How do I completely and utterly ignore a pretty unpleasant co-worker?
July 27, 2016 8:12 AM   Subscribe

How do I completely and utterly ignore a pretty unpleasant co-worker? It is starting to affect my mood & ability to work. He is in my field of vision (2 meters away from me) and his negativity is… radiating? I cannot block the view, that would be pure passive aggressiveness.

He’s an asshole, co-workers told me he’s just jealous and has a control problem. He openly criticizes work from co-workers, work he doesn’t know anything about (as if a plumber were criticizing the work of a carpenter, that kind of level), and never has he the courage to show his own work (heh), hides the air conditioning remote control, makes side comments he knows I won’t properly hear, doesn’t say hello to me if boss isn’t here, is offended if someone gets an interesting project / recognition, petty stuff like that. He’s an asshole and everybody agrees (even my boss said he was acting weirdly, etc.)

It’s starting to terrify me how much room in my mind is polluted by thoughts about him and how I don’t manage to have a neutral attitude towards him anymore. He’s just not worth it, maybe I’m better than that, how do I proceed?

Things I’ve tried :
- be myself, laugh & be happy as I naturally am with the rest of the room / team. But I don’t manage to be as happy anymore.
- Draw doodles where he’s eaten alive by all kind of insects and sharing with friends. Good laughs ensue, but it’s only short term. (thank to a former post with a similar question!)
- Talking about it with co-workers. They acknowledge he has a problem with me (very few people appreciate him), that he’s jealous and cannot stand I’m assertive & that I’m working on BIG PROJECT with high level management (I’m a young woman, he’s a grumpy 45 something man).

Mistakes I made (I guess?)

- Correcting him firmly (I did it once : he complains X and Y are noisy when he’s absolutely the noisiest in the room, making personal calls from his desk, etc)
- playing his stupid power game (he doesn’t invite me for coffee while the tradition is that we go get coffee all together, so I don’t invite him anymore when I’m the one to initiate coffee break).

Things I should try :
- therapy? I’ve been in therapy with an absolutely wonderful therarpist and we both agreed I did a lot of progress and that we should close the whole thing. It was 8 months ago. I’m a bit ashamed to contact my therapist for something so… trivial?
- change jobs? It’s my dream job, I have a great relationship with my team & my boss, I’d like to explore other options first.
- empathy : I tried and tried, but it’s so hard to be empathic to someone who is far-right activist, racist, obsequious and dishonest.

What are your thoughts?

Thank you in advance!
posted by BlackBirdFly to Human Relations (37 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried being nice to him directly? Being nice to everybody else while you're seething with rage at this coworker is probably really palpable to him, and it's not going to make him any more pleasant. I find that embracing the most obnoxious person in the cubicle farm often pays off, because they quite often are terrified, awkward, and are hiding it in the worst way possible, just as a defense.
posted by xingcat at 8:15 AM on July 27, 2016 [11 favorites]

Can you find a legitimate reason to change desks, desk orientation, or block the view with something like a big whiteboard? A _legitimate_ reason, preferably one actually suggested or mandated by your boss.

Once you have a little breathing space from this guy, you might be able to think more creatively about this.
posted by amtho at 8:19 AM on July 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

A story I have told here before:

I'm half Romani, passing for white. My father (full-blood Rom, also passes unless you know what to look for) was the first person in his family to marry outside the folk. I grew up with cousins and aunts and uncles making diddakoi and "half-breed" jokes with me. I never connected the dots on the facts that A) they never said those things when my father was within earshot, and B) my mother never went to gatherings of that side of the family (she always had work commitments or somesuch).

And then I made the mistake of taking my daughter to a small get-together at a great-aunt's house for the holidays (my ex-spouse was, of course, not Rom). I had people of three generations say that my daughter -- a bright, bubbly, friendly, helpful three-year-old -- was not and never could be a part of the family, because she was only a quarter of a person. Something broke in me, and all I could do...

Was laugh. Oh, gods, did I laugh at their stupid parochial racist bullshit, their inbred shitheeldom, their blind moronic hatred of anyone who wasn't exactly like them. I was absolutely hysterical that these people would refuse a hug from this beautiful little girl who had begged me to teach her how to say "Merry Christmas" in Kalderash and had asked me incessantly for chores to do so she could buy people presents because she wanted to fit in to her family so desperately.

