Need help with nutty co-worker.
March 3, 2008 3:15 PM   Subscribe

Co-worker is jealous...How do I head off her bizarre behavior arising from an unfounded premise that I'm somehow monopolizing a mutual work friend?

I have a co-worker--let's call her Solange--who's an extremely extroverted, talkative, in-yo-face type, very political and angry about everything, but also funny and smart as all get out. When I met her I felt she was scary, but I decided to find her refreshing. She was a narcissist and a braggart, I thought, but I wasn't ready to just write her off. She had the guts to speak up in meetings about things that were really crappy about the org we work for, and there was a quiet part of me that admired her.

Anyway, Solange ignored me completely when she first got hired--she's pretty butch and I know I look like a Barbie, and I figured she despised me on sight. But as we got to know each other, it seemed that the chill was coming off her a bit. She started complimenting my work, which is something that doesn't often happen. It sent up a red flag--when people suck up to me, it only ever goes on for a very short time, and suddenly the other person does a one eighty, and from that point forward I'm treated like complete drek and I never know what prompted the change, and it's just depressing. So I'm wary of that kind of thing. Weird things would happen with Solange--I was in a meeting with my boss once (I was trying to decide whether or not to quit, so it was pretty tense), and she just came in the room and stood there chatting with him, oblivious of the situation. I chalked it up to attention hounding and thought it was either brazenly rude or unbelievably childish, but it didn't seem hostile. I can deal with just about anything, until it becomes outright hostile.

So I've been kinda-sorta waiting for the other shoe to drop, and recently it did. I was talking to a guy I work with (for anyone following my so-called life, it's the Buddhist guy who got married to a person I at first thought was a man because of her non-gender specific name, but she's not). We were sort of wedged into a corner of the room, waiting to go into another room that was occupied, when Solange appeared. She had been ignoring me recently in a very pointed way. She bustled over, never making eye contact with me. I made some good-natured comment, but she talked over me, her eyes on my co-worker. She squeezed herself right in front of me and bent over to hug my co-worker, putting her butt right in my gut. She did that for a while, then left (she's not a thin woman, and the whole thing was physically uncomfortable, insulting and bizarre).

She no longer speaks to me, and I didn't know why, until I started piecing some things together. She found out a few days ago that my co-worker, the Buddhist guy, gave me a microphone. Well, I bought it from him, but Solange whined to me (this was when we were still speaking): "He didn't give ME one!" And then she said, "I'm just kidding," in her weird low voice, and I knew she knew how dumb it was to say something like that, or even feel it (I know, feelings are feelings, you can't call them dumb or smart). But her behavior continued to be incredibly childish. It clicked when I rememebered that she had been giving the Buddhist guy rides home, and since he and I had been scheduled to work together for the past few nights, I had been giving him rides. It occurred to me she must have found out about it, and was jealous. Oh my jeezus. This is a forty-something woman, too.

I asked my husband what he thought about her physically cutting me off in the break room. I said I thought it was odd that she was competing with me for the attentions of this other co-worker, a part-time guy who isn't her boss and doesn't really have that much status. He said that it wasn't about the guy. He thinks Solange just really needs to be everybody's special friend, it doesn't matter who they are. And she was giving him rides home, and now she mistakenly thinks I'm his special friend because I've given him a few rides home. Ridiculous! I mean when I think about it, I can't believe it's happening. I haven't been in the middle of something like this since third grade.

Solange isn't my boss. She can't really affect my life, and I don't actually have to work with her on any project, so this situation probably shouldn't bother me as it has. But I'm so upset, I can't stop thinking about it. Strategy-wise, I could use some suggestions on how to deflect Solange's bizarre hostility, or at least manage it so it doesn't get in my way or continue to get me down.

BTW: Solange is gay, so she's not sexually jealous of my relationship with the Buddhist guy. It's something else. I mean, she must have had a crap childhood with sixteen brothers and sisters and was probably edged out of everything. But why the hell should I have to pay for that?
posted by frosty_hut to Human Relations (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Seriously? This is what goes on at your work? For christsakes take Solange out for Margaretta's and bury the hatchet.
posted by wfrgms at 3:24 PM on March 3, 2008


Ask the Buddhist guy for tips on meditation. I am not kidding.
posted by desjardins at 3:26 PM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


So, let me get this straight? You want to change the mind or the feelings of a bizarro work colleague? I don't think you can. Just ignore her, and move on.

