Meddling coworker.
December 29, 2010 6:35 PM   Subscribe

Change of venue: meddling coworker.

Because of cutbacks/realignments, I was moved to a new area and also given another job in addition to my previous job. The woman--let's call her Erma--whose job I took stepped into a new job that she was asked to take. She kept her workspace and I moved into a new one. I had met her before but only in a passing sort of way.

The first week I was there she stopped by and said, "I see you all the time sitting there looking for something to do. Don't you have anything to do?"

The second time it was, "Oh, you're reading the newspaper, you must have plenty of time." (I was on my break. Is it her business where I take it?)

One day she put a chair outside my cube (in my line of vision) and read the paper. (It's an exit, not a reception room.)

Next it was, "You need to learn how to pronounce [supervisor's] name." But this time her face is changed and she is yelling at me.

I looked at her and said, "There's lots of things I should do." in a matter of fact but humorous tone.

About an hour later, she returns and yells at me that she doesn't deserve to be talked to in that way and then turns on her heel back to her workspace.

I take a deep breath and walk to her workspace. "I am sorry,"
I said, "that you didn't like the way I spoke to you. I admit to being taken aback when you told me to learn to pronounce--"

"YOU NEED TO LEARN TO PRONOUNCE IT" she yells. Her face is all crumpled up she's so upset.

Now last week I was working on a simple but tedious project and had enlisted the help of a coworker. Erma comes in and asks the coworker, "WHY ARE YOU IN HERE WITH HER?" We explain she is helping me.

"Why would you need help? You don't need any help." She walks out I can still see her talking but, because she is walking away from me, I cannot see what she is saying.

A few other points:

-She is not a supervisor. We are exactly equal in rank.

-We are probably close to the same age. She may be a few years older.

-In one instance she came to show me how to do something (remember I took over her job) and she leaned waaaaaaaaaaaayyy over to look at a paper on the very back of my desk.

-Another time I returned to my cube to find her standing in it right by my chair. "I was looking for you." she said. My cube is arranged as such that you can peek in and see if I am there -- no need to step in 4,5 steps as she did.

-My supervisor is aware of this but only in a general/background, not in a "what should I do" way, and besides, she's just too busy for this pettiness. I'd like to think I could handle it myself. I used to think ignoring people like this was the best solution, but maybe that just encourages more bad behavior in some people?

-I'm horrible at conflict. I've had some DBT which has helped tremendously with the interpersonal stuff, but people who yell still scare me. At the least, they get my nervous system all a-flutter.

-I like my job, like my supervisor (who is a model of grace and integrity), don't like this situation.

posted by Prairie to Work & Money (36 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Talk to HR, this is what they are there for.
posted by TheBones at 6:39 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

With somebody that crazy gunning for you, you might be wise to document/report her behavior in realtime. If she does something truly malicious you're not going to want to have to try and backtrack to demonstrate her nuttiness.
posted by facetious at 6:40 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Bones: HR has been 100 percent useless in my prior experience with a crazy person.

facetious: I have been e-mailing my supervisor in dispassionate detail.

posted by Prairie at 6:47 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have a small amount of experience with a crazy coworker. Can you wear headphones at your job? I find they help a lot with this sort of low-level annoying behavior.

I think you need to work on separating things you can control and things you can't. If she wants to sit outside your office (without blocking your exit) and read a newspaper, there's not much you can do about it. If she has a legitimate reason to be in your cubicle (she's helping you) and snooping around, there's not much you can do. If she is talking about you in a passive-aggressive way, there's not much you can do.

You can be the bigger person. If she is raising her voice with you then you have every right to exit the situation - don't fake apologize - don't reason with her, just walk away. If she's in your cubicle while you're not there, then I think you certainly have the right to ask her not to enter your cubicle while you're gone, and if she persists then this is an issue to raise with your supervisor. If she says something snide, you do not have to respond, or you can laugh (which drives some people crazy). If she is actually interrupting your ability to do work (not providing the support you need, etc) then your supervisor should step in.
posted by muddgirl at 7:00 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Her behavior doesn't sound THAT crazy (yet), and the way that you dealt with the pronunciation situation was inappropriate -- not because you were in the wrong, but because you treated an insane person like a sane person. Don't do that. Crazy people like her do not take "humorous, matter of facts" comments. You have to be completely naive and straightforward with her. If she says "You have to learn how to pronounce so-and-so's name" say, "Oh, okay. How should I pronounce it?"

