#854: “Is it ethical to ‘fire’ a disruptive workshop participant?”

Update from LW below!

Dear Captain,

I love your site and have read 99% of your archive. I love the honesty and practicality of your responses and find a lot of helpful truth in them. This one, though, is stymieing me.

I have built a career that has been very successful and train people in complex aspects of my profession.

Since there are multiple cycles of the sessions required for industry certification, I get a lot of the same participants over and over, and one such is the worst energy vampire I’ve met in my entire life. I’m running out of ways to deal with her short of telling my boss to cut her out completely, thus hurting her career pretty permanently. I work hard to be patient, professional, and kind to everyone, but this woman, Emma, is beyond my capabilities.

Emma lives alone, and her husband either died under tragic and improbable circumstances or left her under equally tragic and improbable circumstances or there never was a husband at all; she was apparently adopted by a cruel aunt as a child, but that story has shifted as well and sounds suspiciously like Harriet Potter or at least A Little Princess. Each session now drags on as she rambles, and regardless of what we are discussing (usually content-specific and related to our set purpose) she finds an entry point to share irrelevant anecdotes incoherently and at length. With no exception, the other participants in each session despise this woman, and come to me privately to “deal with her.” She has been questioned on inconsistencies in her narrative by members of the group only to rail at how unfair everyone is to her and WHY WILL NO ONE BELIEVE THAT MY LIFE IS HARDER THAN YOURS. She never submits her assignments, and thus takes the sessions again and again and again (paying full price each time, so my boss just shrugs and takes her money) but the behavior never changes and it’s The Emma Show.

She has my office number due to its placement on my syllabi, but not my cell, although she asks me for it every single meeting so we “can socialize” because “you’re my sister from another mother!” She desperately wants to be friends on social media, and I have firmly told her I don’t do that with work acquaintances. She wants us to get matching tattoos. I have said no with increasing hostility to each of these overtures and repeatedly said, “Emma, I understand that you would like us to be friends, but I have to maintain professional boundaries and I know you’ll understand that I can’t breach those roles,” to which she will inevitably sigh, giggle, and pet my arm while saying, “Soon! I’ll graduate from the cycle and we can HANG OUT!”

Okay. I know that this woman is desperately lonely and probably struggles with the truth (even to herself), and I SHOULD be sympathetic. I have asked my boss to schedule her with another instructor, but my boss doesn’t want Emma in her own sessions again so I’m it. It’s to the point now that I don’t honestly know what to do short of open warfare.

Practical suggestions? A script? If I remove her from my roster it will have immediate and negative repercussions on her full-time employment and I don’t know if I can ethically do that to someone who, let’s face it, I just dislike. I strive to be a good person but my God she is testing this each time.


I hate how she pronounces “nuc-u-ler.”

I hate how she monopolizes everyone’s time, in small groups, or pairs, or whole-group activities, no matter what I do, say, relocate, or attempt. (And yes, I know how to deal with teenagers with oppositional behaviors, just not forty-year-olds who insist they are grownups.) I move her seat; she cries and moves back. I tell her I can’t pass her due to lack of work; she blames her seat mate. I tell her not to talk tonight because other people need to share and work through their (work-related) issues; she interrupts and says her problems are more important. I feel impotent because my boss will NOT back me up.

(And I hate, hate, hate going to the bathroom after her, but that’s another story for never.)

Thank you! Just writing this helped a bit. VENTING.

~Emma, I Can’t Be Your Friend


There is no “subtle” or “nice” way to get this woman out of your classes. “Open warfare is upon you, whether you would risk it or not.” Riders of Rohan, remove her from your roster! Always be removing!

If what you want is permission to bar Emma from taking your course again, permission granted. I’m not your boss, so my permission doesn’t really count in a practical sense, but if it will help you square your shoulders to the task at hand, here you go. You are not being mean or rude when the predictable consequences of someone’s bad behavior catches up with them.

Emma is not doing the necessary coursework to continue to be certified in her chosen career. That (& any resulting consequences to her employment) is Emma’s problem, not yours. If she can’t complete the work necessary to being employed in her chosen field, then maybe she shouldn’t be employed in that field. I’m sure Emma has a much-harried boss who feels much about her as you do, and it’s time for that boss to make some decisions about Emma. That’s not on you, nor is her loneliness. You’ve taught the material and tried to work with her. That’s the extent of what you can do.

Emma is disrupting your class and ruining the course for other participants. That is your responsibility (and your boss’s responsibility) because you have a responsibility to your other students. Whatever Emma pays for the course each term, it cannot be enough to offset the losses from people who quietly never come back because they don’t want to be forced to work with her again. Please make this case to your boss. If your boss can’t manage her behavior, then no one can! So, take the logical next step and remove her from the program.

It’s time for you to document Emma’s disruptions in detail and submit them formally to your boss with a written request that she bar this disruptive student from your classes in the program. It’s also time for your boss to write a very formal and precise letter to Emma that draws on whatever your company’s policies are for refusing continued service to a student. If your company has no policy, create one and make sure it includes phrases such as:

“To preserve a constructive learning environment, students who disrupt class will be asked to leave.” Your boss should think about also including a maximum number of times students can repeat a given course in your published policies and syllabus, as well as creating a student code of conduct with explicit rules for acceptable behavior if one does not already exist.

One possible template for the letter:

Dear Ms. Emma’s Last Name,

Our records show that you have taken [NAME OF COURSE] ____ times between ____ and ____, without receiving a [passing grade] or [certification]. While many students repeat a class here and there on their path to [necessary certification or diploma], we have revised our retention policies and are asking students who fail the course [3? or more] times to seek alternate instruction. Unfortunately, we will not be able to accept your enrollment, and I am enclosing a full refund of your most recent tuition payment. We recommend [comparable course] at [OUR COMPETITOR] for a fresh start and wish you all the best in your career.



Your Boss

Your Boss’s Fancy Job Title

By the way, if there is no competitor, or if they are inconveniently located or whatnot, that doesn’t change the need to give Emma formal notice that she can no longer take courses from your institution. If learning this material were so important, she should not have pissed off the only game in town. Your boss should use the phrase “Our decision is final” if Emma contacts her to appeal the decision. Do not relent!

Emma will squawk and Emma will (probably) stalk you – like, barraging you with emails and phone calls and pleas for sympathy and show up to class anyway. She thinks you are her friend (despite all of your protests to the contrary and professional boundary-setting). If she does show up and harass you, you gotta be prepared to ask Security to escort her out, document the incidents, make them formally known to your boss and the facility where you teach and (possibly) her employer, who doubtless does not want their employee causing havoc. That sucks and is tense and embarrassing and scary, but things already suck…for you and for your other poor students who are unwilling participants in the Emma show.

I hope I hope I hope that your boss backs you up here. If she doesn’t, I would seriously consider hanging out your own shingle or talking to the competition. You should not have to put up with this.

Update from the LW: 

I’m the LW, and I cannot thank the Captain enough and everyone for the advice and feedback. Actually, just writing it down made me feel pretty empowered. . .and to see the replies and really great, practical comments really helped solidify my thoughts on this situation. Part of the problem is my own, since even though I’ve been in this industry for well over fifteen years I look like I’m fifteen, and I’ve always struggled with perceptions of my own “adult” role. I get really high marks from participants but always doubt my own authority and that’s something I need to keep working on.

But here’s the update on Emma:

I wrote to the Captain halfway through the most recent cycle of training, and three days later got a message from Emma’s direct superior that she was withdrawing her, no refund, for “undisclosed reasons.” I don’t even want to speculate what those are, but her departure emboldened me to talk to my boss about her withdrawal and subsequently how we should deal with such disruptions in the future. Because we are contractors I suspect my boss is very conflict-averse and wants to make everyone happy, but I told her that the Emmas of the world impact our overall mission very, very negatively, and she seemed receptive to the idea of establishing group norms and conduct guidelines company-wide and actually asked me to devise them and do an instructor training on them!

There were so many great ideas in dealing with negative personalities like this, and I do think it’s time to brush up on my facilitation skills, perfect the thousand-yard stare for pointless anecdotes, and get over my aversion to mayonnaise. (And to commenters who were curious–we have working lunches during the day-long sessions; hence my exposure to said mayo.)

Jedi hugs and much love to ALL of you. My weekend is looking up, and I do hope that Emma finds success and happiness somewhere. I really do.

Yaaaaaaaay! Goodbye and good luck, “Emma!”


290 thoughts on “#854: “Is it ethical to ‘fire’ a disruptive workshop participant?”

  1. LW, in addition to the Captain’s excellent and entirely correct advice, a couple of thoughts;

    1) There is no ‘should feel’ or ‘being a good person’ here. You owe Emma professional and civil treatment, which is exactly what CA’s recommended scripts protect. You do not owe her sympathetic feelings or many second chances. You are not a bad person for having negative sympathy toward Emma. Anubis is not gearing up to weigh your heart against the feather for lacking Nice Enough Feels. You are allowed to despise her for her frankly shitty behavior.

    2) Think of other people who would be good students and benefit from your class, and whose experience is being ruined by Emma’s conduct. Think of how many students are telling their friends “yeah, maybe take the class from OtherCompany instead, there’s this one horrible person who monopolizes everyone’s time and they don’t control her.”

    1. Exactly. If I were another student in this class, I would be so annoyed that my time was being wasted by Emma. I would be angry at you for not dealing with her. (Although it is very clear that you are doing your best within the boundaries you have been given.)

    2. My company will not send people to a particular (required for certification) workshop in our state, that is close by and convenient for everyone, because of an Emma. This costs the nearby company roughly $1,000 x 10 employees every year, because they *will not handle* their Emma. Instead, my employer has decided to pay to send employees to another state’s workshop. This Emma was *so bad* that our company pays roughly $3,500 per employee to send them to another workshop, because our Emma caused every workshop participant to take the class at least twice.

      Please take the Captain’s advice. Better to put policies in place late than to not have them at all.

        1. I highly doubt it, based on the descriptions of this Emma’s behavior. But the fact that there are multiple people out there who are being failed by both their managers and the higher-ups in the instructor’s company when it comes to ending engagement with problematic behavior boggles my mind.

          All the Jedi hugs for the LW.

      1. It’s great to be able to pin a definitive monetary amount to the money lost by this kind of situation. Not to mention any and everyone your company talks to about this – they are easily losing more than just $10k/year. I do not care how much the Emmas are paying – they are costing way more than their tuition.

    3. “Anubis is not gearing up to weigh your heart against the feather for lacking Nice Enough Feels.”


    4. Yes, it’s one of those situations where in trying to be kind to Emma, you can accidentally end up being unkind to all the other students (who deserve to be able to have discussions and do group or pair projects without being derailed by Emma’s issues–I am cringing thinking how horrible it would be to be stuck working in a pair with Emma!). If it helps to think of it that way, that by putting your foot down you are actually being more kind to a larger group of people, I encourage you to do so–it’s certainly accurate!

      1. Last month I had to attend a day-long retreat for work. We are merging with another organization and this was meant to be a way to meet people from the other organization. We had to do three group exercises. “Emma” was in my first group. She never stopped talking. And then as the day went on, we were never allowed to switch groups — we had to do all three group exercises in our original groups. By the end of the day, I had a screaming migraine from my brain trying to process Emma’s nonsensical talk AND trying to do the assignments with the other group members. Definitely came out of the experience with questions about how people at the organization are handling Emma.

      2. This. When I was teaching, I’d occasionally get students who’d try to derail discussions into Their Pet Topics every single class. You have to shut that down, quickly, or it will just get terrible. “Thanks, Name, for that insight. Next Person, what do you think about Class Topic?” You’re the one in control of the forum; they don’t get to keep talking unless you let them.

        1. Yup, I’ve recently started running some meetings at my work, and this is key. Shut this stuff down and pivot back to the task at hand immediately, as soon as it becomes clear that the conversation train has derailed. If you don’t do it right away, every time, you establish a norm that long tangential stories that waste everyone’s time (even if they would be legitimately enjoyable or even professionally valuable in the proper context/setting) are acceptable, which means nothing will get accomplished at the meetings. People can and do use work as a social space, which is fine – we tend to spend a lot of time at work. That said, the actual work part still needs to get done, and if people want long conversations with coworkers or classmates or other professionally-affiliated folks, they are free to socialize with those people ELSEWHERE. Being lonely and only having professional environments to meet people doesn’t mean one has to socialize with those people in that professional environment.

        2. Yeah, I — LW, you sound like a trained educator, but are you a trained group facilitator? If not, or if it’s been awhile, it might be useful for you to seek out/review such training, because there are SERIOUS shutdown techniques taught to facilitators that aren’t taught to educators.

          Regardless, get Emma out of there; she’s hurting you and your company AND your other students and at this point it’s not “shut her down” it’s “shut her out”.

          1. Just in case your boss refuses to boss up, you might at least get *written* back-up to handle this woman – and others like her – without kid gloves, which are useless with narcissists. A three-strikes-and-your-out policy/notification that goes out to the company Emma works for, so that the repercussions start with her.

            Emma, your time to speak is over. I will call on you if we need your input.
            Emma, you need to let John speak.
            Emma, that was your third interruption, and your time in class today is over, we’ll see you tomorrow. You have two minutes to gather your things, and then I’ll ask the security guard to walk you to your car. /cue security guard looking scary/

        3. Adding to this – sometimes the best way to shut it down is to say something like “Thanks for that great insight [Name], but now we need to move on/I’d love to hear from [Other person] now/etc.” Basically if they are speaking up because they want the Ego Cookie Of Attention, you give them the cookie so they’re satisfied and will more willingly stop talking.

          1. My guess is that she’s already tried this. I’m inclined to say that until you can officially kick her out, just shut her down every time she opens her mouth, shut her down. If necessary, say in front of the class that if she doesn’t stop talking, you will ask her to leave because she is disruptive and you’ve had several complaints from the students. My guess is that the room will break out in loud clapping, and she will be humiliated, but she will get the message.

    5. Yes, the thing about quite polite students who don’t like disruption and conflict is, they are often exactly the kind of people who will not make a fuss if this is seriously bothering them, but will quietly suffer (while their own work and study is negatively affected) or quietly leave, probably without explaining why.

      Also, if there’s a cap to the number of students then there are presumably others who would have benefited from the course but couldn’t enroll or had to delay taking it because it was full.

  2. Obviously it’s possible, but I find it hard to believe that there’s nowhere else in the entire world that Emma could go to take this course that she needs to continue her career. So if you bar her from yours, you are not ruining her career.

    Speaking of which, if Emma needs this course to continue in her career but never, ever submits work, then exactly what benefit do you believe she is getting from it? Surely none whatsoever, therefore if you bar her from the course you are not ruining her career. She is. How can stopping her from failing a course for the eleventy millionth time be hurting her career?

    On the other hand, she MIGHT benefit from receiving a letter like the Captain’s, because it might teach her more in itself than she seems to be taking from your course. This is definitely not a reflection on your teaching but on her refusal to learn.

    It is so hard to be tough on people like Emma but I agree that you are going to have to bin her. I bet you’ll feel SO relieved, too.

    1. I’m wondering if Emma is a deliberate flunkout so she can always keep “bonding” with the OP and everyone else.

      1. I had this thought as well. Even if she failed the class the first time for some other reason, it has to have caught her attention that her boss paid for her to come back and try again. Maybe she wondered how far she could push that. This is someone who has convinced herself that she and the LW are bffs, despite being straight-up told that they’re not friends. I can see her convincing herself that her classmates are her friends, as well. :-/

        LW, if your instructor isn’t willing to bar her from the class outright, I completely agree with the Captain that it may be time for you to start thinking about not working there anymore. One thing you might try in the meantime would be to ask Emma to leave each time she behaves disruptively. It will feel awkward and she will be upset about it, but hold firm. If she has to leave enough of your meetings, surely her attendance will fall below the minimum required for a passing grade? This doesn’t resolve the longer-term problem of her being allowed to return and re-take the class indefinitely, but at least it might get her out of there for the rest of this term, thus giving you some peace and quiet so you can plan your next move.

        Good luck.

        1. You could also say, “Boss, if you won’t bar this woman from my class, I may have to reconsider my employment here. That would be a real shame, because I like being with this company.”

          1. Yeah, I really wouldn’t do that.

            Threatening to leave is a tactic that has a time and a place, but in this case ut’s needlessly confrontational and changes the focus the situation from a “how can we (as a team of LW & Boss) protect our other students and our company from Emma’s Emma-ness” to “I hate this person and refuse to work with her, consequences be damned”.

            Besides, do you really want to give Boss a chance to call that bluff?

          2. Yeah, agreed with toxicnudibranch; I would only say this if you actually are okay with Boss saying, “I’m sorry to hear that, we’ll miss you” and letting you go.

          3. Yes, the one point where you want to say this (in my opinion) is if you are ready to take that step, preferably with something else already lined up. (I can think of exactly once in my life when I took that gamble, and it paid off, but I remember thinking that the one reason I could take it was because I was so truly done that if they let me go I was okay with that.)

          4. One thing you can sometimes do to communicate what you mean without making it sound like an ultimatum is to just bluntly say how you’re feeling. For example, in your place I might say “I’m feeling pretty frustrated that Emma’s still allowed to keep re-taking my classes, despite her pattern of awful behaviour in them. She keeps me from giving the other participants the experience they paid for, and that feels really stressful to me.” It doesn’t say outright “and I will leave if you don’t fix this,” and it doesn’t put pressure on your boss to respond immediately or to choose any one particular solution. But it also communicates pretty clearly that you’re unhappy and that you need something about the situation to change.

          5. Seconding those saying “don’t say you’ll leave unless you mean it / have a Plan B”. Managements will often do the easy rather than the rational thing: if accepting your resignation is less of an effort than sorting out Emma, they may well go for it.

            Also, unless you do mean to (and have a plan how to) leave if they don’t act, then what you’re pulling is on the manipulative side, and it will likely sour your relations with your boss and (if any) your colleagues even if you “win” in the short term.

            If I sound harsh, it’s the product of experience – someone at my old job (actually, thinking about it, our local equivalent of “Emma”) used to do this at intervals if they didin’t get their own way, no matter how unreasonable (e.g. the time I wanted him to clear the immense pile of empty cardboard boxes with which he had filled to entire store-room so that nobody else could use it). It was a nakedly manipulative strategy and we all came to despise him for it. After I left (he was one of the *lesser* things wrong with the place, believe it or not) they got a new section head and the next time he pulled it she said “Well, that’s a shame, but I think you’re right: it would be for the best” and then resolutely wouldn’t let him take it back. And There Was Much Rejoicing.

