Challenged by coworker's personality
February 9, 2012 7:17 PM   Subscribe

How to keep perspective about a coworker that I dislike, and maintain focus on work?

The woman with whom I share my office is someone I find difficult to be around. She insists on talking about social and political issues and even though I had made it clear that I am not interested in discussing those matters at work I am with earshot of her conversations with others. She self-identifies as a "conservative" and listens to talk radio (earbuds) and reads conservative blogs at work. She considers herself a Christian. Just today I overheard her conversation with another employee wherein she offered her opinion on bumper stickers. Regarding "Hatred Is Not A Family Value", she insisted that the statement makes no sense. Regarding "Tolerance" made of letters representing different religions and beliefs, she said "Don't get me started... I hate that bumper sticker".

Additionally, the woman is a busybody and gossip. I have heard her speculate about the private lives of other employees - I imagine she does the same about me.

And, finally, she adamantly makes her opinions known when technical questions arise at work when it is clear (to me at last) that she does not understand the breadth of the issue at hand. I will admit that I hold not respect for her technical opinions as a result. She has been with the company 6 years - I have been here 1 year.

Venting here, perhaps. Recommendations and insights welcomed.
posted by LeeNicholson to Human Relations (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Invest in a good pair of headphones.
posted by xingcat at 7:21 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Can you work from home one or two days a week? If she does the same, pick opposing days.
posted by carmicha at 7:30 PM on February 9, 2012

Gossips hate being gossiped about.

'You know Edith, I overheard some people talking about how you talk about your politics too much at work.'
posted by k8t at 7:32 PM on February 9, 2012 [11 favorites]

Option A: Don't engage with her at all other than polite greetings and work topics. Otherwise, keep to yourself and crank up that iPod. (I have found this post helpful when it comes to really difficult people.)

Option B: Can you have your desk relocated?
posted by fancypance at 7:55 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I've had this issue before.

When other coworkers talk amongst themselves about political/religious topics, especially when they have viewpoints I don't agree with, I try my best to just keep out of it. (And I've failed a couple of times, but I've learned my lesson.)

When they try to approach me with them, I just say "I'm sorry, but I don't like discussing politics or religion at the work place." Repeat ad nauseum. Some will get it, and then we get along great - because we've established what we feel comfortable talking about together at work. Others won't get it, but in my experience, they then just find someone else to talk to who is receptive to it all, and leave me alone.
posted by spinifex23 at 7:57 PM on February 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Consider this: when you think about someone, or talk about them, that person is the most interesting or compelling thing in your life at that moment. Now estimate how many moments are left in your life. Now think about how many amazing, important, or enjoyable things there are to think about on the planet, most of which you might never experience.

Consider that when you are at work and start thinking about this woman and how annoying she is. She sounds quite irksome but it's a total waste of your life to think about her.
posted by cairdeas at 7:58 PM on February 9, 2012 [10 favorites]

This thread may be helpful.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:06 PM on February 9, 2012

Consider that when you are at work and start thinking about this woman and how annoying she is. She sounds quite irksome but it's a total waste of your life to think about her.

This. I have someone like this - and the best advice is DO NOT ENGAGE.

Especially if other people dislike her too and want to bring you in to share your mutual loathing. Don't make her a bigger part of your life than necessary. If you can work with earphones - do so. That way you won't be tempted to latch on or correct her or "Engage".
posted by sarahnicolesays at 8:14 PM on February 9, 2012

Best answer: She sounds like the typical office busybody. The fact that she's a conservative strikes me as irrelevant - I've known liberal office busybodies, and they are just as annoying. It's likely many of your coworkers can't stand her either, even if no one talks about it.

There are some people who deal with the office busybody by blatantly being jerks to their faces, so the busybody leaves them alone and just talks about them behind their backs - the jerk people find this to be a positive outcome. I have a hard time being a jerk to people, and being a jerk to a coworker's face brings the risk of punishment if she complains about it, so I prefer to take the polite/boring route, which is in the next paragraph.

If she brings up a topic you aren't interested in discussing, just tune her out. If she's saying this stuff directly to you, don't engage her in conversation or debate - just say, "Uh huh. Mm." etc. She'll talk herself out. If she's really trying to get you to respond, you can vaguely say, "Oh, I don't know" or "I'd rather not talk about that" or "Sorry, I'm trying to concentrate on this" if you can convincingly look busy. If you're overhearing things she's saying to other people, ignore her. Be glad she isn't talking to you. If she's trying to make herself sound smart and relevant by butting into conversations that have nothing to do with her or technical stuff she doesn't understand, generally other people notice this. She'll say her piece, and then you can continue with whatever else you were talking about.

