I work with a vampire.
November 22, 2013 8:44 AM   Subscribe

Please help me sort out a human relations issue I'm having with a coworker. I feel exhausted when I work with this person. The easy answer seems to be Talk with her about it, but I imagine the conversation just creating more exhausting drama. And, seeing as it's a work relationship (colleague), I wonder if the right thing for me to do is suck it up and accept that part of what makes it paid work is dealing with different personalities. Any unpacking advice?

I work with a young woman one, sometimes two days a week. We also see each other in passing. Had I been wise, I would have nipped certain things in the bud-- like, she calls me "hon" and I hate that. Upon first meeting her, she was frazzled and distraught so I let all the "hon"s slide, then time passed and it felt awkward mentioning it so late in the game.

My problem is that I have almost all the signs of a classic introvert. And, this young lady (might be her first adult job?) over-communicates. I've told her to stop telling me when she has to use the bathroom, but I still get the play-by-play about what she's doing, what everyone around us (clients) is doing, where moved objects might have been moved to.

She's pretty great in so many ways. She gets results at work, is friendly and well-liked and wouldn't say a mean or gossipy thing about anyone. But, I can't walk near her without her demanding my attention and my introverted self just gets wiped out energetically.

Obviously, some things we do need to communicate on, and I wouldn't know how to explain roughly where the line is drawn as it seems to be her nature to verbalize nearly all observations she has about the room she occupies.

Another example is she asks me questions she could easily find answers to. By easily, I mean, yesterday she was holding a piece of paper and wanted to know if I had signed the paper in the designated spot. I said, "Yes, I think so. Didn't I?" She glanced down and, quick as that, ascertained her answer. Off the top of my head I can think of a handful of times where literally moving her eyeballs would have answered her question, but the question shot from her mouth--

She'll stare at a calendar and ask what day it is. This occurs nearly every day I see her. She'll ask me what time it is when the clocks are on display. I've stopped answering the "What day is it/time is it" questions.

She interrupts conversations. She jumps in on A and B conversations.

I am the only one that is weird about this. Is there a core principle I could convey to her that is the crux of my ramblings here? I'm embarrassed that this issue is giving me such a hard time. I realize this woman has good intentions. I don't want to be passive aggressive with her, or just a plain jerk, but that's where our interactions are heading, so I need to frame this in my mind better. Feel free to send me a script!

Other info: We've worked together more than a year. Idle chitchat seems to be her way of reaching out to forge a connection. Sometimes the chitchat is tangentially related to work, other times she seems earnestly interested in getting to know me. We've had probably half a dozen conversations that started with her saying, "So, no offense but you're vegetarian, right? That means you only eat vegetables, right?" So-- she doesn't retain the info that she sucks out of me (energy vampire!).

"I'm an introvert..." type conversations might be difficult if "I stopped eating meat..." concepts are impossible.

I swear I'm not a huge meanie, and I love it when people are kind to each other. This woman is too much for me. Help.
posted by little_dog_laughing to Human Relations (36 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
She reminds me of ME in a lot of ways.

1) Get her in a space where it's just you and her, no distractions for you or her.
2) Tell her firmly but kindly that you're introverted, that though you like her very much, you and her operate differently. You find her energy sometimes overwhelming. You'd like it if she only engaged you when it's something important. Tell her you appreciate her as a person, but at work you need your space. Tell her, for your own personal good, you will treat her non-important questions with silence, especially if you're in your own space, working on something that's taking your attention. Ask her if she has any important questions about what you've just said.
3) Ignore her anytime she messes up. She'll figure out the answers to her Qs quicker than going "huh? little_dog...?"

It's not cruel. It's not unkind. It's setting boundaries and it's fair.
posted by rhythm_queen at 8:53 AM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm an extrovert myself.

I second rhythm_queen that I'd try first to just set a time to meet with her. I'd suggest you tell her she's delightful and good at her job, but her style of communication is very hard for you. Tell her that some people (like her) are extroverts and get energy and information from talking to others, and others (like you) are introverts who find interaction incredibly tiring. Tell her unfortunately her friendliness and chattiness is wiping you out. Tell her you need her to limit her conversation with you to, essentially, emergencies or situations where there is no alternative.

Next time she just pops up with something, just put up your hand and say -- is this really critical? I have something I need to focus on. When she says no, thank her for understanding and move on.