Pick your battles. When it's something totally inane like that, just "kill her with kindness" and go out of your way not to fan the flames of her crazy fire.
posted by telegraph at 7:00 PM on December 29, 2010 [9 favorites]

Make friends. Take her out to lunch. Find out what her hobbies are. Ask about her grandkids. Leave her a surprise muffin. Smile super wide and greet her every day. Ask her advice on a couple inconsequential work matters. Charm her.
posted by bq at 7:03 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Seems like it's in everyone's interest just to move your space.
posted by spitbull at 7:11 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm not saying she's not crazy, but what if you were the one whose job got pulled out from under you -- and you still had to watch this new person come in and breeze about like it's no big deal? Why did one person get to keep her job (albeit with additions), while another got kicked out? Did the latter person really suck that badly -- and does the new person really do that much better of a job? Damn right, she's angry.

You will be most successful at this position if you just get the work done as a member of the team. Clearly, she wants to undermine your work. She will get in your way and make it impossible for you to be a successful employee if you do anything other than stay focused on doing your work professionally. It's her game, and if you react in any way to her, you lose. Your professional reputation will go down the tubes in ways that have little to do with her. DO NOT PLAY HER GAME.

Between the cutbacks, crazy coworkers and ineffectual HR, it sounds like it might be time to find a new employer.
posted by Madamina at 7:17 PM on December 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

Continue to be pleasant. Seconding the recommendation to document any strange/untoward behavior.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 7:18 PM on December 29, 2010

spitbull: even if that were possible, she's nowhere near me. and I don't go to her, because I know how to do the job now.
posted by Prairie at 7:18 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

i'd say that her dragging a chair over to your cube just to read the paper in front of you could be construed as "actively antagonistic" with regards to your course of action in dealing with her. given that line has been crossed, i don't think a muffin & a smile is really going to win her over unless she's actively stupid (which, admittedly, we have seen no evidence against), so my suggestion instead is a solid, curt, "my job and how i perform it is not your concern".

we've already crossed the civility line, and she's taken to actively snooping in your cube (multiple times). she's already violated a number of basic politeness tenets. she seems like a tremendous busybody and should be given the appropriate considerations.

i do not believe in killing people like this with kindness, as it's (nearly always) disingenuous and ultimately comes across that way. fairytale-esque stories of best friends finding each other through this kind of scenario are exceedingly uncommon. i think instead that treating her as a cog in the machine and literally nothing more will get you better results. speak about work and work-related projects, literally and to-her-face ignore she's spoken in every other instance.
posted by radiosilents at 7:30 PM on December 29, 2010 [14 favorites]

Sounds like she has issues with the fact that you're now doing what was her job. She's gone beyond meddling to starting to behave like a psycho. I have no doubt that she went back to her office after the pronunciation conversation and stewed for an hour about the tone in your voice, and could not let it go. She worked herself up into a little frenzy about it, and it sounds like she spends a lot of time thinking about you and being angry about you and thinking of ways to teach you a lesson or get back at you. The chair outside your cubicle thing? Nutso.

Does she act this way with anyone else or is it just you?

She doesn't like you. She's never going to like you. Continue to document, and stand up for yourself in a professional way.
posted by iconomy at 7:30 PM on December 29, 2010 [7 favorites]

I'm with Telegraph and BQ, just smother her with naive positivity. Thank her any time she's even remotely helpful, be oblivious any time she's petty. Think of it like a game and it's not so annoying. She'll either be forced to be nice in return, or she'll have to go out-and-out viscous, which your boss will be able to do something about.

I've foiled angry customers who were derailed by an enthusiastic greeting and questions about their weekend plans. And I've been able to be 'oblivious' to people trying to passively aggressively make me volunteer for things.

