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November 9, 2012 3:27 PM   Subscribe

How to deal with a overly opinionated coworker/friend.

So I've been at a new pace of work for 8 months now. My office consists of 4 people and so its pretty intimate--like we usually have lunch together. I like everyone for the most part but one woman is waaayyy too opinionated and tells me what she thinks of my personal choices every chance she gets. One example is what I eat--I'm not a super healthy eater like she is (shes gluten-free, vegetarian, quinoa-munching type) but at the same time I am NOT overweight nor have any health problems, plus I eat small portions so I'm not that worried about my diet. Yet she continually judges me when I eat a salami sandwich or a fast food burrito. I try to laugh it off, like when she says "I can't believe eat that!" I say "really? I've worked here for months, you should know this is how I eat" with a fake smile.
What is really hard for me though is she never wants kids and is very vocal about how *everyone* needs to stop having kids cuz its destroying the earth and what not. This breaks my heart because I'm not a parent but have longed to be especially in the last few years. I'm 33 and feeling the tick-tock and sometimes worry that its not in the cards for me. I agree with her that we humans need to be concerned about our carbon footprint and I think its great that SHE realizes she shouldn't be a parent, but its crazy to expect that the whole country (or planet for that matter) is just going to collectively agree to stop breeding.
For the record I brought up in conversation early on that I want a family before I knew how strongly she is against. Since then I don't bring it up and try to avoid the topic but somehow it comes up in other ways through unrelated topics. Sometimes she brings it up, like she recently saw a movie and demanded that we all watch it because "it'll make you not want to have kids". My other co-workers don't seem phased but I find it incredibly disrespectful.
I've contemplated writing her an email letting her know that I think its unproffesional for her to express such isolating opinions, but it makes me very nervous. Should I just learn to deal?
posted by hellameangirl to Human Relations (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
Don't go the email route, that seems overly formal and could be taken badly. Just be upfront like she is.
"hellameangirl, how can you eat that meat and bread?"
"co-worker. I like it. And I'd also like you to stop commenting on my personal choices. Did you see Mad Men last night...?
posted by the fish at 3:37 PM on November 9, 2012 [7 favorites]


First of all, it's better not to tell anyone at work anything personal such as wanting a family. That might seem like small talk to the innocent, but at work, you have to proceed as if you are surrounded by enemies who are plotting to kill you at all times.

It's possible that she says these things because you said you want a family and she has also picked up on the emotions you have around it. Or she could just be opinionated. Her motives don't really make a difference to how you will deal with this.

She is being wildly inappropriate and the details of your food choices and weight (but I'm not overweight! etc.) don't change the fact that she has no business making judgmental comments about what you eat.

Sending her an email about how inappropriate she is being is going to have her constructing a Rube Goldberg machine of incrimination, with you as the victim, and you will wind up in HR defending yourself against bizarre and unexpected charges when you least expect it. So don't start this by establishing a paper trail of *you* correcting *her* behaviour.

Also don't start this by correcting her, because no matter how rude it is for her to talk to you this way, if you correct an adult (over whom you have no supervisory status) who has not asked your opinion, you are being more rude. Also, she is already old enough to know better, so I doubt that sitting her down and patiently explaining to her why the vast majority of her waking behaviours are offensive, is going to get you anything but two lovely black eyes.

So next time she corrects you on something, choose one of the following phrases:

"What?"
"Cut it out."
"Please keep your comments to yourself."
"Cut out the criticism."
"Stop judging me."

If she keeps doing that, you can start saying "What?" followed by "do you have the exact time?" as you start to write something down.

No further arguments or discussion.
posted by tel3path at 3:38 PM on November 9, 2012 [15 favorites]


She sounds insecure - that's about it. If it's helpful, she's probably like this with everyone else in her life too.

Whenever she starts getting on her high horse, steer the conversation in a completely different direction.
posted by heyjude at 3:42 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my workplaces, this woman would soon face some friendly takedown routine, e.g. a harmless nickname you could use to her face (The Opinionator) or a standard comeback like "Oh, you know I wondered what you would say about that and wanted to accommodate you" or "You should really have a radio talk show" said with mild sarcasm and genuine-enough smile.

If that kind of thing doesn't work in your place of business, my sympathies.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 3:46 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


@tel3path has it. Keep it short and sweet and then change the subject.

If that doesn't work, try this:
"You know how those Evangelical Christians are all up in your business, constantly judging you and telling you how to live your life based on how they live theirs? That's how it feels when you scrutinize what I eat for lunch or criticize me or other people for wanting kids."
posted by cnc at 3:47 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Wow, she sounds annoying. I am sure everyone else finds her annoying, too. That being said, I would keep my email closed on this one. You might be SAYING that you think it's "unprofessional for her to express isolating opinions," but basically you're writing the email because you find her super irritating and want her to shut up, right? I don't think I'd put either feeling in writing to a coworker -- that shit is only going to backfire.

