#1044: “This work friendship is not working.”

Dear Captain,

This woman (I’ll call her Glinda) and I have been friends for a few years now. We met through work, though we were in different departments of a large organization and seldom had a chance to actually interact in the workplace. But we had similar interests, lived in the same part of town and had several mutual friends, so we became rather close friends–she confided in me about her personal life, threw me a baby shower when I got pregnant, etc.

Then our work arrangements changed and we found ourselves working a lot more closely together: currently, at any given time, there are at least two or three projects we’re both working on, sometimes sharing responsibility for most of it. And Captain, I’m on the brink of quitting my job (and the friendship).

Glinda is constantly freaking out. About EVERYTHING. And since I’m her friend, she comes to me about it and I have to reason with her and calm her down and reassure her, often multiples times about the same topic, until she moves on to a new one. Half the energy I’d normally spend on work is spent managing her emotionally. She feels underappreciated by our bosses–she talks to me about it. She’s having second thoughts about a perfectly good decision that our team has made and started implementing–she talks to me about it. She gets frustrated by her interactions with other colleagues–she talks to me about it.

And I can’t not deal with those things because they’re not just friendship-related, they’re work related. If I don’t reassure her about her capacities being appreciated, she’ll become sad and unproductive, which will affect our work. If I don’t reason with her about that decision that’s giving her second thoughts, she’ll call a new meeting to re-discuss everything and change everything, wasting everyone’s time (including mine). If I don’t calm her down when she’s frustrated and run interference between her and the other colleagues, they won’t want to work with her/our team and we won’t get anything done.

Everything is twice as hard and takes twice as long, because I have to deal with Glinda. She’s my friend and I love her, but I don’t want to be working with her anymore. It’s literally draining me and turning a job I used to love into a chore.

Do you have any tips on how to deal with this situation?

Sincerely,

About to quit (she/her)

Dear About To Quit,

I co-taught a class with a “Glinda” at work in the pre-blog days and I do have some tips.

My Glinda carried a lot of anxiety and I think yours does, too. I don’t know if it’s clinically significant sort of anxiety (and it’s 100% not our job to determine that), but she displayed anxious behaviors and expressed a lot of verbal worry (“I’m very worried about…“, the checking and double-checking, the “I know we decided this already but can we go through it again?,” what you describe as “FREAKING OUT”) Once there was a 50+ message email thread about what snacks, if any to bring to the final class screening, to which I contributed a single message that said: “I don’t have time to pick up snacks but I can kick in $10. Get whatever you want, thanks!” which somehow prompted her to brainstorm various snacks at me, debate which snacks were best, and call me rude and un-collaborative when I didn’t answer any more questions about snacks b/c my name is not Professor Snack.

So, yeah, a lot of the stuff your Glinda is doing reads like anxious cycling to me. She feels upset about something work-related, she perseverates on it, she leans on you to soothe her, or calls the whole team in to a meeting to go back over the same ground, and all work pretty much stops until she gets soothed. I felt like my Glinda wasn’t satisfied unless I felt the exact same level of stress about an issue that she did, like she was working to transfer her worry to me, and I had no idea how to soothe her. I started second-guessing myself and feeling totally exhausted and avoiding her as much as possible, which made her chase me more, which made me more exhausted and avoidant.

What helped me, eventually, was to remind myself that her worry 1) sucks, for her more than anyone and 2) it didn’t have to become my worry. I carry a lot of anxiety (of the clinical sort) and one of my jobs in managing it is to not automatically offload it onto other people with the expectation that they will react to things the same way I do. I tried my best to reframe her behaviors as “She cares a lot about the work and the students, this is just her way of showing it, it doesn’t have to be my way, though” and strive for compassionate disengagement with the rest.

I set some boundaries, such as:

  • I can do one phone call a week and an in-person meeting every couple weeks, more than that is impossible.
  • I can get back to you within 24 hours, there’s no need to call to see if I received an email.
  • After the 4th or 5th time she’d mention that a particular student hadn’t turned in an assignment and want to talk to me on the phone about it, I said “I can care about the students but I can’t do their caring for them. We’ve checked in with the student to see what’s going on, until they answer the email we can’t do anything, so I need to mentally cross the issue off my list for now.
  • I started answering once and then dropping the subject (as in the case of the snacks), and if she started a cycle of following up and second-guessing I’d say something like “You already know what I think.
  • I tried being really proactive in my communications.
  • When possible I consulted her on things she’s an expert about, and also asking her about her extremely cool creative projects and things outside of work.

It never got awesome, but it did get better for me when I had more tools for stopping the cycle before it really got going, when we had some more positive interactions to chase the bad ones out, and when I was able to stop taking on her worry as my own.

Read on for some more gentle ways to reset this relationship.

Strategy 1: Uncross the Streams

Try to adopt a Coworker Hat and a Friend Hat, and make it explicit when you are switching between them. I learned this trick from my friend Megan whose boss at her old job was also a close friend. She would tell him, “I need you to put your Friend-hat on” or “I need you to put your Administrator hat on” or he would tell her “I say this with my Your Supervisor-hat on” so that the boundaries and context of the discussion could be clear. For example (I’m going to keep rocking with your Wicked references if that’s cool):

  • “Glinda, as your friend Elphaba I want to listen and make soothing noises about how under-appreciated you are, but your coworker Elphaba needs to get this locked down so we can get it out the door.” 
  • “Glinda, as your friend Elphaba, I have all the sympathies, but I gotta put my coworker hat on right now. We don’t have time to have another meeting about this. Let’s move forward with the steps we agreed to – we can tackle the next steps once we’ve got this phase done.” 