This is essentially training with positive reinforcement thrown in. It should work.
posted by bearwife at 9:00 AM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nth'ing the advice to hash it out with her. She almost certainly just does not realize how draining she can be for you to deal with. Try not to give specific examples (that thing about asking what day it is when she's looking at a calendar can easily be interpeted as "little_dog_laughing thinks I'm some kind of moron").
posted by Etrigan at 9:08 AM on November 22, 2013


Best answer: I'm actually going to dissent a bit - but only when it comes to how to couch it. I have the sinking feeling that she may be more ditsy than extroverted, and so if you sit her down for a grave conversation about how You Are An Introvert, it may backfire and look like you're asking for special handling or something. (Not that you are - but I have a hunch SHE may spin it that way in her own head.)

Instead -- two of the big things that you've pointed out (the calendar, and "did you sign this") are things that you could speak to her about, but couch it as "I kinda need you to be a LITTLE more pro-active". You know? Couch it as, you're really busy, and you're happy to help with critical things, but you really need to focus on your own stuff and can't help her with EVERYTHING, so it'd be great if she could try to get the answers to some things herself first before trying to ask you. Or ask someone else, even.

That just leaves you with the weird oversharing, which you could probably deal with with a long stare and a sarcastic, "uh, thanks for sharing?"
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:10 AM on November 22, 2013 [29 favorites]


It's possible she's extroverted, and I'm bit like that--I will babble when I'm nervous, or insecure, or tired, and often I don't realize I'm doing it. If so, you may on the right path that she is trying to make a connection and it is not really about what time it is, or whatever, it's about whether she feels like you are sharing. But I agree that it is okay to explain to her that some people need more sharing and some people need less, and you are one of those people that needs less. Frame it in I-statements and about professional needs, e.g. "in order to get work done, I need more quiet space." It's also possible she is aware of the issue, and will feel bad having it pointed out, but that's how it is sometimes.

But I also think it is okay just to ignore a lot of her chatter. Think of it like background noise, much like the sound of seagulls in a parking lot. If she is not just ditzy, she may get the hint, but even if she doesn't, you can conserve your own spoons by just not responding to everything.
posted by epanalepsis at 9:15 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


My guess would be she can tell that you really really dislike her and think she's incredibly dim, so she's (misguidedly) overcompensating by being friendly. Since you think it might be her first job, she also probably has no clue what she's doing wrong, just "oh god, L-D-L hates me, what am I doing wrong, I'd better be SUPER SUPER SUPER nice or she's going to get me fired."

It sounds too like she maybe could use a primer in office etiquette. For example: try to remember that (our culture is monstrous, and) this woman has likely needed someone's permission to use the bathroom for her entire life up until now. And hell, in some offices a person still does (our culture is monstrous). She may well think she actually is required to keep everyone in the loop on her whereabouts the entire time she is in the office.

I feel for her; like someone said above, she sounds perhaps a little ditsy, but also wildly unsure of what is expected of her. Now, it shouldn't be your responsibility to fix this: obviously her manager has dropped the ball. The comments above contain great specific wording; maybe this perspective will help defuse your inclination to be a jerk to her. (After all, the more you are a jerk to her, the NICER AND MORE FRIENDLYSHARY SHE WILL BECOME, so if for no other reason, you should probably refrain from going that way.)
posted by like_a_friend at 9:19 AM on November 22, 2013 [6 favorites]


Best answer: From the examples you give, sounds like she clearly has some abnormal psychology in that she isn't able to process her thoughts well and relies on others to give her direction and/or reasurring answers to questions she knows the answers to. I don't think ignoring or avoiding her is a good idea. That would cause tension for both of you, and that is the last thing you want in your work environment. Maybe you could talk with her about ways it might be helpful for her to become more self-reliant. Give her reasons to believe that she can be that way and how it will be immeasurably beneficial to her career if she shows her independence. Suggest she take baby-steps so that it isn't overwhelming for her, because you really want her to succeed at this and you have a strong believe in her abilities. Give her examples of how you became more independent as you got older. I would say something like "I realized that if I wrote a list of questions for my co-worker/boss, it helped me avoid interrupting them throughout the day, and it made me feel better not to be so dependent on them". If bringing this topic up with her would seem weird or icky due to lack of a close relationship, start thinking of yourself as her mentor at work and approach her with maturity and gratitude that you have the opportunity to help someone.
posted by waving at 9:19 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


If she is invading your work-space or encroaching on your ability to complete your work through her invasive over-sharing or co-dependence, tell your supervisor. It is your supervisor's job to coach employees on office etiquette and professionalism, not yours. It will backfire on you if you try to guide her behavior to where you are comfortable. And most people will take these sorts of conversations with coworkers has a personal affront rather than constructive criticism, not matter how you frame it.

