How can I politely get a co-worker to stop pursuing a friendship with me?
November 27, 2008 1:12 PM   Subscribe

How can I politely get a co-worker to stop pursuing a friendship with me? A lot more inside.

I am a manager of a department at my place of employment. There is a young lady who works in another department who has taken quite a liking to me, and it is becoming a problem for me.

It started when I took a couple of smoke breaks and happened to bump into her outside. We would chit-chat about harmless things, and she seemed fairly normal. Then, one day, she asked me to go out for a drink with her and some of the work people. But, when I got there, it was just her and her fiancee. Sort of weird, but I was polite and stayed. But, it was on this occasion that I realized that I did not want to have a friendship with her, because she turned out to be an extremely negative person. She spent the whole evening saying awful, disgusting things about our co-workers that I believe were completely made up. For example she told me that one of our co-workers was arrested for molesting and selling drugs to minors. She told me that another was fired from a previous job for both racial and sexual harassment. I have no idea whether or not these things are true, I tend to think they aren't and I don't care, but either way, I think it is extremely inappropriate to spread these rumors.

Anyway, after that evening, I promptly stopped taking smoke breaks. I had hoped that this would give her the hint that I am not interested in talking with her. But now instead, she comes to my office every hour or so and cries and complains about her life. Her complaints range from her being "so much smarter" than her co-workers and how she never gets recognized for it, to things like her ex-boyfriend calling her to ask for his stuff back. She even called me from her office to tell me she has an emergency that she must speak with me about, and when I arranged some time to meet with her, thinking the emergency was work-related, I found out that the emergency was something about her ex-boyfriend's new girlfriend calling her house or something equally stupid. She is taking time away from me to complete my job. I have told her that I don't have time to talk, but she just sits there and rambles. I don't make eye contact, I do not respond with anything other than a cold, "uh-huh," but she cannot take a hint.

This lady has a major reputation for not getting any work done (and I can see how because she spends her entire day trying to chit-chat with me or sending me clips to videos she finds on YouTube), and I do not want to be associated with her at all.

Even yesterday she invited me to Thanksgiving with her family, as if we were good friends rather than work acquaintances. I told her that I have my own family with whom I was planning to spend the day, and she sort of gave that look that undeniably says, "you bitch." And she also has started bringing me gifts that I do not want and I do not accept, but she continues to bring me things. She also calls my cell phone on the weekends (she got my number off the emergency snow phone tree list) and asks me to go out with her. I never answer, but she leaves messages. Then at work, I never acknowledge that she called. Sometimes she asks why I didn't call back and I just pretend I never got the message.

Actually, the whole thing is verging on stalker-y. She makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

But, as I said, I am trying to be polite because we work together, so it's not as if I have the option to never see her again. Also, due to her propensity for making up damaging rumors about people, I afraid to get on her bad side.

So, please, can anyone give me some advice on how to deal with this person? As I said, I want to be as polite as possible, but I need to be definitive. I had considered going to her boss (my peer), but unfortunately, her boss just quit the job and I know that the boss's replacement will be busy training and adjusting to his or her new position, and I would hate to dump this on them while they are trying to adjust.

Ugh! She called now! Trying again to sell me on this idea of spending Thanksgiving with her! Help me!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried saying "I don't want to be friends with you so please stop calling me"?
posted by tristeza at 1:19 PM on November 27, 2008

People like this don't take "hints", and they barely understand blunt honesty. You HAVE to be blunt and honest. You can't be subtle, you've tried that and it doesn't work.

Tell your supervisor, also, if it's interfering with your job.
posted by tristeza at 1:21 PM on November 27, 2008 [6 favorites]

Just a thought: You're a manager, which means your highers ups see a lot of leadership skills and strength in you. As this person - manager of a department, skilled enough to earn a great position of this kind, you have what it takes to just tell this person you are far too busy to talk about these personal dramas, and that she needs to stop wasting her own time at work. If she won't take all the hints you so obviously are giving her, you're just going to have to be blunt and tell her.