I laughed, and they started to laugh because they'd been saying that shit to me for decades in other words, and I'd always laughed just like they did, and then they got pissed, but you can't punch your cousin for laughing and not pushing back on your stupid racist bullshit, and I taught my daughter how to say something in Kalderash that was very different from "Merry Christmas", and I kept laughing as she said it, over and over again, to everyone in the house, and I kept laughing as we drove back to the airport to see if I could change our tickets on Christmas Eve, and years later, I still laugh, because they'd done me the huge favor of showing me who I never needed to care about ever again in my life.

Every now and then, one of the people who was in that house that day will leave a comment on one of my non-racist cousins' Facebook page, and instead of remembering what he said about my daughter and what he'd been saying about me for all those years, I'll remember a three-year-old telling him to go fuck his least favorite pig with a big innocent smile on her face, and I'll laugh again.
posted by Etrigan at 8:26 AM on July 27, 2016 [165 favorites]

Are you in a job where you can wear headphones for most of the day? It won't block the sight, but making it so you can't hear him could help.
posted by Hactar at 8:28 AM on July 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Kill him with kindness to his face.

And imagine him as a tiny tiny miserable little squeaky voiced man baby.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 8:32 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

First, talk to an assertive coworker(who doesn't have to sit near him) and ask them to mention the remote problem to him, that's not very considerate.

When he says rude/inappropriate things directed at you; say this " doesn't bother me" "I see" or just walk away/ ignore him. When he mumbles under his breath "Could I help you with anything?"(This suggestion might be controversial, but it WILL work) That will nip the behavior in the bud, if he wants to act like a small child he should be treated like one.

I think that you should discuss his odious behavior with a higher up--and ask to be moved away from him and continue to "kill him with kindness" even if there's no way to move your office further away. He sounds like a black hole of negativity, sucking in positivity and expelling excrement through his orifices.

Sometimes I really want to ask awful people like him why they're so mean, petty and nasty all the time?! But don't do it, he probably doesn't understand why himself. Just do everything that you can to have a happy work life.
posted by bibliophilia at 8:42 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Confuse him with presents.
posted by amtho at 9:09 AM on July 27, 2016

Put up a calendar or whiteboard so you don't have to see him. Wear headphones so you don't have to hear him. Insist that he email you all work related stuff - no talking.
posted by fixedgear at 9:14 AM on July 27, 2016

I've always found the best approach to take with people like that is to be super-sweet to them. It's most definitely not what they're expecting and will both confuse and enrage them, but what can they do about it? Complain that you're being too nice? Your reward is a sense of satisfaction for having risen above their petty bullshit and put them in their place. And also the realization that you are acting as you wish, not re-acting to their provocations.
posted by DrGail at 9:16 AM on July 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Ever have a big muscular dude try to physically intimidate you and you act like you're in the safest, kindest situation on earth? I have. Because there was no other way I (average, un-athletic woman) could have won that fight.

Sometimes you just have to pull in all your acting abilities, envision that academy award, and pretend like the absolute opposite is happening.

That big muscular guy? His jaw dropped as if I'd started levitating. He felt completely powerless that a woman a foot shorter and not half his muscle mass could act like his oh so superior strength didn't exist.

You're going to have to act like coworker's negativity does not exist. That jerk wants you to hurt. Wants you to feel put down. Wants you to take in his negativity and feel like crap, because somehow that makes him feel better about himself.
It's up to you not to give him that power. At first, it'll require a hell of a lot of acting (lying!) on your part. And he's going to feel more and more irritated. But eventually, you'll no longer be faking it, you'll not let him get under your skin and he's going to be even more pissed off and it will feel AMAZING.

Have that goal: the amazing feeling of NOT letting him get under your skin and the satisfaction of him knowing it.
It's a beautiful thing.
posted by Neekee at 9:20 AM on July 27, 2016 [28 favorites]

I confess that I sort of like it when people are assholes...because they give up so much of the moral high ground that it's easier than usual to be the better person. You go in, you excel at your job, and you be the most professional, polite person in the room.

I agree, in other words, with everyone who is essentially saying, "kill him with kindness." Or, as Michelle Obama recently and wonderfully put it: he goes low, you go high.