If you can make the distinctions between friend mode and professional mode a little clearer, hopefully she’ll adapt and also get better at making those distinctions. Right now I think her default answer to “Are you asking friend-Elphaba or colleague-Elphaba?” would be “BOTH, silly!” Down the road, you’ll know this is working if she starts making the distinctions when she asks.

Friend-mode and coworker-mode can also help you have the difficult conversation that is brewing.

Glinda, as your friend, I’ve noticed that you are carrying a lot of worry about our projects right now. As your coworker, I need some emotional distance so I can focus on getting the stuff done. Is there someone else you can vent to about work stress while we’re trying to knock out work projects?

More specifically, [putting Coworker hat on] I feel like some of the emergencies you bring to my attention aren’t really emergencies, even if they feel that way for you. For example…[1 recent specific example]…I think it’s sapping my energy and the team’s momentum to be in crisis mode all the time. I’d love to find a way that we could get ahead of this and take some stress off your plate. 

Can you and I sit down, switch 100% into Work Mode, generate a giant do-do list, and come up with some solutions together that we can use to move forward on the project? I think that will make us both feel more organized.

You might be avoiding this conversation because you don’t want to freak her out. But she’s already freaking out and it’s not getting better, and it’s starting to freak you out to the point that you’re ready to burn it all down. When you tell her this, she might have an emotional “Oh shit my friend is abandoning me and hates working with me” reaction. Ride it out and keep the focus on what you need her to do (find another outlet for work stress, plan out/divide up tasks better).

Setting boundaries with other people also means setting them with ourselves. You say that if you don’t reassure her constantly she gets “sad and unproductive.” What if you let Glinda be sad and unproductive for an afternoon? Resetting this dynamic means saying “Friend-Elphaba says hi and she likes your shoes. Coworker Elphaba needs to focus and can’t talk right now, sorry” and then letting her feelings be whatever they will be. You’re worried it will affect the work, but it’s already affecting the work (especially your work). Sometimes we have to figure out how to be both sad and sorta productive and not expect a coworker to solve that for us.

Strategy 2: Rituals

If you don’t already have this, establish distinct times and a clear structure for checking in with each other about project stuff. Set a hard start and end time: Like, a 10-minute morning catch-up meeting or a 10-minute end-of-day status check-in. If you want, set an actual timer and aim to get through as much of the to-do list as you can in 10 minutes. Leave no room for rehashing stuff or venting.

The timer thing will be artificial and weird and awkward as hell at first, but if you take on the awkwardness as your own personal quirk – “I’m really trying to be mindful of time and more efficient, especially around meetings and interruptions, please indulge my weird quirk while I try something new” or “Hey, I’ve got 10 minutes for you, go!“- and are rock-solid-reliable about checking in with her, she will probably adjust.

Don’t neglect “friend mode” when you schedule these catchups. What if you also took a weekly tea break or walk around the block or found some other tiny ritual to check in with Glinda-the-person? Make some ground rules: Set a maximum time, no work talk. Script: “Glinda, can we plan a little break once in a while to destress ourselves? I don’t want to lose my friend in among all this stressful work stuff. No work talk, first person to bring up work has to put a dollar in the work-talk jar” (You can use the jar contents for a nice lunch out when it inevitably fills up). This is a good time to ask her for her input on things she’s good at or interested in, or run your own dilemmas by her or otherwise break the dynamic of Soother/Soothee.

I sense that every part of you is running screaming from this idea. You want to contain Glinda, not release her freak-out-Kraken. The key here is adding structure. You can protect most of your workday from feelingsinterruptions, and Glinda won’t have to chase you if she knows there are a few times a day that she gets your full attention. If she starts cycling at you, you can redirect her to one of those ritual times – “I’m in the middle of something now, let’s discuss it when we catch up at the end of the day/first thing tomorrow.” If it’s still an issue then, you can talk about it. If she’s just venting free-floating anxiety and it’s not actually an urgent issue, it will go away on its own.

Keep in mind, you’re ready to blow up, but she doesn’t know it’s a problem yet, so for best results give her some time to adjust and be consistent and gentle as you make changes.

Strategy 3: Prompt for Solutions

I’ve written about him here before, but I still follow the way of my former boss, Stasys, who had to run daily status meetings for teams who were building complex proposals on tight deadlines. I will share The Way of Stasys, that it might spread through the world and make people less annoyed and more efficient:

  • Meetings will start on time and end on time. Ideally they will last no more than 30 minutes.
  • There will be an agenda and we will follow that agenda.
  • You will be prepared for the meeting. That means: You’re in your seat a few minutes before the meeting start time, with all relevant materials ready to go and whatever beverages and pens you need. You will have thought about what you’re going to say ahead of time to keep it brief and on-topic.
  • Relevant to You, Letter Writer: If you bring up a problem you must also suggest 1-3 possible solutions to that problem. Defining problems is important, but the bulk of our time should be on evaluating solutions. 
  • Everybody gets to be heard, nobody gets to dominate the floor. (i.e. Senior folks can’t drone on).
  • Everyone takes turns moderating, keeping things on task & on time, and taking notes. (Note-taking and time-keeping aren’t automatically delegated to the junior and/or female).
  • No multitasking (cell phones, email). If you have to do something that’s so vitally important you can’t put it down for 30 minutes to focus, go do that thing instead of half-assing your attention. You’ll get the notes/updates later and can fill us in by email.

