Is this behavior from a coworker as odd as it seems to me?
April 17, 2013 9:57 PM   Subscribe

I work with a woman who refuses to speak to me unless she is forced to do so and will otherwise pretend so thoroughly that I don't exist it's as if I hadn't spoken at all.

Apologies for the wall of text.

My question concerns one of my coworkers, who apparently dislikes me so much that even though I have worked in this (small) department for more than two years she will not speak to me unless my direct boss assigns her a task which requires it. My greetings in the morning or statements in meetings directed to her are ignored so completely it is as if they never occurred, to the point that I sometimes wonder if I actually said anything. I like what I do and my direct boss likes my work, so I don't plan to leave due to the situation at this time. I also am not planning to go to HR since there is absolutely nothing they will do given the observed attitude toward the situation from management. It's a sick system, undoubtedly, but the economy is bad and I thoroughly enjoy my job itself.

She and one other woman do this to a greater or lesser extent, but everyone else in the department appears to get along with me. I talk to them about their families, they drop by to chat and joke, and they come to me for help and advice which I give gladly and when I need help they assist me in the same spirit. So I don't think that I've done something so out of the way that I have caused the shunning. In fact, this woman appears to behave similarly with everyone, although she does actually talk to everyone else in the department without being forced to do so.

When I came to the organization, I didn't know anything about the specific field of our department, although I have considerable expertise in the type of work for which I was hired. Technically, this woman and I are on the same level by title, although since I came to the department I was moved to report to her boss' boss instead of us both reporting to someone on the same level. I've considered the possibility that this woman may have resented my boss hiring an outsider or that I have a different type of role than was previously part of the department. I also have an advanced degree, although I have never referred to it unless someone else directly mentioned it. I don't actually know that anyone told her that I have one, so I don't see why she would be resentful of my education or think I look down on her because of it. I don't look down on her because of it, incidentally. I don't think that education makes one person better than another, but I do know that there are people who believe that and I do try very hard not to appear to be that sort of person. My role does require a lot of solitary work and I am an introvert, but that does not appear to stop other people from interacting with me pleasantly. When some of my coworkers have broached the subject of her behavior toward them I asked if I had done anything to cause her to behave that way toward me and they've said that I had done nothing - she is just 'that way'.

My boss unfortunately thinks it is hilarious. I don't actually depend on her compliance to excel in my role. She is competent at her work, but it is not the sort of thing that someone would be unable to learn - it is a mix of data entry and customer support. So while her work is important and she is good at it, the organization would survive perfectly well without her. Given her attitude it might very well improve. However, I do respect her work product and make a point of saying so to people when it is appropriate, as I do with all my coworkers. I try very, very hard not to treat her with the disrespect and lack of professionalism she shows me, even when it is difficult. I know that it sounds like I must be doing something to perpetuate this silent and unyielding hostility, but I really have no idea what I might have done to create and sustain it.

I'm Gen X. She is nearly seventy years old and in poor health (although she takes every opportunity in meetings to announce that she is going to work until she dies in her cube, a thing I think in considering her apparent health is very likely to happen), which I think is part of why her outrageous behavior is tolerated, but it certainly doesn't explain everything. I once observed her say to her boss in the presence of several other people (including her boss' boss) that she didn't understand why he had to make everything so complicated. She said this in a tone that would have prompted at least a written warning for insubordination in my previous work culture and more likely would have resulted in her firing. The difference in work culture also makes it hard for me to know whether or not this situation is as outrageous as I think it is - I came from a very orderly, type-A sort of workplace and this corporation is the opposite.

I was telling a friend about how this morning I greeted the woman and the other woman who behaves similarly as they walked down the hall and they physically recoiled. They both turned their bodies away from me toward the wall as they walked by and one of them muttered 'morning' in the lowest possible monotone, resuming the conversation in a normal tones. I expressed how baffled I was by this behavior to my friend when I have tried (and still continue to try, pointless though it seems) to be professional and cordial in spite of this treatment. He told me that I was too sensitive and that such behavior would not bother him at all because if he didn't care about what she thought he wouldn't care about how she behaved. I do not consider myself an overly-sensitive person, but I really don't think I'm a delicate plant for finding her persistent behavior off-putting and mysterious. I also don't intend to stop trying to be civil and professional, however disheartening it may be to continually extend overtures and be frozen out.

So my two questions around this situation are these: How unusual is this type of behavior in a white/pink collar office environment? To what extent would this behavior bother you in a similar situation?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (65 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
If it's as you describe, it seems quite unusual, and I would be very disturbed about it.

You may want to consider asking this co-worker to meet with you and ask directly (but politely) if there's any reason why she doesn't wish to interact with you. She may deny she's doing any such thing, at which point, you have to take her at her word.

Honestly, the only thing I think you can do, if it doesn't negatively affect your work, is chalk it up to personality differences and be polite and try to ignore this odd behavior. The only person who it seems is taking a lot of mental energy on this is you, so why do this to yourself?
posted by xingcat at 10:03 PM on April 17, 2013

She's an odd old lady who does her job and goes out of her way to ignore you, therefore minimizing your exposure to her oddness. Just forget about this. She has every right to be unhappy.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:06 PM on April 17, 2013 [43 favorites]

I'm on the side of "weird old lady, write her off" although I would also sort of wonder if she thinks (or you are) gay, or a different race than her, or a different religion, or something along those lines.

Even if that's the case, though, she's clearly the one being weird, no one thinks anything of it but you, and it's probably best to just keep on truckin' and don't take it personally.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:19 PM on April 17, 2013 [12 favorites]

How unusual is this type of behavior in a white/pink collar office environment?

