I'd almost rather you'd just be a bitch all the time.
March 10, 2012 5:11 PM   Subscribe

How do you deal with a moody coworker?

So I just got a new job. It's a temp gig but long-term. The position is a receptionist/administrative assistant and for complicated reasons it takes two people to do, so it is integral to my job that I work very closely and communicate a lot with the other person who's also doing the same job.

This person is also a temp but has been there for months longer than me and was in charge of training me. I've been there for two weeks now and feel I have most of the stuff down but because our position requires an enormous amount of attention to detail and responding to situations that are different every day, it's inevitable that that there are going to be things I don't know, forget about, mess up, etc., at first.

I totally accept that I am still learning and will need correction from time to time but the other person is always on me, micromanaging and "reminding" me of things I don't need to be reminded of. If I do get something wrong, she'll tell me about it but not in a "just a reminder, don't forget to do A before you do B" sort of way but in a "you did this wrong and now it's a federal case" way. She doesn't get abusive or anything but the way she says things makes me feel like she thinks I'm lazy and/or stupid and is just so sick of dealing with me.

Also, a big part of our job is deciding who does what when and instead of deciding together, she often just gives me orders. Obviously, that's okay for training purposes, but she seems to want to continue acting like my boss and I am not down with that.

The weird thing is she'll often be really nice during our "down" time and want to chat and will bring me snacks and whatnot. Then again there are days she walks in (usually late) and I say good morning and she just gives me a disgusted look. I never know how she's going to react so I'm often afraid to ask her questions and if I make a mistake I won't mention it just to avoid her getting pissed about it. For example, last Friday I accidentally printed some postage that wasn't really needed. Rather than ask her if there was a way to reverse it it, I just didn't say anything because I couldn't handle yet another reaming out.

I tried talking to her about it this week when she noticed I was getting a little prickly. She assured me she didn't think I was stupid or lazy and admitted that the job "brought out the worst" in her. Then she was way nicer to me - and things went swimmingly work-wise, I might add- until Friday afternoon when all of a sudden she started up again.

So, clearly, talking to her is not a long-term solution. How do I deal with having to work with someone with crazy moods? Work is hard enough without the emotional rollercoaster of "does my closest coworker like me/hate me?" going on every day. And what is the best way to assert my self and stake my position as an equal?
posted by Jess the Mess to Work & Money (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
She assured me she didn't think I was stupid or lazy and admitted that the job "brought out the worst" in her.
This is good news. You just have to remind yourself of this every time it happens. Really, some people just aren't good at keeping their emotions in check. She would treat President Obama this way if they hired him for your job, because it has nothing to do with the person they hired and everything to do with her. Maybe she's dealing with some really messed up stuff at home and doesn't have any more energy to keep it together at work or something like that. Just focus on the good stuff (being friendly, bringing snacks, etc.) and give her positive reinforcement every time she treats you well and don't create a nasty cycle of badness by treating her badly in return.

Since it's just a temp job, it might be best to just keep your head down and go with the flow, unless you're trying to wring some career-juice out of it. In that case you could go to your supervisor and ask (not in a whiny, tattle-tale kind of way) for some clarification regarding roles, because Jane continues to dictate tasks long after training was complete. But this might undermine your attempts to make her more friendly to you.
posted by bleep at 5:29 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

So, clearly, talking to her is not a long-term solution.

I don't know- it sounds like it DID work for a whole week. She might just need a reminder now and then. If it's a habit, it'll take some time for her to break it.
posted by small_ruminant at 5:32 PM on March 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mostly, though, I think you're going to have to keep reminding yourself that this isn't personal. She's already told you that the job gets to her and she thinks you're capable of it. You may need to occasionally, calmly ask her if you're doing something incorrectly or if there's something else she'd like you to be helping with - basically, ask as if you're concerned that she seems stressed. That may help to remind her that she's being bossy or short with you. AND it may help her to tell you what she actually needs done and remind her that you don't need babysitting.

Don't hide the mistakes if you can help it. I'm totally avoidant myself so I'm probably being a huge hypocrite saying this, but in the long run it will either be worse when the mistake is discovered or you'll feel totally guilty about it way past when it's worth it. Tell her on Monday that you think you screwed up a postage thing. You'll need to know how to reverse it if that happens again. So start of by telling her you made the mistake and would she please show you how to fix it? That way you can rectify the mistake, make her feel good for knowing how to do it, and be able to fix the mistake yourself next time.

One more thing - I know this isn't what you want to hear, but keep in mind that two weeks is only 10 days. There are probably a host of problems and tasks that you haven't learned yet because they only come up once a month or only at the end/beginning of a new year or a new semester or a new financial quarter.

Good luck! Remember, it's only been two weeks! Who knows what's going on in her head right now? Give it time.
posted by maryr at 8:04 PM on March 10, 2012

I'm in the same boat as you right now and could have written this myself. (I've actually been considering it. Thanks for asking for me!)

In my situation, I work in an office where the only language used is not my native language. When I inevitably turn to my coworker to ask about a work or cultural concept I don't understand or for clarification on an explanation from our manager or on company memos, I am completely at the mercy of her mood. When she's in a good mood, she answers with a smile and often extra information/explanation. When she's in a bad mood (most of the time), she sighs, rolls her eyes, and adds generally unpleasant comments or uses harsher forms of the language used to show authority and her higher position within the work hierarchy.