    2. I like this re-framing, especially becasue there are so many dysfunctional behaviors our society normalizes in the interest of being “nice” in the immediate term, when in effect those behaviors are usually much more harmful to the person in the long term. Often these are “white lies,” lies to make people feel better in the moment, but that also deny that person important information ze might need to change zir behavior. For example, disingenuous compliments can give someone an over-inflated sense of ability or accomplishment in a particular area, which can lead to that person feeling much worse when ze encounters an honest critic (or even financial loss if ze pursues a flied of study or career for which ze is not well suited on the basis of a false sense of ability), or perhaps just a feeling of betrayal if the truth comes out eventually. It’s gaslighting, with the very best intent, but it’s still dishonest and manipulative, and it should be avoided. Nice is not always kind, and kind is not always nice.

      Long-term, honesty is almost always the kindest path*, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.

      *exceptions for things like hiding Jews from Nazis, or protecting stalking or domestic violence victims/survivors from threatening people – and in those cases, the behavior still isn’t kind to the seeker, but ze doesn’t DESERVE kindness in those cases, becasue Nazi/stalker/abuser

      1. I agree somewhat with your first paragraph here but disagree strongly with your second and third. Honest criticism is only the kindest path when that criticism is correct, informed, timely, and useful or needful. A LOT of people have honest, incorrect beliefs that I don’t want them to volunteer to me or people I care about just because they think it’s true.

        For example, if I tell a friend “you have spinach between your teeth” right before a job interview, so they can get the spinach out, that is honest and kind. If I tell her that right after the job interview, I’ve just made her feel bad about something she can’t change. (You could argue that she can be more careful next time, but there are kinder ways of giving her that feedback than “you just went through a whole job interview with spinach between your teeth.”)

        Or, another example, if I send a person I don’t know on Tumblr an ‘ask’ saying “You need to learn English, your spelling and grammer is terrible and in the real world you wont be able to get a job unless you fix that”, I’m assuming their written expression is the same in the workplace as it is on their informal blog, that they don’t know their spelling and grammar are incorrect (even if they do have a problem with spelling and grammar and this does matter to them, that doesn’t mean this is new information to them or that they are not working on it or even that it’s possible for them to fix it) and that my spelling and grammar are impeccable and I am in a position to correct theirs through the means of drive-by comments.

        In the case of this LW, Emma really does need the feedback that her behaviour is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated any longer, and that it is not her classmates’ fault that she keeps failing her classes. But she doesn’t need the feedback that LW hates the way she eats French fries or thinks it’s disgusting that she eats them with mayonnaise. That’s true but not pertinent. It would only be pertinent if there was a reason it should matter to Emma that LW hates how and what she eats. (LW, if you’re reading this: of course I don’t think you were planning to tell Emma about the mayo. I understand that you were venting, and that you have reached “jerk eating crackers” stage with Emma.)

          1. In my primary education course, we are taught to ask students use the acronym T.H.I.N.K. to assess what they say in the classroom before they say it:

            Is it Thoughtful?
            Is it Helpful?
            Is it Important?
            Is it Necessary?
            Is it Kind?

          2. Emma is being a stalker to the LW, and engaging in unwanted touching and creepy behaviors like suggesting matching tattoos and hounding LW for her phone number. She has brushed aside LW’s kind refusals multiple times.The LW doesn’t owe Emma kindness or tact any longer. LW may choose to moderate he tone and words out of professionalism, but she no longer owes Emma the level of consideration you are talking about. Harassers use societal constraints against their victims to maintain the upper hand. This is where LW and Emma are at this point.

          3. Anonchalance: she no longer owes Emma the level of consideration you are talking about.

            Actually, the level of consideration we are talking about works just fine: If it is both true and necessary (here, necessary for other students’ learning and for LW’s sanity and safety), then kindness takes a back seat. It’s only gratuitous criticism, like Vass’s example of internet spelling flames, that wouldn’t pass; you’ve said yourself that Emma’s fries-with-mayo issue can go unremarked. Nobody is suggesting that the LW make nice with Emma over the substantive issues for one more second.

          4. I love that one. Simple and elegant. Use it regular. Or regularly if you prefer.

        1. I disagree with the teeth-spinach analogy mainly because I’ve seen the “Why Didn’t You Tell Me Sooner?!” game used way too often to derail a necessary talking-to or to claim that criticism or boundary setting has a deadline after which it is no longer valid. Tooth-spinach is accidental and easily addressed, both of those in stark contrast to creeping, Emma-ing and various actively nasty behaviors. Sure it would be embarrassing for Emma to be faced with this after an ongoing period but that matters very little right now. LW doesn’t owe Emma anything for being unsure of what to do with her bizarre antics or for the fact that her previous attempts at curbing her behavior either were ignored of went over Emma’s head.

        2. I’m not sure I’m totally in agreement with the “timely” part. Sure, if there’s something important like an interview coming up and that feedback pretty much MUST be used by that time or be meaningless, then sure. However, I’ve seen the “Why Didn’t You Tell Me Sooner” game used way too many times to try to invalidate someone having a problem with their behavior as if setting limits has some kind of deadline. Even when people have tried different methods to deal or are just at a loss for what to do about it, the other person’s logic usually is “You’re not angry because of what I did/am doing. You’re angry because YOU let me do this for so long therefore YOU made YOURSELF mad not me. Now, expect me to keep pulling this card while I continue being annoying.”

    3. Piggybacking on amberxebi’s comment – you are not ruining Emma’s career but she sure could be ruining yours. Other students are noticing how you conduct these sessions. Their sharing of those complaints count against your reputation. If there is a Rate My Professor-type of ranking platform, its likely that those frustrations will be posted there. Don’t sacrifice your hard work being concerned about someone who isn’t concerned about you.

      1. This is a good point and I think it would behoove you to solicit feedback after every class. This may give you hard evidence that Emma is harming your career.

  3. LW, I think you’re too concerned with how booting her from your program may affect her career. Please worry a little more about your own! You already have regular attendees asking/expecting you do “do something”. By failing to do so, you are developing a reputation as a leader who cannot lead. You don’t want that!

    And your boss is an asshat for having the attitude that she pays her tuition so he’ll take her money. What about all of the other attendees who also pay tuition but are not getting the full benefit of the course because of her?

    I had a classmate that liked to derail a college theology course I was taking by purposely arguing every point the instructor made. The instructor would let him speak. When he stopped Instructor would say NOTHING. Than he’d say, “Ok, as I was saying….” and continue with the lesson. By saying nothing to validate, encourage, argue with, or otherwise acknowledge the derailer, it took the wind out of the guy’s sails and he eventually quit being an asshat. This Emma is obviously one that craves attention (hence the probably made up stories and the extreme need to be your friend). Don’t give her any and cut off any other attendees that attempt to and maybe she’ll lose her wind.

    personally, I’d reach a point where the next time she brought up being friends, I’d give her a very bitchy-toned no f-ing way what is the matter with you kind of response. I wouldn’t do that in front of the class, but I’d do it in private. I think you’re at the point where that would be justified.

    1. “And your boss is an asshat for having the attitude that she pays her tuition so he’ll take her money.”

      Well, it’s not just that. It’s also that your boss will simultaneously not work with Emma but still takes her money. Why should that default to being your job? If your boss gets to decide “I don’t want her in my class” shouldn’t you be able to do the same?

      1. Yes, that jumped out at me too. LW’s boss already knows Emma is a problem, and is deliberately both avoiding the problem (by refusing to work with her) and enabling it (by continuing to take her money.) So the boss is putting LW in a pretty awkward position all around.

    2. LW, I think you’re too concerned with how booting her from your program may affect her career. Please worry a little more about your own! You already have regular attendees asking/expecting you do “do something”. By failing to do so, you are developing a reputation as a leader who cannot lead. You don’t want that!

      This! It is immensely frustrating when people whose job it is to keep the course/workshop/project on track won’t do their jobs, and it really is terrible for your reputation. LW, you are not a bad person if you stop hurting your own career to protect Emma’s. And like others have said, you have a duty to the other students who are actually there to learn, too.

      The instructor would let him speak. When he stopped Instructor would say NOTHING. Than he’d say, “Ok, as I was saying….” and continue with the lesson. By saying nothing to validate, encourage, argue with, or otherwise acknowledge the derailer, it took the wind out of the guy’s sails and he eventually quit being an asshat.

      I love that strategy! I have a terrible time interrupting people even if they’re talking way too much, but waiting for them to stop and going back to what I was saying is something I could actually do!

    3. “The instructor would let him speak. When he stopped Instructor would say NOTHING. Than he’d say, ‘Ok, as I was saying….’ and continue with the lesson.”

      I do something similar with people who interrupt me in the middle of sentences: pause, let them talk, and then pick up from the very next word in the sentence as though they had never interrupted at all. As an entirely neutral response (or, really, dismissive total lack of response), it can be devastatingly effective.

    4. It seems to me that “Emma” would just keep talking, since no one stops her. *swoon* a whole seminar handed over to Emma! RUN FOR THE HILLS

    5. That say-nothing-and-return-to-business strategy is beautiful!

      Plus I think that Emma wouldn’t keep coming back just to flunk some more if she weren’t getting something out of it even if it’s only an inch or whatever LW has been conceding in the hopes that it’ll help her finally pass and LEAVE.

      …which now that I scroll back up to re-read, I see that Emma already has no intention of going away after completing the course. That’s another issue. -_-

      But at least the emotional weirdness might not interfere with class as much.

  4. I think the LW should stop worrying about Emma’s career, as it sure seems Emma isn’t very concerned about it. If she cared, she would actually do some work toward her certification, but she hasn’t. She obviously just wants the classes for the attention she’s getting.

    1. I get the strong sense that Emma has maybe been at her employer for a long time and is something of a missing stair.

      1. I would be willing to bet real money that Emma’s employer sends her on ALL THE COURSES to get a break from her. I’ve seen it done, with a guy – my supervisor at the time, unfortunately for me – who didn’t rate firing but was the most boring, attention-seeking, work-shy person it has ever been my misfortune to meet. He liked going on courses (it got him a fresh audience every time, and a break from doing his job!) so applied for everything he could, and he always got approved because the bosses found him just as annoying as I did.

        (They were still doing it years after I moved on; my husband ran into him at a course that was really not related to Boring McMonologue’s job at all. He spent so long talking on one tangent he got onto that my husband’s… er… family jewels went to sleep. XD)

        1. Co-signed. Emma sounds just like an employee I had at OldJob, who had all kinds of appalling behaviors and whose life was an endless parade of misery. Big Boss was unable/unwilling to fire her (a combination of ultra-bureaucratic termination policies + she never did anything that was *technically* fire-able + She’s Already Been Through So Much This Job Is All She Has You Don’t Understand), but he would happily send her to any and every offsite event just so her team could have a break from her.

      2. I got that sense too. There’s an Emma at my former workplace who is equally oversharey and creepy-friendly, terrible at her job and actively avoids doing work. The higher ups would LOVE to fix the stair but are under the impression that they need to catch her red handed doing something instantly fire-able because they’re afraid she’ll sue for wrongful termination claiming she was fired for being a recovering addict. I’m pretty sure she can’t and wouldn’t try anyway but that was their sad rationale for keeping her around.

        The rest of us had to pick up her slack and in a particularly WTF incident, our boss had two of my coworkers *drive to her house* to make sure she wasn’t dead of suicide or overdose when she didn’t show up for work.

        She forgot to set her alarm clock.

        I’m glad I’m not there anymore.

      3. I also get that sense. My office has/had two, let’s call them Eltons (One was blessedly, finally, terminated recently). They’re like more aggressive, sweary Emmas. They were/are very disruptive, but the remaining one has been here so long, he’s the missing stair. We all have to jump over him and hope we don’t break our necks in the process. It’s an absolute mystery to me why this is acceptable, but it happens; if it were up to me, the lone remaining Elton would be out of here tout suite.

  5. LW, aaaauuuuggghhhhh. Your boss definitely needs to step up. It sounds like the boss is using you as a shield, almost, so your boss doesn’t have to deal with Emma. Use what the Captain said — Emma is disrupting the class and making it harder for others, and that’s the tactic that may work best. If you just don’t like her or think she’s annoying you in class, your boss can chalk it up to a personality conflict. If you can claim that Emma’s behavior is affecting the practical purpose and procedure of the class and the education of those in the class, then Emma becomes a threat to that program and possibly the course’s reputation — and thus your boss’ job if the course loses enough students. I’m not sure how your employer works, but you get the idea. Good luck. (BTW, fries+mayo is a Dutch/Belgian thing.)

    1. Hee, I was going to say. Who? Belgians! (I personally am not a mayo fan so man, that is NOT for me, and while that’s not the important part of the LW’s info, it was the easy thing to solve!)

      1. Fries + Mayo is a German thing, too! 😀
        I understand that LW is at the “bitch eating crackers” phase with Emma, but I personally bristled at the “WHO DOES THAT” in the letter.

        1. I didn’t bristle because of how it’s totally ‘bitch eating crackers’, but I don’t even like mayo and I still like it on fries. Esp. mixed with ketchup. YUM! It’s a places-that-have-fries-and-aren’t-Anglo-North-America thing, afaict. I picked up the habit in Montreal.

          1. And if you’re in Anglo North America and you ask for mayo for your fries, there is at least even odds you will get Miracle Whip instead. This is Not Okay.

          2. I had tons of friends who ate fries with mayo (or ketchup and mayo mixed) when I was in school, and I’m from Ohio. I think it’s revolting, but it’s relatively common here, at least

          3. If you’ve ever eaten anywhere with “fry sauce”, it’s ketchup mixed with mayo.

            I’m a gravy person, myself.

          4. I used to know an Afrikaans guy who put mayo in his fried rice. The first time I saw it he had an injured arm and I was so confused as to why he was asking me for help opening the mayonnaise.

            But yeah my thoughts were so immediately “you are LITERALLY ‘bitch eating crackers’ stage!” that I actually missed the “who does that?” part.

        2. On the fries thing – if it’s something the LW noticed at lunch time, her comment is a total “bitch eating crackers” thing. But if Emma is eating fries with *whatever* sauce IN CLASS…yeah, we are definitely in WHO DOES THAT?!!? territory.

          1. Yeah, I read it as more “Who noisily eats food all the way through a damn seminar??” rather than “Who eats chips with mayo??”. I’m still not sure how Emma (boy is it weird to read this discussion whilst being named Emma myself) manages to eat chips and mayo noisily – unless they’re really burnt and crispy or something? Or she eats with her mouth open? But either way, creating food smells and noise during work is generally pretty rude unless there’s food available for everyone, or you’ve asked permission of the group.

          2. I do wonder what would happen if the LW just grabbed the food and tossed it in the trash. Yeah, I know the LW has to give Emma a warning, but if Emma’s not going to listen…..

          3. I dunno. Among my peers, eating during a meeting, seminar, or class is pretty normal behaviour. I mean, don’t do it loudly or stinkily, but I think that’s a norm that’s changing. Which is not to excuse Emma’s behaviour broadly, but eating is almost never something I would hold against someone. Chewing with their mouth open otoh….

          4. @Jake – I’ve seen that changing too, but if the rules say no food, then those are the rules. Also, unless you are working through a meal time, your in-class/in-meeting snacks should not be disruptive. Anything with a pervasive smell (not just a bad smell, but a smell that takes over the room, even if it’s pleasant) is not OK. Anything that can’t be eaten quietly is not OK.

          5. Especially ditto on the “pervasive smell”. I have a good friend who’s allergic to certain kinds of seafood who finally gave up eating in our cafeteria when they served fish because the whole place made her feel ill even though she didn’t eat it and neither did any of us eating with her. Since then I’ve been careful with smells. (I’m also smell-sensitive, although for me it’s more perfumes/flowers, so I get that smells can affect you.) Even if it’s a food smell I love, I try to be careful. And even without the allergies, if someone is eating something that smells food-like in a room, even if I don’t LIKE that food, it still tends to make me hungry and is a distraction.

          6. Ugh I’m getting grossed out just thinking about it. I love food. I love the smell of delicious food. I hate the smell of hot food in places where there really shouldn’t be (in my selfish opinion) anyone eating: Retail stores, public transit, classrooms, galleries, etc. The sound of them eating, the smell, the ickiness of touching random things, then touching food, then touching random things again…it bothers me.

    2. Fries + mayo is AWESOME and starting to edge out ketchup as my first choice, but only if they’re chunky chips (but then I’m British…)

      I have thrown people out of my classes before, mostly for Emma-ish reasons. The conversations have almost all been along the lines of,

      “Why are you here?”
      “Because I want to learn / achieve [X]!”
      “But.,,you’re not. In order to learn / achieve [X] you have to [x, y, z], and you have done none of that…”

      She’s either just there for the drama, as STH suggests, or she’s genuinely incompetent at her job; either way she’s had her chances and now they’ve run out.

  6. If I was a student and paying hard earned money (or spending my scant free time at my workplace’s expense) to take this course, I’d be livid that my education was being so negatively impacted by Emma. And if I found out that your BOSS wasn’t backing you up, he’d get a really angry phone call from me, demanding a full refund of my money and that he come and do my fucking yardwork so that I could start to recoup the time.

    1. It’s really a shame that it would be highly unprofessional for LW to tell students who come to her about Emma “Believe me, I would love to do something about Emma, but Boss won’t let me. Here’s his number. Please call him and tell him aaaallllllllll your complaints about Emma. Better yet, have the person at your workplace who coordinates training for all employees who need this course call Boss and tell him that your whole office has complaints about Emma”

      1. There’s got to be a polite way to phrase that. Maybe something like “I don’t make enrolment acceptance decisions, [Boss] is the person to talk to about that. Here’s their contact information.”?

        1. “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I don’t have the authority to make those kind of decisions about the seminar attendees.”

          Simple, polite, and you drop a big but not too unsubtle hint (: I don’t have the authority”) about who they need to talk to about the issue.

      2. I’ve done that many times and I don’t think it’s even passive-aggressive. If I’m able to take action then I will do so (this includes passing on information when that’s the best way to do it). If not, then I let the person know how to get their complaint/praise/comment to the right person. Saying, “[Boss] makes those decisions, you need to discuss this with him/her,” is helping everyone out. (Including Boss, who appears to be in self-delusion about the effect Emma is having on the courses, and has likely lost a fair amount of business [or will, if it hasn’t happened already].)

        1. Ooops. I didn’t even think about it coming off as possibly passive aggressive. (In my defense, I’m Asperger’s, so these sort of things often escape me.)