There is a range of unusual in any environment. To be honest, someone snubbing you isn't that weird. As others said, "she's just that way." In the context of normal social interaction, yes it is weird. But to have one or two people who behave oddly in an office environment, not unusual at all.

To what extent would this behavior bother you in a similar situation?

Yes, I would be bothered. Your best bet, ignore it. Be courteous. You aren't going to win her over. Take a step back, to me it is a little funny too. Some lady just REALLY doesn't like you and you don't know why. It seems like a scene straight out of The Office. I am not saying your feelings aren't valid, but just move on and do your job. You didn't do anything wrong. Smile and know you have been nice.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:21 PM on April 17, 2013 [5 favorites]

Yeah, this is weird but it's in the range of normal-weird, like, weird, but shrug it off, she's old and ornery and could have any number of random reasons to hate you. You might use your imagination and make up an entire story about her great-grandparents were persecuted by an evil dictator with your same haircut. Or something. I wouldn't worry about it past that.

Now, my old call-center coworker who sang love songs to her half-eaten slice of deli cheese at the desk next to me? She was just weird-weird.
posted by celtalitha at 10:29 PM on April 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

Yes: unusual. I wouldn't go to HR about it, though.

Being the NSTG8R that I am, I would find it very tempting to keep repeating what I said to her, in the friendliest tones imaginable, until she responded. But that's just me.
posted by trinity8-director at 10:31 PM on April 17, 2013 [3 favorites]

What's weird is you not picking up on her signals that she doesn't want to make small talk with you. It's work, these are by default coworkers, not friends. Stop ignoring her boundaries and in return she won't have to be so defensive around you.
posted by cakebatter at 10:33 PM on April 17, 2013 [48 favorites]

I'm on the side of "weird old lady, write her off" although I would also sort of wonder if she thinks (or you are) gay, or a different race than her, or a different religion, or something along those lines.

That's the first thing I thought of when I read your post - I thought "hmm, is OP gay, or of a different race, or an atheist, or something else that a person of her generation might have more problems with?" (though younger people can be bigoted too!) Or if you're male, she might even have a problem with that.

Considering she's 70 or thereabouts, she might have something actually physically wrong with her, as in, cognitive issues, or chronic pain that clouds her thinking and disposition, or prescription drug issues (many older people are on multiple prescription and OTC drugs and they can have nasty interactions as well as mess with the mind). Or she HAS to work until she drops dead because she needs the money and it's embittering her. She might be fighting a hard personal battle of one kind or another (not that that's an excuse, but it could be an explanaition).

In any event, her rudeness isn't uncommon in the working world, unfortunately, though it's IMO unprofessional - certainly "physically recoiling" from a co-worker's friendly greeting is rude, unprofessional and childish. Since she's not in any authority over you and she's not interfering with your ability to do your job or get along with your boss or other coworkers, I'd say just ignore her, laugh it off, and save up the Rude Old Lady Coworker Stories to entertain your friends. Detach and don't rise to her bait.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 10:34 PM on April 17, 2013 [11 favorites]

She sounds like the sort of cranky old aunt people find amusing because she's cranky and old and she's been there forever so she's bemusedly tolerated. Just be professional in your dealings with her and move on with your life.

You sound like you're minding a lot of everyone else's business regarding her so here's some hard-won wisdom for you. In a lot of companies, it's not so much about doing your job well (or at all). It's about how much people like you or how long you've been there and that sort of thing. Everyone around you has made clear that she's just that way and they don't see a problem with it. Pushing anyone on this or making a big deal about it will make you the bad guy and not her, even if you're right about her.

(As an aside: You don't consider yourself an overly sensitive person but you wrote six paragraphs because a lady was kind of snubbing you at work?)
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:37 PM on April 17, 2013 [15 favorites]

She's elderly and in ill health. Since she's not actually harming you, I think the best thing to do in this situation is give her some grace and let her act weird if it makes her feel better in some way.

Is she planning to work until the end of her life just for kicks, or does she have to do that out of a desperation for money? If the latter, she might be terrified that you are going to replace her and then she will be ill and destitute.

She could also just be sick of it all. Sick of life, sick of people, sick of being battered around by the world. Some people get hostile like that when they get older, just because they are so exhausted from dealing with it all. I've watched that happen with several people who I know. I just think it would be a kindness to just let her cope in the way she is coping, and just keep being nice to her.
posted by cairdeas at 10:38 PM on April 17, 2013 [24 favorites]

As others have told you: she's just that way. Shrug it off and get back to enjoying your job, and keep on being the person you are. She'll be glad you're leaving her alone and not forcing the issue, and you'll be glad once you realize it has nothing to do with you and doesn't require your attention.
posted by davejay at 10:39 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I mean, like, yes, it's weird. It's weird enough that I would notice it and it would bother me, just like it seems to bother you, but I wouldn't describe it as "outrageous." Some workplaces are not very rule-bound or hierarchical and that has its pros and cons. A pro is that they hired you even though you didn't know the field and then were willing to change your supervisor to a better one. A con is that this lady is allowed to have poor social skills without repercussion.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 10:41 PM on April 17, 2013

When I was just starting out in my industry, I had a co-worker have a similar reaction to me. Like you, I was confused. I was always cordial and friendly to him. Our job interaction required me to give him direction on projects and give feedback or approve his work. I wasn't his direct boss but there was a hierarchy which meant I ultimately signed off on things we worked on together. Every time I asked him for changes (politely) I wouldn't receive acknowledgment that I'd even spoken. He would ignore me and wouldn't make eye contact. I was baffled. I tried the direct approach (asking) only to be told he was fine, there was no problem. Colleagues told me he was a great guy and I was imagining it.

