Stop annoying me, you nice competent person!
July 16, 2011 12:22 PM   Subscribe

I work closely with another girl who is very kind, helpful, and talented at her job. She is also highly sensitive and neurotic to the point where I become annoyed and exhausted after working with her for fifteen minutes. Help me make the best of this work relationship.

I just got a promotion and was transferred out of a lower paying department of many people to a much smaller, more challenging, higher paying department in the same office. Hooray! Where my old department was pretty independent, the people in my new department work closely together as a team. I'm enjoying the cooperative aspect of this job.

I'm being trained by the second junior-most person on the team, who happens to have one year of experience in my new department and years of similar office experience. I am what amounts to entry-level in experience. She's very good at her job, so I know I will learn a lot by working with her.

The problem is that, though she's very nice and helpful, she's also extremely neurotic. If I break eye contact with her for a second while she's explaining something to me, she'll turn and look and ask me what I'm looking at. Whenever she enters my office to show me something, we have at least a minute long exchange about Whether Or Not This Is a Good Time For Me -- even if I say "sure it is" right away. If I do anything other than smile while I am looking at her as she is correcting my work, she asks "Is something wrong? Are you feeling OK? You're not mad at me, are you?" This happens every time we talk during the day, which is at least 15 conversations.

By the end of a day, the constant personal check-ins sap my energy completely. Yesterday was hectic with my workload and I found that the combination of my work stress and her neuroses led to me acting annoyed when she came to talk to me once near the end of the day. I am generally a pleasant person, but I am also an introvert. I get overwhelmed by constant exposure to this sort of personality. Nonetheless, acting that way to a colleague made me feel unprofessional.

I tried to make light of it and told her jokingly a few days ago that if I make a weird face or something while she's talking to me, do not take it personally, that my default listening face is probably just weird and it has nothing to do with what I'm thinking about her. The questioning of my every mood still continues and still grates.

I've found a lot of questions on Ask Mefi about how to behave less sensitively/neurotically, but not much about how to deal with the sensitive and neurotic in a generous but firm way (unless my searching skills have failed me). Is there anything further I can do to make this situation less irritating or am I just going to have to suck it up?
posted by houndsoflove to Work & Money (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Try again and "sandwich" it.

"Hey, coworker! You are really, really helpful and I appreciate it. But the constant checking in and obsessing about stuff makes me crazy. If I have a question or problem, I'll let you know. And by the way, I love your shoes!"

Rinse and repeat. If nothing else, at the end of this experience you will have nerves of steel and the patience of a saint.
posted by bolognius maximus at 12:31 PM on July 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Because it sounds like you're going to be working with her very regularly, you're going to have to put the niceties aside in order to keep your sanity, and therefore start calling her out on her shit.

Try to be respectful about it, but at the same time get your point across; for example, the next time she starts ranting about "is this a good time?" respond with something like: "you know (name), just for future reference, when I say it is a good time it's a good time. Or if you break eye contact: "Oh, sorry (name). Seriously though, just because I look away does not mean I am not listening. OK?"

When dealing with the neurotic, you're going to have to be assertive if you want to survive.
posted by lobbyist at 12:34 PM on July 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Sounds like she's insecure -- maybe it's the first time she's ever trained someone, or maybe she has had horrible supervisors in the past and she's going overboard to be nice, or maybe she's just generally in need of constant validation from people. In any case, the thing to do is to be upfront about stating your needs and establishing some boundaries in a way that's both plain and pleasant.

Go for some variation on the following message, delivered cheerfully and matter-of-factly: "you know, [coworker], I really appreciate that you check in with my feelings or immediately situation as we're working. I need you to know that you can always take me at my word. If it's a bad time, I'll let you know. If I'm upset, I'll let you know. Okay?" [To which she'll almost certainly agree.] Then you smile and say "Thanks -- I appreciate it. So let's discuss the Widget Initiative."

From that point on, you'll probably have to continue to train her for awhile -- but now you've established some ground rules. So the next time she starts in on the "oh, but are you sure you're OK?" refrain, you can cheerfully and briskly redirect it by saying "you're taking me at my word, right? Cool. Okay, so about those widgets." After awhile, you may not even need to say anything -- you can just give her a smile and raise your eyebrow when she starts down the path.

If this still doesn't work after several days (several weeks if you have nerves of steel), you may need to be even more direct in your framing. If you find yourself trapped once again in the "Are you upset? Are you sure you're not upset? Are you sure you're sure?" circle of hell, you might say something like "[coworker,] I am not upset at this moment, but if you continue not to take me at my word, I will probably become upset. So let's move on, okay? Good lord, these widgets are exciting."

