Author Topic: Letting Things Roll Off Your Back When You Have to Work With a Touchy Person  (Read 4573 times)

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Yarnspinner

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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. 

BeagleMommy

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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.

hobish

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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.

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.

It's alright, man. I'm only bleeding, man. Stay hungry, stay free, and do the best you can.
~Gaslight Anthem

AnnaJ

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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.

JenJay

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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.

I'mnotinsane

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Does she merely outrank you or do you actually report to her directly or indirectly?  Is it her job to assign/take away projects to/from you?

lovepickles

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If she is your supervisor let her take whatever tasks off your hands that she wants, for whatever reason. Focus on your current work and quietly mourn the lost enjoyment from the task. IF it becomes a pattern and you find yourself looking for more tasks to fill your time go back to her and let her know that you can take more on. Don't ask for a specific task, just let her know. If she does not give you FAIR work for your job description (like if you are asked to clean the bathroom, etc) then go to her supervisor and inform them of her actions in a very clear and fact filled account of what occurred. Be careful about reacting to her incorrect assumptions. Don't feed into them by trying to convince her to come around when clearly her observations are unchecked by a relevant and obvious source, you.

Keep cool. Have a cup of tea in your hand when you talk to her. Take a sip before you say anything so you can better form your words. People like that have a tendency to press your buttons and don't let them play you by remaining calm and rational.

ladyknight1

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YS, I am so sorry. I do think that it is entirely professional to ask Daisy to hear you out.

I worked with a woman who was a different mood/personality every time you saw her. Some of the time, she was approachable and rational, others she would burst into tears and stomp like a toddler.

Piratelvr1121

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Wow, Yarnspinner, between Stonecold and Daisy, I won't be surprised if you're doing Snoopy dances when you can retire from that place. 

As for thicker skin? Wish I could tell you but I'm still working on that too.  But I do like the suggestions of being professionally distant and if she sends the trainee to you to teach, send her back and say "She didn't like how I did it, so I probably shouldn't train you."  >:D
Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars.  You have a right to be here. Be cheerful, strive to be happy. -Desiderata

TurtleDove

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I don't let untrue or irrational opinons about me affect me unless I think there is some truth to what is being said. In those cases, I take a look at my actions and modify as *I* see approproiate.  If I take a look at my actions and still think, "That person is 100% out of line," it won't bother me. 

Your reaction, to me, comes across as though you believe there is truth to what Daisy is saying.  If you do, change your work style so that there is no truth to what she is saying.  If you don't, own your actions and boldly refuse to allow her to affect you.  It seems clear to me that Daisy is not making this personal so, to me, it would come across as unprofessional for you to make it personal.

Yarnspinner

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Thanks for the advice, everyone. 

Some thoughts:

Turtle Dove is correct that Daisy isn't making it personal:  it's just my turn.  She's been happily gossiping with me about Stonecold for weeks, so it's now my turn to get in trouble because she's feeling guilty about doing it.  She will be almost sicky sweet if you are talking about kids or family, but when work comes up, she will either a) join in and add to the general paranoia or b) suddenly get stiff and angry and start ranting about our  unprofessionalism.

Do I feel as if there is some truth about what Daisy says.  Of course I do.  I WAS complaining to the other libraries because they were calling/emailing me to find out why their requests were being denied.  *I* was without three staff members (two on vacation and one out sick) and was spending all day on the desk.  As most senior in my department, it's on me to take up the slack on the desk when there aren't enough of us to go around.  I really don't want people thinking I am incompetent when the truth is stuff has been stolen or I have additional things to worry about. 

However, it was Daisy who was doing this job before and she didn't even respond to requests or issues.  ( I quote) "We aren't required to do ANY of this for them or give them anything.  We don't have to explain ourselves. THEY don't care about helping us."  She has a very legitimate point: we belong to a consortium that, for years, always favors smaller, classier and wealthier communities over its urban cousins.  It's a long story that will derail this one.  We'll just say she's peeved that our money fixes problems for towns that have more cash than us. We get very little in return.  She's annoyed.  I get it.  It's classic grade school inequalities.

It doesn't make her more professional than the rest of us to be that angry.

Daisy outranks me, but she is not currently my boss, though I take care of a lot of tasks for her team that she doesn't like to do.  (I do all their film acquisitions, purchase patron requests and, with the help of another of my coworkers, try to promote the collection we are creating.)  Most of the other team leaders live in fear of her and try to stay out of her way.  Her biggest concern is excellent patron service...until it's not.