Assure yourself that you're not to blame for her bad behaviour, that you have no control over it, and that you're not interested in it. Repeat. Maybe take a deep breath every now and then. Avoid discussing her with anyone. If you can easily avoid interaction without looking like a spoiled brat, do that too. Think of it as a personality clash, and accept that you won't like everyone all the time, and they won't like you, and that's okay and normal.
posted by b33j at 3:27 PM on March 3, 2008


It sounds like Solange has issues all her own. For one thing, she's insecure. And I don't mean to belittle your problem, but I honestly think you should just not play. Don't get involved in whatever weird internal struggle she's having here. Live and let live.
posted by loiseau at 3:30 PM on March 3, 2008


Aside to b33j--no, I don't want to change Solange. Her damage probably goes way back, and anyway it's not really my business. I do want to be able to work with other people on the job, and I don't want to feel like I'm under attack from others. So there's that.

Solange is a talker, and I don't know her that well, so I'm suddenly afraid she's going to trump up negative stuff about me and badmouth me to my co-workers and supervisors. I realize this is paranoid, and I do magnify things out of proportion. But my fears around this aren't irrational--they're based on unfortunate experience. I've been ostracized before, but under much different circumstances...I think my situation at work is strong enough to withstand something like this, but I've only been on the job a year, and I've had some run-ins with other co-workers, and I'm a little jittery.

So yeah, I'll need to manage my own responses and the minutiae of my behaviors around Solange and other co-workers. But no, I realize there's no chance in hell of actually changing her.
posted by frosty_hut at 3:33 PM on March 3, 2008


Solange is a talker, and I don't know her that well, so I'm suddenly afraid she's going to trump up negative stuff about me and badmouth me to my co-workers and supervisors.

Would you trust anything she said about coworker X? Other people almost definitely think she's as nutty as you do.
posted by desjardins at 3:38 PM on March 3, 2008


Oh boy. I don't think there's much you can do here except be the grownup. So, as others have said, don't play along with her weird games. Just act as you normally would. Acknowledge her as you would anyone else, but if she pointedly ignores you, just let it go. If she sticks her butt in your face again, get up and move. That may be what she wants in the game she's playing, but she doesn't "win" and you don't "lose" just because you choose not to be physically uncomfortable.

I'd be upset and annoyed in your situation too, but the thing is, she's not going to change, and engaging with her in any way will just result in more annoyance for you. Just be thankful that she isn't your boss and that you don't have to work with her directly. And believe me, every SANE person who works with the two of you knows the score, and they're not going to think less of YOU.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 3:40 PM on March 3, 2008


This is totally silly but really works for me. And since you say she can't affect your work life, I think it might work for you. In situations such as this, I wonder:

What would Cary Grant do?

And in this instance, I think he would act bemused. He'd be confident in himself because he is an awesome and classy gentleman. He would not endeavour to change another person's opinion because he knows all attempts would be futile. Try to have a lighthearted attitude about it. On preview, her badmouthing you is a legitimate concern, but your actions, work and attitude should speak for itself.

However, ficticious-in-my-mind-Cary-Grant would never allow a person to push her bum in his gut. Next time something like that might happen, politely excuse yourself, tell your co-worker you will catch up with them later and wish them both a good day. (Not in the haughty Jane Austen british movie way, the 1950's you really mean have a good day way)
posted by spec80 at 3:42 PM on March 3, 2008 [35 favorites]


Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This is just the way she is, and there is nothing you can do to change it. Avoid her if you can; she'll just make you upset.
posted by svolix at 4:34 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Solange is a talker, and I don't know her that well, so I'm suddenly afraid she's going to trump up negative stuff about me and badmouth me to my co-workers and supervisors. I realize this is paranoid, and I do magnify things out of proportion.

I know people like this. You are not being paranoid. The only defense to this is to be 100% competent, collected, and together. In addition to this, never say a negative word about Solange to anyone. Ever. It will be apparent that she has a weird grudge against you when you say nothing but kind words towards her and she maligns your work (which is spot-on) and makes unwarranted nasty comments.

She was a narcissist and a braggart

Avoid these people in the future. They are poisonous, especially to the more sensitive among us.

I can deal with just about anything, until it becomes outright hostile.

Some people push until you stop them from pushing, so you might want to start responding earlier to borderline rude/hostile behavior. A simple "why did you interrupt that meeting? is there a problem?" is appropriate. An asshole will know that you respect yourself and your boundaries, and might just find an easier target. A nice person will clarify the misunderstanding.


And, I know you didn't ask, but:

I was in a meeting with my boss once (I was trying to decide whether or not to quit, so it was pretty tense)

I think my situation at work is strong enough to withstand something like this, but I've only been on the job a year, and I've had some run-ins with other co-workers, and I'm a little jittery.

