Dealing with a needy & draining coworker
March 7, 2016 5:07 AM   Subscribe

A needy coworker that sits behind me relies heavily on me as a lunch/social companion, I have made a few work friends myself that I prefer to hang out with ,and have tried to invite her out along as a an attempt to help her meet some new friends, but she always ends up completely silent at the table and makes everyone uncomfortable. She's not a pleasant person to socialize with in the first place, how may I untangle myself from her without causing strife at work?

I started working at a new company a few months ago, and have made some work friends from different departments since. There's a girl that sits directly behind me that had joined the company a month before I did, and was among the first people that befriended me. After a few lunches together I have found her to be unbearable even for a work-only friend - examples:

- she complains relentlessly about work;
- has literally nothing to say when asked about her weekends ("uh...nothing");
- and when I try to make conversation by talking about my own, shows zero interest and won't ask questions which leads to us just eating in silence sometimes (!!!);
- and worst of all, she proclaims that she's incapable of working with female bosses, finds them "petty" and prefers to be "coddled" by male bosses, ugh.

I honestly thinks she just doesn't want to be seen going to lunch on her own, and has found in me someone that hadn't known about her "social handicap" yet.

I have since tried to distance myself from her by claiming to be too busy to go out for lunch sometimes, and she would just wait at her desk (sometimes for up to an hour!) until I take a small break to get takeaways and tag along. The breaking point was last year's Christmas Party when she literally would trail behind me when I tried to socialize and meet people as a newcomer to the company - it wouldn't be so weird and embarrassing if she would at least converse with people, but she would just stand there and only talk to me.

I have felt bad because I believe she might just be shy, and have tried to help her out by inviting her to group lunch with other people from the office. But she is uninterested in engaging in conversations with them, which has rightfully come off as quite off-putting to our colleagues. I am at my wit's end as to how to deal with her, and really have no interest in maintaining any non-professional relationship with her at this point. The problem is, she sits directly behind me, and is aware of any social arrangements that I make with other people in the office. Despite my efforts in "fading out" on her she still doesn't seem to get the hint and asks me to lunch, and lately when I suggest involving other people, she'd just say "I don't do group lunches, don't worry about me I'll just go get takeaway I guess" and get all passive aggressive with me, and then sulky at her desk. She's like a black cloud hanging behind my back these days, and it just dampens the jovial atmosphere we have going at my end of the office, as I get along perfectly fine with everybody else.

At this point, with her personality and behavior, I honestly don't care about how she feels and just want her to leave me alone. How can I cut her out of my life without causing drama and looking like an asshole at the office? I have tried to be kind, but I think it's just giving her mixed signals. Knowing how she is, I can foresee her getting upset and drawing attention to the fact that I'm trying to not hang out with her at ALL. Any suggestions would be much appreciated.
posted by 01080591 to Human Relations (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Here are some things you can say:

"I'm going to run some errands at lunch, another time?"
"I'm meeting with some folks from another group."
"I'm meeting up with an old friend."
"I'm going to grab something quick and eat at my desk."
"I'm going to catch up on some personal business."


Here are some things you can do:

Get up and leave for lunch without comment.

You might want to have a short conversation. "Sylvia, I don't think we have much in common and I like to relax at lunch and not talk shop. Perhaps you can find some other folks to hang with."

That last one may seem harsh, but for people who aren't picking up what you're putting down, you have to be direct.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:18 AM on March 7, 2016 [19 favorites]


When she does the passive aggressive bit about eating alone, smile sweetly and say, "Yes, I've noticed that you do prefer your solitude. I envy your ability to enjoy the quiet life. Me, I always have to be around lots of people. Isn't it funny how we are both so different and still quite comfortable as ourselves?" And then shake your head at how amusing the world is and turn away.
posted by myselfasme at 5:27 AM on March 7, 2016 [8 favorites]


If she starts complaining to others that you don't want to hang out with her, she is the one who is causing drama and looking like an asshole. Adults understand that other adults don't always like them and don't make it uncomfortable for others. Be polite, but stop inviting her to lunch.
posted by chaiminda at 5:40 AM on March 7, 2016 [7 favorites]


lately when I suggest involving other people, she'd just say "I don't do group lunches, don't worry about me I'll just go get takeaway I guess" and get all passive aggressive with me

Your lines when she does this: "Okay!"

That's it. Don't engage, don't feel guilty. There is NOTHING WRONG with getting lunch with other people. You asked her (which, TBH, you don't even have to do!). You do not owe her your personal attention at lunch every single day.