Instead of empathizing, by which we usually mean that we try and put ourselves in the other person's shoes, identifying with them to understand their viewpoint or why they're acting a certain way or doing a certain thing - maybe try some version of radical acceptance, kindness, love or appreciation.

This is another human we're talking about, after all, and we're all so small in the vast world. He was once a baby; he will one day - if he hasn't already - have to confront the sheer terror of dying. He has people he loves and who love him. He's been scared and worried and disappointed and overwhelmed; he's fallen in love with someone; he's been so happy he could cry; and he's taken real, genuine pleasure in something like a good meal, or a good song, or a good thing on tv, or a good trip, or a good friendship. I think that you can appreciate and honor all of that without necessarily doing the mental jujitsu of trying to identify with him.

But that also means no more insect doodles and gossiping. No more snubs. Try and be your best self.
posted by pinkacademic at 9:48 AM on July 27, 2016 [16 favorites]

Of the laundry list of things you've outlined about this guy, only two single you out (not saying hello and muttered side comments). The rest sound like he's being an equal opportunity asshole that you happen to sit near by, is that correct?

It will help your peace of mind to not conflate stuff irritating coworker does and stuff that irritating coworker is doing to me so you don't inadvertently slide into a bitch eating crackers state about him. It will also help your credibility when you speak with your boss to request a desk change or with some other concrete solution to address the breakdown in work relationship between you and him. If there is no specific breakdown (e.g. you aren't working on the same project), than he is not your circus nor your monkeys.

Draw doodles where he’s eaten alive by all kind of insects and sharing with friends.
Hope you aren't doing this at work/sharing these with coworkers, I worked with a guy who got fired doing exactly this from an otherwise very laid back company, on grounds of bullying.
posted by jamaro at 10:07 AM on July 27, 2016 [11 favorites]

Hmmmm...while the (tiny) higher-minded part of myself likes the idea of killing him with kindness, the lower part, the one that has been in the professional trenches dealing with jerks like this for more than 20 years thinks it's might convenient for these dudes* if the women they harass are told to deal with them by being even "nicer."

My advice would be to stay as neutral and professional as you can while doing everything you can to minimize this guy's presence in your life and your consciousness. Move desks or put up a barrier so you can't see him--if you can get your boss to propose something for work reasons, great, but if not, do it anyway. (Don't worry about being passive-aggressive, this situation is way beyond that already.) Ignore him when he talks under his breath, and if he escalates, say something like "if you have something to say to me, you are going to have to say it in a normal tone of voice. I can't hear when you mumble." Speak to him only when addressed in a clear fashion, or when absolutely necessary for work purposes. Take your lunch at a different time to minimize time together in the office. And don't talk to co-workers about him, since all that does is reinforce the idea that "the two of you" have a problem. If his behaviour is seriously affecting your work, document it and speak to your supervisor.

*which this type tends to be, although there are plenty of obnoxious characters of both genders out there.
posted by rpfields at 10:21 AM on July 27, 2016 [11 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for your thoughtful answers.
On one side you make me wanna be a better human in encouraging me to be kind, etc.
But if it's fake how authentic is it? And aren't we reinforcing ideas such as women must be accommodating, compassionate, etc?
posted by BlackBirdFly at 10:52 AM on July 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

I take your point re: women seen as accommodating and compassionate, but that's really really not the same thing as "taking the high road", which is basically what some responses are advocating. I'd recommend taking the high road even if ages and genders were reversed, or withheld from this description. I know issues of gender and age creep into a lot of things, but if your personal comfort and happiness are on the line, I'd go for doing whatever works for you, regardless of how it could be viewed as part of a larger-order complex of societal interactions. Put another way: would you rather feel better or would you rather be "right"?

Honestly, I have found that the smug satisfaction I get from smiling at a jerk and being friendly to them is every bit as enjoyable as the satisfaction of e.g. hiding a few sardines in their car, but YMMV. It can't be authentic and also fake, but you're not really shooting for genuine warmth and affection, just professional polite "friendly" behavior. Nobody is gonna call you on an invitation to coffee not being sincere and heartfelt.