As for the newbie taking over my project, she will be fine!  The project really IS perfect for this young woman's position and since Daisy will be teaching her that "we don't really have to do this for them" she will not be taking as frantic an approach to filling requests as I was.  Daisy is not likely to tell her one thing and then get on her for doing it that way, whereas I had to produce emails where she told me to do such and such exactly as I was doing it in order to prove I was doing what SHE wanted.  Where she would sputter then and say "Well, it's changed.  You have to keep up."  The difference between me and the newbie is that Newbie is one of Stonecold's handpicked pets and so far, she worships the ground Daisy walks on because Daisy lets her get away with things the rest of us would get written up for.  (For example:  Whereas I have to cite a doctor's note regards my "unprofessional" footgear--sneakers and lace up shoes--Newbie can wear opentoed sandals with impunity.) 

My plan at this point is to keep my head down, keep looking for a new job (I'm thinking "Walmart Greeter" most of us in the library field have enough experience) and retire as soon as I find one.  Problem is, both Daisy and I are experiencing that fun thing where, once they realize you are over thirty five...they don't want to hire ya.  And honestly, I think that is upsetting Daisy who has more experience in her pinky than most of us do in our whole bodies.  She really DOES know her stuff....she just wants everyone else to be as perfect as she is. 

Edited to Add:  I think what really chaps everyones' hides (mine included) where Daisy is concerned is that she will dress you down in acid at 11 a.m., sayng something like "If YOU worked for me, you'd have been fired by now",  then be unable to understand why you don't want to look at pictures of her grandbabies and coo over them at noon.  Compartmentalizing is just not something everyone can do and it is VERY hard to separate the person who just made the wish that she could fire me from the one who wants  me to look at her grandkids or talk about the latest Janet Evanovich or whatever. 

I mean...it's tough for me to consider petting a dog that just ripped my throat out, ya know?
« Last Edit: March 20, 2013, 10:41:24 AM by Yarnspinner »

Starchasm

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Edited to Add:  I think what really chaps everyones' hides (mine included) where Daisy is concerned is that she will dress you down in acid at 11 a.m., sayng something like "If YOU worked for me, you'd have been fired by now",  then be unable to understand why you don't want to look at pictures of her grandbabies and coo over them at noon.  Compartmentalizing is just not something everyone can do and it is VERY hard to separate the person who just made the wish that she could fire me from the one who wants  me to look at her grandkids or talk about the latest Janet Evanovich or whatever. 

I mean...it's tough for me to consider petting a dog that just ripped my throat out, ya know?

Honestly, I've worked with people like this and the best way I've found is to give myself a day or so to calm down, then I go into their offices and ask them to talk to me about it.  Since they're such good compartmentalizers (or, as I usually think of them, "delusional") they usually have had enough time to turn it around in their own brains.


Lynda_34

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No advice. Just wishing you luck.

Yarnspinner

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Sort of an update. 

Just like in grade school:  I didn't touch it and it has blown over.

A friend of mine said to me "Lily, remember that quote about holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person would die?  Well, you're doing it."

For the days following her blow up with me, Daisy had been traipsing by my desk and each time, she would have some cheerful little tidbit to share in passing:  "Oh, Lily!  There's cupcakes!  Yay!"
or "Oh, my, I feel like the White Rabbit today!" 

Eventually, on Friday, I was forced to ask her for help on something my immediate supervisor asked me to take care of (which essentially depended on me telling one of our savants to get a test data base going for a demo trial).  She was all chattery and just FULL of helpful hints, including the fact that "Are you sure you're supposed to buy that?  I don't think [boss's name] would ask you to buy it without going through Stonecold first...." and she rattled on from there about how things are at home and something she said caught me by surprise with some news about her husband and I responded with some information her husband would need....and so things are well as I know she will never EVER let me talk about it.  But I will continue to be leary of her and careful where I taklk and what I say.

Thanks everyone for your help.


redberry

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What I want to know is, what methods do folks employ to just let this flow off their back.

I think the reason that you feel so hurt by Daisy's behaviour is you've taken - naturally the default for most people I think - a defensive position. The defensive position makes you feel responsible for what is happening and you feel betrayed by a close colleague and frustrated because you can't do anything to "fix" it.

After five years of therapy I have learned to not default to the defensive position, but instead to question who really has/causes the problem...you said yourself Daisy has issues outside the workplace that affect her professionalism right now, and she plays out her frustrations on one person after another.  Hmmm...sounds like the problem is really with Daisy and its not personal to you.

From my own experience it takes practice to learn not to default to the defensive and instead to assess the situation and once you ascribe the responsibility to the person causing it, you can let go of your frustration because its more about them and not something you need to change.

I used to be very frustrated at work with situations like the one you describe. Now, I can take a breath and let it "roll off" as you say. I know you've indicated the immediate issue is resolved, but if you can learn to be more objective and not default to blaming yourself, then it will help in the future.

And please - I reiterate - you are not a bad person, or silly or missing something important if you are naturally defensive...many people are and especially women. I can thank a childhood as the oldest being told to "be the bigger person" with my siblings, and to "just ignore them" with bullies and such like as the reinforcer of my feeling that all responsibility for problems rest with me, and that's something a lot of people can relate to.