I don’t know where you are relative to Glinda in the reporting structure or how much power you have in how things get run, but when Glinda “freaks out,” prompt her for solutions.

  • “What do you think you’ll do about that?” 
  • “What do you suggest?”
  • “I hear you! I need your help, though  – can you break down for me what you think we should do?” 
  • “Is there one specific step you want to take that will fix this?” 
  • “How does this move the project forward?” 
  • “How will we justify this to the higher-ups/the clients/the team?”
  • “Can you think of three solutions for that? We can call in the team for a meeting, but I don’t want to distract them from what they’re working on until you and I are on the same page and we have a plan.” 
  • “Have you told Oz and The Cowardly Lion what you’re telling me?”

Now, this is a self-care thing: In the absence of solutions and next steps, her problems don’t have to be your problems/the project’s problems. Friend-You can listen, you can make soothing “Hrm, that sucks” or “I’m sorry you’re dealing with that” or “Wow, that’s really stressful, what do you think you’ll do?” or “I agree, you really are under-appreciated here” noises, but until she says “I think we should do ____” or “I’d like to try _____,” Coworker-You does NOT have to call in the troops or revisit the plan. You can set a boundary with yourself that you can listen, affirm the feelings, and not take action unless it’s necessary for the work.

Strategy 4: Cover Your Ass

The needs of Glinda, You, and Your Company’s Projects are not necessarily congruent, and these needs can diverge without anyone being a villain. I don’t think you have to soothe and rework things for your friend at the expense of the projects or your own reputation and standing at work. To that end:

  • Document team decisions in writing/by email so it’s clear who is doing what and when.
  • If Glinda wants to change direction or call a meeting, get her on record for a meeting agenda and institute a general “1 problem = 3 solutions” practice on your team.
  • Present trade-offs. “We can do that, but it means giving up this. Is that what you want to do?” Document that. “Ok, so we are going to focus on X and pull back on Y.
  • You get to have opinions about what will help the project and express those opinions. “I understand that you’re upset, but the project will best be served by _____ (staying the course/knocking this out/letting the team work/focusing on x and y, not z right now, so I’d prefer to do that.” (Document)
  • Protect your team’s time, energy, and reputation. Do you have standing to say “No, we can’t revisit this now?” or “No, we can’t schedule another meeting to talk through this again” to Glinda and have that respected? (Document)
  • Verbal comfort followed by direct, specific email requests work best in my experience:
    • Glinda: “SAD STUFF!”
    • You: (verbally) “So sad!”
    • You: (by email)  “Reminder, I need ______ by the end of the day tomorrow so I can get started on ______.
  • If Glinda gets “sad and unproductive” or calls unnecessary meetings anyway in a way that fucks up the project/relationships with the team, what can you do to address that? “Glinda, I want to be sympathetic but this is affecting my work, too. I really want you to talk to someone about how worried and upset you’re feeling here, and as your friend I hate that you’re carrying this much stress! But as your coworker, I need _____.” (_____ = You to tell the bosses why we’re behind schedule. You to apologize to the team for changing direction yet again. You to notify the client of the mistake. You need to figure this out on your own without calling a meeting.)

Finally, I don’t know your reporting structure or what your bosses are like. If you trust your boss with a “Glinda and I are great as friends, but we have really incompatible working styles and I’d like to move away from working closely together on future assignments” conversation, welp, that may well be the path of least resistance here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

59 comments
  1. Willow said:

    Oof, I’m exhausted just reading this!

    • Anon, Goodnight said:

      Same. 😦

  2. GreenDoor said:

    Ugh. I’m a former coworker of a Glinda and this is all solid advice.

    I second the advice to redirect her Sads and Upsets and Worries to people that can help. “Have you talked to Boss?” “Have you spoken to HR about that?” “Did you tell her that was upsetting you?” I had to do this a LOT but my Glinda finally got it that I wasn’t going to be the one to solve her problems.

    I also learned to ask, calmly, “Are you looking for advice or are you just venting.” Nine times out of ten the answer was “Just venting” to which I replied, “Ok….so anyways, back to the XYZ conundrum, I was thinking we’d do A.” No reaction to what she just said. No sounds of sympathy. No rushing in to solve her problem. Just sat quietly while she vented then right back to the work conversation. Do that enough, and people quickly realize they get no babying from you and will quit coming to you with the Feelings Dumping.

    • lkeke35 said:

      “Are you looking for advice or are you just venting.”

      This right here! I’m so glad this was said. As a Black woman (although this isnt specifically about race, sometimes racial dynamics can get involved) a lot of people want to see me as acaring Mammy figure, which I absolutely am not. That reaction above is exactly how I’ve learned to deal with people (of all races) who want me to do free emotional labor for them. Mentally saying to myself: This is not my problem. I’m not picking it up.

      If its venting, then I DISENGAGE, DISENGAGE, DISENGAGE. Since I have enough of a time dealing with my own emotional and health issues, I have adopted a very firm behavior of not adopting anyone elses’ problems. I know what my strengths and limits are and they do not extend to helping every single person out who sees me as a repository for their troubles. I try not to be mean about it, but make it clear that there wil lbe no babysitting, or handholding, from me.