I don't recommend "I can be the grownup here" as an attitude for general work interactions, but it can be helpful for coping with problematic coworkers.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:02 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's not nice to be fake, sickly sweet nice. That's just obnoxious and passive aggressive. Think of why he acts like such an asshole and instead interact with those root causes using sympathy and compassion as your drive. That's worked for my past and present toxic coworkers, and it has always made my work life easier.
posted by pintapicasso at 11:04 AM on July 27, 2016

Don't worry about being authentic. Just engage in professional, compassionte *behaviour*.

Also, it's not a question of stereotypical behaviour as a woman. It's simply what a professional person would do.
posted by Amy NM at 11:05 AM on July 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I don't know why everyone is telling you to be nice to him. It's not your job to be nice to random assholes because you're a woman and "better than them". I'd just ignore this guy as much as possible, be polite and professional if you have to interact with him and not take his shit at all if he initiates trouble, hides the ac remote or bad mouths you or whatever. You did the RIGHT thing being assertive, not the wrong thing.

In a couple years you'll be in your own office and this guy will still be in the same cube because he has crappy social skills and a poor attitude. There's a reason a 45 year old is sitting in a cube farm getting into pissing matches with new hires and it's not because the new hires lack compassion.

This thread is bizarre. You're asking ways to reduce the mental real estate this guy takes up and everyone is telling you to spend more time on him. Don't. Your brain recognizes him as a threat to your professional standing and is on high alert around him. Fix that perception by not interacting with him unless you have to and your brain will relax and allow you to forget about him
posted by fshgrl at 11:15 AM on July 27, 2016 [41 favorites]

Ask him to do you a favour.

I read something or watched a video which suggested this as a leadership pro tip: it turns out that asking someone to do something for you is a more effective relationship building technique than giving them something.

Maybe you don't want to build a relationship with this lunatic, but you never know, it might go some way towards defusing his arsenal of pest bombs.

Good luck.
posted by ZipRibbons at 11:44 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I think it was good that you were assertive with him. Being professional when you have to interact with him is good advice.

One thing I wanted to mention: acting professional about an asshole in the workplace and not gossiping about them is always kind of a mindfuck. When I've had to do it, I've started to wonder if it's just me, or if I'm being difficult or if maybe they only dislike me, etc. I've started to question basic reality, like "maybe it's not a dick move to hide the AC remote?" That was in some ways the hardest part about this--basically it can feel like you're gaslighting yourself. Rest assured, everyone else knows he's an asshole too. You might have to remind yourself of that from time to time.

re: the petty coffee invite thing, I would consider inviting myself along whenever he leaves me out and resume including him in the invites. Act like clearly he must have just forgotten you--don't let him keep you out of these internal-networking times. People bond and sometimes make work decisions on those sort of outings.
posted by purple_bird at 11:48 AM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

You mention you have a good relationship with your boss— if everyone on your team thinks the guy is an asshole with a particular issue with you, have you tried talking to your boss about it? If your boss has trusted you with BIG PROJECT and asshole keeps getting the small pickings, I think it's pretty clear how much the business values him.

I'm not one for the kill with kindness, I'd too easily slip into the passive aggressive mental zone which I find toxic and lingering. Just straight professionalism is enough, if he mutters something you didn't catch, call him on it every time "Sorry Asshole, what did you say? I can barely hear you" it's going to bother you if you try to ignore it, so just address it.

Things like the coworker-breaks are more tricky, I'd mention to my friendly coworkers that I'm trying to attempt to improve the situation and so I'm asking him, but ask them if asshole does the same sans-your invite, that they say "Did you invite BBF?" and if he doesn't course correct, they skip the break and go with you a little later, at which time you invite him.

The ultimate in bravery after a few weeks of the resumed coffee invites might be the "Asshole, are we alright? I've been feeling there's a bad vibe in the air and I'm not sure if it's between us, or if it's something larger? Let's talk." Think I'd go via the boss route if I truly thought the person was an asshole though.
posted by Static Vagabond at 11:53 AM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

There's nice and there's nice.

There's the "Oh noes, John is mad again, I better tiptoe around him, maybe I can placate him by complimenting him, it would make him mad if I try to get the remote for the air conditioner. He just snapped at me, but maybe if I make my tone meeker he won't snarl at me again." type of nice. Don't be that kind of nice. That's doormat type of nice.

