How can I deal with a person at work who seems to be publicly shunning me?
January 30, 2008 9:00 AM   Subscribe

How can I deal with a person at work who seems to be publicly shunning me? (She is not my direct supervisor, but she does hold some control over the funding for my department, and therefore, my job.)

Last spring, I was assigned to a project that was the subject of some inter-departmental fighting. To make matters worse, before the project started, I was in the unenviable position of having to point out some pre-existing flaws in the project that required money to fix them. The longer they went unfixed, the more money this would eventually cost. This caused even more inter-departmental fighting.

Six months later, one of the administrators involved in the project still will not speak to me. I am pretty sure it is about this project, and is a kind of "shoot-the-messenger" situation. As I said above, she is not my boss, but she does hold power in that she controls some funding for my department.

Here are some examples of her behaviour:

1) I pass her in the hall and say hello; she ignores me and says nothing. (Before all this, she would always say hi to me.)
2) I am talking with a colleague and she passes by; the colleague and I say hello to her, and in return she stops, grasps my colleague's arm and says "Hello, _______." She says nothing to me, then she walks on.
3) She is the first person present for a meeting with my department. I walk in with two colleagues and we all say hello to her. She says, "Hello, ________. Hello, __________." And does not acknowledge me.
4) I send her an e-mail requesting information on some upcoming projects she is involved in; in the e-mail I say that my schedule is very flexible right now and I am available to meet any time in the next few weeks. She waits a week to reply, then sends me an e-mail saying, "I am not available to meet with you on any of the dates you proposed." I did not actually propose any specific dates in my original e-mail. This e-mail was intended on my part as a bit of an olive branch--I thought maybe if we met and talked in person it would smooth over hard feelings; but it was also a sort of test to make sure I wasn't just imagining that she is avoiding/shunning me.

Several of my colleagues have noticed and commented to me about her behaviour without my prompting. It is getting to the point where other people are noticing, and that disturbs me. I should add that I am well-liked by my colleagues and I get along with my direct supervisor. (This woman does not get along with my direct supervisor, and has in fact been witnessed shouting at her in meetings.)

I am concerned, because although we don't work together directly, she does have the ability to affect my job and my career, through funding decisions or programming decisions. I have not gone to my boss with this because I do not want to be a tattletale and I would like to solve this in a professional way. I have not confronted this woman directly because I don't know if this is the best approach and I don't want to inadvertently make things worse.

So far, I have chosen to take the high road and have been unfailingly polite to her. I always greet and acknowledge her even though this is not reciprocated. I think I will continue to take the high road--it's usually best in the long run--but wonder if there is anything else I could be doing.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Continue to take the high road.

Several of my colleagues have noticed and commented to me about her behaviour without my prompting. It is getting to the point where other people are noticing...


This will likely work in your favor: people are noticing her behavior, and they will almost certainly notice that you are behaving professionally. This only makes her look bad.

I would document (keep emails, etc.) those instances where she blocks your attempts to meet with her, get information from her that you need, etc. - in other words, any times when she's obstructed your ability to do your job. This, and the fact that she's obviously being unprofessional, will go a long way towards helping your case if she begins to interfere with your funding or career.

I'm leaning towards saying you should have a quiet sit-down with her, but honestly, I don't know how well that would work. Just keep being professional, don't bad-mouth her to your colleagues, and document document document.

Good luck.
posted by rtha at 9:10 AM on January 30, 2008


From what you've described, I'm not sure what good an un-mediated confrontation would accomplish, she obviously wants to piss you off/get under your skin/etc. I would just go talk to your boss about it, and then they can decide what to do about the situation, or if they're unresponsive, your HR department should be able to figure out what to do.

It sounds like you're in an academic setting, and my understanding is that those places are breeding grounds for all sorts of absurd rivalries and grudges. I wouldn't worry about it too much unless she actively starts to fuck with you.
posted by delmoi at 9:15 AM on January 30, 2008


So far, I have chosen to take the high road and have been unfailingly polite to her. I always greet and acknowledge her even though this is not reciprocated. I think I will continue to take the high road--it's usually best in the long run--but wonder if there is anything else I could be doing.

Nope, you're doing everything you can do.

It is getting to the point where other people are noticing, and that disturbs me.

Hmm... I actually find that other people noticing is what moves these situations forward. Heck, if I were in your position I would be going out of my way to have her shun me in front of her colleagues and her boss, if possible. That wouldn't be the high road, but I would take great pleasure in watching her sabotage her career by being petty.