This doesn't sound like a healthy working environment.
posted by sondrialiac at 4:35 PM on March 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Looking back on some of your past questions (I did have to do a double-take when I saw your name under the entry when I saw it was about work) you really do seem to get yourself into a tiz about these relationships.

To my mind she's not being hostile. Everything you've written about her in terms of her work suggests that she's being professional. She sounds blunt and direct, yes, but not unprofessional. If she is you need to speak to your manager. To me you've experienced a slight that, from reading, I don't think is there. I even think that she tried a little humour on you that you missed because you were too caught up in the perceived slight.

What concerns me is the number of times you label her to try and get a grip on who she is, to reduce her to something tangible you can work with: extremely extroverted, talkative, in-yo-face type, very political, angry about everything, funny, smart, scary, refreshing, a narcissist and a braggart, butch, brazenly rude, unbelievably childish, damaged, jealous, gay, and to top it all off, must have had a crap childhood with sixteen brothers and sisters. Seriously WTF was that last one about?

My suggestion is you stop overanalysing her and demeaning her in your head and the situation will take on a whole different aspect. It could even be that this thought process is causing you to act differently around her and she's started to pick up on this. If this is the case I would be concerned about her going to see someone about you creating a hostile working environment, particularly if you're speaking to other work collegues about her as you are to us which I hope you're not.

If you can't stop this on your own, you need to speak to a cognitive therapist about some reframing techniques, perhaps after following spec80s Cary Grant advice.

I hope this wasn't overly critical, and that the situation works out for you in the fullness of time.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 4:46 PM on March 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


It's so nice to see this kind of stuff goes on in other places other than my place of employ. I also come from an unhealthy work environment and I know that the "Quit! Run! Go!" idea is very tempting.

People are strange. We all have our things. These are just people you work with. They're not your family and you don't owe them anything. In life, sometimes we have to deal with people outside our own comfort zones. She may not be someone you would hang out with outside of work, but this is your job.

I would make with the professionalism. You're not there to socialize. Go in, do your job and go home. Be nice. Don't talk about her behind her back because she will find out.

And I TOTALLY agree with the Cary Grant thing. He is classy with a capital C.
posted by jenlyn1123 at 4:54 PM on March 3, 2008


Everyone above is exactly right. The most important thing is you have to NOT CARE. It is ironic that I am capitalizing that. Who cares? She is doing what she is doing. Let her do what she is doing. Do your job. Love your life. Live your life. Enjoy it! Everything is perfect, just as it is. I don't want to annoy you but you should listen to desjardins.
posted by frumious bandersnatch at 4:55 PM on March 3, 2008


Thanks for these great suggestions.

I come to y'all because you give me the reality check I need...and some suggestions and proddings for self-examination.

One post that struck me was urbanwhaleshark's. Your list of my adjectives was funny. I didn't realize I do that as much as I do. Part of my tendency is, I think, a desire to entertain by describing people in a vivid way--to describe real people as if they were characters. If I don't do at least that, you're not going to finish reading my question. And I definitely have a tendency to see people as larger than life, and weirder than life (I'm a cartoonist also)...maybe it just makes me obnoxious though. Food for thought!

Oh, the sixteen brothers and sisters was just me ruminating. I have a tendency to see behavior as psychological (people must behave as they do because of stuff in their childhoods). I've begun to realize that not everyone interprets the world this way. I seem to have offended you with that--sorry.

The tone of my post is aggrieved because, in a very deep way, I'm a lot like Solange: I feel I've been treated unfairly in this life, and that wounded sense of expectation and fear of further hurt pops out at odd moments. I realize this is probably a factor in my response to Solange's "thing," as someone described it.

Thanks again, everyone, for setting me straight. I'm off to meditate with Cary Grant ^_^
posted by frosty_hut at 5:20 PM on March 3, 2008


I totally sympathize with past bad experiences having made you wary, but you need to be careful not to let said wariness sabotage you now. To be honest, this sounds like a very "she said, she said" situation. Is Solange really being unprofessional, or, as urbanwhaleshark suggests, did you project your preconceptions of her onto her attempt to inject a little humor into the situation? It's very easy for me to reframe a lot of these situations you recount as being very direct and at worst, a bit clumsy and slow to pick up emotional vibes (like the tension in your meeting or your discomfort at having "her butt in your gut"). In which case she's probably wondering whether you hate her for being butch and outspoken in contrast to your more femmey, quiet self, or something.

Or - maybe she is just a bitch. But I haven't the slightest idea.