If there's anything she shouldn't be seeing in your space, make sure that's locked safely away. If you catch her looking at things, call attention to it. "Hey, so you like that spreadsheet I did? I think switching to comic sans makes it so much more accessible, don't you?" "Hi Sue! were you looking at the picture of my dog Sparky I have on my wall? Isn't he cute? You won't believe what he did this morning..."
posted by Caravantea at 7:32 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

Document, document, document. Given that they're already taking away this woman's duties HR may be well aware of her, and looking for an opportunity to terminate with cause.
posted by leotrotsky at 7:33 PM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

I would be tempted to respond to her in a manner that expresses surprise and concern over her investment in the things she ought not to be interfering in. I'd want to treat her like an elderly, addled aunt (using that tone), and say things firmly, but brightly and soothingly and reassuringly and like you can't believe she's bothering herself, tut tut: "Erma! Oh, dear - you're concerned, and you don't have to be. It's all good." And then walk her back to her space like a lost child. But then, I supervise children and am always telling the tattletales and busybodies, very nicely but clearly, "It's not your job to (worry about/be the boss of that." You probably can't do that. (Can you?) It's kind of like gaslighting, what I'm thinking. You'd be acknowledging her actions and answering her graceless queries gracefully - but setting a framework of concern over why the heck she's all hot and bothered - and letting her and others know that you're on top of things and that her interest and actions are, well, nutty.

"I see you all the time sitting there looking for something to do. Don't you have anything to do?"
"Oh, Erma (sigh) - you don't need to be concerned! Everything's taken care of. I'm on top of things. Don't bother yourself. See you later!"

"Oh, you're reading the newspaper, you must have plenty of time."
"Oh, Erma - you know, I've got everything under control and it's a good way to recharge on my break - don't be concerned, it's fine. See you later!"

One day she put a chair outside my cube (in my line of vision) and read the paper.
"Oh, Erma - is that the place to do that?! I don't want to disturb your break while I'm working - see you later!"

"You need to learn how to pronounce [supervisor's] name."
"Oh, Erma - you're worried about that? I'm sure she and I will work it out. It's nothing to stress over. See you later!"

"WHY ARE YOU IN HERE WITH HER?" "Why would you need help? You don't need any help."
"Oh, Erma - we're just fine. It's working out! You don't need to be concerned. See you later!"

In one instance she came to show me how to do something (remember I took over her job) and she leaned waaaaaaaaaaaayyy over to look at a paper on the very back of my desk.
"Oh, Erma - did you want to see this? I'm not sure why, but if you feel you need to...okay then - See you later!"

Another time I returned to my cube to find her standing in it right by my chair. "I was looking for you."
"Oh, Erma - and you couldn't see I wasn't there? No need to wait and worry - just leave a post-it outside my space and I'll come find you. 'Later!"

I did used to do that with a retail co-worker who'd want to chat and raise concerns about five million things that were none of her business, and it only took a couple of weeks of acknowledging, answering in so many words that it was not for her to worry about, and sending her on her way before she realized that I didn't give her the drama she wanted - or anything to complain about either!
posted by peagood at 7:46 PM on December 29, 2010 [47 favorites]