I'd also suggest reading Karen Pryor's book Don't Shoot the Dog which has a ton of helpful tips for dealing with this sort of relentlessly negative person. If you can figure out what she is getting from your interactions with her, and stop giving it to her, it may make it a lot easier for you to disengage in the future.
posted by pie ninja at 5:46 AM on March 7, 2016 [51 favorites]


Since she sits close to you then I would make some effort to find a happy medium. Perhaps you can proactively ask her to lunch on days when you have lunch with others, and on other days you can refuse company and say you're trying to spend more time on your own at lunch. If she asks you to go to lunch one-on-one, then a simple: "Thanks! But today is a reading day. Tomorrow I'm going to lunch with Claudia, and you're welcome to join us," would do. I know that risks her being a wet blanket at a lunch gathering, but that isn't really your responsibility.
posted by frumiousb at 5:52 AM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


You might be able to kind of call out the fact that she's a lead weight and mostly extricate yourself and let her think it's your fault all the while. "X, it seems like you haven't been enjoying going out to lunch with me or the other coworkers lately, and I don't want to make even off-the clock time feel like work! Do you want me to still invite you to group lunches? I know I haven't been the best solo lunch partner lately, I've been too distracted by [thing she complains about] and I've been wanting to spend more time [reading dry technical reports/going to the gym/eating a type of food she hates] to get through it. Do you want to do that with me? No? Okay, talk to you later!"
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:44 AM on March 7, 2016 [1 favorite]


I completely disagree with the advice to explain to her why you're pulling back. You don't need to explain your lunch decisions to this person. You're colleagues, not friends.

Stop inviting her to go out with others. When you leave for lunch, just walk away. If she asks what you're doing for lunch, say "I have plans." If she extends an explicit invitation, say "thanks for the invite, but no."

Stop saying you're too busy right now/today/this week. Just say "no thank you." If she says she'll wait for you, say "please don't, I'm going solo."

I can foresee her getting upset and drawing attention to the fact that I'm trying to not hang out with her at ALL.

I don't like the non-apology apology when someone is in the wrong, but it fits here. "I'm sorry you feel upset." "I'm sorry you feel that way."
posted by headnsouth at 7:00 AM on March 7, 2016 [32 favorites]


Can you describe this to HR and see if they can seat you away from her?
posted by waving at 7:46 AM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


She presumably wants to go to lunch with you for a reason and apparently that reason is not conversation. Find out why she thinks she needs to be eating lunch with someone every day. Maybe she just wants to think she is part of the team? Maybe someone told her that his how you fit in at work? Maybe the reason she left her last job was she thinks she did not play the political game and now she is trying that. Maybe she is just lonely. I think it will be easier to address the issue if you understand the motivation behind it.
posted by AugustWest at 8:11 AM on March 7, 2016 [2 favorites]


It doesn't sound like you need to cut her out of your life. Invite people to lunch by sending out a group email to everyone including her.

People will be able to see you are inviting her to things, but she doesn't do group lunches so she won't go.
posted by yohko at 9:09 AM on March 7, 2016


I agree I would keep doing the group lunches, and if she declines, that's her business. No need to explain. On days when you genuinely want to eat alone because you need a break from coworkers (I know I feel this way sometimes!), I think it's perfectly fine to say something along the lines of "I'm in the middle of a great book" or "I need to call my sister over lunch" or "I want to catch up on my podcast playlist" or whatever you want to be doing instead of talking to her.

I would also start making youself a poor target for the work complaining by pushing back. She doesn't like female bosses. Well golly gee, you LOVE your female boss at your company, and in fact have had amazing female bosses in the past, and why would she say that? Look genuinely confused/clueless. Say you're just not comfortable with complaining about coworkers or the office with other people you work with. She doesn't like the new coffee maker? Well, you LOVE it. Whatever. Just make these complain/venting sessions unsatisfying for her as much as possible. If she lapses into silence, say "Oh, hang on, looks like I have an email from my husband" and check out on your phone (even if that means playing Candy Crush or whatever).

I also do like the idea of seeing if your desk could be moved so that if she wants to sulk, she can do it away from you. I realize in some office this is easier said than done, but it's something to consider!
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:54 AM on March 7, 2016 [4 favorites]


I have since tried to distance myself from her by claiming to be too busy to go out for lunch sometimes, and she would just wait at her desk (sometimes for up to an hour!) until I take a small break to get takeaways and tag along.

This is indeed creepy and I feel your pain. If she still does this, how about just being politely upfront and saying things like "I'm just going by myself today. See you later!" or "I'd actually planned to take some time for myself. See you when I'm back!" or variations on the above.

Despite my efforts in "fading out" on her she still doesn't seem to get the hint and asks me to lunch

Nuclear option: "From now on, if I'm not with the group I'll just be having lunch by myself, thanks."
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:12 PM on March 7, 2016 [3 favorites]


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