Need Advice: Unprofessional behavior in firm


I have been working as an assistant project manager and designer at a small firm in Washington DC for about 4 months now. My employers seem very happy with my work and we have become quite close over the course of four months. I feel very comfortable with my employers and have no issue with them.

Unfortunately, my colleague can be a bit condescending and presumptuous around me. He was hired two months before me, and is my age, but treats me as though he has more experience, and I can't help but to feel like he is waiting for me to make a mistake, and even trying to set me up sometimes. I do knot see him as a threat at all, and would like for us to show each other mutual respect and trust as teammates.

I have been working in the design field since I was 16 and have learned a lot about keeping composed and always respecting your team members, so it really throws me off when he acts like this. It almost feels like he is competing with me in our own firm. Is this normal in todays age? He will copy me on emails for projects we are both working on but will use "I" and "me" instead of "Us" and "we". I feel this is highly unprofessional however I do not want to cause trouble within our small team.

Is there anything I can do, that would not be out of my place? Or should I just try to be professional and ignore it?

Oct 30, 13 11:37 am

the best way to defeat an opponent is to let them defeat themselves, and if that don't work stab them in the eye with a no2 pencil.

seriously though...

People like that often lack in more areas than one.  This will eventually become obvious to your employers.  Ignore the passive aggressive stuff, but don't allow him to out right disrespect you either or your employers will think that you are a push over.

"Take life as it is.  Punch only when you need to punch, kick only when you need to kick."

-Bruce Lee, The Art of Fighting Without Fighting

Oct 30, 13 12:24 pm

or, more subtle than a no. 2 pencil, try rewarding good behavior.  i don't know if you can literally give him a treat when he's good, but maybe he would respond well to a little praise or something..

maybe, when he says 'I,' find something that annoys him like scrathcing your nails on a chalkboard or clearing your throat in an annoying manner, and subtely do that.  don't draw attention to the action, otherwise it might seem like you're trying to modify his behavior.

Oct 30, 13 1:05 pm

Hmm behavior modification...fascinating and good idea. Although I would like to jam a no2 pencil in his forehead, maybe a micron would leave a better mark.

Oct 30, 13 1:19 pm

One thing I can say is that you should act immediately and assertively. Your coworker is counting on you being a pushover. Next time he goes over the line, tell him directly and unequivocally that you are not his underling and that he needs to treat you with the common respect due to an equal colleague. Yes, the wording sounds corny, but it is direct and your assertiveness will embarrass him. If the behavior continues, make sure you repeat this in front of your bosses.

I'm not sure why you're surprised that coworkers compete within a firm of any size. This has been the case in every company since the dawn of time. My main point -- drawing from experience -- is that you can play an important role in not allowing your office to devolve into a passive-aggressive snake pit. Best of luck, and don't take it personally. This is no different than the elementary school playground.

Oct 30, 13 1:49 pm

Be careful.

Make sure the people in charge know what work it is the YOU are doing.  You may be surprised.    I was humming along in a similar situation.  Doing good work.  Always on time.  No errors during construction.  Then got called in and sat down shown a project that I'd worked on intermittently two years prior.  The project had been sitting on a shelf for 20 months and was starting up again.  I was then told I didn't know what I was doing because Person X looked at "these drawings you did" and explained to the partner that I had done everything wrong.  Which I actually had not.  In fact, I actually used to fix person X's work.

Person X did not work on the reopened project and hadn't any knowledge about it whatsoever.  She happily stepped in to take over the project and "fix" all of my "errors"  while I got shown what the back of the line looks like at the Department of Labor.

Be very careful when working with such types of people and don't think that simply doing good work will "get noticed".  Point out their shortcomings, and make up a few if you can't find enough.  Make sure your work is known as yours.  These people have a bus schedule tattooed on their inner arm.  So they know when the next one is passing so they can give you a nudge out into the street.

"So that's what the undercarriage of a city transit shuttle looks like."

You need to punch.  You need to kick.  Now.

Oct 30, 13 1:54 pm


I am sorry to here about your experience. I was hoping it wouldn't come to a push and shove match but it may. I try to be professional and treat everyone with respect, with the hope that it will be returned. I will try to be more assertive about which project are actually mine though.


Also, do you think his behavior may be a result of something I don't know about? For example could our employers have told him that I am getting laid off soon? Maybe he feels superior because he knows I am already out the door...I'm really stressing about this. Clearly.

Oct 30, 13 2:00 pm

don't attack passive aggressive behavior with more passive aggressive behavior.  that's horrible.  you need to come out above your coworker, not race to the bottom.

take credit for the work you do, and stick up for yourself if your coworker tries to throw you under the bus, but don't go out of your way to make them look bad.  i would even go the other way.  try to make them look good.  show your boss that you want to work in a team environment, and you want support your team.  it seems to me, at least if the boss is around, you will look better for trying to be a team player while the other guy just complains and blames.  it might be a fair assumption to guess that the boss is mostly concerned about the projects in your office, and operating a successful profitable business.  there is a good chance he doesn't really care about your petty fights with the coworker.  so, try to stay on your boss's side and do what's best for the project.

also, don't be a hypocrite.  if you're going to show your boss you want to be a team player, always be a team player, even when nobody is looking.