The best plan of attack is just to have zero response to any of this. I suspect she is just trying to get a reaction from people. This is where I would do what I call MMMM-Hmmmming people. She goes off on a rant about how breeders are ruining the earth, or your burrito, you just say, "Mmmm hmmm." You have acknowledged that she has spoken to you, but you have opened zero doors to further conversation. Then either smile pleasantly and leave the kitchen, or change the subject.

The Southerner part me would want to respond, "well, bless your heart," the next time she mentioned my lunch but I think being as literally nonresponsive as you can be is the best bet. She really just wants people to react to her. (There's an extra bonus to knowing that this will actually probably REALLY annoy her but she won't be able to actually complain about it.)
posted by Countess Sandwich at 3:49 PM on November 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


Why not be honest and say, "could you please stop passing judgement on my lunch everyday? It's getting tiresome. I don't give a shit what you eat and I wish you didn't give a shit about what I eat." I would say this in a fed up, put upon tone.

Same on the kids thing, I would do the eye-roll and say, "here we go again, the world should stop making kids cause you don't want them. Excuse me, I'm going to see if my husband is available for a quickie, maybe I'll come back pregnant." (If you're not married, say you're going to go do it with the UPS man.)

You don't have to make it a big confrontation but say it with enough seriousness that she gets the point.
posted by shoesietart at 3:50 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


Zero response and walk away. Any engagement is going to come back around and bite you in the behind. And, stop eating lunch with them, if anyone asks why you have no obligation to explain.

If she says anything that can be construed as hostile on a race/gender/disability/or other protected class basis, tell the management and let them handle it.
posted by HuronBob at 3:53 PM on November 9, 2012


My two cents: It sounds like you want to do a sensible thing by clearly and kindly explaining your position to your coworker on diet and reproduction. It also sounds like your concern is not that she is being unprofessional, but that she's just pushy with her opinions. Given her apparent need to chime in on these things, I would guess that this person has had a lot of practice defending her positions, and providing more food for thought in the way of arguing for-or-against these things won't quench this pushy behavior.

My approach with a few people who act this way is to speak to them in their own language...not about particulars they have said, but as pertains to the opinion shoving. There usually comes a moment after they have said some line about how "people need to stop procreating...sheesh", and a pause happens where my forthcoming input is beckoned, and I ask them if this is the way that they would like me to communicate with them...through giving my opinion on whatever thing I want at all times. Then I might go on, briefly and respectfully, to let them know that this is not how I do it. I don't communicate this way. And that I am having a very difficult time wanting to come to lunch if this is all you're going to be about.

I don't think talking about professionalism is the way to go, and I would steer clear of particular arguments, unless you want to deliver the message that you're cool with talking about this every day at lunch. I think being clear about what is really bothering you is a good approach.
posted by klausman at 3:54 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


On the food thing: do you think you can enlist your co-worker/co-luncher to shut her down next time she says something?
I've done this for other people, if I see that person A is making rude comments about person B's eating habits, I'll just huffily say that the only opinion one is entitled to state about food is about that food which is going into their own personal mouth. What person B eats is of absolutely no concern to person A.
If you can recruit a person C, then you obviate sounding defensive or personal about it.

As for the kids thing, well, the same thing sort of applies, but instead of mouths its uteri... I don't think addressing this in any way will help. However, if you'd like a comforting thought for yourself, you co-worker seems to be both anti-life and anti-choice, cuz the deal with being pro-CHOICE, is that you have to accept both possible decisions about having children. In short, a very immature, or poorly developed mind you got there. All you can do really, is buck up and be better than her.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 4:14 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd probably try to respond to as many of her comments as possible with a non-commital "Huh" or "Mmm." Conveying utter disinterest is key. Someone who craves an audience, as she clearly does, has to eventually run out of steam when she can't provoke a reaction and all her remarks just hang there in the air, barely acknowledged.
posted by justonegirl at 4:25 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Monsieur Caution, I wish I had the brass to say those things!
posted by hellameangirl at 4:28 PM on November 9, 2012


Cold Lurky, my co-workers are also health nuts and child-free, as seems the norm in my industry (fashion).
tel3path, "It's possible that she says these things because you said you want a family and she has also picked up on the emotions you have around it." I never thought about this--thats fucked up! Especially because get this--she wants to change careers to be a psychologist!!