Then the sabotage began. We had a huge, annoyed client teetering on the edge of leaving. I was working on that project. This co-worker deliberately screwed up elements of the project, gave the 'finished' job further up the line and made it seem like I approved shoddy work. Luckily, the colleague he gave it to was confused as to how I would let something like that through and alerted me to it where she and I compared past versions of the job, what id asked for, what he delivered, and it was clear this guy was setting me up.

I went straight to his boss, laid the whole story out complete with evidence. The boss confirmed this fellow had tried for my job, was told he was nowhere near qualified and the company didn't want him changing roles. He also had issues with women in power (plus I was considerably younger than him) and me telling him what to do was more than he could handle. So he decided to get rid of me, in his own way.

Ultimately this guy was hauled over the coals for screwing me over and threatening our businesses largest account out of spite. I was told his job was in my hands and if he so much as looked at me the wrong way, or put a step out of line, he was gone. I never had a problem with him again.

Moral of the story; Sometimes they actually are out to get you.
posted by Jubey at 10:49 PM on April 17, 2013 [13 favorites]

She is nearly seventy years old and in poor health..... I don't actually depend on her compliance to excel in my role. She is competent at her work,

This really defines your response to her. Let it go, deal with her professionally, don't take it personally and do your job.
posted by HuronBob at 10:53 PM on April 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

She's just someone you don't get along with at work.

She's 70, sick, and probably has to work there because she has no alternative.

I mean, really.
posted by heyjude at 10:59 PM on April 17, 2013 [8 favorites]

i would guess that this woman knows something about you that she finds objectionable. what she thinks, and if it's true or not, are impossible for me to know. given that it's just this woman and her friend, i'd guess whatever it is is not true, otherwise you'd be having more awkward moments with many more people.

if that's not the issue, i can understand how if you don't work with each other on a regular basis it's hard to gauge how "worthy" someone is when you see them in a hall. if you don't have regular contact in can be a lot harder, especially very brief things. so, to that extent, i think it's pretty normal.

unless it gets in the way of your ability to do your work you should let it go. if she wants to pretend you don't see each other in a hall that is OK, some people just feel like that's the right way to handle that situation. but it sounds like your actual situation might be different because you say

or statements in meetings directed to her are ignored so completely it is as if they never occurred, to the point that I sometimes wonder if I actually said anything.

and that seems like something to bring up with your boss. but, not saying hi in the morning is not something to bring up.
posted by cupcake1337 at 11:04 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

anonymous posted">> In fact, this woman appears to behave similarly with everyone, although she does actually talk to everyone else in the department without being forced to do so.

Yeah, but how many years did it take for her to get used to them enough to not recoil?

Meanwhile, have you ever asked her what's up? Something like stopping her to say "Did I do something that has made you dislike me or feel uncomfortable talking to me? Because I feel like you shun me and it bothers me. I respect your work and would like to get along and work together. Is that possible?"
posted by desuetude at 11:05 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

She's almost 70. She plans on dying at work. She's inconsequential to your role.

FFS, let it go.

This isn't high school, it's not a social club. It's work, do your job and leave her well enough alone.
posted by roboton666 at 11:08 PM on April 17, 2013 [7 favorites]

"I once observed her say to her boss in the presence of several other people (including her boss' boss) that she didn't understand why he had to make everything so complicated. She said this in a tone that would have prompted at least a written warning for insubordination in my previous work culture and more likely would have resulted in her firing."

I can't imagine any workplace that would have a problem with a person's "tone." I'm glad your current workplace isn't so thin-skinned.

I have been shunned in much the manner you've described and it came out that the shunner got wind of my pro-choice opinions. Maybe something similar is happening here.

Your frosty coworker may be desperate for the paycheck involved...we don't know her story. My advice? Be less interested,
posted by BostonTerrier at 11:24 PM on April 17, 2013 [2 favorites]

I do respect her work product and make a point of saying so to people when it is appropriate, as I do with all my coworkers.

I think maybe make less of a point of it (or none). Just carry on being civil and co-working, the way coworkers do.
posted by nelljie at 11:36 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, her behaviour is weird. But trying to confront her about it is probably not going to help the situation, since it doesn't seem to be anything you've done. If it's just you that bugs her, the mere fact of your existence, that isn't going to go away. She'll either get used to you, retire, or (as you mention) die in her cubicle. You've raised it with your boss, so if she starts getting vitriolic or trying to sabotage your work, you've got something to refer to. Obviously, if that happens it's a bigger problem and your boss will think so too.

Try to treat her behaviour with a sense of humour, and perhaps a bit of compassion. Think how miserable and closed she must be if she's 70 and in bad health and still working, but not even particularly enjoying her work or her co-workers. It may help when you do have to communicate directly with her. In the meantime, don't be friendly - it clearly doesn't work. Don't be rude either, just professional. You don't have to greet everyone all the time - plenty of people at my work don't and they aren't rude, just set in their ways.
posted by Athanassiel at 11:59 PM on April 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

For whatever reason, she doesn't appear to like you. That's okay, there's absolutely no requirement that she (or anyone else) likes you; and since your work does not depend on interaction with her, there's really no problem here. She doesn't want or need to have anything to do with you, and she's chosen to minimize her contact with you; because YOU might be an extrovert does not require everyone else to be one too.

Perhaps she's an extreme introvert, and it takes a while for her to get used to anyone --- I've worked with a guy for almost twenty years who is such an introvert that he flattens himself against the wall when people pass him; it probably took a good 3-4 YEARS before he could even get himself to mumble 'good morning' to me, and he's like this with everyone. I once saw a new employee come up to lean way over this guy's shoulder, with a hand on his back and their heads just inches away while pointing out something on Shy Guy's computer screen: Shy Guy looked like he was going to have a heart attack, but --- because of his inability to communicate that! --- he was unable to tell the new person to Back Off.