These sound like classic workplace bullying behaviors. Snooping, agressive banter (e.g. lots of time on your hands), stalking (outside cube). Unfortunately managers mostly suck at dealing with these behaviors. Your individual assignments are as follows:
1- Maintain a log of all behaviors. This will be helpful for HR and others should they desire to terminate her.
2- Report the suspicion of bullying to your supervisor (which you have done), you do not need to report each incident. You should also document any followup agreed to by your supervisor. Set a time to check back in with your supervisor (e.g. Let's check in on this next quarter/month/etc). Don't just email after each incident, that makes you seem like the problem.
3- Find allies (determine if others are being bullied by her behavior) -- take coworkers to lunch and see what comes up.
4- In interacting with her be sure to call attention to specific items:
a) Yelling -- this attracts lots of attention, don't yell back because then its a fight and you lose sympathy. Your judo move is to state something like: Erma, why don't you take a minute to compose yourself. Do you realize that you are shouting at me? You seem upset. Why don't you come back and we'll talk about this issue when you've calmed down.
b) The aggressive banter -- Try a baroque response mechanism. She tries to pick a fight with you about time to read the paper, start talking about a story you read in the paper. Go on for at least 4-5 minutes without letting her talk. Pick something really boring like sanitation or bond issues. The key is that you accept her comment regarding time to read the paper, but you don't escalate or defend against the conclusion that you are lazy. You just go on and on in a way that is totally boring. Learn idea looping tricks that let you say the same thing much as I'm doing here, but slightly differently so that she can't totally stand to sit there. She's all agressive and you are
c) Be Eliza -- remember the chat program eliza. Structure your banter with her as if you were Eliza. Try some of her stock phrases in it and just use the responses. It's amusing for you and makes bullies deflate.

5- I also suggest you read some books/articles on dealing with Workplace Bullying. It's been a hot topic in HR seminars in the past few years.
posted by humanfont at 7:53 PM on December 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

Don't go to lunch with her, give her muffins, or anything that increases contact. This will simply invite her to encroach upon you more. Petty tyrants are not deterred by being nice to them; they are deterred by doing what they want you to do. she doesn't like you, respect your space, and she doesn't like something about the way you do your job. There's no way to give into her and I can't imagine anything being worth spending time with this crazy person. (And if your account is true, she's clearly an aggressive, crazy acting person, I'm not sure why other posters see her behavior as borderline.)

This isn't an occasional thing or an issue that's never going to come up again. We spend a lot of time at work, and this psycho clearly seeks you out. You need to stand up to her.

Next time she pulls something like this, tell her that it's unprofessional and hostile and ask that she refrain from speaking to you, so that you can do your job. Remind her that she is not your supervisor, and that you do not need "pointers" from her. Tell her that if she has any issues with this, she can take it up with your supervisor.

Even if she doesn't back down from that, it puts it on the record that you've asked her to stop and that you consider the behavior hostile and unacceptable. You'll either have more ammunition later, or she'll go ballistic and overplay her hand.

Continue to document. Go to HR, even if it's useless. The point isn't to get them to stand up for you, it's to have a record in case things come to a head.
posted by spaltavian at 8:00 PM on December 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

I'm not saying she's not crazy, but what if you were the one whose job got pulled out from under you -- and you still had to watch this new person come in and breeze about like it's no big deal? Why did one person get to keep her job (albeit with additions), while another got kicked out? Did the latter person really suck that badly -- and does the new person really do that much better of a job? Damn right, she's angry.

Madamina: I should be mad! I'm the one doing my job and someone else's, too! Well, maybe her new job is too much for her. But around here management can reassign, transfer, or terminate as they see fit. It's already happened to several people I know. They didn't act like this.

Thanks for your thoughtful post, I appreciate it.
posted by Prairie at 8:21 PM on December 29, 2010

What peagood said, exactly. Bright! Cheerful! Don't worry! Tut tut!
posted by desuetude at 8:32 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

Don't go to lunch with her, give her muffins, or anything that increases contact. This will simply invite her to encroach upon you more. Petty tyrants are not deterred by being nice to them; they are deterred by doing what they want you to do.


In you few other points, I got the impression that she might have a crush on you. Danger lurks here. Be cordial and professional, no more.
posted by gjc at 8:35 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]

In your next 1:1 with your boss ask for advice.

"Hi Boss. I don't want you the handle this situation, but I'm asking for advice. Emma does X, Y and Z which make uncomfortable. I've tried to work with her, but things seem to be escalating. What should my next steps be?"

At that point, you've done a couple things:
- Given your boss a heads up to the problem.
- Established that you want to handle it yourself.
- Allowed your boss to indicate what responses he's support.
posted by 26.2 at 8:57 PM on December 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

bq: "Make friends. Take her out to lunch. Find out what her hobbies are. Ask about her grandkids. Leave her a surprise muffin. Smile super wide and greet her every day. Ask her advice on a couple inconsequential work matters. Charm her."