I expect you'll hear horrible stories about yourself in the weeks following, but all the more reason to distance yourself from someone who just sounds toxic.
posted by lottie at 1:31 PM on November 27, 2008

Learning how to deal with people like this successfully is part of becoming a mature adult. You may have to try a few things - almost as if you are putting up barriers one at a time or in layers - until this stops.

Be sure to never answer the phone when she calls. If you are not expected to handle this level of problem on your own, ask your own manager for help or suggetions in getting her out of your office.

I read something on the internet once (but can't find it now) containing tricks to get people out of your office. The only one that sticks in mind is when the person comes in, get up and spray Febreze on your chair.
posted by andreap at 1:45 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

The way I avoided co-workers getting too chummy was with this rather jaded but true statement:

"I'd like to make one thing clear. I am here first and foremost to do my job. I have all the friends I need outside of the workplace."

This didn't mean I completely withdrew from interaction with people. But it made it clear that I was not interested in gossip or any of the office politics that were rampant at my office. This is essential if you are in a supervisory or managerial position.

If telling her honestly and bluntly doesn't help, bring in HR. That's the kind of thing they're trained to deal with. It would also go a long way towards covering your ass if the merde hits the fan.
posted by arishaun at 1:57 PM on November 27, 2008 [5 favorites]

Prepare for fallout when you tell her off. I'd poll some co-workers to see how many of them this has happened to before - it probably won't matter if she's got a rep for being a nutbar. The "child molester" she talked about may have been another suitor who rejected her batshitinsane advances.
posted by benzenedream at 1:59 PM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

Hm. Either she's desperate for friends (seems possible considering the personality you're describing) or her fiance likes you and she's fishing for sex. Both are sort of sad, but still, you have to work, right?

Either way, though, I think "I really need to work here." will kill most of the annoyance, or you can escalate with a white lie like "I've already been warned about wandering around and chatting during work hours." or even "I don't want to be the one seen as not working enough if there are cutbacks because of the economy." might serve a couple of purposes at once.
posted by rokusan at 2:16 PM on November 27, 2008

Be repetitive but don't explain, and don't invite her to do it later.

Coming into your office for a chat.
"I'm sorry, now's not a good time, I'm really busy, have a deadline, could you leave?" (Don't say maybe later here)

Invitation to social event on a specified day
"I can't, I have other plans."

Invitation to social event without a specified day
"I don't think so. It's not my type of thing, really."

Questions about why you're so unresponsive and damn antisocial
"I have a lot of work on right now, and can't be very social."

Repeat, repeat, repeat. As much as possible, pre-plan these little scripts so you're not caught with a sudden "oh, sorry, I'll try and make it to this event of yours because you finally made me feel so guilty." Preplanning helps to avoid saying anything inflammatory that will a. cause her go to vengeful on you, and b. get around in gossip as an unethical behaviour, like saying "Listen, crazy lady, why don't you just leave me alone and get back on the mental bus?"
posted by b33j at 2:33 PM on November 27, 2008 [5 favorites]

Found it:

I hope the humor makes you feel better and I apologize if this is construed as a wisecrack.
posted by andreap at 2:39 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

she works in another department? talk to her manager, off the record, and talk to your manager. document it. put it in writing. seriously, things are weird and going to get weirder and if you have already documented it in writing, when she does try to do something totally off the wall, all you have to say is, "i was concerned about this months/weeks ago and documented it to management". it's not about CYA, it's about the fact that batshit crazy people can twist things around big time.

also, if she's not working and she's bothering you because she's not working, again, let her manager deal with it.

otherwise, the other suggestions above are good ones.

do not answer phone calls. do not return emails. ignore. ignore. ignore. but DOCUMENT IT FIRST, because the minute you start doing that, she's going to go complain to your manager.
posted by micawber at 2:46 PM on November 27, 2008 [11 favorites]

I'd dump it on her boss even if s/he is new. This needs to stop, and going to someone higher-up may be what you need.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:47 PM on November 27, 2008

Seconding micawber's advice and you may want to talk to a Human Relations rep at work. You need to be the one who brings the problem to HR's attention rather than getting them sicced on you by a spurned and vengeful stalker.
posted by codswallop at 3:09 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

D'oh, resources., I mean. Freudian slip, there :)
posted by codswallop at 3:09 PM on November 27, 2008


I came into this post thinking it would be just another "I don't want to be friends. I'm so popular already etc". But shit... You are absolutely on the ball here. She sounds crazy.

