Dealing with an abusive co-worker

Ask Rebeccah



I have a co-worker who is borderline verbally abusive and difficult to work with. She holds up projects and makes going to work almost unbearable. I have approached her supervisor about her behavior several times and the supervisor believes nothing can be done as she is so close to retirement. Can you help me figure out how to handle this situation? 


Answer: It sounds like you are giving this person a great deal of power and forgetting how powerful YOU are. As adults, no one can steal our power. I believe there are always solutions available, but when we feel powerless we are unable to see the solutions.
In my experience, leadership means going first and being an example of possibility. Leadership is not always easy and has many challenges as well as great rewards. Try taking leadership of the situation that includes dropping being needy for another person to be a certain way for you to be OK. You can make getting the job done more attractive by putting down your weapons and opening the door to working together. Thank your co-worker for his or her efforts. Look for ways this person is offering you a lesson in leadership, communication and acceptance. Demonstrate a willingness to work with this person.

Some conversation starters I have used that have been effective:

  • “Our goals are the same.”
  • “I’m on your side.”
  • “Let’s find a way to work together on this.”
  • “Here are the ideas you have that I respect.”
  • “I have some ideas as well I would like your feedback on.”

Remember, we are either part of the war or part of the solution. Focus on what you want and get committed to finding a mutually satisfactory solution instead of making this person wrong. See your co-worker as doing the best he can with the tools he has. What would happen if you saw this person as innocent and on your side?


About Rebeccah: Rebeccah Silence is a certified life coach and music therapist with a master’s degree in counseling and extensive background in addiction recovery, school counseling and adult psychotherapy. As owner of Inspired Results, she provides trainings, facilitation and coaching all over the country, but runs her private practice out of Whitesboro. She is locally known as the relationship guru doling out free expert coaching every Tuesday morning on KISS-FM for Confession Tuesdays. Silence specializes in corporate trainings, couples counseling and one-on-one life coaching. Have a question for Rebeccah? Email her for Ask Rebeccah at

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