      Now, if they want advice ,that’s diferent. If they want solutions, that’s different. But dumping their problems on me because they think that’s what I’m here for, is a no-no.

      • thebewilderness said:

        I was committed to solving every problem for every person on the planet until I learned to ask this question. It is such a good question.

      • Tepid Tea said:

        “Now, if they want advice ,that’s diferent. If they want solutions, that’s different. But dumping their problems on me because they think that’s what I’m here for, is a no-no.”

        See…I kind of think that friendships would 100% not suffer if each friend therein adhered to a NO VENTING rule.

        Over 15+ years of adult friendships, I’ve observed that the chronic venters/complainers/non-advice-takers remain stuck in crappy situations, and they burn through friends through a combination of negativity and self-absorption.

        I think venting, when it becomes a habit, is bad for the venter because it reinforces their sense that they’re helpless to change bad situations. Further, venting reinforces their sense that the bad situation is intense and overwhelming and requires all of their emotional energy. The negative emotions venting (supposedly) discharges in the moment are more than made up for by the reinforcement of these beliefs.

        And of course, the designated listener gets nothing out of listening to someone’s vent.

        So why not have a NO VENTING rule? Replace it with a corollary of captainawkward’s rule above: “Complain, but posit three possible solutions and commit to trying one in good faith before complaining again.”

        • lkeke35 said:

          I’ve had to do this with a close friend at work who was constantly venting about her non work friends to me. I finally told her I can’t listen to her complain about these people anymore. She was unhappy, getting in a rut, and making me unhappy, while doing the same thing she kept complaining her friends were doing. Not fixing their problems, just complaining. I told she had some decisions to make, and she is no longer allowed to talk to me about them unless she is telling me what decision she implemented. This actually worked. She has reached some kind of detente with them, and doesn’t constantly complain to me about them. She had to do to them what I did to her.

        • PrairieChick said:

          Oh, thank you, yes, This! I ended a long friendship and made another friendship into “small doses”, because of venting that never changed, no matter the support or advice given.

          The ” So sorry to know! What do you think you will do about it?” response is what I use now, to folks settling down for a long vent.

          Venting usually results in replaying, and often intensifying, all the negativity involved with unhappy experiences and situations.

          • Ess in Tee said:

            I had to size down a friendship as well due to constant venting/complaining. After a few years of this friendship, my partner began complaining about how negative I was whenever I came home after an evening out with her.

            My aha! moment came when I saw her on Skype and thought “oh hey I should give her a ring – oh, but do I have two hours to devote to complaining?” This wasn’t a judgement call, just a sudden clear moment of “hey wait – I don’t think I actually have time for this anymore.” Our conversations had become angrily going over the same problems over and over again. No solutions, no new insights, just angrily chewing the same old soup over and over again.

            She’s a good person and I wish her well, but I notice my partner doesn’t complain about me being overly negative when I come in from evenings out anymore.

          • Friendly Hipposcriff said:

            Venting usually results in replaying, and often intensifying, all the negativity involved with unhappy experiences and situations.

            I know that kind of interaction. I have done the kind of complaining and going over things again, and I apologise to everyone whose ears I bent; I was not in a good place, and while it did not help me overmuch, it at least kept me level.

            What I call venting – and I see that one as positive – is the type where you go to a sympathetic person, say ‘everything was horrible today […]’ and end on ‘thanks for listening’. And then it’s done. You got it off your chest, you got some reinforcement/sympathy, and you put it away. If it happens again, you start looking for patterns and start addressing them, but if it’s just a random slice of life – it was raining and all the drivers went full speed through the puddle next to the sidewalk; you dropped your phone and you’re really annoyed with yourself with being so stupid, _twice_ this week there’s been a signal failure and you were late for work – then maybe you just need to get it off your chest.

            I would much rather people vented to me and let go than eat up their resentment and eventually exploding. If that’s continuously one-sided – one side always complains, one side always listens patiently and never gets a chance to express their own feelings – then that’s a different problem.

        • MuddieMae said:

          I read about a study or something once that indicated that venting can be healthy if you’re a venting kind of person, but only if it’s a few minutes. Longer than that causes the negative effects you outlined. Anecdata, but my spouse and I have instituted that time limit and it really does seem to make a difference.

          • Yeah, as a fellow venter I agree. I’m one of those people that if I’m annoyed, I’ll be 100% better if I just say it out loud. Then I’m fine. The verbal processes often leads to clarity and solutions too. Of course, I try to be considerate to other people around me, and I’m always available for friends who need to a venting buddy themselves. The time limit makes sense–I’d noticed something similar but never really put it together.

          • Drew said:

            My boss is a venter and I learned to say, “I agree, the situation is terrible, but neither one of us has the power to go against Big Boss when she sets her mind to something, so let’s work on how to best proceed from this stupid decision.” It validates the venting and then redirects toward solving the problem in a way that isn’t “make Big Boss realize she’s wrong,” which is like yelling at a brick wall from a mile away.

            One time, my boss asked why I wasn’t upset. I told her, “I’m very upset. But I can’t let that take over my mind or I’ll get stuck in a rut. I’ve learned that I have to look forward, not back.”

          • DesertRose said:

            Yes, as a very verbal person, I agree that short-term/time-limited venting can be helpful.