Absolutely do NOT do this. This is a recipe for disaster. You don't want to be friends with anyone who acts like this, and she doesn't want to be friends with you--UNLESS, by some miracle, you charm her, then you won't be able to get rid of her. People who live in extremes do exactly that; if she becomes your friend, you are doomed to her eternal "friendship." This is not the kind of person you want calling you every weekend to invite you to do something together. You'll have trapped yourself somewhere even worse than your current situation.

All of the advice to document, document, and document, and bring the information to HR and your supervisor when necessary, is all you can do at this point, other than reading up on workplace bullying, as humanfront suggests. It will give you extra ammo should things escalate.

Also, whoever said that she's probably angry because you were given her job--so what? She can be as angry as she likes; that doesn't make her behavior, which is staggeringly unprofessional, at all acceptable.
posted by tzikeh at 10:08 PM on December 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

I have been e-mailing my supervisor in dispassionate detail

Yeah, don't do that. Just document incidents as they occur, and file those away. If you keep bouncing them upstream as and when, it makes you look like a whiner. Instead, just keep a log for your own records. Then, every month or so (no more often than that) shoot your supervisor a mail saying no more than that in the last month you were bullied by Erma on sixteen occasions, that you have logged each incident for followup, and that this is unacceptable and needs to stop.

If your supervisor is competent, that should be more than enough for Erma to get pulled back into line. And if that doesn't happen, you need to find an employer actually capable of conducting its business in a professional fashion. Life's too short to work for arseholes.

Oh, and as for your personal relationship with Erma? Go on the attack, and do that cold. There's no point taking her on when she's already worked up a head of crazy. Catch her unprepared. Practice the following speech in front of your bathroom mirror until you can deliver it in a flat, unemotional tone while staring absolutely dead-eyed square into your own reflection's eyes: "Erma, in the past month I have been the subject of grossly inappropriate behavior from you on thirteen occasions. I neither know nor care what your problem is, but I will not tolerate you taking it out on me. This is a warning, not a discussion; I am not interested in working this out with you. Pull your fucking head in."

And when you're ready, you go to her and just hit her with that first thing Monday morning before she'd even had a coffee, and then you walk away. And when she's had the two minutes it will take to work herself into a towering rage over this and comes to yell at you: you just treat her yelling as if it were the noise made by a faulty photocopier or one of those idiot kids doing burnouts in the parking lot, and you say NOTHING, and you turn away and completely refuse to engage with her in ANY WAY AT ALL.

The worst thing that could possibly happen then is that she completely loses her shit and hits you. Which ought to be an instant sacking offence; it will sting, but you win.
posted by flabdablet at 11:27 PM on December 29, 2010 [5 favorites]

This isn't meddling, it's full-on bullying. And the last thing she deserves is a muffin basket, more like a punch in the nose. Ugh, been there and the problem is that usually management would rather put its head in the sand than to confront/handle a bully. Your best recourse besides documenting her behavior would be to look for a new job.

In the meanwhile, don't put up with that shit. You don't have to be nicey-nice or confrontational, but as a friend of mine advised when I had the office Chatty Cathy (another type of work pest) moved into my cramped work space, "don't feed bad behavior." She was referring to her 3 year old, but it also worked in my situation. I had my headphones on almost all the time, responded in dispassionate tones when she'd start going on about some "kewt" story about her grandkid's potty training or paranoid/racist grandparents. It took about a month and she finally chilled the eff out, started asking me politely for input and help and in general stopped the crazy talk/behavior. And by the end of it, I actually liked her a little bit (whereas before I ran in the opposite direction if I saw her coming) and she was genuinely upset that my position was RIF'd. I'm not saying you and Erma can reach that level of d├ętente, but training actually worked in that situation.

