Suggestions for dealing with a co-worker who doesn't really like you?
November 10, 2010 3:28 PM   Subscribe

Suggestions for dealing with a co-worker who doesn't really like you?

I have a new co-worker this year and I can't seem to shake the feeling that she doesn't really like me. She's very young and inexperienced; at times it feels like working with my little sister. She made a comment for example at the cheapness of my Halloween costume (I work in a school). I just didn't have the money to spend that she did because she still lives with her parents and I am on my own, paying off a student loan etc.

There are other little things, most of them very junior high (ignoring me and talking only to another co-worker when we are all standing at the bus stop together, the occasional snide remark such as 'oh, has [boss] seen that you are doing XYZ' or 'is THAT what you're presenting at the conference?' etc. And she has this annoying tendency to butt herself into any situation. For example, she'll come in and I'll already have started a procedure for such and such, and she'll come in and try to take it over even though I already have it well in hand.

I have spoken, discretely, with one other co-worker with whom I am friendly, and this person has noticed similar issues with the new girl. She's chalked it up to 'she's young and new and trying to plant her flag' and told me not to worry about it, but she does not have to work with this girl as often as I do, and I am finding this is starting to affect my confidence a little. Either I am unduly stressing about a situation because I am trying to figure out whether she really does dislike me, or I am stressing about it because I'm worried that her behaviour is going to compromise my own authority over certain programs we run together.

I have thought about just inviting this girl to lunch and trying to clear the air about this, but on the other hand, my temperament leans to the worrying type and it's entirely possible I am blowing this way out of proportion. Experience has also taught me that 'lay low, be polite and keep your mouth shut' is generally a better strategy than not. However, the situation, minor though it might be, is making me unhappy. So what should I do?
posted by JoannaC to Human Relations (29 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Don't invite to lunch. Ignore it, and be professional and courteous.

If you're desperate to get her to like you (and I don't know why you should be, really, it's folly to assume you need to be friends to work well together), flatter her ego by complementing her work and appearance, getting her to talk about herself. People love talking about themselves - especially young people - and will accept the most implausible complements/questions/etc if it is something that flatters their ego.

But I wouldn't do that, I would just be professional about it.
posted by smoke at 3:34 PM on November 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

I've had luck dealing with young, insecure women by keeping interactions light, complimentary if appropriate (fake compliments are worse than none) and using a little bit - only a little - self-deprecation every now and then. Not about work stuff, but about me generally being a goober who often leaves the house with her shirt on backwards, that kind of stuff. The idea is to remove yourself as an object of competition as much as possible.

Also, cultivate an attitude of sympathy - and Buddha-like patience, because this doesn't go away for YEARS in some people. If ever.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:39 PM on November 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

"Why do you ask?" is often helpful with people like that.

"Is that what you're presenting at the conference?"
"Why do you ask?"

I can't imagine lunch with her doing anything other than ruining a perfectly good mealtime. She sounds like an ass.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:43 PM on November 10, 2010 [31 favorites]

Be professional.

Good interpersonal relationships with your co-workers are advantageous, but not essential.
posted by fire&wings at 3:45 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

My tendency in this situation is just to move on. Unless you have to work one-on-one with them every day, or the person is so toxic as to really try to sabotage you, it's just not worth the stress. Be courteous, but the bottom line is that you don't have to like everyone, and they don't have to like you.

If it's a lot of catty crap like dissing your halloween costume, giving you the silent treatment, and not inviting you to lunch, you also have the satisfaction in knowing you're more mature and a better person than she is.

However. To flip this around a little, I'll admit that I can sometimes not be too friendly with people right away, especially in a work situation. I'm the tiniest bit introverted, and often my first instinct isn't to be besties with my new coworkers right away. Which might sometimes mean accidentally ignoring people, not paying my dues socially, not being great at reciprocating certain social niceties (e.g. if you invite me to lunch today, it might be a week before I realize I was supposed to invite you to lunch the following day). The older I get, the better I get about reminding myself of this and making a conscious effort to build good relationships with coworkers. But if this girl still lives at home, she may not be there yet.
posted by Sara C. at 3:48 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

In my opinion, you're asking yourself the wrong question. Instead of wondering "why does this person not like me?" or "what can I do to make her like me?" you could ask yourself the following:

What kinds of choices can I make to most likely have this person treat me in a respectful manner towards me at school?

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

- You're most likely respectful to most people
- Her behaviour might be similar with others (although it might be directly at you because she sees you as a rival)

With this in mind, if you do have a mild confrontation with her, you may have more allies than you realize.

All of that being said, if someone calls your costume "cheap", they're not being funny or whatever. It's perfectly fine to say something along the lines of "I don't appreciate comments of that kind directed towards me."