            Venting sometimes helps me to define the problem (if I don’t let myself get caught in the negative feedback loop, which is sometimes more like a negative feedback whirlpool!) but allowing myself to be upset about whatever and discuss it sometimes helps me figure out what exactly has me so upset, and I can’t always come up with solutions if I haven’t been able to put a name to the problem. Sometimes I vent to my cat, because what I really need to do is encapsulate the problem in words in order to find a solution.

            That all being said, constant venting isn’t helpful (because of said negative feedback whirlpool) for anyone. It keeps the venter in the bad mental space, and it irks the shit out of everyone around them (over time).

          • Jenesis said:

            Hi, I’m a venter. I’m not going to Find A Solution to my sadfeels about my chronic, incurable health condition by talking to some untrained rando. If I followed this advice, all my friendships would be shallow and superficial, because I would feel like a burden if I opened up to my friends, and conversely would feel really awkward if they expected me to do emotional labor for them in return.

            I like the idea of venting to a cat. They can’t understand you anyway, and once you get it out of your system you can pet the cat.

        • My friendships would suffer if we all adhered to a NO VENTING rule. But that’s because my friends and I don’t treat each other as emotional dumping grounds. We vent occasionally, and then we move on to other things. It’s only a problem when done to excess.

          Now I’m thinking back on a couple of friendships from years ago where the people did treat me like an emotional dumping ground (and also expected me to come up with solutions for them, oddly). If I had it to do over, I don’t think I’d institute a NO VENTING rule, even though it would be kinda justified. Maybe some VENTING LIMIT signs …

          • PrairieChick said:

            Picking up on Desert Rose’s comment: While venting aloud helps some people, another ” venting to find solutions ” method is making a Mind Map on paper. It lets you put the problem in the center, and then radiate all the feelings/thoughts around it on arms coming from the center. Possible strategies then can be worked around one or more of the arms.

            As a Big Picture and visual tool, it’s been very helpful to me and others. Somehow, drawing on paper helps the mind switch into Creative mode from Critic mode…….. childhood years of crayons and doodling are evoked.

          • An emotional dumping ground… who does not listen to your own emotions?
            Redirect to therapist, please.

          • The people who use you as an emotional dumping ground and don’t reciprocate aren’t people you want in your life. The ones who *would* reciprocate if you wanted them to … you can work with them.

        • Oranges said:

          Sometimes we just need to get some compassion from a friend, but it is boring and draining to listen to repeated complaints. I had a friendship where I had to institute a rule where Friend could complain ONCE about any given topic and I would listen sympathetically and/or offer advice if wanted, but I did not want to hear a complaint about that topic again unless Friend had tried to fix the problem. Also they had to listen to my problems sometimes too.

    • Amy said:

      Seeking advice vs venting is such a key distinction. Asking for help to fix something is one thing, and it’s usually pretty clear how to respond to that in productive ways–you offer advice, they say thanks and either choose to implement it or don’t, done. But in my experience it’s a lot less common than venting.

      I don’t have any kind of universal ban on venting in my relationships–on the contrary, I think making time to listen to one another is important for close relationships. But I do have boundaries on it, and that makes a big difference for me.
      1. You have to ask first. Let me know you’re looking to vent, ask if I have time, genuinely accept the answer if I don’t.
      2. If I say it’s becoming too much, you have to accept that and stop without pushing back.
      3. It has to be reciprocal. I need support sometimes too, and if you’re always busy or unwilling to listen, then I need to save my time and energy for people who are willing to support me in return. (#1 and 2 apply to me as well when I’m the venter, of course.)

      When those boundaries are taken as given in a relationship, I’ve found that venting can be a really mutually supportive and helpful thing, and can actually strengthen a friendship. When they’re ignored, or only respected reluctantly, ‘venting’/over-the-top emotional dumping can become a really destructive force. It comes down to respect, for me. Listening to and comforting someone through hard feelings is actually a pretty time and energy intensive process. For a relationship to contain that well, it needs to be treated as the work that it is, not considered automatic or something that someone is entitled to.

      • Convallaria majalis said:

        Well put in words, Amy!

        I am not much of a venter myself, I am more of a ventee. People come to me to talk about their problems as they did to my mother; it has probably something to do with they way I was brought up. I still have to do a lot of figuring out on how to live my life as I am (as a person who seems to prompt others to tell about their problems by simply existing) and at the same time hold my boundaries.

        I wonder if I am the only one (probably not) but to me it seems that there are several different kinds of venting – and some kinds take much less mental energy than others. While I do not mind being there for a friend or a colleague in a moment of need (for example after some personal catastrophe) it does get heavy quickly if I am the only one taking care of their mental well being. To me it is also much lighter if they vent about people I do not know versus about people I know and care for. I guess it comes down to responsibility: am I responsible for this person? Do I have to do something about this?

        Amy wrote about something I have found very important: respect. I have a few friends who are venting types but they also clearly respect it that I am there for them to accept their venting. It feels great when the mental work is recognized, for example when a friend says: “Thank you for listening to my worries.” or “Thank you for being there for me when I needed it.”

        Also, thank you again, Captain, for your awesome and clear instructions. Thank you for this site, for your answers and for the awesome comunity. You make the world a better place to live in, one answer at a time. That means a lot.

