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Ask Sue
A Weekly Q&A Column About Professionalism, Etiquette and Problems in the Workplace
by Sue Morem

You Control Your Own Feelings

Dear Sue: Two years ago my boss agreed to let an attorney in the building use our office for his reception services. I am the only administrative person so this meant that I was in charge of answering his phones, collecting his mail, greeting his clients, and accepting deliveries.

This attorney is condescending and rude toward women and difficult to work with I’ve tried to please him, but it is impossible. He finds fault with everything I do. He’s even complained to my boss about me.

We finally were able to have his reception services moved out of our offices and in to another office in the building. Meanwhile, he has accused me of removing signs, bad mouthing him, and causing him hardship.

When I have to see him or talk to him, I can feel my body start to shake and my blood pressure rise. I have tried to ignore him and he has complained to my boss that I am rude. I can't talk to him about it because it is a losing situation; he has to "win" every conversation. My boss won’t stand up for me either.

How do I get through this?

-- Miserable

Sue Says: I am sorry about the challenge you are facing and regret it is causing you so much discomfort. You have a clear sense of what has transpired and can see the ways in which the attorney and your boss have contributed to the problem. However, I am not sure you are as clear about your contribution to it; you have more control over what is happening than you think.

If you had written to me a few months ago, prior to the time the attorney stopped using your services I assume your question to me would not only have been “what do I do about the way this attorney treats me?”, but also “how do I get rid of him?”

Thankfully you have gotten rid of him. You don’t have to answer his calls or deal with him anymore, yet you continue to cringe at the sight of him. It’s not that I don’t understand your disdain for this man, because I do, but I do not understand why you allow him to continue to get to you.

You know this guy is difficult. You know he has treated you poorly. You know you can’t win an argument, and that no matter what, he will find fault with what you do. You know you are losing your strength and that this situation is taking a toll on you mentally and physically, but do you know why? You said your boss won’t stand up for you, but have you stood up for yourself?

Your feelings about the attorney are less important than your feelings about yourself that are created every time you see him. You resent him because he has treated you poorly, but how much of your resentment is with yourself for allowing him to treat you this way?

As much as you dislike the way you are being treated you are allowing it to go on. The attorney can accuse you of whatever he wants, but it does not make you guilty. You don’t have to respond to him or his accusations. You can tell him you’ve had enough. You can tell your boss you’ve had enough. It’s time you establish some boundaries because as you can see, without them, people will walk all over you.

People will push you around and push your buttons as long as you allow them to. Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, you’ve had what you need to get what you want all along. Dorothy simply needed to click her red slippers and declare there is no place like home to get what she wanted, and all you need to do is put up your hands and say “Stop.” to get what you want. Tell him to stop the accusations, stop treating me this way, stop dragging me into things I have nothing to do with.

If the situation doesn’t change, then you may have to make a change and find someplace else to work. However, keep in mind that wherever you go, you will run into difficult people who will try to take advantage of you. When you change your behavior you will cause others to change their behavior too. You do have more control over the situation than you think.

Good luck.

Sue Morem is a professional speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. She is author of the newly released 101 Tips for Graduates and How to Gain the Professional Edge, Second Edition. You can contact her by email at or visit her web site at

Send Sue your questions by clicking here: Ask Sue
For more Ask Sue articles, click here.

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