Two more small minor things:

* I'm female and the two times I've had colleagues meddle/backstab/bully, it was always female. Like makes you feel like you're back in junior high. I think to a certain degree female on female workplace behavior like that assumes that you as the target will adhere to the female code of being "nice." Which is where the whole "make friends with her" line of reasoning comes in. The advice about "Don't take that shit" comes direct from my late dad, who spent his professional life as a manager. Be professional and courteous, but you don't have to put up with her screaming, getting into your space et cetera. And tell her as much - she's probably depending on you as the new person to wonder what you did to set her off or did wrong. Be firm, polite, and professional but I'd also tell her that she's the one being out of line. I did that once to a colleague who I knew was spreading gossip about me to our lead and it was worth it alone to see the blood drain out of her face.

* More difficult people advice from my dad, but even if somebody's being an asshole, see it from their perspective. Or I guess, how sad is Erma's life if she's so threatened by you and a change in the job situation to react this way? Which doesn't mean excusing her behavior. But if you place troublemakers in a larger perspective, they always come out looking a little pathetic because they're being so territorial about something completely trivial in the larger scheme.

* Final piece of advice I would get when venting about these type of people: Illegitimi non carborundum

Good luck! Seriously, don't feed the bad behavior.
posted by gov_moonbeam at 11:57 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

1. Document. Speak only to your supervisor about your concerns and to no-one else.

2. Kill her with schmaltz, as peagood said, so everyone can see that your interaction with her is polite and pleasant.

3. By doing this, she'll either give up if she's not getting the reaction she wants or, if it does kick off and escalate from her, your side of the street is clean.
posted by essexjan at 1:42 AM on December 30, 2010

I happen to be reading Other People's Habits, which is about applying behaviorist principles to interactions with other people, right now. It's very good. One basic idea is that the fact that this woman's behavior is continuing or escalating means that her behavior is being reinforced at least some of the time when she does these things, i.e. she's getting something she wants. It may be that she just wants to see you upset, so your getting all jangly and flustered is like giving the rat a food pellet. It may be that she fears losing her job altogether, and feels more secure if she "demonstrates" your professional inferiority, in which case your apologizing for something (acknowledging fault) is also like giving her a pellet. If you can deduce what flavor pellet encourages her / makes this behavior increase, you'll have a better chance of stopping giving it to her.
posted by jon1270 at 2:28 AM on December 30, 2010

I'd say that Madamina hit the nail directly on the head, and I'd also agree with facetious when he/she says that you should be carefully documenting all of this. Any time she pulls a stunt, I'd log the action and datetimestamp it in a Word document...
posted by Glendale at 3:59 AM on December 30, 2010

If you have a video camera in your cell phone start recording her as soon as she starts yelling. This will confuse her and probably stop the behavior.
posted by WizKid at 8:16 AM on December 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

HR. Thats all.
posted by hal_c_on at 8:54 AM on December 30, 2010

Not that this will solve your immediate problem, but it might give you some tools to deal with this type of person. You should consider reading The No Asshole Rule by Robert Sutton.
posted by chevyvan at 11:38 AM on December 30, 2010

PS. Erma would be classified as an Asshole according to this book.
posted by chevyvan at 11:39 AM on December 30, 2010

Nthing the advice not to be friends with her. Would advise against pulling her aside and telling her to "pull her fucking head in." This is a really difficult situation. Sorry you have to deal with it.

I kinda like the recording her when she starts yelling at you advice.

I do think it would be helpful to just ask her not to do things as calmly as possible.

Or maybe ask her directly if there is something she would like to discuss with you and an HR representative?
posted by jenfu at 12:36 PM on December 30, 2010

I'm sorry that you have to work with this awful woman! I've had my share of crazy/bullying co-workers and bosses, so I definitely understand your situation. I tried in all of those situations to do the 'kill them with kindness' thing, but it never, never, never worked. And each time I held in my rage so much that I just ended up quitting my job randomly because I couldn't take it anymore. Like you, I have trouble with conflict and anger -- and bullies look for people who can't handle that stuff well.

Looking back, I can definitely think of some tactics I should have used instead of the 'be sweet and suck it up' route. I think it's very hard to maintain the 'kill them with kindness' thing -- if you show a single moment of weakness or frustration, they're going to get off on that and keep going until they get that reaction again. It's like disciplining children; you need to be consistent or else they're going to keep testing the boundaries.