Otherwise, ignore her.
posted by Young Kullervo at 9:22 AM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]


I wonder if the right thing for me to do is suck it up and accept that part of what makes it paid work is dealing with different personalities.

I would just ignore the chatter that you don't think is relevant - like moving things or whatever. You've already started ignoring the time questions. She's probably just voicing her thoughts out loud- sometimes people do that. You come across with a lot of scorn for her and that's fine, but it's not worth introducing that sort of thing into your working life. I definitely don't think you should explain to her that you're an introvert and need x and y because that does sound like special handling to me. It's not a disability or disease.

If she's well liked and gets her job done, I don't think you should be dictating words she says ("hon") or how she should interact at her job. It's just not worth it.
posted by sweetkid at 9:23 AM on November 22, 2013 [8 favorites]


She's not a vampire, she's a young woman who seems uneasy in her role in the working world. I think suddenly developing a slight hearing loss or being too wrapped up in your own deep thoughts might be useful. You don't have to respond to every single statement she makes. You can nod in a distracted fashion. She's probably talking to herself as much as to you.
But don't have a big explanation about how you're a INFT or whatever. Communication styles vary, and it's a big asset to be able to handle yourself with all sorts of people in the working world.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:23 AM on November 22, 2013 [13 favorites]


I think you should first try ignoring those "What day is it?" questions, or find a way to respond like "Let's see--" and walk over and look at the calendar she's holding. "You and I are different" is a hard thing to back off from if it hurts her feelings or makes her self-conscious. She's been doing this for a year so she may feel awful if she finds out she's been annoying you all this time. Better to just stop reinforcing the behavior.

Where I'm coming from is that my partner is a very nice person who vocalizes meaninglessly quite a lot, as a way of keeping up connections or because silence makes him uncomfortable. I have drawn his attention to certain things that are particularly problematic, like if he says, "I have to go to the bank." That's uncomfortable for me because it seems like he is enlisting me to remind him, and I have enough to do remembering my own stuff like that. So that's what I say.
posted by BibiRose at 9:27 AM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


I find humor more useful than Serious Conversations in situations like this. I'd probably respond to her with something like "I'm grumpy, leave me alone." Chances are that your efforts to be polite by responding to her are reinforcing the habits she has that bug you. I suggest ignoring her whenever possible.
posted by jon1270 at 9:28 AM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Oh, man I so feel you. I've actually been on both ends of this. I've been the over-sharer, and I've also been the person who is really just trying to get shit done and doesn't necessarily want to be besties with every other person in the office.

My go to response to people who feel the need to interact with me socially during the work day despite my not wanting to reciprocate is to smile, nod, and mostly ignore. They just want an audience. Pretend like you're listening. They won't know the difference. I usually throw in an occasional "I'm totally listening right now" interjection like wow, really, that's so cool, etc.

I will also say, having been in the other position, I usually find myself doing it for two reasons:

- when I'm feeling insecure in some way. I tend to do it more when I'm the new person in the office, or when I'm in an unfamiliar situation and want to sort of make my presence known. If that makes sense?

- when I'm personally lonely in my everyday life. Like you, I'm an introvert. I'm kind of a loner, spend a lot of time on my own, etc. And I like it that way. But for a while earlier this year I was mostly working from home and only going into the office a couple days a week. And I was working one on one with a small-business owner. Social interaction was at a premium. So I found myself oversharing, saying more than strictly needed to be said, and having a little more trouble than usual working quietly and diligently on my own without chatter. Just because those two days a week were my only chance to have any extended human interaction.

I don't know if a "why" will help you make peace with it at all -- if not, yeah, just smile and nod and throw in the occasional "oh, really?" and you're fine.
posted by Sara C. at 9:29 AM on November 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Your being an introvert is not her problem to manage, honestly. It's yours. And if she's well-liked and gets her job done, then taking her aside to ask her not to talk to you so much is going to make YOU seem like a jerk when it gets out (and it will, because she's chatty!).

Basically, from what you've said, she's a good employee whom you personally happen to dislike, like, a lot. We all run into people like that at work and we all have to learn how to deal with them. The vegetarian conversation -- she KNOWS you're a vegetarian. She doesn't literally expect you to confirm this every time because she is unsure. She's just trying to connect with you. None of this is an attempt to annoy you. It might help if you remind yourself of that?

