Dear Captain Awkward,
I have a situation that is getting very awkward indeed. In a few months, I will be going on vacation to Tokyo with my best friend. This has been a dream of ours for a long time, so we have a lot of plans. A coworker – with whom I’m friendly, but not very close – heard through the grapevine about my trip and started a conversation about when I was going and what I planned to do.
The week after that, she told me that she was planning a trip on the same dates, and she was so glad to know someone who could ‘show her all the sights’. I was a bit taken aback, but I told her my plans had just included myself and my best friend, and we already have reservations booked for just the two of us for most of the attractions we want to see. She seemed to understand and didn’t mention it again for a while.
However, I later overheard her talking to another coworker about ‘our trip’, and how I had planned everything out for ‘us’ to do. I waited until the other coworker was gone so as not to embarrass her, but this time I told her in no uncertain terms that my plans had not and would not include her. She got upset and said I’d been so enthusiastic about my trip that she’d gotten excited as well, and why was it so difficult for one more person to join us?
Since then, she’s kept talking about ‘our’ trip and what ‘we’ll’ do and all objections I make are completely ignored, even though I’ve stopped being polite and I have told her in front of others that she is in no way involved in my trip. I want to have a great experience with my friend and I absolutely do not want to be stuck playing tour guide to an acquaintance.
Since this is not work-related, I don’t feel like I can bring it up to our managers. I know I can’t stop her from making her vacation plans, even if they coincide with my own, but she already knows the name of my hotel and my rough itinerary from that first conversation, so how can I get it across that my friend and I do not want her with us? I’m concerned that she might have booked at the same hotel or that she’ll show up there, and I don’t want to cause a scene or have to try and avoid her. To my knowledge she’s never done anything like this before, so I’m completely baffled by her behavior. Obviously this problem is a bit different from many of the other letters you get, but I have no idea how to address this situation. Help?
preferred pronouns she/her
Dear Tokyo Traveller,
This is a nightmare, and one reason it’s a nightmare is that you’ve already told her directly that you don’t want to hang out with her in Japan and she’s blatantly not accepting this reality. “I am going with my friend and our plans don’t include you.” “You are in no way involved in my trip.” You are not being vague! When someone refuses to engage with the reality of what you are saying when it conflicts with their own desires, that is very weird, and scary!
Reasons are for reasonable people, and repeating yourself and explaining things more just gives unreasonable people the idea that stuff is negotiable. However, you *might* want to try talking to Coworker directly one more time before you take it to the boss. My most benign possible read on the situation is that she got over-excited about the trip, misread the situation completely and thought since you were friendly it would be cool if she joined you, and now she doesn’t know how to back down without losing face. She’s gonna try to brazen it out by using the social contract and your good heart against you, like, surely a “nice” person like you wouldn’t blank her if she just happened to roll up on you in Japan. If you want to give an appeal to reasonableness one last try, have this conversation:
“Hey, you may not realize this, but when you insist that this is *our* trip you are actually freaking me out – it’s not normal for coworkers to go on each other’s personal vacations. I know you got really excited and maybe mistakenly thought I was inviting you along, but I definitely wasn’t. I hope you get to Tokyo someday! But we won’t be hanging out together this time around, and I really need you to stop insisting that we will. It’s stressing me out a lot because I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but it’s also non-negotiable that this is my personal vacation time with an old friend and I don’t want any coworkers tagging along to any part of it, even ones I like. I really value working with you and I don’t want to embarrass you, but I also don’t want to have this conversation with you again! I need to know that you hear and understand me right now.”
If you think it would help, have the conversation. Note: If she gets all hurt and huffy responds with something like “Geez, I get the message, I was just messing with you, I don’t even want to go on your precious vacation!” that is a victory. Take ’em where you find ’em.
If you’re sure you’re past that point, read on. Here’s your overall script/mantra that you can repeat to anyone (including Coworker) who gives you pushback: “This is my personal vacation, not a work trip. It is completely inappropriate for a coworker to invite themselves on my personal vacation.”
In this vein:
A) Document the conversations you’ve already had. Time, date, place, who was there, what was said. Continue documenting going forward.
B) No more talking about details of the trip at work until it’s over. When other coworkers ask “How’s your trip planning coming?” in the normal course of office small talk, you say “Great, thanks. How is your [subject change to end all subject changes] going?” Privately, depending on how well you get along, give them the straight dope: “Thanks for asking, but I’m keeping the details private from Coworker. I’ll show you pictures when we get back if you want!”