That said, I'm sorry you've found yourself in this position. You've done the right thing in extending olive branches, but if she's unwilling to accept them there's not much you can do.
posted by tkolar at 9:18 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Going to your boss is not being a tattle-tale. It is your boss's job to deal with stuff like this. If something is affecting your ability to do your job (or is an indicator of future trouble for your project), it is your responsibility to tell your boss. It's your boss's job to make sure you can get things done. I don't think you can fix this by yourself and I don't think it's your responsibility to do so.
posted by winston at 9:20 AM on January 30, 2008


I am a passive, make-friends sort of person. And I used to be that way at work. Every time I have gone out of my way to make friendly with annoyed/angry/not-friendly coworkers in anything less than a direct way, it has bit me in the ass. Also, the people who play the alpha dog game in their heads take that as a sign of weakness.

So now if someone hates me (and I can always tell), I just let it go. If there's something that gets in the way of work performance, I address it directly. I leave nothing soft. I don't "talk over" emotions, but tangible actions. I do EVERYTHING in email so I have a trail. I mention bosses names if I'm not getting a response without being a threat. 'Let me know if I should ask BOSS NAME to clear some time on your schedule or assign someone else.'

In short, be professional. Get stuff done. Document things without backing her into a corner. Continue to say hello, but don't be over effusive or over do it. Stay out of her way unless you have a specific need to interact.

This kind of petty stuff usually works itself out in that "give 'em enough rope" way. You don't want to be in shrapnel range.
posted by Gucky at 9:21 AM on January 30, 2008 [7 favorites]


The one detour I'd take from the high road is to occasionally make it clear that the unprofessional, childish behavior is solely on her part and is childish and unprofessional. So if someone comments on her behavior, reply that you're tried to reach out, but have met no success, and it causing a bit of a problem. Your solicitous and puzzled attitude will help.
posted by theora55 at 9:35 AM on January 30, 2008


I've been in similar situations. The High Road you're on is always the right one. Though, in light of #4, I would bring this up with your boss in the context of her being professionally uncooperative. Don't even bring up the personal issues, just that she is being an obstacle to you getting your work done.
posted by mkultra at 9:35 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Good for you for taking the high road and keeping it business like. Since she's clearly still on the playground. (Let me guess, she's also created a sekret clubhouse and elected herself secretary-treasurer!)

Since your behavior has been beyond reproach, I think you're in the clear to approach her directly. Start with a business question, and if she still refuses to speak/acknowledge you, you could counter with "uhhh, is there a problem?" Look her straight in the eye.

It's always a helpful negotiation strategy to be able to say that you did everything possible to reconcile prior to escalating.
posted by desuetude at 9:46 AM on January 30, 2008


The only thing I'd add that hasn't been said is that next time you try #4, cc your supervisor on the email. Your supervisor needs to be able to document these instances as well as you do in order to be able to do anything.
posted by Pollomacho at 10:08 AM on January 30, 2008


This woman does not get along with my direct supervisor, and has in fact been witnessed shouting at her in meetings.

She's not just shooting the messenger. Continue to be friendly, professional, competent, and nonconfrontational. It's a drag, but difficult people are a part of life, and you are at least in a position of some protection from her.
posted by caitlinb at 10:58 AM on January 30, 2008


Don't CC your supervisor. It's passive aggressive.

Go talk to a mutual supervisor. Explain that you're finding this person to impede your job function and make the workplace disagreeable. Do so with nicer language.

Make sure you come to your supervisor/hr department with the idea that you're at your wits end. That you've attempted to be polite and if that person can't seem to be cordial and professional, that perhaps those functions that involve you be assigned to someone else.

The nastier they become, the nicer you should behave.
posted by filmgeek at 11:00 AM on January 30, 2008


Just to throw some information from an expert out there, The Greater Good Magazien just did an article on this topic. It says alot fo teh stuff said here but thought I would make it available.
Are You a Jerk at Work? Robert I. Sutton explains how to handle bullies in the office—and prevent your own “inner jerk” from getting out.
posted by elationfoundation at 11:10 AM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yes to taking the high road, and yes to documenting everything.

