General Etiquette > All In A Day's Work

Letting Things Roll Off Your Back When You Have to Work With a Touchy Person

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My name is Lily and I have never grown an appropriately tough rhino hide when it comes to being stabbed--not in the back, but right through my heart.  A coworker, who also outranks me, is having issues with me over something that, frankly, she has made up in her own head by mishearing several phone conversations I had and deliberately misunderstanding them...and not allowing me to explain.  It's so very high school, you would never know we were two women pushing sixty.  I am completely flummoxed and now feel like the most horrible, useless human in the world.

I wrote a little about this person--we'll call her Daisy--in the special snowflake thread about her reaction to my efforts to defend my team against a  patron's slander.  She told me I was gossiping and being unprofessional and to knock it off. 

All of a sudden this week, Daisy announced that I would no longer be doing a particular project that required me to be in contact with libraries outside of our system.  While I really rather enjoyed the project I figured "Okay, this wasn't really a professional level job and she wants to pass it on to one of the new support staff."

Today I asked her if she wanted the rest of what I was working and remarked on the fact that her new assistant was picking the work up really fast. 

"Oh no, I am doing it," she said "until I can teach MinnieMe how to do it."

"But why not let me do it?  I LIKE doing it.  And if you don't have time, I can take it back--"

She cut me off with "No, you do NOT like doing it.  You have done nothing but complain since you got it."

"Complain?"  I said, because I DID complain one week how it was taking up a lot of time and since MY supervisor left me with a bunch of stuff to do, my end of the project wasn't getting done and I needed to get in touch with the other libraries to make sure they understood why things were slow that week.

"Every day you are on the phone with the other libraries complaining about it.  I hear you do nothing but complain."

One of my coworkers heard this and said "Is she referring to you calling the other libraries to tell them why they can't have the books they want?"  (I have been calling a lot of libraries outside the system to tell them that books they have ordered from us cannot be provided because they have been stolen.  All of them are very understanding because they all have the same problem.  For some reason, Daisy sees this as being unprofessional.)

She will not discuss it with me, will not allow me to explain and when I asked about the second half of the project which I was doing with another outside librarian, she took it away from me and dumped it in a wastebasket and said "You don't have to worry about it any more, so you can't complain about it anymore."

My first thought was that she didn't stab me in the back, she slammed the knife right through my ribs, so there's something.  My next thought was "...and *I'M unprofessional???"   since she won't let me open my mouth to explain that she really did misunderstand. 

I am guessing that she assumed me complaining about books being stolen was me complaining about having to do the work. 

Ten minutes later I was getting on the elevator and she raced on, all sweetness and light and giggling to me about something.  I couldn't even look her in the eye and just smiled and nodded at her about it.

I want to be fair, so it's important to know that Daisy is having a horrific time at home with some ailing relatives and I also know that Stonecold (our boss) is riding her like a circus pony.

It still makes me sick to my stomach that someone who I actually admire and think the world of would deliberately (and it is deliberate because we have known each other twenty five years and we BOTH crab about things we have to do even when we enjoy the job) misinterprete remarks made off the cuff in conversation on the phone. 

I'm not asking how to talk to her because she's my superior and won't allow it.  I WILL be called on the carpet when my immediate supervisor gets back because she WILL give him an earful about me.  He will  likely take it with a grain of salt, but I am furious that I am being made out to be unprofessional (and lazy to boot) over these issues.

What I want to know is, what methods do folks employ to just let this flow off their back.  I still have to work with this woman and I *know* she will be all butterflies and baby unicorns when she wants to chat about things unrelated to work.  I am unable to compartmentalize like that.  It's all I can do to keep from telling everyone who will listen what is really bugging her.

Ideas?  I apologize for the long windedness, but you guys usually have some spot on ideas. 

Hopefully, your supervisor will be able to sort this out.  if she's stressed at home she has no right to take that stress out on you.  I really don't think there's anything you can do when she tries to be all sweetness about unrelated stuff.  I would try a flat, noncommittal "Hmm, okay" kind of non-response.  I would be wary of her.  Her moods seem to change rather quickly.


--- Quote from: BeagleMommy on March 19, 2013, 03:07:46 PM ---Hopefully, your supervisor will be able to sort this out.  if she's stressed at home she has no right to take that stress out on you.  I really don't think there's anything you can do when she tries to be all sweetness about unrelated stuff.  I would try a flat, noncommittal "Hmm, okay" kind of non-response.  I would be wary of her.  Her moods seem to change rather quickly.

--- End quote ---

Yes, especially since ol' Stoney is not gong to be any help, i'm sure. I deal with difficult people all day, but not quite like this. Still ... i want to think about this; i may have something for you, it's niggling at the back of my brain where i can't quite reach it.

This is a difficult situation, particularly since you've had a good relationship with this person in the past. 

As far as growing a thicker skin...I don't know if that's possible or if that's what you really want to do.  The first thing I would do is try to really limit my conversations with Daisy to factual things - this happened, or that is scheduled for tomorrow, whatever would be factual in your job.  Don't offer opinions or discussion how you feel about a particular job or person.

Is it possible to make those phone calls when she's not there, or out or her hearing range?  If she doesn't hear them, she can't misconstrue what you are saying.

When she does say or do something hurtful, take a deep breath and imagine her dealing with her home and work situations, realize that she's probably reacting to those things, and allow yourself to feel sympathetic to her - much less stressful for you.

Above all, work at not taking her words as being meaningful and/or internalizing them - it's not about growing thicker skin, it's about you reassuring yourself that you are a competent, intelligent person who is simply stuck for the moment working with someone who is irrational.

If telling other libraries that you can't loan them books because the books have been stolen is "complaining" then how the heck does she expect to do the job? I feel sorry for the newbie she's going to train. I predict she'll be sent to you with "Supervisor wants you to show me how to do this." and I hope you say "I'm so sorry but Supervisor wasn't happy with the way I handled it so I'm afraid I'm not the right person to help you."  ;)

I'd distance myself from someone who is happy to vent with me when she's frustrated but turns it into "you're unprofessional" when you're frustrated. Polite, professional and distant.


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