And then there is the lofty, affectionate, somewhat maternal type of nice which has an internal track closer to: "Poor old guy. Clearly at the peak of his abilities, if not well on his way into the downslope. Imagine how awful it must be to know you'll never get any good assignments on merit because you just don't have the social skills or the other abilities. It's important to patronize him though. You could probably help him, explain to him how things work nowadays, but he's unlikely to be able deal with that kind of help. Well, better include him when I round up everyone to go for coffee. It would be hell to have to live inside his head and then have people snubbing him too. And we should listen to him when he talks, because you know, he could always come up with a good idea."

With people like this I try to invent an imaginary condition, like lumbago, and remind myself that Poor old John is probably grouchy because his lumbago or his phimosis is hurting again. Because it could be true. You never know. There is every chance he's not a happy person, and every chance he is suffering from chronic pain which is part of why he's an asshole. But there's no need to grant him the power when he doesn't have it. If he is rude to you the correct response is mild surprise that he just did something so tactless in front of other people who are likely wincing in contact embarrassment, or rolling their eyes, or seething on your behalf. It looks like your workplace is not backing John and telling you that you are just the squeaky female who ought to be nice to the man because that's what woman are for.

Now my examples of being nice were both a little extreme, as one is snotty and the other was squeaky, because I wanted to make sure I got my point across, about the difference in types of nice, and which side to err on.

The other thing to consider is if the basic problem is that you are really pissed off at your co-worker, and have not had a way to express this anger, or vent it. You are mad because you can't get his work done because he is grumbling and you can't concentrate. You're frustrated.

In that case, getting a clear picture of how bad the situation is - use a timer, see how much of your day has to stop short because John actually does something annoying that interrupts your flow of work and how much is you anticipating him doing something and being annoyed preemptively or how much you are letting him ruin your mood and your productivity. Does one mumbled remark distract you for five minutes or all day?

And finally you could try simply confronting him. "Not too professional, John," When he makes one of those not quite possible to hear comments. Hitting back is part of the game Tit for Tat. If he does a mean thing, you respond with a mean thing. But then you take the next turn, and lead with a nice, such as "Come on for coffee John We're all heading over to Starbucks."

Finally, you might try to find something that John is good at, even if it is not something you actually were hoping to find in a co-worker. Perhaps he puts on hilarious voices while mimicking the customers. Is there anything you can laugh about and shake your head, and say, Wow, John is amazing? And show him some approval for it. Because the behaviour that you describe makes me think John is acting very defensively, as if he is hugely threatened by you (and/or his other coworkers/the rest of the world). It may be that John will be able to act less defensive if he realises that you are not out to get him. Advocating on his behalf, something sort of like, "John would really do well with a seat near the ventilator because he hates the heat, the rest of us keep turning the air conditioner off and he keeps turn it on, how do we keep him cool enough?"

Ideally the mentality you want is that you are all a band of brothers (We few, we happy few...), or all a family, where everyone is needed for their idiosyncrasies. Of course that is not always possible if one of the chicks in the nest is a cuckoo bent on pushing all the other fledglings out, but that is definitely a decision for your bosses, not for you.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:12 PM on July 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'm a big fan of desk plants. What you need is a really nice plant that is strategically positioned so that it is what you see instead of him. If there is no natural light in your office, you can get a plant light bulb that fits into a regular socket. Replace your view of him with something alive and healthy. If your boss has agreed that he is acting strangely towards you, maybe you can even get them to pay for a nice potted tree to go between your desks.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 12:45 PM on July 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

I'd caution you about talking to co-workers or your boss beyond a few concrete things you want fixed. Everyone gets sucked into the office gossip mill at some point and it never helps. Ever.
posted by fshgrl at 1:07 PM on July 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm less of a kill 'em with kindness person than I used to be. Now I'm more straight on.

Wait for him to criticize work in front of the boss and say "It sounds like you're really passionate about this and have insights. Why don't you take the next revision? Let's meet on Thursday to review your work."

Ask to have the air conditioning remote go to the boss's office. It's an actual issue - the remote is always missing.

Mumbles under his breath are ALWAYS restated loudly and in your favor. If he mumbles "you get the good projects because you suck up." Respond, "Hey thanks for recognizing that I worked hard to get this project. It's a great opportunity!" What is he going to say? No, I said you're a suck up?