As for the "hmmm mmm" and subject changing, thats mostly what I do already but its a temporary fix, since it keeps coming up.
posted by hellameangirl at 4:33 PM on November 9, 2012


I would probably play it off politely at first like you have, but eventually it would get to the point where I would just give her a sort of sideways funny look, laugh a little, and say something like "really? you know how I feel about this, give me a break." It may simply be enough to be unambiguous that you want it to stop.
posted by feloniousmonk at 4:38 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have found, "Oh, so and so, when you say stuff like that, you sound so ridiculous. Knock it off" works pretty well.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:42 PM on November 9, 2012


Stare at her. Don't say a word, don't keep eating, don't put your food down, don't scowl, don't answer her when she asks why you're staring at her. Just stop dead and don't do anything but devote every erg of your energy to staring at her until she shifts the conversation away from her judgment or goes away. It oughtn't take more than three or four instances for her to get the point.
posted by Etrigan at 4:58 PM on November 9, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Do you ever wonder what it would be like if you only offered your opinion to people who asked it?"
posted by InkaLomax at 5:02 PM on November 9, 2012 [10 favorites]


In my world, if you are going to tell me what to eat you need to be the one providing the food. If you can think of a politer way of expressing that thought to her, perhaps that would be a strategy.

As to the child question, I'd just laugh and say that someone has to give birth to whoever will be wiping her rear in the nursing home.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 5:13 PM on November 9, 2012 [2 favorites]


This isn't really about her opinion, it's about her food politics. If she wants it to be about how different her taste is from yours, there are a few ways of responding, as I see it:

- "Yeah, well it tastes fucking awesome."
- "Is that because of your dietary restrictions?"
- "There are starving children in Africa who would love even this."

Relatedly, in global terms a gluten-free vegan diet is an extreme luxury. For one, it's not cheap to eat that way, and secondly very few people can afford to cultivate a diet that requires them to turn food down. "What if there's a disaster and you had to take whatever food you could get?"

Sometimes she brings it up, like she recently saw a movie and demanded that we all watch it because "it'll make you not want to have kids".

"But I like kids!"

And don't do the passive aggressive stuff that won't get the point across to someone who doesn't want to get the point.
posted by rhizome at 5:25 PM on November 9, 2012 [3 favorites]


With this type of person, I usually tell them to, "please keep your bad energy off my food", or when they offer opinions on my life/choices, "I could do without all of your toxic energy". People who are very holier-than-thou in a preachy granola, superiority-complex kind of way hate to hear that their "energy" is bad/negative/toxic. Perhaps because they're so busy letting everyone know how clean and good they are. Whatever the reason, I've found it to be super-effective. Especially when repeated at every opportunity.
posted by quince at 5:30 PM on November 9, 2012 [31 favorites]


While I don't have a specific response for you, I find that in situations like this humour is always a good tool to use.

Part of this is because in order for you to find the humour in the situation, you will need to re-frame it for yourself. This will permit you to take a more external, impersonal view of her comments. The other part is that by using humour, you are not engaging with her, which seems to be something that she wants.

If you can find a way to re-frame her dingbat behaviour as something that is funny and ridiculous, not only will you be able to de-fuse her negative and pointed comments when they happen (and using humour will definitely diminish the sting of her barbs), you will also be able to actually laugh about just how ridiculous she is being.
posted by lulu68 at 5:39 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


My body my choice.
posted by French Fry at 6:08 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


Quince's wordtrack is pure golden genius.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:27 PM on November 9, 2012


Can you just find somewhere else to eat? Why do you have to eat with everyone? We all need some down time at work. If you drive to work, go out and eat in your car. If there's a nearby park, go there. If there aren't any real location options take your lunch break at a different time than everyone else. If that's not an option bring a book to read while you eat, or put in headphones and listen to music, podcasts, books. If your coworkers can't handle any of these suggestions maybe you should look for a better place to work.
posted by mareli at 6:53 PM on November 9, 2012


I would simply shut down and not respond. Or just smile and offer a non-sequitur:

"I can't believe you're eating that."

"Okay, then!" Bright, tolerant smile, back to book.

"I'm not having children because I want to save the planet."

"Okay, then!" Bright, tolerant smile, back to book. You get the idea.

There's no need to be defensive. It's not about you. When people go on and on unprovoked about something like whether or not to reproduce, it means they haven't yet convinced themselves that this is what they want. If you want to annoy her, break in on one of her zero-population tirades and, with great concern on your face, say that you can't help wondering if she's rethinking her decision not to have children, since it seems to be on her mind so much. She'll never bother you about it again.
posted by tully_monster at 7:22 PM on November 9, 2012 [8 favorites]


Next time she talks about saving the planet by not having kids, hand her this lovely certificate of thanks from The Voluntary Human Extinction Movement.
posted by anon4now at 8:28 PM on November 9, 2012


My go to response for this sort of things is "Yes, you've mentioned that. Quite a few times actually. But I like burritios." or something similar.
posted by mazienh at 9:27 PM on November 9, 2012 [4 favorites]


Respond with "you say the most amazing things sometimes" with a big fake smile.
posted by hazyjane at 11:44 PM on November 9, 2012