In position, I would actually just work on tuning her out and use a lot of distracted "hmmmMMMMMs" and "oh, yeah?" in your interactions with her. You guys are not going to be best friends, but she seems harmless, so why turn this into a big Thing?
posted by Countess Sandwich at 9:31 AM on November 22, 2013 [24 favorites]


Have you been asking her not to do any of these things so far? Have you told her that sharing bathroom habits is gross? Or said that you have work to do when she gets rambly? Or said "Well, yeah, we had that conversation last week, remember?" in response her questions about your diet? Or told her that it's not your work priority to know that someone put the clipboard back on the desk? Or ignored any general statement or question that is not specifically directed to you? None of these things needs to be done in a cruel way, but unless she has specifically been overstepping lines that you have drawn, it doesn't seem like any of this, on its own, is cause for A Big Sit Down Talk.

To me, it sounds like part of this is self-narration that you feel the need to respond to (hint: If you're ignoring them and she doesn't follow up, then she wasn't saying it to you. I self-narrate lots of new tasks just to reinforce it in my memory.) Part of it is her trying to be friendly and pass the time in a way she thinks is pleasant for you both, which is easy enough to cut off with short answers and looking/being busy. And part of it is that you seem to find her personally irritating, which is neither her fault nor yours, and is mostly something you have to suck up in a work environment.
posted by tchemgrrl at 9:45 AM on November 22, 2013


Best answer: Ugh, that sounds like an annoying situation. As you seem to suspect, I don't think having the "I'm an introvert and that means I need you to do/not do X, Y, Z" conversation will be productive. Based on what you say she seems to focus on the "feeling" of an interaction more than the content: she chats just to feel connected and ask questions just be reassured, and doesn't necessarily retain the information long-term, just the fleeting feeling of connection or reassurance. So, if you sit down with her and ask her to modify her behavior the end result is she'll be too distracted focusing on the feeling of the convo "Oh no! Little Dog doesn't like me!" to actually absorb what you're asking her behavior-wise, so she'll just walk on eggshells around you and eventually resent you. Not to mention it's not really your responsibility or place (you're not her supervisor).

Actual possible strategies:
Try asking her to cut down the chatting just for one afternoon, instead of asking her to change her behavior completely and all the time. Chances are if you do this a few times, it will bring the habit enough to her attention she'll at least realize that chatting is not always a desirable/welcome/needed interaction. If she's chatting away some day and expecting you to respond to something she's said, try completely ignoring her for just a few seconds like you're in the zone and then look up like she's woken you from a fog, shake your head a little and smile "Oh sorry! I'm just so focused on this task today. Phew! I really need to get it done, sorry if I ignore you for the next few hours!"

Find other ways to address little things she does with humor or light teasing, if you can do it without sounding mean to her. "Haha, you really don't have to tell me you're going to the bathroom, Gina!! TMI!"

Don't assume she's looking for responses to everything she says, practice tuning out.

Could you ask a supervisor to assign you to a different workspace somehow? Maybe this is impossible, but it would allow you to explain that you think she does a great job getting her work done but that her chattiness is distracting you from yours. Maybe you're not the only one who finds her distracting and the feedback will get passed along to your colleague in a performance evaluation down the line. This is all ideal of course and may not work in your particular work situation.
posted by dahliachewswell at 10:04 AM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


And, seeing as it's a work relationship (colleague), I wonder if the right thing for me to do is suck it up and accept that part of what makes it paid work is dealing with different personalities. Any unpacking advice?

Hi, I am like you, an introvert and have had to deal with these sorts of people before. When I was younger, it was much more overwhelming, so relax it bit, it does get better.

Yes, part of this is recognizing that a work environment brings different personalities together and this isn't always a bad thing. Part of the game is figuring what's your issue, what's their issues and figuring out a good boundary.

In your example of her asking if you had signed the paper she was holding, I would have smiled at her and replied "I'm gonna leave that for you to find out." But I'm a bit of smart ass, so...yeah.

Otherwise, I'd just choose when to pay attention to her, when to grunt in her general direction as I continue working and when to ask for "a few minutes so I finish up this task." Sometimes my conversations with her would be short and clipped, as I'm just looking for information and not bound. She might have problems with this. That would be her issue and not one for me to worry about. I have to set boundaries in order to remain sane and as long as I'm doing my work, then management doesn't mind.

