Coworker friend dragging me in to work drama.
March 6, 2010 6:00 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with a friend and coworker when she has a grudge is making her act immature and difficult to be around?

Coworker A is a woman in her late 20's and very high-strung. At first I found her kind of abrasive, but have grown fairly close to her. We live nearby and see each other frequently. I know she is fairly neurotic and am pretty used to it by now. She is fiercely loyal and expects the same from her friends.

Coworker B is also a woman in her 20's. I don't get along with her particularly well, but most of my other coworkers find her charismatic and charming. My issue is that she has a very privileged upbringing, and that fact seems to work it's way into most interactions I have with her. She isn't particularly warm to me either.

A and B used to be friendly, at least at work with some scattered instances of doing things outside fo work. We all held the same position at work, and B started getting very ambitious and started applying to more senior positions. B got some interviews, but no offers (they were for areas she did not have much experience in). Then a job opened that A had been anticipating and wanting quite badly. Both B and A interviewed, B got the position and there was a major blowout that affected most of our department. HR and the department that hired B handled the situation very poorly, were not transparent at all with the hiring process. This all happened about 6 months ago.

As a result, A now holds a major grudge against the manager that hired B, the HR person in charge of hiring and, most of all, B herself. Every time A and I talk about work, she ends up trash talking B at some point, saying how B is doing a poor job and generally discussing how little she likes B. A will cancel plans if B will be involved with any social event she attends. A will visibly get upset and say melodramatic statements to me and other friends(ie, "I'm going to vomit right now") if B will be involved with her day at all.

I'm sick of it. Other coworkers that are friends with both A and B feel trapped in the middle of unnecessary drama. B feels shunned and isolated. I feel like A is too old to be throwing such a fit.

I have tried very polietly to explain to A that her anger is not helpful or healthy to hold on to. I've also told her that by cancelling plans and reacting so strongly, she is letting B have far too much control over her life. She does not listen. I try not to engage her on this topic, but it doesn't change her actions. I'm afraid if I speak to her any more bluntly, she will think I am taking "B's side" and cut me off. She has already written off a few people for being too chummy with B. The only reason A sees me as being solidly on her side is that B seems to not have much of a desire to interact with me, so we don't talk much.

How do I handle A's behavior? I mostly agree with her assessment of B, but I still find her behavior trying. Both A and B are applying to grad school and may be gone by September. Do I just hold my tounge and ride it out? Is there some way I can express how obnoxious I find her behavior while maintaining some tact?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm afraid if I speak to her any more bluntly, she will think I am taking "B's side" and cut me off.

This, unfortunately, is the price she pays. She incurs much more of a loss from being friends with a reasonable person than you lose from dealing with a (formerly nice) neurotic jerk. You don't need to be best friends with B, but there are things much more difficult to tolerate than being a minor snob - among them being petty and singularly, inappropriately focused.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 6:08 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't let two other people's problem with each other affect you. Life is too short to be bothered by others' behavior.
posted by dfriedman at 6:09 PM on March 6, 2010 [4 favorites]

You can be direct and mature about this, but personally, I'd probably try a very immature and indirect route with this person. Every time A complained about B, I'd interrupt her and immediately change the subject to something banal and pleasant. Ideally pleasant things that involve your being extra nice to A (the complainey one).

HER: B is such an idiot--
YOU: I love your shirt!
HER: Thanks, but B totally pisses me-
YOU: You're so pretty!
HER: Stop it! B is a jerk!
YOU: Remember that time you said the funniest joke ever after that meeting and everyone was like, A is the funniest!
HER: You're interrupting me!
YOU: I can't help it, I just keep remembering how much I like you and it just spills out! Have lunch with me!

For sure you're being extremely annoying, but if you do this whole thing very flirtatiously and mischeiviously, it's pretty much impossible for A to be annoyed at someone who's telling her how adorable she is. And she'll stop complaining about B eventually if you keep shutting her down.

During the days while you're doing this, be sure to be extra nice and friendly with A all the time- invite her for coffee or something, so she understands it's the behaviour and not her you're snubbing. And go light on this stuff in front of other people- try to do it when it's just you and her, so you don't embarrass her (or further alienate B).
posted by pseudostrabismus at 6:17 PM on March 6, 2010 [3 favorites]

Somebody should tell A that these things happen in the work world.. it is not a meritocracy and it is not fair, and the person who's best for the job doesn't always get the job. (However the person who is more charismatic and ambitious often gets the job over the person who is less so, yet would be better at the job..) And that's the way it is, and you can either stew about it and hold vendettas and cause drama, or you can move on. Sometimes you have to take a decision to be better than that, even knowing the situation is unfair. It's easy to be better than that when things go your way. (But it really is difficult and takes time to get over something that must have been a big blow to her ego & possibly her sense of how the world works, if she hasn't had this kind of thing happen before.)
posted by citron at 6:24 PM on March 6, 2010

Set boundaries as they pertain to you. Tell her what you expect of her when it comes to you. Be specific.

