Did I overreact?
April 2, 2013 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Did I overreact about this incident at work? What would you do?

I work for a very small company with 8 other co-workers. It's a book scanner position so I basically just digitize books all day at a workstation. I've been there for a year and it's honestly just a job that pays the bills. I work with two very gossipy and passive-aggressive co-workers. I've heard stories from my supervisor that they make fun of other employees behind their back etc. They've made backhanded comments towards me that I would just brush off. I really don't know why they dislike me in particular. I always greet them and occasionally have small talk if I run into them during lunch or break. Besides that, we never talk. I try to avoid unnecessary confrontation at all costs. So I just let it be.

When I came to work on Monday, I found that someone had switched office chairs with me. All of the chairs at work are pretty dumpy and the workstations are open to any employee who is assigned to it. People trade chairs all the time. I didn't think anything of it and just went on with my day. I did notice one of my co-workers, I'll call her Jennifer, using my chair and I was using hers. Both chairs are equally crappy so it wasn't a big deal. Today, after I come back from lunch - I find that Jennifer had switched the chairs. I was a little annoyed because she could have easily asked me and I would have complied. I eventually just forgot about it.

At the end of the day though, as I'm editing my work - I find something in one of the books I've scanned. Jennifer had written out "I will not take Jennifer's chair again" in big bold letters in black ink on a piece of paper. I was pretty disturbed by it because it wasn't something I expected. I became pretty angry afterwards because she obviously wanted me to see it and accused me of something I didn't do. I went to my manager and calmly told him what happened. That I found it childish and immature to do such a thing. I never accused her straight out but he knew it was her. He apologized and told me he'd take care of it.

I feel the whole situation would have been avoided had she just confronted me. There were other incidents like this that have happened in the past, where I felt disliked by both of these co-workers, but I've always just ignored it.

Did I overreact? Should I have let it slide? Is it just a dumb thing that I'm supposed to just forget about?
posted by morning_television to Work & Money (29 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you didn't overreact. I would talk to the people in question and say that it was your assumption that chairs are moved all the time, but if they'd like to work together to make sure everybody has the chairs they want, you'd be open to that.
posted by xingcat at 4:05 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I try to avoid unnecessary confrontation at all costs.....I feel the whole situation would have been avoided had she just confronted me.

Well, you didn't appear to even consider just going and confronting her about the note before tattling to your manager, so if you have a problem with passive aggressive people you can start by fixing yourself.

Did I overreact? Should I have let it slide? Is it just a dumb thing that I'm supposed to just forget about?

Yes, yes, and yes.
posted by jacalata at 4:06 PM on April 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

I wouldn't worry about it. passive aggressive notes seem like a workplace standard these days. take a picture, post it on the blog, laugh it off.

people are petty and suck. hopefully they or you move on from the job and you get to work with people who make your days more enjoyable.

unless you want to get caught up in the drama, I'd drop it. I would have totally just ignored it to start with.
posted by euphoria066 at 4:06 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

It's dumb, she's an idiot. If it's a "just a job" type job, I'd just chalk it up to someone not graduating kindergarten with flying colors and forget about it.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:06 PM on April 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you handled it fine. They're behaving like children, you didn't engage with them but also reported it so if it escalates your manager has some context. That's totally fine. You could have handled it directly with her, but I suspect that's what she was hoping for, and it might well have turned into a scene.

Now, go ahead and write it off as a dumb thing and forget about it. It's over, it's handled, and there's no point seething about it. And you certainly don't want to be the one to escalate it. So yeah, just move on from here. But you didn't do anything wrong.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:08 PM on April 2, 2013 [22 favorites]

Uh, April Fool's?