I would never, ever talk to someone about how I'm an introvert and need special attention. Just be civil about setting your boundaries, meet them halfway sometimes and occasionally complain about the situation after work with non-work friends.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:12 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, if she were a toddler you might have success by focusing on her very intently for 10 minutes or so and then saying "well, I can't talk anymore, I have to get my work done but I can talk more at lunch/coffee/10am". Then when she directs conversation at you, reiterate that you will pay attention to her at the designated time.

I don't know if it would work for adults, but I think there's some insight there about dealing with anxiety by being firm, patient, and predictable.
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:12 AM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


I think she might want to really talk to you, but if you're quiet, she doesn't have much to go by so she keeps repeating herself and asking you dumb things simply because she wants to say anything at all.
posted by wholecornandsalt at 10:21 AM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hmm. I think I would be a little weirded out if someone had a big conversation with me about how one of us is an introvert and the other is an extrovert and this leads to A, B, and C consequences for the way we should be interacting. I'd say take that out of the discussion, because it's a specific prism of looking at human behavior that not everyone shares. I find it mildly comparable to telling someone you're a Taurus and they are a Libra and you're struggling with compatibility in the air sign spectrum. What you can do is be more assertive about the things that are irritating you. If you don't like it when she asks you obvious questions, be lighthearted and tell her with a smile that you're sure she can figure that out by herself and you're confident in her ability to be resourceful and independent. Or that you didn't need to know that when she tells you about going to the bathroom. Etc.

It's a waste of your time to get annoyed by the way she is generally. Stick to the ways that are actually affecting you personally.
posted by mermily at 10:43 AM on November 22, 2013 [3 favorites]


Response by poster: Encouraging her to be more proactive sounds like the best insight so far. A lot of compassionate answers here. Thank you.

Sometimes we (humans, coworkers) can convey personal information through storytelling. For instance, "My neighbor's kid is having a birthday party. I'm wild about the kid and will send a gift, but going to parties kind of freaks me out. I'll take the kid out for pizza..." or whatever. It's not me broadcasting "I classify myself an introvert!", and it's not super-super-personal info being overshared in a professional environment. But, enough of these occasional anecdotes about what makes me tick should give any interested party an idea of how I am. We pick up on other people's cues, too. Right? So... work associate in question isn't picking up on hints, really, and I thought I might be more direct with her. As per some great advice above (Gotta say: I already know this is my problem, not my coworker's. I even used 'My problem' in original question)-- I'll probably avoid being direct about my feelings, as it isn't appropriate.

Our field is social service. Our work environment has some office-like qualities, but mostly when I work with this woman we're really working as a team to help others. I want to be a good teammate.

It's too bad there aren't more people like her in the world, seriously. She has a big heart. She's ditzy, yeah. She thought Africa was a European country. She thought it depends which side of the road you're standing on, whether the Atlantic Ocean is to the east or west.

I don't trashtalk this woman to anyone so thank you for letting me share. I hope someone out there is smiling.
posted by little_dog_laughing at 10:49 AM on November 22, 2013


Best answer: Are you me? I'm an introvert and having similar annoyance issues with a coworker of mine. The specifics are different, but there's that same combination of unsolicited extroversion and not quite picking up on things. And when you're annoyed by someone you're around all the time, it can snowball into seething hatred, even obsession, and every little thing that person does adds to it.

And it's especially hard for introverts, I think, because they tend to be both more sensitive to annoyances and more reluctant to tell people to knock it off.

I think I've turned a corner, though, by telling myself "I'm just not gonna let this get to me." Your reactions are more under your control than they seem. I used to sit right next to someone with this really nasal duck-like voice, and she was on the phone all the time, and it bugged the shit out of me until I decided "hey, fuck it, I'm not going to let this bother me." I swear to God it worked. My coworkers would tell me "I don't understand how you can hear her talk all day," and I'd shrug. So when you find yourself tensing up or mentally preparing to punch her, just tell yourself, "whatever, she sucks but that's not gonna be my problem." Or use a mantra that works for you. Practice identifying and defusing your annoyance as it happens. This is probably disappointing advice to hear, but I promise it helps.

If your workplace allows it and if it's practical, start wearing headphones. Big obvious headphones if you have them. You don't have to listen to music; what matters is that you have them on. Headphones tend to signal "not up for chattering right now." If she tries to talk to you while you have them on, take them off and say "I'm sorry, what was that?" If she asks you about the headphones, just explain that listening to them helps you focus. And if she tries to turn that into a non-work conversation, say "sorry, I'm in the middle of something right now. Can we chat later?" and return to your work.