The key is to say this when you are genuinely not yet upset. Hopefully her fear of upsetting you will therefore kick in and force her to face the fact that constantly asking if you're upset is precisely the thing that will make you upset.
posted by scody at 1:12 PM on July 16, 2011 [15 favorites]

Gah! "...or immediately the immediate situation"
posted by scody at 1:14 PM on July 16, 2011

Tell her that when she and other people ask if it is a good time it makes you nervous. Promise her ib return that you will tell her immediately if it is not a good time, with no hard feelings. Ask her whether she can live with this compromise.
And/or ignore it when she asks you whether it is a good time and just repeat "no problem, how can I help you?"
posted by Omnomnom at 1:14 PM on July 16, 2011

Best answer: Remember that she is probably just as frustrated as you are with these behaviors, but that she sometimes cannot stop herself. I know that that sucks. It sounds like this new position is very new for you; most likely, she will loosen up in the weeks to come.

I have to train new people and due to past (bad) experiences, I am very, very sensitive to how I come across. I'm worried about being too overbearing, too remote, too clingy, too involved, etc. It sucks! All I want is for my trainee to feel comfortable and happy, and it's hard to gauge where that point is for each particular person.

I have been burnt before because my default as a trainer is to be uninvolved - I think that if there's a problem, the new person will come to me. I've found that that is not the case, and that I've missed significant issues because of this assumption. Therefore, I am hyper-sensitive to how I interact with new hires.

If you've been there more than a few months, my input is invalid, but otherwise I would suggest you wait it out and use the responses that lobbyist, bolognius maximus, and especially scody suggested.

I can see how you're torn right now - it sounds like this person can and will be incredibly valuable to you, but that they are uncomfortable right now in that position. Try to make the most of that! You can emphasize the "we're in this together, isn't it fun and weird and challenging?!" part without (hopefully) freaking her out too much. If you shift their energy from "oh god, new person is new" to "oh god, let's explore this new way of working," you'll take her energy off of you and hopefully onto the situation.
posted by punchtothehead at 1:17 PM on July 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

Next time she asks if "it's a good time"--tell her it's not, even if it is. Tell her you'll come to her in a couple of minutes when you've wrapped up what you're in the middle of.

And then ask her if it's a good time.

The next time she asks you about looking away, just tell her you process information through visualization and you do that by looking away.

Her annoying habits will continue to manifest themselves, but you both need to know that you're not helpless to them.
posted by vitabellosi at 2:41 PM on July 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Say what you mean, mean what you say, but don't say it mean.
posted by sleeping beauty at 6:57 PM on July 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

A dissenting voice here. Don't engage with this. If you need to tell her 10 times it is (or isn't) a good time, do it without getting involved. When asked if you're mad, just say no, pleasantly and professionally.

You need to remember it's your choice whether or not to climb into this emotional whirlpool. You can simply remain professional without engaging more.

I.e. her sense of boundaries sounds very damaged. But yours is fine. Stick with normal behavior and don't get sucked into this dynamic.
posted by bearwife at 12:01 AM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hmm, I feel for you because I find people like that extremely frustrating and there is no way that I could take her seriously either..

So yes, you'll have to start a mantra of it's her, not me and to start to train her to a degree. I like Scody's suggestions a lot. Also, be your normal self and enforce your boundaries.

Depending on the nature of your tasks you could also suggest to her that you check in with each other at set times each day so as to minimise the number of times you have to interrupt her with questions etc. At those set times you could then go over any questions you have, discuss progress and also receive any new tasks she has for you.

This could work quite well as long as you can make sure you have a few tasks you can be working on so that you can switch from one to the other if you get stuck and collect any questions or problems until the next catch up. The aim is to minimise the number of interactions per day and reduce frustration for you. Doing this would also force her to really think about how she trains and supervises you because she'd have to think about new tasks to assign you ahead of your catch ups.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:01 AM on July 17, 2011

Response by poster: Thank you for your ideas about how to be assertive, everyone (and the perspective on what she might be thinking, punchtothehead). I sent her an email this morning telling her to approach me as needed and not worry about timing or what I might be feeling, that I'm there to help her and to listen. We had a really great day.
posted by houndsoflove at 4:00 PM on July 18, 2011

« Older Currency exchange timing   |   ID/MT/WY cabin recommendations wanted. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.