Basically, not everyone is required to be Winnie-the-Pooh's bouncy outgoing Tigger; some of us are Eeyore, and that's fine.
posted by easily confused at 3:21 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd find it annoying, but I'd try not to take it personally. Sometimes people hate us for completely arbitrary reasons. I've not wanted to talk to someone just because I didn't like the sound of their voice. As for normal, yes, it's normal. There is a huge range of personalities in every workplace, some people are always more professional than others. Keep being professional. Keep your interaction to basic greetings and other as needed talk. Don't make any other overtures beyond common civility.

I do wonder if it's a personality thing. From your writing, you're concerned with what's correct and right, and she isn't, she seems more driven by emotion, so there might just be an extreme difference in your personalities. It doesn't mean you're wrong or bad, just different. Like I said, don't take it to heart.
posted by amodelcitizen at 3:25 AM on April 18, 2013

I had a co-worker do the same to me. It came out later that I had been assigned a project that she desperately wanted (and apparently was promised in her interview). I had no idea and just did my job. She managed to turn it into a long exposition on how I was trying to take her job and how I thought I was better than her and how I was disrespectful (and there was also a racial element). I had absolutely no idea of any of this until she became my boss (true story, unfortunately) and fired me for perceived insubordination based on her imaginings. You never know.

So, if this woman is at least playing nice, albeit frosty, and there's no possibility she'll take over your job or become your boss, then just roll with it. It honestly sounds like great story material for your next dinner party.
posted by mrfuga0 at 3:35 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Have you ever dealt with cranky old people before? They have given up on being pleasant. It might be wrong of them, but they don't care. If the boss laughs her attitude off, so should you.

But I wonder if you didn't violate some norm that you don't know about. In my experience, older people in offices are much more likely to desire to be referred to by their title- Mr. Johnson, Mrs. Jones, etc. Especially if they have southern roots. Greeting someone by their first name before they have invited you to do so is considered rude. Food for thought.
posted by gjc at 3:48 AM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

She is giving you the cut direct, which is the most offensive thing you can possibly do in any social setting. If you had murdered her daughter, it would be excusable; short of that, you'd probably know it if you'd done something extremely offensive. [1]

In a professional setting, it is absolutely beyond the pale to do something like this.

However, that doesn't mean you should react to it. She wants to behave this way, and management does not want to correct her, the end. That's the standard in your office. There are offices where it's the standard to scream, swear, and yell out racist and sexist epithets all day long, and contrary to popular myth the police do not come squealing up in a patrol car and clap the perpetrators in jail. There's no professionalism police you can make a case to.

Continue to be polite, do not try to win her over. You can't please all of the people all of the time and you aren't in a position to enforce standards of professionalism.

It looks like she is not in a position to affect your work in any way. Having said that, I also have experience of sabotage in office settings and I agree that you should try to make sure she is not entrusted with anything that could affect you.

Keep a diary in case of an unexpected blowup of the type mrfuga0 describes, do not discuss her with others, and don't fixate on her.

[1] By the way, "making small talk when someone doesn't feel like it" isn't sufficient cause for the cut direct.
posted by tel3path at 3:50 AM on April 18, 2013 [8 favorites]

She has a problem. You don't have a problem. You have two choices: confront her about her problem, or completely ignore her behavior.

I've dealt with several co-workers the second way. I act like I haven't a clue about their attitude towards me, and I smile and greet them, or say please and thank you when I seek them out regarding things in their area - all with a cheerful, easy demeanor. Then I walk away and laugh to myself. I figure they must not be very happy people. I mean - there are people I don't like at work, but I can interact with them pleasantly enough...

Since she's not that important to your work functions, I see no need to confront her. Besides, you really aren't the problem, so there's nothing to be done.

I need professionalism police at my job.
posted by Locochona at 4:19 AM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

Yes, ignore her already. No-one else seems that concerned, neither some co-workers, nor her manager (who is not you, btw).
posted by carter at 4:35 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

tel3path: She is giving you the cut direct, which is the most offensive thing you can possibly do in any social setting. If you had murdered her daughter, it would be excusable; short of that, you'd probably know it if you'd done something extremely offensive.

Honestly, I would kind of be honored if someone was giving me the cut direct. Especially if it doesn't impact your day-to-day work or your overall performance, it's a pretty special experience, so I'd just chalk it up as good storytelling material.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:17 AM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

It took me over 40 trips around the sun to figure out that there's also dislike at first site. And that was with the benefit of having a mom who could essentially be your coworker. Since she IS my mom, she (mostly) seems to like me, but when we used to work together she sometimes took the most irrational dislike to people I'd hired. I finally figured out there were some deep-seated psych issues happening, and there was absolutely nothing to be done (except get out of e situation, which I did for many reasons, not the least of which was - I couldn't be part of a management team where one of us treated people this way).

By "nothing to be done," I mean nothing to figure out or do differently on the part of the other party. You could find a cure for cancer that has the side effect of providing homes for all the abandoned dogs in the world, and this woman would still snub you.

I've also been on the receiving end of course, and I think this may apply to your situation. I play in a local orchestra. We make a whopping $100 per concert, but since it's the only game in town a number of people with music degrees and education backgrounds are in it. I myself am in business in real life and, while I joke that I majored in music in high school, I work in IT and have a degree in marketing (go figure). Now, I play as well as the next person. If I didn't, they'd get rid of me, because there are 3-4 people at any given moment they could call. Nevertheless:


You may have heard the one about academia: "the competition is vicious because the stakes are so low."