But that's really tough, at least for me (and I suspect it may be for you as well). Here's what I think you need to do: the next time she yells at you, tell her firmly and slightly sternly (though do not yell yourself, definitely stay in control) 'do not yell at me or talk to me like that. If you would like to have a conversation about our work, please come back when you are able to talk to me professionally'. She will not be expecting this -- she is hoping for cowering. Do not give her cowering. I stood up to one bully after months of cowering -- she blinked in shock and then barely spoke to me again, and when she did she was very polite. After all the crap I had taken from her, I was very happy with that outcome! I did feel a little bad, but I recognized that those feelings of guilt, etc, may be part of what lead me to be bullied in the first place.

I agree with all the people who say that you should not try to 'charm' her or bring her muffins and the like. Making any kind of friends with her is a bad idea -- if you let a person like this get closer to you ( or feel yourself starting to care about her as a friend), she will still manipulate, be passive-aggressive and nasty, only now it will hurt even more because you thought she was your friend. I'm seeing this happen to a co-worker right now at my current job.

For the future, my advice to everyone who frequently finds themselves to be at the losing end of bullying is this: go into every new job with a wall up. Obviously be friendly, pleasant and professional, but don't go in looking like you're trying to make some new best friends and definitely don't go in looking like you're trying to please everyone. At the smallest hint of bullying or controlling behavior, stand up for yourself to a degree that matches the aggression. For example, if a co-worker (not your boss, obviously) starts asking you to do things for her that aren't your job, and are things that she should be doing (this happened to me and was a precursor to further bullying), tell her jokingly something like 'oh, well i wouldn't want to rob you of the pleasure of doing X', and then walk away or return to your work.

I've become much more cynical about starting a new job because I've had crappy experiences like this at many places -- but looking back I know that there were many things I could have done differently before and during the bullying. You definitely need to set the tone from the beginning. But it's not too late to make your situation tons better -- just steel your nerve and tell this woman what's what!
posted by imalaowai at 1:02 PM on December 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Would advise against pulling her aside and telling her to "pull her fucking head in."

As would I, if I thought for a second that she would have the gumption to log and record it as I had been doing for her own behavior for weeks on end, or if I thought anybody else would overhear me.

But one on one, first thing on a Monday morning, what it would do is draw a battle line. It would make her furious, and that fury would dent her judgment, hopefully to the point where she would have a loud go at me where other people would hear it.

And I love the camera phone on standby idea, too.

The thing about workplace bullies is that they know how to work the systems that surround them to their own advantage. If you're going to win against a workplace bully, you need to encourage them to make unforced errors, and then take maximum advantage of those. Make yourself not worth the trouble, and the bully will move on to somebody else.
posted by flabdablet at 4:34 PM on December 30, 2010

telegraph: Isn't it amazing how she can say whatever she wants in whatever tone of voice she wants but let me reply and suddenly it's a Federal case. Do you think she is even aware she is doing it?

madamina: It really had not occurred to me that my taking "her" job was making her angry. I'd like to share this revelation with my boss at some point, except she probably already knows it. You have a point about looking--but who's to say there's not someone even crazier at the next one?

flabdablet: I agree, and didn't report for a long time until I realized that she needed to know *something* in order to have my back. Your method sounds much more effective and professional than mine.

I am familiar with one of the books and am looking forward to checking out the other. I was hoping bullying wasn't the case, just a few bouts of crazy, but--

All: thank you much for your thought and input, I truly appreciate it. Please anyone feel free to MeMail me if you have any other thoughts.
posted by Prairie at 11:34 AM on January 1, 2011

Update: I think someone gave this woman 'nice' drugs. She has been cordial, spoken to me civilly with proper affect and eye contact, and otherwise stayed out of my way. Well--maybe someone put the talk to her. I think AskMeFi is magic. I post about it, it gets fixed!
posted by Prairie at 7:46 PM on February 7, 2011

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