It bears saying: Nothing about this is your fault because you were excited or talked about the trip at work. My coworkers aren’t inviting themselves on my France journey. What she is doing is Not Normal. Still, since the fires of weirdness are ablaze, don’t fuel them. Lock it down for now.
C) When she asks how planning is going, you say “I’d prefer to keep the details private. + [subject change to work topic]?”
D) Outright block her from seeing anything you post anywhere on social media. Make sure your friend does, too, so she can’t ferret stuff out from their feeds.To the extent you can, block her from emailing you on your personal email or calling your personal phone #.
If it’s not clear, this coworker is now on “only essential work conversations” lockdown.
E) If you can, absolutely consider changing which hotel you’re going to stay at and vary up that initial itinerary a bit. Do not communicate the changes to anyone at work – not even in an “If you need to reach me in case of Work Emergency, here’s where I’ll be” sort of way. Use your friend’s name in any bookings, too, to make yourself harder to find.
F) Depending on your relationship with your manager, bring it up with them first. Do it in a face-to-face conversation. You could follow up/document via email, but start in-person.
Possible script (credit to my friend E., who is a manager of many people and who served as part of my WTF? Focus Group this morning):
“Boss, there’s a potential situation unfolding that I wanted to give you a heads up about. It’s not directly related to my job duties, so I didn’t mention it to you sooner. As you know, I’m going to Tokyo on vacation soon, and I was very surprised when Coworker announced her plans to take a similar trip, and she has been pressuring me to make plans together. This is not possible due to my own travel arrangements, but she is not taking it well, to the extent that I am feeling harassed/threatened by her reactions that she is sharing with me and others.“
If your boss is a “oh, it can’t be that bad!” sort of person, it’s a good idea to work the initial script into that conversation somewhere – “It’s inappropriate for a coworker to invite themselves on my personal vacation.” This is very strange behavior. Keep naming the behavior. You can add “She’s never done anything like this before, so this very strange and unusual behavior.”
More from E.:
“I am a big believer in telling your boss what you want/hope the boss will do, and in this case, I think that might be “I don’t want or expect you to do anything, but I did want you to be aware in case you hear anything about it.” If you *do* want the boss to do something, you should say what that is.”
I am also a big believer in telling bosses/teachers etc. what action you hope they’ll take (they are also human beings who can be thrown by really awkward situations and sometimes they don’t know). Besides “be generally aware in case things escalate”, some things you might ask the boss to do:
- Independently confirm whether coworker has actually requested those same dates off. If she has, it raises the threat level. If she hasn’t, her behavior around this is still very strange but there might be a chance she’ll back off before the trip actually comes.
- Schedule you for different shifts or to work on different projects/clients for now.
- Review/reassure you about company policies about sharing employees’ personal info. You don’t want her contacting you in Tokyo or on any personal channels outside of work – does the company have adequate policies in place?
- Back you up. “I plan to stop talking about the trip at all during work hours, so if you ask me about it and I change the subject, that’s why.” “I’ve corrected her whenever she refers to it as ‘our trip’ or insists that I let her tag along. If you hear me do that, this is why.”
- If the behavior continues and/or escalates, boss can check in with coworker or help you loop in HR. Is Coworker ok? Does she have some stress in her life that is manifesting at work? HR might be able to hook her up with an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP). To be clear, it’s not your responsibility to make sure this person is ok – your boss gets paid bigger bucks than you to work out things like this for the good of the staff.
G) What happens next depends on what she does. I am crossing every appendage that she’ll get the message and chill out. If not, keep documenting everything (including your conversations with your boss or HR).
H) If (oh shit) she actually follows you to Japan:
- It is okay to completely blank her. You TOLD her not to come. “I’m sorry, but you’re not welcome here. I’ve told you that many times. Please leave.“
- Hotels are not supposed to give people’s info out and many will have policies around that. Check with your hotel to see what their policies are – are the staff aware of them, are they enforced? From my WTF? Focus Group Meeting today, my friend J. who works in hotels had this advice:
“As a matter of policy, any respectable hotel will not give out a guest’s name/room number. If you call and ask to be connected with a room number, they will ask you to verify the guest’s name. Also, hotel maids are trained repeatedly to not let anyone into any room unless they can verify the name and have an ID that matches.
If you want to be super secure, you can send an email to the hotel GM and or Front Office Manager letting them know that you value your privacy and want all information about your trip kept confidential.”
It SUCKS that you would have to worry about this around your long-planned trip. I hope you can have a great time without looking over your shoulder for your Copycat Coworker!