For things like calling you "hon," you can say "Could you please not call me that? I haven't mentioned it before because I didn't want to offend you, but it's just not a word I like."

For the silly questions that are right under her nose, answer them in a way that draws attention to the fact that she can figure it out herself, or that you're not all-knowing. Don't be snippy or passive aggressive about it, just mention it. "What time is it?" "Huh, good question, I don't remember the last time I looked at the clock... 2:30 already!"

Don't shut her out completely, though. Every now and then, let her have a conversation with you, and be friendly even if the subject matter is inane. This will go a long way towards keeping things on good terms between the both of you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:53 AM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


She may also be the kind of person who processes and figures things out aloud.

This can be jarring if you're a person (like me) who processes things internally and whose reaction to out-loud thinking is "Oh my God, why is she telling me all these details ... did she really just say such an obvious thing out loud ... this stream-of-consciousness is driving me nuts, aaah."

I actually sometimes envy people who think aloud. That style of interaction gives me such performance anxiety, and I wish I could just play and explore out loud without feeling so self-conscious.
posted by cadge at 11:02 AM on November 22, 2013


My problem is that I have almost all the signs of a classic introvert. And, this young lady (might be her first adult job?) over-communicates.

And she probably thinks you under-communicate. Who is right here?

I've worked with young women like the one you've described. In all cases, they were very good-hearted souls who just happened to have a communication/professionalism style that was very different from my own. As well it should be -- a young n00b to the workforce will have a different perspective than an older, more seasoned one.

I enjoyed the difference, and in fact appreciate the young talkative ones carrying the conversation load for me. Perhaps if you see it that way -- that maybe she is trying to bridge a gap created in part by your admitted introversion -- you can view her with a more kindly eye.

Unless she is directly interfering with your job performance, or harassing you, I think this is a live-and-let-live situation. I wouldn't have the Big Talk with her. Imagine if one of your extroverted co-workers took you aside and admonished you to be more bubbly and social?

Vive la difference.
posted by nacho fries at 11:14 AM on November 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


You've mentioned that she's kind-hearted, friendly, liked, and is a good person. Go with that. Try to view things from that lens. Like nacho fries says above, Live and let live. We all have to deal with people who have different styles than ourselves and this is your opportunity to learn how to just smile and nod and move on, and not reply when she's talking about calendars and dates. It's not ignoring her, it's how to deal with these types of ambient conversations in an office.

Also wear headphones, even if you're not listening to anything. It works wonders.
posted by vivzan at 12:23 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


The thing that worked best for me in a similar situation was to find coping strategies that improved/impeded communications. Some suggestions:

a) Rearrange desks so that you are not facing towards each other, and you are not in her field of vision.

b) Place a large plant between you so that if you're seated, you're not in each other's faces.

c) Wear headphones at work when trying to concentrate - if headphones aren't allowed, try a wireless phone headset. This is a visual cue that your attention is engaged elsewhere.

d) Play soft instrumental music or find a white noise generator that will help you tune her out.

e) Have some catchphrases ready so you can easily end conversations/exchanges politely
posted by bq at 12:28 PM on November 22, 2013


There is a form of animal training called "clicker training" which relies on positive reinforcement instead of negative. It has some parallels to how I raised my very challenging sons. You might try reading up on that and thinking about how to apply positive reinforcement to what you want from this woman.

She sounds a lot like my younger self. While I am an extrovert, I also have health problems which can make me sound ditzy and I was abused as a kid. So as a young woman, I was very sensitive to any perceived rejection or criticism plus I was generally desperate for attention (Yes, I am still like that -- trust me, I used to be waaay worse). Giving me attention for x, even negative attention, tended to make x worse. This made it really hard for me and others to figure out how to stop problem behaviors.

I suggest you try super hard to express to her any genuine respect you have of any actual good work she does, skip the overly personal conversation about how you are an introvert (telling her that would be like fucking to preserve virginity: "Hi, I want to discourage you from oversharing by telling you something personal about me!!!" -- I would bet dollars to donuts she reads that as "he/she really likes and trusts me and look at all the bonding!" and just overshares all the more), and just try to overlook and not engage the things you do not like. Given your description of her, I think criticism will just make her more desperate for validation from you, thus growing the problem. Instead, reassure her that you respect her work and have a positive opinion of her, etc but don't be too touchy feely about it. Persist in very quiet positive reinforcement of the behaviors you value. Over time, some of this will die down.