"Heard ya the first time."
posted by rhizome at 11:44 PM on November 9, 2012 [1 favorite]


The whole don't-have-kids peer pressure actually could verge on an HR / legal thing, particularly if she were asking you about your plans and there were hiring and promotion decisions being made. It sure made it into the trainings I've attended about "how to help our organization not get sued." I'm not saying you should make it an issue, but FYI Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has this to say:

It is unlawful to harass a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such as the victim being fired or demoted). The harasser can be the victim's supervisor, a supervisor in another area, a co-worker, or someone who is not an employee of the employer, such as a client or customer.
posted by salvia at 1:13 AM on November 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I mostly go the Mmm-Hmmm route, or I will say with a straight, completely innocent face "Oh, really? Hm, I didn't know that. Interesting" type of comment - opinionated people REALLY hate that response because they KNOW they've yold you their opinion before. But at some point, I think you have to just fight fire with fire, and be opinionated yourself. Why does she get to make you uncomfortable about wanting to have kids. You can just as easily be insistent about what you think is great about having a family. You don't have to do it with any malice by the way. You are just stating your opinion. Eventually the topic of conversation at lunchtime will move on.

I agree with the poster above who said she sounds insecure. She is venting that insecure energy at work because she doesn't have a family at home to vent to! Don't pick up her cast-off negative energy.
posted by vignettist at 3:51 AM on November 10, 2012


I love quince's idea but wonder if it would not lead to more arguing. "toxic?! My energy is not toxic just because I tell you that burritos are bed for you! How dare you say my energy is bad, when all I'm saying is etc."
posted by Omnomnom at 3:54 AM on November 10, 2012


Well bless your heart!
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:09 AM on November 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


This type of person drives me nuts, and I seem to run into them at every job I've ever had. My top 3 most effective replies (all delivered non-sarcastically--very neutral replying-but-not-engaging tone and polite smile):

-"Think so?" Then just ignore whatever the person says in response, if they say anything.
-"Hmm." Then just go back to whatever you're doing.
-"I'm just that crazy!" This works well when you're asked directly about whatever it is you're doing. "Why are you holding your pencil like this instead of like this?" "I'm just that crazy!" Resume your previous activity.

If these don't work, I just adopt that same polite-but-not-engaged tone and turn whatever they say into a joke. "That salami sandwich is loaded with terrible things!" "Yeah, I'm workin' on my third heart attack," and back to what you were doing. "Nobody should have kids!" "I'll remember that when I'm getting my epidural!" and back to your thing.

I've gotten to the point with these people that I can find them amusing most of the time. It's actually fun to know that this person's world is so small that what I eat can disrupt their life, and that my response is on the one hand unsatisfying for them (because I don't engage) but on the other hand unassailable (because I acknowledged their point and replied). A little passive-aggressive, but harmless, and it keeps my blood pressure down.
posted by Rykey at 9:58 AM on November 11, 2012


While I do find the bless your heart maneuver just peachy, I just don't think it has the same aplomb unless you're living in the south or from there (or they are) (partly because you can't get the OOH BURN effect if the person doesn't understand what you really mean). two years of living here and I feel like I can just now really drop it.

I don't know what exactly to say for advice, other than what's worked is the sort of disinterested disengagement - eg, there's a couple people in my life who are somewhat unavoidable who resemble this person you're describing. when forced to interact, I find the sort of faraway look and disengaged response puts people off fairly well, plus some vague talk about how you need to go get something (in that way that shows you're not actually listening to them in the slightest) and wandering off.

Also, I second Rykey for another method - somebody says something like "why would anyone have kids, something something planet something i can't believe you want to do that blah blah" and the short, completely non-argumentative response like "just hate the planet that much, yep." yep, destroying the world. yep guess i'm just a hysterical slave to my hormones. (okay, "i'll remember that when i'm getting my epidural" made me giggle). yep. yep, just trying to commit suicide slowly one hamburger at a time. yep. eg, short, agreeable (because the expectation is that you'll disagree, thus opening yourself up to even more of this) in a way. it tends to throw people off, since there's nothing for them to respond to.

also, not making eye contact takes it a big step further - eg, you're working on your computer, don't look over. read a magazine while you're eating lunch, don't look up when you're replying. oh man, living here has made me passive aggressive.
posted by circle_b at 10:20 AM on November 11, 2012


These are all great answers. Maybe someday I can attempt some of the sassier ones but for now I'll try the "I'm just that crazy" and "really? interesting". For the record I don't have lunch with her every single day but a lot of the time its just hard to avoid..especially when our supervisor suggests we all go somewhere together. I agree she's insecure and I SO badly wanna say "I bet you'll want kids when the right guy comes along" or something along the lines of what tully_monster said..but won't because I'm too afraid of the atomic bomb it might set off :p
posted by hellameangirl at 7:34 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


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