      • thneedle said:

        When I need to vent about something, I give ventee a heads-up, and if it’s okay, I give myself permission to say ALL the things. I say the unfair things. I whine. I deny any personal responsibility. I say terrible judgemental things. I use bad words and call absent people names. I experience my anger. (And then I’m done with that, because I’m hearing myself the whole time and I know how unfair I’m being.)

        It’s because my “being reasonable” muscle is really strong and I’m pretty understanding about stuff human beans do, but I found that I could be more understanding about something if I also had permission to be angry about it. Understanding before anger is only in my head, but understanding after anger is usually in my heart. But I have to, essentially, admit to myself that I *am* angry about the thing.

    • Jarred H said:

      Yes. I especially feel that’s appropriate for the times that Glinda is feeling underappreciated by the bosses. That to me is a thing to talk to said bosses about. And I say this as someone who recently had one of those conversations with a boss myself.

  3. c. said:

    PROFESSOR SNACK tho

    • S said:

      I take all of Prof. Snack’s classes.

      • sophylou said:

        Professor Snack is on my dissertation committee. Professor Coffee, however, is my advisor.

  4. An Ominous Buzzing of Wasps said:

    LW – the captain’s advice is (as usual) deeply excellent, and as someone who’s had her own Glinda (although mine was Evil!Glinda) I wish I’d had it about 3 years ago because I think the separation of Work-relationship and Friend-relationship would have ultimately have saved me a lot of stress.

    That kind of friendship seems to get very intense, very quickly, because you’re seeing the person as much as (or more than) you’d see a school bff or partner and that can create a false feeling of extra-closeness I think and that can make things even harder. Ultimately with my evil!Glinda, I left my job, discovered she’d actually been telling lies about and to and that resulted in my trying to ghost her. I’m not proud of myself for that, but I was hurt, and when we weren’t working together and didn’t have a lot of friends in common it should have been easy. She followed me to my new company.

    Luckily we’re not in the same department, or even building, but I have low grade constant anxiety about it. I have spoken off the record to my manager to say that the relationship is a bit strained and that I’d prefer not to be placed together on future projects, even though that doesn’t reflect brilliantly on my professionalism but better that than end up stuck with her again.

    It could all have been a great deal easier if I’d used my words and tools to disentangle our weird hybrid relationship before it got so emcompassingly dreadful

    • Drew said:

      I think it’s absolutely professional to say, “We have a history of not working well together and, all else being equal, I think it would be better to keep us on separate teams when you can.” That’s good information for a manager to have, and if down the road you and Glinda end up on a project, at least your boss will know to keep a closer eye on it than she otherwise might.

  5. unlurking said:

    As probably-Glinda-at-some-level, all CAs advice sounds great. I have gotten much better at dealing with my own anxiety, and not perseverating (especially after decisions are made, yikes! do not reopen a closed issue!). When it *does* happen, decisions-focus & solutions-focus & boundaries absolutely works. Because yeah not only is it not somebody else’s feelings to have to handle, “handling” also doesn’t really work — external reassurance does *not* lower the anxiety, unless it is *very* plain-fact based and I can actually get there myself.

    • Thanksforallthefish said:

      Just a coworker not muddied by friendship but I have a Glinda. She likes to stop me right as I’m about to leave for the day (when it’s just two of us left in the office). To generally vent about/ask me about why all these decisions keep getting made in other departments. I used to share in it because I too have some anxiety and she would get me all spun up in it but I realized it not only wasted my leaving time but it got me in an unhelpful frenzy to go home. Now I do a lot more…”did you tell them about how you feel?” –or– *chuckle “that’s above my pay-grade, goodnight”

  6. S said:

    My coworkers and I tend to get into the occasional Anxiety/Rage cycle. (We feed off each other and then our cycling will start to irritate the other ones who are like Dude. Stop.) And I’ve been through professional situations where my venting had gotten out of control. I wish that my sounding board had gently talked to me the way that the Captain suggests here. (Instead we had a talk with my boss and her about my “attitude problem.” I don’t suggest this.)

    I actually think that the workplace is the one place where “I wasn’t asking for your advice I just wanted to talk about how I feel” doesn’t actually apply. It’s necessary and good to not give advice or “solve” your friend’s life when you’re talking about their personal problems that are their business and have a lot of emotional baggage attached.

    But that’s not how the working world works. We’re not here to share our lives in a joyful family. We’re here to get shit done, that means identifying problems and solving them. Your friend is identifying or creating problems at you, and she needs to be redirected towards solutions. As Friend Elphaba this would be rude and pushy and she would feel annoyed at you for not listening, as Work Elphaba sharing responsibilities with her it is in my opinion perfectly appropriate to boss your friend around about how to solve non problems. (But I may not be in the majority here.)

    My only other thought is does she have a good manager? Can she do anything about what her workplace support system looks like from an official and professional standpoint? Are there mentor programs or other training at your office she could avail herself of? It seems like she’s really struggling professionally if she has this level of anxiety, and a good workplace should have solutions to help her besides her already hard working coworker and friend. (I think you have to be more “friend advice giving” than “Work advice giving” about this stuff, but still, problem solving is what we get paid for, otherwise machines would do all this shit already.)

    • Kitty said:

      I worry about this sometimes too, that teammates and I have got too much into a cycle of venting and complaining about work annoyances. But then a lot of our problems at work are to do with people superior to us, where we really don’t have any power to change the situation, so I’m not sure how to fix it…

      • S said:

        Sometimes you can take steps to try and mitigate things. (there are lots of articles about managing up, or managing bad bosses)

        But sometimes decisions get made and you disagree with them and that is frustrating. I have been there lots of times. Ultimately though, we are there because we get paid to be there, if it wasn’t annoying they wouldn’t have to pay us.