It's not a problem you can solve, and by your account not one you need to solve.
posted by randomkeystrike at 5:19 AM on April 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

Go read and absorb this piece on generational norms in the workplace. You are working with a Traditionalist. If you are genuinely interested in continuing at this multi-generational workplace and interacting with everyone you work with effectively, learn enough about the different cultures they belong to that you can empathize with them.
posted by thatdawnperson at 5:25 AM on April 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

Ok, so I've been the "old lady" in this scenario (though, the situation is slightly different in that I am the same age group as the ignore-ee, not sick, and not hoping to die at my desk). Basically, the dude sat at the desk next to me and would talk at me for hours on end about nonsense - movie plots, his apartment search, his lunch choices, his thought process for buying holiday gifts, on and on and on. I started with politely giving non-responses ("oh, cool"), still he continued; then with eye-contact-less nods and "mm-hmm," he continued; then nod plus facial expression that any normal person would read as "cool story bro" change, he continued on; finally, I couldn't take it anymore (this is after weeks and weeks of this every single day), and instead of telling him "Shut up no one wants to listen to your annoying stories, you are impeding my ability to get work done" (too confrontational for my tastes) I just flat out ignored him (no nod, no "mm-hmm" - just acted like he didn't exist). It still took him two days to stop talking to me. And the ignoring had to extend all the way to not saying "hello" or "have a good weekend" to him, as he interpreted these social niceties to mean "please, tell me every thought that crosses your internal monologue." The guy wasn't a bad guy, he was just completely socially inept and I had to resort to harshly ignoring him because it was impact my ability to concentrate on my job and he missed the million other social cues before that.

Not saying that you're this annoying, I actually have a pretty high annoyance tolerance, but maybe this lady, especially in her old age, has a lower threshold. Maybe you missed some earlier clues she put out implying she didn't want to be chummy with you, and now she feels she has no choice but to ignore you? So, she doesn't want to interact with you, so what? If it's not impacting your job performance, get over it. Continuing to try to foster a relationship with her is only going to annoy her more. And, having been on the other side of this, nothing is more annoying than someone who just doesn't get the hint.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:45 AM on April 18, 2013 [11 favorites]

Is it possible that, with an advanced degree, you're pulling in a larger paycheck? While your pay should generally be confidential, it's been my experience that people often find out. If this is the case, she could be resentful since you're both at a similar level within the company.

If this is the case, then my answers would be as follows: How unusual is this type of behavior in a white/pink collar office environment? When there's financial bias, real or perceived? Common.

To what extent would this behavior bother you in a similar situation? If I was earning more, they were earning less, and that was the reason? I wouldn't give the slightest damn.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:53 AM on April 18, 2013

Is it a little weird the turning away from you in the hall? Yes, but to be honest, I empathize with her: there is nothing more annoying to some people (including myself) than others trying to socialize with them too much at work. It's work, a place of business, and particularly if you're not feeling well or don't want to be there having someone repeatedly try and socialize with you can compound frustration each and every time. I think if you stop trying to greet her every morning and just keep any talk professional when needed she would stop ignoring you in meetings: this is probably what others have done, as she gives off some pretty clear signs to everyone she doesn't like idle chat at work. (Maybe she doesn't even hear you, she's 70 in poor health.)

It also sounds like you come from an work culture that was overly uptight and punitive, as a trusted long time employee speaking frankly with a higher up wouldn't call for HR in many places; dealing with their own communications is to the boss's direction and those two have already developed a working relationship you do not know anything about. She hasn't said anything harmful or offensive to you so your average HR department isn't going to have much impact. If you feel she has taken this track with you because of your race or sexual orientation or something you should absolutely go to HR, but as you didn't mention it I assume that's not the case.
posted by itsonreserve at 5:58 AM on April 18, 2013

I was thinking it was unusual until you mentioned her age and health. She's probably just tired and set in her ways, she probably needs to devote more mental energy to concentrating on her work than a younger person would, getting used to new people and situations is a lot tougher when you're older, and it's entirely possible that her vision and hearing aren't as sharp as they were at your age.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:59 AM on April 18, 2013

You sound very dismissive of your coworker, you try hard not to say it but your tone suggests you feel superior to her, perhaps shes gotten that vibe from you.

+1 to what Melissasaurus said. I've had to shut people down for not getting the hint. I've also disengaged from people who have a problem taking advice from me (a woman) - the guy who asks about how to do something and then complains that its not the right way to do things. The guy who asks for assistance then talks across me when I'm giving it, the guy who answers my technical question with a shrug and a hand wave but embarks on a long technical discussion with the male co-worker asking a similar question 2 minutes later.

Screw that guy, he demonstrates that attitude a few times, he's on his own.
posted by Ness at 6:02 AM on April 18, 2013 [5 favorites]

We have a woman similar to this where I work. I'll call her Jane. Jane's been at the organization for 40 years and is in her 80's. She's cranky as hell and doesn't take any crap from anybody. She's also good at her job and popular with her clients (even though she is the exact same with them; my theory is that she's their tough love grandma). I think everyone from the executive director to the lowest intern is a little afraid of her. We all also respect and admire her. She's an institution and a legend. She's been doing our work for longer than most of us have been alive. We're also kind of jealous. Who wouldn't like the freedom she has? The attitude around the office seems to be a combination of "she's earned it" and amusement. "Did you hear what Jane said?" is the start of many good stories. If you worked with us, I can imagine her coming into my office to deliver a lengthy monologue about the new (because two years is new when you've been here 40) woman who won't leave her one with the small talk and the fake smiles. I'd listen and smile and nod (because you do not disagree with Jane) and then go try to explain to you about Jane. Jane is Jane. You cannot change her. Just understand that she is how she is and let it go. And for God's sake, stop with the forced social niceties.
posted by Mavri at 6:22 AM on April 18, 2013 [9 favorites]

Like Melissasaurus, I too was that annoyed old lady.