          I just take as a fairly diplomatically-stated statement of fact. The LW does not have the power to do anything about Emma, and the boss essentially refuses to do anything. Nothing wrong with a bit of passing-the-buck when it doesn’t actually stop with you. And well, if the boss gets upset with LW for doing so, then that’s probably not someone you want to work for long term, since not only is she failing to respond to a genuine, significant problem, she apparently has no trouble throwing LW to the wolves instead of supporting a valuable employee.

          I’ve worked a lot of different places, and anytime I had a boss who didn’t back up and support their employees, I eventually got screwed over–and usually sooner rather than later.

          1. Yes, I agree. Unless you know for certain that your employee is in the wrong, you back them up. If nothing else, you don’t let customers treat them like garbage. The world has a lot of people; if you lose that one customer, you’ll find others.

            (And I guess the original writer wrote “highly unprofessional” instead of “passive aggressive”, which is how I took it. It depends on how you phrase it, but if you are careful and especially if you don’t bring up Emma without the student mentioning her first, it is appropriate to refer someone to the person who deals with it instead of you.)

        2. Depending on your wording, it’s not passive-aggressive nor unprofessional at all.

          My landlord is a jerk who takes the path of least resistance (aka, cheapest route) so several things that I do not have control over are subpar. My patients complain about the poor plowing/shoveling frequently in the winter. I complained the previous two years to the landlord but he didn’t care or do anything about it. Finally, one of my patients slipped and was LIVID. She already knew from a previous conversation that it was the landlord’s job to remove snow (legally I can’t because he is responsible for the parking lot per the lease), so all I did was hand her his business card. She got an apology from his secretary, the landlord, and the owner of the company he hired to do snow removal.

          And guess what? Snow removal has been almost perfect since that incident.

          People like your boss are not willing to change unless absolutely necessary, especially if they are not being personally affected. One way to encourage this change is to direct the complaints to him in a professional manner, like Jackalope recommended, “[Boss] makes those decisions, you need to discuss this with him/her.” It will help demonstrate that it’s not just YOU complaining, it’s his PAYING STUDENTS complaining.

  7. I’m also wondering just how many times Emma’s employer is willing to let her take these certification classes that she keeps failing. I mean, at a certain point isn’t Emma just doing this course instead of her actual work?

    My biggest beef here is your boss, though, LW. It is NOT COOL that your boss refuses to teach Emma but also refuses to deny her entry into the course, thereby shunting Emma into your class. Boss has the boss-title for a reason, and part of that reason is “confronting people who make my employee’s lives miserable”.

    While it is definitely unfortunate that barring Emma entry into your course may hurt her career, Emma is not helping herself here. This would be true whether the effects would be felt immediately (as you say here) or in some far-off future, and whether you knew about them or not. Her career is not yours to worry about, your own is. Cap’s right; if your boss won’t back you up, you should consider whether you want her to remain your boss.

    1. Not only that, but Emma’s employer’s gonna notice at a certain point that she doesn’t have this certification and that she can’t go anywhere further in her career.

      1. Emma’s employer has already noticed this, I’m sure. Every time she takes the workshop again, that’s another (day/week/whatever) that she’s not bothering *them*.

    2. 100% this.

      Plus, where’s the money for the course coming from? If it’s her employer, I can’t imagine they’re very pleased that this chunk of their training budget is being eaten up by someone who seems weirdly incapable of passing the course – especially if she has peers from the same employer who have passed the course themselves much more easily.

        1. That’s what I was wondering. Firing people isn’t that easy, and there may be company restrictions (due to fear of lawsuits, etc.) that are preventing them from outright firing her. So they could be sending her back to the course because it gets her out of their hair.

          1. Eh, it’s not that hard to fire somebody if you’re a functional employer. It may be that Emma is paying for this herself. Who knows how much of what she’s saying about her career is actually true?

          2. Correction: firing people is not (and should not be) easy, but it is possible for a manager who is willing to put in the due diligance to document, correct, set and communicate expectations, communicate failure and performance improvement plans, document THOSE, and proceed to document that the person does not fit the requirements of the position and cannot do the job, at which point they can be fired.

            Or, in other words: a manager who is willing to do their job.

          3. Well, this depends entirely on who she works for and where. Some states are “at will”, meaning the employer can fire anyone for any reason or even no reason. Many government agencies make firing someone well nigh impossible. Strong unions can also make it hard, but I’m finding it hard to believe Emma’s in a union job.

          4. Yes, I work in what is effectively a tenure-type job; they’re pretty strict at the front end, but if you make it through the testing time, firing is extremely difficult.

          5. If LW and Emma are in a “right to work” state, Emma’s employer can fire her without warnings or write-ups (or any notice, even if the week before the employee received a superlative performance review and was promised a raise, bonus and employer 401k contribution) and without giving (or having) a reason at all.

            Ask me how I know! :/

            My former boss’ lackwit nephew is now doing my old job. So it goes.

          6. That is not actually what right to work means. Right to work has to do with union representation. I agree that a lot of people use it to mean as you describe, however.

        2. Ha! I was starting to wonder the same thing. Emma’s own boss and coworkers may be delighted to have a break from her.

          Where this relates to you, LW, is that Emma has already done more to harm her own career than you ever can. You will not be personally destroying her life if you get her kicked out, she did that herself by consistently disrupting the class and potentially by being so disruptive at work that her boss pays for that course over and over just to get her out of the office.

          It’s nice of you to be concerned about her, but she clearly doesn’t want to be helped. I think the long-term best thing you can do for her is let her experience the obvious and predictable consequences of her actions.

  8. LW, you’re extremely benign to be thinking about Emma’s career like this, but think about it this way: as per your letter, Emma doesn’t do the work she needs to do to qualify in her career. She won’t even turn in her assignments to you. So what basis do you have to think she’s even any good at this career?

    If this career is in an area of expertise which is remotely important – which sounds likely, given the training regime involved, you would be doing the people Emma later on has to work with/manage expensive projects for/handle money for/maintain machinery for/perform surgery on/exorcise demons from/whatever a tremendous disservice to pass her. You obviously know this – that’s why you don’t pass her. Even if her career is an an area of expertise where if she screws up nobody will die or go bankrupt or explode and nothing bad will happen beyond whoever she has to work with having kind of a shitty, frustrating experience, you’re still not doing them a favour by passing her.

    And you’ve already outlined that not only can you not stand Emma, but your boss can’t stand her either, and her presence makes the class experience actively and demonstrably worse for those she has to study with, so nobody else in the class benefits from her being there. (On top of that, since they are training for the same profession as her there’s every chance that they will go on to be her professional colleagues and peers if she ends up passing the course somehow – boy, won’t they be thrilled to see her show up at a meeting.)

    And on top of all that, a lot of the behaviours Emma exhibits suggests that she isn’t exactly brimming with passion and enthusiasm for this job either. I mean, if she really, truly liked doing this stuff and found it satisfying and fulfilling, she’d actually pay attention, do the work assigned for her, and keep her contributions in class on-topic, and based on what you are saying she doesn’t do any of that. Aside from the creepy over-friendliness, which is its whole other bucket of wrong, everything you describe about her behaviour suggests that she would rather spend her time doing anything in the world other than the work she’s actually come to your class to do. And if she has no love for the work, is this career even right for her in the first place?

    Who, then, is actually benefiting from your concern for Emma’s career? Oh, sure, as long as we do this dance Emma gets to keep her job, keep her paycheque, and keep annoying everyone around her. But it sounds like Emma’s not happy in the place where her life currently is – generally people who are don’t latch onto others in such a creepy fashion and don’t make up tall tales. It’s quite evident that Emma is going to need to do a bunch of work on herself if she’s going to thrive, and perhaps getting punted off this course (and maybe out of this career) will turn out to be the push she needs to go do that – not that you’re at all responsible for how she reacts to the way her career has been trashed due to *her own behaviour*.

    So really, don’t feel bad if pushing ahead and doing what is obviously the right thing to do for everyone in this situation – including, quite probably, Emma herself – ends up hurting her career. Nobody reasonable could possibly hold you to be more responsible for Emma’s career than Emma herself is. Why should you end up working harder to conserve it than she does?

    1. “a lot of the behaviours Emma exhibits suggests that she isn’t exactly brimming with passion and enthusiasm for this job either. I mean, if she really, truly liked doing this stuff and found it satisfying and fulfilling, she’d actually pay attention, do the work assigned for her, and keep her contributions in class on-topic, and based on what you are saying she doesn’t do any of that. ”

      This stuck out to me too. I’ve been in classes where someone monopolizes or derails constantly, but they usually do it in a way that creates redundant tangents about the subject being discussed… not turning everything into rants about irrelevant life stories. I’ve seen people fail certifications several times even though they WERE passionate and trying their best… but the fact that she doesn’t bother to stay on subject + doesn’t handle assignments appropriately and then blames her classmates, every single time…. she really doesn’t seem that invested in her career. Her lack of success is solely on her. Like, blatantly.

      (Hell, failing the class is probably “better” for her because it gives her drama and unfairness to yammer on about to other people.)

    2. So much this. LW has a professional obligation. And so does her boss.

      That’s an angle I think it is best to press upon. Would we hire a tax preparer who took twenty swipes at the CPA exam? A surgeon who took a long time to be board certified? Would we want Emma doing this job that requires certification?

      I really really think not.

      1. Right?! My profession is board certified, and honestly, it is sometimes scary to see who makes it through. I remember this one guy who was a year or two ahead of me when I started. He should have been done with his boards by the time I started. I took the same first set he did. Then when I took the second, he was taking the first. Then when I was taking my third, he was taking the first… etc.

        Not to be mean, but I really hope he never made it. There is a reason he was not passing them. (I do not presume to know the reason.) [And furthermore, he was a racist, sexist, homophobic jerk, so he really should not be a professional.]

  9. SHE WANTS YOU TO GET MATCHING TATTOOS. LW, I have all the sympathy in the world for you but this cracked me right up. Please follow CA’s advice, it is quite good as always, but especially this:

    “Whatever Emma pays for the course each term, it cannot be enough to offset the losses from people who quietly never come back because they don’t want to be forced to work with her again.”

    Your boss may not care enough about your personal feelings to get rid of her, but money talks and if you can show that even one or two other students have gone elsewhere to avoid dealing with Emma a second time, you will hit where it hurts. Best of luck to you–now I’m off to figure out how to eat French fries loudly. 😛

  10. CA’s advice is spot on. I recently took a course and there was a woman in the class who disrupted the class the entire time. While she wasn’t the energy vampire that Emma is, I found it incredibly frustrating that the instructor didn’t rein her in and tell her to knock it off. I assume that is how most of the students who attend class with Emma feel and it’s not fair. If you’re able to, boot that woman from your class. You are NOT responsible for how it impacts her life outside of the classroom. You’ve set rules, she doesn’t want to follow them. That’s ALL on her!!! Good Luck! Keep us updated!

  11. If you want to give it another crack, there’s a technique for dealing with aggression which can apply to pretty much any negative behaviour. It has 3 steps (optional 4).

    1. Name the behaviour
    2. Name the impact of the behaviour.
    3. Tell them to stop.
    4. (Optional) Name what will happen when they stop.

    So typically when I use this, it’s “You’re shouting. It is intimidating. Stop it (and we can talk about X)”

    With Emma it may look like “You’re talking over the me. It is rude. Stop it (and we can get back to learning about X)”

    It is honestly worth practising this with someone because in the moment it can be so hard even though it’s really simple. It is also in my experience surprisingly effective because 1) people don’t always realise the impact of what they’re doing and naming it bluntly can really pull someone up and 2) it removes any plausible deniability that their behaviour is somehow okay or not that bad.

    You’ll get push-back when you do this, from the sounds of Emma, but you can just keep using the steps. “You have not done what I asked. It is disrespectful to me and other students. Stop now.” or “You disrupting the class. It is disrespectful. Stop so we can get back to work.”

    1. I would second this, especially if your boss has the backbone of a wet dishrag (and if they won’t let you handle her/kick her out/do anything constructive, they might be inclined to blame you for not handling her earlier if you point out that it’s making people leave…)

      This also shows the other participants that you ARE doing something (aka: what you CAN do) and lessen their aggravation with this situation… and frankly, might make her either realize her behavior and shape up, or feel so put-upon that she stops going (in which case… yay for you?). Or, I suppose, whine to your boss, but in that case you absolutely 100% will know whether you need to leave. If they’re not willing to back you up at THAT point, there’s basically no hope.

    2. Emma is a great person to practice this technique on, too. Because let’s face it, you are going to have to deny her re-enrollment. (Or quit your job, as suggested in Cap’s final paragraph, for not being allowed to deny her re-enrollment.) She is not going to improve. But if you can learn to use this technique when faced with Emma, you can use this technique with just about anyone! You’ll simultaneously be starting these steps in Hard Mode and starting them with someone whose professional relationship with you has run out its clock.

    3. With kids I’ve used ‘You’re ____ and I would like you to stop now’. ‘I’m asking you for the second time to stop _____, if i have to remind you a third time I’ll have to ask you to leave’. ‘OK, I have warned you several times now, please go sit over there/leave the room/etc’. Of course key in this is having the ability and willingness to actually enforce that consequence, otherwise the system will start to fall apart.

      1. That’s my go-to in the classroom; 1) Stop, because [reasons], 2) I’ve asked you once already to stop, because [reasons], so next time [consequence], 3) [consequence]. No arguments, no discussion, you were warned.

        I realised quite some time in that it’s the same technique my parents taught us as kids when dealing with each other – “I clearly heard your sister say she would smack you upside the head if you didn’t stop poking her, you chose to carry on, so….self-inflicted, kiddo.”

      2. How do you enforce the consequence with adults who refuse it? I’ve tried a few times, but if someone is willing to fight back then what can you do? Emma gets moved to a different seat, cries, and moves herself back? It’s very hard to keep trying to apply a consequence to someone who refuses it. It can feel like it’s eating too much time, or getting too disruptive. And we also have a lot of standards of behaviour for people running classes – you can’t loose your temper, you can’t say things with the intent of hurting feelings.

        Does anyone have adult-specific advice for applying this to an Emma-type?

        1. To me this is where ‘ability to impose consequences’ = backup of your boss.

          Consequences for adults that I can think of include academic consequences – mark deductions, failed assignments, failing the class, being banned from retaking the course, or in extreme cases more serious consequences like class suspension (leaving the class for the day), class expulsion, being walked out by security.

          Of course, being able to enforce those requires your boss’s support.

          1. Security, absolutely. After the second warning – and knowing its just minutes to the next outburst – the LW could text the security guard, who would have been informed of the situation, to come and stand inside the door looking ominous until “Strike three, you’re out of here, Emma” happens. I bet there would be a standing ovation.

        2. You know, sometimes you don’t need people to comply, but a nice paper-trail that you tried. I am aware that this will not always help because there has to be someone somewhere along the chain of command who is willing to let consequences follow.
          But it will certainly help to be able to write down “On DATE I asked PERSON to stop THING and they reacted in x, y, z WAY. On DATE I asked PERSON again and …” or to bring it to your boss in those words.

        3. I know it’s really hard, but try to remember that even if it eats up a lot of time in class due to the disruptive nature, it is clearly taking up WAY MORE time in the long run (and not just in class – meetings and such around it!).

          But for people who still continue to push back, you need to have serious consequences like TO_Ont said above – failing marks and banned from class. Worst case, security escort out.

          And honestly, if you need to have security escort the person out, there really was nothing else you could do. /They/ are the ones who escalated it to that point. Reasonable adults will not escalate it to that point. (Like me – if someone threatened to have me escorted out of a classroom by security, I would sit down and examine my behavior because I am clearly doing something wrong!)

    4. This is an extremely effective technique. It’s also great for shutting down things like harassment/assault on public transit or clubs or other spaces where escape isn’t an option (and giving bystanders the okay to intervene), though obviously safety concerns can sometimes make it difficult to employ. If people bust out with, “I didn’t meeeeeeeeeeeeeeean to cause a problem,” you can respond with something like, “I’m glad to hear that, but even if you didn’t mean to do so, you’re [Name the impact of the behaviour], and you need to stop.” Any other pushback gets the same script, with the, “…you’re [Name the impact of the behaviour], and you need to stop,” bit repeated broken record style.

    5. This is good. LW, I’d also make sure you know exactly how far your authority goes and what kind of consequences you’re allowed to impose. Are you allowed to kick someone out of the classroom (not permanently, just for the day) if they’re being disruptive and preventing other attendees from getting what they came (and paid) for? Are you allowed to make a “no eating in class” rule?

      If you are allowed to do these things, I would suggest talking to Emma outside the classroom once only, since she apparently believes y’all are BFFs and probably won’t take you seriously if you try to impose rules or threaten consequences. Your script for that might be something like, “Emma, you have been monopolizing the class discussions long enough. Other students are not getting a chance to [whatever], and there have been complaints. If you cannot be quiet and let other people talk/work/etc., I will have to ask you to leave the classroom, and I will mean it. It is my job to make sure EVERYONE in my classroom gets what they came for, not just you, and your behavior is preventing that from happening.”

      If she comes back with BUT WHYYYYYYYYYY, don’t answer. Just say, “I just wanted to inform you of the rules so they don’t come as a surprise.”

      If you’re not allowed to kick someone out, are you allowed to impose a time limit? Any one person only gets to talk for 2 minutes? (Obviously, that number can and should be adjusted based on what’s reasonable for what you’re doing. I pretty much pulled it out of thin air.) Can you set a timer app on some device that will make a really obnoxious buzzer sound when time is up?

    6. I have used this technique too when trying to address problematic behaviour from the people I manage (or, more accurately, one person – it’s always a particular one, isn’t there?). It works really well. I tend to use a version that is (1) name the behaviour (give an example of the behaviour if you are not addressing it in the moment), (2) impact of the behaviour, (3) Tell them to stop, (4) action (“In the future, I expect you to let other people talk in meetings without interrupting them”). And then I follow up with an email so they have our conversation in writing, and book a meeting for a month later to review how they’re doing against the action plan.

      One other thing that might be worth trying to convince your boss, LW – is there any way to get in touch with students who took the course with Emma previously and ask them for their feedback on the course? Or carry out a comparison of numbers of those who subscribe to other courses with your company following Emma courses and non-Emma courses? You might be able to find some hard data to show that Emma may be losing you repeat business if there is a difference in the rate of resubscription depending on whether Emma was on the course.