Tldr: If you cannot say something nice, say nothing. In this case, say lots of nothing interspersed with a smidgeon of carefully targeted low key professional nice things. Water, fertilize and love the good things about this woman so they grow, starve the bad things of oxygen until they die back to a dull roar.
posted by Michele in California at 2:32 PM on November 22, 2013


I am the only one that is weird about this.

This is a bit of a tip off for you, I think. If this person does a good job, and no one else seems to have a problem with them, than it's pretty clear their behaviour falls within the spectrum of appropriate workplace relations. I get the sense you know this inside yourself.

Rather than asking her to change her behaviours, you could consider which behaviours you exhibit that could make this less frustrating.

Things I do to avoid people prattling at me at work:

1. I wear headphones nearly all the time. They are open headphones - I can hear through them quite clearly, that are only medium sized, and my volume is low, or sometimes I'm not even playing anything. But it is very effective in encouraging people not to make too much chitchat and puts out a clear "I'm working" vibe without any hostility.

2. When people ask me dumbshit questions that they could solve if they displayed a glimmer of initiative, I just plead ignorance. Everyone has a different standard here, but if they've picked me because I'm the easiest option, they haven't looked anywhere else, or the answer isn't that hard, I just reply either, "Ohhhh, I'm not sure/I can't remember/I don't know was there anything in Help about it?" or "Oh sorry Francis, I'm really busy at the moment, can I get back to you tomorrow/after lunch/next year?".

Once you stop being the easiest answer, asking will go way down.

PS I really don't recommend treating people like dogs with "clicker training" (even with no clicker). I just don't think it's a very nice way of thinking about other adults, or respectful way of interacting with them.
posted by smoke at 3:12 PM on November 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


Being around people who process things really externally can be really draining for people who are more introverted, because it feels like we're being asked to engage productively in a serious discussion about [whatever]. Because if we started talking about [whatever] out loud at length, it would be something ready for general consumption and discussion. But external processors are just thinking things through, and not necessarily needing the kind of feedback and interaction introverts would want. I think you may be placing values on her that are not part of her worldview, in that you may be assuming that she wants feedback, answers, ideas, and support when she talks. She might just be talking and not that invested in the outcome because it's just how she processes the world.

I had a colleague very much like this, and I found it exhausting because I'd have to mentally disengage from my work, take time to respond, and then she would have moved onto whatever else. Honestly, starting to wear headphones (apologizing like "I'm so busy, I get really distracted" at first, then just wearing them normally) helped cut down on passing conversations significantly. That, plus giving myself permission to just shrug or not engage, helped tremendously and we're good friends now.

Saying she "has an abnormal psychology" as one of the best answers did above is pretty harsh. She seems perhaps not that aware of the world, but well within the spectrum of normal. Please be conscious of not letting her age and apparent ditziness obscure the need for your respect.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 3:53 PM on November 22, 2013 [5 favorites]


She sounds impulsive - she has a thought, and out it comes. Having a heart-to-heart talk makes it a Thing, and probably won't affect her behavior in a good way: What day is .. O I forgot I'm not supposed to ask you that. Try to use a mildly joke-y demeanor, and popular phrases. Ditz: I'm going to the bathroom; I have to pee so bad I'm about to wet myself. Little_dog: Wayyyy too much information. Ditz: Did you see that coffee commercial last night, OMG, it was so sweet, etc. Little_dog: I'm in the middle of writing case notes. You can tell me about it at lunch. Interrupting conversation between A & B - Little_dog: Hang on, we were in the middle of discussing the new contract, you can tell us about your kitten in a few minutes. When she over-interacts because you walk by her desk - Little_dog: Waves/ says Hi, keeps walking. When she comes to your desk: Can this keep until lunch? Mt expense report needs my full attention. Don't engage with her when you're busy, just give a distracted 1/2 smile, maybe a wave, and keep working, and pay no attention.
posted by theora55 at 9:49 PM on November 22, 2013


I'm both an introvert and an "external processor" (is that term a thing? If so I can finally google it). So I've been both the annoyed person and the talker.

I have probably said things like "what day is it" just to remind myself of what I am doing. Not because i could not figure it out. Talking really really helps me process my thoughts.

But I don't always enjoy listening to other people talk. Disengage a bit. Ignore her, wear headphones, mumble absently, say you don't know. Don't take responsibility for answering when she is capable of figuring it out. When she really needs help, be helpful - but on your schedule. "I'm in the middle of this, but why don't you take a stab at it and we can discuss it at 1.30."