Oct 30, 13 2:21 pm

Follow curtkram's advice, but also keep documentation of specifics in case you ever find yourself in a situation like Menona's. 

Oct 30, 13 3:43 pm

pretty much every place I worked there is at least one like that - the rule of thumb is not to react - there was one clowndog I had to deal with at SOM who was always IMing me - I just turned the damn thing off.

Oct 30, 13 4:00 pm

Also stay out of Workset Tug of wars - "you deleted my wall" "get off my floor"

Oct 30, 13 4:07 pm

I'm going to play it cool and hope my employers can see through him.

Oct 30, 13 4:08 pm

Xenakis, YES!

He is doing that exact thing. He keeps all of his docs on his desktop, even ones we are both working on so no one can see what he is doing. I have also caught him deleting things from our team drawings as if he does not want me to be able to access any elements that he has drawn himself.

He emailed our head PM about not understanding how to draw a wire management basket, which I had already drawn in, so I replied all and told him where to find it. He got really pissy with my gesture to help him (also  save time and not bother the PM over something so stupid as a wire management basket).

I understand some competition is healthy and expected within firms, however this is just silly.

Oct 30, 13 4:13 pm

try going out for a beer with him? maybe you can have a heart-to-heart with him and let him know you're not out to compete with anyone, and that he doesn't have to either

Oct 30, 13 4:55 pm

Sorry to hear about this experience.  I've been working for almost a decade and have experienced things like this time and time again.  A lot of arrogant pricks out there.

Best is just to keep them at arms length.  In most cases, they eventually self-destruct.

Shitty attitudes at firms usually don't go unoticed and there is a good chance he treats other colleagues like that as well.

Oct 30, 13 5:08 pm

these types are the worst!!!!!!!!!! I have to deal with them all the time. I just try to stay faaaaaaaaaaaar away, unfortunately I cannot avoid them. I have two major jerks on my team that quite a few ppl in the office know about. However my team leader really likes them. It makes it super difficult, I wish there were a book on how to deal with these types of jerks. At the moment I just try to do my tasks and all my drawings separate from them and present them myself to the boss. Lately he has been super pleased with my work,  however any moment they can get to micro manage me they will do this to the max. 

Hang in there greenapple, I can sympathize. Its ppl with not much going for them that have to resort to this type of behavior. 

Oct 30, 13 7:18 pm

...there should be a anonymous website called "workyleaks" were ppl call out these "throw anybody and everybody under the bus types".  

Oct 30, 13 7:29 pm

I worked in a firm where there was the Boss and Three of us worker bees.  One guy super nice, get it done kind of guy.  The other guy  a Blow_Hard.  Boss gave him a sizable job to run, where he found he could slip out of the office  and  be gone for long periods of time. He had only been with the firm for about a month and we all knew by that time he was, "God's Gift To Women."  On day our business manager receptionist  takes the day off, and the partners Wife comes in to attend to phone calls.  Blow-hard  walks thru the front door and starts chatting her up....and  being sharp plays right along  for most of the afternoon.  Her husband or Boss comes walking thru the door and goes over and gives her a big old kiss...and  we are about to split a gut with internal laughter, when we see the expression on his face.  It was down hill for him and he was out the door with in a months time.  We had to pick up his project and straighten out a major mess. 
So remember what goes around comes around.

No reason to  be punching someone in the eye with a #2 pencil when you can silently  call him "Pencil Dick."   It will make you feel good and no damage will be done.

Oct 30, 13 8:15 pm

Whats that old saying that every 100 years things change? These past 10 years or so, I've witnessed a major transition in the profession of architecture.  To make this short and sweet. It's gone from a professional attitude to a touchy feely soap opera. Just keep your head on straight do good work, be prudent and stand your ground. If it doesn't work move on. good luck. I just hope they don't make an Architect reality show it'll be very embarrassing to all of us.

Oct 30, 13 9:12 pm
Erik Evens (EKE)
How about just taking the person to lunch and saying, "I like working but you, but I have a concern, and I want to talk it over with you and see if we can work this out. You see, when you treat me like this...." And just be upfront about it.
Oct 30, 13 9:43 pm
Erik Evens (EKE)
And if that doesn't work, go for the #2.
Oct 30, 13 9:46 pm

corrupt his files

Oct 31, 13 3:02 am

Karma always wins out. He will slip up in a big way and you can be sure to hold the door when he's carrying his cardboard box of personal effects. 

Oct 31, 13 11:05 pm

You really have only 2 options (other than leaving or ignoring it).

You can call him out on it or you can talk to the boss about it. 

If he's being a bully about it, then you have to go over the top of him (over-bully him). This is an advanced skill. Think the equivalent of holding a knife to his throat while telling him "if you ever take credit for my work again I will cut you...". I'm sure you can imagine a way of doing this without actually using a knife. This is a successful technique and only needs to be used once, because the bully will see that you can see through them and also are tougher than them (remember what your momma told you in grade school, bullies are actually weak). 

