Dealing withg a co-worker who impugns your professional competence

I’m so fed up I feel like putting this in the Pit, but I’m not very good at swearing,and besides, I’d like to hear from people who’ve been in my situation, which makes it kind of like a poll.

First, some preliminary spade work will be necessary.

I work as a developer in an Oracle shop. This co-worker, let’s call her Jan, is the DBA who administers the database where most of my code runs, and the corresponding development/test database where I write and develop my code. In Oracle we have what are called links, which essentially are windows between one database and another. If you’re logged into one database, and have privilege to the link, you can retrieve and sometimes modify or insert data in the other database. A link may also involve a “gateway”, if the remote db is on another machine.

Last week I complained that I was unable to log on to the dev database due, apparently, to some hardware issue on the machine from which I was trying to access the database. “Jan” ends up calling me a “loon” and insisting that I was using the wrong password, which theory she then broadcasts via email to quite a large distribution list. I was not using the wrong password. In fact, the original error message, which I’d included in my original trouble report, didn’t say anything that could even remotely suggest that it had anything to do with passwords.

Then yesterday one of my routine weekly procedures, which hadn’t been changed in years, failed due to problems with the link to a remote database. I notified everybody I thought needed to know, and sure enough a call comes in from Jan.

“Hello, this is Javaman”.

“This is Jan. What have you done now?”

“What do you mean, what have I done now?”

“You changed the link. It was your procedure”, referring to another procedure I had had to write to push data from my database to this same remote database.

“I did not change the link! I don’t know from links. I ask Database Administration to change the links as required so that I can write, test, and run the procedures which I have been asked to develop. A link to me is just another set of tables. If something goes wrong with the link in the process, it’s nothing to do with me.”

And I don’t even remember what she said to that. I thought it was a pretty good answer in the circumstances, and it felt good to say it.

But what do you all think? Should I complain to somebody? Her boss? My boss? She doesn’t seem like the type it would do any good to complain to directly.

I forgot to mention…I used to like this person. We shared an office for a couple of years and always got along great.

I would walk up to her and say, “You know, Jan, you’re really hurting my feelings when you say things like that.”

You would? Did you get your ass kicked a lot when you were a kid? Joking, joking…but it is funny.

I should point out we’re in an open-office environment right now, and I hesitate to do something that would seem like public drama-queening or whining.

You hit the nail on the head right there Man.

It’s like being friends with an ex-girlfriend after you breakup, it usually don’t work out.

Oh yeah I forgot my point…

If you used to be friend with her, I’d say take a combination of what Lorenzo said, and mix it with a little Pesci.

"Hey! Jan! You got a problem with me? Are you talking like that to me? What the Fk gives you the right to talk to me like that? Do I amuse you? Am I Fking funny, what the F**k is so funny about me?
HEH HEH HEH ok breath phlosphr, breath pants nitro-pill pants some more

You mean by my 6’ 3" 260 lb. dad when I was growing up, for acting like a child? Yeah, constantly, if you must know. Boy, that was a hoot. My dad makes the worst caricature of the Menendez’ father look like Mother Theresa. Ass kicked by another kid? Never. I was always willing in an actual fistfight to fight to the death and never met another kid who wasn’t afraid of that.

Anyway, you might be surprised how effective that quote can be when used in the right context. It really throws them off, dumbfounded and speechless, usually.

If nothing else (besides the run of the mill bruises and contusions and occasional attempted murder (I was the only boy in my class whose mother made him wear coverup makeup to school)) my dad gave me the ability to imagine (something better) and a very unusual sense of humor.

I’m a survivor so far.

Great. Now I can’t stop laughing and will not get anything done for the rest of the day. Good one.

Not only is it hilarious, it most likely would work. I’d recommend it as your first option.

javaman, you mentioned that you used to be friends with Jan until a short time ago. Has anything happened that would sabotage that friendship? Have either you or Jan been promoted? Has anyone else in the office noticed Jan’s treatment of you and commented? What I would do if I were you is to document the incidents you have mentioned. Set up a time and place to calmly inform Jan of your concerns. If she gets confrontational or tries to change the subject, drop the meeting and go to your supervisor. I think that you two might be competing for something and she is trying to sabotage you in the eyes of your managers.

Whoa, what medstar said. I was in an eerily similar situation, which unknown to me at the time, I was competing with another for a position advancement. Although a mild confrontation alleviated some of the problem, it wasn’t fully resolved until another person was promoted and the antagonist left for another job.

To some extent, she’s probably failing in her attempts to smear you. I mean, let’s say she sends that “you screwed up the password” message to 100 people. I’ll bet 89 of them will think “Jesus, Jan could have handled that better by telling him privately. What’s HER problem?” Trust me, saboteurs like this usually give themselves away.

But I do think it might be helpful to confront her, albeit in a way that doesn’t feel like a confrontation. How are your acting skills? You might go to her and say “Jan, I feel as though I’m miscommunicating. Twice when I’ve informed the group of errors, you’ve responded in a way that didn’t address the actual problem. (Give the two examples). I think I’m not doing a very good job summarizing the problem. Can we go over those emails so you can help me pin down what I’m doing wrong in writing them? I know I can save us all a bunch of valuable time if I can make sure everyone understands what I am reporting.”

You’ve got to say this like you mean it, though. All wide-eyed earnestness, no disingenuousness detectable. It would help if you could do this in front of a few others people, or even better in a staff meeting. She’s going to have to admit (at least to herself) that she’s wrong.

From a corporado’s perspective: unless she’s had some recent life changes that have made her just generally bitchy, I’d guess it’s political.

Take a good look at the landscape. Identify why she might be trying to rub a booger on you. That will give you a better idea of what to do.

What medstar and Cranky said.

Document the incidents and then have a talk with her. Don’t be emotional, don’t be aggressive, but don’t be wimpy either. State clearly where you think you’ve had the miscommunications (such a catch all word in corporatese, but it works). If, at some point, you have to say “Jan, I don’t appreciate the way some of your comments imply I’m incompetent; perhaps you don’t realize they’re perceived that way” then do so.

Also I don’t know about your office, but in mine unless you’re very good friends with someone and they can tell you’re kidding, you never call someone a “loon.” That’s a time to say “Jan, I don’t appreciate that and it’s unprofessional.”


DBA is still Does Bugger All.

Seriously lots of DBA’s that I have dealt with have very poor personal communication skills and act just like Jan.

Maybe she had a crush on you, and thought you stood her up or something.

I’ve seen stuff happen between Jan and others. Another programmer went around her to another DBA to get something done. I dont know why he did that; I think he knew the other DBA better, or Jan wasn’t physically in the office and he didn’t want to go through the several calls it might take to find her. I wasn’t there; I only found out about when a third co-worker told me to avoid bothering her for a while. Apparently she’d shown up while I was out and laid into this other programmer, eventually stalking off and saying that anyone who needed database support should call <second programmer’s name>.

What, DBA’s having poorer personal skills than programmers? That’s pretty funny :smiley:

Then lower down the scale we have sysprogs.

Sounds like she hasn’t a clue and is riding everyone in an attempt to either impress the boss or make herself feel better. Take her down, not just for you but for everyone who has to have contact with her.