  12. If Emma’s life is martyrdom, I think I might hesitate about informing her of a retroactive policy about the number of allowable failures? It seems especially guaranteed to end in an eternal string of voicemails and confrontations about THE INJUSTICE OF IT ALL and what Emma would have done had she only known this was her last chance!!! Having the policy in place for the future is a great idea but I don’t know that it is is the easier exit from this situation. There’s plenty of existing stuff she’s already on notice of to point straight to – Emma, you’ve been warned about not completing assignments, hijacking discussions, etc etc etc etc. we need to make our limited spaces available to students who respect our policies and learning environment or whatever. Your instructor has spoken to you umpteen times on DATES without a change in your behaviour, all the best but we cannot accept your registration for the next session.

    It also occurs to me that if there is a non-nuc-u-lar way to direct any concerns from fellow students to your boss that would be helpful – “this is very helpful feedback, we’re actually currently revisiting our policies and this is great context for my supervisor to have if you’re comfortable jotting down what you’ve just told me in an email to them.” LW, you’ve currently got Emma’s loneliness, your students’ frustration AND your boss’s refusal to engage in constructive conflict to manage. Your boss can and should be taking on the consequences of the failure to act on this, and it making this more properly your boss’s problem might help move the process of firing Emma along.

    1. I haven’t been shy about asking well-meaning people to bring their complaints to higher ups, so I’m seconding this advice. People like being told they’re right, and usually understand what it’s like to report to someone higher up the chain.
      “Yes, I agree / think you have a very good point. Could you do me a favor and share your concerns with my boss / our general inbox? It will help back me up that this is a problem affecting our students and bottom line. Thank you for your help.”

      1. I do this a LOT. I work in a job where I am often the Face of the Organization at certain events, which means people will come up to me to vent, complain, or share their thoughts about things that are usually way above my pay grade or not even in my department.

        I have started just saying “I completely agree with you, and what would really help would be if you put all that you just said in an email and sent it to my boss SoandSo.”

        1. Along those lines, it really is more powerful coming from other people.

          I am on the board of an organization and the members often come to me with complaints and thoughts because I am the most approachable of the board. However, when I report these complaints and thoughts back to the board, it does not go well. 1) They are dismissed out of hand as “irrelevant whining of the masses,” 2) I’m dismissed (young, female, newest board member), or 3) they demand to know exactly what was said and by whom (I will not share who especially when they specifically asked me to keep their name out of it).

          I have since asked these people who confide in me to come to a board meeting and make their concerns known to back me up, but not a single person has come. If these complaints and thoughts were really so important, they should come to a board meeting or at least speak to the other board members about it – I clearly cannot do it on my own.

          At this point, I just leave things be because the push back from the rest of the board is not worth it for me to speak up on the behalf of people who are not willing to speak up for themselves. It makes me feel like /I’m/ a whiner and I get very frustrated not being able to make any effective changes.

          So I really feel for the LW – she needs some back up (it /should/ be coming from her boss, but it will need to come from her students).

      2. I really like this idea. Feedback from customers always has more power than feedback from employees, in my experience. When I worked in corporate training, way back in the dark ages before the Internet, I noticed that a lot of people taking employee-mandated classes kept their heads down and simply put up with poor teachers, out-of-date documentation, and obnoxious behavior from other students. Some people might express dissatisfaction at the end on the feedback form, if there was one. But I think generally most people wanted to be “nice” and figured that corporate training sucks anyway, so why bother complaining?

        But now we have the power of the Internet and sites like Yelp. Businesses tend to pay attention to negative reviews that are publicly available. I wonder if the LW’s manager pays any attention to social media? It might be a good strategy to suggest that people post Yelp reviews (or reviews on other sites that are applicable to the industry). If enough people give the organization negative reviews because of problem students like Emma, maybe the manager and other powers that be will start to realize that they’re undermining the business by not taking some action.

    2. Based on what LW has told us I think it is likely that *any* action taken, short of allowing Emma to act precisely as she pleases, will open the floodgates of crying and whining. After all, why shouldn’t it? It’s got her what she wanted so far.

  13. I would suggest too that if Emma is currently in a class, tell her that she has taken the class x amount of times and that in order for her to stay in the class she needs to begin passing in work and pass THIS class or she will not be able to take future classes.

  14. I wanted to touch on something in the letter that the Captain didn’t:
    “She has been questioned on inconsistencies in her narrative by members of the group only to rail at how unfair everyone is to her and WHY WILL NO ONE BELIEVE THAT MY LIFE IS HARDER THAN YOURS.”

    Frankly, this is really inappropriate regardless of how Emma is acting. If you don’t believe someone’s life story, that’s fine. Maybe, even probably, she is lying to get sympathy; that doesn’t make it less kinda cruel to grill someone about their supposed history. Her derailing and monopolizing the conversation is the problem, regardless of whether her anecdotes are true or not. *That* is the behavior to focus on, not supposed inconsistencies. Grilling her about her stories isn’t going to get her to admit they are lies, and it obviously isn’t stopping problematic behavior, so maybe put a stop to this when it crops up.

    1. You don’t want to “grill” anyone about a possibly traumatic past, but I didn’t get the sense that she was being viciously questioned. Instead, I thought it was more along the lines of, “But wait, didn’t you say this other thing before that contradicts what you’re saying now?” sort of confusion. If she’s railing when someone asks that, then there are issues with what she’s telling people, and while the inconsistencies may not be the big issue, they do help form a particular picture of Emma’s personality and possible motivations.

      1. Yes, and while believing people when they tell you their history is important, a constantly shifting story can also be a common tactic of emotional manipulators and gaslight-ers. I do 99% of the time take people at face value, but if someone asserts X one day and not-X the next, it’s important to my own mental health (as a victim of persistent gaslighting in the past) to be able to say, “Er, what’s the deal there?” If someone told me that I had to ignore the X and Not-X and accept the constantly changing story in order to be not cruel, it’d do a number on my own head.

        Obviously, though, the ideal thing is that it will not come up, either because Emma isn’t allowed to drag her own personal issues into the class or because Emma isn’t there to begin with!

        1. I think accepting the story inconsistency varies greatly depending on the situation. If it was important and relevant that I understand their life history in order to make some kind of judgement, I might push back and try to clarify.

          But, if it was incidental to the material of the class, and just part of them talking, I would just assume that they were people with a flexible view of reality and decide to avoid them. (And generally I would do this with most people who were not close friends who I felt comfortable asking for clarification.) I mean ideally no one would do this, and we could always get a firm factual narrative, but people’s memories don’t work like that and people don’t either. So sometimes you just got a take it as a red flag to stay away from a person.

          1. Red flag at halogen brightness. “Emma” is definitely a missing stair, and her behavior is so frankly bizarre that I would worry about some dangerously deep-seated mental disorder, not just obnoxious and needy behaviors.

            The Boss is as much a problem as Emma is, at this point. I don’t know what parts of the law are applicable, but LW is teaching a professional certification course, not being a career for mental patients, so I wonder if there is some part of the area’s harassment laws apply?

            Yes, Emma pays her money for the “right to be there” but at the same time there should be some kind of professional standards for this certification, should there not?

            She really needs to be removed from whatever profession she is pretending to do, and that kind of professional complaint is worth pursuing in at least a knowledge gathering way.

            This is the kind of behavior people brush off, and then when something terrible happens, it is ALWAYS this kind of disturbed person. They send out signals for years, and people ignore them.

            And they should not.

          2. Hey WayofCats, I am not sure you’re aware of that, but there are a lot of people on this site with “deep-seated mental disorders”. Because that doesn’t make you a bad person. And also there is a “Do not diagnose over the Internet” rule here.

      2. Yeah, that’s how I took it as well. Especially if there are usually a few people in any given session who haven’t encountered her before, it can be hard to stop innocently-confused questioners from unwittingly keeping her going.

      3. Even if it’s gentle questioning, it is still an inappropriate distraction. The problem isn’t that Emma’s story contradicts what she’s said before, the problem is that she’s sharing so much of it that people are able to notice conficting anecdotes. Falling down the rabbithole of sorting out the inconsistencies just focuses the problem on the wrong thing.

        I don’t think the inconsistencies can really be said to form a helpful and useful picture, because their existence is neither proof that Emma is lying, nor relevant to the fact that Emma is derailing the professional workshop for everyone involved. Focusing on the inconsistencies, no matter how briefly or gently, just legitimises Emma’s sharing in this context and indicates that people are prioritising her personal history over getting things back on track.

        1. The way I read it, though, it wasn’t the LW who was questioning her on the inconsistencies–it was the people who were stuck with her in small group or pair exercises. So it wouldn’t be the LW refraining from questioning her (which I agree with you is a good idea–the inconsistent stories are beyond the point) but telling Emma’s group-work partners to accept whatever it is that she’s saying, which to me is a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

          If I was stuck with an Emma in that situation, I’d be pretty frustrated to start with, but if I was instructed by the training expert to not question her when she appeared to be making things up… well, that would go from ‘frustrated’ to ‘infuriated,’ because I would interpret it as a validation of her stories. Shutting Emma down in general is a good thing, but I think that trying to get her partners to not question her inconsistent stories is going to do far more harm than good for everyone involved.

          1. That’s a valid point, but I think that just brings us back to Emma needing to be either removed from the group, or shut down by the leader before it can even get to people questioning her on inconsistencies. Which, naturally, is easier said than done, although I would second Amber Rose below on borrowing from Ask A Manager’s phrasebook.

            I do think trying to cut off questioning with the goal of preventing people from feeding Emma further attention is legitimate, and necessary. While I can acknowledge the injustice of allowing Emma to ramble unhindered and then slapping down people who try to engage, engaging at that point isn’t helpful, and the fact that people want to really is a symptom of just how inappropriate the conversation has gotten, and I think it’s worth highlighting that point from the letter. This professional workshop has gotten to the point that people are engaging in off-topic analysis of this woman’s dramatic personal history over whatever the workshop topic is. That’s really, really, really not okay. The impulse to question is totally understandable, but allowing it to reach the point where it’s further derailing the workshop is inappropriate.

            The thing is, in my experience, there’s no way to “win” against an Emma by pointing out the flaws and contradictions in their tales of woe. They will never back down or admit to lying. They’ll just spin more tangents and excuses and justifications. (pointing out the flaws and contradictions to those sucked in by an Emma can be helpful, but to the Emma itself, not so much). Other people may have had better luck.

            Ultimately, I think everyone in this thread is in agreement that Emma needs to be firmly shut down in the moment or removed from the course entirely. I view the line about questioning inconsistencies as a useful symptom of just how badly that needs to happen.

          2. Ah, okay–since the original letter talked about other participants questioning her inconsistencies, I had read this as a request that the LW police Emma’s partners’ response to her in group/pair work, and that struck me as incredibly off. I completely agree that the ideal solution would be that they do not have to deal with Emma’s oversharing/outbursts/etc. at all!

        2. Yes, thanks, you put it better than I did. Not that should force people to believe Emma (or pretend to believe her), but that the action should be to shut down the derail. Calling out inconsistencies just keeps the conversation on Emma, with the added distraction of now Emma gets to be the victim of SO MANY MEAN PEOPLE CALLING ME A LIAR. Instead, LW should focus on simply dragging the conversation away from Emma entirely. Or, you know, even better just getting rid of Emma entirely.

      4. That’s how I took it too. Frankly I think everyone is looking at her stories carefully looking for a place to shut them down. If I saw an opening where there was an inconsistency and the result would be that the person who is monopolizing the conversation might stop that behavior, I’m pointing it out. Sometimes calling a liar out on their lies is enough to get them to stop talking…at least for a while.

    2. It may be that the people grilling her are actually trying to create an atmosphere/place that *IS* hostile to Emma. Somewhere that she doesn’t like to go because people are always questioning her and grilling her. It’s a reasonable self-defense tactic in this case.

  15. Some excellent advice here. Also, if I may parrot some frequent Ask A Manager advice, if you have her again do feel free to stop her every time she tries to derail, the instant it starts.

    “Emma, I’m going to cut you off there. We’re currently talking about [industry thing] right now. Please save personal talk for breaks. Joe, you were saying about X?”

    She’s clearly wanting the spotlight. Shut it down. You don’t have to indulge her rambling.

  16. To paraphrase Spock “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.”

    The needs of the other participants who have paid for a conducive learning environment are in this case of more concern than the needs of Emma to be the center of attention. By not getting rid of one person, y’all are in effect *failing* the other folx in the course. And like others have mentioned the likelihood the business is either losing money or good reputation is high. Even if y’all are the only game in town, best believe that everyone knows that you “let” this other person eff up the experience for everyone else (yes I know you’re not really “letting” her, but that’s probably not how the other folx see it).

    Emphasize this “bottom line” to your boss & get Emma outta there.

    1. Yep, this.

      Emma has gotten you personally invested in her enough that even though she’s aggravating the bejeezus out of you and probably every person in every course she attends, you’re still worrying about her career, thinking about her personal life/loneliness and spending a lot of energy fending off her inappropriate behaviors. Please, consider everyone else who wants to advance their careers, and have invested their personal time and energy into the course.

  17. I’d also put a Hard Stop to the arm petting. Pull away brusquely, with an equally brusque “Don’t touch me.” I’d even leave out the ‘please.’ If she starts logicking about how she’s just a hugger, or you never minded before, or whatever, repeat, repeat, repeat. She’s forfeited a soft refusal.

    1. Oh, god, the ‘this is just how I aaaaaaaaam’ answer, how I loathe it to the very depths of my being.

      “Well, it isn’t how I am, and you need to respect that. Now.”

          1. Or, “This is sexual harassment. If it continues, I will communicate with the appropriate authorities.” Being slightly vague will slow down her attempt to get a complaint in first — to who?

          2. I can’t nest any more, but while it’s clearly harassment, I’m not sure it’s specifically sexual harassment, and I don’t see the benefit to the LW of their calling it that based on the information given. It seems like it just would end up with the discussion getting derailed to a debate of whether Emma’s behaviour to the LW is sexual or not. And such a debate IMO just distracts from talking about the fact that it’s harassment.

          3. To quote a comment from another post: “We live in a rape culture, where violating the bodily autonomy of others is normalized.”

            Anyone who puts their hands on a woman in public is using rape culture against them. What the sexual aggressor’s gender, orientation or stated intent might be DOES NOT MATTER. Anyone who makes a woman feel uncomfortable by physically intruding upon them is using a sexual predator’s tactics, and I’m not going to logick why the woman should just STFU and not “derail” the issues.

            If someone’s hands are on my body without permission and despite my objections, I’m not going to salve everyone’s feelz and mildly whisper that maybe its a wee bit much, please, if you don’t mind. I’m going to speak up loud and clear and say the words. Sexual. Abuse.

          4. No one said anything about STFU… I said focus on the fact that the LW is being harassed, and that it shouldn’t matter if it’s sexual harassment or some other kind of harassment, because the key point is harassment.

            If the LW does feel that it’s particularly sexual then by all means let them phrase it that way. But if they don’t, that doesn’t make it somehow ‘less’ harassment.

      1. One of the Anne of Green Gables books has the best response to this. I think it’s Anne of Avonlea. A guy tells Anne that she mustn’t mind his brusque and insulting comments (iirc) because it’s “just my way” and she tells him that if a person went around sticking pins in people and saying “oh, that’s just my way”, no one would tolerate it, so why should they tolerate someone being rude in a different way?

        I love Anne of Green Gables forever, the end :p

        1. I think it’s Mr Harrison. And of course she totally wins him over in the end! I love Anne too.

    2. And if you, LW, feel you won’t be able to pull of the responses suggested in this thread, rehearse them at home in front of a mirror/with friends/… It really really helps when your brain can go back to what you rehearsed when you’re in a tough spot.

  18. I just want to add that it is likely that you are experiencing “negative feelings bleed.” People experience this when they can’t directly reject unwanted behavior. Sometimes it’s because they are not in a position to express rejection openly or even that they don’t have the words or mental permission to define what it is that ticks them off so about a person. This makes EVERYTHING ABOUT THEM hyper annoying to you as your brain searches for or broods upon ways to reject them because the direct way is not available. It’s a trope of Junior High, when that kid that you don’t like can’t seem to dress right, say anything right, do anything right, until everything about them makes you want to scream at them.

    Women, who are socialized out of directly confronting or rejecting unwelcome behavior, are lambasted for the indirect cruelty that negative feelings bleed reduces them to. Even though it would probably ease up some if we let women say they are sick of your crap every million years or so.

    So the negative feelings bleed you’re experiencing is likely a result of your frustration over real, substantive problems, not because you are a mean person who dislikes people for petty reasons. Instead of filling you with secret guilt, let it give you courage that directly confronting this is something you need to do. You can’t just swallow it. Your brain will keep hounding you about it because you really need to get rid of this person.

      1. I interpreted the french fries thing as a direct reference, given the LW’s stated familiarity with the CA archives. 🙂

    1. Holy crap this is an amazing comment. Thank you for this insight.

      LW, I just want to add: Emma isn’t just transgressing professional boundaries, she’s crossing YOUR PERSONAL BOUNDARIES. Unwanted touching, requests to get matching tattoos (WHAT the heck), constant requests for your phone number… none of those behaviours would be acceptable even from a workshop participant like, to say nothing of this person. You have the right to a workplace where you are not being constantly harassed.

      1. That would be an excellent thing to bring up with Boss and/or HR. By accepting Emma’s tuition but refusing to allow her in their class, Boss is not just creating a bad professional situation for LW. Boss is facilitating a harasser who is fixated on their employee. This is NOT OK. LW, if you haven’t told your boss about the personal boundary crossing, I recommend doing so. Boss has an obligation to deal with situations that involve harassment, even if they come from a client.

        1. YES. You have the right to be safe at work. Emma has made it clear that she is not a safe person for you to be around. I believe restraining orders can be issued for this level of harassment. I’m not suggesting that you seek one at this point, but I thought it might be useful to look at her behaviour in that light. Her behaviour is, seriously, SO FAR BEYOND OKAY that it is actually illegal. (YMMV depending on the law where you live – in Canada, charges of “criminal harassment” can be brought against someone for refusing to leave a person alone after being asked to stop, basically.)

          I really want to make this point because I know how, when you are the one targeted, it can feel like just something you have to get through and deal with, and we’re socialised to never speak up for our own protection. What Emma is doing is NOT OKAY, and you deserve to never have to deal with it anymore. I hope you find a quick resolution.

      2. Agree with Muffin.

        That’s also kinda why I’d recommend to stop saying “I cannot be buddies with you because professionalism.” What she hears is (as you’ve already illustrated with one quote of her): “LW is totally willing to be my friend, the only thing stopping us to go on shared vacation is this course. The minute I’m finished we’ll get the tickets.”
        Of course, this hasn’t resulted in her finishing the damn course because it’s too great a place to talk at people. But it means that your boundary-drawing is ignored. If you go with only “I will not do that.” “Please do not contact me again via phone.” (whatever the matter), she will probably still be a pain in the ass, but you’ll be in a better position to distance yourself from her (e.g. if her participation should ever end. As the Captain pointed out, she will NOT immediately stop contacting you).