My advice is personal. I do not work in HR. But this is just gut feeling.

the first thing I would do is tell someone in HR, or your boss, about this. You do not want to wait until after she turns all bitchy to share the above information. It doesn't have to be an overly aggresive "escalation" to your boss or HR. But just say something along the lines of "X is pestering me at work, and negatively impacting my ability to be productive. I am not making a formal complaint, but I woudl like some guidance as to how your recommend I deal with this situation". Preferably in writing.

Just my 2c's.

Good luck.
posted by Mephisto at 4:14 PM on November 27, 2008 [2 favorites]

You are in a position of authority so rather than frame it as a personal rejection of her friendship, deal with it in the appropriate context. Tell her that you've noticed how she uses her time and you expect her performance to improve. I imagine the social aspects of this problem will fall away as the professional ones are addressed. Find out what the policy is for performance management: is it a verbal warning, then a written warning? Does it take place during regularly scheduled meetings? Find out how she's evaluated and make sure this is mentioned during the process.

I second micawber's suggestion of putting your concerns in writing. Specify exactly what's happened thus far, the steps you took to distance yourself from her and what you've noticed about her performance. You should speak with her new manager - there's no need for your reputation to suffer (as it most likely will) as a result of this.

In sum: if you are proactive, her comments will carry less weight.
posted by cranberrymonger at 4:33 PM on November 27, 2008

Another thought:

Instead of "tattling" on her to HR, express your concern for her mental health.

Hell, express it to her if you need to. State that you've observed she has many problems and that you don't feel equipped to recommend any course of action. Suggest (very delicately) that she might want to speak with someone else.
posted by cranberrymonger at 4:34 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

One final thought!

I had a roommate that wouldn't take hints. At one point I got up, grabbed her by the shoulders and pushed her backwards out of my room, her talking all the while. She still persisted after this incident...

...some people need to be bludgeoned with the truth. This girl sounds like she's had a lot of social rejection and is probably immune to a lot of the hints (since she experiences these signs so often, she doesn't realize what they mean). Be firm and good luck.
posted by cranberrymonger at 4:36 PM on November 27, 2008

Definitely talk to HR and submit a written statement.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 4:42 PM on November 27, 2008

She spent the whole evening saying awful, disgusting things about our co-workers that I believe were completely made up. For example she told me that one of our co-workers was arrested for molesting and selling drugs to minors. She told me that another was fired from a previous job for both racial and sexual harassment. I have no idea whether or not these things are true, I tend to think they aren't and I don't care, but either way, I think it is extremely inappropriate to spread these rumors.

I'm sure you've probably realised that, once she gets the message that you don't want to know her, she'll latch onto a new 'friend' and will tell that person nasty untrue stuff about you too.
posted by essexjan at 4:45 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

the whole thing is verging on stalker-y. She makes me incredibly uncomfortable.

Wow. What a lousy position to be in.

I'm not sure how blunt you've been, but I imagine there must be times when you can say, "I'm sorry, I take my job seriously, and I can't hang out / talk / listen or whatever." And then just hang up, turn your back, or whatever.

That said, if this person truly is as unhinged as you say she is, someone up top will eventually notice and kick her to the road. Don't let her take you down with her.

If you haven't already I would pursue some avenue with either your boss or your company's HR department where by you lodge your concerns with the company bureaucracy. You don't have to rat her out just yet - indeed, she seems like an incredibly dangerous foe to have - imagine if she was saying the things about you that she said about your other coworkers! Rather you maybe able to say, "Look, I'm having a problem with a coworker, if things don't get better on their own, I may need some help." It would at least cover your ass in the event of some melt down with her.

