Dealing with lunatics at work 101
June 30, 2009 9:19 AM   Subscribe

A co-worker rants and raves constantly and I'm getting sick of it. What to do?

I'm a 30 year old male. There's a 25 year old female co-worker who I seem to be having a personality conflict with, and I'm not sure how to resolve it.

We're both attorneys. I've been here for a year and a half, and she was admitted to the bar this past August. Since this woman has become an attorney at the firm (she was previously a law clerk), she sees fit to go off on tirades about how something is stupid or how she doesn't agree with something. I seem to be the target of these attacks more often than others.

Last week, a group of us were having lunch, and there was much joking. I'm from an Eastern culture, and often make fun of myself and my countrymen. Well, I made a joking comment in the course of the conversation and she went off.

She handles the workflow for personal injury cases at the firm, and so whenever I have a PI matter, I go to her to have the proper groundwork laid out. She is now saying that I can handle my own cases and that she won't help me. This is fine from a practical standpoint, but I feel a bit put out.

I did apologize to her for offending her with my remarks, but all she said was, "It's not just your 'jokes'". That's led me to avoid her, so I haven't eaten lunch with my co-workers in a few days now.

How should I address this issue? Thinking back, I don't feel like I'm responsible for her sensitivity and I have already apologized. Should I just say screw off and find other lunch plans or should I try to ingratiate myself to her?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
I wish you'd given more detail about your "joking comment" or the topics she "rants and raves" at you about. As it is, it's really hard to tell what her issue is, and therefore it's really hard to tell how to address it.

It sounds like she doesn't like you, but since I have no idea why, I have no idea if it's fixable.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:23 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


"It's not just your 'jokes'".

You need to ask what else it is, then. In neutral terms making it clear you want to at least be able to work together with some civillity.

Basically, you need to find out why she doesn't like you, and accommodate where reasonable.
posted by owtytrof at 9:30 AM on June 30, 2009


Well, I made a joking comment in the course of the conversation and she went off.

What was the comment, what exactly do you mean by "she went off," what motivated her to do so, and in why did that one incident cause you to be ousted from the lunch table?

she sees fit to go off on tirades about how something is stupid or how she doesn't agree with something. I seem to be the target of these attacks more often than others.


"Attacks"? Without specifics, it seems like you might just be oversensitive to criticism.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:38 AM on June 30, 2009


I would discuss this with a managing partner who knows and likes your work. If her personal problems with you are affecting the way you work, your superiors need to know. Keep the discussion as neutral and factual as possible--you're not tattling, you're asking for advice about how to deal with her.

I would also stop avoiding her socially. You can't let her cut you off from your friends at work. Keep going to lunch, and next time she goes off on you give a half smile and be silent until she's done. Then change the subject. It will make her look ridiculous. Eventually everyone will realize how obnoxious she is, but until then, don't let her crowd you out.
posted by kathrineg at 9:40 AM on June 30, 2009


I don't feel like I'm responsible for her sensitivity


If you actually want to resolve this, you might want to re-examine that particular attitude and referring to her as a 'lunatic'.

Those are pretty much red flags on fire that say "I have absolutely no interest in hearing what you have to say" and effectively rule out the remotest possibility of resolution.

If you don't want to resolve it with her directly, find someone who can sit down with the two of you together to mediate, clear things up, and create a framework where the requirements of the job can be fulfilled.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 9:40 AM on June 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


As others have said, you are too vague - can you follow up with a mod? You posted anon. Why on earth wouldn't you provide as much detail as possible?
posted by peep at 9:42 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


In case it's not clear, I don't think you should ingratiate yourself with her any further, it's probably hopeless.
posted by kathrineg at 9:44 AM on June 30, 2009


She sees fit to go off on tirades about how something is stupid or how she doesn't agree with something. I seem to be the target of these attacks more often than others.

Which demands the followup: how do these others feel?
posted by rokusan at 9:59 AM on June 30, 2009


I will echo the above comments about need more information. But the situation does sound similar to an experience I have been in.

In the end, I say just be professional, be cordial, but don't try and win her over.

She might well be just an insecure person overcompensating by taking the moral high-ground or trying to be tough. This was the situation in my work place. I actually ended up feeling a little sorry for her, she alienated everyone I work with and her insecurity spilled into her personal life where she was unable to keep a relationship, a friendship.. or in the end, even a house-mate.