Really, wfrgms' idea of going out for drinks - maybe in a small group of coworkers - isn't such a bad idea. You don't need to be best friends with her; just defuse the tension a little, and make it clear you have no negative intentions. Unless she really does have narcissistic personality disorder (such people are pretty rare), it'll be a lot harder for you two to quarrel over such pettiness after you've shared some friendly talk over drinks.
posted by bettafish at 5:43 PM on March 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


The fact that you asked this question to AskMe makes me wonder if there's a lot more little things going on than what you've described. I hope so, because I really can't base the idea that she's ignoring you or jealous of you off of what you've written in your post. I got that she was jealous from your interpretations of the situations....but it sounds like a lot of assuming on your part....

I was in a meeting with my boss once (I was trying to decide whether or not to quit, so it was pretty tense), and she just came in the room and stood there chatting with him, oblivious of the situation. I chalked it up to attention hounding and thought it was either brazenly rude or unbelievably childish, but it didn't seem hostile. I can deal with just about anything, until it becomes outright hostile.

Okay, after reading this, I was more baffled by your BOSS's reaction to this situation, not Solange's. I mean maybe I am mistaken, but did she have any idea as to the gravity of the conversation that you were having with your boss? Maybe she was truly, genuinely, innocently "oblivious" as you said, to what was going on. Now why your boss didn't say to her, "Sorry Solange, Frosty_Hut and I are in the middle of something..." is the part that I would potentially call rude....

If you said to Solange, "Hey I'm gonna go talk to the Boss about quitting right now," and she did that....well then I'd agree with you. ;)

She squeezed herself right in front of me and bent over to hug my co-worker, putting her butt right in my gut. She did that for a while

The way you've described this is weird...and maybe the situation really was weird/bizarre. But it also sounds a bit like a large lady wanting to hug a friend and not realizing how close she is to you. The fact that she didn't look at you when approaching is incidental in my book, it's not the friendliest gesture obviously but I wouldn't so quick to call it rude. Sometimes I'm really set on talking to one person and I might eagerly go up to that person to do so, without acknowledging other company first. Again...maybe a little on the rude side, or maybe just really enthusiastic? I don't think there is enough to go on here for you to chalk this up to "Oh that's Solange being rude/ignorning me again..."

Of course, like I said, really weird description...maybe I would say something different if I had witnessed it.

It occurred to me she must have found out about it, and was jealous. Oh my jeezus. This is a forty-something woman, too.

Sorry, but I see that "she's jealous" as pure interpretation on your part. You put two things together and think you've got the answer, but you don't really know that for sure, do you? Unless she or someone she knows tells you she's jealous, I wouldn't consider this true....

You also say she's not speaking to you. How long has this been going on? If it's only been like a week, maybe she just hasn't had anything to say to you in a week? Or do you guys work in a small office and typically talk every day?

Like I said, I'm not there to witness any of this and realize I could be way off. But you did say in the title of your post that she's jealous because of an "unfounded premise" and when I read the whole post, the only unfounded premise is a guess of yours....so of course it's unfounded. My advice is to go FIND this premise by asking her. Tell her you thought she seemed a little bothered by something, and just wanted to make sure everything was okay between you two.

I'd also advise you to make sure you simply observe Solange's behavior, and not come up with your own reasons as to why she does the things that she does.
posted by Squee at 7:54 PM on March 3, 2008


Thanks for pointing out that I'm making some assumptions about Solange's motives. You're spot on about that. I mean I think I'm right, but I don't know that for sure. And I could be just utterly, flat out wrong about this entire thing.

I should communicate with Solange rather than continue to drive myself nuts with speculation, and also, as some of you mentioned, it's unfair to her to keep up my weird internal drama in which I think I know what she's doing, but she doesn't know I know, etc. It would probably be okay just to get it all in the open and ask her what's wrong, in a tactful, non-confrontational way. I'll definitely do that if the sitch continues.

Thanks to all who responded...You've given me a wider perspective on this.

I wuv you. :-)
posted by frosty_hut at 9:07 PM on March 3, 2008


Squee--yeah, I thought that was weird of my boss too, that he didn't tell her we were in a meeting. Next time I'll just pipe up and tell her myself! ;-)
posted by frosty_hut at 9:10 PM on March 3, 2008


The lady doth protest too much, methinks.

