The sender might be malicious, narcissistic or simply immature, but regardless of his motives, this is more about him than you.

Share story

Q: A co-worker recently sent me a text that was clearly intended for someone else. In the text, “Brian” stated that dealing with me was “awkward” and that he’d had enough of me to last the rest of his life. This was quickly followed by a second text saying the previous one was misdirected, but it did not contain an apology.

I was both hurt and confused, because I had done nothing to offend Brian. Although he has a long history of throwing people under the bus, he has never done that with me. Brian has been friendly since then, but I’m still upset about his hateful comments. What should I do about this?

A: Given Brian’s backstabbing reputation, this stealth attack shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. Trashing people is an attention-getting strategy, and you are just his latest victim. Brian might be malicious, narcissistic or simply immature, but regardless of his motives, this is more about him than about you.

As for your next move, you basically have two choices. If you can simply attribute this incident to Brian’s dysfunctional personality, perhaps you can let it go. But if his nasty comments continue to reverberate in your brain, then you need to do something about it.

“Doing something” does not mean sending texts or emails, however. Although written communication has now become everyone’s default setting, difficult discussions should still take place in person. Instead of launching a verbal counterattack on your spiteful colleague, calmly request that he be more specific.

For example: “Brian, in the text which I mistakenly received, you indicated that working with me was awkward. Since you’ve been saying that to my coworkers, I would like to know what I can do to reduce the awkwardness in our relationship.”

Should Brian offer suggestions, do with those what you will. If he apologetically replies that he was in a bad mood that day, take him at his word and drop the subject. But for your own protection, always remember that Brian is not to be trusted.

Q: The director of our department is driving people away. Ten employees have resigned in the past two months, and two managers left after working here for only a few weeks. They all mentioned the director as their primary reason for leaving, so we would like to tell management about the problems she’s creating. How should we bring this up?

A: Since employees are fleeing your department like rats from a sinking ship, one would expect the higher-ups to take notice. But if they are truly oblivious, perhaps your group can provide a wake-up call. To get management’s attention, keep the focus on business issues, not your director’s challenging personality.

For example: “We’re concerned about the number of people who have left our department recently. This turnover has disrupted our work and is also costly for the company. The main issue seems to be Mary’s leadership style, so we’re hoping that you can help with this problem.”

If management is receptive to your concerns, you can offer more detailed information. But if they seem disengaged or indifferent, then it might be time to refresh your own résumé.

Submit questions to Marie G. McIntyre at