The other option, if you do have a good relationship w/your boss, is to simply have a private discussion with them and explain what is happening. Explain that this behavior is causing you trouble at work and you may have to seek other employment if this is allowed to continue. 

You may also need to do both. Don't be afraid to stand up for yourself. 

And, don't listen to the passive aggressive suggestions. It's best to stick with honesty and be direct. 

Oct 31, 13 11:16 pm

I agree.  Karma is a bitch - especially in architecture where it such a small profession and everyone knows everyone especially the meat-headed and arrogant shit-sacks of the profession.

In my experience, if you even have the slightest talent and a decent likability factor, you will gain critical allies in this profession - some which will prove crucial in the long run especially if you find yourself on a job hunt.


Example:  In 2007, I was working on a highrise condo project with two other teamates who were about my same age (late 20s at the time) and same level of experience give or take.  The woman hated me for some reason - she hated a lot of people and was known to be a massive drama queen - to me she was a completely diluted and talentless assclown.  The other guy was a little bit of a tool but we were totally cool with eachother at first but he clearly had a crush on the girl.  He was really good with REVIT and great at details.  The guy ended up stabbing me in the back and teamed up with the girl.  Together, they tried to gang up on the senior PM and I.  I left that firm three months later for a better job.

I later found out that those two were laid off from that firm about 6 months after I started at the new firm.  The guy came by the office, told the secretary that "he was a very good friend of mine" and wanted to see me.  I was paged and as it happens I was walking with my new boss who was a senior design director, we both saw him and he instantly began kissing my ass.  I was not amused.  I cassually told him I had no time and then pulled him asside on his way out and told him never to show up again.  He could not find work and left the country.

Nov 1, 13 1:27 pm


your story sounds way too familiar - San Francisco firm? don't want to suggest names

Nov 1, 13 1:59 pm

I'm sure you can imagine a way of doing this without actually using a knife.

such as, a no. 2 pencil.

i don't like ultimatums.  if you're going to stab, then stab.  if you're not going to stab, then don't stab.  threats are meaningless.  (imho)

Nov 1, 13 2:10 pm

such as, a no. 2 pencil.

i don't like ultimatums.  if you're going to stab, then stab.  if you're not going to stab, then don't stab.  threats are meaningless.  (imho)

I mean, make him think there is a knife, even if there is no knife. So he will be worried for all eternity if he again acts like an assclown that the knife will appear. 

Amazingly effective, and after it's over, you can return to being a normal person without fear. 

Nov 1, 13 2:26 pm

Xenakis, no.  Never lived or worked in San Fran.

This was in DC.  Southern bible-belt based firm with multiple offices around the country, ALL male management firmwide (not a single female principal), solid portfolio, nice people for the most part, but as I had one foot out of the door, they seemed stuck in a flurry of illusions going nowhere fast. 

In other words it was a firm you went to if you wanted to re-invent the wheel and get resounding praise.  I do not miss that 2 year period being an employee there.

Nov 1, 13 3:51 pm

Sounds like this guy needs his mommy there to say, "no, no" and let him know how to act appropriately. Adults are just big kids, never assume an adult has grown-up. Most haven't. I think if you view adults as just big kids they are easier to handle.

You said you don't feel he is a threat, so maybe just feel sorry for him and laugh at him when he does these things?

Nov 1, 13 4:42 pm

"Adults are just big kids, never assume an adult has grown-up. Most haven't"- So true!

Also in the name of TQM ( "I do knot see him as a threat") lol

Nov 1, 13 5:31 pm

Mirroring another person's behavior back at them can be very effective. There are three possible outcomes: nothing, an over-the-top response, or enlightenment. One may follow another. Just remember that you are playing a role and don't take yourself seriously. Whatever you do don't leave a trail.

Calling the boss is best avoided until you have solid documentation of grossly inappropriate behavior. Which may well be the result of mirroring ...

I prefer to rely on karma and pave my path with my own behavior.

Nov 1, 13 5:59 pm

karma works 100% of the time

just don't react when wronged - karma is applied to those who react as well

Nov 1, 13 7:02 pm

You need to make a contract with yourself.

Put it in writing keep it in your wallet or something.

Set limits, if this jerk causes you so much stress you lose sleep x number of nights, or you have a bad day on a scale of 1-10 in the 7 or up range x number of days you need to stand up tell him to stop it and if he doesn't comply three strikes, go to the boss and issue an ultimatum he is not on any of your projects or you are out.

A pissy working environment is not worth making yourself miserable just for the sake of being employed. you are talented and experienced you ill eventually find another possibly better gig.


Over and OUT

Peter N

Nov 2, 13 12:32 pm

"How about just taking the person to lunch and saying, "I like working but you, but I have a concern, and I want to talk it over with you and see if we can work this out. You see, when you treat me like this...." And just be upfront about it."  BE SURE TO HAVE  FIVE #2 PENCILS IN YOUR BREAST SHIRT POCKET, I'M SURE HE WILL GET THE MESSAGE. DROP ON THE TABLE AS YOUR GETTING UP TO LEAVE.  OF COURSE YOU SHOULD BE WEARING AN ASCOT ON THE DAY OF THE LUNCH, FOR EFFECT.

Nov 2, 13 7:19 pm

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