Initiate conversations with her when you want her to talk to you - like at lunch - or get coffee with her now and then to make it clear that you want to be friendly but don't want to chat a lot at work.
posted by bunderful at 4:29 PM on November 23, 2013


(She doesn't sound like a true "vampire" who feeds on drama - just ditsy and chatty.)
posted by bunderful at 4:30 PM on November 23, 2013


This is actually a perfect example of why I hate the term "energy vampire," because so many people make it synonymous with "person I don't like, who is therefore terrible." Everything in your post points to a friendly and maybe a little scatterbrained person, whose only crime is that she's being friendly to someone who doesn't like her, and given that you say you're the only one bothered by this, I'm going to go ahead and say that yes, this is mostly your problem, and no "script" is going to work if you still mentally frame the situations in terms of "working with a vampire." If you're really that bothered by it, I mean, you're an introvert, presumably you're very familiar with the routines to get people to leave you alone: giving one-word answers, not looking away from your computer screen, wearing headphones, whatever. But she's not doing anything bad or wrong - just not on your own terms, which would be fine if yours were the only terms people had to put up with.

(Specifics, number one: I wish I knew where I read this, but her asking you whether you've signed something, what the time is, etc. is actually a matter of interaction styles, i.e. would you rather ask someone for information or figure it out on your own? Most people are either one or the other. And yes, it can be very annoying if you're on the opposite side from someone - personally I'm a "figure it out on your own" type too - but that doesn't make the other person wrong or invalid.)

(Specifics, number two: You say this is her first adult job. Has she had other jobs in food service or retail? Because asking a supervisor for permission to the bathroom is a habit you can easily pick up at either of those jobs, given that the alternative is often getting fired. Similarly, a lot of bosses do expect play-by-plays like that, and for a young employee, it's safer to err on the side of overly helpful than overly apathetic.)
posted by dekathelon at 10:15 PM on November 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


As mentioned above, I suspect there may be an unfortunate feedback loop that's occurring: the more she senses that you "don't like her," the more effort she makes to be friendly-chatty, which makes you even more uncomfortable, which makes her try harder, etc. She knows there's something wrong, but will not be able to figure out the dynamic that's driving it on her own, so I do think it would be a kindness to make things clearer. I'd have a discussion with her (if you could do it over coffee or something, maybe it would be better than in the middle of work), where I'd say something like this general format:

[Honest compliment: "I wanted to tell you that I think you're doing a good job and are really caring, etc., and I'm glad you're on our team."]

[But, problem: I also wanted to talk about some small conflicts in our work styles. For me, I need to sort of concentrate on what I'm doing, and unrelated interruptions and chat make it difficult for me to follow my train of thought / work flow, so when you ask me questions like A, B, that you don't need me to answer, or tell me about things like C, D, that I don't need to know about, I have to try to re-focus to gather my concentration again every time.]

[It's not you, it's me: Everyone works differently, and it's just that for me the best way to keep a relaxed, productive balance is to maintain concentration without a lot of interruptions, so I was hoping we could talk about that.]

[Solution: What I'd like to do is discuss a way that makes things easiest for both of us. I don't want you to ever feel like you can't ask me questions or get my input on work matters, but I'd be happier if I could work a little closer to what I'm most comfortable with. If you could try to avoid asking things you can easily answer on your own, or telling me about random things that that aren't related to what I'm doing, that would help me out a lot. And I'd like to make sure that you know that I'm available and happy to discuss anything at all that you really do need help with, so please don't feel worried about bringing up a problem if I can actually help at all.]

[How about you?: Is there anything I can do or not do that would make work things easier for you?]

[Thanks and reassurance: Thank you for working this out with me. I know it can sometimes be difficult to know what others are thinking, so I'd just like to say again that I think you are such a good person, and I admire the way you do X. Please don't worry if I seem remote or quiet sometimes, it's definitely not personal, but just really the way I do best and am most comfortable at work.]
posted by taz at 11:42 PM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is what I have done...Hey, I need absolute quiet to work..I will let you know when I can talk.Thanks for understanding..the adult version of what young rope-rider suggested and then keep your mouth shut. Works like a charm for me.
posted by OhSusannah at 9:37 PM on November 24, 2013


Response by poster: My heart has been more accepting of my coworker after reading all of your good answers. (Corny, but true.) And, I think the coworker has then responded to my new body language differently, breaking the negative feedback loop. Thanks, everybody.
posted by little_dog_laughing at 9:19 AM on November 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


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