    2. This. I would add, when communicating complaints back to Emma, stick to the ones that are about substantive, professional things and/or inappropriate behavior. (Don’t bring up the fries unless it’s because she was violating a “no food in the conference room” rule.)

    3. That’s a really helpful framing for me twistpeach, thank you. I am going to be thinking about where the negative feelings bleed is coming from the next someone’s every mannerism starts to annoy me beyond endurance.

  19. My friends and I have met so many people like this we’ve given them a name: the eternal student. They are forever taking and re-taking the same classes because they never seem to pass, never do the work and every class meeting becomes an All About Them show, replete with TMI details. I feel you, LW. Whatever Emma’s life was, however bad her history, there is one person keeping her from moving forward and that is Emma.
    I’m actually reminded of a few entries ago, when the LW’s (ex)boyfriend blamed her for his thesis failing. People like that have a tendency to do everything besides the one thing that will actually move them forward, because that way they get to blame everyone but themselves while maintaining the status quo they’re used to. Emma might blame you if her career doesn’t advance, but that doesn’t make it true. She was given multiple attempts to advance and didn’t, she was given help and did not make good use of it.
    That. is not. your fault.
    You. are not. her therapist.
    I’m sorry your boss is being a responsibility jellyfish, and I’m sorry you have to pick up their slack. Don’t feel bad for shutting down an energy vampire. Emma’s attempts at befriending you sound less like social olive branches and more like forced teaming.

    1. “People like that have a tendency to do everything besides the one thing that will actually move them forward” – SO MUCH THIS. It is reminding me of the one guy in a former social group against whom new people had to be warned, not because he would creep on them, but because they would want to help him. He was stuck in a minimum-wage job and was held back by not being able to afford needed dental work, not having the ability to properly format a resume, and other things that are typically much easier for people not far down the socioeconomic ladder. Yet every single goddamn time someone offered help, he had some excuse as to why he couldn’t accept it or it wouldn’t work. Eventually, you learned that he was really much happier, in some weird way, in a miserable life that he got to complain about rather than actually fix.

      1. Oh, I’ve worked with people who are happier when they can have the same life and complain about it over and over rather than fix it. When I left my last job, I got a lot of “take me with you!”s and “how did you get out?” And my answer was, “I applied to things” and “If you have a recent resume I can see what I can do” and those same people hadn’t made a resume for 20 plus years and are still in their current jobs as far as I know. Which is great if you’re happy there, but I can only listen to complaining about a situation you can fix so many times before I start to lose sympathy.

  20. Echoing so many other commenters, the direct cost of a tuition check cannot possibly cover the cost of students who won’t come because of the reputation your employer is earning by allowing her to continue to derail and obstruct the class. Reputation is a part of attracting new clients and allowing this person to continue means your employer will have to spend more to reach new clients. If you ultimately quit because they refuse to rule in one “missing stair”, then they have to train a new person who won’t have your experience. That’s a pretty real financial loss.

    I used to moderate a quarterly business meeting for a volunteer organization and we had a similar bad egg; we tightened up on moderation and time limits, even limiting the number of times an individual person could speak. It helped to make the situation tolerable, but she behaved *just enough* to not be booted. Several long-time members quit participating, people I would have preferred to have there. I would have happily booted her from the organization, but didn’t get the support from others needed to make it effective. Ultimately, I quit too (though, mostly unrelated to that situation, I am very happy to not deal with her ever).

    I understand concern and compassion, but she’s used up her share of goodwill and tolerance from others; there’s no reciprocity in the concern and compassion–your feelings matter too. It’s time for her to go and you’ll have to brace yourself for some uncomfortable confrontations.

    1. Yeah, and I would be cautious about making rules specifically so you can boot Emma just for this reason: people like this will often do the rules equivalent of “I’m not touching yoooouuuuu” and find ways to be disruptive while not violating the letter of the rules; in the meantime, you the rules may hamper your other students who are sincerely participating (and I promise you Emma will point it out every time. Like, a two minute talking rule leads to Emma with a stopwatch interrupting people at 1:59, and the class missing out on good comments from people who occasionally and appropriately go into detail at length). I’m not saying never adjust policy to deal with these things- the captain’s suggestion of limiting the number of classes is a reasonable one, because it seems like it could be useful multiple situations. But if you find yourself making rules about stuff that isn’t a problem except when it comes to Emma, I find that leads to more trouble than it solves.

      1. Yes. The “I’m not touching yoooouuuu” workshop participant is such a nightmare. I once had to deal with a person who would needle other people, staying juuuuust technically within the courtesy rules, until the other person flipped out and yelled at them. It took me a long time to figure out what was going on (why is Normally Calm Person A yelling all of a sudden???? …things calm down…Normally Calm B person is yelling now??????????…things calm down…now Normally Calm Person C??????? …wait…all those people were in groups with Kind of Offputting But Seems Mostly OK Person D. *start sneakily spying on Person D’s small-group interactions* OH HOLY FUCKBALLS WHAT.)

        Person D sure did not appreciate it when I came down on them like a hammer for things that were not, technically, against the rules, but man all of a sudden people who were normally calm and professional stopped “inexplicably” losing their tempers around her.

        1. as a parent and as someone who’d occasionally supervise groups of children, I made it my policy to never automatically punish the kid who hit someone else. Because often the hitting was a response to verbal aggression. (It’s a big cause of biting too–biters are many times reactionary; some other kid has better verbal skills and is using that to push the kid around, and the biter can’t use his words, so he uses his mouth another way.)

          The kid who says, “We’re supposed to be quiet at nap time” isn’t the kid that deserves the punishment.

  21. I do peer to peer facilitation and training. One technique I learned us to begin every course with a group agreement of what the learners need. That stays visible in each session and can be added to or modified. I encourage learners to take responsibility for what they need (respecting others contributions, time keeping, not monopolising discussions) and when the sessions inevitably runs into some sort of conflict, the behaviour is called out in the context of the agreement. It keeps sessions on track and it means the group have a way to say ‘Emma, you are disruptive’ rather than feeling as though they have to tough it out/go to you after sessions.

    The people who like to dominate groups/thrive on chaos tend to find this method uncomfortable but it changes the dynamic from ‘I am a trainer at the front and I am picking on you, Emma’ to ‘the group want to use this time and get their money’s worth and so if you want to be here, get on with it or decide to go, Emma.’ It gives me a way to tackle things in a session real time instead of hoping a learner will tell me that they had a bad experience and ask me to intervene between sessions; where the Emmas of my world tend to feel they can appeal to me as a buddy/take offence.

    I am not suggesting this would remedy things with Emma who has all kinds of other crazy making going on. You might already use this idea in your work. I have been surprised how many tricky group dynamics have been resolved with the magical flip chart of ‘The Group Agreed.’ Thought I would share it.

    1. Yes. It’s a weird dynamic flip from “here are the rules” to “hey participants, let’s you all think up the discussion rules first thing”, but it makes a LOT of difference.

      For one thing, it means that sometimes the entire group will turn on a disruptor like a pack of wolves, shutting them down MUCH more effectively than the instructor ever could, because THEY AGREED. you have turned them from disconnected people Obeying Some Rules to a connected group that Made the Rules and it’s a huge psychological difference.

      1. It seems pretty obvious but when I learned it and got to implement it, the difference was huge. I like to foster the peer element of everyone is equal and so imposing rules wouldn’t fit with the facilitation I do.

      2. Passing the boss’s refusal to intervene down along the line and turning responsibility over to the clients is … an interesting idea. It might even work. But its also possible that they would notice that the LW was opting out, and so goes her reputation anyway. But taking the time on the first day of the course to involve the participants in setting rules, and then the TEACHER using those communal rules to toss a vampire into the sunlight — that would work. Sometimes you just have to Igor the techniques.

    2. I do technical training sometimes, and this has also been helpful to me. Often I’m working with people who work together (or just at the same company) so it’s easy for them to derail themselves. Getting class members to suggest things like “keep it on track” is really helpful.

      Similarly, and not really related to the LW’s issue, is that I ask the group what they want to learn during the course, and almost every time they name all the topics I was already planning to cover (and if they miss something I just add it to the end of the list). This also keeps the class members engaged, because they helped set the agenda, and they know that their question will get covered.

  22. > maximum number of times students can repeat a given course

    YEESSSSSSS. Even if only for the future. Policies are your friend. Exceptions can be made in the future if necessary, but having a policy that has your back is vital.

    1. Yeah. Right now, you guys allow someone to take the course over and over and over until they are passed out of frustration or simply fall into the answers. That would not fill me with confidence about the quality of your training.

  23. Does your company have anything like comment cards for students to fill out? Maybe start implementing that, even informally just for your classes. Make sure to include a “would you take our other courses/take this course again/recommend this course to your colleagues” question and ask why/why not. If lots of students find Emma disruptive and you’re losing business because of it, that will hopefully come out there. Then you can show that to your boss.

  24. Your Boss sucks for not backing you up on Emma. And for making you deal with her when Boss isn’t willing to!

    Take heed of the Captain’s advice and DOCUMENT every interaction with Emma. Your organisation should have a policy on record-keeping already, but you should especially keep a written record of interactions with Emma because A) she is known to distort the truth and likes to play the victim. B) she has been harassing you already with attempts to overstep professional boundaries.

    I don’t know how your organisation is structured, but this might also warrant a discussion with the most senior management, regarding introducing new policies. Make sure that you are fully aware of any existing policies relevant to your present scenario, and apply them to your advantage if you can…
    E.g. if there is a set of expectations for student behaviour, then outline them to the class before the session. Then, when you see Emma breaking a rule, call her attention to that policy again with a quick “Sorry, we just explained that food isn’t allowed in the class, can you put that away?” and then wait until the end of the session to follow-up on that. “Sorry to call you out on that earlier, but I just want to make it clear that these are the expectations that we expect all participants to follow, and I need you to not bring food into class again”. Make it clear that your interest is in securing an effective learning environment for your students, and/ or invoke higher powers “Our cleaning staff have requested that we no longer allow food to be brought in”.

    For the most part, I’d do my best to deliberately ignore Emma. She can’t bring all the attention onto her rambly anecdotes if you just blank her opening sentence and quicky change the subject / ask another student to answer a question. She is super rude for even talking about her private life in the sessions, so don’t worry about being rude right back to her – your other students will thank you for it. If you want to follow up after the sessions, play on her desire to toady up to you and say something along the lines of “I didn’t want you to feel like I was being rude by ignoring you earlier, but as teacher, I have to try to balance the session and get as much work out of the class as possible, so I needed to focus on some of the other students. I know you love to contribute a lot, but I hope you understand that I need to get more contribution from the rest of the class, and I need you to share the floor a lot more” Or words to that effect.

    If she tries to argue back, interrupt her with the most salient point of your conversation, with insistence.
    You: “I need you to stop bringing food into class”
    Emma: “But I get really hungry and I-
    You: “I need you to stop bringing food into class” + insistent tone.
    Emma: I just-
    You: “That’s not important. What’s important is, I need you to stop bringing food into class”.
    Maintain eye contact. Don’t let her get a word in edgeways until she has clearly acknowledged and accepted your statement. I’ve seen my own manager use this to great effect when she has no time for excuses.

    I assume you’ve already tried all these classroom management strategies to no effect, though, so do your best to get someone in your organisation to acknowledge the very real problem of Emma’s behaviour and continued enrolment in your courses despite her appalling track record.

    If your Boss won’t help you reinforce the rules, then you might need to take that up with your Boss’s boss. More experienced readers will probably have advice on those kinds of procedures.

    Aside from being obnoxious, one thing struck me as a (professional context) red flag about Emma… I don’t know what kind of training you offer, but if it’s a skillset that is essential to Emma’s ability to work in her field, and needs to be updated with regular courses, I would bet it would be time for some whistle-blowing on Emma’s poor attainment in your course, and subsequent unsuitability to her chosen career.

    If what you offer is in any way related to safeguarding, health and safety, care work, providing services to vulnerable people, or any other thing that requires competence and certification to keep people safe from risk of harm, then you (or more likely your Boss) probably ought to CONFIDENTIALLY notify Emma’s employer with the information that she is consistently failing to complete her training. Make sure you follow closely any existing policy within your company, and consult with your Boss before doing this, though.
    If what you teach is important to the performance of her job, but wouldn’t put anyone at risk if she was rubbish at it, then you probably don’t have any obligation to notify anyone, but I’d be surprised if her employer hadn’t noticed something in her job performance already. Do not feel guilty about any fallout that Emma has to deal with professionally as a result of her own atrocious behaviour.

    From your letter, it sounds as though your organisation is very informal, but HR / legal / Senior management really need to address what seems to be a severe lack of policy on what you provide to and expect from students, and within what reasonable limitations. Make a list of all the areas where you feel you lack guidance on what to do, and try to think of what measures you would want in place to support your ability to work. Then suggest those be written into policy in a confidential meeting with your manager.

    I hope you get the support of your employer in dealing with Emma, LW. She really does sound vile.

    1. Yes on the documenting. I had a public speaking class with an Emma – well, sort of with an Emma, she only actually showed up about half the time, but anyway. The teacher wasn’t able to redirect her or control her behavior, she drove everyone else nuts with her constant interruptions (some people dropped because they could never finish a speech without being interrupted), and she was never prepared for whatever speech we were doing that day, so she failed the class.

      And then she filed a formal complaint full of all sorts of allegations against the professor. She was discriminated against, it was a hostile learning environment, no one gave her the respect she deserved, etc, etc. Fortunately, the school sided with the professor once the details were known.

      I see Emma, once she’s not allowed back into this oh-so-vital training going to her boss and pinning all the blame on you. Of course it’s not HER fault, it’s just another chapter in her narrative about how The Man is keeping her down / her life is harder than anyone else’s.

  25. Your boss has very neatly made this Somebody Else’s Problem (specifically, yours). I suggest that if your boss has tied your hands completely by refusing to stop accepting Emma and also refusing to deal with her poor behavior, then you let all unhappy course participants know exactly that.

    “I’m sorry about the situation, but I’m afraid there’s nothing I’m able to do. I can only encourage you to take the issue up with [Boss]. Here is her phone number/email if you’d like to get in touch with her to discuss it.”

    Right now, not dealing with Emma is the easy option for your boss. Make it the hard option.

    1. How would letter writer go about bringing this up if her other students choose to suffer in silence and not come back?

      It’s not like LW can say, “If anyone had enough of Emma’s nonsense, feel free to tell Boss on her.”

      1. oops, missed the part where people come to LW privately after class.

        Carry on, then, LW, shunt the frustrated tuition paying people up to the boss!

      2. “If you have any feedback, positive or negative, please relay it to [boss].” Doesn’t have to be a big thing, just a quick announcement at the beginning (preferably) or end of class with the phone number or email on the board throughout.

  26. My mother is an Emma. I know she does this wherever she goes. Making everything about herself and also talking over others, monopolizing the conversation, being a huge energy vampire. I agree with the comment of stopping, staring at her, and then acting like she didn’t say anything. I once attended a meeting with my mother, who jumped up and started talking about something random, not related to the items at hand, and very embarrassingly personal about another member of the community. The meeting facilitator stared at her, and when she was done continued with “and now back to the topic”. After the meeting I very straightforwardly told her that she was disruptive. She said that she felt that she can say whatever she wants b’c if she didn’t she wouldn’t remember it later during “any other business”. I have started going grey rock with her when she does this with me, but as a teacher I think the best is the stare and ignore. Let her get awkward all on her own. I wouldn’t even engage her after class. Unless it was to tell her she was disruptive and you hope she doesn’t do that again. Then turn heel and leave.

    I also think that talking to anyone higher up than your boss about policy is a great idea. Even if this means setting new policies for the next cycle. I teach in a small setting and I know how difficult it is to get people to stop dominating my attention. I have often tell them that it is time for me to move on so that I could help others; and that they would have to figure out that particular problem on their own until I came back to them later. I try very hard to circulate to all the students then, giving each one attention. That way the time is equally divided and not always sucked by the Emma in the room.

    1. She said that she felt that she can say whatever she wants b’c if she didn’t she wouldn’t remember it later during “any other business”.

      Ugh. As someone who has that problem – in conversations involving more than one person I can lose thoughts very quickly and find it hard to get them back unless I speak them as they occur to me – I almost (almost!) sympathize. But what I’ve learned is that this is My Issue, not anyone else’s, and that there are ways to deal with it, like having a small notebook to jot down those ephemeral ideas.

      Making it Other People’s Problem is just not cool.

      1. I agree in general, but disagree with regards to been there, done that, good luck‘s comment specifically because, well, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter if her mother forgot what she wanted to talk about in this instance because it didn’t have anything at all to do with what was being discussed (at least that’s how understood saying what she said was “random”).

        1. That’s a good point. I was mostly speaking as someone who can be annoying that way even if I’m “on topic.” So I feel my comment would go double for someone worrying about losing off-topic thoughts (and isn’t a self-centered git about it). The thought matters to her even if it’s not appropriate for discussion at that moment, so simply saying “it doesn’t matter” doesn’t actually help solve that part of the problem.

        2. Yes, it was random to the topic at hand. If it was a conversation between people and my mother was just the constant interrupter of random shit it would be one thing. (heck, I would buy her notepads to jot her thoughts down if it was only this easy to get her to stop being Emma!) This is more of a community organization about say.. cooking techniques. When the presenter got up to present a new technique my mother stood up and started talking about someone’s (possibly not someone they knew either) personal issues in gruesome detail. Not pertinent to the topic at hand, not something that this group talks about, and not something that was anything more than an interruption of the presenter. It was a flagrant breaking of Robert’s Rules of Order. And when my mother was in charge of things like that she would have shut that shit down and told them to keep it until any other business. But now that my mother doesn’t run programs anymore, she is the one who makes uncomfortable conversation that is off topic, makes jokes about getting exactly the same tattoos, or cries about extremely TMI personal stuff in front of strangers.

          I know an Emma. I am related to an Emma. And I totally feel for LW. B’c we can’t as a family get her to stop doing it either. If she doesn’t get to suck the energy out of one person, or if that person goes grey rock on her and she can’t get her fix of energy, she calls another random person to start the whole cycle over again. She does this all day, every day. LW isn’t going to get her to stop unless she makes her feel awkward enough to stop or gets her boss/higher ups to finally take over some control and kick this Emma out. And I really really hope LW can finally get some policies in place to stop her from coming back.

