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

Recognizing Abuse at Work

Dear Sue: How do I know if I am being taken advantage of at work? I try to be respectful of others, but do not feel I am respected in return. I don’t know if I should speak up or just tolerate the abuse. Please help.

–Taken advantage of

Sue Says: No matter what position you hold, you deserve to be treated fairly and with respect. If you are feeling frightened, confused, isolated or powerless, there’s a good chance you are being taken advantage of. Angry outbursts, constant criticism, threats, swearing, yelling and raging are some of the indicators of abuse.

Abuse at work can be difficult to recognize and even more challenging to address. Speaking up can be frightening, especially when the problem is a superior and your livelihood is at stake.

Understanding what is acceptable and what is not is the first step, but it can take some time for you to become adept at quickly identifying bad behavior—especially if you are used to it and have tolerated it for some time. Don’t rely on the perception of others; you need to learn to trust your instincts and listen to your ‘gut’. Your feelings are your most trusted and reliable source when it comes to recognizing abusive behavior.

No one has the right to take advantage of you, regardless of title or rank. Know your rights and defend them. The clearer your boundaries are the less likely others will cross them.

If you are in a situation that is cannot be resolved, don’t give up: talk with someone who can help you, be it a supervisor, someone in human resources, or if necessary, outside counsel.

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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