My strategy so far has just been to become Joe Professional whenever we interact on the clock, no matter what her mood. I don't sugar-coat things, I don't try to be affable by asking her about her weekend (or whatever) during down time. I just do my work and keep my interactions brief and on point. Admittedly, it hasn't done anything to positively advance our interactions on a personal level, but frankly, I don't really have interest in getting to know someone who responds to a simple "Thanks for buying the coffee in the break room" with "I didn't buy it just for YOU, you know. It's for everyone. *eye roll*."
posted by Kevtaro at 8:10 PM on March 10, 2012

She's been there months longer than you. She probably is going to be better at deciding who does what when. A little respect for her knowledge would probably go a long way.
posted by parrot_person at 8:48 PM on March 10, 2012

If she's also a temp, she probably isn't getting paid more to train you, right? So you coming on the job meant she had to do her regular job PLUS also now train you, so increased workload.

I'd encourage you to be respectful of her experience while also contributing your perspective...and sometime this week, go out to coffee and ask her if the two of you can have a code word when things are getting really stressful, that maybe you can say it and the other person will respond by taking a few deep breaths. Make it something you can do together.

This is just a temp job, but as mentioned upthread it can happen anywhere. Use this as good training for future, more permanent jobs.
posted by arnicae at 9:08 PM on March 10, 2012

As much as she needs to train you to get you up to speed in your new role, you need to train her to get her up to speed as a trainer. So when she gets something wrong, tell her about it in a "just a reminder, don't forget that I am neither stupid nor lazy" sort of way and not in a "you did this wrong and now it's a federal case" way.
posted by flabdablet at 11:34 PM on March 10, 2012

Response by poster: I feel like, at the moment, I'm being as positive, respectful and friendly to her as I can manage. I wish it could just grin and bear it for the months ahead but it was already wearing on me so bad by last week I was seriously considering just ditching the job and looking for other temp work. The only reason I decided to stay is that the pay (which I desperately need) is unusually good at this one.

As to having respect for her seniority and knowledge, I feel that I totally do, and it's not so much that she's making the decisions right now but the way she articulates them. I feel like if she could just be consistently pleasant everything would be fine but I get the sense that being pleasant requires more energy than she's got most of the time (she is always late to work, always talks about how exhausted she is, and is always threatening to call in sick the next day so she can sleep). And I know training isn't fun for her. It's hard and she's not getting getting paid any more for her trouble. I sympathize and I've expressed my sympathy to her.

I am also continually looking for things to do to make our job easier, and do them whenever I can. But in order to do that I also need a little bit of autonomy, which she is not giving me right now. For example, I'll say "I'm going to go get X thing done that needs to be done now"and she'll almost always respond with something else for me to do instead even if it's just "I need you to watch the desk while I get a cup of coffee."

I don't know, maybe she was just having a rough week. I have to admit, my hopes for her making a permanent change are low due to past experience with moody people at work. My second to last boss also had insane mood swings with inconsistent work expectations to match and no matter how many times we tried to work out a mutually tolerable situation, she'd be better for a couple days, then back to her old ways. She was another person I learned to hide mistakes from because the fallout was SO not worth it. In a normal situation, with an even-tempered boss/coworker, I am always the first to admit my mistakes in order to learn from them and help build trust. I don't feel like I learned much from that situation apart from "working with emotionally manipulative people sucks."

I may be overly sensitive and I know I shouldn't take it personally and I know that it's in fact *not* personal or in any way my fault, but not taking things personally has always been much easier said than done for me. It still takes an emotional toll on me. If I could figure out a way to truly just not care, that would be great.
posted by Jess the Mess at 12:44 PM on March 11, 2012

I know it's much easier said than done, but as you have found out, this kind of situation is more common than not. I sympathize because I've done a lot of temp work too and worked with a lot of these people. It's not possible to change them, but it is possible to change yourself.
posted by bleep at 1:39 PM on March 11, 2012


Your coworker doesn't sound "moody" at all. She sounds professional in a professional setting, and congenial in a less professional setting (lunch).

I am training someone right now who I feel may be similar to you. He's been there for nearly four months and he's always attempting to find ways to make the job easier, devising new activities and things.....but still constantly screwing up on basic tasks. When I remind him of these basic tasks he gets all upset. :-/

I actually commend your coworker Reminding you of federal guidelines and consequences is more appropriate to the workplace. "Don't forget!" is more appropriate for a child. In addressing you this way I think she's showing you a tremendous amount of respect - she is treating you as a professional, not a child.

You've only been there a few weeks but you're stating you need autonomy. You do not. You are still training. You need to do what your trainer says. Try to understand how frustrating that is for a trainer - you ask the trainee to do A, B, and C, and instead of doing those they whine about not being able to do X, Y, and Z.

The other individual who is training you may not be your "boss" per se, but she is still obviously senior and knows how the job needs to be done better than you do at this point. You need to recognize that and treat her with the respect she deserves. I work with a TON of people that are not my "boss". I don't assume I am equal to them, though, many have experience I do not have, and I respect them for that. In return, I've noticed they respect me for the (small) experience I have they do not have.

I know this comment may sound overly harsh, but the guy I'm training is also in a temp position and is aiming for the permanent position. Based on his attitude (which again, sounds very similar to yours) during training, though, his application will not even be considered for the permanent position. That's based on nearly four months on his continued whining though - with only two weeks under your belt, I'm sure you could probably turn this around.

And honestly - the only reason why I haven't actually tried to *fire* him, is because this temp position is short term.

So...TL;DR.... stop focusing on your coworker. Go in and do the job you're being asked to do. If you do that correctly, you'll be given more tasks. If you don't, you'll earn a bad rep as a whiner.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 2:47 PM on March 11, 2012

Response by poster: I appreciate everyone's attempts to answer my question. After some further Googling I came across some pretty solid advice for my situation and for dealing with moody people in general here. I thought I'd post it for other people who might find themselves in the same situation, like Kevtaro. I'm planning to put it in action this week and I'll see if anything improves.
posted by Jess the Mess at 6:03 PM on March 11, 2012

Don't take it personally, most temp jobs are the same.
posted by inkypinky at 9:52 AM on April 19, 2012

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