There was this guy I used to work with and he rubbed me the wrong way. So eager to show us all how it was supposed to be done, so eager to speak up in meetings with his ideas and opinions, so willing to crow about his victories with his customers, so into his ultra-Catholic ideas and his ultra-Catholic wedding and his incredibly astute purchase of a condo...ugh!

I found that being cordial to him just encouraged this logorrhea about everything in this guy's life. So I just stopped responding. I shut down around him, I sat him on my left side because I'm pretty blind in that eye and I wouldn't have to see him.

One time we were all away at an off-site training. I was away from home and I was getting more and more annoyed with the boring meetings, and the dumb training and living in a hotel for a week. I was already in a foul mood. Guy, typically tone-deaf to anyone's feelings got the weird impression that I was ignoring him! (I mean, it had been a couple of years at this point.)

So he started following me around asking me questions, "What did I do? Why don't you like me? Why are you ignoring me?" I mean shouting this stuff in the hotel ballroom.

Finally, I'd just had it and I said, "I don't have to like you! It's not part of my job description. Grow the fuck up!" you really want to push this? In the grand scheme of things she's harmless. So she's acting like an ass, so what? It doesn't affect you! I has nothing to do with you!

Follow her lead, just leave her the fuck alone.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:30 AM on April 18, 2013 [15 favorites]

Not unusual. Many people are allowed to be unprofessional and ridiculous at work. Very few managers are trained (or supported) in managing.
posted by hworth at 6:41 AM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

Her behavior is definitely odd. Reading your description I think that you spark some kind of difficulty for her: remind her of someone who traumatized her, unknowingly cross what she thinks is an obvious boundary (personal space, for instance), or perhaps she's a raging bigot and you represent something she hates and fears. It's impossible to say.

I've experienced this before - there was a woman at my previous job who would not speak to me or acknowledge me. I made a few polite overtures and then dropped it and focused on the people who were friendly, and the woman and I politely ignored each other for the rest of my time there. It was obvious to everyone that she had issues and I felt a bit sorry for her and had nothing to gain by pressing the issue.

If you know she's going to ignore you, why do you address her in meetings? If you are hoping that management will notice and take action - I think they've made it pretty clear that they aren't going to and if anything this will just hurt you. Drop the forced niceties and direct your focus elsewhere.
posted by bunderful at 6:44 AM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]

I was similarly ignored by a co worker who was actively trying to have me fired, to this day i dont know what his problems with me were. He was basically ignored by managent because I wasnt the only person he treated this way. Management knew he was unbalanced, but he was the guy that always gave up his day off to work when needed, had no life outside the company and spied on his coworkers for those managers that engaged in that sort of thing.

His behavior would not have been tolerated in a kindergarten class and had no place in a professional setting (the same way this womans behavior should not be tolerated, OP). When someone attacks you unjustly it SHOULD bother you. You are not being too sensitive. Even if you have accidentally missed her *leave me alone* cues that is no excuse fof her actions.

UNFORTUNATELY, there is probably nothing you can do about this. The company has some reason to ignore the womans behavior and continue to employ her. The good news is she probably cant do you much harm Just ignore her except when it is necessary to interact professionaly, then be professional. Do your job and your best to ignore her behavior. The satisfaction you will have is in moving upwards and onwards while she remains bitterly entrenched. Remember too, that karma is only a bitch if you are.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 7:18 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I sort of admire a 70 year old asking the boss why he has to make things more complicated--she might well be saying what everyone else is thinking. It's possible she doesn't hear well, and is missing part of your conversation, but doesn't want to admit it. If I were you, I'd stop with the chit-chat, and be pleasant, but distant. Take your cues from your colleagues and stop trying to figure her out.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:07 AM on April 18, 2013 [10 favorites]

Check to see if you have ever given her the impression that her age is an issue with you. Or if you have ever acted patronizing or anything like that. There is a huge amount of discrimination against older workers and they are often in danger of being pushed out of their jobs.

Even if you don't think you have given her these kinds of vibes, consider her position. A 60-year-old colleague of mine recently said, "I'm glad it was a young person who made that [recent, commented-upon] fuckup, because every time it's me it's about my age."
posted by BibiRose at 8:27 AM on April 18, 2013

Who cares? Apparently she's mildly irate with everyone. She's just a coworker who doesn't want to talk to you. Don't talk to her. Done.
posted by windykites at 9:53 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Cakebatter nailed this. I would go on to say that it's really none of your business why she won't talk to you unless it affects your work, which it doesn't sound like it does. While most people don't want to be disliked and ignored, the adult thing to do is respect her wishes.
posted by waving at 9:54 AM on April 18, 2013

In my experience, she is very normal for her age-group. At my workplace (100+ employees, around 25% close to 70) we have a lot of people like that. I make a point of being polite and helping them if I can, and with some, I get a positive reaction after a long, long while. Same at a former workplace. I have this idea it has to do with their specific age-group, 60-70, rather than old age, because even older co-workers seem far more similar in attitude to younger people.
They are the hippie generation, even when they weren't hippies. Maybe they think being polite is "phoney" or something? Maybe they are disillusioned because their dreams weren't realized? No idea.
Even though I personally don't agree with their attitude, as some people above have stated, it does have advantages. They are direct and often speak truth to power, like you described it. Also, in my experience, when you finally get a break-through, they are great friends to have in a workplace, with a wild sense of humor and great stories to tell. You can fight with them and still be great friends the next day, I guess because they are mature.
posted by mumimor at 10:03 AM on April 18, 2013

OP here. My only attempts at conversation with her are single word greetings if we pass each other in a narrow hall. I don't chatter at her or anyone else- I spend most of my day working silently in my cube. If saying hello once or twice a week (at most) is that annoying I'll stop. When I speak to her in meetings it is because I have to ask a question relating to my work - I stopped attempting to build a connection with her a month after I started working here.

