Author Topic: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?  (Read 13503 times)

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ddawn23

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I have a new coworker who has some boundary issues.  Conversations with her are filled with pointed personal questions, strange jumps in logic, and attempts to dissect every answer I give.  She's perfectly nice, and seems to be doing fine at her new job, but interaction with her is just so...awkward.

Yesterday she asked me to list employees and patrons of the company who are gay.  :o  It's worth mentioning that the organization we work for is pro gay, there are a number of employees and patrons who are openly gay, and due to other conversations I've had with this woman I firmly believe she was asking out of genuine curiosity and not maliciousness.  Our conversation went something like this:

Me: I really don't think it's appropriate for us to be discussing our coworkers' sex lives.
CW: That's a very common stereotype of GLBT people to equate them only with sex.
Me: I'm aware of that, and that's not what I'm saying at all.  I just think it's gossipy to list off the people we work with who are gay.
CW: Oh, so you don't want to out them?
Me: No, the people I know of are quite open about it, and if you talk to them they'd mention their partners just like any straight person would...
CW: If they're already out, why won't you just tell me?
Me: I just don't see how it's relevant.  It's not appropriate for us to be discussing our coworkers' sexual orientations, and it's not relevant to the job.

She seemed satisfied with the relevancy argument and let it drop.  I don't remember where, but at some point she accused me of being defensive about the matter.

So-- How should I have handled this?  Was she as out of line as I thought she was, or was I making a big deal out of nothing?  It occurred to me that if she had asked who was Methodist or who was from Louisiana I wouldn't have thought anything of it, and if it had come up organically in conversation I wouldn't have thought anything of it either.  As in, if she said her brother worked for XYZ, Inc. I wouldn't have given a second thought to saying, "Oh really?  My SIL works there, and so does Coworker Joe's husband.  Small world!"  Thoughts?

snowdragon

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Re: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?
« Reply #1 on: July 26, 2012, 04:00:33 PM »
" I don't consider their personal lives any of my business"

LeveeWoman

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Re: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?
« Reply #2 on: July 26, 2012, 04:00:49 PM »
She was way out of line. I don't know how you could've handled it better.

Judah

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Re: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?
« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2012, 04:01:28 PM »
I would have handled it the way you did. I might have been more pointed about the fact that it's none of her business, though. I don't think it would be different for me if she had been asking about peoples religion or marital status, either.  There are some questions you just don't ask.  I mean, if a coworker said to me, "Hey Jude, you're hetero, aren't you?" , my response would be, "What the heck difference does it make?"  The fact that everyone knows I'm a woman married to a man is beside the point.

I'm probably being about as clear as mud.
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LeveeWoman

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Re: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?
« Reply #4 on: July 26, 2012, 04:06:48 PM »
It occurred to me that if she had asked who was Methodist or who was from Louisiana I wouldn't have thought anything of it,

There's a big difference between talking about someone's home state and where one goes to church, and with whom one plays scrabble.

WillyNilly

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Re: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?
« Reply #5 on: July 26, 2012, 04:15:15 PM »
I actually think asking for a list of who is a particular religion is just as bad.  And yes this was bad.

I think you handled it fine.

RingTailedLemur

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Re: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?
« Reply #6 on: July 26, 2012, 04:18:28 PM »
CW: That's a very common stereotype of GLBT people to equate them only with sex.


  :o but that's what she was asking about.....?  Surely the only difference between a heterosexual and a homosexual person is sexual orientation?  Asking someone's orientation therefore is a direct question about their sex life.

Free Range Hippy Chick

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Re: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?
« Reply #7 on: July 26, 2012, 05:16:49 PM »
You could try "Why do you need to know?"

Note, not 'want' to know but 'need' to know. Make it about work: if she needs to know, for work, she can ask HR. Refuse to understand her if she says she just wants to know. "If that's data you need, you should ask Marian. She's Head of HR. You can put it as a formal request through the department manager if you don't want to go to Marian herself."

Jones

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Re: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?
« Reply #8 on: July 26, 2012, 05:27:31 PM »
I actually think asking for a list of who is a particular religion is just as bad.  And yes this was bad.

I think you handled it fine.

That is exactly what I was thinking.

And, like Ring Tailed Lemur, I wonder what she thought she was talking about if not sex life. Most GLB people I know are as human as the rest of us. I don't know any T people (that I know of) but I am sure they are the same.

portabella

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Re: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?
« Reply #9 on: July 26, 2012, 06:43:11 PM »
I have a new coworker who has some boundary issues.  Conversations with her are filled with pointed personal questions, strange jumps in logic, and attempts to dissect every answer I give.  She's perfectly nice, and seems to be doing fine at her new job, but interaction with her is just so...awkward.