I think you've got a crush on Solange and can't admit it. (I'm not saying that you are "really" gay, just that same-sex crushes are hard for heterosexuals to recognize.) You're obsessed with her every word and deed. Take those words you threw at her above; see if many don't describe you, too.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:49 AM on March 4, 2008


Carol Anne--Interesting. Since I was a kid I've had worshipful crushes on peers both male and female. Amazing that you picked up on it...it arises from inferiority I think. I used to fantasize constantly about being anyone other than me. I've grown a lot since those early self-hating days, but occasionally a person who is very sure of themselves will still tend to bowl me over with their charisma. I envy people like Solange. She's unafraid to just talk constantly to everybody she sees about a million different things. Whether they like her or not, people never forget her. That kind of confidence astonishes me. Whereas I'm meek and always have been...I squeeze out a couple of words in public and spend then next three months sweating bullets over: Did I hurt anyone's feelings? Am I going to lose my job now? And etc. Solange's gutsy approach to life appeals to me, but I'll never be able to get anywhere near that. I still admire it very much. Maybe I can learn from it?

Thanks for your responses, all ^_^
posted by frosty_hut at 10:12 AM on March 4, 2008


Not to sound overtly critically, but maybe you just need to step back and get some perspective on the whole thing. I haven't gone through and read your other questions about what's happened at your workplace, but if it comes up often enough, maybe it's just healthier to be a bit more detached in these situations. I say this, because as an outsider, reading through your entire question, it seems like all the situations you've described could be explained in any logical way. Again I wasn't there, and we don't have Solange's side of the story, but everything seems to be your conjecture. Did your Buddhist coworker look uncomfortable about what happened or anything? Maybe they had something they were discussing earlier going on his life that's between them? Also with the boss situation, if it went down as weirdly as you said and your boss said nothing, that makes the boss's action seem more weird than Solange's. Did she know why you were in there talking to the boss? Normal friendships fluctuate and fizzle, I don't see how it would be anymore different in a workplace. I wouldn't necessarily attribute any actual malice to that. You even say she doesn't really affect your life or work, so why be so hung up on it?

The red flags to me were the fact that you went and assumed she'd not like you, or the fact that you interact with people with that assumption in your head that once they're nice to you you wait for the "other shoe to drop." I'm not saying that's not the case in your life, but maybe she sensed that from you? Not saying you actively avoided her or treated her wrong in some way, but just giving perspective on why she might've cooled with interacting with you. You could've given some cues and signs of being uncomfortable or maybe gave off a general cautious/protective vibe when you flipped to "Wait for the other shoe to drop" mode that she picked up on as maybe hostile or weird, which in turn also made her uncomfortable or hostile about interacting with you. A lot of the "piecing together" seems to be based on assumption about the others behavior.

It could just be a conflict between two different personalities that's creating some misunderstanding. Sometimes more talkative and verbose people feel uncomfortable when people are exceptionally quiet or not as boisterous as they are. In the same way for someone who's more reserved as you say you are, someone as talkative and boisterous as Solange can seem unnecessarily loud and attention-seeking.
posted by kkokkodalk at 10:42 AM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


When you work in office environments you are bound to meet strange, abrasive, annoying, etc. people. If, as in this case, they have no real power over you or your job, your best bet is to be unfailingly cordial to her when you see her and as soon as she is out of your sight, let her slip out of your mind. Seriously, do not waste time and energy thinking (and overthinking) about people who have no real impact on your life. You are the one making this an issue. Just be polite and forget about her.
posted by sic at 12:20 PM on March 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


The red flags to me were the fact that you went and assumed she'd not like you, or the fact that you interact with people with that assumption in your head that once they're nice to you you wait for the "other shoe to drop." I'm not saying that's not the case in your life, but maybe she sensed that from you? Not saying you actively avoided her or treated her wrong in some way, but just giving perspective on why she might've cooled with interacting with you. You could've given some cues and signs of being uncomfortable or maybe gave off a general cautious/protective vibe when you flipped to "Wait for the other shoe to drop" mode that she picked up on as maybe hostile or weird, which in turn also made her uncomfortable or hostile about interacting with you. A lot of the "piecing together" seems to be based on assumption about the others behavior.

kkokkodalk, thanks for this perspective. I wonder if I pick things apart so much because people strike me as utterly mysterious. Instead of shrugging it off and getting on with life, as a confident person would, I start fine-tune everything and dwelling on the minutiae of my interactions with people. This has a lot to do with insecurity, as I mentioned before. I was raised by parents who thought I was autistic, and tried to get me diagnosed as mentally ill over period of years. (I'm still wondering if I might be Aspergerish--the tests show me leaning that way, but not conclusively.) Of course it affected me, and I keep thinking people are going to discover that I'm a freak, so I push them away, and then I complain that they don't like me, etc. etc.

So basically I'm a mess, but I realize that so much of my experience is perceptual. Gotta watch that old self-fulfilling prophecy thing.

Thanks again for this food for thought!

I do feel that I get stomped on a bit for ruminating (albeit unhealithy) about my experiences and relationships. Is this not the huma
posted by frosty_hut at 1:09 PM on March 4, 2008


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