Is this behavior from a coworker as odd as it seems to me?
April 17, 2013 9:57 PM Subscribe
I work with a woman who refuses to speak to me unless she is forced to do so and will otherwise pretend so thoroughly that I don't exist it's as if I hadn't spoken at all.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (65 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Apologies for the wall of text.
My question concerns one of my coworkers, who apparently dislikes me so much that even though I have worked in this (small) department for more than two years she will not speak to me unless my direct boss assigns her a task which requires it. My greetings in the morning or statements in meetings directed to her are ignored so completely it is as if they never occurred, to the point that I sometimes wonder if I actually said anything. I like what I do and my direct boss likes my work, so I don't plan to leave due to the situation at this time. I also am not planning to go to HR since there is absolutely nothing they will do given the observed attitude toward the situation from management. It's a sick system, undoubtedly, but the economy is bad and I thoroughly enjoy my job itself.
She and one other woman do this to a greater or lesser extent, but everyone else in the department appears to get along with me. I talk to them about their families, they drop by to chat and joke, and they come to me for help and advice which I give gladly and when I need help they assist me in the same spirit. So I don't think that I've done something so out of the way that I have caused the shunning. In fact, this woman appears to behave similarly with everyone, although she does actually talk to everyone else in the department without being forced to do so.
When I came to the organization, I didn't know anything about the specific field of our department, although I have considerable expertise in the type of work for which I was hired. Technically, this woman and I are on the same level by title, although since I came to the department I was moved to report to her boss' boss instead of us both reporting to someone on the same level. I've considered the possibility that this woman may have resented my boss hiring an outsider or that I have a different type of role than was previously part of the department. I also have an advanced degree, although I have never referred to it unless someone else directly mentioned it. I don't actually know that anyone told her that I have one, so I don't see why she would be resentful of my education or think I look down on her because of it. I don't look down on her because of it, incidentally. I don't think that education makes one person better than another, but I do know that there are people who believe that and I do try very hard not to appear to be that sort of person. My role does require a lot of solitary work and I am an introvert, but that does not appear to stop other people from interacting with me pleasantly. When some of my coworkers have broached the subject of her behavior toward them I asked if I had done anything to cause her to behave that way toward me and they've said that I had done nothing - she is just 'that way'.
My boss unfortunately thinks it is hilarious. I don't actually depend on her compliance to excel in my role. She is competent at her work, but it is not the sort of thing that someone would be unable to learn - it is a mix of data entry and customer support. So while her work is important and she is good at it, the organization would survive perfectly well without her. Given her attitude it might very well improve. However, I do respect her work product and make a point of saying so to people when it is appropriate, as I do with all my coworkers. I try very, very hard not to treat her with the disrespect and lack of professionalism she shows me, even when it is difficult. I know that it sounds like I must be doing something to perpetuate this silent and unyielding hostility, but I really have no idea what I might have done to create and sustain it.
I'm Gen X. She is nearly seventy years old and in poor health (although she takes every opportunity in meetings to announce that she is going to work until she dies in her cube, a thing I think in considering her apparent health is very likely to happen), which I think is part of why her outrageous behavior is tolerated, but it certainly doesn't explain everything. I once observed her say to her boss in the presence of several other people (including her boss' boss) that she didn't understand why he had to make everything so complicated. She said this in a tone that would have prompted at least a written warning for insubordination in my previous work culture and more likely would have resulted in her firing. The difference in work culture also makes it hard for me to know whether or not this situation is as outrageous as I think it is - I came from a very orderly, type-A sort of workplace and this corporation is the opposite.
I was telling a friend about how this morning I greeted the woman and the other woman who behaves similarly as they walked down the hall and they physically recoiled. They both turned their bodies away from me toward the wall as they walked by and one of them muttered 'morning' in the lowest possible monotone, resuming the conversation in a normal tones. I expressed how baffled I was by this behavior to my friend when I have tried (and still continue to try, pointless though it seems) to be professional and cordial in spite of this treatment. He told me that I was too sensitive and that such behavior would not bother him at all because if he didn't care about what she thought he wouldn't care about how she behaved. I do not consider myself an overly-sensitive person, but I really don't think I'm a delicate plant for finding her persistent behavior off-putting and mysterious. I also don't intend to stop trying to be civil and professional, however disheartening it may be to continually extend overtures and be frozen out.
So my two questions around this situation are these: How unusual is this type of behavior in a white/pink collar office environment? To what extent would this behavior bother you in a similar situation?