Maybe they were trying to provoke you by switching chairs, but since they got no response ramped it up a bit.
posted by lulu68 at 4:10 PM on April 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Well, you didn't appear to even consider just going and confronting her about the note before tattling to your manager

Maybe a good point that in general people should try to resolve conflicts directly, but with bullying coworkers I wouldn't worry too much about "tattling." They will continue to pull aggravating bullshit as long as they can get away with it, and I doubt you're going to have a pleasant, constructive conversation with either of them, if they're this childish. I think it was the right thing to do to calmly tell your boss so that if there's further behavior, it's at least been reported in some way. If he/she is a good boss, they will know who is being a weirdo in this situation. Microaggressions suck.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:11 PM on April 2, 2013 [31 favorites]

Why couldn't you just laugh it off and ask her about it?
posted by discopolo at 4:18 PM on April 2, 2013

I think the manager gets paid to deal with that crap and if the job is one that just 'pays the bills' you're not required to be anyone's stand-in supervisor, psychologist, or parent.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 4:29 PM on April 2, 2013 [19 favorites]

I think you did just fine: you don't have proof of who left the note (just some pretty solid suspicions!), you didn't confront anyone or get nasty or aggressive. You simply, calmly, took that passive-aggressive little missive to your boss and left him with it --- ABSOLUTELY correctly.

Now all you've got to do is keep on taking the high road you're already on; don't confront them, continue being pleasant & professional to their faces and avoid gossip: let your boss take care of this stupidity.
posted by easily confused at 4:34 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

He apologized and told me he'd take care of it.

And then he glanced at your coworker, rolled his eyes, and went back to whatever he was doing and forgot this ever happened. Because this is really stupid bullshit.

Yes, that is a ridiculous catty grade school response. File it away and forget this ever happened, there's absolutely nothing meaningful to be done here but get on with your life. Maybe take a couple moments to reflect on what a sad existence she must have to find it worth her time to write a note like that about a chair.

P.S. no, going to your manager is fine. In the future, just don't say anything unless this escalates. but you didn't overreact imo. the correct response is between nothing to about the territory of what you did.
posted by emptythought at 4:46 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree with you; Jennifer seems strange and out to create drama.

However, it might have been better just to go over and say: 'Hey, Jennifer? Was that your chair? Oh, sorry, didn't realise, just let me know next time!'

Not because she's in the right, but because life is too short. Also, bring in a nice squishy cushion - if you're sat scanning all day no reason why you shouldn't be comfortable.

Definitely keep the note, though, in case you get others and you need to take action. Passive aggressive notes can easily escalate into office bullying.
posted by dumdidumdum at 4:53 PM on April 2, 2013

Put me in the camp of "Next time, talk to the perp first." I've seen passive-aggressive people wilt when calmly called out on their behavior, especially if it happens to be done in front of their passive-aggressive buddies. If you speak calmly and professionally and don't let her squirm out of it, it sends a "don't mess with me because it won't work" message that can make your life more peaceful.

Example: You find the snarky note. You wait an hour or so to calm down. You notice that Jennifer has gone into the break room with her buddies. You "wander" into the break room with the note in hand. You show it to Jennifer and say calmly, "You didn't need to leave this in a book for me to find. Next time, if you think I've taken your chair, just tell me. When I got to work, you were already in my chair and I said nothing. If it were important to me, I would have said something. If you wanted to change chairs again, you could have easily said something." She will probably bluster meaningless stuff or say nothing, giving you the opportunity to nod politely and smile at everyone, and then leave. She and her cronies will then enjoy a "the nerve!!!" catfest but the message will be sent and, in my experience, they should back off of you.
posted by ceiba at 4:56 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

yea, if direct talk would have worked with her, she would have talked to you directly herself. Confronting her after she's left a pissy little note where you will find it will just result in her denying everything. She's acted like a child, you've acted like an adult. Hopefully now you can forget all about it. Unless, of course, you can use it as a funny story to amuse your non-work friends. "so apparently there is this book in my office that steals chairs, and has a guilty conscience about it..."
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:57 PM on April 2, 2013

Also, in agreement with sm1tten, if this behavior flourishes in the workplace, it's often because the management is equally drama-prone and passive-aggressive. I had my most memorable "I won't participate in your snarkiness" conversation with a manager who was "above" me, not a coworker. You need to make clear to everyone (calmly!!) what you won't tolerate. Out-professional them all.
posted by ceiba at 5:03 PM on April 2, 2013

I can't see any flaw in how you handled it. By going straight to your manager rather than confronting Jennifer or someone else about the letter, you send the message that you're not interested in playing office games. It's your manager's job to control the office, not yours.

