say, ‘Can you hurry it up a little bit?’
I said, ‘I can’t, no. The machine works on a timer.’
She goes, ‘I’m pretty sure it’s done by now, can you check?’
I said, ‘No, sorry. It’s done when the machine stops.’
She half-turns to her husband and says something like, ‘I swear, people are so incompetent these days.’
So I said, ‘It isn’t my choice, ma’am. It’s on a timer.’
So she turns back, looking all indignant, and she says, ‘What did you just say to me?!’
I replied, ‘I said it works on a TIMER, ma’am.’
She goes, ‘Don’t get SASSY with me because you don’t like your job. If you got some education and applied yourself, you wouldn’t have to work at places like this and deal with people like me.’
So I kind of chuckled and I said, ‘Oh, ok.’ And I just grinned.
She said, ‘Try getting a haircut and shaving once in a while. Maybe you’d be able to find a real job.’
I replied, ‘Yup, maybe.’ And I just grinned.
Little did she know that I’m a freelance copywriter who gets $80/hour for my services and business is good. Or that I graduated with the highest honors, and then top of my class in my Master’s program. My wife found an amazing job about six weeks later and I quit Home Depot two weeks after that. Why argue with people? Let them think what they want.”
Crude Customer Service
“My boss is a foreigner with a US Investor’s visa. Even though he lives overseas and uses healthcare in his native country, he is still enrolled on the corporate group insurance plan, just in case.
On a recent visit, he realized that he had never received his insurance card, so we checked into it and discovered that there was an error in the address on his policy. We couldn’t correct it online, but perhaps by calling customer service. So we called, and of course because of HIPAA, I couldn’t handle the call for him, he had to do it with his thick foreign accent.
The customer service agent immediately switched into condescension mode, assuming that my boss needed childish explanations of the situation, especially the fact that the address can only be changed by a written form sent to the address of record! My boss was floored by this one and tried to point out the fallacy in that ‘solution’ to which the agent replied, ‘If this is too complicated, perhaps your supervisor can help you.’
At this point, we just politely thanked the agent and called our benefits administrator, who took care of it. He would be able to administer the comeuppance for the condescending agent.
Perhaps we were not the only dissatisfied users of our insurer’s call center; during the most recent call, we learned that the entire operation has been outsourced to a provider in a distant country.”
“A little background. It is very rare to find a younger, local woman holding a high position in the industry where I am in right now. This industry is fairly new in my country, and expats mostly manage the company given their experience and exposure from where they come from. It is expected that in 3–5 years, expats will be able to train and transfer knowledge to their local counterparts as part of the deal made by the government with the foreign and local companies.
It was a Sunday and I was at the supermarket when the president of the company called. I answer his calls even on rest days because he never really calls unless it is very important. He asked me to go to his other company’s office, in which he holds the same position and most of the employees are either expats or older gentlemen.
I told him I would go but I would need to change my clothes before I proceed, which would take approximately two hours. I was wearing an old shirt, ripped jeans, and flip-flops. He then told me we didn’t have time because we need documents signed and sent via courier in one hour so that it will arrive in two days, Otherwise, if we send the documents after the cut-off, these shall be received after two weeks and will cause a massive delay.
I hurriedly went to his office and literally ran to the main door. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming except for this security personnel who, after I opened my bag for inspection, asked me to step aside and told me, ‘Solicitation is not allowed in this building.’
He never asked me who I was seeing or what was the purpose of my visit. He told me that straight to my face. I would understand them questioning my visit and I was ready to answer and give my ID in exchange for their building ID. But for him not to ask me anything and immediately assumed I am going to solicit or sell something in the building, it made me mad. I held my composure and asked him very nicely if he could call the president’s secretary and inform her I am at the lobby. But he wasn’t buying it. He told me to just leave the building to avoid any trouble and be taken out by the security guys. I looked at the receptionist, hoping she would somehow recognize me, but I saw her nodding her head in approval of what the security personnel told me.
Since I was in a hurry, I actually left my cellphone in the car seat and couldn’t call the president immediately. I just excused myself, got my bag and went to my car. Even the nice, warm and welcoming people were suddenly looking down on me as I left.
I called the president and told him I was already in the lobby. He asked me to go straight up to his office because we were running against time, but I told him his people wouldn’t let me in, wouldn’t call his secretary and the security guy asked me to leave without asking for the purpose of my visit.
It is very noteworthy that this president is a very humble, approachable, and kind man, and have I have never really heard him yell or get mad at anyone. But that was about to change a few minutes after my phone call.
I hurriedly approached the door again and waited for his secretary to pick me up. I immediately saw the security personnel walking towards the door to probably block me from entering. When I saw the president exit the elevator, I waved at him and he waved back. I can tell he was really annoyed. He was already on his phone yelling at someone on his native language while walking towards me. I swear in only less than a minute, (or maybe I am exaggerating a little), the expat head of security was already there, calling everyone in the lobby for a quick meeting. We then went straight up to his office and finished what we needed to. But before we entered the elevator, I could hear the head of security’s very angry and loud voice towards the security personnel and the others as well.
After we completed our work, and after I explained to him what happened in the lobby, I excused myself to finish my errands. He thanked me for arriving in such a short notice and apologized for what happened. He even asked me if I wanted the employees to be punished. I told him it is not necessary, but a good lecturing may be needed.
When I arrived at the lobby, everyone was smiling and greeting me. As I was about to exit the door, the head of security approached me and apologized. I accepted it and thanked him after. The door was opened by the same security guy who accused me of soliciting in the building. He apologized and proceeded to explain his side, but I just had to cut him off by telling him how sad I felt. Assuming that I will solicit without asking me first, just because I don’t look or dress like what they expect me to, doesn’t give them the right to turn away or look down on people. Last time I heard, he was transferred to the security office in charge of paper works and filing.”