Bad: "You're obsessing about B. It's not healthy. Stop talking about her, you're annoying everyone. You're being childish."

Good: "Look, I pretty much agree with you about B, but I'm also tired of hearing about B. I want you to stop bringing her up around me. We have plenty of nicer things to talk about."

Don't worry about how she talks to other people, or whether she cancels plans (unless they're with you). Don't worry about her health or the other people she's dumping on.

If she decides you're the bad guy and stops talking to you, well, that's her decision. You can only look after yourself in the end.
posted by lore at 6:29 PM on March 6, 2010 [8 favorites]

"Hey A, this whole grudgy, immature, appalling behavior thing that you have going on right now? Well, it's the kind of attitude that could have led to not getting the job that B now has."

Her reaction will either be to snap the hell out of it or cut you off entirely. From how she's acting, sounds like a good choice either way.
posted by meerkatty at 6:34 PM on March 6, 2010 [2 favorites]

I suggest that you not try to adjust A's attitude towards B, and just take the stand that you don't want to discuss B with her anymore. Tell A so as nicely and firmly as possible. Then, if/when she starts talking about B, remind her once that you aren't willing to listen to it, and change the subject. If she keeps talking about B after that, excuse yourself from the conversation by saying you have work to do or it's time you headed home or whatever.
posted by orange swan at 6:51 PM on March 6, 2010

A may need to find a new job if she can't depersonalize these situations of the business world. I've fallen victim to this kind of emotional job relationship before and it's never been solved by anything but leaving. It's fucked up, but it's as old as the hills. The situation is not going to change, HR is not going to change their mind and give A the job instead. I'd lay this out for her and ask, "so now what?"
posted by rhizome at 7:27 PM on March 6, 2010

In order to get her to stop, you will have to tell her to stop less gently. That said, how receptive she is will depend largely on how you frame it. It seems to me that she will respond to what she perceives as your concern for her welfare and her own self-interest. I would try something along the lines of, "I understand why you're upset, but I am not willing to talk about this anymore. It makes us seem unprofessional and petty, and I don't want it to negatively effect any future opportunities for either of us."

The realization that she is sabotaging her own professional development coupled with the idea that you are both in this together may cause her to take it to heart and stop. Failing that, anytime she brings it up immediately say, "I told you I don't want to discuss this anymore," and then change the subject. If she persists, end the conversation completely even if that means physically walking away. It's not pleasant to do, but it is rather effective. Good luck!
posted by katemcd at 7:58 PM on March 6, 2010

You could always go with the most brutal and direct truth. No one wants to promote someone who acts like a 2 year old. B got this one. There will be other promotions, but not for A if she can't a grip on her behaviors.

For now, you've got to have some distance from A. She's not behaving in a professional manner and you've got your own reputation to protect.
posted by 26.2 at 9:07 PM on March 6, 2010

Is A a friend who's important to you, or a "fairly neurotic" co-worker whose behavior you've gotten "used to"?

Either way, I would talk to her directly about her behavior. But try to stick to the "I" statements:

"I agree with you about B, but I would rather not hear anymore about this story" or "it's hard for me to be around you when you go on about her,"

rather than

"I agree with you about B, but you're being obnoxious" or "you're being immature."
posted by Paris Elk at 10:21 PM on March 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Stop making it fun or productive for her to indulge her B-hating. The more you refuse to play along (by whatever direct or indirect means you choose to employ), the less she will go there when you two are together.

Now, when she sees you, it flips her "B-bashing partner" switch and she instantly moves into rant mode, assuming you ar a willing participant. The key here is to preserve the friendship in the process. If part of her definition of "friend" is "person who actively engages in B-bashing as much and as often as I like," then you may have a problem.

Lore has the right idea- she sounds pretty insecure, and if you are able to block her with comments that send the message "the more you bash B, the more you are now risking OUR friendship because I am over that shit," she may back off more readily.

Nthing this as a classic example of youthful lack of real-life workplace experience. No one is entitled, nothing is guaranteed and anything could be snatched away at any time, no explanation or justification offered or required. That's life in the workplace. Accept it before it destroys you.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 8:27 AM on March 7, 2010

The good part is that you've already let A know how ridiculous they are, and A still doesn't seem to get it. Time to disengage.

You're at a point where you respectfully don't want to hear it anymore, and you need to make that known. Lore's response seems the best. At worst, A might stop being pleasant to you outwardly, but it sounds like you aren't having pleasant interactions with them anyway.

Whenever I have coworkers badmouthing one another I just usually shrug with a noncommittal acknowledgment of their perspective. "Oh really? Interesting. I haven't had that experience with person B yet." At worst, people think I'm on the side of the other person (which I'm not), and at best they realize that I just don't care (which is closer to the truth). The shrug can be a powerful tool.
posted by thefinderkeeper at 11:42 AM on March 7, 2010

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