She complains to everyone about how I am bad at my job and blames me for any errors which occur in any of her work processes. I have a relatively rare skill set and I have received glowing reviews, so I don't worry as much as I might if she had any authority. I do document her behavior, just in case.

The idea that she might think I'm a lesbian has occurred to me, particularly in light of an extended transphobic rant she went on one day when I was silently seated nearby. I am aware of generational issues and do not have the same problems with any of my other coworkers of similar age.

I will stop wondering if I'm wrong to find her behavior so jarring, because the consensus appears to be that I am being over-sensitive. I guess I've been lucky that in all my work experience no one else has had this reaction to me.
posted by animated knitted footcovering at 10:04 AM on April 18, 2013

Personally, I think she sounds rude and obnoxious. She might have all kinds of reasons for being that way, from poor health to some kind of bigotry, but really, none of those reasons are your problem.

You do sound like a person who tries very hard to do the right thing and be liked by everyone, and those things alone can annoy some people. You just can't win with everyone, and letting go of the idea that you "should" will bring you a lot of inner peace. And, as some others have pointed out, you might find that backing off a bit makes her less defensive.
posted by rpfields at 10:08 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

I've worked with people like this. There is nothing you can do but let it roll off your back; just thank your lucky stars she doesn't have any authority over you. You have my permission not to grieve when she finally does keel over at her desk.
posted by languagehat at 10:22 AM on April 18, 2013

Could she be hard of hearing? If you have an accent of any sort or speak in range higher or lower than what she can hear clearly, she could be most likely ignoring you to 'save face". My FIL has real problems understanding me because he's hard of hearing and I have an Australian accent which is very uncommon here deep in the Midwest. For the first six months I knew him I thought he didn't like me because he wouldn't respond to what I say except for an occasional grunt. Turns out he had no idea what I was saying. That would tie in with her "you make things complicated" comment.

Honestly though it just sounds like she has some bugbear about something about you be it your gender, or something you've said, an accent, fear that you are going to change things because you know so much more than her or she is just an old bitch. I honestly don't think it's personal as such, I've known people that have to have at least one someone to hate at work to be gossip and be bitchy about no matter what and for some reason she's picked you. You sound like you are doing the right thing and acting professionally. Maybe bringing in some cost analysis about how a younger better trained person might save the company money and time, in her position or some such might make the boss more inclined to want to encourage her to retire.
posted by wwax at 10:24 AM on April 18, 2013

> Maybe bringing in some cost analysis about how a younger better trained person might save the company money and time, in her position or some such might make the boss more inclined to want to encourage her to retire.

This is really, really not a good idea. Anyone who acts like that and has been there that long has more "roof" (as the Russians say) than the person who asked the question is ever going to have, and going up against her is going to end in tears. And why? The woman is doing nothing to hurt the company, she's just hurting someone's feelings by not interacting with her. I can understand the hurt feelings, but the answer here is "stop letting it bother you," not "try to get the woman fired," for Pete's sake.
posted by languagehat at 10:30 AM on April 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

She complains to everyone about how I am bad at my job and blames me for any errors which occur in any of her work processes.

I wish the OP had said this before. I think her complaining about you is more of a problem, and yes, you should document, as well as double/triple check your work. It's possible that she's not really firing on all cylinders, but as long as your supervisors aren't taking her seriously, I don't think you should worry about it.
posted by Ideefixe at 10:45 AM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

To what extent would this behavior bother you in a similar situation

It really doesn't matter if it would bother us. What matters is - does it bother you? Are you annoyed by it? Amused? I mean, if you are doing an AskMe then I assume you've tried to let it go and cannot, so I think those answers are easy to say but difficult to practice. And, even at 70 and in bad health, you could be working with this woman for 5 or 10 years.

I don't have an answer, I'm just pointing out that "Let it go" probably isn't a good answer. The real answer depends on how much this affects you.
posted by I am the Walrus at 12:02 PM on April 18, 2013

I think it's weird, but if she doesn't actually have any power to negatively affect your job, I'd just ignore it. (I mean, keep documenting her badmouthing your work, of course, but as far as her refusing to speak to you goes, ignore it. I worked with an older woman at my old job who acted just like this, a lot, and once I realized that it didn't matter how nice I was to her and decided to pretend she didn't exist, I was a lot happier.)
posted by sarcasticah at 3:47 PM on April 18, 2013

Personally, I don't think you're being oversensitive. Having someone you have to work with be so unpleasant can be wearying and a constant source of stress. It's like having a sore on the inside of your mouth -- it only takes one to be a total pain in the ass.

I may have missed it, but I didn't see a mention of how you dress and present yourself at work. I have known people who have gotten hostile reactions from co-workers at their jobs because they dressed in a way the co-workers considered immodest. Are you pretty much in line with others in your department, or do you stand out in some way? Something you haven't noticed because your other co-workers either aren't bothered by it or are too polite to react negatively to? (Scent?)

Another possibility that occurs to me is that you might have somehow made a bad impression on her when you started in your position. She sounds like someone for whom it wouldn't take much to get on her shit list. Maybe you were too eager-beaver for her liking, or made some joke or remark that offended her.

Also, yes, she might be bigoted and have the impression that you're gay, or of some ethnicity or religion that she's hostile to. Short of that, it could be something as minor as some affiliation you've mentioned that she happens to be passionate about (preferred sports team, part of the country you're from, neighborhood where you live).