Yesterday she asked me to list employees and patrons of the company who are gay.  :o  It's worth mentioning that the organization we work for is pro gay, there are a number of employees and patrons who are openly gay, and due to other conversations I've had with this woman I firmly believe she was asking out of genuine curiosity and not maliciousness.  Our conversation went something like this:

Me: I really don't think it's appropriate for us to be discussing our coworkers' sex lives.
CW: That's a very common stereotype of GLBT people to equate them only with sex.
Me: I'm aware of that, and that's not what I'm saying at all.  I just think it's gossipy to list off the people we work with who are gay.
CW: Oh, so you don't want to out them?
Me: No, the people I know of are quite open about it, and if you talk to them they'd mention their partners just like any straight person would...
CW: If they're already out, why won't you just tell me?
Me: I just don't see how it's relevant.  It's not appropriate for us to be discussing our coworkers' sexual orientations, and it's not relevant to the job.

She seemed satisfied with the relevancy argument and let it drop.  I don't remember where, but at some point she accused me of being defensive about the matter.

So-- How should I have handled this?  Was she as out of line as I thought she was, or was I making a big deal out of nothing?  It occurred to me that if she had asked who was Methodist or who was from Louisiana I wouldn't have thought anything of it, and if it had come up organically in conversation I wouldn't have thought anything of it either.  As in, if she said her brother worked for XYZ, Inc. I wouldn't have given a second thought to saying, "Oh really?  My SIL works there, and so does Coworker Joe's husband.  Small world!"  Thoughts?

You should have kept repeating "I really don't think it's appropriate for us to be discussing our coworkers' sex lives." and changed the subject.  Be careful about her efforts to involve you in discussions which you might regret later.

You say she's "nice" (whatever that means).  I think she's trouble.

You're going to have to keep steering her away from such topics.  Try "let's just stay focused on the work." over and over, whenever necessary.
« Last Edit: July 26, 2012, 06:53:41 PM by portabella »
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bloo

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Re: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?
« Reply #10 on: July 26, 2012, 07:07:24 PM »
You could try "Why do you need to know?"

Note, not 'want' to know but 'need' to know. Make it about work: if she needs to know, for work, she can ask HR. Refuse to understand her if she says she just wants to know. "If that's data you need, you should ask Marian. She's Head of HR. You can put it as a formal request through the department manager if you don't want to go to Marian herself."

Everyone's got great ideas but man do I LOVE the above!

YummyMummy66

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Re: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?
« Reply #11 on: July 26, 2012, 07:18:49 PM »
I don't know if I would have stated that "I don't care to discuss our co-workers sex lives", but instead of sex, stated personal lives.

I don't see equating asking about gay co-workers being about their sex lives. It is not discussing sex, it is discussing their personal preference of a partner.  kwim?

Personally, though, to me, her request hinders on discrimination.  I would have told her if she wants that information, she should see HR.  That would shut her up.


doodlemor

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Re: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?
« Reply #12 on: July 26, 2012, 08:16:58 PM »
YummyMummy is wise,

I would have told her if she wants that information, she should see HR.  That would shut her up.

Her questions seem out of line, and I suspect that dodging them is detrimental to your productivity.  By that I mean that none of us have an infinite amount of mental energy, and she is sapping your energy that you would be using on the job.

I like the professional way that you handled her, and unfortunately I suspect that she may generate more stories for you to share with us. 


kareng57

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Re: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?
« Reply #13 on: July 26, 2012, 09:32:44 PM »
Getting a bit OT here - but I once had a co-worker like this.  Very nice overall, but she had no clue as to personal boundaries.  She'd ask people how often they fought with their SOs, whether or not they waited till marriage before having relations etc. - and if you'd ducked out to the drugstore over lunch-break-time, it was "show me what you bought!"  (Right, you want to see my yeast medication?)

But, she'd had a very isolated, sequestered background.  No need to go into details here - but she was single and was very curious as to how HCs interacted with each other.  She was basically clueless as to what you do, and don't, ask people.  Really, the workplace tolerated her because everyone knew "that's how she was" (eventually, she "got" the reply of "now, why would you ask me that?") but I really wonder how she made out at her next job.

I wonder of the coworker in the OP might have had a similar background.  But I think OP handled it just fine.

gramma dishes

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Re: Coworker with boundary issues-- How should I have handled it?
« Reply #14 on: July 26, 2012, 09:37:30 PM »
...    "If that's data you need, you should ask Marian. She's Head of HR. ...

I saw it here first.   ;)