To go a bit further, I would also say punting these types of things to your manager also sets a good precedent that you take your orders from the manager only, not coworkers not matter how long they've been there. So, for example, you mentioned that chairs are routinely traded. If a specific person, i.e., Jennifer, wants you to make an exception for her, you have no obligation to do so unless directed by your manager. In this case, your manager appears to be on your side, so I see no reason why you should "not take Jennifer's chair again."
posted by Bokmakierie at 6:20 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

You did exactly the right thing. Look her right in the eye from now on and think: I am Winston Churchill, motherfucker. Stop avoiding confrontation at all costs. There are some costs not worth paying for peace.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 7:20 PM on April 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

I am a manager. I am not your manager. I'd agree with how you handled it, as long as you realize that it probably did not harm but also probably not much good. This just doesn't sound like a gig where anyone cares. The job's boring and they invent drama all the time to make it less boring. They're bullies, and if they've been getting away with it that tells you how much the management is invested in stopping it. So the management sucks too, for allowing it, and while they're at it, making people who have to sit in task chairs all day use crappy task chairs.

Shutting them out, to the extent you can, is the best course but it doesn't make it go away, which is one of the fallacies of the various schools of thought about playing freeze-out with bullies. The only thing that stops bullies is that they get fired/expelled/whatever. People who suck, suck. Watch your back, protect your belongings, car, etc. in this environment. I wouldn't say a word to them, ever. It won't stop them talking about you, but it might help you stand out to whatever these people are who are supposed to be running this show, then you might get to be a supervisor and make their lives a little more difficult. Or better still, find a better job, which sounds like the only solution here.

I'm not sure if this would have been the best course, but I like to think that when I saw the note I'd have made no comment, balled it up like you would a burger wrapper, and deposited it in a waste can where they could see it. I sometimes think "passive aggressive" gets a bad rap. Played correctly, and with a certain flair-ish contempt for the objects of your scorn, namely your asshole co-workers, it can hit them where they live, which is their egos, while satisfying both their desire to keep some drama going (they know that you know) and your desire to keep them off-balance and guessing (but do they know if you know that they know?)
posted by randomkeystrike at 7:26 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I mean who cares who moved the chairs around first, but the little note is crazypants. That's the kind of thing that a small minded person would do who can't even imagine life outside of the shitty job she has right now. Just brush it off. The job is temporary for you. She'll probably be there for a while.
posted by empath at 7:28 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would have taken a picture of the note and uploaded it to passiveaggressivenotes.com.

But then again, personally satisfying as that might be, it's probably better to take the high road from the start. That way, if the cray-cray keeps on coming, your behavior is unimpeachable.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:01 PM on April 2, 2013

You do realize, as lulu68 mentioned, that Monday was April 1? It sounds like an April fool's joke, though I have to say that it's pretty lame, if that's what it actually was.

On preview: Sending to passiveagressivenotes.com is certainly a neat idea, April fool's joke or not.
posted by brianogilvie at 8:03 PM on April 2, 2013

Here's how you deal with this: get everybody together and go to your manager and demand new chairs. It's the most important piece of a person's working setup and they shouldn't be so janky that swapping them is a problem like this.
posted by rhizome at 9:10 PM on April 2, 2013

I think you handled it just fine. She obviously wanted to provoke a reaction from you and create some drama. Presumably she imagined herself hiding in a broom closet waiting for ZOMG LOOK AT HER FACE LOL SO FREAKED OUT before breaking into mad giggling. Because she's twelve.