It could also be something that you're not aware of because it happened before you arrived -- for instance, if you were hired in place of a friend or relative of hers who also applied.

The fact that you've gotten praised for your work and have a rare skill set brings up the possibility of jealousy or some sort of anti-intellectual resentment. Maybe she perceives you as elitist or "too big for your britches" in some way. At one place I worked there was a guy in our barely-above-minimum-wage department who was a Stanford grad and totally overqualified for his position, and there were a couple of people who pretty much shunned him, I guess out of resentment.

I don't know what you can do about this, really -- I've had unpleasant co-workers before, and all I could really do is outlast them. But FWIW, I don't think you're overreacting, and you have my sympathies.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 4:01 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]

It's more that you have a perceived problem and not an actual problem.

She's rude, and that's unprofessional, and puts down your work, and that's unprofessional, and you should continue to document just in case.

However, she has no bearing on how your superiors perceive you and your boss doesn't see her as a serious threat to you. Therefore, she has no bearing on your work.

You think that her going around complaining about you is a bad thing, but it sounds like it's actually not.

An actual problem would be if her behaviour was causing others to consider you in a poor light or if she was stopping you from progressing or if she was trying to get you fired. While she is complaining about you, no one is actually listening to her - they know otherwise.

So, she is just someone you don't get along with at work. That's all.
posted by heyjude at 4:36 PM on April 18, 2013

Ask her friend, "May I ask you a question... why doesn't ___ like me?"
posted by at at 5:48 PM on April 18, 2013

She hates you, there's nothing you can do about it, and your supervisor doesn't give a shit. Unless you actively have to depend on her/interact with her in order to do your job--and it sounds like you don't--then don't worry about it. If you actually had to interact with her, on the other hand, and she refuses to admit you exist--then that'd be HR time.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:55 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Sometimes when you think people don't like you it turns out they just have a whopping case of social anxiety.

Don't be so quick to assume you understand someone's personality, especially if you have never had any significant conversation with them. Yeesh.
posted by TheRedArmy at 6:01 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

This sounds like something my mom would pull.

I am guessing that possibly you are right and that she might think you are a lesbian (or, maybe she thinks you are a communist, or doesn't like how you dress, or whatever. Something of that nature.) If she is like my mom it wouldn't take anything major, just one thing that for whatever reason gets her goat, and she thinks she is pulling something off by ignoring you pointedly. To coin a phrase, she is getting off on it. Sick, I know.

Just ignore her, be minimally polite, and let it go. The less you let her see that this bothers you the better off you will be. If you totally disregard her rudeness, and ignore it, eventually she will stop it because she is no longer getting under your skin. And trust me, that is most likely what she is trying to do-get under your skin. Don't give her that satisfaction.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:14 PM on April 18, 2013

How unusual is this type of behavior in a white/pink collar office environment?

Sounds pretty weird to me. There are people i don't talk to in my office, but I don't work with them directly, and we still nod to each other as we pass in the hallway. At the very least, it's very impolite.

To what extent would this behavior bother you in a similar situation?

Meh, why would you care? She's a odd, cranky old lady. She does her job, she doesn't seems to be getting in the way of yours. Ignore her.

She complains to everyone about how I am bad at my job and blames me for any errors which occur in any of her work processes. I have a relatively rare skill set and I have received glowing reviews, so I don't worry as much as I might if she had any authority. I do document her behavior, just in case.

Now, this is not cool. But if her ill-formed opinion is not relevant to your reviews, then again; who gives a damn?

tl;dr her odd rudeness only affects you if you allow it to. Ignore the crank.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:17 PM on April 18, 2013

I think that some of the comments upthread are pretty ageist, honestly. Certainly there is such a thing as discord from generational differences, but there are rude obnoxious people of all ages; additionally you needn't automatically lose critical thinking skills as you gain wrinkles. To either excuse her behavior or dismiss her existence as "cranky old ladies gonna crank" is not great, IMO. More like "intractable jerk is gonna be a jerk."
posted by desuetude at 11:01 PM on April 18, 2013 [4 favorites]

If she's well enough to come to work, she's well enough to behave courteously. I'm a bit put off by all the "old lady" comments in this thread. Older folks don't get a hall pass to be assholes. I've worked with elderly colleagues, some in great discomfort, who were willing to make the effort to be polite (and usually, quite congenial).

This is a workplace culture problem. That your boss thinks it's hilarious indicates that your boss isn't an effective manager. It also shows a rather infantilizing attitude toward the elderly which is disrespectful toward them as a group, and again, not fitting in a professional environment.

I would have a direct conversation with the co-worker in question; if that doesn't produce results, possibly ask for a sit-down with her and your direct manager. Management is molly-coddling her; you needn't.
posted by nacho fries at 2:14 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

For those, like me, who'd never heard of the term "pink collar":
...A pink-collar worker performs what was traditionally women's work, typically in the service industry... Pink-collar occupations tend to be personal-service-oriented. Waiting on tables, along with nursing and teaching, is part of the service sector, and is among the most common occupations in the United States.
Pink-collar worker,

posted by blueberry at 3:32 PM on April 20, 2013

At this juncture, I think polite and professional is the way to go, and just ignore her crap.

I'd be more worried about the boss thinking it was "hilarious". I'd be tempted to email him and reiterate what her specific behaviors are, explain that you will continue to be polite and professional, then let him know you he needs to be aware that you won't accept any attempt by her to sabotage your job. Let him know you don't think it's amusing, but you will continue to ignore it as long as there are no problems stemming from her continuing behavior. CC yourself as CYA.

Make it obvious that you are the one taking the high road, you have no personal animosity toward her, no matter what her rude behaviors are, and don't let it bother you anymore.
posted by BlueHorse at 10:15 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

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