Good luck.
posted by wfrgms at 4:45 PM on November 27, 2008

The reason you don't take the obvious route of telling her flat-out "please stop trying to be my friend: I find you vile" seems to be that you're afraid of her spreading negative rumors about you. It seems to me the solution would be to go to whoever is supposed to be in charge of her and explain the whole situation, how it affects your ability to do your job effectively, and ask her manager or other superior to have a talk with her about focusing on work during work hours. That undermines the (already dubious) credibility of any nasty rumors that happen to emerge about you afterwards.
posted by MaxK at 4:54 PM on November 27, 2008

I agree with all the above, but I want to add that I think that if you don't deal with it very directly first, it may reflect poorly on you if you take it higher up. The first question they may ask is "Did you tell her to just quit it?"

So I think I'm with Micawber: Document, tell her directly, and failing that, go higher up, and pull the documentation card then with HR.
posted by lottie at 5:20 PM on November 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Micawber has it. Document everything. Report it. Be unwavering in that this must stop, and it is interfering with your work. Once you have reported, block her number on your personal phone. This woman is poison, and she will be out of a job by her own faults sooner or later. If she is fired and attempts to contact you, consider a restraining order. This is no joke, some people simply refuse to leave things be.

No matter how much she hates you for it, you must document, report, and cut her off. Unless work explicitly requires you to do so, do not engage in contact with her for any reason. She will hate you, she will say things, and people who have heard anything from her mouth should know that it is nothing but sour grapes. She won't last much longer, and if she is harassing you, then HR needs to handle this.

She's an adult. Let her handle her own horrible dramatic problems on her own. You don't need to have any sympathy for her.
posted by Saydur at 8:38 PM on November 27, 2008

Nthing that you need to go to HR and get this documented. Just tell them exactly what you told us. After you do that, you can push her away harder. She probably will try to spread rumors about you, but at least you will have done damage control preemptively. If she's as nuts as she sounds, you might even have to change your phone number.

You really HAVE to do this. Even if you were willing to keep coasting by in this situation, if she's crazy, she may arbitrarily decide she doesn't like you without you even doing anything different. Then the same stuff may happen as if you do tell her off, but you'll have had to deal with her crap forever, and won't have protected yourself at work.
posted by fructose at 9:05 PM on November 27, 2008

For you, as a manager, to listen to her gossip about other employees is utterly inappropriate. She's behaving badly and you're letting her get away with it. Tell her the chit-chats are at an end. Now.
posted by Carol Anne at 6:04 AM on November 28, 2008 [1 favorite]

document, and speak to her manager. if you are her manager, tell her she has one opportunity to stop and then you will escalate higher (or fire her, if you can). she sounds really unstable. if your workplace has an employee assistance program, you might suggest she call for a referral to a therapist for her problems, because you are neither qualified nor have the time.
posted by thinkingwoman at 8:06 AM on November 28, 2008

Micawber has it. Though one way you might begin to approach this with a boss is to ask for advice in how to deal with the situation: you can subtly let them know you are having this problem and are working to address it- without feeling like you are flat out gossiping or being weirdly vindictive. I don't think you are being that way, and I strongly believe you need to be talking to someone with some authority about this, as well as documenting everything. But I know it can also feel very uncomfortable to do anything that feels like "tattling" even if it really is the most professional thing to do. Sometimes presenting this sort of thing as a problem that needs solving for the good of all involved can make it feel less uncomfortable, and also puts you in a more detached, constructive position.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:34 AM on November 28, 2008

Some of this advice depends on whether the Human Resources person is going to be discreet with your information. The last thing you want to to focus on her job performance, especially if she is capable of spreading crazy bs around to all your employees.

I definitely don't think she deserves a straightforward explanation, as she will invariably use it against you. How about a suggestion (after ignoring her for a few days) that someone higher up has noticed her chatting with you all the time and that it would be best for both of you to avoid talking at work, for her sake as well as yours? This only works if you have a boss up the chain who is both authoritarian and mysterious.

Good luck, she sounds terribly chaotic.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:29 PM on November 28, 2008

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