    2. She said that she felt that she can say whatever she wants b’c if she didn’t she wouldn’t remember it later during “any other business”.

      This is why god invented note paper.

  27. If you haven’t broached this discussion, now might be time for a review of acceptance policies and to make sure your website/application packets have some fine print about being able to reject applications.

  28. LW, if you’ve been ranting to friends about this over IM or text? That’s a written record, and you can use it to construct a document detailing her inappropriate behaviour so far, rather than having to start from scratch. It’s work, yes, and it might be grim and miserable — but hey, in case it’s helpful, here’s a thing.

  29. LW, were I in your shoes, I would make sure my boss knew about every student complaint about Emma, as it happens, either by asking the students to call or email boss, or by emailing boss myself: “Today, at lunch break students Jane, Lizzy, and Lydia complained to me that Emma xyz.” “after class today students Fitz and George complained about Emma.”
    Put boss on the receiving end of a steady stream of emails and phone calls about this.
    If you’re not comfortable having your students contact your boss directly, or if they are reluctant to do so, ask them, “may I use your name in passing this along to my boss?” That will tell your students that you are doing what you can to pass it up the decision chain.
    Ditto to what everyone else said about making your boss deal with this as it is damaging their business.

    Practical advice taken care of: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!
    Oh, LW, I have all the feels for you. Your description of Emma sounded so much like my emotional vampire sibling that my shoulders were up to the top of my skull until Emma got even worse than Sibling, and my head exploded.
    The shifting stories, ravenous need for attention, and drama/trauma that outweighs the rest of the universe, are traits that Emma shares with Sibling, and if the traits come from the same place, there is nothing you can do to help Emma or make her see the light. All you can do is save yourself, by disengaging because this person will suck you dry and tie your brain in knots.

    This type of person is not trying to gaslight anyone: the stories aren’t changing because she’s trying to confuse anyone. The stories are changing because she’s searching for the fact set that will be accepted by her audience and will get her the emotional response she craves. Whatever story gets her what she wants is True, even if the events never actually occurred in this space-time continuum.
    It’s not psychosis, or deliberate lying; it’s that they never grew past the stage where fact and fiction haven’t yet distinguished themselves, so they’re like the three year old insisting they saw a unicorn in the garden: they really believe they saw a unicorn, even though they know there was no unicorn. There *should* have been a unicorn; therefore, it *was* a unicorn.

    They are also true emotional parasites. They need constant attention and approval from other people because they cannot supply it themselves.
    Don’t worry about being nice, or mean, to Emma. You cannot make her happy, and she will feel anything less than constant love and attention as a let down, if not mean, hurtful, unkind, betrayal.
    The only way to escape is to have no contact with her or hope she attaches to a new energy source.

    When struggling with my reality-challenged Sibling, my therapist told me something that saved my life, and as true as it was re a (formerly beloved) family member, is even more so for an acquaintance:
    In dealing with this person, remember three things:
    1 – they are broken.
    2 – you cannot fix them.
    3 – you are not obligated to sacrifice yourself trying.

    Good luck and jedi hugs.

    1. “Today, at lunch break students Jane, Lizzy, and Lydia complained to me that Emma xyz.”

      What, no Kitty or Mary? 🙂

      1. True. Mary probably would have complained first. But Kitty would just nod when Lydia complained. Of course, it probably would have been Lydia disrupting the class in the first place, not Emma. Emma would be administering a smack down.

        1. No, Mary would clearly have been the one doing the derailing in the first place, to make it all about her. Lydia would be busy looking out the window.

  30. I agree with the idea of shunting the problem over to Boss, and ignoring or redirecting Emma’s inappropriate behaviour, but. BUT. I got the impression from the letter that one of her tactics is to cry? …I don’t know what to do with that. How do you deal with that. Do you ignore her? Ask her to leave? Please someone tell me what th you do with criers.

    (To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being a crier, it’s just really awkward when you’re also an asshat.)

    Also, i would suggest not letting her talk to you socially. If she comes up after class to resume her imagined bromance with you, ask her if what she wants to talk about is class related, and if it is not, tell her you are busy. Look at your papers and dismiss her from your mind as best you can. If she says it is class related but it is clearly not, tell her you don’t see what [subject] has to do with class, tell her you’re busy and look at your papers. Repeat until she leaves or you do. She should not be taking up your time with this bs, and you are in no way obligated to stand around listening to her try to get in your frienspants.

    1. Alison at Ask A Manager has given a lot of useful advice for how to deal with people who start to cry during difficult meetings, especially as it can make it difficult to set appropriate boundaries (since most people feel like assholes being firm with someone who’s in tears). A lot of that is aimed at when you have a long-term employer-employee relationship with someone, which is obviously not the case here, but one thing that seems like it might work here is to say “Why don’t you step outside so you can compose yourself.” (Spoken as a statement, not a suggestion/question–you can say it kindly, but the idea is to make it clear that it’s not really up for debate.)

      It’s useful because if the person genuinely can’t help crying, they get a private moment to get themselves under control, and if they are crying as an attention-seeking or manipulative tactic (as seems not unlikely with Emma) it robs them of the audience for their outburst.

      In a one-on-one meeting with someone who I knew was crying as a sort of leakage of extreme emotions, I’d probably hand them the tissues and continue ‘normally’ without drawing attention to their tears (or if our relationship was of the right type, I’d ask if they wanted a minute to themselves), but in a training setting where someone crying would be likely to distract all the other students, having her compose herself somewhere separate from the group seems ideal.

    2. A strategy for criers in the classroom:

      “Emma, please go to the hall/bathroom until you can compose yourself. I can see that you are upset, but this is surprise.”

      Ask her two or three times. If she’s like an Emma in my life, she will sit there and just sob, refusing to leave. Call a fifteen minute break, and use that time to get security to escort her to a private place or her car. At the same time, notify your boss. Try to get him/her to come deal with the problem.

      This removed the disruption and it prevents Emma from further embarrassing herself.

      You will lose however much time it takes to remove Emma. I suspect this will be far, far less than the time you’d lose just dealing with her as usual. Also, this could be used as a basis for ejecting her; point out to your boss that X number of students are paying X amount of money a session, so your students just paid $$$ to watch an other meltdown.

      And if you don’t think that hasn’t occurred to your students, I can say it’s occurred to me in the past, while sitting in an expensive, hard to schedule class, listening to some jackwagon bloviate on and on. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who thinks like this.

    3. As someone who involuntarily cries (and very often when I’m angry; it took me decades to work that one out), I very much appreciate a neutral ‘do you need a moment to compose yourself/a glass of water/a tissue’ and then proceeding to treat my crying exactly as what it is, an involuntary bodily reaction that I have no control over whatsoever and proceed with the business in hand.

      I don’t know what I would do with someone who cries _at_ me, but my instinct would be to expect her to manage it and tell me if she needs to leave the room or step outside or whatever. If she doesn’t, that’s on her.

      I don’t know whether sending her out would stop her from crying; I know that for me blubbing when I don’t want to is bad enough; being sent out of the room/ignored/treated as if I just want attention (as if crying is a good look in a middle-aged professional) is far, far worse and rather than calming me down is going to aggravate me further.

      1. I had a boss who cried a lot, and even so, it was only occasionally she had to step away. But when she did take a moment, it was to maintain office decorum and to give her peers and employees the respect of not disrupting the work process. She told me once she had worked hard in college to learn her own limits so as not to give the impression of attempting to manipulate her peers. This woman gave up caffeine for us! She was a very self-propelled woman and preferred to manage her tearing-up on her own terms; I think she would have been appalled to need someone else to manage her behavior inside the office.

        In the end, whether the weeper *feels* being asked to take a quiet moment is demeaning or not, those feelings are personal; in a business situation one person’s embarrassment at the attention/lack of attention/wrong attention for their emotional outburst doesn’t override the awkwardness of fellow professionals having to put aside their work because stepping outside for a breath of fresh corridor air isn’t what the weeper prefers.

        1. I think the keyword is ‘manage it on her own terms’. I think there are situations where you have to manage a particular person for the sake of a group; but if someone had a coughing fit, I would, as a default, ask them what they need, and if they assure me they’re ok, expect them to cough as little/as quietly as they can and remove themselves if necessary. I would not start from a position of ‘you’re coughing, that disturbs others, go outside until you’ve stopped.’ The onus to manage the situation is on the person themselves; and you only step in when it becomes clear that they can’t (or won’t) manage it.

          I also don’t know where ‘fellow professionals having to put aside their work’ comes from. Maybe we’re imagining very different situations here, but while it is certainly unsettling to watch someone else have an involuntary reaction (I’ve been on the other side of that, too), it doesn’t make all work in the vicinity impossible.

          I don’t think this will be much help with Emma, though: if she’s using her crying as a weapon and dramatising it, all bets are off.

    4. Just have to point out how amazing the phrase “getting in someone’s friendspants” is.

  31. I know you’ve asked your boss to not put Emma in your class; are you in a position where you can be more forceful about that? If you have a specialized skill set, and are good at what you do, you may have more leverage than you know. Could you tell your boss that you won’t teach any further sessions with Emma?

  32. Emma is a stalker, already. Matching tattoos with a professional acquaintance who hates her? Unwelcome pressure for a closer relationship than you have ever indicated you want? Unwanted, unwelcome touching? She’s already spun some narrative that is entirely disconnected from reality. Definitely document, not only in case involving your company’s HR or lawyers is necessary, but in case you need to file a restraining order or criminal charges. Hopefully it won’t escalate to that point, but you want to be prepared if it does, and Emma has more red flags than a Communist military parade.

    1. I was thinking this myself. And by not taking control of the situation (ie not enrolling Emma) isn’t the boss creating an unsafe working environment?

    2. And if LW does get a TRO, the boss can’t make her take Emma in her class while it’s in force.

  33. Hi LW. I have been a student in a continuing education series of courses that had an Emma. But in my case he was male. Let’s call him Elmer. The last section of this course was a nine-week session in which we had to work with a single partner on all the assignments. I missed the first class, so everyone else had already teamed up by the time I was paired with Elmer.

    It was a nightmare. At the end of the nine-week course, I could have taken the money I’d paid for the course and set it on fire, and it would’ve been better spent.

    A big portion of the coursework involved meeting one-on-one during the week to brainstorm, in order to have our work prepared for class. I came up with all of the ideas and did all of the work. Elmer spent our brainstorming times sexually harassing me. After the first meeting, I insisted on not meeting in person, so he sexually harassed me over the phone. When we presented our work to the class, he made sexually inappropriate comments about me that humiliated me in front of my classmates and the course instructor.

    Thing is, I didn’t speak up because part of our grade was determined by our ability to work as part of an effective team.

    Midway through the session, a lovely woman intercepted me while in the ladies’ room and informed me that Elmer was a cautionary tale among the other people in the class. He had already taken that class 10 times. He would continue to take it, over and over again, never quite passing, always being paired up with some unsuspecting woman, whom he’d then harass. Even after the course ended, Elmer still called me at my work, until my boss picked up the phone one day and threatened him.

    I ended up having to take the course again, because I got nothing out of it the first time. This time, when I noticed that he’d once again been paired with a woman, I called her up and asked her how it was going with Elmer. When I heard that her story aligned with my experience, we sat the instructor down and told him that he absolutely had to do something about Elmer, because it had escalated into becoming a serious problem.

    The instructor initially said that he hadn’t really known how to handle Elmer, because “he pays tuition just like everyone else” and then we said, “well, he is the only one getting what he wants out of this course – which is to meet women – and we are paying tuition just like everyone else too, and we are getting nothing but harassed.”

    After that, the instructor asked Elmer to leave his course and would not let him re-enroll.

    Please do something about Emma. The Captain has offered some great advice here. Not only is she a nuisance to you, she is wasting the time and money of all of your other students every time she walks in the door.

    And thank you to the Captain for that lovely dose of Aragorn to wash away my nasty memories of Elmer!

  34. Ugh. Okay, so this is in case Do-Nothing Boss continues to Do Nothing: I’ve had some success in my classrooms by recruiting people like Emma. I usually ask to see them after class and say something like, “Emma, I know you have a lot to say, and that’s great. I’d like your help, though, in getting some of the other people to speak more. After you’ve contributed once, I’d like you to hang back and let other people talk. It will probably be uncomfortable for them because they’ve been relying on you to do the heavy lifting, but they really need to shape up. Also, I know you know this material, so do me a favor and just monitor your remarks to make sure you’re staying on point with what your classmates need to learn. That would be a big help to me.” Aaaaand I feel like I need a shower now, but it *MIGHT* work.

    Also, LW, when you say, “I move her seat; she cries and moves back,” you don’t mean literal crying, do you? Because . . . okay, what? My gut reaction would be to meet that with a look of stark incredulity and a command to return to her seat. Because . . . what? No. Just. No.

  35. LW, what about an online version of your training? With the maximum number of repeats allowed and other guides people have suggested.

  36. I think Guava’s experience is applicable to Emma. A woman who “pets” other women and suggests they get matching tattoos is behaving as inappropriately as a man who makes sexually inappropriate advances. And she needs to be treated the same way.

    Beyond that, it sounds like this is a continuing education course for some kind of professional license, like a teaching certificate or a manicurist or a nursing assistant license. Such education seminars are often a state or county requirement. If Emma is not doing her course work she’s not qualified to hold that license or certificate. If she’s disrupting the class, other people may end up not qualified to hold that license or certificate.

    Tell Emma if she disrupts class again, you will fail her.
    Fail Emma. Turn her in to whatever accreditation group requires she take these classes.
    She will scream. Make sure she does not have contact info for you, and make sure she doesn’t follow you home.

    If she does follow you or harass you, go to the police and ask for help. Just as you would for any stalker, of any sex.

    1. YES YES YES The touching and petting and personal questions and the asking for the phone number and the TATTOO SUGGESTION is creepy as all get out oh my sweet baby cotton bunnies. Yucky yuck. Ick. Ish. Gross. Use any term you can think of ohmygosh.

      You do not just dislike this person and neither does your boss or the eighty million people who have had to be in class with her. She’s a real problem and needs some help but you cannot provide it. It’s time a bite of the reality sandwich was delivered to your boss about how they are letting a repeat harasser hang out in your class because they pay for the opportunity to do so.

      1. Totally. I mean, she sounds like she could easily graduate to stalking the LW and perhaps other class participants if she’s told ‘no.’ The other people paying to take the class and doing the coursework are being robbed of the education they’re paying for. The LW is being personally harassed by her. This has gone way beyond a personal dislike situation here. LW’s boss needs to step up and deal with this.

  37. I am seriously reminded of Hagrid from Harry Potter – He was so so so happy to be teaching a class about magical animals, but did anyone actually learn what they were supposed to learn? Or did they all go away frustrated and complain to whoever would listen?

    Emma didn’t even bring a griffon but she’s disrupting everyone. No one is learning. Their tuition is being wasted. Their TIME is being wasted, and as working adults, possibly with family responsibilities, that is unforgivable.

    I would place this un-forgiveness on the boss, not the LW, but the students don’t necessarily know about the situation.

  38. I have to ask, why would you NOT want Emma to lose her job at this point? Sure, you’ve met her and it sucks to think of personally hurting someone you know, even if you don’t like them, but… think of all the people who are desperately trying to break into Emma’s field, who would be conscientious and interested and eager to learn, who are currently being held back because Emma is (grudgingly, uncooperatively) occupying that spot. You haven’t seen their faces, but they’re likely as disadvantaged by not having the gig as Emma would be, and they’d do a far superior job.

  39. “I don’t know if I can ethically do that to someone who, let’s face it, I just dislike.”

    You don’t “just” dislike her. You dislike her for the extremely good reason that she ignores every single boundary you try to set and is creepy as all fuck. That’s not just a minor personality clash that adults can work around. That’s red-flag behaviour that you have every right to escape. Putting boundary violations in the same category as personality clashes creates an environment where abusers can flourish. (Personal peeve of mine, too long a story for here.)

    Also Nth-ing the calls to consider the welfare of the other students. They also have a right to be away from all those red flags.

  40. Emma is pretty awful, and yet, what you need most is support from your boss.

    I believe that if you can document that your firm will lose reputation or money, you’ll be able to swing her over to your position.

    The people who suggested that you emlist your students are wise.

    Good luck

  41. I was in a training class situation kind of like this early in my career. We were taking a course from industry experts on an esoteric topic, and the guys behind me kept derailing to complain about our faulty work instruction (related to the topic). The instructor, of course, had no idea what they were talking about, because why would he know our work instruction? Finally, I snapped. I turned around and said, “You guys are missing the point. He’s saying that’s what our work instruction SHOULD say, as a best practice.” “That’s not what it says!” “Well, what do you want HIM to do about it?” They stared at me blankly, and I realized I’d been quite forceful and said, “I’m sorry, I’m frustrated because I feel like we’re getting off topic.” (I had been getting a lot of feedback from my manager that I was “too intimidating”, so I was working on softer approaches.)

    There were nods around the room (which is where I got annoyed bc everyone nodding had more seniority and more credibility than I did, so why didn’t THEY speak up?), and the next time those guys tried to derail, the instructor actually said, “OK, shut up.” Yes, it was rude, but I wanted to cheer.

    (I also informed those guys during a break that the work instruction in question was being revised and that they could send their comments to So-and-so. I guarantee they never did.)

    So, LW, and all other teachers, I promise a direct approach to future derailers will make a decent chunk of the class cheer inwardly.

    (And as someone who has herself derailed classes in the past…yes, I would be SO EMBARRASSED to be called out, but I’d also be grateful that the instructor had set a clear boundary and take it as a learning experience for future classrooms.)

    1. I’ve always been a bit of a Hermione, and sometimes I can get overenthusiastic and start taking over (not necessarily derailing, but the other students should get to talk too). I also appreciate it when an instructor says things like, “Let’s have someone talk who hasn’t yet…” etc. since I don’t WANT classes to be The Jackalope Show, and that helps me back off when I need to. Plus sometimes I learn things I might not have otherwise.

    2. If you were being told you were ‘too intimidating’ you must be a lady, Mrs. Peel. 🙂 I hope you continue to intimidate everyone you meet.

  42. Primary school kids don’t get away with this sort of behaviour. I know because I’m the parent of one such kid who was disruptive, overly friendly etc. Nothing malicious, just over enthusiastic at times. What happened? Meetings, and behaviour plans, and education plans, and education aides who went out of their way to help (we also attended psych and OT in our own time).