If that is the case, just realise that you only have to deal with her problems a few hours a day. She has to deal with her problems all the time. That insight really helped me, and gave me to strength to just put up with her.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 10:21 AM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


"It's not just your 'jokes'"
+
She handles the workflow for personal injury cases at the firm, and so whenever I have a PI matter, I go to her to have the proper groundwork laid out. She is now saying that I can handle my own cases and that she won't help me. This is fine from a practical standpoint, but I feel a bit put out.

I don't understand who workflow works in a law firm, so I might be completely off base here and zoning in on the wrong things. However, you say that it's fine from a practical standpoint (having to manage your own cases), but you feel put out. You also point out that you've been there for a year and a half vs. the fact that she started as a law clerk before she was admitted to the bar almost a year ago. Is it possible that you aren't treating her with the same respect and professional courtesy that you would give to an attorney who started with the firm after being admitted to the bar? Maybe you haven't fully stopped seeing her as a law clerk and haven't started seeing her as a peer? If that's the case and you are treating her as having lesser status, even if you're doing this subconsciously, I can understand how frustrated and "put out" she might be feeling.

Since she said it isn't just your jokes, you have to consider that something else is going on, and not that she's just a ranting lunatic. If it's possible that you've offended her by treating her as a lesser attorney or an attorney working in more of an assistant capacity, then the problem is you, not her. Possibly her for being passive aggressive about it instead of telling you to get off your high horse, but her poor reaction doesn't make it any more acceptable to treat her as a subordinate.

Again, no idea about how law firms work, legal workflow or the standard role of a JR attorney. I'm basing this on the fact that she said it was more than your jokes, you touched upon her role, and also that the struggle to erase the "assistant" image post-promotion is pretty standard in all offices and all industries.
posted by necessitas at 10:58 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


In that sort of professional environment, she really needs to take the apology and move on. A law firm is a bad place to have personal conflicts affect your ability to work. It leads to nothing good.

Try another apology, a sincere apology, with the promise to not do whatever you did again. Ask her to accept the apology, and move on, as you are all professionals and need to at least work together as professionals from now on. You do not need to have lunch with her any more.

If her behavior continues to affect your ability to work, elevate it, knowing that you may shoulder just as much blame as she.

And stop making racist / stereotypical jokes, even if it's mean to be self-deprecating. I hope your sense of humor doesn't rely on those kinds of jokes. They can be unprofessional as well.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:19 AM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Someone's being inappropriate here. It may well be her. It could also be you. It could be both of you.

Ask another colleague for feedback.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:25 AM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


follow-up from the OP
I've been asked by many people to provide followups as to the comments I made that led to my co-workers.

I'm South Asian, so I've made references to Afghanis being savages and the Arabs being warlike. She is neither Arab nor Asian, so it's perplexing as to why she's so offended.

The only thing I can think of that could be even mildly offensive was a joke I made on St, Patty's Day about one of my relatives from India getting stranded in Ireland and becoming one of the elusive 'Brown Irish'.

That's about all I can think of.
posted by jessamyn at 2:07 PM on June 30, 2009


Ah, yes. There's the problem. You're an insensitive, racist ass. Glad we could help!

...Seriously. You can't see why someone would object to dealing with a person who made absurdly racist remarks in a work environment? I'm not sure that's fixable, really. Hie thee to HR and get them to explain to you why it's a bad thing before someone files a complaint and gets you fired.
posted by restless_nomad at 2:15 PM on June 30, 2009 [26 favorites]


Um, yeah, it doesn't really matter where you're from or what your heritage is, saying that Afghanis are savages or Arabs are warlike is not ok in a professional setting (or, honestly, any other setting).

Even if you think it's a funny way to play off stereotypes of what someone with your background might say, while you're far too civilized to actually think those things (I am desperately trying to give you the benefit of the doubt here), those are the kind of jokes you restrict to your very closest group of friends who will be sure to understand your special brand of humor. Racial jokes have NO place in the office.
posted by vytae at 2:32 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


She is neither Arab nor Asian, so it's perplexing as to why she's so offended.