I'm totally professional. I would not gossip about it, draw cartoons or forget to invite him places. However, I'm not going to cause myself grief coddling someone who acts like a jerface. My mental health is too valuable cower to people like this.
posted by 26.2 at 1:16 PM on July 27, 2016 [11 favorites]

And aren't we reinforcing ideas such as women must be accommodating, compassionate, etc?

I'd prefer that men become more accommodating and compassionate, if we're going to try to even the scales somehow. Just don't be so accommodating and compassionate that it detracts from being happy and effective.
posted by amtho at 1:46 PM on July 27, 2016

Make friends with him. I'm friends with some pretty weird people. Some people are just too horrible for that but it's rare. Most are beautiful once you get to know them, particularly the weird ones.
posted by w0mbat at 3:55 PM on July 27, 2016

- Draw doodles where he’s eaten alive by all kind of insects and sharing with friends. Good laughs ensue, but it’s only short term. (thank to a former post with a similar question!)

This is honest to god workplace harassment and can get you fired. Don't do this and delete any files of these doodles from your and your work friends' work devices or work-related accounts.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 5:35 PM on July 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

> This thread is bizarre. You're asking ways to reduce the mental real estate this guy takes up and everyone is telling you to spend more time on him. Don't.

Totally agree.

Also, the out of sight and earshot thing is more potent than I ever would have imagined before I tried it -- big plant and earbuds (I wear mine unplugged, just to dampen sound) will do your brain a lot of good.
posted by desuetude at 7:31 PM on July 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

He’s an asshole, co-workers told me he’s just jealous and has a control problem.... He’s an asshole and everybody agrees (even my boss said he was acting weirdly, etc.)...
He’s just not worth it, maybe I’m better than that, how do I proceed?...
- Draw doodles where he’s eaten alive by all kind of insects and sharing with friends. Good laughs ensue, but it’s only short term. (thank to a former post with a similar question!)
- Talking about it with co-workers. They acknowledge he has a problem with me (very few people appreciate him), that he’s jealous and cannot stand I’m assertive & that I’m working on BIG PROJECT with high level management (I’m a young woman, he’s a grumpy 45 something man)....
- playing his stupid power game (he doesn’t invite me for coffee while the tradition is that we go get coffee all together, so I don’t invite him anymore when I’m the one to initiate coffee break).
- empathy : I tried and tried, but it’s so hard to be empathic to someone who is far-right activist, racist, obsequious and dishonest...
What are your thoughts?

I find it very interesting that folks who are calling this random stranger all kinds of names on your behalf forgot to point out a few things to you. I wonder how your coworker would describe your behaviour here...

What pinkacademic said.
posted by xm at 7:38 PM on July 27, 2016

Response by poster: About the doodling thing : interesting how it is differently considered in this thread... I did it once, at home and shared with a friend as a cathartic thing.
posted by BlackBirdFly at 9:40 PM on July 27, 2016

For the record, I didn't say anything about being kind to him. It's not your duty to nourish him with compassion or any other stereotypical motherly stuff (F that!). My vote is to never ever allow him to see that he can get under your skin and infect you with his negativity. Fake it til you make it. I assure you that no matter how exhausting it is at first, you will eventually figure out how not to let him get to you.
posted by Neekee at 9:45 PM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Ignore him most of the time and be polite for the rest instead of adding to the drama. He isn't kicking your chair, poking at you or whistling annoyingly - it could be so much worse! I think that you are both projecting your insecurities onto him and nitpicking everything, and at this point he could do nothing right even if he tried. Save all that righteous indignation for something worthier of it and/or find an outlet for your excess rage or frustration or drama outside of work and get back to doing your job like a pro. Don't be that person who will always find a way to do something like this even on a team of perfect angels, it sucks for everyone involved.
posted by meepmeow at 10:21 PM on July 27, 2016

Well, I was suggesting you try and reframe your thinking rather than take a certain kind of action in coworker's direction (i.e. I wasn't suggesting that you start being over the top nice to him). I work in a male dominated field, and I'm sensitive to the burdens of emotional labor women carry; my advice would have been the same no matter what the gender dynamic.

