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Fight or Flight?

15 Feb 2023 2:00 PM | Anonymous

Dear Sophia,

I work with a younger colleague who is at the same level as I am and around 18 years my junior. I've worked at multiple colleges over the years, with over a decade in international education. This colleague has only worked at this institution (going on 5 years) which is also where they attended undergrad. I began around 3 years ago. This person is very well known on campus and seen as the 'go-to' person for international queries. This person consistently puts down my ideas/suggestions, and makes me feel like my contributions are worthless. They do not want to let go of any work tasks, leaving me with very little to do and feeling belittled along the way. The boss of the group sees the challenges, and has tried to mitigate (including having conversations with the colleague) to no avail. This person continues to do work that is technically mine, oversteps their boundaries, and creates a very challenging work environment. They have also, on occasion, dismissed suggestions I have had for improving and streamlining processes, only to take the idea and present it as their own later on. Being a very non-confrontational person, I've just kept my head down and tried to do my job but do not feel like I can continue like this much longer with such an aggressive and demeaning atmosphere. 


Feeling the Years

Dear Feeling the Years,

I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with this. Why can’t everyone learn to be a professional?! It seems your colleague could use some advice of their own! You’ve reached the end of your rope, so let’s make a plan to move forward.

While your colleague’s behavior is completely unacceptable, it may help you to first consider some possible reasons for it. Perhaps your colleague believes they are “taking charge” and doing more work and that will help them get ahead in their career. They have clearly missed that their behavior is rude, aggressive, and downright shady, but something in their past could have led them to believe it is necessary to succeed. Perhaps they also believe that you possess less knowledge or expertise since you’ve been in the role for less time (overlooking your years at other institutions). This person could also have deep-rooted control issues or fear of failure which makes it hard for them to let you do your job when they perceive that their way is the only way it should be done. If you consider these underlying issues, it may help you break through if you ask the right questions, or at least accept that their actions are not personal to you.

If you’re up for it, one way to shut down this aggression would be to muster the courage to speak to your colleague. Try attempting a diplomatic approach so it feels less confrontational. Each time they do your work, for example, you can calmly ask, “May I ask why you are doing my work? This is my task and I know you have many other things to do in your role. I have this covered.” Take some time to document each instance and feel free to bring up that it has happened before. While you may want to push back in anger and frustration, phrasing it as a question may force them to consider their actions before responding to you, and you may learn something. Also document your communications so you know when you presented an idea. If your colleague tries to steal an idea, be sure to tell your boss and other colleagues that it was actually your idea and that you first came up with it on X date. Once they see that you will stand up for yourself, they may let up on their behavior. You may get others on your side, as well.

If the diplomatic approach doesn’t work, you have a few options: 

  1. Push back harder. If it’s your last attempt, you may find it liberating to speak up. If it doesn’t help, you probably don’t have much to lose.

  2. Lodge a formal complaint with management to see if they could facilitate a change or even fire your colleague (it’s rare, but it DOES happen—if management has seen problematic patterns and turnover is high as a result, they may decide it’s time to let this person go)

  3. Look for another job and get out! If you do decide to quit, be direct about the reasons if you have an exit interview. Again, if management sees troubling patterns, they may take action with your colleague.

Some considerations: How much do you like your job and other colleagues? Do you see a future in this office and hope to stay? How easy is it to find a similar job in your area? If you have other job options, are not too attached, or if you’ve simply had enough and don’t want confrontation, don’t feel bad about giving up. This bad behavior is not your fault, and it shouldn’t be your responsibility to fix it. Life’s too short to surround yourself with toxic people, especially at work! 

Good luck with whatever you decide! Here’s hoping this person will knock it off. If not, you can look forward to leaving for a future office environment with kinder and more collaborative colleagues. 

Confidentially Yours,


P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Feeling the Years? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!

Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.


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