If she tries to take over work that you've already started, I'd go with "I have this task in hand." If she continues to bully her way into your work, it'll be strikingly obvious if you just maintain a certain ground.

Remember, if you're confident in your position than you need not waver in your tone of voice or demeanour. One shows uncertainty that way. Those are some ideas.
posted by fantasticninety at 3:50 PM on November 10, 2010 [10 favorites]

"Why do you ask?" is a good comeback. However, I prefer "Well, bless your heart!". A nice southernism that doesn't really mean much of anything, so it gets them to shut up in a hurry. After all, do you REALLY want to know why she's asking? I didn't think so.

Her: You're presenting THAT at the conference?!
You: Well, bless your heart!
Her: (wtf bewilderment)

The girl's an idiot. Don't let someone like that get you down.
posted by wwartorff at 4:10 PM on November 10, 2010 [7 favorites]

No, you don't need to clear the air. You are a role model for her. Show her how to be professional. Show her how a grown woman acts. She wants to compete, but there's no need. You outrank her, at least in experience.
posted by Knowyournuts at 4:12 PM on November 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sorry to disagree with restless_nomad, but the worst thing you can do here is self-deprecation. Taking yourself out of the competition would be a fatal error. The person you describe is a predator and will scent your weakness. Be correct and civil with her, but a little dismissive if you can do that. Practice an offhand snicker to use when she makes a suggestion or remark that you didn't invite. If she can't get the upper hand over you, you've won.
posted by zadcat at 4:13 PM on November 10, 2010 [14 favorites]

1. Be professional.
2. Keep your mouth shut.
3. You don't have to be liked by everyone at work- the sooner we learn that, the easier it is to get along with people who don't like us.

This is a great opportunity to practice your interpersonal skills.

I have a new co-worker this year and I can't seem to shake the feeling that she doesn't really like me.

Why do you care?

I'm worried that her behaviour is going to compromise my own authority

It's more likely that people can see how immature she is. Be professional and you will be just fine.
posted by xm at 4:17 PM on November 10, 2010 [8 favorites]

You didn't say what kind of school you work for, but if it's an elementary or secondary school, perhaps this thought is relevant: Some younger people decide to go into that sort of teaching because their level of thought and expectations for behavior never rose above, well, a high-school level. You seem to be someone who is in this for the long haul and considers teaching to be your profession/career, but your coworker sounds like she doesn't have a particularly well-developed sense of the long-term, career-oriented aspects of teaching.

I've seen behavior like you describe before from teachers just out of college who are in some way still preoccupied with their high-school years and harbor the mistaken, insecurity-based idea that this time, they can do things differently and be the high school's "queen bee." None of that ideology has any place in the workplace, of course, but it sounds like your coworker may be young enough to harbor a few misconceptions about the nature of work.

Anyway, behavior like hers is just bizarre in the context of professional adult interaction in a business setting. So as others have already said, you need to continue to set the tone of respectful, adult interaction, and let her chips fall where they may.
posted by limeonaire at 4:28 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you ignore her, I can almost bet that she will turn around and try to win you over. She's clearly trying to play games and gain superiority, and if there's someone who is so confident that they don't even acknowledge her and shakes off her petty antics, that's going to draw her attention and bring out her need for approval in a big way.

and I couldn't agree more - don't try to ingratiate yourself with this person with any sort of self-deprecation. It'll end up being her first gossip topic, for one thing, and it just gives her a great target to hone in on.
posted by lemniskate at 4:34 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

If I could favorite zadcat's post a thousand times, I would.

You won't do either of you any favors by coddling this behavior or trying to make her like you. She needs to respect you. Failing that, she needs to FEAR you. Don't invite her to lunch, and don't justify your frickin' Halloween costume.

Ignore her. When you need to, call her on her shit.
posted by cyndigo at 4:46 PM on November 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

We're here to make money, not to make friends. It's nice if everyone gets along, but not essential. Personally I never, ever break bread with people I don't like. Stay professional.
posted by fixedgear at 4:47 PM on November 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Having worked with similar personalities, I would definitely avoid any attempts to "clear the air." She's not mature enough to understand and is more likely to take it as you "attacking" her.

She's insecure and using her cattiness as a shield. The good thing is that almost everyone will see right through her act. I know how frustrating it is to work with someone like this, but the worst thing you can do is to allow her to get to you.
posted by lucysparrow at 4:49 PM on November 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Definitely be professional and mature. I'm sure you desire that, but it can be hard to remember how to do that when one feels attacked. She actually sounds very insecure. If you ever need to speak with her about your teaching duties or authorities, you might want to be sure to compliment her strengths before diving in to the area of criticism or discussing how you want to do things (Maybe use phrases like: I feel comfortable with ... or I've felt this has worked... rather than who or what is right or wrong.) - and end with another compliment. When you are both done be sure to conclude with an agreed confirmation of what it is you will do going forward.
Don't worry about whether she likes you. Sometimes insecure people actually do like you, but don't know how to express it, sort of like junior high boys.
posted by LilBit at 5:08 PM on November 10, 2010

Having worked with similar personalities, I would definitely avoid any attempts to "clear the air." She's not mature enough to understand and is more likely to take it as you "attacking" her.

posted by limeonaire at 5:31 PM on November 10, 2010

Your new colleague networks up. It's not about liking or not liking you. It feels personal, but it's not. In her estimation you cannot help her advance, so you're nothing to her.