You're honestly perplexed? In all sincerity, if you're going to spend the next few decades of your life trying to advance your career, you very much need to learn why someone could be offended by racist comments even though "hey, it's not about you!"
posted by the bricabrac man at 2:54 PM on June 30, 2009 [6 favorites]


i'm as western european mutt as they come, but when my extended family makes watermelon and chicken jokes or uses offensive terms to describe minorities, i stop talking to them. i haven't spoken to most of the members on one side of my family for more than 10 years due to this. i'd would have even less tolerance of this from a coworker. i would be aghast if i were a lawyer and one of my colleagues thought that was appropriate workplace banter.

racism is racism, no matter who the audience. hopefully you don't handle harassment/discrimination cases.

maybe a hat in your hand, heartfelt private apology will go a long way.
posted by nadawi at 3:52 PM on June 30, 2009 [4 favorites]


The bottom line is that clearly you have offended this person. I'm not sure that your jokes during lunch are necessarily unprofessional, and I wouldn't go so far as to call them racist, but they are certainly ill-advised, to say the least. Never underestimate another person's capacity to become offended by anything at all, big or small, or for that matter their right to be so offended, or the consequences of their outrage. Offer this woman another apology (sans sarcasm) and express your sincere desire to maintain a healthy professional relationship and to work together to do what is best for the firm. And follow through on this pledge in every way.

If she still refuses to work with you, that is a problem and it is in your interest to make it her problem and hers alone. Keep your mouth shut around her, don't make waves in the office, and make sure your work is absolutely unimpeachable. If, as you say, you do not need her help to excel at your job, that's great, but you should still ask her to perform the work that she would normally do for you. Again, if she refuses, that is her problem, and in my opinion is far more unprofessional than any joke about a "brown Irishman." If this is what happens, just nod, express your regret, apologize again, and put her refusals to cooperate in your back pocket. When and if the boss discovers that there is a problem - "Why isn't Judy helping out with that case?" - you must be able to say with all honesty that despite your best efforts to repair a damaged relationship, she has been unable or unwilling to separate her impression of you as a person with her duty to assist in any personal injury matters. "I made some off-color jokes a while ago that she took offense to, and though I've apologized several times and made efforts to change my behavior, she just doesn't want to work with me..." As long as you've done your job, done it well, and without any more bad jokes or other sundry indiscretions along the way, the onus will be on her to explain her own intransigence. Give her enough rope and she'll hang herself, as they say.

Of course, the same may apply to you if in fact the other unnamed behaviors of yours that she finds so offensive are truly out of line. Take stock of yourself: do you like your job? Do you like most of your co-workers? Is it possible that your conduct is not entirely appropriate? You don't give enough information in your question to really say for sure, but very rarely in a given conflict is one party entirely blameless and the other a perfect villain. If you share some culpability in this office snit you'd better straighten it out, one way or another, because every day people get fired for less. Just because you think you're right, or even if you are, doesn't really mean a thing. You may feel that you deserve better, and so may she, but to quote Clint Eastwood's character from the film Unforgiven, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it."
posted by kurtroehl at 4:19 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


1) You need to stop saying shit like that with coworkers. Seriously!
2) She may have the right to be offended, but she probably does not have the right to tell you she's going to stop doing her job when it involves you. Does she have permission to unilaterally decide this? Go above her head if she won't reason with you.
posted by ishotjr at 4:19 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


kurtreohl - can you tell me how one could refer to an entire nation of people as savages and an entire religion as warlike and not be inappropriate or racist?
posted by nadawi at 5:03 PM on June 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I don't think there's a personality conflict in place here at all, I think she doesn't like you, and from what you've said, it seems straightforward as to why she doesn't.

In my opinion, you need to be contrite, explain that you realise you were being an asshat and keep your mouth shut in the future. Also, expanding your own education and broadening your mind to realise that such generalisations are both pointless and useless would help avoid the issue in the future.
posted by gadha at 5:12 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm South Asian, so I've made references to Afghanis being savages and the Arabs being warlike. She is neither Arab nor Asian, so it's perplexing as to why she's so offended.

One of the (MANY) problems of telling jokes like this in the workplace, or around people you don't know very well, is that you never know the ethnicities of your audience's significant others, in laws, best friends, mentors or other important people in their life. So, just because somebody does not appear to be of that ethnicity, you have no idea about their connection to the group you're joking about. Also, most people tend to feel embarrassed (for you) when they hear people telling oafish, tasteless jokes about ethnic groups, and it's no less uncomfortable when the joke teller is of that ethnicity.

For the record, it doesn't even sound like you are even from the ethnicities of which you speak. Are you part afghan and part arab? Just because you are from the same general region does not mean you're entitled to make racist statements about anyone who hails from your general part of the world. Wouldn't it be absolutely ridiculous if I made offensive, disgusting comments about mexicans or canadians, and then said "oh, it's cool, I'm from north america"
posted by necessitas at 7:51 PM on June 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


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