I also think that some of us suggested that you "kill him with kindness" and double down on your professionalism because in your description, it sounded a lot like you were needled by his unkindnesses and lack of professionalism...ergo, we assumed (or at least I did) that kindness and professionalism were values that were important to you, and that a big part of the problem was your daily experience with having someone trounce all over those values. I also, frankly, suspected that some of your actions were not only reinforcing a thought pattern you seemed to want to shift (i.e. renting him out extra mental real estate) but that they were also probably causing you some cognitive dissonance because - although they are certainly understandable - they were of the same ilk as the behavior you purported to find distasteful. That is to say, drawing doodles and snubbing someone and gossiping are neither very kind nor very professional.

I sense that you know that it's not a very viable goal to set out to change your coworker's values, behavior, and attitude. Your question really was about things that you could do differently. In my experience, given that changing someone else is hard if not impossible, the only way forward for peace of mind is to think of all of it as an opportunity to clarify and practice what's important to me.

Framing the situation this way would, for what it's worth, get you out of the authenticity conundrum. You'd no longer be worried about whether or not he perceives as you as being fake; you'd worry about whether or not you're thinking and acting in ways that are authentically representative of your values.

But it sounds like you're not so keen on the various answers that proffer shifting your mindset and/or changing your practices. So here's another way forward: openly, honestly, and directly trying to communicate about the problems with your coworker and your boss. You might not actually change anything, but you might feel better for saying something and for saying it in a way that affirms what you value (kindness and professionalism, if those are in fact values that matter to you). I'm surprised more mefites haven't given you some scripts for this, because they're usually so good at it (some of the scripts in this askme are unusually borderline unprofessional, in my opinion, though).

You might consider, for example, saying "Coworker: I'd like to be invited to the next social coffee hour you organize, so let me know when you all are heading out." "Coworker, stop hiding the air conditioner remote." "Coworker, that criticism is unproductive." "Coworker, when you mutter under your breath, many people will assume that you're saying something hurtful. Please speak up or keep it to yourself." "Coworker, I disagree with [political thing X] and would prefer that we talk about things directly related to our work projects rather than politics." You could say to your supervisor, "Boss, I'm increasingly frustrated by the office dynamic and concerned that it's compromising productivity. My issues are X, Y, and Z. What do you suggest might make this better?"
posted by pinkacademic at 8:41 AM on July 28, 2016

I'm in the Kill him with [Professional, Disinterested] Kindness camp, but what I think a lot of people haven't explicitly said, is to ALSO continue to call him out (firmly, dispassionately, and at a surface level, kindly) when he acts like an ass/steps on your toes.

So, yeah, this:
Correcting him firmly (I did it once : he complains X and Y are noisy when he’s absolutely the noisiest in the room, making personal calls from his desk, etc)

IMO that was not a mistake. The mistake is playing the power games.

Be aloof, almost but not quite condescendingly, kind when you need to interact with him - it will annoy the shit out of him because it's you communicating that you are NOT threatened by him. It will also make it easier to slap him down correct him in a professional manner when he really does step out of line. And both of those things will help you not care as much.

Also, I don't think this is passive aggressive:
I cannot block the view, that would be pure passive aggressiveness.

I would find looking at anyone while I'm working distracting, especially if they huff and puff. Addressing a distraction (unless doing so will negatively impact your ability to do your job or directly impinge on "his" space) is taking direct action (not passive aggressive) to improve your work environment. Though it may be taken as a "sign of weakness" by him, so it might amp up certain of his behaviors unless you're able to balance it with other shows of strength.
posted by The Shoodoonoof at 12:47 PM on July 28, 2016

Dude! Just ask to move.

There's no reason to be nice to this jackass. How crazy he drives you is directly proportional to your personal distance from him. Just ask your boss to move desks. Seriously.
posted by cnc at 3:02 PM on July 28, 2016

I worked with a very toxic narcissist. He made my life hell. Read up about narcissism. He does not see anything from any perspective but his own. Be very cautious. Limit your interactions with him. He perceives you as a threat and he will sabotage you, lie about you and screw you over every chance he gets. Document everything hostile or sexist he does. Document your own good work. Be civil to him. Call him out to others and stop with the petty reprisals. He leaves you out of coffee, comment that he has trouble being a team payer. Avoid direct conflict - he thrives on the drama.
posted by theora55 at 5:19 AM on August 1, 2016

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