I don't think there's a way to get the office busybody to change, so all you can do is not engage and not trust her with anything you wouldn't want everybody else to know.
posted by wondermouse at 8:15 PM on February 9, 2012

noise cancelling headphones + smile and nod if headphones not in situ + don't talk about anything personal when she's in the room = retaining your sanity
posted by finding.perdita at 8:45 PM on February 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

I try to avoid office troublemakers by being (or appearing to be) busy busy busy all the time.
"Sorry, can't talk now, I've got to get these TPS Reports done by 5!"
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 9:19 PM on February 9, 2012

Is changing offices a possibility at all? Can you tell your boss that the noise is disturbing you and you'd prefer to be with a quieter office-mate?
posted by hazyjane at 10:22 PM on February 9, 2012

People are allowed to talk to other people. They're allowed to express points of view you don't agree with. They're even allowed to gossip about coworkers - including you - so long as it's not slanderous. I mean, their private lives can't be that private if she knows about them, can they? And finally, they're allowed to be not-so-great at their jobs all the time.

If she kept trying to talk to you about those things when you'd asked her not to, well, that's something to complain about. If her lack of expertise is dragging down your project, then fine. But let's get real here: you seem to 'overhear' an awful lot. And if something was 'clear to me, at least', but not to a bunch of other people who'd been there a lot longer than me, I'd wonder whether I was really all that, or whether I was just projecting.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:59 AM on February 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, you're going to have moments when she is INTENSELY annoying and moments when you find you can easily ignore her. You're just going to have to refuse from engaging and gradually get used to her presence.

I have a similar issue now with a co-worker. Can't stand the dude, but unfortunately he really likes me and is always stopping by for a chat! I have mastered the art of polite non-engagement and while at the time it makes me want to tear my hair out, it's not something that lingers long after he leaves.

So my advice: NEVER engage, don't make eye contact, pretend to not hear her and otherwise ignore her... and accept that she is a part of your office background.
posted by Ziggy500 at 2:35 AM on February 10, 2012

Is there anything you like about her? Any positive thoughts about her would help you feel better and less stressed by having her around. Try not to let what you overheard occupy your mind. Put up a good pair of headphones and turn on some peaceful music. And, what about checking out Dale Carnegie's classic "How to win friends and influence people"?
posted by teamup at 3:44 AM on February 10, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you all for sharing your thoughts - much appreciated! Some good suggestions, which help reinforce some ideas I have had on my own.

Yes, I am aware that I own my reaction to situations and, yes, I keep in mind the concept that we often dislike most in others what we know to be true about ourselves. So whenever annoyance arises, I do try to reflect on the emotion and what it says about me. For example, I do hold strong opinions on social and political issues, which are quite the opposite of those held by my office mate, but I never speak about such things at work. So, I suppose, part of my frustration is that while I am practicing deference I am enduring what I feel is disrespectful and insensitive behavior.

I am reminded (phone rings) of another item: we share a phone at work. She insists that it must remain unplugged, however, because the intercom/ringing is something she finds noisy. I missed a call from a vendor two weeks ago - suggested that we keep the phone plugged in and her response was an emphatic "Not of MY desk!". So I moved the phone two feet to the right, placed it on my desk and plugged it back in. Still within her earshot, but I suppose she feels victorious in some way.

Again - thanks all!
posted by LeeNicholson at 3:53 AM on February 10, 2012

... we share a phone at work.

I'd start looking for another job.
posted by Bruce H. at 5:44 AM on February 10, 2012

their private lives can't be that private if she knows about them, can they

You might be surprised at how untrue this is. Some people find ways to "know" otherwise private things in ways that are often borderline if not straight up illegal. They them bring into the office to create gossip-fueled drama which probably wouldn't otherwise exist.

So, I suppose, part of my frustration is that while I am practicing deference I am enduring what I feel is disrespectful and insensitive behavior.

Consider the possibility that a deliberate attempt is being made to provoke you because of your stance of practicing deference. It's been claimed on other posts that some people like your bothersome coworker consider that to be aggressive behavior. Such people perhaps take your visible reaction as part of their reward.
posted by fuse theorem at 6:00 AM on February 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Headphones. And Pandora!

Even if you don't have noise-cancelling headphones, pretend you can't hear them when you have your headphones on.
posted by radioamy at 8:24 AM on February 10, 2012

Response by poster: looking for another job

Not something I would consider having recently re-gained employment following nearly two years without (corporate off-shoring of projects from US).

Some people find ways to "know" otherwise private things

Thankfully, I discovered early that my office mate is a tireless busybody, injecting herself into conversations and talking about others behind their backs. I quickly learned to share nothing of my personal life.

Anyway, I want to follow up here to say that I carried some of these good suggestions with me to work today and I do believe I fared better. There were a few exchanges between my office mate and other co-workers which I heard, but I was able to not permit annoyance to rise.
posted by LeeNicholson at 5:59 PM on February 10, 2012

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