If the day comes that she thinks you can help her advance, have fun watching her try to become your new best friend.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:51 PM on November 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

I agree that whether you're at an elementary, high school or college situation, response might vary a bit, but ignore her if you can. People will notice, even if they're too professional to acknowledge her behavior. Unless you're her supervisor and it's your duty to address her behavior, avoid her as much as possible, smile and nod when she's catty and keep on keepin' on. She'll end up sabotaging herself.
posted by smirkette at 6:22 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Either I am unduly stressing about a situation because I am trying to figure out whether she really does dislike me, or I am stressing about it because I'm worried that her behaviour is going to compromise my own authority over certain programs we run together.

It's great when your co-workers like you personally, but it's not necessary. No need to devote energy to a personal relationship that's not happening, just be cool, polite, and professional.

You already have authority. Just be confident in it. You don't need her approval to grant you authority.

If you're concerned that other people will see her disrespecting you and that this will make them think less of your authority, remember the old "actions speak louder than words" aphorism. If you're acting like a professional and she's acting like an eighth-grader, who's going to get the brunt of the negative judgment?
posted by desuetude at 6:39 PM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Try to sidestep her attempts at baiting you, or making little underhanded jabs, or ignoring you. It sounds to me that she has some insecurity issues and you just happen to be nearby. Just act like your normal, professional self and treat her as you hope to be treated. Mention (as if you hadn't heard the jab) that you didn't want to spend too much on your costume this year. Address her ignoring you like you don't notice when she's trying to avoid you and speak if you want to say something. Going along with not talking because she doesn't want to acknowledge you will only encourage it to continue.

If she does or says anything not professional, mention it in a matter-of-factly way to a higher up or coworker, but only in the sense that you are keeping a track record of things so if anything happens later it's not your word against hers.

Agree with other posters that trying to tackle this head on will only make her more insecure and defensive.

It's great when you have good friendships or working relationships with your coworkers, but ultimately you only work together and you don't have to be friends. And her issues are not yours. And it's difficult I think, not to feel burdened by them, or feel disliked, but you have the opportunity to be the bigger person here. If you can get through having to work with this person you are 99% set for life.
posted by everyday_naturalist at 6:44 PM on November 10, 2010

Avoid her all you can and be very civil and professional when you can't.
posted by orange swan at 7:19 PM on November 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Being somewhat removed and firm is a good idea; here's another one if this is something you can pull off:

Act ignorant of her intentions and pretend that everything, EVERYTHING is a compliment, her admiring you, or her trying to get your wisdom--even if you sound a little batty. It will drive her nuts.

"You're presenting THAT at the conference?"
"Yes, thanks! I'm glad you find it interesting. If you'd like I can explain it to you."

"That costume is cheap!"
"Thanks! I got a really good deal; let me write down the shop where I got it for you."

"Oh, has boss seen you doing X?"
"No, I don't like to talk myself up like that, but it's sweet of you to suggest it."

If she ignores you at the bus stop, be "rude" and muscle in on the conversation by talking to the third person. Stand next to the third person, say something nice to them, or ask them a question. Consider offering them a favor. This can come off as clueless, but if you do it right the third person will be charmed and glad to have you as an addition to the conversation. Exclusion attempt: foiled.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:38 PM on November 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

"And she has this annoying tendency to butt herself into any situation."

Some of this might just be stereotypical Gen Y "I can do anything because my parents said I could" attitude?
posted by Jacqueline at 10:48 PM on November 10, 2010

Had a situation like this in the past. The way I solved it was to schedule a private meeting with the "junior" team member (a formal meeting, the more formal the better), in which I clearly enumerated to him all the atitudes I would not allow.

I wouldn't acuse him of having done this and this in the past, I would say "I don't want you to" do this and that.

I said this, looking at him in the eyes and not allowing him to answer back. I had no formal authority over this "junior" team member, but I acted as if I did. In the end of the conversation I asked for compliance, and he complied. The only word I allowed him to say to me in the while conversation was a final "ok".

I never had problems with this guy from then on.

Now, things could have turned out differently, and the guy could become confrontational with me. If that was the case, I would escalate the issue to our common manager (not asking for a defense, but asking for ground rules with which we could work together).
posted by dfreire at 3:25 AM on November 11, 2010

There are a few things I've noticed in what you've written, that I'll spin a bit and see if it changes how you're thinking about her.

