Woe Is Me! “My Intrusive, Insensitive Co‑worker Thinks We’re Friends. How Do I Get Her to Back Off?”
Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.
“My coworker and I are both around the same age, which makes her think we’re friends. Only problem is, we’re not. She’s super insensitive, intrusive, and tries to boss me around, even though we work at the same level. I think this is super unprofessional and annoying . How do I tell her to mind her own business?”
— Not Work Wife Material
KB: I don’t think telling her she’s annoying is going to help, given that you have very little control over how much time you’re forced to spend together. But focus on what you can control: your personal interactions with her. My suggestion is to phase them out. As in, get yourself to a point where you are interacting not-at-all in any personal capacity, and only about work related issues. If she texts you about something personal, just don’t write back to it. And write to her only in the context of professional issues that you need to interact about. Unsolicited advice? Same, just ignore. If this all sounds passive aggressive to you, I would encourage you to think of it differently: it’s proactively setting boundaries between which communications you’re comfortable having, and those you’re not.
LG: It seems your coworker is a fan of Sun Tzu and lives by the maxim, “Keep your friends close and your colleagues closer.” She has gamed you, my friend! There’s no chance she actually thinks you’re close if she’s insensitive and tries to boss you around, because that’s not what friends do, work or otherwise. It sounds like you need to draw a line in the sand. The next time she demands you do something for her, remind her who your real boss is with gems like, “You sound overwhelmed. I’m sorry you don’t feel up to doing that on your own! I’ll let [real boss’s name] know, so I can get time to help you.” Or the next time she tries to tell you what to do, “That’s a great idea! I’ll be sure to run it by [real boss].” After a few of these casual reminders, such a wily operative as she should catch on that you, too, can read The Art of War. (Also – read The Art of War.)
DR: I’m sorry you’re caught in coworker-drama. It takes work-stress to a whole new level, and makes it even more difficult to cope. And, if you’re a non-confrontational person like me, then it’s even worse. But, I have an idea: why don’t you tell her exactly everything that you have told us, but just make it sound like it’s a friend’s woe, and not yours? And then, go on a rant about how important boundaries are, especially at the workplace, and how you simply cannot fathom how someone could be so “unprofessional”. If she’s not a self-aware person (which I’m guessing she isn’t), rant about it a few more times, and then suddenly, start being curt. Hopefully, she’ll get the hint. If not, wait for her to say something insensitive to you, pretend to be enraged, and hurt, shed a few drops of tears (or whatever quantity you believe is fit to make her feel guilty), and then, simply stop talking to her. Alternatively, the next time she bosses you around, you can stand up to her, and simply refuse to do what she wants you to do — maybe, that’ll teach her to draw a line. These are a host of options. I’m hoping something works out, and puts you out of your misery. Good luck!
AS: Well, I think there’s two ways you can go about it. One is to actually tell this person – like, say it in so many words – “We are not friends. We are colleagues and I’d like to keep it at that.”But, how do you actually do that without becoming the bad guy? Also, doing that might sour your working relationship, and that’s not a good place to be in. I think such a situation is best handled deftly and diplomatically. So my strategy would be to try to communicate the same thing without actually saying it. So, if they’d invite me to make a plan, I’d coolly decline. When they’d initiate conversations unrelated to work, I won’t participate. I’d try to hang out with coworkers I do like, so as to avoid this person without being mean about it. I think that will send across the message.
RD: I suggest polite ghosting. If she tries to hang out with you outside of work hours, or shares her personal life, or asks questions about yours, start out slowly decreasing the size of your responses. It might take a little longer — you’ll have to keep at the polite brush-offs for a while before she gets the hint. This way, I reckon she’ll learn to stay out of your personal life. Now, if you want to repair the professional work relationship, that’s another thing altogether. That will require a firm discussion about how you feel and what you need from her, not in an accusatory but still an assertive manner. But that’s a harder thing to do and I’m not sure you want to do that. Short-term? Ghost. Long-term? Talk to her.