  7. Goober said:

    The problem of wanting to revisit decisions that have already been made can be dealt with by insisting on a *reason* to revisit it.

    “We discussed this at the last meeting, and we all agreed that X was the best path forward. What new information do you have? What new circumstance has come up? Why do you feel that the decision that we all made together is not longer valid?”

  8. Mustela Furo said:

    I recognize myself here in the second-guessing of almost all decisions in my life and the occasional swirling of self-doubting thoughts. I am now going to go check in with my own excellent friend/ fabulous co-worker/ occasional sounding board and make sure I am not driving her mad.

  9. Kitty said:

    God, I wish our manager were as competent as the Captain. Whenever I bring her a problem she’ll usually either insist on a solution she thinks will work, even if I repeatedly tell her it doesn’t work for me, or she’ll try to pretend it isn’t a problem at all. It’s most frustrating when I try to get her help with prioritising work and say “okay, these two deadlines are coming up, but I only have time to complete either X or Y by that date. Which should I prioritise?” Her answer will either be “both!” and trying to suggest that I go back and forth doing bits of both, which I try to point out to her will actually take longer and mean neither gets completed, or she will question how long I’ve estimated for a task and imply others are taking less time on that task (I checked with my teammate and she agreed with me on the time estimate).

    UGH. The job of a manager is supposed to be making the team’s jobs easier, not harder. They’re supposed to work WITH their staff to solve a problem in a way that works for them, not insist on one way, or hide their head in the sand about a problem.

    I wish higher ups understood that managing is a completely different job to the one our team does. So just because she was great at the job we’re doing, doesn’t mean she has the skills to manage well now that she’s been promoted.

    • Promotion ==> incompetence. A common problem.

      “The Peter Principle is an observation that the tendency in most organizational hierarchies, such as that of a corporation, is for every employee to rise in the hierarchy through promotion until they reach the levels of their respective incompetence.” (investopedia)

      see also dilbert:

      • KS said:

        Scott Adams is an absolutely godawful person, but damn if he didn’t tap some deep veins of truth and commonality in human workplace organizational systems.

      • MuddieMae said:

        And even when people are relatively competent and become managers, there’s often no management-specific training for them. “Management” should be treated like a separate skill set that can be developed.

        • It reminds me of people who think my job (teaching a language) can’t be that difficult because hey, they speak that language. Makes me want to slam my head into a wall.

          • Nanani said:

            As a translator, I share your wall.

          • canadakate said:

            As both an ESL teacher and former ASL-English interpreter, I feel your pain!

        • Kitty said:

          Yes! This! I have faith that she’s intelligent and cares enough that if our company actually invested in training her with specific management and assertiveness skills, she could be good.

        • BigDogLittleCat said:

          Management *is* a separate skill set. Unfortunately, “management” these days is often someone brought in from the outside who has a “management” degree but no understanding of what the people they’re managing actually *do,* much less any understanding of the people themselves.* Or they’ve got economics background so they can run cost-benefit analyses of every number in the world, but they haven’t a clue about costs that don’t have $ stickers on them, so they don’t see that policies that hurt their staff hurt the bottom line.

          *high-five the “manager” who was such a horse’s ass that a 13-year, genuinely irreplaceable employee one day logged off, handed her keys to her co-worker, and walked out.

          • Muddie Mae said:

            The sounds more like a function of them being an asshole rather than simply being an outsider with a management background. People that are promoted from within and know widgets and all the staff backwards and forwards aren’t immune to being assholes either.

    • BigDogLittleCat said:

      I wish higher ups understood that managing is a completely different job to the one our team does. So just because she was great at the job we’re doing, doesn’t mean she has the skills to manage well now that she’s been promoted.

      This. My company has almost no genuine management. Lots of people who work on the product, but no one who knows jackdoodle about how to manage anything. So we have lpeople who can design or build, buy or sell, set strategy, decide policy, but no one to say, “X is *your* responsibility. *Your* job includes ABC. The process to do Z is 123.”
      So everyone does things their own way, and things fall through the cracks because it’s no one’s responsibility; if someone leaves, it’s back to square one on what they were doing because *if* they filed anything, it’s however they please. We’ve got auditors triple-checking that all required zillion signatures are on contracts, and lots of yammering about projects behind schedule, but no one who has the management authority to say, get your paperwork in to the contract admin by the required date or it’s marked on your record and will be reflected in your bonus.
      grumble grumble grumble. Major corporation on the NYSE and mail can get bounced around for a month because no one is in a position to say “you, these issues are yours. deal with them.”

  10. MuddieMaeSuggins said:

    LW, I notice you mention a number of times that if you don’t help Glinda process all of these anxious feelings, your team’s work will suffer. What if you drop that rope?

    [This is predicated on the assumption that you are just Glinda’s peer and a team member, not a manager or team lead or some such, and that you have somewhat effective management above you.]

    Right now, you are taking some responsibility for Glinda’s productivity. I imagine you care a lot about your team’s work, and the idea of letting it suffer even temporarily is an anathema. That happens a lot to people that care about their jobs and can influence them to take on a lot of extra work to try and keep everything from falling apart. Maybe you aren’t putting in a bunch of unseen overtime, but you are taking on extra stress/emotional labor in assuming the role of Glinda-Wrangler, and as a peer you really can’t do that indefinitely.