She is young and inexperienced because she is indeed, young and inexperienced - and you are probably treating her in a way that makes her defensive if you're referring to her this way. Young, she can't help, and new she can't help -- but referring to her as a "girl" continually, and associating her with a little sister and junior high seems like you have a need to see her, well, in her place. But she is a young woman, a professional that needs to be trained and further educated and to gain experience. Some of that is within your position, some isn't. If you start thinking yourself as a possible mentor, rather than competition, would that help? Co-workers don't need to be friends - but they are other human beings that need consideration.

However, disrespectful and thoughtless personal comments in the workplace do need to be dealt with professionally and I agree that "Now, why do you say that?" is a teaching way to eventually get her to think before she speaks, and also to be able to defend herself. Your insecurity about the cost of a costume is your own thing (considering that I also work in a school and can afford more in the way of a costume, but just pinned notes on myself that said "Go Ceilings! Up With Ceilings! Ceilings are GREAT!" and went as a ceiling fan for Halloween - because I didn't care!)

All of the little things, may indeed be just "trying to plant her flag" or they may be signs of someone innately using their Emotional Intelligence quotient. Possibly, she's learned to manipulate with it or has been affected by past experiences and is bringing it to you. Because she can.

She's learned to manipulate using tools like words and silence, maybe because she's never learned to simply ask or express herself or maybe because it's working really well for her. She's figured out that what hurts or makes you insecure is your need for feelings of friendship, an illusion of happiness, some authority and also that you're a worrying sort (and you've admitted that, but I gathered that before that line) and remembers that it works and finds ways to use it again and again. She can probably sense when you're upset, or are going to be, so she can choose when to create or avoid conflict, and she's probably learned responses to defend herself. She probably knows how to apologize enough to keep the peace and whom she can get away with it around. Lunch would be a bad idea, not just because you don't really like her - though you want her to like you (which is odd), but because you're handing yourself over for more abuse. Don't give her that.

You are right in using your experience that to 'lay low, be polite and keep your mouth shut' is generally a better strategy than not - you've been there before her and you'll likely be there after her - so don't let her diminish the reputation you've achieved in the work place. But also, remember you're an experienced professional, and she's not -- so really, you have the upper hand here for that reason and because she's young and behaving age- and experience-appropriately.

My personal motto and mantra is "I don't let how others are be the measure of the person I want to be." So, if you want to be a calm, collected professional who understands that people new to a work situation need to gain understanding and experience, she won't be able to shake that.
posted by peagood at 7:33 AM on November 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I try to make people like this say what they want to say and not let them obliquely imply things. "Is that what you're presenting?" —> "You don't think it's good enough? What are you saying?" or "Wow, that's a really cheap costume" —> "You say that like it's a bad thing."

Younger people have learned snark as a way of life. They do it unconsciously. Sometimes, though, they do have good points if you can overlook or redirect their method of communication.

This part is projection: I've worked with a few people like this. Usually for the most part, their problem is a combination of wanting to be seen as useful and having a sneaking suspicion that they are an idiot and everyone knows it. She's trying to build high-school style buddy relationships on the basis of exclusion, the "hey guys, that JoannaC, ha ha, amirite? wink wink" There's not much YOU can do about that, but as your other coworkers refuse to be drawn into that kind of thing and stick up for you when you aren't there, that part will drop off.

The usefulness insecurity can be a carrot or a stick. If she starts to butt in on your job - who cares? Why would you refuse help? However, you have to make her do it YOUR WAY if she wants to help. Show her what you're doing and find a task she can accomplish without screwing up your whole plan of attack. Ask if she will do that for you. She'll either be happy to finally have some direction and usefulness, or she'll be annoyed that she's being treated like your employee and quit butting in. Either way, win for you.

It's also a good sore spot for jabs, used very sparingly. "Yeah, this presentation... I like it, but maybe it needs to be looked at by a second set of eyes. [pause] Have you seen Bob?"
posted by ctmf at 10:00 AM on November 11, 2010

You work in a school. Are you both teachers? I learned long before I graduated high school that many of the teachers, especially the young, just-starting-out ones, haven't grown out of that gossipy, clique-y, childish high school mentality.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:03 AM on November 11, 2010

I deal with something like this at my work. I get along (as much as one can expect) with every single person at work except for one. It's catty and silly (she is probably 22-23, I have no idea). I used to greet her in the common area in the ladies room and she would ignore me. After a while of that I stopped. She only talks to other people when I am present and pretends that I don't exist.

I am fine with this and couldn't care less. She and I have little work interaction so it doesn't matter. I just go on about my day.

(or - what Knowyournuts said. I also outrank her)
posted by getawaysticks at 4:07 PM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

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