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

Personal Space at Work

Dear Sue: I was shocked when I discovered two of my three bosses cleaning out my office. My work area had been under construction for about six months. Prior to that, I had no problem with neatness or the appearance of my office, but when the construction was finished, these two descended upon my office like vultures. When one of them started going through my personal belongings, I said something, but she acted as if she hadn't heard me. Some of my personal belongings were thrown out, and other things were tossed in a box. Now they've told me that I can no longer have anything personal in my office except for some photographs. 

I felt violated in every sense of the word. I even went to the counselor for help to work thru my feelings. I was told that I should have told them to stop what they were doing, and inform them that I would go thru my personal stuff myself. However, I find that hard to accept since these two women are my bosses. 

Now, I am wondering if I should have been more assertive at the time. What should I have done? 

- Violated

Sue Says: Yes, you could have been more assertive, but don't be too hard on yourself -- you were caught off guard, and didn't have time to think about the best way to respond. Because your bosses were going through your things, you probably held back more than you wanted out of respect for their position of authority.

Now that some time has passed, if you feel it will help you, talk with your bosses and let them know how difficult this experience has been for you. And above all, heed the advice you've been given, and don't keep anything too personal in your office.

Dear Sue: I need help in dealing with a very serious problem. I work in a small office, and one of my co-workers is the nastiest person I've ever encountered. She yells at people, slams telephones, says hurtful and derogatory remarks to people, and spreads rumors. 

I've brought this up to my boss (who I think is a terrific person,) and he said "Oh you know, that's just how she is; she doesn't mean any harm." I told him that the problem is that everyone dismisses her behavior, and therefore she thinks that she can do whatever she pleases. Two of the people who work in this office follow her around like she is the next best thing. 

I don't understand it. I've tried to be accommodating to her, however, I now seem to be the object of her wrath.

Confronting her is not an option, because I know she will just get nastier. I am at my wits end. I do not want to put my boss in an awkward position, but I am ready to inform him that he must do something about this or I will go to someone in corporate who will. Please advise. 

- Afraid to come to Work.

Sue Says: Do what you feel you must, but if you threaten to go to corporate or keep complaining, you still have no guarantee that her behavior will stop. 

I believe you when you say this woman is nasty, but as you have seen, sometimes the wrong people are admired for the wrong reasons. I am concerned that the more you say, the worse it will be for you.

Obviously, people are willing to tolerate her. The more you complain, the more you risk becoming the nasty one. You can ignore her or try to befriend her, but whatever you do, don't let her get the best of you. 

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
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