Calmly going to the boss and letting him handle this is totally legit. It's his job to manage his people. You're just there to show up and do your job.
posted by desuetude at 9:45 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

You didn't overreact. That's a really weird thing to do and honestly, is slightly threatening and backhanded. If she had a problem with it, she could've just said something. At my office I've done that several times, loudly saying, "OK, who took my chair?" They aren't assigned chairs at all, but people have chairs they use everyday and everyone respects it. The fact that she slipped a note into your work so you'd stumble upon it is not how to deal with things as an adult in an office. If anything, you did her a favor so she can learn how stupid she looks doing shit like that. And all you did was tell your manager -- that's why managers are there. No big deal.
posted by AppleTurnover at 10:31 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I probably would have found it and bemusedly asked right then, "Hey, Jennifer, did you really just leave me a funny note instead of just asking if you could have your favorite chair back? What, am I too intimidating to approach, or something?" (Important: "asked if," not demanded, recovered, or anything implying anything other than asking me a favor; also, "your FAVORITE chair," not "YOUR" chair.)

Going to the manager would be reserved for if I got an unsatisfactory crazy-pants response back.

But I don't think you were out of normal at all. Just different styles. I have best results with my way, but personality and delivery makes a difference in what style will work for you. Some people would only manage to escalate the situation by a direct call-out.
posted by ctmf at 10:51 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Or, you could be reading this whole thing wrong. Maybe they're inviting you into the club.

Maybe in this club, they play little gotcha games like "get the good chair when someone fails to guard it." Maybe they also leave little "nyah, nyah, got you good" notes to liven things up, just like teasing someone when their sports team loses, that kind of thing. If it was me, I'd have tried to be a little more clear that it was all in fun by going more over-the-top with a facetious "NOBODY steals QUEEN JENNIFER'S chair!" and probably throw in a photo for good measure.

Maybe you're expected to now join in an ongoing game of Steal The Good Chair.
posted by ctmf at 11:17 PM on April 2, 2013

You didn't overreact. I think that's a shitty way for her to handle a minor problem that she could have easily solved by talking to you instead of acting like a petty child.

Do I think you should talk to your boss about it? No, I do not.

My position on on-the-job personal confrontations is: can I shrug this off and go on with my day? If yes, I do. Life is too short to get bogged down with some dumb coworker's small-time bullshit, and if I know I'll have completely forgotten about it in a day, I let it go.

If I can't let it go, then I go to the person who I have an issue with and I nicely say, "Hello, fellow coworker. You said/did ______ which made me feel ______. I would appreciate it if you could in the future do _______ so that we can get our work done more easily." Usually, fellow coworker will get the message.

If they don't, then I go to their boss and say, "Hello, boss of fellow coworker. Fellow coworker did ________. I feel this is limiting my ability to succeed on the job." Almost always, if I phrase a problem in terms of being able to do my job effectively, I get traction with management and problem people clean up their act.

If, however, that doesn't work, or if this person keeps on being a problem for me, AND management has proven that they're unwilling or unable to affect change to solve the problem, I start looking for another job.

However, that is a last resort. It's easier to just come into work with a thick skin and try not to take things personally, even when I could take them personally, and to use the management structure to my advantage. But that's my personal philosophy; it may not work for you.
posted by deathpanels at 11:49 PM on April 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

If this had happened on any day that was not April Fool's Day then I would say that Jennifer's weird behavior was her being passive-aggressive and that you handled the situation beautifully.

But this did happen exactly on April Fools Day, so...
posted by wolfdreams01 at 12:00 AM on April 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I try to avoid unnecessary confrontation at all costs.

Your coworker knows this about you which is why she pretty much felt she had free license to leave that annoying note to you without consequence. You wish she would have confronted you, but you also implicitly admit that you would not have done the same and, in fact, did not confront her directly when you had the opportunity. And she knows that you wouldn't.

The boss will roll his eyes at these antics, and you will run the risk of your boss starting to think that YOU are the problem if you keep asking him to mediate your office differences between you and your coworker.

There was a rule in a college dorm I used to live in that said "bury your own dead"-- deal with your own issues yourself without making it your first resort to involve outside authority.

You didn't overreact. You wrongly-reacted.
posted by deanc at 6:27 AM on April 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

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