    Emma is not 6. Or 8 or even 10. You are not her class teacher (in the PS sense), or her aide, or her social worker. You’re an adult trying to do her job and Emma is preventing that. So next time Emma starts carrying on remember, “A 6yo isn’t allowed to behave like this”.

  43. I wonder if the boss doesn’t support LW on the booting Emma front if perhaps she could re-frame it as “I have been rebuffing this woman’s inappropriate attentions for (time) and it is making me feel uncomfortable and unsafe in my own work environment.” to HR, if there is such a thing at their company.

  44. Just for the record, french fries are eaten with mayonnaise in Belgium. Especially at bike races. Just thought I’d throw that out there. 🙂

  45. In my experience, people who spin tall-seeming tales and then explode with some version of “YOU’RE AN AWFUL PERSON FOR NOT BELIEVING ME!!!” are almost always full of it.

    It’s mostly beside the point anyway considering that even if Emma totally did live in an action/drama film, I highly highly doubt that it’s relevant enough to the workshop to somehow become a reason to keep her around.

    No need to feel bad here.

    1. Funnily enough, the woman I used to work with like this was actually called Emma. One of her stories that stuck in my head was when she met, married and divorced an incredibly rich and good looking guy all within the space of about three weeks.

      1. One of those that I knew claimed to have been a race car driver and that she skated with Michelle Kwan (just to name a few. Our social group decided to crosscheck with each other and made a list of bullplops numbering in the hundreds). When met with a request to prove it or even the slightest hint of doubt or disbelief, instead of resting in the assurance of these things being true (they weren’t) or you know, having a photo or video handy (Who just leaves all this exciting shit completely undocumented???), she’d just rage at all the doubters and imply that it was somehow wrong not to believe her.

        It makes sense. If no one believes your fish story, of what benefit is the content?

        1. Sometimes people who tell these stories don’t seem to realise how obvious their lies are. I very briefly dated a guy (for something like three weeks) who claimed, among other things, that:
          – he was a model for Yves St-Laurent
          – he played NHL hockey
          – he was a semi-professional boxer
          – he played both as a striker and a goalkeeper for a professional soccer team.

          In real life, he knew perfectly well that I knew:
          – he was seventeen years old and working for McDonalds (both of which I was too, that’s how I knew him)
          – he lived on a council estate, the maximum income for which would be way, way lower than what any of the above would earn him
          – he was about six inches shorter than YSL’s minimum height requirement for their models
          – he lived in London, and the NHL season lasts half the year, during which he was, er, working at McDonald’s in London
          – the soccer team he claimed to play for was not only in the same league as the one I supported but also due to cup competitions I had seen them play five times that season and of course he wasn’t even in the squad list.

          I asked him gentle questions about how he managed to play NHL and be in the UK at the same time (he was “injured”) and the modelling thing (he “only did face work”) and most of all, the soccer thing, which was the point where he started to look like he’d realised I wasn’t stupid enough to believe him. So to ” prove ” he was good enough to play both as a professional striker and goalkeeper (which is absolutely not how English football works) he challenged me to a penalty shoot out. Because I was a tiny 5’0″ girl he thought it would be a piece of cake. I beat him 15-0.

          1. *Applause*

            Reminds me of a kid who describes their imaginary adventures as things they really did on summer vacation, without distinguishing fantasy from reality.

        2. I worked with two different women years ago. One “Noelle” would tell people she was a model, that she was “discovered” while in line at the grocery store, and that she was heading to LA to star in a TV show pilot. Noelle was heavily obese and mostly housebound, couldn’t get around without the use of a scooter and because of that her boyfriend did all the errands….but it was harmless. What wasn’t harmless is when she started faking pregnancies and miscarriages any time someone in the office announced she was pregnant. She would literally come in the day after the announcement, make her own and then anywhere from 7 – 21 days later announce that she had miscarried. It was CREEPY. At one point, there were 10 women in about 6 months period of time that found out they were pregnant. One woman really was high risk and had undergone several real miscarriages during her infertility struggles. She actually filed a complaint against Noelle. I’m not sure where it ended, but I know that Noelle did it again.

          Another woman I worked with was also big with medical announcements. She was jogging once, bumped her arm against a tree branch and for the next week she wore a brace claiming she had several compound fractures that miraculously disappeared the day our supervisor asked for help that would take us off regular duty and have us outside. Another time she claimed she had ovarian cancer. It wasn’t until a co-workers sister actually died from Ovarian Cancer that her own cancer was “cured”. She was in her early 20’s with no children but would claim that she had raised her “friend’s” teenaged son from birth by herself, but that was only when other people were talking about their kids.

          Oh….I don’t miss either of those women.

        3. I once had a grown woman tell me, with a straight face and in all sincerity, the urban legend about the bride who gets “cooked” to death in a tanning bed as if it had happened to her best friend. It was almost word-for-word one of the versions of the story you can see on Snopes.

          I think I literally said “I have to go over here now” and walked away because what do you SAY to that? We all know you’re lying, why bother?!

          1. Oh my goodness, that one makes NO sense.
            My Biology teacher told the class that one with all sincerity. I… did not learn any Biology those four years.

        4. Trigger warning for some heavy stuff (abuse, suicidal ideations).

          I’ve had two coworkers like that at different times. One was allegedly a nationally-ranked gymnast and had been recruited by the FBI, the other claimed to have run half marathons and/or marathons (it depended on the day), among many, many other whoppers. In both cases, it got kind of weird and scary because their lies were so pervasive that we later had a hard time believing true but terrifying things they said. In the first case, she told us in both subtle and direct ways that her husband was physically abusive; in the second case, he told two coworkers that he was suicidal and had come very close to hurting himself very badly. Those stories turned out to be horrifyingly true, which was hard to square with all the truly bizarre lies we’d been told over the years. I definitely don’t advocate treating people with kid gloves, particularly when their lying interferes with other people’s work, but those were really scary wakeup calls that persistent lying can be a sign of much bigger, scarier stuff. I don’t know what the solution there is, and fixing whatever may or may not be causing Emma to behave this way is 100% not OP’s job, but I now keep a sharper ear out when I realize that someone I know is lying on a regular basis.

          1. I think it makes a lot of sense that it is used as a coping mechanism for … something. But yeah, as a coworker? Faaar outside your paygrade.

          2. You know, all these stories are making me feel better, in a strange way.

            I went to college with a person who had these kinds of stories, and I always felt weird and creepy about not believing her but…they weren’t believable? And eventually there was a friend-group schism between people who believed her and people who didn’t, until one person set a trap for her, she fell right into it, everyone was mad at her for lying…at which point she killed off all her fake siblings in a fake mass murder and took a leave of absence.

            I never quite knew what the hell was going on, and now at least I know there are other people out there like her, and I didn’t run into the one person with this particular form of really strange attention-seeking behavior in the world……

          3. I knew a guy like that. He never did anything scary that I know of (well, he did drive without a licence…), but he did claim:
            ·That he spoke something like 20 different languages (but then refused to do so)
            ·That he had dated this guy from my high school who had tragically passed away while we were still in high school
            ·That he used to be blind, but had bionic eyes
            ·That he worked as a strip club bouncer at age 16 (at a strip club my boyfriend at the time was familiar with).
            ·That he used to be a truck driver (not unbelievable, but didn’t fit, timing-wise)
            ·That he had 2 kids with a 20-something woman at age 13
            ·That he had been in the Army and had joined at age 12 or something

            …there were others. I was pretty naïve when I met him–he was my then-boyfriend’s best friend.
            He had a fiancee. I think she believed his stories. Their relationship was …tempestuous.

          4. To J. Preposterice: I know that “WOW, so X isn’t the ONLY person who does this???” feeling well. When I was a late-teen, early-twenties person, my mom took in a friend of my sister’s as a part-time foster kid (it was a complicated situation) and…yeah. We all knew she was lying, constantly, but how do you even begin to deal with that? We never were able to help her much, though we sure tried, and to this day she has a weird mix of admiration/idolizing of me and hatred of me that is very specific (and which I successfully avoid having anything to do with by means of cutting her out of my life years ago…I do not miss the constant, overwhelming lies.)

            Strangely, I am much more prepared for those kind of lies than I was years later for the guy who cheated on his gf with me (who I didn’t know existed) and then later cheated on me with her (and had a baby with her that I knew nothing about, though we were not together at that point, but which he pointedly did not mention when he resumed contact). I just wasn’t prepared for someone whose lies were specific, limited, and intended to actually be believable. Especially since the rest of my life is filled with honest people! At least with the foster sister, we knew from the get go that nothing she said could ever be relied upon…

        5. I’m reminded of a book I read ages ago, I think it was “Hunger of Memory” by Richard Rodriguez, where when the teacher would ask for “What I Did Over Summer Vacation” stories would make something up, because according to his upbringing, family life was Private, and so he KNEW that the teacher couldn’t POSSIBLY mean for him to tell something true, since that would be disrespectful to his family. He never did find out what the teachers thought of his stories, or if they ever figured out that they were lies.

  46. OP, your wrote: “(And yes, I know how to deal with teenagers with oppositional behaviors, just not forty-year-olds who insist they are grownups.)”

    Treat her EXACTLY as you would deal with deliberately oppositional behaviors.

    Be blunt; be forceful. Hell, be “mean.” Go on the attack. Tell her she’s monopolizing, she needs to be quiet. Tell her she’s selfish for monopolizing everyone’s time and energy. Be scoldy-.

    “Emma, I need you to be quiet. This is not a time for you to speak, and that is not an appropriate comment / not on the topic / not helping us move the topic forward.” Be firm, use not the TINIEST bit of niceness in your tone. Be bossy.

    Then, “Emma, you are monopolizing the conversation. If you can’t be quiet and let your group members work, you will need to leave the group.”

    “Emma, this is not a therapy session; we are not hear to discuss anyone’s personal difficulties. Perhaps you should see a counselor. We are not counselors, and if you bring up your personal life again, I will have to ask you to leave the class.”

    She is deliberately doing this. It’s way past time for sympathy. It doesn’t matter how wounded she is; this is not the appropriate place for her to get help.

    In fact, a person could argue that by filling her need for attention, etc., you are delaying any efforts she might make to get any sort of help from anyone qualified.

  47. Of course your boss is happy to smile and take Emma’s money! She doesn’t have to deal with Emma in a class. How lovely for her.

    As others have pointed out, this seems like an incredibly short-sighted business decision; your boss is almost certainly losing more money driving away other students than could be recouped by continuing to let Emma enroll. I’m wondering what your boss’s train of thought is that she’s either dismissed this or it hasn’t occurred to her.

  48. Right now Boss is acting like Emma is a minor annoyance that LW should deal with as part of the job. The trick is to make it apparent to Boss that Emma is a major annoyance who is hurting the bottom line. Make it clear that students aren’t just complaining; they’re not enrolling and telling their friends not to enroll. Make it clear that what she’s doing is sexual harassment. Definitely stop worrying about ruining her career. That ship has sailed.

  49. “I don’t know if I can ethically do that to someone who, let’s face it, I just dislike.”

    LW, please stop thinking of Emma as a person you dislike.

    Emma is a raging asshole and your boss is an incompetent coward. Between the two of them, they are well along in the process of destroying your career.

    Yes, your career is in danger here. You’re getting the reputation of a teacher who can’t teach because you can’t control your classroom. Yes, it’s very hard to do that with a raging asshole student and an incompetent coward boss, but please view this as the emergency it is and use some of the suggested techniques here to fight back against both of them.

  50. I have nothing to add except I completely agree with The Captain that *YOU* are not at fault for Emma’s failings – *EMMA* is at fault for Emma’s failings. I think you’ve proven that you ARE a nice person by putting up with her this long!
    Also – matching tattoos? Double Ewe Tee Eff!

  51. As someone who’s worked in customer service/marketing, I wouldn’t recommend the Yelp/online reviews option, at least not until trying to get students to send emails or speak directly to the boss first. If they’re coming up to speak to you personally, then they’re trying to give you a chance to fix the problem. Yelp is more for problems that haven’t been fixed after they’ve tried to address them with the manager, at least in this case.

    PLUS this is a problem that feels personal because it’s based off one individual in the class instead of the instructor. I don’t think I would ever leave a Yelp review for a restaurant about another customer ruining the meal for me, and would look askance at a Yelp review that complained about something like that unless they brought it up to a server or manager who responded poorly. A more reasonable thing to do would be to speak to a manager, or send a complaint to the restaurant directly about how they handled it.

    Same in this case – Yelp/online is the next step if the boss does not respond to complaints sent to them personally.

  52. I would also suggest that you fire Emma, because if you don’t, you will lose the respect of your students. If you allow this person to monopolize the class, they will not respect your ability to effectively control your classroom or impart the information they need. They will be less likely to recommend your workshop to their employers or other professionals. You’re sacrificing your OWN career for Emma’s sake. Cut her loose.

  53. Apologies if this is a repeat suggestion. LW, you may be able to reach out to former students (who are not in any way under your purview anymore) to get the kinds of testimonies you need about Emma’s problematic behavior and their desire not to retake any classes with her in them.

    I wouldn’t ask them to say what you want, but if her track record is any indication, it won’t be hard to find someone(s) who will talk about her affect on class dynamics and retention AT LENGTH.

    These could then be taken to your boss/company, etc. to have the ammunition for creating a policy or just getting the momentum to agree not to ask her back.

  54. I Think it is possible if your company has an HR dept, to use HR instead of your boss to at least have her relocated to a different instructor. Saying lets get matching tattoos and begging to hang out can be seen as harassment and as it clearly is making you uncomfortable, You can probably site its as causing a hostile work environment.
    work harassment at my office is defined as conduct is severe, noticable or persistant enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive

  55. LW, another thought: do you have your training syllabus broken down into sections? It seems you have an opportunity to introduce a Comment Card for the group to fill out. “It’s important that we cover all the course material, and we are nearly at the end of ___Section. You will need ___ to work with Next Section. Is there anything preventing you from starting Next Section? Please use this Comment Card, and add your name if you’d like to meet with me.” No problematic naming a person or calling any participant out, done by you. This has the significant advantage of being very useful to the writer and also to you, as well as to the course designer. Repeat at every transition as needed.
    At the end of the course, there is the option for you to take these cards demonstrating your resourcefulness, commitment and ingenuity, to your bosses’ boss, as you express interest in applying for their job. Your bosses’ insipid leadership choices are surely known to the higher-ups.
    Meanwhile, what’s more attractive than an employee seeking to make the company more effective and profitable? The owners surely don’t want you to leave the company and become their highly-qualified competition. (I learned this trick from my male mentors.)

    1. Comment cards. Everyone must fill out.
      Stealing this idea!

      Adding a blank line for commenting on the quality of hte course in general might also help.

  56. I would collect evidence of Emma’s disruption on the class by distributing feedback forms at the end of your course. If you let them be anonymous, you will probably get feedback about Emma that you can then take to your boss and escalate the situation to them. Also, if you have not had a super direct conversation about just how disruptive Emma is to the class, have that conversation as well. Hopefully that helps.

  57. LW, please, please do not feel like this is a case of you simply disliking someone. Emma is not someone you merely dislike because she occasionally comes in late, or chews gum too loud, or, oh, I don’t know, she’s a Yankees fan when you’re a Red Sox fan. No, Emma is engaging in disruptive behavior in the classroom, and really inappropriate, stalkery behavior outside the classroom setting. Making demands for your personal cell phone number? Inappropriate. Wanting to get matching tattoos? Very inappropriate, and a behavior that suggests she’s attempting to stake a very obvious physical claim on you.

    Your boss? Your boss is spineless, and has no intention of dealing with the problem of Emma. S/he does not want to be the person who has to deal with the continual disruptions, the incredulous stories, or the inappropriate behavior outside of the classroom.

    It’s time to put the onus back on your boss. When other students come to you with their complaints, direct them to your boss, or someone higher-up, with a gentle, “I’m sorry that I am unable to directly address your problem, but Boss or Higher-Up is the person you need to direct your attention to. They can help you with that.” The more people you send to complain to Boss or Person Higher Up The Ladder Than Boss, the more likely it is that Company will sit up and take notice that people are really tired of Emma’s bullshit, and that if they allow her to turn every workshop with you into The Emma Show, they will lose money, and they will boot her from the program.

    Also, you may need to file a complaint with HR about Emma’s inappropriate behavior towards you, especially if you have already brought it to your boss’s attention, and s/he has done nothing except continually make Emma your problem, and refuse to remove your harasser from your class. This is no longer a problem for your boss, this is an issue for HR. They need to be made aware of the problem, and that your boss has done nothing to keep your harasser from having access to you, so they can deal with your boss, and possibly with Emma.

    Your reputation is on the line because your boss, instead of being an effective manager and dealing with the problem, is being a spineless coward. You can’t manage your classroom because you have a disruptive leech on your resources and time, and other students are being shafted. That is not cool, and other people are noticing. Word will get around, and it’s going to affect you. I wish you the best in dealing with Emma.

  58. I wonder if instead of outright kicking her out (if that feels too mean/boss isn’t willing to do that), if you suggest to your boss implementing a mandatory waiting period before a course can be re-enrolled in after 2x failed attempts or something? Like instead of “Emma, you have failed too many times, your enrollment isn’t accepted” it’s more like, “Emma, I need you to be aware that a policy change means that you can attempt this course no more than twice in a *insert time period here – say for a three month long evening course, make the waiting period 2 years*. You can sell it your boss as a way to ensure the availability of places for new clients, keep the class groups fresh, and a way to force the hand of those repeat students to perform on their first or second attempt, or be unable to take up another spot in the class again until they’ve had some time to hopefully correct whatever is holding them back from completing the coursework on their own time – leaving class spots open to new students.

    If you suspect your boss is too “nice” to want to outright ban Emma from coming back ever, or if you’re in the kind of niche field that means there aren’t really other options for training available to Emma, this might be the halfway point she will meet you at to break Emma’s cycle. It also has the benefit of being really easy to spin as a positive – “Our demand has increased! Their are lots of great people who need training, and we want to be fair to everyone, so we’ve put this re-enrollment waiting period in place to ensure everyone gets a fair go”. Your boss gets to keep taking Emma’s money, but at a far less unethical rate, and crucially, you have a chance to run several cycles of classes without her presence, and if she does return once the bad habit of using your class as a comforter, you have a solid basis to dismiss her again soon.

    Then communicate it really bluntly with Emma, put it in writing. Spell it out that this will effect her if she does not complete her current course satisfactorily. If you have a channel of communication with the employers in your industry and it’s possible, advising them directly that this policy is in effect will ensure that they also hold Emma accountable if she finds herself without a necessary qualification and unable to re-attempt it for 2 years (or whatever an appropriate timeframe is).