Also, your supervisor always needs to know if something (or in this case, someone) is preventing (or could prevent) you from doing your job. There is a way to have this conversation without being schoolyard/tattletale. Don't focus on the interpersonal, "so-and-so doesn't like me" element. Instead, present it as "FYI, just wanted to make you aware of this situation -- it might present a challenge on Project XYZ." Otherwise, if so-and-so does mess with your funding because she has an axe to grind, your supervisor doesn't know what's going on until it's too late -- bad idea. actually, you know, mkultra said it better. drat.
posted by somanyamys at 11:30 AM on January 30, 2008


My read is that your effort at scheduling a meeting with her was purely to try to address this. If it's not impeding your ability to do your job then I'd say you file that email away and just go on with how you've been doing things.

She's the one who's looking like the ass here, not you. Odds are good that if she's prepared to behave this way towards you then you're not the first or only person she's done this to. So continue to be a professional about it. It's already come to the attention of people above you (your boss) that she's a loose cannon.

I disagree with the filmgeek that it's passive-agressive to cc: the person's boss. It's her boss' job to insure that she's managing her time and fulfilling her duties and if she's willing to shirk her responsibilities just to be petty then you need to do what you have to in order to force her to stop impeding you. You should certainly modify the content of your message in light of the cc - acknowledge the impact to their time and schedules and ask for them to find a way to fit something in - but I don't see any reason you should feel reluctant to ask someone to stop impeding you.
posted by phearlez at 12:55 PM on January 30, 2008


Definitely the high road.

And in terms of how this looks to others, rest assured that to outside observers, the person who acts like a 12 year old holding a grudge is usually perceived as being more socially unattractive. When you respond to her well in front of other people, it increases your credibility in the office. Chances are pretty good that you aren't the first one she's held a grudge against.
posted by SpacemanStix at 1:17 PM on January 30, 2008


I agree, based on what you say, that you are in the right and should continue taking the high road. All things being equal, you'll win. Unless the person happens to be related to someone higher up.

Anyway, I have used the CC the boss trick ONLY after not getting a response first. The first, and even the second, contact is always one on one.

"Suzie-
I sent an email (attached) last week requesting such and such information. I need to finalize my schedule for week x, so please give my your availability for a 1 hour meeting on the Jenkins project. If we don't meet by Feb. 30th, I will be unable to meet our goals for the project.

Thanks in advance,
Normal Employee
"

CCing the boss on things like this reassures them that you aren't the screwup. Sure, they know it, but when The Big Guy in the Corner Office starts asking questions, your boss has data to back up his assertion that you're not a slacker.
posted by gjc at 6:12 PM on January 30, 2008


Everything the folks above said. Plus:

Next time you see her, especially if others are in the area, walk right up to her and offer a friendly "hello." Get right iher tracks and kill her with kindness. Ask her about her kids, discuss that TV show she likes, and force her to engage with you or run screaming away. It will be really hard for her to continue this passive/agressive crap. She's depending on you slinking away, so don't do it. Don't let her get away. Make her snap at you. You'll have the upper hand and her behavior will be underlined, and you'll be seen as tough but nice among your collegues.
posted by Blingo at 7:59 PM on January 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


I agree with those who suggest you continue to take the high road. I'm no doctor but she sounds like she's got a pretty severe personality disorder. I've worked with people who behave like that at the workplace and if you can get by without talking to your boss about her, then don't go to your boss. Just keep maintaining your sunny disposition...it is guaranteed to break up her behavior eventually in one way or another. People who shun others at the workplace have a serious interpersonal deficit and you just want to do what you can to avoid her and make sure you don't have contact with her unless you absolutely must. I totally sympathize with you. That type of coworker just completely sucks the bag.
posted by mamaraks at 8:07 PM on January 30, 2008


Stay on the high road. This woman has held a grudge for nearly a year. Everyone knows she's being pouty and unprofessional.

Simply ignore her behavior. Continue to treat her as a professional. Don't go around her. When she needs to provide you with information then ask her for it. If she refuses to do her job, then escalate it.

She can be a brat. However if she's being a brat who prevents the work from being accomplished, then it's an issue for her manager.
posted by 26.2 at 8:21 AM on February 1, 2008


Next time you see her, especially if others are in the area, walk right up to her and offer a friendly "hello." Get right iher tracks and kill her with kindness. Ask her about her kids, discuss that TV show she likes, and force her to engage with you or run screaming away. It will be really hard for her to continue this passive/agressive crap. She's depending on you slinking away, so don't do it. Don't let her get away. Make her snap at you. You'll have the upper hand and her behavior will be underlined, and you'll be seen as tough but nice among your collegues.

This kind of public insincerity is just as passive-aggressive as she's being.
posted by mkultra at 11:58 AM on February 1, 2008


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