I have a question about dealing with a Geek Social Fallacy #5 carrier, with a work-related twist.
I have a live-in position and a good working relationship with the other live-in staff members. Naturally we often spend our free time together, sometimes as a large group get-together but more often in smaller groups of the people we’re closest to / actually friends with.
There is one individual who generally gets on everyone’s nerves — she dominates the conversation and makes it all about herself, says slightly inappropriate things on a regular basis, asks people direct personal questions in front of everyone, etc. The problem is that she thinks that we’re all one big friend group and that anytime she hears that someone’s making social plans with another employee, it’s fine to invite herself along. She does not take hints at all, and no one wants to come right out and say, “You’re not invited to this” since this is someone we all have to live and work with on a daily basis.
From past experience, I have a feeling that trying to have an honest conversation with her would lead her to drop by everyone’s rooms to try to have hours-long FEELINGS conversations, and trying to shut that down will make her unbearable to work with. She recently renewed for another year-long contract.
Right now everyone’s strategy seems to be to make plans behind her back as much as possible, and then if she finds out and invites herself over/along, we suck it up and deal. Do you have any suggestions for a better strategy?
Your coworker has to learn sometime, and you need to speak up sometime, or this will never get better. You can withstand her displeasure at finding out she is not invited to something.
First strategy: Keep making plans with people you want to see when you want to see them. If annoying coworker finds out and tries to tag along, say, once, “Actually, it’s just me + this other person tonight. Another time, maybe!” Don’t preface it or add a lot of dramatic flair, act casual and normal, as if this is a perfectly reasonable thing to be doing (because it is), and then walk away. She will have whatever feelings she wants about that, and she will process them however she does. She may in fact vent to others in the house, who are at that point perfectly free to say “I don’t have time to talk about this, good night!” as are you. Hold your ground.
Second strategy: Sometimes make plans that she clearly IS included in, like, everyone going out for drinks or ordering food or whatever. Go out of your way to invite her to those things, so she learns the difference. It will help manage her anxiety that she is being left out if there are some ways/times she is clearly included.
Third strategy: If she protests, say “I like being friendLY with my coworkers, but that doesn’t mean I want to do everything with all of them, all the time. Sometimes I just want to hang out one-on-one, or in smaller groups. I’ll see you tomorrow though!” If she confronts you further, level with her. “Hey, sometimes you have a habit of inviting yourself along to things, and I don’t like it. I do want to see you and be friendly with you, sometimes, but I want it to be because I invited you or you invited me, not because I feel guilty. Can you please back off? If you do, I promise we can hang out sometimes.”
In all of these, don’t try to invoke other people’s opinions, just speak up for yourself. “I want,” “I need,” etc. Be the bad guy. You can handle it, I promise.
Fourth strategy: Prepare the others. “I’m trying a thing with Coworker, where when she invites herself along, I calmly and politely say ‘no.’ It might get weird for a week or so, but if you can back me up I think we can adjust until she stops doing it.” If they ask you how to keep her from dumping all of her feelings on them, you can say “Hey, you know you don’t have to actually sit there and listen, right? Just tell her ‘I’m sure it wasn’t personal’ and then go to bed or whatever.”
Fifth strategy: Call out the inappropriate behavior when you see it. “That was inappropriate.” “Did you realize you interrupted so-and-so?” “We were talking about x, do you want to join us? Otherwise, we’ll catch you another time.” “Hey, it’s nice that you want to come along, but I just want to hang out with (actual friends) right now. Please don’t invite yourself.” “That’s a very personal question.”
She should have learned this stuff by now, but she didn’t. You can be gentle and kind, but the boundaries need to be set or you will end up really and truly ostracizing her.
She may have a very outsized reaction, with lots of FEELINGSDUMPS at first. But if you stay consistent, she will calm down (or possibly quit in tears, but that is a survivable outcome). This seems like a good time to tell the story of my friend Amanda and the nail-clipping guy. Once upon a time, there was a company that had an employee who clipped his nails at his desk, where everyone could see and hear, and at meetings, where he left little piles of clippings on the conference table. The other employees strategized and worried about how to get him to stop, and because they didn’t want to hurt his feelings or cause issues, and they let it go on for probably years while all developing a deep loathing for him as a person. Amanda, as a new employee, didn’t have the same hangups. One day soon after she started working there, she said “Hey, can you do that in private from now on? It’s gross and annoying.” He turned very red and I’m sure was very embarrassed, but he did stop clipping his nails in public and there was no drama about it ever again.
Sometimes you just gotta say the thing and let the other person deal with the thing. Working around someone’s terrible behavior while you grow to dislike them more and more and more isn’t actually kinder.