    I’d combine this with the implementation of a student code of conduct that addresses class disruption and monopoly of discussion times, and make it part of your introduction for every group. Explain what behaviors break that code of conduct, and be clear about the consequences of this – being asked to leave the class and having that impact attendance records maybe. Then when Emma inevitably breaches it, wait until the discussion is split into groups, and address her directly. “Emma, your interruption earlier breached our code of conduct in here. We have a lot of content to get through today, and this code of conduct is necessary. If I need to address this with you again, I will have to ask you to leave the rest of the class. If you do have to remove her, doing it face to face while the rest of the class is at least somewhat occupied by a small-group task would be better – it cuts out the public humiliation histrionics factor, and means any poor reaction she has while packing her things and going doesn’t disrupt active teaching time.

    1. If there’s enough demand that classes tend to fill up quickly, a simple way to make it harder for people to retake the course is to have staggered registration periods. Registration opens for first time takers of the course on April 2 (or first two times if you find a lot of people need to take it twice and you want to keep that easy), and for retakers it opens on some later date. So there are fewer available seats for retakers, and the risk that the class will be full.

  59. Can you tell her to leave when she gets disruptive? Tell her that she is off topic once, then throw her out for the rest of the day if she does it again.

  60. I just want to add that I hope the LW gives us an update. I really want to know how this turns out.

  61. One solution I haven’t seen mentioned her is the fact Emma hasn’t passed.

    A very polite and easy way to refuse service to Emma would be to state the obvious.

    “Emma, you’ve taken COURSE 7 times and have yet to pass. Obviously, our teaching style is a bad fit for you. We hate watching you waste your time and money. Perhaps OTHER COMPANY would be a better fit? We wish you the best.”

    The best part? EVERYTHING in that is the truth. (except maybe wishing her the best).

    If she complains, “Emma, our books and course are standardized. I can’t offer you specialized training. I’ve heard there are tutors available at X, if you think that may be a better fit?”

    Also, “My schedule does not permit me to offer tutoring.”

    1. That would be because the letter says Boss won’t allow her to unilaterally refuse to let her come back.

  62. I just wanted to say, I feel your pain, LW. I used to teach a class for the local parks and recreation department. I taught the class a number of times, until one session when I had an Emma in the class. She would monopolize the class in the ways you describe. Even worse, she would injure herself if she was forced to go without my undivided attention for more than a few minutes. Any time I looked away from Emma to help another student, within minutes I would hear a cry and Emma would be on the ground bleeding from a skinned knee, or telling us she’d hit her head. I only managed to cover about half the usual material because I never figured out how to get the focus off of Emma long enough to cover what was in the lesson plans.

    At the end of the class, Emma asked me when I would teach the course again, because she wanted to sign up. She had enjoyed it so much! What a great class!

    I never taught the course again. The parks and rec coordinator was disappointed and tried to persuade me, but I just couldn’t face another eight weeks of Emma. I never taught anything ever again.

    I wonder how many other parks and rec courses Emma wrecked, how many instructors the coordinator lost? Someone like that could do a lot of damage to a carefully nurtured parks and rec program.

  63. You tell Emma that it’s a violation of professional boundaries to be friends.
    Emma hears: She wants to be friends with me but can’t because of her job. If you think about it, her rejoinder that y’all can be friends later makes sense.
    You tell Emma that she’s disrupting the class.
    Emma hears: She wants to listen to my story but can’t because of these other people. Again, her going back to it later makes sense from that point of view.

    So stop offering excuses. Tell her that you don’t want to be friends with her. Don’t tell her that she’s disrupting the class. Tell her that you want her to stop talking. Don’t even ask her to leave the room. Tell her to get out. It’s actually clearer that way– and therefore kinder. You’re not leaving it up to her to connect dots. Each time you relent long enough to be even a little bit sympathetic, she’s interpreting it as intermittent reinforcement. Again, being clearer is actually kinder.

    1. Yupp, she is hearing what she wants to hear. Being more precise won’t necessarily make her stop, but it will put you in a better position.

  64. LW, has your boss seen Emma in action, or do they just know her from your telling them about her? If boss hasn’t experienced Emma in person, boss might be dismissing how bad she is, and maybe even attributing part of the problem to your being “too sensitive” or whatever.
    I and my sister who also spent time in Sibling’s rabbit hole trying to help her have the sharpest tempers in the family and we realized the rest of the family were writing off a lot of our complaints as just us being bitchy.
    When Sis and I threw up our hands and refused to deal, our brother tried to talk sense into her. His wife was present, and after their first meeting, Bro and SIL were in shock: “and Dog and Sis have been dealing with this for years!” It was so bad SIL called the rest of the family and told them that rather than the problem’s being mine and Sis’s tempers, our tempers were the result of dealing with Sibling.

    My point is, people are often inclined to simply not believe it’s really “that bad” if they haven’t seen it themselves.

    If boss hasn’t seen Emma in class, ask boss to just quietly sit in the back for a couple sessions to observe.
    If boss won’t get rid of Emma after that, then tell boss you expect them to come up with a way to deal with her. Get the Boss-approved-Emma-control-instructions in writing from boss, so if it hits tha fan, it’s on biss, not you.

    1. And if boss won’t get off their rump and give you direction on how to deal with Emma, write up your tactics based on the great advice of CA and the awkward squad, and email it to boss: “unless you tell me otherwise, i will manage Emma’s behavior by doing XYZ.”

      I use “unless you tell me otherwise” all the time. I’m not left twiddling my thumbs waiting for feedback from boss, but keeps boss in the loop and gives them the chance to cut me off at the pass if they don’t like where i’m going.

    2. LW says that “Boss doesn’t want Emma in her own sessions again” so it’s a good bet that Boss is using her station higher up in the hierarchy to dump this missing stair on LW.

      1. Ah, I missed the “again.” I was thinking maybe Boss didn’t want Emma based on LW’s complaints, but at the same time didn’t believe that Emma is “really that bad.”

        Since Boss is fully informed, Boss is the real problem here. grrrr.

  65. LW, I’m relatively new to Captain Awkward’s readership, but I want to add my voice to the chorus of “this is not a simple case of personality conflict.” Yes, you dislike Emma, but it is VERY FAR from unjustified dislike. Emma is a raging nightmare of a colossal pain in the ass whose behavior is actively impeding your ability to do your job and teach the material to your other students (who, you might wish to remind your boss, have also paid their tuition and have every right to learn the material they’ve paid to learn, unperturbed by Emma-shenanigans). She’s also verging on being a stalker. (That specific definition probably depends on the law in your locality.) Regardless, she has GOT to go. She’s not actually doing the classwork, she’s making life difficult for you and the other students, and she’s made it clear that she doesn’t understand/doesn’t care about your boundaries (possibly anyone’s boundaries). Worry no more about any damage to her career; it is on her, not you.

    I sincerely hope that you can get rid of her, one way or another. Hopefully you can get your boss to see sense and stop allowing this pestilence to enroll in classes she has no interest in/intention of actually completing, as that would probably be the easiest on you and your other students (not to mention the reputation of your employer).

    I also want to add to the chorus of “document the crap out of everything,” particularly if, in the event your boss does see sense and starts to refuse Emma’s enrollment, Emma won’t leave you alone even when she is no longer your student, because you will need the documentation to file for a restraining order (should that become necessary–hopefully it won’t).

    The description of her behavior made my skin crawl (and the noisy-fry-eating was the least of it); I can’t imagine what it’s done to the LW, having had to put up with it over what appears to be at least several weeks to months, if not longer. *shudder*

    1. “it is VERY FAR from unjustified dislike”

      I just want to second this. I think the LW is trying so hard to be fair to Emma that they’re minimising a lot of red flags; for the sake of all other students, Emma’s feelings need to be hurt further. (It sounds as if they already are hurt by ordinary, respectful behaviour. This is for Emma or Emma’s therapist to fix, not for anyone else.)

      1. I phrased it that way because there’s someone I have to deal with from time to time in person for whom I have a relatively unjustified dislike. (Her vocal tone sounds patronizing to me; she talks that way to everyone, so it’s not that she’s being condescending to me per se, but for personal reasons, I hate feeling like someone is being patronizing towards me and it is a quick way to spark my temper. It is, however, not really her fault. It just sounds that way to me, so I just tend to grit my teeth and bear it when I have to deal with her, which is mercifully not often and never for more than a few minutes, and fortunately she’s leaving her position next week for another where I will no longer have to see her at all, so yay! for transfers.)

        But this situation is very different. Emma had given the LW a whole host of reasons to justify dislike. I’m glad to see the update from the LW that Emma’s supervisor solved the problem for everyone and that LW’s boss is willing to create new policies to prevent this sort of situation from arising going forward. Sounds like a win-win all the way around.

  66. Adding to the fine suggestion of comment cards, especially between chapters/sections of the class:

    Questions on the card might include
    “Was the lecture portion useful to you? (1-10) Why or why not?”
    so that you can then ask, “Were the group comments/discussion useful to you? (1-10) Why or why not? _____________ ”

    As a student, I doubt I’d normally write all about an Emma… but if I saw a question about her, I’d tell you allll about it.

  67. Also echoing the concern that she might call you or stalk you once you or your boss finally manage to kick her out, because she’s already said that she expects to be superpals with you as soon as she’s not your student. Hopefully she will just find somebody else, but sadly, it’s worth reading up on advice to people with harassers and stalkers, just in case she should go that route.

  68. (first time posting! Please delete if it’s a double-post.)

    As a student, I really like the idea of feedback cards between chapters/sections/as frequently as possible.

    I would not normally talk all about an Emma on such a card, but if one of the questions was “How useful/helpful was the class discussion to you? (1-10) Why or why not? ________________” then I would tell you allllll about it.

  69. LW, I’ve been thinking about this from a facilitation standpoint. People here have had lots of suggestions about a game plan moving forward and also some concrete suggestions about setting up the session to increase social pressure on Emma to shut the heck up. I was thinking about what techniques I’d use with someone as persistently disruptive in this particular way as Emma is, and how I’d alter those techniques to increase the consequences for her.

    Here is what I would do. I will say that in all of my past working environments, I could rely on things like building security as a last resort, etc.

    So, the basic technique is an adaptation of the “talking stick” — the person holding the stick is the person who is allowed to be talking. I usually use a Koosh ball, although I’ve also used a balled-up piece of paper. You want people to easily be able to pass the item around the room, so something soft, colorful, and throwable is good. In short-answer stuff, you do not need the Koosh, but for discussions, the Koosh allows someone to talk for a certain length of time, and then is passed on. It’s a good way to draw out people who are quiet in discussions and that’s how it’s usually used — another participant, or the facilitator, tosses it to a quiet person and they say their piece, because they have the Koosh.

    You can adapt it to silence a disruptive person. I have done that in the past and it is effective against most people, though I haven’t dealt with someone as terrible as Emma is. In this situation, I suggest you have two identical Kooshes. One of them is just a backup in case Emma kidnaps the Koosh. Don’t let her know you have a backup.

    Discussion talking permission involves the Koosh. You can only have the Koosh for a minute (or whatever short period of time makes sense).

    If Emma doesn’t have the Koosh and she starts talking, INTERRUPT FIRMLY and point out she doesn’t have the Koosh. Allow the other students to interrupt and tell her she doesn’t have the Koosh, too. You are allowing social pressure to develop against her disruption.

    When Emma has the Koosh, she gets to talk, uninterrupted, up to the time limit, no matter what she is saying. The second she hits the time limit, INTERRUPT FIRMLY and tell her her time is up. If she keeps talking, KEEP INTERRUPTING AND TALKING OVER HER. Be polite and professional but implacable. Talk over her. Keep talking over her. Keep telling her her time is up. The other students will likely come in to support you and shout her into surrendering the Koosh.

    If she still does not give it up, walk up to her and demand the Koosh. Hold out your hand. Do not break eye contact. Allow the other students to yell at her to hand over the Koosh. Tell her that if she does not give you the Koosh, she will have to leave the class for the day. Do not drop your hand. Keep the pressure on, while remaining calm and professional and firm (your voice may need to be louder than usual). She will probably be crying. IGNORE IT. Tell her that if she does not give you the Koosh, you will need to call security.

    At some point, she will either give you the Koosh (in which case you INSTANTLY return the class to normal and bring the discussion back around as if the whole thing didn’t happen) or you will need to call security.

    If you call security and have her escorted out, you have your backup Koosh. Apologize to the class, thank them for their patience, say “now, where were we” and get back to business.

    If you do not have access to security, I am not sure what you should do, although you know your environment and what is likely to be available to you. I do not think you will need them, though. Turning the class into an overwhelming flood of pressure on Emma to obey the Koosh rules will be enough to defeat almost anyone.

    Anyway, after one round of this, her peers will likely refuse to ever give her the Koosh. Allow this. After a day or half-day, give it to her yourself and see if she has learned or if you need to do the whole thing again. If you need to do the whole thing again, you will have to consider whether to report her to her employer, etc. and some of the major next steps others in this comments section have suggested.

    Best of luck.

  70. I think the practical part of the solution to any Emma (now or future) is right in the Captain’s answer: “your company’s policies” and “a student code of conduct.” Even if you are departments in a government, or whatever, there should be a way to do this.

    +1 for great advice! (And hint to anyone thinking of starting any kind of service business: customers have obligations, too, and they should be clarified up front.)

    My answer to the headline question, “Is it Ethical?” is YES, of course it is! In my world, it would be an unethical NOT to “fire” her — you have an obligation to protect the learning of the other students.

    Perhaps it would help to strip away all the ickiness of her personality and compare it to a situation I was in, as a trainer, that was more clear-cut…

    [Anecdote starts here]

    I started building web sites in 1997 and was soon offering a hands-on workshop to the public at the local Art College. I put in a prerequisite of “experience with using a computer and surfing the web” — because I was building sites for clients who’d never even seen the web. Sure enough, a student showed up who’d obviously never seen a computre before. He asked for help clicking on things, and I took him aside and explained that I wasn’t going to take class time to teach something that was a stated prerequisite, but he was welcome to stay and learn what he could.

    My co-teacher was horrified by my meanness. She told me of teaching an intermediate workshop where 1/3 of the class had showed up at beginner level. She chucked her syllabus and taught her intro syllabus. I was horrified by her disservice to the 2/3 and her failure to deliver the content she had agreed to provide.

    It could be the “Parable of the Cold Vulcan and the Bleeding Heart.”

    1. You are right, your co-presenter was wrong. I went to one continuing ed course that did that – and my company never spent the five figures to send me to any subsequent courses.

      1. Seconded! If an entire third of that workshop showed up without the pre-reqs that makes me suspicious they weren’t communicated clearly enough, but that’s not the fault of the majority who showed up ready to learn and they shouldn’t effectively be punished by not being taught what they were told they’d be taught.

        It’s also kind of a dick move to have pre-reqs and then let people in whether or not they actually have them. I took a college program where there were supposedly pre-reqs but they weren’t enforced, which was actually really unkind to the students who showed up and struggled and felt like failures because they just weren’t ready for the material.

        And hint to anyone thinking of starting any kind of service business: customers have obligations, too, and they should be clarified up front.

        Yessssss! Not only does that make for a better experience for everyone once they’re there, knowing what’s expected of me really helps me decide whether the thing is right for me. If I figure out the thing isn’t my thing before I show up/register/prepay/whatever, great, you’ve saved us both time and/or money!

        1. And hint to anyone thinking of starting any kind of service business: customers have obligations, too, and they should be clarified up front.

          I gave that piece of wisdom to my sister when she was under pressure at her job as a directory-assistance operator.
          “There are other people waiting in line, even though you can’t physically see them,, and they have the info they need to help you find the number quickly. The guy who can’t remember if is was Johnson or Jackson, or which town, or whatever, has not followed through on his obligation to be more exact. It’s rude to the other people ‘in line’ to allow him to make you do that homework for him. They DID their homework.”

          Imagine a line at the library help desk–the guy at the front is saying, “I read this book when I was a kid, and it was about a cat in outer space, and the cover of the book was blue.” The 12 people behind him have author name, title, etc. And you’re making them wait while this bozo is saying, “Well, maybe the cover was red. And I thought it was a mystery, but maybe it wasn’t.”

          It was a huge help, and she didn’t get fired.

  71. I’ve definitely known people who had Emma-like behaviors….and I just want to applaud and shout HOORAY in response to the Captain’s answer.


  72. Wow, he sounds a LOT like my NHL/football/boxer/model guy I talked about in this thread. Exactly the sort of stuff he’d come up with.

  73. LW, I saw in your letter that you have the students work in pairs, and that Emma always blames her poor results on her partner. As a short-term or stop-gap solution, maybe you could see about having an odd number of students enroll in your class, or forming one group of three, and assigning Emma to work on her own? Your excuse could be that Emma already has a familiarity with the material, so it would be good for other students to learn together, while Emma should be fine on her own. If she tries to turn her experience into a reason she should be partnered up with someone, to share her expertise, point out that she hasn’t had a good track record with partners, and maybe she just works better on her own; frame it as her learning or working style, something that’s different for everyone, rather than a character flaw.

    Again, this is probably only something to use as you pursue other solutions, or if other solutions don’t pan out, and has the benefits of both taking away one of Emma’s perpetual excuses and making sure none of your other students are saddled with Emma in group work.

  74. When I was a part of a group w a disruptive member, what I did was get together w the other facilitators and make a plan. We came up w a list of guidelines for behavior for the group and read it before every meeting. Then as the difficult member would continue to display difficult behaviors, the facilitator most comfortable w conflict (me!) would talk to the person after each meeting and say ‘We have a policy of not doing X at these meetings and I notice you did X today. If you keep doing X, we’re going to have to ask you to leave the group’.

    After about 3 incidents like this, it did work and the person stopped coming to the group. I was for CONTINUING to read the guidelines before each meeting (other ppl might like hearing them too) but eventually other facilitators stopped doing so.

    I don’t know if any of this will help you – this wasn’t a class but more of a peer-facilitated meetup group, and the troublesome behaviors were fairly easy to describe and put into a list format. Targeting the BEHAVIOR and not the person can really work though, good luck!

    1. I notice that what this does is essentially create an environment in which this behavior triggers a negative response; it’s uncomfortable to keep coming because every time, “Emma” gets scolded. It becomes unpleasant, and so is something to avoid.

      I think the OP can go there all on her own. Just always be critical of Emma. Shut her down; be a little harsh; be short; be “mean.” Drive her away, essentially.

  75. Also being a good person does not mean “allow creepy prying harassers to continue harassing me”. Because that’s exactly what she’s doing.

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