    One probable result of that is that no one who’s job *it is* to manage her work is aware of her difficulties with stress. A manager that isn’t aware is likely not going to know that they need to intervene, and they are both the more appropriate and more effective person to do so.

    • MuddieMaeSuggins said:

      I should clarify, because “drop the rope” sounds kind of abrupt, that I think the Captain’s suggestions for *how* to pull back seem like a good way to preserve both a good friendship and a good working relationship. I’m commenting more on a way to shift your own thinking, so you don’t feel guilty or beholden as you start to shift how you and Glinda work together. So “gently set the rope down”, I guess.

  11. tabbykat said:

    It can be hard to break the habit of reassuring and supporting people, even when the need for reassurance is getting excessive. At least I find it hard. But if I don’t, people are drawn to that sort of reassurance and just keeping coming back for it, over and over again. As I’m finding, again and again.

    • Drew said:

      I have a coworker who is fantastic at the day-to-day of her job but is utterly exhausting because she keeps circling back to “Do you really like my work? It’s really OK?” when what she means is “Do you really like me? Am I really OK?” Which is way too much baggage to put on routine daily assignments.

      And if you have to point out a correction, it is ZOMG the Worst Thing Ever and she’s an awful person who doesn’t deserve to be here, even when it’s just “You missed a typo on this page.”

  12. “And I can’t not deal with those things because they’re not just friendship-related, they’re work related.”

    Kind of?

    You’re not her manager. Although her anxieties have to do with work, constantly soothing those anxieties isn’t part of your job description. Neither is shielding the entire group from the consequences of her actions. Here’s hoping that the excellent advice of CA and others will greatly reduce the time you spend in this pseudo-manager/therapist role.

  13. Bagpuss said:

    I think you can not deal with them. You can’t totally ignore them, but you don’t need to get deeply involved.
    If you are her manager then this is a performance issue that you need to address.
    If you are her peer then it’s actually OK for you to deflect or redirect. e.g. “I’m sorry, I’m really busy and don’t have time to discuss this” OR
    “We already made a decision at the meeting. If you want that to be changed, then I’d suggest that you speak to manager, but I would expect her to want to know what has changed since the decision was made, to justify reopening the discussion.” OR
    “I get that you are feeling frustrated with Oz, but you need to have that conversation with him, not with me”

    Ideally I’d have a conversation with her first where you tell her that you recognise that she’s finding work stressful at the moment but that you feel that you’re spending a lot of time talking with her and helping her out at present, and that you need to prioritise your own workload, so you won’t be able to spare as much time going forward. Then, when you have to push back, it came be “Remember what I said about needing to manage my time better? This is one of those times, so I’m afraid I don’t have time to talk to you about this at present. Maybe you should think of a couple of options for the issue then talk to manager about it?”

    So you’re warning her then following through. If you were willing, you could maybe arrange to take a 10-15 minutes coffee break with her once or twice a week, and let her raise concerns then – then if she comes to you at other times you can say ” I don’t have time to go over this now, but we can have a quick chat about it on Wednesday, when we have coffee, if you’re still concerned about it then”

  14. Anonynon said:

    My Glinda is my boss. My key phrases now are “I’m not sure we have to worry about this now.” and “Isn’t this [Other Department Director]’s job to worry/manage this?” Honestly, it doesn’t usually work because I can’t push back as strongly as I’d like because Glinda is my boss, so I talk a lot about ways to cope in my weekly therapy appointments. Good luck to you, LW.

  15. Fontaine said:

    C. Awkward is so patient. You can be a good person and good friend (whether she agrees or not) and not be entangled with her. Start practicing and do it every day. It can be hard but it’s worth it. You’ll feel better.

  16. Mentalrose said:

    As something of a Glinda myself it’s worth noting that we don’t always realize we’re doing it. Sometimes it’s worth just telling us. (Kindly, of course!) I had that exactly happen about five years ago, when a friend said to me in so many words, “Hon, you’re stressing me out and I can’t deal with it. Can you please not talk about everything that’s wrong with me anymore?”

    Did I feel badly? Of course I did. I had some hurt feelings but I also did this thing where I went “oh wow I had literally no idea I was making this much stress for people!” Naturally I also worried about that. Quietly. To myself. 🙂 Because of that though, I am aware of this tendency in myself where I wasn’t before and I am able to try and rein it in and also to give my friends a heads up. This is a thing that I do. I don’t always realize I’m doing it. If I do and you don’t like it please tell me and I will do my best to stop. (The therapist and the medications help me greatly with this I will admit but I don’t know about this other person)

    And the guy who bluntly asked me to knock it off years ago? Still good friends. We play dnd together every Thursday. I just don’t tell him what’s wrong. 😉 I don’t know your Glinda of course. But there’s a lot to be said for just letting a person know what’s going on – can’t fix a problem if you don’t know it exists!

  17. Dee said:

    That was exhausting reading.
    If it was me, I would try to find something new in the job market. Not deal with any of it, get a fresh start. Or talk with my superiors and get her the hell away from me.

  18. Unagi said:

    Thank you Captain for those meeting rules! I have yet to see them all in practice at once, but they would make life much better indeed

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